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July 08, 2004

German TV news report (and take a deep breath, folks): Children at Abu Ghraib

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

Three days ago, a German TV newsmagazine called Report Mainz broadcast an eight-minute segment reporting that the International Red Cross found at least 107 children in coaliton-administered detention centers in Iraq.

The report also quotes from a yet-unpublished June 2004 UNICEF report, which (as near as I can tell through my crappy German) confirms that children were routinely arrested and "interned" in a camp in Um-Qasr. UNICEF seems particularly vexed with the "internment" status, since that means indefinite detention.

Another storm seems about to begin. Possibly a large one.

Even if you have no German at all, hit the link and watch the video. (Click where it says "Beitrag ansehen" and you'll get a RealVideo stream. I'd include a direct link but the server seems to require you to link from the page.) There's some footage of the internment camps here that you're not likely to see on American TV. The link also includes a complete transcript, in German.

In addition to the Red Cross and UNICEF concerns, Report Mainz broadcast an original interview with U.S. Army Sgt. Samuel Provance, who was stationed for six months at Abu Ghraib and later quite famously blew the whistle about abuses there and the subsequent cover-up. In this interview, Provance confirms the presence of teenagers in Abu Ghraib, describing the torture-by-cold-and-exposure of a teenage boy in order to get his father to talk.

The General Secretary of Amnesty International in Germany, Barbara Lochbihler, is finally shown demanding a full accounting from the U.S. government, describing the information as "scandalous."

A few caveats: I haven't found where Provance mentioned young people at Abu Ghraib until now, and another witness in the report describes "hundreds" of pre-pubescents at Abu Ghraib, which tingles my smell detector. Then again, I wouldn't have believed in Stack-The-Iraqis at first, either.

There's also the point that a 15-year-old can damn sure fire a gun. But even so, since 70-90 percent of those at Abu Ghraib were innocent, if at least 107 kids were locked up, the best-case scenario is still that the U.S. has interned a boatload of innocent Iraqi kids. That's still bad.

The worst-case, meanwhile, if the German TV report is even close... is a lot worse.

Meanwhile, there's not a damn thing -- I mean, not a single word I can find -- about this yet in the U.S. media, but it's starting to pick up speed on the rest of our tiny planet, so far showing up in Der Spiegel (roughly Germany's equivalent to Time), an Australian ABC Radio report, and TV2 and NRK television in Norway, where the story might even lead to a change in Norway's participation in the U.S.-led coalition.

If you're an American news reporter led here by a reader, but you need a hook that doesn't place the incendiary charges in the lead (for whatever reason), OK, here's your story on a platter: Bush may even lose another ally over this. Hit the Norwegian links, and you'll find that the local Amnesty International has stated that "Norway can not continue its military collaboration with the US in light of the alleged torture of children." Norway actually listens to its activists; you'll find that the Prime Minister's office says it plans to address the situation with the U.S. "in a very severe and direct way."

If this ain't news, I don't know what the hell is.

I've Google-rigged an English version of the Der Spiegel article. This is a good place to get the gist of what the world is starting to read, even through the machine translation, which parses the headline as "US Soldiers Are To Have Abused Arrested Children."

This is gonna travel pretty fast. Let me look again... yup. New headlines have appeared just since I started writing this.

In Pakistan right this minute, they're reading "Over 100 Children Abused in Custody in Iraq".

Factual conflation aside -- that's not what the original report stated -- it hurts like hell that it's no longer a perceptual leap to assume the worst. When I think of the outpouring of love for America post-9/11... it's just stunning how far we have fallen. This is really what the world sees now.

Still, we need to know. My thanks to reader Thomas for the tip that started me on this.

If you'd like to know more than a guy with bad German, worse Norwegian, and a laptop can find out in an hour, give the major newspapers and cable networks an email or a holler. I understand they have actual reporters and stuff.

TNR: arrest of Bin Laden requested for late July -- to disrupt the Democratic convention

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)


If you haven't already realized that Team Chimpy is concerned only with their own power, to the exclusion of all else, including national security:

Via Josh Marshall's always-excellent Talking Points Memo, we learn from the New Republic that three sources in Pakistani intelligence confirm our worst suspicions:

The New Republic has learned that Pakistani security officials have been told they must produce HVTs [high value targets, e.g., Bin Laden] by the election.

-- snip --

... a White House aide told [director of Pakistani intelligence Lt. Gen. Ehsan] ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Take a minute and be as appalled as humanly possible.

