Friday, June 30, 2006

Murder and rape in Iraq: it's not just for al-Qaeda anymore.

Oh wait, al-Qaeda doesn't rape their victims.

AP reports:

"BEIJI, Iraq - The U.S. Army will investigate charges that American soldiers were involved in the killings of four Iraqi relatives, including a woman who had been raped, military officials said Friday. It's the sixth current inquiry into the alleged slayings of Iraqi civilians by American troops.

A U.S. official close to the investigation said at least one of the soldiers, all assigned to the 502nd Infantry Regiment, has admitted his role and been arrested. Two soldiers from the same regiment were slain this month when they were kidnapped at a checkpoint near Youssifiyah.

The official told the AP the accused soldiers were from the same platoon as the two slain soldiers. The military has said one and possibly both of the slain soldiers were tortured and beheaded. The official said the mutilation of the slain soldiers stirred feelings of guilt and led at least one of them to reveal the rape-slaying on June 22.

One of the accused soldiers already has been discharged and is believed to be in the United States, several U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. The others have had their weapons taken away and are confined to Forward Operating Base Mahmoudiyah."

Where is the one in the United States? I'm hoping behind bars somewhere and not running loose. What the hell is this all about? What is going on in the 502nd Infantry Regiment and could the deaths of Pfc. Tucker and Menchaca have been revenge killings in the Iraqi tribal traditon?

Looks like Haditha isn't the "isolated incident" that the defenders of this war keep trying to claim it is. Oddly, these allegations if true, start to sound an awful lot like Cpl. Joshua Belile's Hadji Girl which so entertained the troops.

This whole war is so pornographic, it is just sickening. What have we come to? Just like when you see a roach in the kitchen you know there's a thousand behind the wall, these six investigations are just the tip of the ice berg. When a morally bankrupt administration lies to go to a war it wants to fight, bends the rules of war that lead to Abu Ghraib and to this day defends the most egregious violations of human rights, this is what you're going to get.

Just wait until these soldiers get home and start practicing what they learned in Iraq on us!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

John Paul Stevens to meet with Salim Hamdan, involuntarily?

The WaPo reports:

"The Supreme Court today delivered a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration over its plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions, ruling that the commissions violate U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of war prisoners. In a 5-3 decision, the court said the trials were not authorized by any act of Congress and that their structure and procedures violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949." (what do those panty-waist Genivans know?)

What planet are they on? Don't they know that a small cabal of legal minds inside the vice-president's office has already ruled on the Constitutional merits of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and has decided in W.'s favor? Jane Mayer in this issue of the New Yorker writes that Cheney's Cheney, David Addinton, is the brains behind all these draconian policies that the administraion has been following since 9/11. In an interview with Blake Eskin Mayer she said of Addington:

"Some constitutional scholars have questioned whether Addington, in his eagerness to expand the powers of the Presidency, which he and Cheney see as having been unduly diminished since Watergate, gives enough weight to the legislative and judicial branches of the federal government. Some have suggested that he has aggrandized the powers of the President in such a way that the executive branch ignores the system of checks and balances set up by the Founding Fathers, so that its actions are unchecked and unaccountable."

Keep in mind that this is the guy who took over for Scooter Libby when he was indicted. Thus out of the frying pan and into the fire for us.

Addington was the one who came up with the idea that we were in a "new paradigm" where all those quaint notions of about due process and not torturing prisoners was out the window. So who is this guy and why is he so powerful? Because he's Cheney's man, and we all know from Ron Suskind's new book that Cheney is basically running a shadow government, from the darkness, that no one knows about.

Mayer says, "Addington exercised enormous influence in part because he was seen as Cheney’s representative, and Cheney was the epicenter of power on these matters. Addington also had a forceful, aggressive, and, some say, bullying style that allowed him to dominate legal debates. In interviews, other lawyers told me how he dismissed their views, mocked their softness if they championed international law, and worked secretively and, one of them said,viciously, to outmaneuver critics." Sound like the game plan of this administration from day one to me.

Although, this ruling apparently doesn't say Hamdan or any of the other detainees are free to go, it does say that W.'s Kanagroo courts are unconstitutional. All W. has got going for him legally in detaining these "killers" is the amorphous charge of conspiracy. Since they can't present any evidence at all against the majority of those they have been holding, some for as long as 4 years, they just slap the "conspiracy" change on.

