Wednesday, August 03, 2005

War News for Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Two people from a force that guards oil installations killed and seven wounded when their convoy was attacked by gunmen while en route from Kirkuk to Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Fourteen US Marines and a civilian interpreter killed, one Marine wounded when their amphibious combat vehicle hit a bomb near Haditha.

Bring ‘em on: Twenty two bodies of people thought to be Shiites, including one identified as a police colonel from Karbala, found in the southeast Baghdad neighborhood of Um Maalif. All had been shot and two were beheaded. One area resident was shot the previous night when men dressed in ING uniforms raided the neighborhood and led away several other residents, whose bodies are believed to be among the dead. Five Sunni Arabs shot to death by gunmen as they left a Baghdad hospital where they had visited an injured religious leader.

Bring ‘em on: Four people killed and 23 wounded, including some US soldiers, in a car bomb attack on a US military convoy in central Baghdad. Six people, including five policemen, killed in a suicide car bombing targeting a police patrol in Mosul. One police officer shot to death in western Baghdad. One Iraqi police colonel killed in a drive by shooting. Two finance ministry employees shot to death on their way to work in Baghdad. One civilian killed and five people, including four policemen, wounded in a suicide car bombing aimed at a police patrol in Baquba. Four Iraqi soldiers killed and five wounded when a bomb hidden in a dead dog detonated in Balad. Three people working at a US base in Beiji killed in an ambush by gunmen. One construction worker shot dead in Beiji. Three civilians, one a woman, killed in mortar attacks in Fallujah. One engineer gunned down in Dhuluiyah. One man killed in a Baghdad bookshop bombing.

Bring ‘em on: Six US Marines killed Monday in a small-arms attack near Haditha. One US Marine killed in suicide car bombing near Hit. Pipeline used to bring fuel to a Baghdad power station damaged in an explosion, raising fears of even less electricity in the city. US forces and insurgents clashed in Ramadi, no word on casualties.

Claims: The Pentagon Wednesday denied a claim by an Iraqi insurgent group that it had captured a U.S. Marine in western Iraq.

"I don't have anything to suggest that is accurate. I have no indication that there are any unaccounted for personnel," Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters in response to questions.

An Iraqi insurgent group said earlier in the day it had captured a U.S. Marine who was wounded in a clash in western Iraq in which eight other Marines were killed.

Journalist murdered: The Committee to Protect Journalists is shocked and alarmed by the murder of U.S. freelance journalist and author Steven Vincent, whose bullet-riddled body was found today in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. Vincent, who had written for a number of U.S. publications and was working on a book, was abducted along with his translator, Ward al-Khal, on Tuesday by armed men driving what initial press reports described variously as a pickup truck or possibly a police car. Vincent's body was found this morning, hands tied with plastic wire and a red piece of cloth wrapped around his neck, The New York Times reported. Al-Khal was seriously wounded and was hospitalized today.

A list of journalists killed in Iraq since the war started March 20, 2003.

Connecting The Dots: Sometimes One Story Just Leads To Another

Repositioning forces...for the 2008 US elections: The Pentagon is laying the groundwork for beginning a withdrawal from Iraq, even as it is weighing the risk of moving so quickly that Iraqi security forces collapse without U.S. support.

The benefits of a U.S. drawdown are pretty clear. Fewer troops would likely mean fewer casualties and less strain on the Army and Marine Corps, which already are stretched thin. And it would lessen the degree to which the presence of foreign forces fuels an anti-U.S. insurgency.

There are now about 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq in a war with dwindling popularity among American voters.

At best, a U.S. drawdown would begin shortly after elections for a new government in Baghdad, scheduled for December. That assumes two other difficult political milestones are achieved first: drafting a constitution by Aug. 15 and holding a national referendum in mid-October to approve the constitution.

It also assumes the insurgency does not get worse — and that Iraqi security forces prove themselves ready for combat.

