Saturday, May 19, 2007

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The Surge: An update.

We're going into the fourth month of the surge and the insurgents seem to have made another one of their characteristic adjustments. It looks like we're back to square one again: The number of bodies showing up in the streets of Baghdad with gunshot wounds and showing signs of torture are almost back to pre-sure levels, gun battles are raging between Shiites and Shiites and between Sunnis and Shiites and US forces against Sunnis and Shiites, car bombs are going off all over Iraq, including in the previously tranquil Kurdish north, and we've just hit another mile stone, having just surpassed the 3,400 mark in deaths of US soldiers.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't it seem like the more troops we pump into Iraq, the worse things are getting -- pretty much just like everyone thought would happen except for the blue sky types in the White House and Frederick Kagan? Serious breeches of security inside the Green Zone, like the suicide bomber in the parliament, and shells raining down on the "heavily fortified" enclave have become so routine that the State Department has issued flak jackets to its employees and warned them to stay in doors as much as they can. [AP]

Even as Dick Cheney was making his "surprise visit" to Baghdad, the press had to be shuffled off to a bunker when explosions rattled the embassy's windows. Cheney's spokeswoman, Lee Anne McBride, reassured everyone, however, that the vice-president's meeting "was not disturbed and he was not moved." Indeed, why would he have to be disturbed or moved when he's got 160,000 body guards?

The way things are going these days, 160,000 body guards doesn't look like it's going to be enough. As we send 4000 troops in the Sunni Triangle of Death to search for the three missing solders from the 10th Mountain Division, things are falling apart in Diyala, where the commander there, Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, says that he does not have enough troops: "I laid out a plan for Gen. Ordinero on the numbers of forces I need. . . Gen. Ordinero intends to give me additional forces as they become available," Mixon says. [AP]

Obviously, Maj. Gen. Mixon doesn't know Gen. Ordinero very well. He doesn't like people telling him about the "bad shit," he doesn't want to hear it. And Ordinero is not going to want to hear that yesterday insurgent mortaring damaged or destroyed about a dozen helicopters at the big air base in Baquba. You're on your own General Mixon. Maybe, the Iraqis can help you out.

Of course, they're still trying to figure out how to fight. Alyssa Rubin reported in the NYT this week that the Iraqi Fifth Division is still having some trouble getting off the ground in Diyala. General Ali, the division commander, says his troops just need a few things to get their shit together. "We know we have command and control responsibility, but we still lack many things: We need artillery and air support, and logistics support, too, and intelligence experience that the coalition has and advanced equipment they have and we lack," he says. Other than that, they're good to go.

My God, if this is any indication of the way things are headed, I think we'd better not wait until September for General Patreaus' report to Congress. By the way, if you're looking for Stephen Hadley, he'll be in the White House bunker working on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, where he's doing a heck of a job. From now on direct all your complaints about Iraq to the "War Czar."

Paying for our transgressions?

The search goes on into its seventh day for three USA soldiers from 31st Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, who are assumed to be prisoners of insurgents in Mahmoudiya. One of the dead soldiers of the ill-fated patrol, attacked while watching over a bomb crater, was identified by DNA testing as Sgt. Anthony J. Schober, of Reno, Nev. AP reports that he was on his third tour in Iraq. Soon enough we'll be hearing of soldiers dying on their fourth tours as there is no end sight to this war as long as George W. Bush and his war cabal are in power.

I'm happy to report that the citizens of Philadelphia did their democratic duty this Tuesday voting by a 5-2 margin to bring the troops home by the end of this year. We join several hundred other communities in the United States that have done the same, alas to no avail. Col. Andrew Bacevich, whose son First LT. Andrew Bacevich was killed in Iraq on Mother's Day, was interviewed on NPR yesterday about the loss of his only son. He noted the overwhelming public rejection of the war expressed in the the November elections and he questioned the nature of a democracy that, despite the clear will of the people, allows this war to go on and on and on.

There's something fundamentally wrong with the proposition that we, the folks that supossedly run the government, sit back and watch the "unitary executive" bankrupt our treasury while a small number of Americans sacrifice everything as we go happily along with our lives at their expence. The words of Ulysses S. Grant still haunt me when I think of what he wrote about the Mexican/American war, a war which he considered to be one of the most unjust wars waged by a stronger nation against a weaker.

He wrote, "Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times." That is, of course, up until the Iraq war, which is not the most sanguinary, yet, -- in terms of the dead, anyway -- but is the longest and most expensive. Something tells me we've yet to pay fully for our transgressions.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Notable juxtapositions #2

Another funny juxtaposition I noticed in the news recently was this story in NEWSWEEK about Iraqi detention facilities.

Because of the ongoing Surge in Iraq, the prisons are filling up fast with terrorism suspects, who I'm sure are all guilty.


"According to figures for the Ministry of Human Rights, the number of Iraqis detained nationwide from the end of January until the end of March -- a period that includes the first six weeks of the new Baghdad security plan -- jumped by approximately 7,000 to 37,641. U.S. forces swept up 2,000 prisoners a month in March and April, almost twice the average from the second half of last year."