What John Paul Stevens says is that under international law and the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, conspiracy cannot be used in such a case. W. says he just got a "drive by briefing" on the ruling but that, "To the extent that there is latitude to work with the Congress to determine whether or not the military tribunals will be an avenue in which to give people their day in court, we will do so."

Now W., what the the Supreme Court just say? You can't try these folks in one of your courts, even if Congress says you can. Conspiracy was a charge thrown out at Nuremberg and has been rejected by the military courts because it is unfair to put someone on trial for fighting against you. Anyone fighting a war is in a conspiracy.

We'll see what happens now, W. says he's not putting these killers back out on the street, but, of course, that's not the issue here; it is whether this administration can prove that the detainees and are guilty without evidence obtained through torture or hearsay from some bearded wierdo who got a pay-off from the Pakistanis for turning them in.

Something tells me David Addington is busy working on a draft of a new Martial Law declaration that will send the Five Supremes who voted for this down to Gitmo.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Allen Derschowitz is wrong on torture.

This morning on Npr's Morning Edition Allen Derschowitz suggested that not all torture might be bad. "Torture is never acceptable, but it's a reality that should be covered by rules." (If people are going to rob a 7-11s, there ought to be a rule.) He thinks that instead of the United States government going around torturing people in the dark and in secret, what we should do is have a discussion about what types of torture might be acceptable, and that if we just have to torture, we can put it into law and then it can be signed off on by the president -- as opposed to low level military personal making choices like this on their own. Some how, he thinks, this will make it more legal and less morally reprehensible. I'm sure if the world knew that we only tortured people when W. said it was ok; that would convince everyone we weren't acting like Saddam Hussein. (we're different, we love freedom)

Where to begin? First of all: torture is illegal in all instances according to our laws and all the international treaties that we have signed and have abided by for almost 50 years -- until now. The world led by the United States, after WWII did have a discussion about torture and decided it was illegal, and more than that, was beyond the pale for civilized societies to participate in. Remember the Nazis; remember the Japanese and the atrocities they were responsible for? The idea was that after that terrible war, after all the death and destruction, the world was going to be a better place and we were better than the Nazis because we didn't do things like that.

Now all of a sudden we're in another "war," this time against an ideology -- whatever that means -- and I guess this time around the particular enemy we're facing is so much more of a threat than Hitler and Tojo were that we just have to throw all those fine sounding ideals out the window.

For Allen Derschowitz to come out and say that we should start splitting hairs about whether waterboarding is really such a bad thing -- because it leaves the victim unharmed afterwards -- or sticking a sanitized hypodermic needle under someone's finger-nails -- it's sanitized! -- is just mind boggling! Where do we stop with this line of thinking? If torture is OK, maybe then, if there's a ticking time bomb about to go off in New York City, or there's a 1% chance of one going off, we should round up all the Muslims in the US and put them into camps just to be on the safe side. But why stop there, maybe we don't have time to round them all up, maybe we should go into their homes and kill them all.

Despite his example of Israel and the Mossad's claims about how many suicide bombings they've prevented by using torture, which Derschowitz accepts as gospel, the fact is that torture doesn't work as an intelligence gathering tool. The British found this out in their war against the IRA, and I thought our military and intelligence services had learned it too, judging by the large opposition to the technique by numerous JAGs and former CIA officials, but apparently not.

I don't know why it is so difficult for some people to understand, but someone being tortured will say anything they're told to say to stop the pain. This is human nature! This is why people who are actual experts on intelligence gathering; not blowhard politicians, gullible vice-presidents and fat, pill-pooping, right-wing talk show hosts; all reject the use of torture as means of extracting valuable information. It doesn’t work, it doesn't work, and it doesn't work! Jack Bauer is a fictional character on a TV show, his way of doing things wouldn't have gotten any more information out of all those "suspected insurgents" at Abu Ghraib than General Miller and his wrecking crew did; the insurgency rages on.

And after holding all those dangerous terrorists out of the loop for 4 years at Guantanamo and blasting loud music at them and smearing fake menstrual blood on their faces, they still didn't give up any information about Madrid bombings, or the London bombings, or where OBL is hiding out. In the mean time we're about one notch above Libya on the pariah state index in the eyes of our enemies and allies, so by all means let's have a discussion about what good torture is as opposed to bad torture.

