Tuesday, March 29, 2005

War News for Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Mortar rounds land on bank of Tigris river just outside of Green Zone. One pilgrim killed and two wounded in bombing at shrine compound in Khalis.

Bring ‘em on: Three Romanian journalists feared kidnapped in Iraq.

Bring ‘em on: Seven Shiite pilgrims killed and nine wounded in car bombing on the road to Karbala.

Bring ‘em on: Suicide car bomber killed when he detonated his vehicle in the path of an American convoy in Mosul, no word on US casualties.

Bring ‘em on: A policeman and a road cleaner killed by roadside bomb in Baghdad. One policeman killed, body received by Yarmuk hospital. Two Shia pilgrims gunned down in Mahawil. Two policemen killed, ten wounded in bombing in Mussayib. Iraqi Major shot dead by US troops on highway between Najaf and Diwaniyah. One Iraqi soldier killed trying to defuse a roadside bomb in Mushahda. One person killed and another wounded in Balad when an Iraqi army unit fired on their car, suspecting they had dropped a bomb on the highway. One man shot dead and his son wounded by soldiers at a joint US/Iraqi checkpoint. One woman killed in roadside bombing in Baiji. Iraqi businessman working with US forces gunned down in Baiji.

Bring ‘em on: Iraqi driver killed when he pulled in front of a US tank in Ad Duluiyah, incident under investigation. Two Iraqi army soldiers injured when attackers opened fire on their car in Mosul. One university professor shot to death in Mosul.

Iraqi Politics

The ink's wearing off their fingers: Iraqi politicians delayed the start of a session of parliament on Tuesday for last-minute talks to try to overcome an impasse over forming a government two months after historic elections.

Officials said the sitting, the second since the assembly was elected, would now start at midday (4 a.m. EST) after talks to try to reach a deal on who would be parliament speaker.

The Shi'ite Islamist alliance that came top in the election and the Kurdish coalition that came second have been haggling for weeks over cabinet posts and the principles that should guide the new government, but little progress has been made.

Officials had hoped at least to appoint a speaker and two deputies on Tuesday, a basic step that would allow the parliament to start discussing issues even if no government was in place. But consensus was still proving elusive.

Job opening: Help wanted: A prominent Sunni Arab to take on the risky job of leading the new National Assembly — and joining the fight against Iraq's mainly Sunni insurgency. The search for a parliament speaker came up empty-handed again Monday, on the eve of only the second meeting of legislators since they were elected nearly two months ago. Negotiators left it up to Sunni politicians to come up with a candidate by noon Tuesday. If that fails, the Shiite and Kurdish political coalition will find a Sunni on their own, said Abdul-Karim al-Anzi, an official with the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance.

A prediction: It may take a few years, but Iraq will be cut up into two, possibly three, countries – and the Kurds will be the first to go.

Already, northern Iraq is hardly one with the rest of the country. In the provisional capital of Arbil, the red, green, and white Kurdish flag is everywhere; the Iraqi flag is nowhere to be seen. Signs on buildings proclaim: "Kurdistan Health Ministry" and "Kurdistan Education Ministry." The streets are patrolled – not by American soldiers in Humvees and tanks – but by Kurdish peshmerga guerillas with AK-47s. If they see someone who even looks Arab, they stop him as a suspected terrorist.

Iraqi Kurds are hardly happy with this arrangement, though. Whatever the result of negotiations over Iraq's new government, Kurds are poised to push hard for independence.

Kurds feel the United States will support them, because they continue to support the U.S. military presence in Iraq. As pressure grows for American soldiers to leave the center and south, they figure, the Bush administration will be forced to support an independent Kurdistan as the price of keeping U.S. troops, peacefully, in the north.

Security's not so hot but free enterprise is thriving: While Westerners are transfixed by the occasional kidnapping of one of their own here, Iraqis are far more vulnerable. As many as 5,000 Iraqis have been kidnapped in the last year and a half, according to Western and Iraqi security officials.