[The funny thing about the US sweeping up Iraqis and detaining them is that the US military has no legal authority to imprison anyone according to Iraqi law, because Iraqi is now a sovereign country, but that's one of those pesky legal technicalities I'm confident the legal whiz-kids from Regent University Law School at the DoJ can work around.]

The concern at the highest levels of the US military in Iraq is that most of these detainees being held by the Iraqis might wind up being ill-treated. General Petraeus apparently was so worried about this that he sent a memo around to his commanders saying: "It is very important that we never turn a blind eye to abuses, thinking that what Iraqis do with their own detainees is 'Iraqi business.'"

I'm sure that advice is really being taken to heart. Anyway, it's a bit late in the day, after Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and the CIA black prisons, to be lecturing the Iraqis on the finer points of due-process and torture, I should think.

What the Iraqi detainees do have going for them is independent monitors from the Ministry of Human Rights who actually do get to go into prisons and check up on the treatment of prisoners. How effective they are at convincing the jailers to lighten up is another question. NEWSWEEK reports that in one "Recent visit to a Baghdad detention facility, representatives of the Ministry of Human Rights were slapped around by prison guards, according to Ahmed Attar, head of the humanitarian-affairs department at the ministry."

At least, they got in, that's not so easy here in the good old US of A, where a UN human rights official has been blocked from visiting US immigration detention facilities. The NYT reports that Jorge Bustamante, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights of immigrants, was prevented this week from inspecting the Monmouth Country Correctional Institution in Freehold, NJ, and the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center in Taylor, Texas.

Readers of this blog will remember my many ramblings about the Hutto facility where entire families are being held in a prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America. Various attempts by the media to get into the prison to talk to the inmates have been rebuffed and the only interview so far of one of the children being held there was with a Canadian boy named "Kevin"who wrote to the Canadian PM about his ill-treatment.

The official story for why Bustamante's visit to Hutto was canceled was that there is an ACLU lawsuit pending. That really explains it doesn't it? In a note of protest to Zalmay Khalilzad, now our UN Ambassador -- who would know a lot about detaining people from his time as Ambassador to Iraq -- Bustamante has written: "My interpretation is that someone in the United States government is not proud of what is happening in those centers."

Hmmm . . . where would he get that impression? Are US authorities afraid something Bustamante might find at Hutto or Monmouth might make it even more difficult to defend the practice of indefinitely locking up whole families with no charges? Keep in mind, these people are not criminals, they're in many cases applicants for asylum, presumably from countries that treat them just as bad as we do, which is sort of ironic.

It's especially tragic that this administration has decided that kidnapping people off the streets of countries around the world and sending them to Black Prisons or rendering them to third countries for torture is A-OK, because it gives countries like Iran the green light to snatch our citizens and lock them up, too.

What moral ground does the Bush administration have to stand on in the case of Haleh Esfandiari? The Iranian government has been holding the human rights activist for over four months under house arrest and has now sent her to the notorious Evin prison for "questioning."

According to NEWSWEEK, Iranian security officials are rounding up immodestly dressed women, young men with trimmed eyebrows and also:” women’s rights activists, labor organizers and Iranian-Americans visitors like Esfandiari." Ever since Condi Rice came up with the brilliant idea of setting up the 75 million dollar fund to promote Iranian democracy, the Iranians have gotten ever more paranoid, thinking they'll be the next Ukraine or Georgia. When you consider the history we have with Iran; what with, over-throwing democratically elected Iranian governments and the latest threats issued from the hanger of the USS John Stennis by Dick Cheney, you can sort of see why they're paranoid.

I'm not saying what they're doing is right and they should release Esfandiari immediately, but this administration complaining about unlawful detentions is really calling the kettle black. This is why we need to go back into the light and move out of Darth Cheney's dark side. In the eyes of the rest of the world, we're no longer the shinning city on the hill, we're Sauron's dark tower. That has to change or all the people we've lost in all the wars we've fought in the name of freedom and democracy will have been in vain.

Notable juxtapositions #1

I saw in the news yesterday that the Boy Scouts of America are paying the US government $6.5 million for a forest fire a group of scouts started a few years ago in Utah. Apparently, through lack of proper supervision the kids were allowed to light a camp fire in an area designated as off limits for fires, hence the fine. When it comes to burning down forests the government doesn't play around. Johnny Cash was forced to pay several million dollars in fines for starting a forest fire back in 1964. [Another notable firebug who got away without paying a dime for burning down the forest around Lake Tahoe was Mark Twain, but that's neither here nor there.]

Anyway, at the same time that the news of the BSA ponying up the dinero for their forest fire was moving across the wires, a New Jersey National Guard F-16 started a wild fire which, so far, has burned 14,000 acres or 2 square miles of Burlington and Ocean counties in New Jersey. The fire forced the evacuation of 6,000 residents, destroyed five homes and taxed the resources of 1,000 fire fighters and police officers, according to the Inquirer. Army Maj. Gen. Glenn K. Rieth, adjutant general, said the Air Force was investigating the possibility that "something left" an F-16 during a military exercise involving US Marines on their way to Iraq. [Inquirer] Rieth says that if the Guard is responsible for the conflagration, the Air Force will "incur all liability."

