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Yes, But How Did His Suit Hang?

I did prowl through the morning-after debate stuff, and it was fun. But I have to admit, what I most wanted to know wasn't there: How did Bush's suit hang? Any further fuel for speculation?

After a little while, I poked around for pictures and watched clips in the Washinton Post web site. While Bush's facial expression often looked oddly rumped, the suit stayed still. It didn't move much. It looked to be made of thick wool. And the main body of the suit jacket looked heavily lined. Also, since the candidates stayed at their lecturns, there was little opportunity for prying eyes to get a look at Bush's back. I did see a brief flash of his back in a distance shot, but there was no illumination on the candidates' backs.

Can those who saw the whole thing fill me in? Were there any good looks at Bush's back? What did they show?

Oh, there it is; Salon's on it. He can run, but he can't hide! He had to come out from behind that lecturn sooner or later!

I wonder who the blonde woman is behind Bush. She seems to be giving the bulge a good look. And lookie at all that puckering around the arm holes. In a $5,000 suit. He did not buy it at Sears, people. Clearly that suit is accomodating something for which it wasn't tailored.

Political Rape

There are a number of things I've meant to blog recently, but not gotten around to, partly because my plan to hire live-in help has not yet come to fruition, and partly because of the subject matter.

The one most in need of blogging is the spate of disturbing tales of political rape. I find that I bounce off of news stories about rape, especially systematic rape in far-away places, and I just don't want to think about them. Here is a brand new one from the BBC: Rape 'a weapon in Colombia war':

Women and girls are being increasingly caught up in Colombia's armed conflict, as rival groups rape, mutilate and kill them, Amnesty International says.

Then there is the coverage of the Pitcairn rape trails. Pitcairn is a small island near New Zealand where rape had apparently become a way of life. A large group trial is going on under New Zealand judges. I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to think about it. And yet I keep thinking I really need to blog it. ZHow did this situation get so out of hand that an island with a tiny population needs a trial on this scale?

And then there is the large-scale investigation going on in Kenya. The BBC story that caught my eye is Body exhumed in Kenya rape probe:

The body of a teenage Kenyan girl, whose parents say she died after being raped by British soldiers, has been exhumed by forensic experts.

The parents of Mantoi Kaunda, who was 16, say she and her sister were attacked after collecting firewood.

The girls were at Archer's Post, in a remote central part of the country close to Mount Kenya.

The UK has ordered an investigation into allegations by hundreds of Samburu and Masai women that they were raped.

British Royal Military Police Special Investigations Branch and Kenyan police have been looking into 650 claims dating from the 1980s and 90s.

Again, how did this situation get so out of hand? Why do 650 claims have to accumulate? Why does a rape probe have to involve exhumations? Why wasn't this stopped? I don't have an answer for that because I don't want to look at the world that way.

Then there is Nicholas Kristof's NYT piece, Sentenced to be raped, the account of a Pakistani woman who was sentenced by local authorities to be raped for a supposed crime of her brother's, after which she was supposed to obligingly commit suicide. She chose a different path.

I bring this to your attention because I find it hard to keep it in mind. I think I need to get better at it.

Novak: Bush Not a Ninny

At home alone with two small kids and no TV reception, I opted out of trying to watch the debate last night. So I'm poking through last night's coverage. My favorite quote I've come across so far is Bob Novak's summary:

I thought Bush won the debate. Kerry didn't make any major gaffes but Bush showed he wasn't the ninny that he appeared to be in Florida.

Because of space considerations Novak did not go on to admire the President's ability to fog a mirror or marvel at his possession of all four limbs.

My goodness: Let's print bumper stickers! Let's make buttons! That can be the new Bush campaign slogan: Bush isn't the ninny he appeared to be in Florida. With all due respect to administration mouthpiece Bob Novak, I think the office of President of the United States requires a little more than an absence of obvious brain damage.

My second favorite is the Bush psycho-stalker horror footage that Oliver Willis has up. (Also, did I get another glimpse of that rectangular object between Bush's shoulder blades? There is a moment when Bush has his back to the camera at a slight angle in that clip.) Where did Bush get the idea that physically intimidating Charles Gibson was a good debate tactic?

Bush arguing the case for his own infallibility is very strange. (Washinton Post video clip here.) It seems unlikely that he wasn't coached on how to admit to mistakes.* It is one of the job interview basics. People get asked that question even when interviewing for minimum wage jobs. So, clearly, he resisted any coaching he received on how to address this aspect of the debate format. Who would hire a CEO who can't admit he ever makes mistakes? Most of us wouldn't even hire a baby sitter who couldn't deal with that issue.

Here's the scene as described in the NYT editorial:

One of the uncommitted voters in the audience sensibly asked President Bush to name three mistakes he'd made in office, and what he had done to remedy the damage. Mr. Bush declined to list even one, and instead launched into an impassioned defense of the invasion of Iraq as a good idea. The president's insistence on defending his decision to go into Iraq seemed increasingly bizarre in a week when his own investigators reported that there were no weapons of mass destruction there, and when his own secretary of defense acknowledged that there was no serious evidence of a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

Even worse, the president's refusal to come up with even a minor error - apart from saying that he might have made some unspecified appointments that he now regretted - underscores his inability to respond to failure in any way except by insisting over and over again that his original decision was right.

Well, it is a good thing he's not a ninny, but it would be better if he could answer a basic job interview question.

* (Unless Rove & Hughes believe he's God's Own PresidentTM. But that would be crazy!)

Outsourcing Torture

Not content to outsource torture to private contractors, Republicans are apparently pushing a bill to make it legal to outsource torture to other countries.  This is called "extraordinary rendition." Obsidian Wings has the story.

It's not as if to some extent having other countries do our torturing for us isn't done already: See, for example, Samuel M. Katz's book Relentless Pursuit: The DSS and the Manhunt for the Al-Qaeda Terrorists, pages 201-202 on the torture of "an Arab male."

(On the lighter side, see also Fafblog. Fafblog & Michael Bérubé are keeping me sane through election day.)

No Ear for Parody


Editor’s Note:

In an version of this article that was published earlier, the Communists for Kerry were portrayed as a group that was supporting John Kerry for president. FOXNews.com’s reporter asked the group’s representative several times whether the group was legitimate and supporting the Democratic candidate, and the spokesman insisted that it was.

(Via Duncan Black.)

The Democrats and the Backbone Question, Part 2

The Democrats caved in yesterday to the spend & don't tax Bush administration:

NYT: Deal in Congress to Keep Tax Cuts, Widening Deficit

Putting aside efforts to control the federal deficit before the elections, Republican and Democratic leaders agreed Wednesday to extend $145 billion worth of tax cuts sought by President Bush without trying to pay for them.

At a House-Senate conference committee, Democratic lawmakers abandoned efforts to pay for the measures by either imposing a surcharge on wealthy families or closing corporate tax shelters.

"I wish we could pay for them, but this is a political problem and we have people up for re-election,'' said Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. "If you have to explain that you voted for these tax cuts because they benefit the middle class and against them because of the deficit, you've got a problem.''

Fearful of being attacked as supporters of higher taxes, Democrats said they would go along with an unpaid five-year extension of the $1,000 child tax credit; a four-year extension of tax breaks intended to reduce the so-called marriage penalty on two-income families; and a six-year extension of a provision that allowed more people to qualify for the lowest tax rate of 10 percent.

Senator John Kerry , their party's presidential nominee, has said he supports extension of the tax reductions, though he would roll back Mr. Bush's tax cuts for the top 2 percent of income earners, families with annual incomes above $200,000. . . .