Some of the kidnappings are of Iraqis who work with Westerners, said Col. Jabbar Anwar, head of a major crimes unit in Baghdad that works extensively with American intelligence groups on kidnapping cases. But ransom is a far greater motive than intimidation, he said: the threat of death for collaboration is usually just a way to drive up the price of freedom.

Scattered anecdotal evidence suggests that the epidemic of kidnapping, especially of children, is a force like no other in driving from Iraq the educated professionals who are critically needed for the rebuilding of the country. As stoic as Iraqis often are about the perils they face in their daily lives, kidnapping contributes to the national sense of instability and fuels mutual distrust - particularly because many kidnappings rely on people close to the target who pass information on net worth, daily habits and other matters of interest to hostage takers.

The head of the office of kidnapping in the major crimes unit, Col. Faisel Ali, called kidnapping "the first and biggest problem in Iraq."

This should go over well with the Sunnis: US soldiers have stormed a women and children's hospital in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, a hospital director says.

Dr Ahmad Ibrahim, the assistant director of the city's paediatric hospital, told Aljazeera on Saturday that the soldiers entered the hospital on Friday after an explosion on Ramadi's main road. The soldiers ordered medical staff and patients to leave, he said, before destroying the hospital's doors and detaining members of staff.

The assistant director also said US troops raided Ramadi and Haditha general hospitals a few days ago, and questioned whether doctors had become military targets and if the raids were aimed at closing hospitals.

Women's rights: Female students strolled in the balmy spring afternoon through the grounds of the humanities faculty at Baghdad University yesterday oblivious to the watching man in black.

"There is a fire inside me when I see them. You could throw ice into my chest and still you would not cool it down," said Thi al-Faqar Jassim, 25, his eyes following women with uncovered heads.

He did not know who they were but knew what they were: flouters of his strict version of Shia Islam. "It is not right, they should wear the headscarf."

Mr Jassim, a third-year student of physical education, spoke not just for himself but for the conservative Shias who hope to transform the university and, eventually, Iraq.

Religious minority rights: There is another war going on today in Iraq about which little is heard. It is a war against Christianity. Christians in Iraq are a comparatively small, windling minority: fewer than 800,000, merely 3 percent out of a population of 26 million.

Though Iraqi Christians are a minuscule minority, they suffering unrelenting Muslim persecution. The Iraqi Christian population, once was more than 15 percent, decreases daily due to emigration to safety in Western countries.

Last August, five churches in Baghdad and four in Mosul were hit in a single day's attacks that killed 12 people. In October, five churches in Baghdad were hit on the first day of the Muslim month of Ramadan. In November, eight people were killed in two church bombings.

No doubt this will fuel the fires of the 'clash of civilizations' fools...

Falah al-Naqib Speaks

An optimist: As Iraqi lawmakers got ready for the second meeting of the new National Assembly since it was elected nearly two months ago, interim Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib outlined progress by the country's fledging security forces, predicting that U.S. troops would be able to slowly begin pulling out of parts of the country and that, ''hopefully, within 18 months at the most we will be capable of securing Iraq.'' ''We hope that next summer, there will be a huge reduction in the numbers of multinational patrols,'' he said. ''In some cities, there will be no foreign troops at all.''

He said Iraqi police have better intelligence on local insurgents and criminal gangs that have flourished since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion, helping reduce the number of causalities caused by car bombs and other attacks. ''I think it will collapse very soon,'' he said of the insurgency. At the same time, al-Naqib warned Iraqis to expect violence aimed at today's gathering.

How can you be two places at once when you’re really nowhere at all?: The interior minister added that Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, "has been surrounded in more than one area, and we hope for the best."

We shot them so the terrorists wouldn't blow them up: Iraq's interior minister warned citizens Monday not to hold protests, saying the gatherings were an invitation for a large-scale terrorist attack. His comments came a day after government bodyguards opened fire on a group of employees demanding higher wages, killing one person.