The article goes on to detail the carrot-and-stick measures used to crank up the pressure on Islamabad to deliver up Bin Laden in a timely fashion.

Which means they could have done this earlier.

This should be national news. Now.

We should rejoice at Osama's capture, whenever it happens. But if Bin Laden suddenly shows up as scheduled, this should be understood, in advance, as prima facie evidence George W. Bush has spent years -- years! -- not doing all in his power to bring the greatest mass murderer in our history to justice.


July 07, 2004

The GOP: Ready to smear in any contingency

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

If you're curious, you can find the RNC's ready-made hit-the-ground-running smear of John Edwards at

Thanks to alert reader David, we also learn that you'll get the exact same page by visiting
which isn't news, exactly, but it's amusing. The GOP was ready to denounce almost anybody, guns blazing, the second the announcement was made.

Almost anybody.

were left unregistered.

9-11 Commission: Dick Cheney Is A F***ing Liar

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

Granted, I'm paraphasing slightly.

But only slightly.


July 06, 2004

Homeland Security: Keeping America Safe From International Cricket

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

The Cricket World Cup is coming to the West Indies in 2007. In an effort to increase U.S. appreciation for the game, American cricketers have offered to host some of the matches in Florida.

The International Cricket Council's response: thanks, but no thanks.

The disturbing possibility that a high-profile Muslim player could be stranded at an American airport, trying to explain to bemused immigration officials that he had a vital cricket World Cup match to play in Florida, was a damaging scenario that the ICC and the West Indies World Cup organising committee dared not take.

The fall-out from 9/11 means the likes of St Kitts and Nevis, two tiny Caribbean islands with a joint population of 39,000, have outbid the United States, official population, according to the CIA factbook, 293 million.

I know this seems like trivia, especially compared to the Sudan post just below this (and please keep reading -- that's a really big deal), but it's a small measure of how isolated the U.S. is truly becoming, largely without our knowledge.

The ICC would dearly love to gain a foothold in the U.S., given what that could mean to the sport economically. Besides, cricket is a supremely international game in which national sides tour the planet frequently, often creating the sort of cultural exchange one hopes to see in the Olympics at its very best.

A recent series of matches between India and Pakistan was widely seen a key symbol of improving relations between the nuclear rivals. (Imagine a USSR hockey team's Glasnost-era tour of the U.S., and you get a bit of the flavor.) Despite a half-century of tension, terrorist incidents, and three actual shooting wars, Indian players touring Lahore were actually showered with flowers by Pakistanis eager for peace, a scene unimaginable to many not so long ago.

Pakistan's bowlers, batsmen, and silly mid-ons (yes, that's an actual position, a bit like a shortstop) aren't exactly terrorists -- but the world body of cricket is clearly convinced they're likely to be treated as such in America.

Our loss.

I wonder how long it will be before America learns that judging Islam by the actions of terrorists is like judging Christianity on the basis of Abu Ghraib.

I once watched New Zealand's cricket team host Pakistan in Auckland. The green-flag-waving Muslim contingent was treated as no big deal, friendly rivals, nothing more. In fact, during the lunch break, a white-robed long-bearded fellow in a large headdress took part in one of those catch-the-ball-win-a-prize things in the center of the field, and the crowd cheered him loudest of all. When his turn came, his headdress flew off, and he almost tripped on his robe, but he caught the ball and came up grinning. And in that moment, he wasn't some guy from halfway around the world. He was some guy who just got to be a little kid again, in front of 10,000 people.

It's a lovely memory, and something I wish we could see in this country someday.

Someday feels a little farther off.

Keep reading about Sudan...


(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)


Since early 2003, tens of thousands of Sudanese citizens of African descent who live in the Darfur region have been systematically killed, raped, and displaced as their villages have been destroyed. Through coordinated land and air attacks; the burning of homes and crops; the rounding up of livestock; the destruction of wells, granaries, and irrigation works; the uprooting of trees; and the theft of all possessions, the government of Sudan and the government-supported Arab militia, Janjaweed, have displaced more than 1 million people.


Go visit Physicians for Human Rights. Read their recommendations (pdf format), and make a donation to help.

Here's PassionOfThePresent.org, a blog devoted to the issue.

And let's all tell the news media wherever we are that this is just slightly more urgent than the latest daily tidbit about whether Scott Peterson killed Kobe Bryant or Mary Kate is secretly addicted to shoving Ashley up her nose.