My advice to Allen Derschowitz is that he might be better off practicing law in Israel, where torture is also illegal -- wink, wink -- but where apparently real men really know how to deal with terrorists. This is the United States, land of the free, home of the brave. The reason the rest of the world has looked up to us for two centuries is because we're not going to sacrifice our deeply held moral beliefs, our laws and our souls in exchange for the assurance that if we just give all of it up we'll be safe. If he's so afraid of his physical safety and such a moral coward, then he's in the wrong country.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Let's rally around getting Jonathan Last a new job!

I'm continually amazed at how Jonathan Last gets his columns into the Op-Ed pages of so many papers. I just don't get it, what does he really have to say? I guess, since he's a right winger the papers have to give him space to counter all that left wing bias, but his arguments aren't really all that interesting, they're just sort of there and, quite frankly, they're pretty weak. Give me a George Will or a David Brooks any day to get my motor running,

Last this week tells us that "there are honorable reasons to be against the Flag Protection Amendment," because, for one thing, "the Constitution is a brief document, amending it necessarily weakens it in some small measure. And criminalizing flag burning might give the act more political power." Sounds reasonable to me; why weaken the Bill of Rights to score some cheap political points in an election year? Why give flag burning more of a political cache? And as Last writes, "truth be told, in the Flag Protection Act fails, it will not be the end of the world." All good arguments to drop the whole idea, but Last thinks we should support the Flag Protection Act. What?

Yes, you read right! And what are his arguments for this: well, for one thing: "As then Justice William Rehnquist pointed out, before the colonies adapted the flag, the British navy treated captured seamen as pirates who could be summarily executed. Once American ships had a national flag to sail under, those who were captured were treated like prisoners of war. [Note to Gitmo detainees, get a flag!] Even today, fighting, sailing, or traveling under the flag conveys special rights and protections."

OK . . . the next time I go sailing I'll remember not to burn the flag. Good point, anything else?

"The flag is the idea of America, of democracy, and tolerance." No, it's a symbol of those things that are codified in the Bill of Rights, which you say this amendment 'necessarily weakens.' Anything else?

"Democracy cannot abide competing systems that seek to undermine it. That is why our Constitution expressly outlaws both theocracy and aristocracy. The flag is the embodiment of our democratic ideals. Like those ideals it should be safeguarded against those who seek its destruction."

I'm not making this stuff up, this is his last paragraph, his big wrap up.

I'll just go right past the part about theocracy ---which the president is trying to create through his faith based initiatives -- and aristocracy --which the president's family so clearly resembles -- and go right for the part about safeguarding the flag from those who "seek its destruction."

Who is seeking its destruction? When is the last time anyone burned the flag? The only example Last could muster up was some nut named Gregory Lee Johnson who burned the flag at the Republican National Convention in Dallas in ---get ready for it -- 1984!

I know, Jonathan, instead of going through all the trouble of amending the Constitution to protect the flag, which clearly is in no imminent threat, why not just ban the next Republican National Convention? If there is even a 1% chance that a flag might be burned at the RNC in 2008, where it is most likely to happen, we shouldn't take the chance.

You know, a while back Last wrote about how useless bloggers are, that what they did wasn't real journalism. He pointed out no one cares about most blogger's opinions (mainly left wing ones). And he made the point that opinion columns were only a minor part of journalism, anyway, and I would agree; so I don't see why he bothers, he obviously doesn't have his heart in it. Save a tree Jonathan, get a new gig.

On the Iraq front:

The slaughter goes on with 170 more bodies of Iraqi civilians turning up in the Baghdad morgue this past week and 17 US troops dead, including 2 who were kidnapped, tortured and beheaded. PM Nuri al-Maliki presented his reconciliation plan which calls for a number of moves designed to get the insurgency to give up its arms and join the political process, which includes convincing the Shiite militias to get integrated into the security forces. Naturally, none of this pie-in-the-sky stuff has a chance in hell of being adopted.

Just before al-Maliki released this grand plan, the center of Baghdad erupted into a flaming sea of fire and death as competing militias fought each other on Haifa, the main drag -- a la Beirut 1970's style ---as US and Iraqi army units intervened to put a stop to it and yet another city wide curfew was declared, which brought Iraq's capital city to a standstill. Can't you just feel the progress going on?