Interim Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, likely to be out of job once the new government takes over, said the protest was among "attempts to destabilize the situation" in Iraq. He accused the protesters of trying to enter the office of Science and Technology Minister Rashad Mandan Omar and said the bodyguards where just doing their job by protecting the official.

Haithem Jassim, one of three people injured in the melee, said the demonstrators were unarmed.

First We Exported Freedom To Iraq And Now They're Exporting Stuff Too

Another big surprise: Over the last three years, starting even before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the Jordanian terrorist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi and groups close to him developed a sort of underground railroad to smuggle zealous fighters from Europe through Turkey and Syria into Iraq—and home again, if they survived. Now those recruits have been joined by a stream of young Islamists from Western Europe who are making their own way to the battlefield. Some are looking for Paradise as "martyrs," some just for street cred back home and some for serious combat experience in urban warfare. "Those who don't die and come back will be the future chiefs of Al Qaeda or Zarqawi [groups] in Europe," says French terrorism authority Roland Jacquard.

"We're watching very closely," says Gijs de Vries, the European Union's counterterrorism coordinator. "It only takes one or two dedicated individuals to create serious damage." All over Europe, in fact, investigators now face the threat of terrorists who are virtually self-taught, organized in groups with little or no central command and united by their obsession with the jihad against Americans in Iraq. "It has become a battle cry for Islamists around the world," says Michael Taarnby, author of a report on terrorist recruiting for the Danish Justice Ministry.

Another Rhetorical Question

How many guys like this: Cpl. Isaiah Ramirez endured the rigors of Marine Corps basic training and two tours of high-risk duty in Iraq.

But since his lower right leg was shot off in January, Ramirez says he'll be happy just to walk again.

Ramirez was on foot patrol in Ramadi on Jan. 11 when he was hit above his right ankle by an anti-tank round. He said he was alert while a combat medic quickly performed a crude amputation on the city street.

"I've learned that I've got to stop thinking about the things I could have done," said Ramirez, who had planned to be a career Marine. "I'm just glad to be here."

Came to this place: The Air Force Theater Hospital, located 50 miles north of Baghdad at Balad Air Base, plays a central role in the treatment of combat trauma in Iraq. The hospital, part of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group, is a provisional structure of ventilated tents set on a cement foundation, powered by rumbling generators and fortified by sandbags and towering concrete blast walls. Many of the hospital's staff members had not treated combat trauma before arriving in Iraq; they typically spent their careers as medical professionals performing procedures like hip replacement and kidney-stone removal.

Now they handle deep flesh wounds, burst eardrums, shattered teeth, perforated organs, flash burns to the eyes, severed limbs. In addition to tending to American soldiers, the hospital treats many Iraqi National Guard members, Iraqi civilians and insurgents.

Over four days last November, when these photographs were taken, doctors and staff members at the 332nd saw a flood of injuries and casualties from counterinsurgency operations in Falluja and insurgent strikes elsewhere in the country. That month, the hospital cared for 620 patients and performed 510 operations, a 65 percent increase from the previous two months. ''These young kids are heroes,'' says Col. Joseph Brennan, a head and neck surgeon. ''Somebody's got to pay the price. And these kids are paying the price.''

A very good photo gallery with this article. I’m surprised the Pentagon let it be published.

Because of this?: In June 2003, the U.S. Army realized that it didn't have enough armored Humvees in Iraq to protect soldiers from a growing number of attacks by insurgents. By Friday, officials expect to correct that problem by having almost 22,000 armored Humvees in Iraq - up from 235 when the war began.

Why did it take the government almost two years to remedy a deficiency that the Army acknowledges was costing soldiers' lives?

An examination of Army records, correspondence with members of Congress and Pentagon documents shows that the military repeatedly underestimated the need for more armored Humvees. Even after recognizing its miscalculations, the Army was slow to order more armored Humvees, and then transported them to Iraq from its existing worldwide supply in fits and starts. Officials also failed to take full advantage of a defense contracting firm that says it could have increased production to meet the Army's needs.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has suggested the lack of armored Humvees was simply beyond the Pentagon's control.

Rumsfeld declined to comment for this story.