(And I'm compelled to point out that until very recently, the only time any U.S. media has mentioned Sudan in the past year, it has been to hype or debunk various alleged Saddam/Al-Qaeda links. Not, say, the systematic killing of tens of thousands of actual Sudanese. I am ashamed to include myself in this category.)

Bush approval numbers vs. price of gas

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

Interesting theory making the rounds -- that Bush's approval numbers simply reflect the price of gas.

Click on the links -- these are sites worth visiting anyhow -- then have a look at the chart. It's pretty darn cool. At first glance, the curves seem amazingly similar.

At first glance.

But let's think for a second here. Obviously, nobody's suggesting that Bush's approval number has direct influence on the price of gas -- that somebody at Royal Dutch Shell is sitting at a desk somewhere hooked up to Zogby and shouting out numbers for the pumps. The implied suggestion is the logical converse -- that Bush's numbers move subsequent to the price of gas.

Then look again, more closely. You'll soon find five large, separate increases in the gas price (represented upside-down, for easier comparison to Bush's popularity number) completely unrelated to any immediate dip in Bush's job ratings, and two clear drops unrelated to any gain. The large moves that do correlate mostly do so in the wrong order -- the gas price changes after Bush's number moves. There are actually more of these moves than fluctations occuring in the only potentially meaningful order.

Truth is, you can correlate anything to just about anything. The classic example is ice cream sales and the murder rate, which often rise and fall together. Does ice cream make us into killers? Does killing make us want ice cream? Nope. (At least I hope not.) But it gets really hot in August. And cold in December. There's your causation.

For the chart in question, I'd suggest a rather obvious series of well-known political events as the likely external source of causation in both charts. But make up your own mind.

For my book a few years ago, I cooked up a similar, completely accurate yet utterly misleading chart seemingly correlating America's violent crime rate to album sales by the band Journey. (I swear. It's on page 182.)

(Incidentally, you'll notice that my website still calls the 1999 book "new." Then again, Dick Cheney still links Saddam to Al-Qaeda. So, um, yeah, updating takes a while...)

But it's a cool and clever graphic. Very well done.

UPDATE: found the Journey chart on my old website.


July 04, 2004

Another accidental display of American multicultural awareness

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

You've surely already read about Colin Powell performing the Village People's "YMCA" in Indonesia. If not, the BBC has the video.

As the BBC's Tim Willcox dryly put it:

In any league table of politicans' most embarrassing moments, it must rank pretty high.

And really, is there any better way to help stabilize a nation struggling with fanatic Muslim reactionaries than by performing a tune originally created to celebrate joyful gay sex?

I think not.

Y'know, it's the sheer enthusiasm behind the bat-brained idiocy that's so amusing.

Watch the video. Tell your friends.

And then remember this is the guy whose cartoons, empty vials, and plagiarized, misleading data led directly to an elective war, ten thousand civilian deaths, global distrust of the U.S., and a strengthed Al-Qaeda, all at a rising cost already surpassing $120 billion.

The guy in the hard hat. Trying to sing "YMCA." In front of a bunch of foreign minsters. In Indonesia.

Giggle. Cry.

And then at least be glad we'll (probably) still have elections in the fall.

I guess there's still some pride in that.

On this July 4, have a truly wonderful series of gratuitous explosions -- a form of celebration derived from the British, the escape from whose influence we are supposedly celebrating.

Geniuses, we are. Genius, right from the start.

UPDATE: A surprising number of readers have leapt to defend Colin Powell because he reportedly didn't want to lie and help start a war.

First, thanks for your input, honestly. But the defense widely offered is simply indefensible: hey, I didn't want to [bad act of your choice] -- my boss told me to, so I did. A similar line of argument was tried at Nuremburg, recall, without much success.

Powell is as responsible for his own actions as anyone else. And he had a wide array of options -- one of which was simply telling the full truth. (That such an act -- and its consequences -- might still seem unimaginable exonerates Powell much less than it convicts us all.)

At least with our drunk-driving deserter-in-chief, we can cut a little slack for the fascinating variety of his personal incompetence. But there's no doubt that Powell walked into that room and lied through his teeth to the entire world, which wasn't exactly new behavior. Yes, Powell defenders, yes -- he fully knew what he was doing, and he probably did it because he thought it was his job. Absolutely.

Hard to see how that makes things all better.

Matter of fact, awareness of one's wrongdoing is universally held to increase culpability, not decrease it. (Conscious intent can differentiate manslaughter from murder one, for example.) Thus, if you think about it for a few seconds, the arguments offered by many of Powell's defenders... condemn him further.


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