The result of the reversal on the part of the Democrats and the Republican moderates is likely to be a tax measure that will last longer and increase federal deficits more than a two-year extension that Republican Senate leaders offered this summer. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that debt will climb by $2.3 trillion over the next 10 years, and that making all Mr. Bush's tax cuts permanent would cost an additional $1.9 trillion by the end of 2014.

Spineless beyond belief. Just spineless.

While opening the mail this morning, I discovered that the Democratic party's September fundraising campaign is called the "Don't Yeild an Inch" Campaign. Someone forgot to tell congress.

UPDATE: This evening's AP story, which frames the tax cut as a cut for the middle class, also includes the alarming sentence:

The tax package also includes provisions to extend 23 expiring tax breaks, generally for one year, at a cost of $12.97 billion.
Note that this is the figure for ONE YEAR, whereas the earlier figures are calculated for a cost over ten years. Bloomberg has more details on the specifics.

The Democrats and the Backbone Question

I have been somewhat mystified as to why invidious comparisons of the presidential candidates Viet Nam era military records have taken on such a central role in this presidential campaign. As I was driving home from dropping Elizabeth off at preschool, it came to me, encoded in the phrase "vestigial spine." You know, I'd almost forgotten -- most Democratic politicians have almost no spine, so accustomed are they to trying hard to look like moderate Republicans. The military service issue is the pipe cleaner that can be wound round the vestigial spine to make it look like a real Backbone.

This morning, I received an email from MoveOn directing me to this speech given by John Kerry last night, telling me what a fine speech it was. But when I read it, I trip over passages like this one:

In fighting the war on terrorism, my principles are straightforward. The terrorists are beyond reason. We must destroy them. As president, I will do whatever it takes, as long as it takes, to defeat our enemies. But billions of people around the world yearning for a better life are open to America’s ideals. We must reach them.

To win, America must be strong. And America must be smart. The greatest threat we face is the possibility Al Qaeda or other terrorists will get their hands on a nuclear weapon.

I'm all for putting a stop to terrorism. But first of all, look where defining our opposition to terrorism as a war has gotten us: into several non-figurative wars. Secondly, I am uncomfortable with the phrase "terrorists are beyond reason." While I don't think we should negotiate with terrorists, or spend a lot of time wondering why certain mass murderers hate whom they hate, there is a dehumanizing subtext to the phrasing. Since he has not defined "terrorist," this is a fairly expansive dehumanization. Following with the sentence "We must destroy them" underlines the dehumanizing subtext of the previous sentence. And what about he choice of the verb "to destroy"? Not "destroy their networks," but "destroy them." Why didn't he just say kill them? "Destroy" is a euphemism used to describe the killing of animals. Then he juxtaposes these terrorists with those who are "open to American ideals." The people of the world deserve a life without terrorism whether or not they are receptive to American deals or ideals. Selectively arming militias and providing vast seed capital for private military startups will not deliver them from terrorism.

Then we come to the next paragraph, which is I think the more problematic of the two. He starts out "America must be strong." I'm all for a strong America, by which I mean an America furnished with a military of appropriate strength and skill to protect our country. This is being dismantled by the forces of privatization by people who believe we can buy strength on the open market whenever necessary. But I don't think that's what Kerry means by a strong America. I thinks he means that if he were to have chosen to invade some place like Iraq, he would have had sufficient military force not to screw it up. As nearly as I can tell, Kerry has carefully avoided the privatization issue. (And as for the next sentence, who could argue with "America must be smart."?)

I have to wonder if he really believes "The greatest threat we face is the possibility Al Qaeda or other terrorists will get their hands on a nuclear weapon." That seems to me a failure of imagination. Imagine instead a world in which military force is mostly privatized and is available for hire to whatever entity has the money; and that this privatization extends to nuclear weapons production; a world in which there are dozens of organizations analogous to Al Qaeda, competing organizations with private goals uncoupled from the common good that nation states have some obligation to provide for. Competing multinational private organizations with armed with nuclear weapons seems to me a worse scenario.

But returning to the subject of backbone, how many of the notions in these two paragraphs originate in part from the desks of Karl Rove and Karen Hughes? How much of Kerry's rhetoric on Iraq and on teorrorism boils down to I would have done what he said he'd do, not what he did. It seems to me that the military service issue has loomed so large so as to distract us from the fact that Kerry still lacks the backbone to stand up to the Republican machine.

There was a fair amount of talk in the blogosphere recently about putting on one's game face in order to win this one. I will, but my game face will not be a smiley face. At this point I'm not so much afraid Kerry is going to lose, but rather that if he wins we will still be stuck with so much of the hard right's ideological framework.

Ted Kennedy & the No-Fly List: a Comedy of Errors

I just wish Michael Moore had video footage of Ted Kennedy being stopped and questioned (not once, but five times) because "T. Kennedy" appeared on the "No-Fly" list (Washington Post).

And I note, at the end of the WP article, that my college friend David Fathi, who I haven't seen in about 20 years,  is quoted:

David C. Fathi, who said he is apparently on the no-fly list, obtained such a letter but said it hasn't done him much good. "By the time I show the letter, it is already too late," he said.

Fathi, a U.S. citizen of Iranian ancestry and an ACLU attorney, said he has been stopped seven or eight times at airports, but not on every flight. Once he was led from the counter by armed police and questioned extensively at the airport. 

"There really is a no rhyme or reason" to getting delayed, Fathi said. "It illustrates the ridiculousness of the system. If it stops them because they're on the list they should stop them every time. Not every third time." 

(He look a bit older in his ACLU picture, but then it's been nearly 20 years.)

Kathryn Cramer at August 20, 2004 03:18 PM | Link Cosmos | Purple Numbers  | Edit


Civil rights hero/Georgia congressman John Lewis, who was beaten up by racist goons in Alabama back in the sixties, said today that he had been stopped, and sometimes searched on the plane, almost forty times. I don't have the link but it's on the CNN site.

This looks deliberate. If they're going after high-profile Democrats already one can only imagine what will happen after the election.

Posted by: Jon Meltzer at August 20, 2004 09:19 PM

Watching this story in the TV media is frustrating - its treated as a light-hearted anomaly in the 'war on terror' - the story should be that there are ''No-Fly Lists' at all!

The freedom to travel is a right for all.

Posted by: redjade at August 22, 2004 07:21 AM

See Dick swear. Swear, Dick, swear.

Maureen Dowd is really funny this morning on Dick Cheney's expanded vocabulary. (Admittedly, as the Bush administration disintegrates under pressure, Dowd has been given a lot of material to work with.)

Here are a few of my favorite bits:

Even as Tom Daschle proposed bipartisan family retreats to heal the harsh mood, even as the Senate passed the "Defense of Decency Act," Mr. Cheney profanely laced into Mr. Leahy for criticizing Halliburton's getting no-bid contracts.

"I felt better afterwards," he told Neil Cavuto during a no-bid interview with Fox News. Hey, if it feels good, Dick, do it.

Is the Vice President of the United States really going around promoting the therapeutic value of using profanity? I felt much better afterwards. He says.

See Dick swear. I think. Swear, Dick, swear. Do not underestimate the importance of bringing your liberatory message to all the viewers of Fox, no matter how small. (Is this in the GOP platform yet?)

After disastrously dividing the world into the strong (Bush hawks) and the weak (everyone else), Vice turned his coarseness into another macho, tough-guy moment against a Democrat considered a pill by many Republicans. "I think a lot of my colleagues felt that what I had said badly needed to be said, that it was long overdue," he preened.