But it’s not his fault!: Newsweek: Do you take responsibility for any mistakes made in planning for the war in Iraq, and what do you see as the key mistakes? Dissolving the Army?

Paul Wolfowitz: There's so much finger-pointing that goes on. It's a long exercise to dissect all the things that are wrong [in what has been] said about why this has proven to be difficult. And the notion that there was no planning is simply wrong.

Now, Paul, we're not claiming there was no planning, we're just saying that the planning you did do was a miserable failure. It doesn't take long to dissect at all.

Suck It Up

Suck it up, John: Sgt. John J. Savage III, an Army reservist, was about to climb onto a troop transport plane for a flight to Iraq from Fayetteville, N.C., when his wife called with alarming news: "They're foreclosing on our house."

Sergeant Savage recalled, "There was not a thing I could do; I had to jump on the plane and boil for 22 hours."

He had reason to be angry. A longstanding federal law strictly limits the ability of his mortgage company and other lenders to foreclose against active-duty service members.

But Sergeant Savage's experience was not unusual. Though statistics are scarce, court records and interviews with military and civilian lawyers suggest that Americans heading off to war are sometimes facing distracting and demoralizing demands from financial companies trying to collect on obligations that, by law, they cannot enforce.

Suck it up, Ali: Iraq war victim Ali Abbas is “feeling unhappy” after being told he will not receive backdated disability payments, the man who brought him to Britain said today.

Zafar Khan, chairman of the Limbless Association that arranged Ali’s treatment, said the 14-year-old was suffering for the Department for Work and Pensions’ “incompetence and negligence”.

Ali applied for Disability Living Allowance last October, Mr Khan said, but received a letter early this month saying he was not entitled to back payments because his disability could not be proved before that date.

You remember this kid…lost both arms and his whole family in an air raid…but hey, he’s getting almost 75 pounds a month disability - that's like 150 bucks American! - and his country is a thriving purple-fingered democracy now, so what’s he got to bitch about…

Oil And Money, Money, Money

Iraq and OPEC: However, in plotting the destruction of OPEC, the neocons failed to predict the virulent resistance of insurgent forces: the U.S. oil industry itself. Rob McKee, a former executive vice-president of ConocoPhillips, designated by the Bush Administration to advise the Iraqi oil ministry, had little tolerance for the neocons' threat to privatize the oil fields nor their obsession on ways to undermine OPEC. (In 2004, with oil approaching the $50 a barrel mark all year, the major U.S. oil companies posted record or near-record profits. ConocoPhillips this February reported a doubling of its quarterly profits.) In November 2003, McKee quietly ordered up a new plan for Iraq's oil. For months, the State Department officially denied the existence of this 323-page plan, but when I threatened legal action, I was able to obtain the multi-volume document describing seven possible models of oil production for Iraq, each one merely a different flavor of a single option: a state-owned oil company under which the state maintains official title to the reserves but operation and control are given to foreign oil companies. According to Ed Morse, another Hess Oil advisor, the switch to an OPEC-friendly policy for Iraq was driven by Dick Cheney.

Big bucks: The biggest oil price boom of a generation is under way, proving wildly wrong predictions by the U.S. Department of Energy last year that oil prices would decline to $23.57 a barrel.

Instead, prices hit all-time highs last week, with light crude topping $56.46 a barrel in New York — a whopping 50 percent increase from a year earlier — and some analysts are saying the days of $80-a-barrel may not be far off.

Every time motorists fill up at $2.15 a gallon in the United States, the swishing sound you hear in this desert kingdom is billions of fresh petrodollars pouring in. Oil profits are being spent with such abandon that Dubai's economy grew last year at a rate of 16.7 percent, compared with U.S. growth of 4.4 percent and China's 9 percent.

