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May 15, 2004


Frank Lynch has further thoughts on comparative degrees of attention, as well as facile analyses of media bias. Go read.


May 14, 2004

Skewed perspectives

The right wing blogs seem to be fixated on the Nick Berg story, and how little attention it's receiving compared to the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal. One giggle-inducing post I read goes so far as to claim that the blogs broke the story and are keeping it alive, in steadfast defiance of the mainstream media and their obvious detemination to sweep it all under the rug. Well, let's see. I first heard about the story when I checked in to Yahoo news and saw it posted there, shortly after it was filed. I learned more about it in above-the-fold, front page stories in the New York Times; on the evening news, where it led the newscast a couple of nights in a row; and on cable news, where it was discussed ad infinitum. If blogs had a role in breaking the news, I'm a little vague on what it might have been. (Note to interested parties: linking to a story someone else has reported and filed does not constitute "breaking" that story.)

As for keeping it alive while the mainstream media steadfastly ignore it--well, go back and re-read that first paragraph. Look, I'll try to go slow here for the benefit of the easily confused: the prison abuse story still has huge unanswered questions. Is this standard operating procedure throughout the "secret" prison system? What the hell are Americans doing running a secret prison system anyway? Who in the chain of command knew this was going on? Where does the CIA fit in? How about the "private contractors"? Asking these questions is the way an open society maintains its checks and balances. People who don't understand that would have happily overlooked Watergate, My Lai, you name it.

The Nick Berg story, on the other hand--a terrible thing happened, it led the news for several days--there's not much more to say (unless you want to delve into the contradictory accounts of Berg's detention by U.S. forces, but somehow I suspect that's not the angle that interests the warbloggers). This was a terrible, terrible event. Anyone in this country who pays the slightest attention to the news has heard about this story, and is appalled and disgusted by it. What more is there to say? I am hardly an apologist for the mainstream news media, as anyone with the most passing familiarity with my work is well aware, but it's just not their job to open every newscast chanting "four legs good, two legs bad" over and over again.

To summarize: the prisoner abuse story continues to dominate the news because it is an ongoing story with many unanswered questions about the actions of our military and our government--questions of direct relevance to our democratic system. And information keeps dribbling out. Congress is given access to unreleased photos, and various politicians hold press conferences--news is generated. Trials are about to commence, the defendants and their attorneys give contradictory statements to the media--more news. See how that works? The Nick Berg story, by contrast, has been covered thoroughly, and we're all horrified by it--but there's just not much more there for the media to report at this point.

(...Frankly, it occurs to me that I saw a lot of footage this week of reporters standing outside the shuttered home of Berg's parents, speculating as to whether or not funeral services had been held yet, discussing the parents' criticism of the US role in their son's death, and any other angle they could come up with, doing their absolute damndest to milk the story for all it's worth. I don't know in what parallel universe it was "ignored", but here on planet Earth it got plenty of attention. And if some new information or new angle on the story comes to light, you can rest assured that it will get plenty more.)

...in case the preceeding is still too complicated for the comprehension-impaired, Mark Kleiman explains it...very...slowly...


Okay, one quick link

The Great American Dumbfest.

TBogg is a national treasure.


May 13, 2004

Broadcast week ends early

Deadlines today, meetings tomorrow. Probably done here for the week.


May 12, 2004

Confidential to the Kerry campaign

Do this.

Please, please, please do this.


I guess all cable companies probably suck in their own unique, individual ways--but one of the happiest thoughts of this upcoming move is that I'm getting the hell out of Time Warner's service area.

That is all.

Mightier than the sword

From Terry Welch:

As many of you know, I am currently in the apolitical position of Army public affairs specialist in Afghanistan...

When I first mentioned on my blog, Nitpicker, that I was going to be deployed, a large number of you asked how you could help me, what I would need for Afghanistan. The truth is, there's not much. However, I just went on my first mission with a civil affairs group and found a way you might be able to help me out.

It seems that the children of Afghanistan want nothing more than they want a pen.