Something tells me no matter what the hell we do, whether we stay or go, we're going to keep losing troops in ever larger numbers as the insurgency gets more and more effective and we begin to draw down, which is inevitable. The less troops we have the more stretched they're going to be and the fewer troops there will be for force protection. Sure we can project our power through the air, but that will lead to more civilian deaths, like this sort of tactic is doing in Afghanistan (and in Gaza). This in turn will engender more recruitment for the insurgents and put more pressure on the government of al-Maliki to throw us out.

And the fewer troops we have the less influence we'll have and that vacuum will be filled more and more by the Iranians. Today, on NPR's Day to Day, Ted Koppel had an interesting commentary which provides a lot of food for thought, all of it bad food for thought. He talked to some Jordanian security people, who are understandably nervous about our bungling and the growing influence of Iran in the region. The way they see it, he says, W.'s insistence on bringing democracy to the Middle East is a recipe for disaster. According to an anonymous intelligence official he interviewed, the Shiite crescent that everyone is so worried about is more likely to be a Shiite full moon.

The official, "Mr. X.," says the Iranians and their Iraqi minions will use democracy like toilet paper; use it once and then throw it away: like Hamas is trying to do in the PA, for instance. "Mr. X" says Hosni Mubarak may be an old-style corrupt dictator, but if we were to force him to open up Egypt to democratic reforms, the Muslim Brotherhood would take over there, as well; and then we would have the Brotherhood in Egypt, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine (they're Sunnis but terrorists), and Iran would be in total control of almost the entire region. [He didn't say this, but presumably, the Kurds would go their own way in the north and the Iranian backed Iraqi Shiites would take over the South and fund their ethnic cleansing of the Sunnis with their newly found oil profits.]

And he says the threat of an Iranian bomb is a red herring, because such a capability would be neutralized by Israel's far larger arsenal. (This is what I've been saying all along, but does anyone listen to me?) "Mr. X" says the only way the US can counter Iran is to get at them through Iraq, but this would mean enlarging the US presence in Iraq significantly. Obviously, there is no political will for that to happen, so the only other option is an equally bad one, let Iran become the major regional power and just deal with them.

See, if the Republicans were really all about 'staying the course,' they'd call for the resumption of the draft and send another 100,000 or 200,000 troops into Iraq and finish the job once and for all. As is it is, we're just throwing good money after bad and pouring American blood down the drain.

Democrats get sucker punched again.

The WaPo reports:

"Senate Democrats reacted angrily yesterday to a report that the U.S. commander in Iraq had privately presented a plan for significant troop reductions in the same week they came under attack by Republicans for trying to set a timetable for withdrawal.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said that the plan attributed to Gen. George W. Casey resembles the thinking of many Democrats who voted for a nonbinding resolution to begin a troop drawdown in December. "

Hmm. . . does she think so?

Now let me get this straight; last week the Senate by a large majority rejected the Kerry/Feingold amendment calling for a pull out of US troops from Iraq by a date certain next year. Similarly, another Democratic amendment put forward by Carl Levin calling for a large withdrawal by the end of next year, but without a set timetable, also failed with almost all Democrats --again -- voting 'No.'

For all their caution not appear to be 'cutting and running,' they've walked right into a trap, haven't they?

It turns out now that General George Casey and the Pentagon have a plan to withdraw most troops by the end of next year, depending on the situation, the very same policy Levin promoted, but which the majority of Democrats voted against. While the GOP comes off looking like they're strong on defense, fighting the war on terror by 'staying the course,' while at the same time taking credit for withdrawing troops -- as early as August no less--- the Dems come off looking like indecisive bumblers who couldn't even summon up the courage to vote against the president's disastrous policies, which clearly have been rejected by a majority of Americans.

If the Democrats hadn't been such a bunch of 'fraidy cats and had voted to a man and woman on a principled renunciation of the administration’s polices; they could've said ' you see we were right along and W. knows it,' when the news of withdrawals were made official. But instead, the Republicans can now say they're the ones who are listening to the American people by declaring victory and pulling out.

If things don't go according to plan for the administration and W.'s vision of 'victory' in Iraq -- a stable democratic government who fights terror on our side -- doesn't pan out and Iraq turns into a festering nexus of Iranian style fundamentalist Islamic terror, he can still turn around and say it was all the Democrat's fault for wanting to 'cut and run.' Nice work!

Whoever the GOP nominee is, he (there is no possibility of a she) can use this vote against the Dems, too, by saying they are as much responsible for the mess in Iraq as W. is, because they voted against pulling out. Sure both sides were wrong, he can say, but we were a little more right, because we knew this is what would happen if we cut and run, like the Dems said we should.