The conservatives defending Mr. Cheney are largely the same crowd that went off the deep end because of a glimpse of breast on the Super Bowl, demanding everything from fines to new regulations to protect red states from blue language.

I really like the saidbookism, "he preened" used in this context. Imagine if Janet Jackson had had a little more gall. Imagine her going on Fox to position her mistake as a much-needed feminist gesture, a confrontation with the viewers of the Super Bowl: women have nipples; get used to it. "I think a lot of my colleagues felt that what I did badly needed to be done, that it was long overdue," she preened. (As a nursing mom, and therefore someone who regularly confronts the world with this fact, I really wish JJ had been divinely inspired to say something like that.)

But the ending is my favorite, the part that made me click on New Entry in MT. [UPDATE: I see Patrick was struck by the same impulse.] Cheney walked right into a Damon Knight joke, and Dowd, bless her heart, catches him at it:

Mr. Cheney assured Fox's anxious viewers that he would stay on the ticket and in the White House until January '09. (No four letter words, dear Democrats.) Vice said of W., "he knows I'm there to serve him."

Mr. Bush must have missed that classic "Twilight Zone" episode where the aliens arrive with a book entitled, "To Serve Man." It turns out to be a cookbook.

The Twilight Zone episode is based on Damon Knight's 1950 story of the same title. I imagine Knight rising from the grave to administer a smackdown to the Vice President: Will you serve him fried, grilled? Or on the halfshell?

bin Laden's Numbers Lookin' Good

I have better things to do this morning than blog CNN, but I couldn't pass this up. Saudi poll: Wide support for bin Laden

In terms of approval rating, Osama bin Laden polls better in Saudi Arabia than George W. Bush does in the US.

So, if invading counties is a good strategy for the War on Terror (a notion Bush has been busily debunking, I think), why did we invade Afghanistan and Iraq, but not Saudi Arabia, the coutry of origin of the majorityof the hijackers?

[lots of eye rolling in the background]

Republican "Census"

David's a registered Republican, so we sometimes get Republican campaign mail. I opened a piece of his junk mail that purported to be "the official CENSUS OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY." The questions are written so that the answer they want is always yes and most are rather hard to answer no to (i. e., "should studnets, teachers, principals and administrators be held to higher standards?") But there was one that caught my eye: Do you think U.S. troops should have to serve under United Nations' commanders? Is Bush running on leaving the UN or something? Are we declining to participate in UN peacekeeping forces?

Apparently, this UN question has appeared on previous such mailings.

Sudan: The Passion of the Present

I had been vaguely working on a grumpy post on the shallowness of some recent news coverage on Sudan and how the article that set me off much too neatly positioned Sudan in Cold War II, i. e. the war on "terror." But, via American Dynamics, I discover a blog devoted specifically to the subject of Sudan with links to more information on Sudan than I could possibly assemble: Sudan: The Passion of the Present. Go take a look.

Also, Madeline Drohan has a fine chater on the role of oil in Sudan's political violence in her book Making a Killing: How and Why Corporations Use Armed Force to Do Business. (Buy the book from Amazon Canada; it's not out in the US yet.) Talisman, the Canadian oil company she discusses was forces by public pressure to pull out of Sudan and a scandanavian company followed. Their interests were bought up by Chinese and Malaysian state companies, which I suspect continue or expand upon the same lethal practices.

Tenet Out as CIA Director

This just in from CNN: Bush: Tenet resigns as CIA director. I wonder what this is about. Did Tenet take the fall for Rumsfeld over Abu G? Or is this about the Chalabi-Iran code-breaking thing?  Or is this just another clearing of the decks for W part II? (CNN mentions something about pre-war Iraq intelligence. But if that is the real issue, a whole lot more resignations ought ot be forthcoming in short order, which I doubt.) Personally, I'm glad to see Tenet go. But this administration needs a bottom-to-top housecleaning. Can we have Rumsfeld next? (Pretty please? With Cheney on top?)

According to CNN's update a couple of minutes ago, Dep. Director John McLaughlin will be the interim director.

ALSO from CNN: Flashes and booms over Puget Sound, but CNN does not report them as UFOs. There is no truth to the rumor that the flashes were caused by the Bush administrations plans for a democratic Iraq burning up in the atmosphere as they returned to Earth.

UPDATE: Here's an interesting passage from the Financial Times, May 16th (by subscription):

The New Yorker magazine on Saturday quoted several intelligence officials blaming the Pentagon's political leadership for setting up a clandestine interrogation programme, first used in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. . . .

The story points to long-standing resentment within the CIA at the rival intelligence operations cultivated by Mr Rumsfeld, which has begun to undermine the US military's efforts to blame the Abu Ghraib scandal on a few errant soldiers.

Hmm. Maybe Tenet's camp was perceived as being a bit too chummy with Sy Hersh.

MEANWHILE, The Yorkshire Ranter has run several good posts on arms dealer Victor Bout and his associates.

Let's Talk about Israel

I read somewhere a while back in a pop neurology book that our political opinions are mostly formed in adolescence. My attitudes toward Israel were certainly formed then. As a matter of habit, I do not think about Israel very much as it presents me with an irreconcilable social conflict: I am a strong believer in the separation of church and state and to my strongly atheist mind in adolescence, Israel is a theocracy. The reality is of course more complicated than that, but any state founded on a religious identity is not something I can feel comfortable supporting. On the other hand, a larger percentage of my friends as a teenager were Jewish and were very sentimental about Israel. Such warm fuzzy feelings are contageous, and so I have a second-hand sentimentality about Israel with no particular cognitive basis. I suppose I felt a special obligation to share this sentimentality because of my German ancestry: I'm one quarter German, the product of 19th century immigration. While as an adult, I see that this ancestry is mostly irrelevant to what I ought to feel about Israel, as a teenager, that was not so clear.

The question of the Palestinians, their treatment, and their rights did not enter into this until I was an exchange student in Germany my senior year of high school, and discovered that the European media took a rather different view of Israel than my hometown newspaper. (That the German press should take a dimmer view of Israel that the American press will not seem like much of an argument to some; my point is that this was my first exposure to the Palestinian point of view.) That a theocracy would opress those who were not of its religion was completely consistent with my general suspicions about theocracies, so learning of the plight of the Palestinians did not alter my perceptions of Israel much.

The resolution of this conflict for me, on an emotional level, is to believe that Israel should be expected to behave in accordance with international law; that its status as a theocracy gives it no special rights or privledges regardless of the rationele for and special circumstances involved in establishing the state of Israel. Israel frequently violates these expectations, but because I retain the feeling, from adolescence, that it would be uncouth of me to say so, I don't say much about it and don't think much about it. But it was on this basis that allegations that, say, Jason Raimondo was rabidly anti-Israel cut no ice with me. I find myself entirely unable to be interested in such condemnations. I did, however, restrain myself from responding "so what?".

But it has been 25 years since I developed my basic take on Israel, and as a 42 year-old concerned with contemporary politics, I really ought not hide behind conflict avoidance mechanisms developed when I was seventeen. There are claims that Israel as a democracy. But I am unable to see it as a democracy both because I retain the suspicion that it is a theocracy and because a large portion of its population seems to be banned from participation in its democratic processes. Throughout my life, I feel I have been asked to see people moving to Israel as returning to their homeland. I persist in seeing them as settlers, whether their ancestors lived there a thousand-odd years ago or not. I cannot buy the argument that they are returning home. Finally, and most importantly, Israel is a showcase for the argument that extraordinary enemies require extraordinary tactics; tactics in frequent violation of the Geneva convention. This last point leads me to believe that if I took a sustained look at Israel or thought much about the Palestinians, I would rapidly lose the warm, fuzzy feelings toward Israel instilled in me as a teenager. This would cause me social problems, as some people would think badly of me for being anything but supportive of the State of Israel. I'm not sure how much longer I can avoid this confrontation.