Why do I get the impression that the folks that lost their homes will be long dead and buried before they see a penny from this? Maybe I'm just being too cynical, but I've just got this feeling. By the way, this isn't the first screw-up to befall the Warren Grove gunnery range in Bass River Township, NJ: Back in 2004 another F-16 fired live rounds at an elementary school in Little Egg Township. Luckily no one was injured, but these National Guard pilots sure do seem to be accident prone.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Stonewall Gonzales caught roughing up sick old man: Gets away Scott-free!

James Comey's testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee about what Al Gonzales was up to on March 10th 2004 is, even for this administration, totally shocking. Here you have "waterboard" Gonzales, this political hack, this mafia lawyer, this shameless yes-man, rushing to John Ashcroft's sick bed in the middle of the night to get him to sign off on the renewal of the warrentless domestic spying program, because Comey, as the acting AG, wouldn't play ball. It's pretty amazing that the secret spying program was so legally radioactive that even Ashcroft was against it. According to Comey, he and Ashcroft were prepared to to resign over the issue!

Not Al Gonzales, though -- Oh no! -- that sniveling little weasel was only following orders. His job was to get someone at the DoJ to sign on the dotted line and it didn't, apparently, matter to him that Ashcroft's signature wouldn't have carried the weight of law since he wasn't actually the AG at the time. As Comey pointed out, "I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me."

Not that the law matters or anything: 'Laws are made to be broken,' that's Gonzales' motto.

About the same time the Senators on the Judiciary Committee were trying to pick themselves up off the floor after hearing about the lengths to which Gonzales will go to do his dark master's bidding, Gonzales was busy selling out his deputy, Paul McNulty, at the National Press Club.

It's not that Al can really remember anything about the firing of the US Attorneys, but he's pretty sure McNulty was behind the whole thing.

"At the end of the day, the recommendations reflected the views of the deputy attorney general. He would know best about the qualifications and the experience of the United States' attorneys' community and he signed off on the names," he said with a straight face. [WaPo]

Wow, doesn't that just take you breath away? Not only is he lying his face off, but at the same time he's also totally selling out a man who had the audacity to go to Congress and not lie under oath to protect Gonzales' sorry ass. Unbelievable!

McNulty's testimony on the 27th of April really got under Gonzales' skin because McNulty told the Judiciary Committee that the prosecutor from Little Rock, H. E. Cummins, was launched out of his position to make way for one of Karl Rove's buddies. It had nothing to do with performance. Remember, that was the cover story back on Feb. 6 when McNulty's testimony ultimatly got Kyle Sampson and Monica "fifth amendment" Goodling fired.

McNulty, of course, is on his way out -- to spend more time with his family, naturally -- so, I guess, he’s now fair game for the White House smear machine.

According to Arlen Specter, Comey is leaving because it is, "embarrassing for a professional to work for the Department of Justice today. I think the resignation of Mr. McNulty is another significant step and evidence that [the] department really cannot function with the continued leadership, or lack of leadership, of Attorney General Gonzales." [The Hill]

Chuck Schumer summed it up pretty well when he said, "It seems ironic that Paul McNulty, who at least tried to level with the committee, goes while Gonzales, who stonewalled [i.e. lied to] the committee is still in charge."

Yeah, how about that?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"Potentially problematic" privacy concerns deleted. End of problem!

The WaPo reports:

"The Bush administration made more than 200 revisions to the first report of a civilian board that oversees government protection of personal privacy, including the deletion of a passage on anti-terrorism programs that intelligence officials deemed 'potentially problematic' intrusions on civil liberties, according to a draft of the report obtained by The Washington Post. One of the panel's five members, Democrat Lanny J. Davis, resigned in protest Monday over deletions ordered by White House lawyers and aides."

White House spokesperson Dana Perino says 'what's the big deal, this sort of editing is "standard operating procedure." Of course, it is, that's the problem with everything this administration does. The EPA has issues a scientific report about Global Warming, you have your American Petroleum Institute hack, Phillip Cooney, do some crative editing. NASA issues a report about the Big Bang, you get a 24-year PR flack, George Deutsch, to insert the word "theory" into the text.

Naturally, this sort of thing is SOP at the White House, no news story there. My main question about the PRIVACY AND CIVIL LIBERTIES OVERSIGHT BOARD is why Congress made it beholden to the very Executive Branch that it's supossed to be watching over. What kind of Bull is that?

According to the WAPO, chairwoman of the board, Carol Dinkins, "Said she did not share most of Davis's concerns but was disappointed he resigned. The White House and other board members believed they had resolved them when Davis signed on to the report's final version, she said."

Part of the reason she may not have as many quams about the White House swooping in to red- line the whole report is due to the fact that, according to NEWSWEEK, she's a:

"Former senior Justice official under Ronald Reagan and former law partner of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales."

And you know that Alberto Gonzales is a virtual byword for indepenence and integrity!
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