The ones who got caught: By many accounts, Custer Battles was a nightmare contractor in Iraq. The company's two principals, Mike Battles and Scott Custer, overcharged occupation authorities by millions of dollars, according to a complaint from two former employees. In the fall of 2004, Deputy General Counsel Steven Shaw of the Air Force asked that the firm be banned from future U.S. contracts, saying Custer Battles had also "created sham companies, whereby [it] fraudulently increased profits by inflating its claimed costs." An Army inspector general, Col. Richard Ballard, concluded as early as November 2003 that the security outfit was incompetent and refused to obey Joint Task Force 7 orders: "What we saw horrified us," Ballard wrote to his superiors in an e-mail obtained by Newsweek.

Yet when the two whistle-blowers sued Custer Battles on behalf of the U.S. government—under a U.S. law intended to punish war profiteering and fraud—the Bush administration declined to take part. In recent months the judge in the case, T. S. Ellis III of the U.S. District Court in Virginia, has twice invited the Justice Department to join the lawsuit without response. Even an administration ally, Sen. Charles Grassley, demanded to know in a Feb. 17 letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales why the government wasn't backing up the lawsuit. Because this is a "seminal" case—the first to be unsealed against an Iraq contractor—"billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake" based on the precedent it could set, the Iowa Republican said.

The administration's reluctance to prosecute has turned the Iraq occupation into a "free-fraud zone," says former CPA senior adviser Franklin Willis. "If urgent steps are not taken, Iraq ... will become the biggest corruption scandal in history," warned the anti-corruption group Transparency International in a recent report. Grassley adds that if the government decides the False Claims Act doesn't apply to Iraq, "any recovery for fraud, waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars ... would be prohibited."

(Many thanks to alert reader a fan of this site for the link.)

Britain and America

Documented lies: The Hutton inquiry and Lord Butler's review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction established beyond doubt that in the year before the invasion a tightly knit group at Downing Street controlled, finessed and manipulated the advice and information supplied by the executive to the Prime Minister, ostensibly so that he could decide whether to go to war.

In a country where legal advice on these matters still counts, Blair could not possibly have backed America without arguing that Britain was in some way menaced by Iraq. That case had to be proved and demonstrably ratified by the Secret Intelligence Service and the government's legal advisers before a vote in parliament.

This is where the issue of trust turns. In his desperate need to oblige America 'for what may indeed have been an honourable misconception of his country's interests' Blair bludgeoned the machinery around him until it gave him the answer he wanted.

The issue of Lord Goldsmith's advice is about the trustworthiness of the Prime Minister and not about the war. Though Blair is apparently bewildered by such accusations, the evidence accumulates that in the ruthless suppression of the Executive's prudence and wisdom, he betrayed our trust and his duty to good governance. That is an issue for all of us, and will remain so until Blair leaves Downing Street.

And the British people and media actually care about it!: Everything should be going so well for Tony Blair. The pre-election campaign seems mostly to be about the troubles in the Conservative camp, the opinion polls are favourable to Labour.

Yet decisions his government took more than two years ago, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, simply refuse to go away.

But in America it’s not worth an investigation: Last July the Senate Intelligence Committee released a much-anticipated report on the prewar intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The study concluded that the intelligence community -- led by the CIA--had "overstated" and "mischaracterized" the intelligence on Iraq's (nonexistent) WMDs. The massive report repeatedly detailed instances when the intelligence services botched the job by ignoring contrary evidence, embracing questionable sources and rushing to judgments that just happened to fit the preconceived notions of the Bush Administration. "What the President and the Congress used to send the country to war was information that was...flawed," declared Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the committee. Jay Rockefeller, the committee's senior Democrat, noted that the report outlined "one of the most devastating...intelligence failures in the history of the nation." But the committee's report did not cover a crucial area: how the Bush Administration used -- or abused -- the prewar intelligence to build support for the Iraq invasion. Roberts claimed his committee was hot on that trail: "It is one of my top priorities," he said. The problem, he explained, was that there was not enough time before the November election to complete the assignment. Rockefeller took issue with that and complained that the "central issue of how intelligence was...exaggerated by Bush Administration officials" was being relegated into a "Phase II" investigation that would not begin until after the election. A Democratic committee staffer said that such an inquiry could easily be completed within months. Now -- with Bush re-elected -- Roberts no longer considers Phase II a priority.

