War News for Friday, July 29, 2005
For 15 months now the Bush administration has insisted that the horrific photographs of abuse from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were the result of freelance behavior by low-level personnel and had nothing to do with its policies. In this the White House has been enthusiastically supported by the Army brass, which has conducted investigations documenting hundreds of cases of prisoner mistreatment in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but denies that any of its senior officers are culpable. For some time these implacable positions have been glaringly at odds with the known facts. In the past few days, those facts have grown harder to ignore.
The latest evidence has emerged from hearings at Fort Meade about two of those low-level Abu Ghraib guards who are charged with using dogs to terrorize Iraqi detainees. On Wednesday, the former warden of Abu Ghraib, Maj. David DiNenna, testified that the use of dogs for interrogation was recommended by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, the former commander of the Guantanamo Bay prison who was dispatched by the Pentagon to Abu Ghraib in August 2003 to review the handling and interrogation of prisoners. On Tuesday, a military interrogator testified that he had been trained in using dogs by a team sent to Iraq by Gen. Miller.
In statements to investigators and in sworn testimony to Congress last year, Gen. Miller denied that he recommended the use of dogs for interrogation, or that they had been used at Guantanamo. "No methods contrary to the Geneva Convention were presented at any time by the assistance team that I took to [Iraq]," he said under oath on May 19, 2004. Yet Army investigators reported to Congress this month that, under Gen. Miller's supervision at Guantanamo, an al Qaeda suspect named Mohamed Qahtani was threatened with snarling dogs, forced to wear women's underwear on his head and led by a leash attached to his chains -- the very abuse documented in the Abu Ghraib photographs.
The court evidence strongly suggests that Gen. Miller lied about his actions, and it merits further investigation by prosecutors and Congress. But the Guantanamo commander was not acting on his own: The interrogation of Mr. Qahtani, investigators found, was carried out under rules approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Dec. 2, 2002. After strong protests from military lawyers, the Rumsfeld standards -- which explicitly allowed nudity, the use of dogs and shackling -- were revised in April 2003. Yet the same practices were later adopted at Abu Ghraib, at least in part at the direct instigation of Gen. Miller. "We understood," Maj. DiNenna testified, "that [Gen. Miller] was sent over by the secretary of defense."
The White House and Pentagon have gotten away with their stonewalling largely because of Republican control of Congress. When the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted, GOP leaders such as Sen. John W. Warner (Va.) loudly vowed to get to the bottom of the matter -- but once the bottom started to come into view late last year, Mr. Warner's demands for accountability ceased. Mr. Rumsfeld and other senior officials have never been the subject of an independent investigation. A recommendation by the latest Army probe that Gen. Miller be reprimanded for his role in the Qahtani interrogation was rejected by Gen. Bantz Craddock of Southern Command. Emphasis added.
Bring 'em on: Twenty-five Iraqis killed, 35 wounded by suicide bomber at recruiting center in Rabia
Bring 'em on: Two US Marines killed in heavy fighting near Haditha
Bring 'em on: Six Iraqi soldiers killed in two attacks near Baquba
Bring 'em on: US convoy attacked by roadside bombs near Ramadi
Bring 'em on: Iraqi civilian translator killed in convoy ambush near Tikrit
Bring 'em on: Five Iraqi policemen, two civilian translators found beheaded near Mahmudiya
Report from Rummyworld
The distinction between resistance and terror is an important one—and one not often made by U.S. officials in Iraq. Take, for example, the daily press releases from the U.S. military via their combined public information center, a.k.a. CPIC—here in Baghdad. A military operation in Mosul: 10 terrorists captured, is a typical comment. A firefight in outside Baghdad: three terrorists killed. A security sweep based on good intelligence—a terrorist operation thwarted. It all sounds pretty clear. But it's not. The vast majority of these so-called terrorists that the U.S. military brags about killing and capturing are actually insurgents fighting the American occupation and the fledgling Iraqi government. Categorizing them as terrorists has probably played well with a gullible American public—indeed, it probably makes them feel safer—but factually speaking it's wrong.