It was explained to me that the villages through which I traveled (near Kandahar, where I'm based) are so poor that a pen is like a scholarship to these children. They desperately want to learn but, without a pen, they simply won't. It's a long story. I won't bore you with it. Trust me, though, when I say that it would be a big deal if even a few of you could put up the call for pens for me. Anyone interested in helping out could either send some directly to me or go to these sites and send them, where you can find them for as cheap as $.89 a dozen.

(Office Max)

You can send them to me at this address:

Terry L. Welch
105th MPAD
Kandahar Public Affairs Office
APO  AE  09355

Office Max link above. Or you can use Office Depot--John Reinan has the lowdown:

I wanted to respond to Terry's request for pens and discovered that from the Office Depot website, you cannot ship to an APO address.

What you need to do is send an e-mail to


Tell them what you want to order (from the Office Depot website) and
where to ship it. You can give them your credit card number if you feel
bold, or leave it off and they'll call you back to get it. I went ahead
and gave it to them.

I sent Terry 30 dozen pens. They only cost 74 cents a dozen, for a
total of under 25 bucks. What a deal to get 360 Afghan kids a start on
an education.

If you have questions, the Office Depot helpline for this is
800-487-4585, but they'll just tell you what I just told you.

The Pit

Meant to post this yesterday, got sidetracked for obvious reasons. This is what's happening in our country's name:

In Afghanistan, the CIA's secret U.S. interrogation center in Kabul is known as "The Pit," named for its despairing conditions. In Iraq, the most important prisoners are kept in a huge hangar near the runway at Baghdad International Airport, say U.S. government officials, counterterrorism experts and others. In Qatar, U.S. forces have been ferrying some Iraqi prisoners to a remote jail on the gigantic U.S. air base in the desert.

The Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where a unit of U.S. soldiers abused prisoners, is just the largest and suddenly most notorious in a worldwide constellation of detention centers -- many of them secret and all off-limits to public scrutiny -- that the U.S. military and CIA have operated in the name of counterterrorism or counterinsurgency operations since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

These prisons and jails are sometimes as small as shipping containers and as large as the sprawling Guantanamo Bay complex in Cuba. They are part of an elaborate CIA and military infrastructure whose purpose is to hold suspected terrorists or insurgents for interrogation and safekeeping while avoiding U.S. or international court systems, where proceedings and evidence against the accused would be aired in public. Some are even held by foreign governments at the informal request of the United States.

"The number of people who have been detained in the Arab world for the sake of America is much more than in Guantanamo Bay. Really, thousands," said Najeeb Nuaimi, a former justice minister of Qatar who is representing the families of dozens of prisoners.

The largely hidden array includes three systems that only rarely overlap: the Pentagon-run network of prisons, jails and holding facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere; small and secret CIA-run facilities where top al Qaeda and other figures are kept; and interrogation rooms of foreign intelligence services -- some with documented records of torture -- to which the U.S. government delivers or "renders" mid- or low-level terrorism suspects for questioning.

All told, more than 9,000 people are held by U.S. authorities overseas, according to Pentagon figures and estimates by intelligence experts, the vast majority under military control. The detainees have no conventional legal rights: no access to a lawyer; no chance for an impartial hearing; and, at least in the case of prisoners held in cellblock 1A at Abu Ghraib, no apparent guarantee of humane treatment accorded prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions or civilians in U.S. jails.


CIA employees are under investigation by the Justice Department and the CIA inspector general's office in connection with the death of three captives in the past six months, two who died while under interrogation in Iraq, and a third who was being questioned by a CIA contract interrogator in Afghanistan. A CIA spokesman said the hiding of detainees was inappropriate. He declined to comment further.

None of the arrangements that permit U.S. personnel to kidnap, transport, interrogate and hold foreigners are ad hoc or unauthorized, including the so-called renditions. "People tend to regard it as an extra-judicial kidnapping; it's not," former CIA officer Peter Probst said. "There is a long history of this. It has been done for decades. It's absolutely legal."