If I were the Democrats I'd be mad too.

Letter to Col. Glen Bulter, USMC

This weekend Colonel Glen Butler of the U.S. Marine Corp wrote an op-ed column in the Inquirer. I felt it needed a responce.

Dear Colonel Butler,

I wanted to write to let you know that I commend your service and sacrifice to our country and that I absolutely respect your heart-felt beliefs on what you see as our inevitable victory in Iraq. However, I must respectfully disagree with the premise of your article that keeping our military forces in Iraq, "until the people of Iraq can stand on their own" will significantly change the situation that we're presented with today in that troubled nation. All the evidence -- so painfully obvious to anyone with even a minimum of information about what's going on over there ---would tend to point towards a conclusion contrary to your optimistic appraisal. This is not just my personal opinion but is also borne out by the polling on the war, which shows a sizeable majority of Americans who feel that the invasion in the first place was a mistake and want our involvement in Iraq to end as soon as possible.

The "center of gravity," of which you are so concerned, is firmly centered on us getting out of this open-ended disaster before it bankrupts our great nation and degrades our military capability to a dangerous level. As an officer in the military, surely, you must be concerned about the effect our war in Iraq is having on recruitment and equipment. For instance, there are numerous reports in the press about the lack of experienced Army Reservists left in the pipeline to replace those who have mustered out.

Additionally, there have been reports that, because of a shortage of manpower, soldiers who are suffering from multiple rotations and the consequent PTSD are being medicated, contrary to procedure, and being sent back into battle. Regrettably, such desperate but necessary policies are almost surely destined to foster more incidents like Haditha, which is not the anomaly you paint it as, but is, based on the recent rash of investigations recently is just the tip of the ice berg. Unfortunately, I'm afraid; this disturbing trend has yet to run its course.

Regardless of what either of us may think about the reasons for getting into this war; a rational, highly educated officer such as you are must realize that our position in Iraq is untenable. To say that I question your motives might possibly going too far, but I must tell you that I have concerns about your contention that those in the service of our country are "duty-bound to educate" the people back home about the "efforts, accomplishments, challenges and goals in this conflict." My understanding is that your duty as an officer in the United States Marine Corps is to protect the American people from threats presented by our enemies both foreign and domestic; it certainly does not include serving as a shill for a particular political party in its efforts to get re-elected.

I'm pointing this out because; just recently a number of retired general officers were excoriated in the right-wing pundocracy and by Republicans in Congress for dipping their toes into the political debate to call for the resignation of the Secretary of Defense. It appears to me that there might be somewhat of a double standard being applied here, where an active-duty officer is allowed to write an Op-Ed in the press supporting the administration's policies (despite the disclaimer at the bottom of the article). I would like to remind you, sir, that patriotism is not the sole province of the Republican Party and Karl Rove.

It puzzling to me that you feel that it is so "disconcerting" to hear people say that they support those of you fighting over there but don't support the war. Everyday, I read the names, ages, and home towns of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our nation in Iraq in and I always tear up when I see the pictures of those young faces in happier times captured in amber as it were. It is just beyond me how anyone, especially somebody who has been in Iraq, can advocate sending more of our young men and women, with their whole lives ahead of them, to die, or to be horribly wounded, to prop up a government that is largely beholden to the Mullahs in Iran and is, at best, only marginally in control of Iraq after three years and 2,500 US GIs dead.

I would ask you sir, if you are so convinced that 'staying the course' is the right policy for this country to follow -- a policy that might well see us still there in 10-year's time -- will you then ask your 8 year-old little-leaguer to follow your example when he's old enough to enlist? And are you willing to go back again and again, like thousands of others have done and will do again, and possibly risk leaving your son fatherless for the rest of his life?

I would just ask you be honest to your son and to the 1,600 children of those who are never coming back about what your real motivations are behind your efforts to "educate" us. Regardless of how many times those who call for further sacrifice continue to invoke September 11th 2001 to justify this wrongheaded misadventure, the fact is this war has never had anything to with the dark day. There has been far too much blood spilled, too many bodies and minds broken, too many tears cried to keep repeating that particular untruth.

If there is any real reason to keep throwing good money after bad into this quagmire, to keep sending our best and bravest to die for this misguided boondoggle, please respect the American people enough to tell us the truth.
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