The vast majority of attacks against U.S. and Iraqi security forces are perpetrated by former members of Saddam Hussein's regime and Sunnis fearful of being politically marginalized by the Kurds and majority Shiites. Then there are the foreign Muslims coming into Iraq to wage jihad against the United States and its allies, primarily through suicide bombings. The first group sees itself as resisting an army of occupation, the second neither cares about the Iraqi people nor the country's political status, wanting only to thwart the Americans by creating fear and chaos. The latter group can fairly be called terrorists.
. "The Army National Guard has fallen 23 percent behind its recruiting goal so far this year and is unlikely to meet its annual quota - largely because of a dramatic drop in recruits from the South. With tens of thousands of Guardsmen deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan during hurricane and wildfire seasons, some experts worry the Guard is being stretched thin while unable to fill the ranks. The Pentagon announced last week that the Army National Guard has fallen about 10,500 enlistees behind its goal. So far, nearly 34,600 have enlisted."
. The US military is to consider protecting foreign diplomats in Baghdad after al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the killing of three Algerian diplomats this month, the new American ambassador said. US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on Thursday told reporters in Baghdad: 'Coalition forces... are planning to look at this problem and see what could be done to fix the security for the diplomats.'"
evacuates diplomatic mission from Baghdad to Amman.
Efforts to rebuild water, electricity and health networks in Iraq are being shortchanged by higher-than-expected costs to provide security and by generous financial awards to contractors, according to a series of reports by government investigators released yesterday.
Taken together, the reports seem to run contrary to the Bush administration's upbeat assessment that reconstruction efforts are moving vigorously ahead and that the insurgency is dying down.
The United States, Iraq and international donors have committed more than $60 billion to run Iraq and revive its damaged infrastructure. But security costs are eating away a substantial share of that total, up to 36 percent on some projects, the Government Accountability Office reported yesterday. The higher security costs are causing reconstruction authorities to scale back efforts in some areas and abandon projects in others.
For instance, in March, the U.S. Agency for International Development canceled two electric power generation programs to provide $15 million in additional security elsewhere. On another project to rehabilitate electric substations, the Army Corps of Engineers decided that securing 14 of the 23 facilities would be too expensive and limited the entire project to nine stations. And in February, USAID added $33 million to cover higher security costs on one project, which left it short of money to pay for construction oversight, quality assurance and administrative costs.
More CPA follies
. "Stuart Bowen, the special inspector-general for Iraq reconstruction, said on Thursday that the US Justice Department was looking into fraud that he had uncovered. Giving details of his latest report, which is to be released on Saturday, Bowen also told National Public Radio (NPR) that US-backed reconstruction projects in Iraq were speeding ahead. 'The reconstruction for Iraq is peaking, 1000 projects are completed and 1000 more are ongoing,' he said. The US has allocated $23 billion for new infrastructure and Bowen's previous reports have already highlighted huge sums of missing money. He said his latest report looks at four water projects and 'the results are all over the map'. He also told how $7 million intended for the troubled Hilla region south of Baghdad had disappeared. The money came from the Development Fund for Iraq, money from oil sales that the US-run former Coalition Provisional Authority used for development projects."
A tale of two cities
. "At 11 a.m. in the Iraqi capital, the popping of automatic-weapons fire broke out from one end of a Tigris River bridge to another. Pedestrians jaded by gunfire walked for cover. It was Baghdad's equivalent of a car horn -- guards shooting into the air to clear the way for some dignitary. Across the Tigris, gray smoke billowed over the city from a bomb. Under the bridge, ski-masked Shiite Muslim commandos cruised through checkpoints in pickups mounted with machine guns. Nearby, a man stood in the middle of the street holding a gun to the head of another man in a car. Other drivers steered around them. No one stopped to help, or looked that carefully. After more than two years of war, Baghdad's people have learned to choose their battles, and this one didn't qualify. On the city's streets, the daily reality involves death, random violence and routine deprivations for people who are beyond anger. But a different view has been presented in the Green Zone, the concrete-barricaded headquarters for U.S. troops, diplomats and contractors, and the interim Iraqi government. There, the situation is described as progressing toward a gradual handover from U.S. forces to Iraqi control. During a visit to Baghdad this week by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey, said a partial troop withdrawal might begin in early spring. His assessment was repeated Thursday at a weekly briefing. 'Every day you see the Iraqi people going about their lives -- sometimes under challenging circumstances -- gives confirmation we've got a good program,' said the military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Donald Alston."