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:

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.

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

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 ---

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?

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.

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.

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:

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.

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

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?

A Democrat Grumbling

Why is the Kerry campaign spending precious political capital fighting this stupid battle over medals? Yes, sure the Bush campaign is trying to smear him, but they do that. They're going to do that until the election.

It just seems to me that many really important things are coming out about the situation in Iraq and that we have a whole lot more information on the nature of the problems and their depth, so Kerry should be rising to the task of defining how things need to be done differently. I keep going back to the Kerry campaign web site hopling for a rewritten position on how to solve the problem of Iraq, and it doesn't seem to have changed much recently. I find that disappointing.

And while taxes certainly are an issue in this election, I'm not sure why Kerry's pushing that just now, except maybe because people just filed their tax returns.

I'm hoping to see the Kerry campaign re-engage soon. Right now it seems to me that more of the spontaneous effort is being devoted to dealing with Bush smears.

The Struggle Within Islam

Richard Clarke is good in a NYT editorial today:

One lesson is that even though we are the world's only remaining superpower Å\ as we were before Sept. 11, 2001 Å\ we are seriously threatened by an ideological war within Islam. It is a civil war in which a radical Islamist faction is striking out at the West and at moderate Muslims. Once we recognize that the struggle within Islam Å\ not a "clash of civilizations" between East and West Å\ is the phenomenon with which we must grapple, we can begin to develop a strategy and tactics for doing so. It is a battle not only of bombs and bullets, but chiefly of ideas. It is a war that we are losing, as more and more of the Islamic world develops antipathy toward the United States and some even develop a respect for the jihadist movement.

MEANWHILE, I thought wryly about blogging this item with the headline US Not Cooperating with UN Weapons Inspectors.

Religion: we're all in this together

I've been watching with some consternation at some of my good friends calling for religious tolerance among liberals and then getting their feelings hurt for their trouble. I've put in my two cents worth over at Electrolite (the blog in question) and also at Kevin Drumm's new home. But it was an awfully terse two cents worth, because over the course of my life I have felt myself to be much more on the receiving end of religious intolerance than on the giving end. I have been asked to tolerate a wide variety of religious impositions. And other than a few stern grillings given fundamentalists [Leviticus provides rich material for this] who asked me if I'd been saved when I was a teenager, I can't recall instances of the tide going the other direction. Thus, atrios's post of this morning on the subject had me muttering YES! YES!

My earliest clear memory of religious imposition was when I was in the fourth grade: we lived in Munich that year and religious instruction was part of the formal school curriculum. On my school registration form at Herkomerplatz Kinderschule, in the blank for "Religion" my father had filled in "keine." As far as I could tell, the school system had never encountered a family that declined to identify a religion, so I was assigned to the Catholic class where I spent the school year coloring in the back despite the instructor's best efforts to involve me in the class. As far as he was concerned, if I was in his class I was Catholic. As far as I was concerned, "keine" on the form meant I didn't have to do anything. Our compromise took the form of him trying to get me to draw pictures of what God looked like, as best as I can recall.

I have many other examples. But really, they're not that important except in that by the time I was a teenager, much to my mother's dismay, I was a subscriber to American Atheists and had solidified in my cultural identity as an atheist. People would frequently try to talk me into the idea that I was an agnostic, and I was well armed with arguments to the contrary. What is most important about this is that my identity as an atheist (and I suspect this it true for many others as well) was reactive, formed by imposition and lack of consideration by others. Religious tolerance, it seemed, was for those who had a religion to tolerate, not those of us without.

I am 42 year old now and am no longer in need of the defences that kept my teenage psyche safe. I am that most paradoxical of creatures, an atheist who goes to church. Theologically, I am most closely aligned with the Unitarians, but the Unitarian church is all the way up in Mt. Kisco and the Congregational Church in Chappaqua is much closer and has a better children's program. I am still made uncomfortable with sermons in which the minister talks as though one can actually know what exactly Jesus said or figure out why he said it or what he meant by it. And really, I'm no less an atheist than I was at seventeen. So what am I doing in a church?

The understanding I came to in adulthood is that in the grand scheme of the history of world religions, I am a Christian; and my lack of belief in an all-powerful God is a mere theological quibble that takes on exaggerated importance in this cultural moment. It no more divorces me from Christianity than choosing the wrong side in the question of whether the Earth goes 'round the sun or vice versa.

If you view religions as cultural groupings rather than as defined by specific articles of belief, the source of sectarians' underlying anger at the "religious" becomes clearer: large segments of the population are in effect excommunicated from the larger cultural life of their religion. The terms of engagement have been defined by those who would reject categorically that an atheist like me could possibly be a Christian.

The religious tolerance recently demanded of sectarian liberals must be based on a recognition that the "religious" cannot exclude us from the spiritual life of the country and the world; that those who lay claim to the world's religions do not own them; that this isn't, and never was, a battle between those with religion and those without. We're all in this together.

UPDATE: Patrick Nielsen Hayden, in a further thoughtful post on religion and the left, directs our attention to a good post at everything's ruined on this topic.

An Important First

The first conviction under the child-sex tourism provision of the Protect Act (from the Christian Science Monitor):

The push for the travel industry to do its part to curb the demand aspect of the global sex trade comes a year after President Bush passed the Protect Act, legislation making it illegal for US citizens to travel abroad and engage in sex with a minor.

In his September 2003 UN address, President Bush asked that all countries pass laws against their citizens traveling abroad to engage in the "underground of brutality" of sex trafficking and warn tourists of this "humanitarian crisis. In the US, conviction under the Protect Act could lead to a 30-year prison sentence.

Because of the veiled nature of sex tourism, it's impossible to calculate the number of participants. But a survey by ECPAT reports that Americans make up 25 percent of the world's global sex industry, which involves about 2 million children. Americans represent about 80 percent of the sex tourists in Costa Rica, and about 38 percent in Cambodia.

Michael Lewis Clark was the first American convicted under the child-sex tourism provision of the Protect Act. He recently pleaded guilty in a Seattle federal district court to two counts of engaging in sex with a minor. Clark was arrested in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, after authorities there learned he was paying young boys as little as $2 for sex. Clark may have molested as many as 50 children during several years of traveling back and fourth to Cambodia, according to the investigation conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an arm of the Department of Homeland Security. Four other Americans have also been charged under the act.

This AP article provides some interesting background on the changes in Cambodian law enforcement that made the arrest and conviction possible.

In the past week, a doctor returning from Russia was arrested under the same law.

Remember This?

While we're thinking about private military firms, it's important to remember that their clients are not always on our side.

I've been lying in bed reading Singer, and came across a discussion of private military firms training terrorists (Corporate Warriors, p. 181). The first firm I looked up, Sakina Security, seems to have vanished from the web, but the Freepers noticed them in 2001 and snarfed a bit of the site:




There was also a bit of involvement from a company called Trans-Global Security International.

One would-be security contractor raises a legitimate point:

ÅgWe use U.S.A. because whenever we go to Afghanistan, U.S.A. labels us terrorist,Åh the Syrian-born Bakri Mohammed was quoted as saying, ÅgOK, so let us go to America. You call us tourists.Åh

Indeed, why train in Afghanistan when you can train in Alabama?