Why does Pat Roberts hate America?

More Weasel Wolfowitz

What a pud: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, 3/27/05:

[T]he real problem is that the conflict hasn’t ended…I think people shouldn’t have been surprised that a regime that had burrowed into Iraqi society over 35 years and killed and tortured and intimidated people so effectively didn’t quit just because they were driven out of Baghdad on April 9, 2003.

Uh, Paul...

Vice President Cheney, 3/16/03:

I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators…I think it will go relatively quickly…(in) weeks rather than months.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 2/7/03:

It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.

(This post swiped more or less intact from Think Progress. Thanks guys, I’d give you a trackback if I had any idea how to do it.)

Our Creeping Stalinism

We don’t need no stinking trials: Tonght's evening news broadcast on French public television carried an account of "Terror in the Hands of Justice," a series that is running twice a day on Al Iraqiya, the state-controlled television financed by the U.S., and operated under a contract to a major Republican party contributor. This is one of the most appalling TV shows one could possibly imagine, for it blatantly encourages lynch-mob justice and individual acts of revenge against alleged "terrorists"--who are presented as such without benefit of any trial or judicial proceeding.

However, it is the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund a TV show that encourages violent, extra-judicial revenge on people who have not been tried or convicted of any crime that stands in sharp contradiction of the Bush administration's claims to have successfully exported "democracy" to Iraq. CorpWatch detailed in December how Al Iraqiya TV is financed by the U.S. as part of a $96 million grant to the Australian-based Harris Corporation-- a high-tech defense contractor that has been a huge contributor to the Republicans

Or no stinking evidence neither: A federal judge has criticized a secret military tribunal for keeping a German national jailed in Guantanamo Bay indefinitely based on a flimsy unsigned memo, despite information suggesting he had no terror ties, the Washington Post reports. In a declassified portions of a January ruling obtained by the Post, the judge criticized the panel for ignoring the conclusions of U.S. military intelligence and German law enforcement authorities, in nearly 100 pages of documents, that Murat Kurnaz has no terrorist links. The panel instead based its decision on a brief, unsupported memo filed just before Kurnaz's hearing by an unnamed government official.

We don't need no stinking Geneva Convention: Government documents released last week say the abuse of prisoners in Iraq by US forces was more widespread than has been reported.

An officer found that detainees ''were being systematically and intentionally mistreated" at a holding facility near Mosul in December 2003. The 311th Military Intelligence Battalion of the Army's 101st Airborne Division ran the lockup.

Earlier records released by the Army have detailed abuses at Abu Ghraib and other sites in Iraq, as well as at sites in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The documents released Friday were the first to report abuses at the jail in Mosul, and are among the few to allege torture directly.

''There is evidence that suggests the 311th MI personnel and/or translators engaged in physical torture of the detainees," a memo from the investigator said.

And we don't need no stinking rule of law: The Bush administration is desperately trying to keep the full story from emerging. But there is no longer any doubt that prisoners seized by the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have been killed, tortured, sexually humiliated and otherwise grotesquely abused.

These atrocities have been carried out in an atmosphere in which administration officials have routinely behaved as though they were above the law, and thus accountable to no one. People have been rounded up, stripped, shackled, beaten, incarcerated and in some cases killed, without being offered even the semblance of due process. No charges. No lawyers. No appeals.

Arkan Mohammed Ali is a 26-year-old Iraqi who was detained by the U.S. military for nearly a year at various locations, including the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. According to a lawsuit filed against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Ali was at times beaten into unconsciousness during interrogations. He was stabbed, shocked with an electrical device, urinated on and kept locked -- hooded and naked -- in a wooden, coffin-like box. He said he was told by his captors that soldiers could kill detainees with impunity.

No charges were ever filed against Ali, and he was eventually released. But what should be of paramount concern to Americans is this country's precipitous and frightening descent into the hellish zone of lawlessness that the Bush administration, on the one hand, is trying to conceal and, on the other, is defending as absolutely essential to its fight against terror.