In fact, every aspect of this new universe -- including maintenance of covert airlines to fly prisoners from place to place, interrogation rules and the legal justification for holding foreigners without due process afforded most U.S. citizens -- has been developed by military or CIA lawyers, vetted by Justice Department's office of legal counsel and, depending on the particular issue, approved by White House general counsel's office or the president himself.

There's much more. Go read it. And then tell yourself that the abuses of Abu Ghraib can be blamed on seven lowly guards.

Abu Ghraib is just a brief peek into the darkness. God knows what else is happening out there.

It's facile to pretend to know what the terrorists "really" want--but I can't shake the sneaking suspicion that Osama couldn't be happier right now. If it was our intention, after 9/11, to mess things up even worse, to pour gasoline on the flames, to take a bad situation and really, really fuck it up...well, then we should be very proud.

27 reasons why

From a University of Illinois press release:

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — If it seems that there have been quite a few rationales for going to war in Iraq, that’s because there have been quite a few – 27, in fact, all floated between Sept. 12, 2001, and Oct. 11, 2002, according to a new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. All but four of the rationales originated with the administration of President George W. Bush.

The study also finds that the Bush administration switched its focus from Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein early on – only five months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.


The rationales Largio identified include everything from the five front-runners – war on terror, prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, lack of weapons inspections, removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Saddam Hussein is evil, to the also-rans – Sen. Joe Lieberman’s “because Saddam Hussein hates us,” Colin Powell’s “because it’s a violation of international law,” and Richard Perle’s “because we can make Iraq an example and gain favor within the Middle East.”

Tell him Tom sent you

Jim Finkelstein is a regular reader of this site--I don't have time to dig through the archives right now, but some of you may remember an essay of his I posted awhile back, about his son, a sergeant in the USMC, serving in Iraq.

Anyway, Jim's running for Zell Miller's seat in Georgia. His website is here. Go say hello.

...looks like his site may be having a little trouble with the traffic. Just keep trying.

Something odd here

Posted by the Sandwichman over at MaxSpeak:

On March 7, 2004 an "enemies list" composed of signatories to an anti-war petition was posted on the Free Republic website. The introductory and subsequent comments on that list suggest that the purpose of the posting was to encourage people to harrass the individuals on the list and to circulate their names to agencies and individuals that might take action against them.

Nick Berg's father, Michael Berg was on that list and he named Prometheus Methods Tower Service, Inc. as an affiliation. According to his family on March 24, 2004 -- approximately two weeks after publication of the enemies list on the Free Republic website -- Nick Berg was detained by Iraqi police who handed him over to US forces, he was then held until April 6 when he was released, the day after his family had filed a lawsuit in Philadelphia federal court. Nick Berg was not heard from again after April 9.

Which brings up something that's been bugging me--maybe it's nothing, but why is Berg wearing what appears to be an orange prison jumpsuit?


Remember "flypaper"?

At a certain point in the war, when it first became apparent that things had not ended like a happy Hollywood movie on Pulling Down the Statue Day, supporters of the war came up with a rationalization they called the "flypaper theory." Since the war was becoming a focal point for regional terrorists, they decided that this was exactly what they had in mind all along--that as long as terrorists were busy in Iraq, they wouldn't bother us here. Leaving aside the question of whether terrorism is quite that much of a zero sum game--which I truly doubt--we are left with an inherently disturbing moral calculation: the notion that it is acceptable, and even desirable, to use soldiers as bait in order to keep the Homeland safe. Go over there and keep them busy blowing you up, so that we may sit safely in the nearest Starbucks with WiFi.

It was all nonsense of course, an after-the-fact rationalization inspired by Bush's thoughtless "bring 'em on" remark. And I understand this. Otherwise I might be tempted to cynically note that the proponents of the flypaper theory should be delighted today, because it seems to be working really, really well.

Berg's death is more horrible, but no more tragic, than any of the other 773 U.S. fatalities, as of this writing--kids, many of them, barely out of childhood, robbed of the rest of their lives by a war that makes less sense every day. And let's not forget the estimated 4000-7000 Iraqis killed so far--how many of them were guilty of nothing more than choosing the wrong birthplace?

Rose petals, my ass.

...Iraq body count says the Iraqi civilian death estimate is closer to 10,000.