Because That's Where the Money Is

There's a virus going around our house, and none of us are well. I would otherwise devote more discussion to this public radio series, Spoils of War, on corruption in occupied Iraq:

Who's watching the money as it streams through Baghdad? Just about no one, and bribes and black marketeering are rampant, witnesses say. A leading anti-corruption group claims as much as 90 percent of U.S. money spent in Iraq is being lost to corruption. From Halliburton subsidiaries charging double for gas, Iraqi officials and Arabic translators unrestrained from pocketing millions of dollars, or even members of the interim governing Council accusing each other of taking tens of millions in bribes.

(Via Atrios. See also Peace, order and good government, eh?.)

UPDATE: Body & Soul has a good post on the corruption issue.

Is Erinsys Iraq Ahmed Chalabi's Private Army?

Recall that yesterday the NYT reported that Erinsys now employs 14,000 Iraqi security guards. This article by Knut Royce from New York Newsday (2/15/04) raises the possibility that Erinsys's 14,000 Iraqi security guards are, in effect, Ahmed Chalabi's US bank-rolled private army:

Start-Up Company With Connections

U.S. authorities in Iraq have awarded more than $400 million in contracts to a start-up company that has extensive family and, according to court documents, business ties to Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagon favorite on the Iraqi Governing Council. The most recent contract, for $327 million to supply equipment for the Iraqi Armed Forces, was awarded last month and drew an immediate challenge from a losing contester, who said the winning bid was so low that it questions the "credibility" of that bid.

But it is an $80-million contract, awarded by the Coalition Provisional Authority last summer to provide security for Iraq's vital oil infrastructure, that has become a controversial lightning rod within the Iraqi Provisional Government and the security industry. Soon after this security contract was issued, the company started recruiting many of its guards from the ranks of Chalabi's former militia, the Iraqi Free Forces, raising allegations from other Iraqi officials that he was creating a private army.

Chalabi, 59, scion of one of Iraq's most politically powerful and wealthy families until the monarchy was toppled in 1958, had been living in exile in London when the U.S. invaded Iraq. The chief architect of the umbrella organization for the resistance, the Iraqi National Congress, Chalabi is viewed by many Iraqis as America's hand-picked choice to rule Iraq.

A key beneficiary of both the oil security contract and last week's Iraq army procurement contract is Nour USA Ltd., which was incorporated in the United States last May. The security contract technically was awarded to Erinys Iraq, a security company also newly formed after the invasion, but bankrolled at its inception by Nour. A Nour's founder was a Chalabi friend and business associate, Abul Huda Farouki. Within days of the award last August, Nour became a joint venture partner with Erinys and the contract was amended to include Nour.

. . . Erinys guards are being recruited from the ranks of the Iraqi Free Congress, the militia loyal to Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, Daghistani acknowledged to Britain's Financial Times in December.

Whiskey Bar and Polytropos both had a good posts on the Chalabi connection last February.

As I understand it, Erinsys's 14,000 Iraqis are not counted in the 20,000 figure for privately employed security contractors now widely cited. So if I understand correctly, IN ADDITION TO the 20,000 "civilian contractors" running around Iraq with guns, there are another 14,000 Iraqis at Chalabi's disposal, paid for by U.S. taxpayers. (Yes, they're guarding the oil, but for whom are they guarding it?)

MEANWHILE, I find on a U.S. State Department page, Security Companies Doing Business in Iraq, this ominous statement: The U.S. government assumes no responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms whose names appear on the list. If I'd said this myself, some people would think I was being hyperbolic and inflammatory.

UPDATE: Deena Larsen bring to our attention this article from March 2003 and wonders what bearing it might have on the current situation in Falluja: The strange case of Falluja 2: Confidential files reveal Tory ministers' roles in approval of gas-producing facility and plans to hide it from US . So, is there still a chemical plant in Falluja? Could this have anything to do with what the Blackwater guys were doing there?

ALSO, Christopher Laughlin of WindWizard, a Masters student in International Law at the University for Peace in Cost Rica, has written a good summary article on mercenaries and Iraq from a Peace Studies perspective.

AND FINALLY, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH THESE GUYS WHEN THEY GET HOME? Have a look at this chilling article on snipers in Iraq originally from the L.A. Times.

The corporal hopes to get back home by late fall in time to take his girlfriend to a college football game and go deer hunting with his father.

"When I go hunting for whitetail, it's for food and sport," he said. "Here, when I go hunting, it's personal, very personal."

(Via Proof through the Night.)

AND HERE'S ONE I MEANT TO BLOG LAST WEEK from Defensetech: GLIMPSE OF STATELESS WAR IN IRAQ, which I find most notable for its dystopian vision of the future of warfare.

(Via Noah Shachtman.)

UPDATE 5/20/04: Ahmed Chalabi's house has just been raided. See my new post.

Arab Mercenaries and Al Qaeda

In this country, we think of al Qaeda operatives as religious fanatics willing to give their lives for religious convictions, but I have suspected for a while that military outsourcing was not a one-way street in this global conflict. This news story from ITAR-TASS sheds some light on that dimension of al Qaeda:

Chechnya verifies reports about liquidation of Al-Qaeda emissary

The Chechen Interior Ministry has been verifying media reports to the effect that Abu al-Valid, a successor to notorious terrorist Khattab, has been liquidated in the south of Chechnya. Chief of the Chechen Interior Ministry Alu Alkhanov said that they did not have exact information yet, but a special group was created for verification of this information. . . .

After Khattab died Abu al-Valid became his successor and headed the so-called military wing of Arab mercenaries in Chechnya and was believed to have links with Al-Qaeda.

There are arab mercenaries in Chechnya; there are arab mercenaries in Afghanistan; surely, there are arab mercenaries in Iraq, and not just on our side; perhaps even some with al Qaeda. I would like to know more.

Consider the GTS Katie: Lessons for the Iraq Situation

Once again, I would like to point out that military privatization should not be a left vs. right issue, but rather is a matter of national security and national sovereignty. Here's another fine anecdote from P. W. Singer's Must-Read, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry:

An episode from recent Canadian military experience illustrates how unexpected problems can arise whenever control is given over to private agents. In July 2000, the GTS Katie, a contracted military transport ship, was carrying back from Bosnia a unit of Canadian Army soldiers, more than 550 vehicles, including tanks and personnel carriers, and 350 containers of ammunition and other sensitive gear. However, due to a financial dispute between two subcontracting agents, the ship began sailing in circles outside Canadian waters. Until the matter was resolved, the ship refused to make delivery, essentially holding about one third of the entire Canadian army's equipment and soldiers hostage. The standoff lasted for almost two weeks, during which time a sizable chunk of the Canadian military's inventory was unavailable, solely because its leadership had privatized transportation to save a minimal amount. (p. 160)

In the end, the Canadian Navy had to go out and seize the ship to end the stand-off.

I don't remember hearing anything about this in the US Press. I called a few Canadians and was told that while it was front page news, the Canadians are used to being humiliated about their lack of military preparedness. It is my understanding that the incident was blamed on the Liberal government for under-funding the military and thus forcing it to rely upon private contractors. For more details about the incident, see:

The web site of the Canadian Navy: HMCS Athabaskan Carries Out Boarding of GTS Katie

CBC: GTS Katie putts into Quebec and Canada seized U.S. ship despite deal, owner says

Singer has more anecdotes privatization of gone wrong and his research suggests that the more use of private contractors is monitored, the fewer saving from privatization can be realized. And without hard figures, there is no special reason to believe that a privately provided service will be cheaper in any case.