And no one's gonna be punished for it: When the world first saw photos of the sexual abuse and humiliation of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib, apologists for the US soldiers involved minimized the incidents by noting that the prisoners might have been on leashes or menaced by dogs but were not killed. Gradually, however, military investigators and journalists learned that US troops had, in fact, killed as many as 31 detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq in cases that are confirmed or suspected homicides.

This is a stain on the reputation of the US armed services. Any hope that commanders would vigorously prosecute all such cases to deter future deaths dimmed with last week's report from the Army that officers had decided not to bring charges against 17 soldiers implicated in three prisoner deaths in Iraq. Military investigators had recommended that the 17 be prosecuted. In some other cases of detainee deaths, the military has brought charges against US servicemen.

Of course, a serious crime is a different matter: Ten members of an Army military police unit should be disciplined for staging a mud-wrestling match at a U.S. military prison in Iraq, an investigation concluded. No detainees saw the episode last October at Camp Bucca, one of the largest U.S.-controlled detention centers in Iraq, officials said.


Not Iraq related but for some reason it made me think of Iraq: Before he saw the polls, Tom DeLay declared that "one thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America." Now he and his party, shocked by the public's negative reaction to their meddling, want to move on. But we shouldn't let them. The Schiavo case is, indeed, a chance to highlight what's going on in America.

One thing that's going on is a climate of fear for those who try to enforce laws that religious extremists oppose. Randall Terry, a spokesman for Terri Schiavo's parents, hasn't killed anyone, but one of his former close associates in the anti-abortion movement is serving time for murdering a doctor. George Greer, the judge in the Schiavo case, needs armed bodyguards.

Another thing that's going on is the rise of politicians willing to violate the spirit of the law, if not yet the letter, to cater to the religious right.

And the future seems all too likely to bring more intimidation in the name of God and more political intervention that undermines the rule of law.

Opinion: I can't tell whether America is in denial or despair over events in Iraq, but I suspect it's some of each. The denial comes amid a flurry of flag-waving that's followed Iraqi elections and the Bush administration's insistence that peace is breaking out all over because of its own aggressive actions. Conventional wisdom this month is that the president is right. Conventional wisdom has turned an already meek press corps into church mice. But conventional wisdom in this war has been wrong many times before.

The despair, I suspect, keeps many people who are bitterly opposed to this war at home - and deflates turnout at those underpublicized and undercovered antiwar rallies.

Americans, it seems, would just as soon ignore the fact that 150,000 of our troops remain stationed in Iraq; that tens of thousands of Iraqi men, women, and children have died in the crossfire; that some inadvertently have been gunned down at checkpoints where American troops - fearful, with good reason, of suicide attacks - sometimes shoot first and ask questions later; that the tens of billions of dollars we're investing there each year could handily cover health insurance for the millions of uninsured American children. And that even so, corruption in Iraq is rampant, unemployment stands near 50 percent, electricity is off more than on, and that nearly two years after the end of "major combat" reporters are still writing about the dangerous drive from the Baghdad airport to the Green Zone a few miles away.

If the US government has figured out an exit plan, it's not telling us what it is. No. The message is strictly hail to the chief and let freedom ring.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Two Louisiana soldiers, one from Natchitoches and one from New Orleans, killed in Baghdad in incident where two more Louisiana troops were wounded.

Local story: New Orleans, LA, soldier killed in Baghdad.

Local story: Sevier County, TN, soldier killed in Iraq.

Note to Readers: I'd like to take a moment from reading these depressing and discouragingly endless reports of mayhem and inhumanity to offer a salute to one of our long time loyal readers and commenters, Susan - USA. She is a voice of conscience and humanity and her focus on positive action is genuinely inspirational. Thanks, Susan, for the efforts you are making to restore justice and the rule of law to our country and for all you have given to us who come to this blog. And thanks for your loyalty - your regular remembrances of the badly missed Not Anonymous get me every time.



This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?