May 11, 2004

CAIRO, Egypt - A video posted Tuesday on an Islamic militant Web site showed the beheading of an American civilian in Iraq (news - web sites), and said the execution was carried out by an al-Qaida affiliated group to avenge the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers.

The video showed five men wearing headscarves and black ski masks, standing over a bound man in an orange jumpsuit — similar to a prisoner's uniform — who identified himself as Nick Berg, a U.S. contractor whose body was found on a highway overpass in Baghdad on Saturday.

Things just get worse and worse. What a goddamn mess we're in over there.

...the Fox news anchors waste no time in exploiting this: see, the terrorists do far worse things than happened at Abu Ghraib. No one contests this, of course, but what a pathetic standard it sets: the American military--not as bad as al Qaeda!

...more from Max.

...Markos reminds us that the administration could have taken out Zarqawi in 2002, but didn't--for political reasons.

(slight editing)


From the Senate hearing on Iraqi prisoner abuse, a few moments ago:

JAMES INHOFE (R-OK): All kinds of accounts are coming out now, many are fictitious I would suggest, one was about a guy being dragged out of a barbershop, this was in the Washington Post this morning, they talked about the person doing this had AK47s...are our troops issued AK47s?

LT GEN LANCE SMITH: They are not, sir.

Hah! Gotcha, lying liberal media! Here's the article, which Inhofe has clearly proven to be factually flawed, right?

Not exactly.

BAQOUBA, Iraq (AP) An American soldier stands at the side of an Iraqi highway, puts his AK-47 on fully automatic and pulls the trigger.


''We just do not have enough rifles to equip all of our soldiers. So in certain circumstances we allow soldiers to have an AK-47. They have to demonstrate some proficiency with the weapon ... demonstrate an ability to use it,'' said Lt. Col. Mark Young, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.


Now U.S. troops who have picked up AKs on raids or confiscated them at checkpoints are putting the rifles to use and they like what they see.

Some complain that standard U.S. military M16 and M4 rifles jam too easily in Iraq's dusty environment. Many say the AK has better ''knockdown'' power and can kill with fewer shots.

''The kind of war we are in now ... you want to be able to stop the enemy quick,'' said Sgt. 1st Class Tracy S. McCarson of Newport News, Va., an army scout, who carries an AK in his Humvee.

Some troops say the AK is easier to maintain and a better close-quarters weapon. Also, it has ''some psychological affect on the enemy when you fire back on them with their own weapons,'' ''Normally an armor battalion is fighting from its tanks. Well, we are not fighting from our tanks right now,'' Young said. ''We are certainly capable of performing the missions that we have been assigned, there's no issue with that, but we do find ourselves somewhat challenged.''


Some complain that standard U.S. military M16 and M4 rifles jam too easily in Iraq's dusty environment. Many say the AK has better ''knockdown'' power and can kill with fewer shots.

''The kind of war we are in now ... you want to be able to stop the enemy quick,'' said Sgt. 1st Class Tracy S. McCarson of Newport News, Va., an army scout, who carries an AK in his Humvee.

Some troops say the AK is easier to maintain and a better close-quarters weapon. Also, it has ''some psychological affect on the enemy when you fire back on them with their own weapons,'' McCarson said.


From Newsweek:

Donald Rumsfeld likes to be in total control. He wants to know all the details, including the precise interrogation techniques used on enemy prisoners. Since 9/11 he has insisted on personally signing off on the harsher methods used to squeeze suspected terrorists held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The conservative hard-liners at the Department of Justice have given the secretary of Defense a lot of leeway. It does not violate the spirit of the Geneva Conventions, the lawyers have told Rumsfeld, to put prisoners in ever-more-painful "stress positions" or keep them standing for hours on end, to deprive them of sleep or strip them naked. According to one of Rumsfeld's aides, the secretary has drawn the line at interrogating prisoners for more than 24 hours at a time or depriving them of light.

And then there's this from a couple months ago:

A BRITISH captive freed from Guantanamo Bay today tells the world of its full horror - and reveals how prostitutes were taken into the camp to degrade Muslim inmates.