REGARDING THE MATTER AT HAND, private military firms operating in Iraq, the NYT reports today that:

There is no central oversight of the companies, no uniform rules of engagement, no consistent standards for vetting or training new hires. Some security guards complain bitterly of being thrust into combat without adequate firepower, training or equipment. There are stories of inadequate communication links with military commanders and of security guards stranded and under attack without reinforcements.

Only now are authority officials working to draft rules for private security companies. The rules would require all the companies to register and be vetted by Iraq's Ministry of Interior. They would also give them the right to detain civilians and to use deadly force in defense of themselves or their clients. "Fire only aimed shots," reads one proposed rule, according to a draft obtained by The New York Times.

Fire only aimed shots? I suppose they alo have to spell out that this is real life and not a movie.

The same piece also mentions Erinys: Erinys, a company barely known in the security industry before the war, now employs about 14,000 Iraqis. Corpwatch has this to say about Erinys:

Erinys' yearlong $39.5 million contract to protect 140 Iraqi oil installations, for which it beat out larger and more established competitors, will start this October. The Johannesburg-based company will be also offering its protection services to contractors Bechtel and Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root.

According to Erinys' own publicity, the company is currently the exclusive providers of "guarding and protective services, secure warehousing, security escorts, visit logistics and protective escorts, transportation and logistics for land access from neighbouring countries."

Handmaidens of Occupation

But the coalition's relationship with Erinys is not exactly transparent. The coalition apparently contracted the company through an "oil security" solicitation issued on July 17, but the details of this solicitation, and the subsequent award to Erinys, are unavailable from the Coalition Provisional Authority (the entity created by the United States government to oversee the occupation of the country).

In Greek mythology, the Erinys were three goddesses, attendants of Hades and Persephone, who guarded the Underworld. Here on modern earth, the company has main offices in Johannesburg and Dubai, and opened a field office in Baghdad in May. A South African news report said Erinys is already providing security and risk management services to "two large multinational companies" operating in Iraq.

While the company does not appear in international business directories and is only a year old, its website names five managers and directors, but does not identify its ownership structure: most of whom have been affiliated with Armor Holdings, a Florida-based security company and Defence Systems Limited, a British company which merged with Armor in 1997.

A former British Special Air Services (SAS) officer, director Alastair Morrison was co-founder and CEO of Defence Systems from 1981 to 1999. Morrison is currently affiliated with Armor Holdings, in which he holds $2.1 million worth of stock. Fraser Brown, who directs Erinys' security operations, has worked for DSL/Armor since 1999. Jonathan Garratt, Erinys' managing director, has worked for DSL and Armor since 1992. The two other Erinys officials named on the website have no apparent ties to either company: Sean Cleary is a South African risk management expert while Bill Elder previously worked as Bechtel's corporate security manager.

Private Security and Oil Protection

Erinys' website touts "management experience" in providing security services for dozens of transnational corporations, such as Ashanti Gold and BP-Amoco. These companies' past security actions hint at what awaits Iraq.

Last month, for example, the Ghanaian NGO, Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM), released a report detailing alleged human rights abuses at an Ashanti gold mine. It relays eyewitness accounts of Ashanti Gold security personnel torturing, beating, and killing local small-scale miners between 1994 and 2002. WACAM further alleges that corporate security used guard dogs to feed on trespassers.

Here's another bit from the NYT article:

Early on in the war, private security contractors came mostly from elite Special Operations forces. It is a small enough world that checking credentials was easy. But as demand has grown, so has the difficulty of finding and vetting qualified people.

. . . and another:

Many security guards are hired as "independent contractors" by companies that, in turn, are sub-contractors of larger security companies, which are themselves subcontractors of a prime contractor, which may have been hired by a United States agency.

In practical terms, these convoluted relationships often mean that the governmental authorities have no real oversight of security companies on the public payroll.

(Thanks to Gary Farber & David Hartwell for nudging me in the direction of this long, meaty article.)

New Zealand's Mercenary Activities (Prohibition) Bill

This New Zealand Green Party press release calls my attention to a good piece of legislation currently in progress, the Mercenary Activities (Prohibition) Bill

Iraq-bound NZers could be mercenaries under law

Iraq-bound NZers could be mercenaries under new law.

Green MP Keith Locke today warned New Zealanders contemplating 'security' work in Iraq that active involvement in the conflict for money will soon be a criminal offence under the mercenary bill returned to Parliament yesterday.

The Mercenary Activities (Prohibition) Bill, which aims to bring New Zealand into line with the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, returned from the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee, of which Mr Locke is a member. It is aimed at a relatively narrow definition of "true" mercenaries - unaffiliated individuals who fight wars, overthrow governments or commit terrorism for money.

"This Bill should make New Zealanders think twice about chasing $1000-a-day jobs in Iraq; as should their local recruiting agents who could qualify to up to 14 years imprisonment," said Mr Locke, the Green Party Spokesperson on Defence.

"If someone is carrying out a role usually associated with security guards or police, like the New Zealander who has been accompanying a BBC TV crew, they have no worries under this legislation. "However, the Bill now uses the term 'take part in hostilities', rather than 'fighting', which means that if a New Zealander is effectively supporting the US occupation by, say, guarding military facilities or convoys, they could be deemed to be a mercenary and be prosecuted upon their return. This is an appropriate distinction, as the privatisation of military operations in Iraq is setting a worrying precedent.


Here's a good link for the nosy neighbor in you, provided you live in the kind of neighborhood where people make big political contributions:

Fundrace 2004 Neighbor Search

Use the location search (on your home address) to find those who live near you that have made presidential campaign contributions. You can also search for friends or celebrities by name.

Much to my surprise I discovered that someone who lives two houses away whom I had taken for a straight-laced financial services type gave a thousand bucks to Howard Dean! It warms my heart.

(Via The Heart of Wood.)

Saudi Crackdown

Here's a couple of odd pieces from the BBC on happenings in Saudi Arabia. As the US government issues a travel warning advising US citizens to leave Saudi Arabia, Saudia Arabia cracks down on liberal intellectuals and advocates of women's rights under the guise of cracking down on terrorism:

Saudis 'arrest five reformists': Saudi authorities have arrested five of the country's best-known reformist intellectuals, sources told the BBC.

Those arrested are both liberal and Islamist figures who have put their names to petitions calling for wide-ranging political and economic reform.

They include publisher Mohammed Said Tayib - one of the prime movers organising petitions calling on the House of Saud to accelerate reform.
. . .
Saudi analysts say the arrests may be a warning-shot designed to deter the liberals at a time when the ruling princes find themselves under an unprecedented degree of pressure.

More than 800 liberal reformers signed a petition only last month calling for an elected parliament and a bigger role for women.

(See also Saudis arrest religious reformist.)

Speaking of Death Threats

9/11 commissioner: 'I've received threats'

Jamie Gorelick, a member of the commission investigating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, said Saturday that she received death threats this week after a number of conservatives alleged that her former work in the Justice Department may have contributed to failures leading to the attacks.

Someone threatening a former U.S. deputy attorney general has got to be awfully stupid. It's probably some jerk in his underwear at his home computer, thinking he can threaten anonymously, raging at the machine.

Gorelick responds to the conservatives' allegations in the Wahington Post.

Food Staple Price Increases

The New York Times discusses inflation:

The inflation rate, barely noticeable for years, is picking up again in the United States. And even if many American families have yet to curtail their spending, they are certainly annoyed.