The frequency with which troops are being sent back to combat is unprecedented in the all-volunteer U.S. military, which was created in 1973 after the draft ended. To boost morale, commanders draw comparisons to the sacrifices of Greatest Generation, those who fought for the duration of World War II. But that war is dust-covered history to those fighting here, and defense researchers concede that they do not yet know what back-to-back-to-back tours of duty will do to this military — or to those fighting.
"It's an open question as to how much we can ask of them," says James Hosek, a RAND Corp., specialist on military retention.
The Marines send troops to Iraq more frequently than the Army, but do so for shorter combat stints that don't last longer than seven months. Three Marine battalions, including the one in which Welter serves, are now fighting for the third time; two more are preparing for third combat hitches. The Army deploys units for longer periods — usually 12 months — but less often. Some Army units are starting a second tour in Iraq this year.
Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for the Army's personnel division, says re-enlistments have held steady so far. "But we are keeping an eye on that," he says.
Studies about Vietnam veterans are of little use because the nation had a larger, conscript military then and combat was typically limited to a single 12- or 13-month tour. Hosek testified before Congress last year that what limited data exist suggest a third tour could sour the troops and their families and hurt re-enlistments.
Interviews with two dozen Marines in Ramadi, their commanders, and friends and family back home reveal the cost in human terms. Like Jimmy Welter, some Marines in this unit enlisted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But that patriotic fervor now seems spent. And what the Marines have endured — Welter's story is typical — speaks to the changes that come with war.
During their first tour, Welter and his unit were greeted as liberators. During the second, they fought a growing rebellion. Now, on the third, many say they are angry to be back, shaken by the loss of more friends and feeling old beyond their years.
"I'm 22 years old. It really feels like I'm 30," Welter says. "I've seen more and done more things at 22 than most people have in 40 years."
. "Thirty percent of U.S. troops surveyed have developed stress-related mental health problems three to four months after coming home from the Iraq war, the Army's surgeon general said Thursday. The survey of 1,000 troops found problems including anxiety, depression, nightmares, anger and an inability to concentrate, said Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley and other military medical officials. A smaller number of troops, often with more severe symptoms, were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, a serious mental illness. The 30 percent figure is in contrast to the 3 percent to 5 percent diagnosed with a significant mental health issues immediately after they leave the war theater, according to Col. Elspeth Ritchie, a military psychiatrist on Kiley's staff. A study of troops who were still in the combat zone in 2004 found 13 percent experienced significant mental health problems."
The background noise to all this, of course, comes from the insurgents' bombs going off every day. The stepped-up pace of ambushes and suicide bombings has killed hundreds of Iraqis this month. A U.S. Army report found that ill-trained Iraqi police officers were being thrown into the front lines like so much cannon fodder. It also said the likelihood that insurgents have infiltrated the police is very high.
At the same time, it is also clear that Iran is strengthening its ties to the Shiite leadership and redoubling its influence in Baghdad. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Shiites' tolerance of the mostly Sunni insurgency has about run out. More militias are being set up, amid more calls for active self-defense. Sunni politicians, in turn, have complained about secretive Shiite death squads.
When the constitution is put up for a referendum, the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Kurds will each have the power to reject it, because the voting will be organized by region. That will tend not to foster compromise, as might be expected, but to strengthen ethnic or sectarian identification. The process is more apt to increase violence than reduce it.
The likelihood, in other words, that U.S. troops will start coming home next spring, as predicted Wednesday by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., is small. He himself acknowledged that if the security situation does not improve, all bets are off. Similarly, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said he wants American troops out as soon as possible - but that was chiefly rhetorical. His government would be lost without U.S. firepower.
It could happen that Iraqis of every description decide to give the constitution a try. It seems likely that Washington, which tried to influence the last elections under the table (but failed), will try again. At best, Iraqis will be at each other's throats but not killing each other. That's the rosy view. The American invasion of Iraq let loose an avalanche, or set up a train wreck, or started a chain reaction - choose your metaphor - and the danger is that it will end with a bitter and intractable sectarian bloodletting.
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