Jamal al-Harith, 37, who arrived home three days ago after two years of confinement, is the first detainee to lift the lid on the US regime in Cuba's Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta.

The father-of-three, from Manchester, told how he was assaulted with fists, feet and batons after refusing a mystery injection.

He said detainees were shackled for up to 15 hours at a time in hand and leg cuffs with metal links which cut into the skin.

Their "cells" were wire cages with concrete floors and open to the elements - giving no privacy or protection from the rats, snakes and scorpions loose around the American base.

He claims punishment beatings were handed out by guards known as the Extreme Reaction Force. They waded into inmates in full riot-gear, raining blows on them.

(Second one via TPM.)

We went into Iraq with what, in retrospect, seems like a childish fantasy. We were going to topple Saddam, establish democracy and hand the country back to grateful Iraqis. We expected to be universally admired when it was all over.

Well, you know, hindsight is wonderful, but some of us were trying to point out that this was a "childish fantasy" a couple of years ago. I mean, did these morons really believe that millions of people were demonstrating in the streets of major cities across the planet because we all hated democracy and secretly supported Saddam?

The pathetic thing is, some of them probably did.


May 10, 2004


I'm moving about the same time the Administration wants to hand over control of Iraq, and I'm not sure I have time to get everything done. Anyway I've got to focus on some other stuff this week, like getting some "evergreen" cartoons in the can, so I probably won't be blogging excessively.


May 09, 2004

Why do US military leaders hate America?

From the Washington Post:

Deep divisions are emerging at the top of the U.S. military over the course of the occupation of Iraq, with some senior officers beginning to say that the United States faces the prospect of casualties for years without achieving its goal of establishing a free and democratic Iraq.

Their major worry is that the United States is prevailing militarily but failing to win the support of the Iraqi people. That view is far from universal, but it is spreading and being voiced publicly for the first time.

Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, "I think strategically, we are."

Army Col. Paul Hughes, who last year was the first director of strategic planning for the U.S. occupation authority in Baghdad, said he agrees with that view and noted that a pattern of winning battles while losing a war characterized the U.S. failure in Vietnam. "Unless we ensure that we have coherency in our policy, we will lose strategically," he said in an interview Friday.

"I lost my brother in Vietnam," added Hughes, a veteran Army strategist who is involved in formulating Iraq policy. "I promised myself, when I came on active duty, that I would do everything in my power to prevent that [sort of strategic loss] from happening again. Here I am, 30 years later, thinking we will win every fight and lose the war, because we don't understand the war we're in."

he emergence of sharp differences over U.S. strategy has set off a debate, a year after the United States ostensibly won a war in Iraq, about how to preserve that victory. The core question is how to end a festering insurrection that has stymied some reconstruction efforts, made many Iraqis feel less safe and created uncertainty about who actually will run the country after the scheduled turnover of sovereignty June 30.

Inside and outside the armed forces, experts generally argue that the U.S. military should remain there but should change its approach. Some argue for more troops, others for less, but they generally agree on revising the stated U.S. goals to make them less ambitious. They are worried by evidence that the United States is losing ground with the Iraqi public.

Some officers say the place to begin restructuring U.S. policy is by ousting Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, whom they see as responsible for a series of strategic and tactical blunders over the past year. Several of those interviewed said a profound anger is building within the Army at Rumsfeld and those around him.

A senior general at the Pentagon said he believes the United States is already on the road to defeat. "It is doubtful we can go on much longer like this," he said. "The American people may not stand for it -- and they should not."


In addition to trimming the U.S. troop presence, a young Army general said, the United States also should curtail its ambitions in Iraq. "That strategic objective, of a free, democratic, de-Baathified Iraq, is grandiose and unattainable," he said. "It's just a matter of time before we revise downward . . . and abandon these ridiculous objectives."

Instead, he predicted that if the Bush administration wins reelection, it simply will settle for a stable Iraq, probably run by former Iraqi generals. This is more or less, he said, what the Marines Corps did in Fallujah -- which he described as a glimpse of future U.S. policy.


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