And toward the end of the article there is a discussion of some price increases on food staples:

A gallon jug of milk purchased at Pathmark on Thursday for $3.89 cost $3.49 a week or two ago, she said, and her son goes through two to three gallons a week. He also likes butter on his bread - eight ounces were $2.50 this week versus $1.25 a couple of months ago - and he is a big eater of eggs, at $2.19 a dozen versus $1.59 a couple of months ago, Ms. Simpson said.

These are some pretty big price jumps. Are these the effects of agibusiness cleaning up its act? I suspect not. Do this increases reflect high gasoline prices? Somehow I doubt that the farmers themselves are getting richer.

An Interview with the Italian Foreign Minister

The Italian Foreign Office has posted an interesting interview, relating to the death of the Italian hostage Fabrizio Quattrocchi, with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on its web site:

Q. Minister Frattini, you have ruled out negotiations, but not dialogue. What do you mean by that?"

R. "That was our strategy during the revolt in Nassirya: not negotiations to grant their requests but an immediate table for dialogue. And it worked. But in Nassirya there was a chain of command and that, unfortunately, is not the case here".

Q. What is the Italian government willing to put on the table for dialogue?

R. "We are willing to say that in the province of Nassirya our action will focus even more strongly on the protection of the population, on security, services and the necessities of everyday life. And we are also prepared to say that we will do everything possible to ensure that this line of action comes to be adopted even in those provinces not under our command. We are offering to act as interpreters to convey to the Americans the need for a more receptive attitude to the needs of the Iraqi people and a greater willingness to engage in dialogue and avoid Iraqi civilian deaths".

Q. Do you mean that you will try to "put the brakes on" the Americans in the field?

R. "As soon as we receive some signal on the hostages, we are ready to tell the Americans that the right way forward is dialogue with all the Iraqi civil and religious authorities, and that we must all undertake avoid any action that goes further than being a defence from attacks, and to take every possible step to avoid Iraqi civilian deaths. Our commitment is to speak seriously with the Americans: we are not asking to discuss the withdrawal of troops or a recognition of terrorism. We must not negotiate with terrorist movements. We will try to carry out this task of persuasion".

I also came across this terse item which I'm not sure what to make of, suggesting that the Italian Foreign Office is concerned that it does not know which of its citizens are privately employed as civilian contractors in Iraq.

With a Little Help from My Friends

A new report from Robert Fisk:
Deaths of scores of mercenaries not reported

At least 80 foreign mercenaries - security guards recruited from the United States, Europe and South Africa and working for American companies - have been killed in the past eight days in Iraq.

Lieutenant-General Mark Kimmitt admitted on Tuesday that "about 70" American and other Western troops had died during the Iraqi insurgency since April 1 but he made no mention of the mercenaries, apparently fearful that the full total of Western dead would have serious political fallout.

He did not give a figure for Iraqi dead, which, across the country may be as high as 900.

(Via email from Andrea Eastman.)

Gary Farber has also sent me a few good links while I've been occupied with other things:

Phil Carter: The problems with private military corporations, and Phil Carter again, this time in Slate: Hired Guns. In the second piece, Carter raises an issue I've been wondering about for a while: how the civilian commando-types square up to the label "unlawful combatant," used for those held in Guantanamo Bay.

ALSO, thanks to the many friends who've sent me kind notes regarding Peter's health. Kids bounce back fast. He was discharged from the hospital late Saturday and was well enough to go to school on Monday. Today he even had the stamina to go to Tai Kwan Do. There are some lingering medical issues that will probably involve extensive testing. But retrospectively, he seems to see the experience as an extended opportunity to watch TV.

(And for those of you who notice a few recent entries missing, I got sick of looking at them. The original pages are still there. Fighting and invective is not what this blog is about.)

Non-State Violence

Here's a really fine NYT piece on non-state violence that deserves a lot more discussion than I can give it right now:

When U.S. Aided Insurgents, Did It Breed Future Terrorists?

In the varied explanations for the 9/11 attacks and the rise in terrorism, two themes keep recurring. One is that Islamic culture itself is to blame, leading to a clash of civilizations, or, as more nuanced versions have it, a struggle between secular-minded and fundamentalist Muslims that has resulted in extremist violence against the West. The second is that terrorism is a feature of the post-cold-war landscape, belonging to an era in which international relations are no longer defined by the titanic confrontation between two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.

But in the eyes of Mahmood Mamdani, a Uganda-born political scientist and cultural anthropologist at Columbia University, both those assumptions are wrong. Not only does he argue that terrorism does not necessarily have anything to do with Islamic culture; he also insists that the spread of terror as a tactic is largely an outgrowth of American cold war foreign policy. After Vietnam, he argues, the American government shifted from a strategy of direct intervention in the fight against global Communism to one of supporting new forms of low-level insurgency by private armed groups.

"In practice," Mr. Mamdani has written, "it translated into a United States decision to harness, or even to cultivate, terrorism in the struggle against regimes it considered pro-Soviet." The real culprit of 9/11, in other words, is not Islam but rather non-state violence in general, during the final stages of the stand-off with the Soviet Union. Using third and fourth parties, the C.I.A. supported terrorist and proto-terrorist movements in Indochina, Latin America, Africa and, of course, Afghanistan, he argues in his new book, "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror" (Pantheon).

I just pre-ordered a copy of Mahmood Mamdani which comes out April 20th.

Morning Mercenary Roundup

In Chile, an accusation against Blackwater has been filed in criminal court:

Chilean lawmakers accuse US firm of illegally recruiting mercenaries

Two Chilean lawmakers on Thursday accused  US security firm Blackwater Security Consulting of illegally recruiting  mercenaries for security tasks in Iraq.

Leal and Alejandro Navarro said Blackwater's recruitment, which hires Chilean army  veterans, puts public order and national security at risk.

. . . Navarro, of the Socialist Party, said the accusation was filed in the 17th  criminal court of Santiago.

�"We are going to legislate to end with the mercenaries" and ban foreign  companies from recruiting mercenary soldiers in Chile, Navarro said. 

MEANWHILE in Equatorial Guinea:

'Mercenaries told investigators everything' (IOL):

Harare - A group of 15 alleged mercenaries detained in Equatorial Guinea had planned to wipe out the entire family of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, his interior minister Manuel Nguema Mba said during a trip to Harare on Wednesday.

Mba, who is visiting Harare where another group of 70 alleged mercenaries linked to the supposed plot are being detained, said the South African accused of leading the group in Malabo, Nick du Toit, had told Equatorial Guinean investigators "everything".

"He (du Toit) told us everything that was planned. He said the objective was to kill the entire family of President Obiang Nguema and bring (opposition leader) Severo Moto from Spain," ZIANA news agency quoted Mba as saying.

AND finally, from New Zealand, an editorial on why the world needs mercenaries.

Quick Note

I've been busy today, but my husband found this item of interest:

Senators call for better control of civilian security workers in Iraq

The Pentagon needs to take better control of the civilian security contractors working in Iraq, members of the Senate told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday.

Here's another good one before I go to bed:

Under Fire, Security Firms Form An Alliance

Under assault by insurgents and unable to rely on U.S. and coalition troops for intelligence or help under duress, private security firms in Iraq have begun to band together in the past 48 hours, organizing what may effectively be the largest private army in the world, with its own rescue teams and pooled, sensitive intelligence.

Sounds Like a Setup for a Massacre to Me

From the Chicago Sun Times:
Bodyguards in Iraq turn to 'massive firepower' after attack


BAGHDAD -- American bodyguards in Iraq want to strengthen their weaponry with hand grenades and high-powered machineguns after four private security consultants were murdered in Fallujah last week.

Only coalition soldiers are allowed to carry explosives under existing regulations, leaving up to 20,000 civilian contractors working as guards outgunned by insurgents with rocket-propelled grenades and belt-fed machineguns.

The Coalition Provisional Authority is horrified by the contractors' plans to flout the rules, believing that such action could lead to a serious escalation in violence as the June deadline approaches for power to be transferred to the Iraqis.

On Saturday, however, Malcolm Nance, a former adviser to the CIA and the U.S. National Security Agency who has spent 10 months in Iraq supervising security for businesses and charities, warned that firms would "go heavy" to prevent a repeat of last week's murders.

The bodies of the four security consultants were mutilated by a cheering mob of Iraqis after their vehicles were hit by rocket-propelled grenades. Weapons such as hand grenades can be bought in the city's illegal weapons markets for as little as a dollar.

Nance said his personnel would now be using "massive firepower."

"People are going into battle now. In military terms, we describe a hand grenade as a "break contact" device used as a final option to stop any contact in an enemy attack.

"Nobody I have employed out here uses them, but I would imagine thatbreak contact devices will get used a lot more as a result of the incident in Fallujah.

"Security escorts will continue to be discreet, but everybody here is waiting to get hit. My own escorts will be increasing their manpower in each vehicle."

British security firms, which tend to adopt a lower-key approach, are alarmed by the prospect of American guards increasing their weaponry.

"The last thing we need is loads of Americans running around grenading people," said one company manager. "But I fear that a few may end up carrying grenades, and God knows what other weapons, too."

Most private guards in Iraq have relied on Kalashnikovs or MP5 machine pistols and sidearms, believing that their superior military training made them a match for attackers. Last week's deaths have forced them to review their tactics.

"The guys in Fallujah were nearly all ex-Special Forces and from one of the best security companies going," Nance said. "People might be wearing body armor and carrying helmets and high-velocity weapons, but that won't protect you against a rocket-propelled grenade, which can just obliterate your car."

(Via Sheilagh in the comments)

UPDATE 4:17 PM: There's some kind of armed insurrection going on in Iraq:
CNN: Sources: Al-Sadr supporters take over Najaf

Some Thoughts on MPRI

The Center for Public Integrity (Investigative Journalism in the Public Interest) has a very interesting online project: Windfalls of War: US Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They focus solely on companies doing business with the US government (i. e. they exclude government contracts in Iraq with the UK) and most of the hard information on contracts predates the current private "security" goldrush, so for example, Blackwater has no listing. But there's a lot of fun stuff here. Also excluded from the group's Freedom of Information Act requests was information about contracts with the Bremer regime:

While the Defense and State Departments have granted the lion's share of contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan directly from Washington, a few U.S. companies have made their deals directly with local governing authorities that have emerged with U.S. support or direction.

The companies do not appear on the lists of contracts the Center for Public Integrity obtained under the Freedom of Information Act; their direct dealings with the provisional authorities in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the complexity of tracking the role of private companies in the post-war countries.

They have a good write up on the Alexandria, Virginia, military firm Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI), which covers, among other things, the reason why MPRI has the distinction of being the only private military firm to have been discussed in the Hague by a war crimes tribunal (Singer, p. 122-3):

In 1994 and 1995, MPRI was paid millions of dollars under a U.S. government-sanctioned contract to train the Croatian military. In August 1995, the previously inept Croatian army launched "Operation Storm," a U.S.-style military offensive designed to take back part of the country held throughout the war by rebel Serbs. Critics charged that MPRI provided training and tactical skills that enabled the Croatian military to perpetrate one of the largest episodes of ethnic cleansing in the breakup of former Yugoslavia. MPRI denied those charges. The offensive left hundreds dead and 150,000 homeless. Afterwards, the Croatian government expressed its gratitude to MPRI for its help in training its military. MPRI was later hired to train the new Bosnian army after the Dayton Peace Accords ended the war in former Yugoslavia.

MPRI is also the firm to whom the job of writing the US government manuals on how to utilize private military contractors was subcontracted: FM 100-10-2, Contracting Support on the Battle Field and FM-100-21: Contractors on the Battle Field (Singer pp 123-124). So, apparently, they got to write the rules on how the government will contract with them.

Googling on items like MPRI and Hague or Operation Storm yeild a daunting quantity of information; more than I feel able to cope with just now. But there seems to be a substantial contingent which believes that MPRI bears some significant responsibility civilian casualties of Operation Storm:

Was the US behind the single greatest act of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia?

"In early August 1995," writes researcher Gregory Elich, "the Croatian invasion of Serbian Krajina precipitated the worst refugee crisis of the Yugoslav civil war. Within days, more than two hundred thousand Serbs, virtually the entire population of Krajina, fled their homes, and 14,000 Serbian civilians lost their lives." ("The invasion of Serbian Krajina," NATO in the Balkans: Voices of Opposition, International Action Center, New York, 1998.)

This was Operation Storm, "the largest single act of ethnic cleansing of the Yugoslav civil war," according to Even Dyer, a journalist with CBC Radio. "And yet not one person has been arrested and brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia" ("Croatian atrocities being forgotten: Cdn. Officers," CBC News, July 21, 2003.)

Now, the subject of who committed war crimes in a situation like that is extremely complex. (Its complexity is nicely discussed in The Fog of Justice from The New York Review of Books.) Nonetheless, the matter raises troubling issues for the implications of military subcontracting. One of MPRI's current contracts in Iraq is to train the new Iraqi Army.

In midst of this mass rush to defend our defence and military outsourcing policies, we need to stop and consider. Using private contractors to perform functions traditionally performed by our military has complex implications. Restricting privately hired men with guns to defensive assignments does not eliminate the perception or actuality that we've hired mercenaries. Nor does restricting contractors to "training" functions keep them from attracting the attention of war crimes tribunals. This deniability is a sham, and it's important that as a country we come to grips with this as quickly as possible.

An Object of Contemplation

Stumbling around white supremicist web sites, I came across a peculiar white supremicist argument for military outsourcing, one which never would have occurred to me. Now, these people are not really arguing for outsourcing, but for outright military cuts, though in a fairly belicose context. Nonetheless, this whole line of reasoning comes as a shock to me. Cutting through the thicket of paranoia in this passage, I see a novel argument:

All modern warfare has been at the expense of our White gene pool. All modern institutions are designed to stifle White racial aggression to the betterment and expansion, of lesser races. War breeds phoney patriotism to a multi-racial nation. The diverse races and religions of North America will ultimately sink into Third World poverty and disease, until White men and women turn the tide.

In short, military warfare benefits a very few, at the expense of the many. Warfare destroys needed natural resources, and diminishes the best breeding stock of our race. It promotes race-mixing, and racial pollution. Other dangers are that all sophisticated spy satellites and star wars style weapons may be used, ultimately against those that were bankrupted paying for them.

Make no mistake. The so-called end of the communist struggle, marks the beginning of "Operation Mop-Up", by transnational financial cartels, and the Universalist Cult behind them.

Among our enemies, White racism or Separatism is the new target. If need be, the same polyglot forces and weapons tested rather recently on Iraq and Serbia, will be used against us, if it becomes necessary.

Logic: War is a racket. Support at least a 75% cut in the war budget, not only in this country, but in every country in the world. White Separatists must oppose system controlled warfare; our war is right here at home!

Could some of the motivation for outsourcing military functions to private military firms be a matter of the buyer wanting a greater control over the race of the soldiers? How strange.