Media offensive: A few days ago, the White House launched a new phase of its propaganda siege for the Iraq war.

The opening salvo came on July 27, when the commander of American forces in Iraq said that continuation of recent trends would make possible “some fairly substantial reductions” of U.S. troop levels in the spring and summer of 2006. Those reductions, Gen. George Casey proclaimed, will happen “if the political process continues to go positively and if the development of the security forces continues to go as it is going.”

Gen. Casey’s statement, which made big news, was the start of a media offensive likely to last for the next 15 months, until the congressional elections. We might call it Operation Withdrawal Scam.

Overall, the strategy is double-barreled: Keep killing in Iraq while hyping scenarios for withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Why do they want to pull out? The overt reason: The presence of British and U.S. troops in Iraq is fuelling the Sunni-led insurgency which has killed hundreds of people, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in comments published on Tuesday.

In an interview with Britain's Financial Times newspaper, Straw said it was crucial Iraq's draft constitution was ready by a mid-August deadline to pave the way for a troop withdrawal.

"The more certainty you have on that (the constitution), the more you can have a programme for the draw-down of troops which is important for the Iraqis," he said.

"Because -- unlike in Afghanistan -- although we are part of the security solution there, we are also part of the problem."

But this likely has more to do with it: This week's talk of "withdrawal in 2006" (20,000 troops, possibly, if the Constitution gets finished, things go well with the elections, the insurgents convert to Tibetan Buddhism, etc.) is a sham, as the New York Times' Bob Herbert points out. The long-term goal was, and still is, to establish a permanent base of operations in Iraq to control the world's last great oil reserves. That doesn't mean there couldn't very well be troop reductions next year. But they may have more to do with human resources than human rights.

Last week, the Army's top personnel officer announced the Army won't meet its recruiting goals for 2005. So far this year, the active-duty Army has enlisted 47,121 recruits. The goal was 80,000. There's little chance to make up the gap the official conceded, the Times reported. Forget the still relatively small U.S. death toll. These are the numbers that keep the Pentagon brass up at night. The Army is being pushed to the breaking point, and that, more than anything, may be what's fueling the administration's new emphasis on "withdrawal" from Iraq.

The strain may lead to a certain amount of cognitive dissonance: The U.S. military, struggling to fill its voluntary ranks, is offering to allow recruits to meet part of their military obligations by serving in the Peace Corps, which has resisted any ties to the Defense Department or U.S. intelligence agencies since its founding in 1961.

The recruitment program has sparked debate and rising opposition among current and former Peace Corps officials. Some welcome it as a way to expand the cadre of idealistic volunteers created by President John F. Kennedy. But many say it could lead to suspicions abroad that the Peace Corps, which has 7,733 workers in 73 countries, is working together with the U.S. armed forces.

Not to mention the most appalling cynicism: Years of writing about public relations and propaganda has probably made me a bit jaded, but I was amazed nevertheless when I visited America's Army, an online video game website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). In its quest to find recruits, the military has literally turned war into entertainment.

"America's Army" offers a range of games that kids can download or play online. Although the games are violent, with plenty of opportunities to shoot and blow things up, they avoid graphic images of death or other ugliness of war, offering instead a sanitized, Tom Clancy version of fantasy combat. Overmatch, for example, promises "a contest in which one opponent is distinctly superior... with specialized skills and superior technology ... OVERMATCH: few soldiers, certain victory" (more or less the same overconfident message that helped lead us into Iraq).

Ubisoft, the company contracted to develop the DoD's games, also sponsors the "Frag Dolls," a real-world group of attractive, young women gamers who go by names such as "Eekers," "Valkyrie" and "Jinx" and are paid to promote Ubisoft products. At a computer gaming conference earlier this year, the Frag Dolls were deployed as booth babes at the America's Army demo, where they played the game and posed for photos and video (now available on the America's Army website).

And what happens when soldiers learn they aren’t in a video game?: AWOL, French Leave, the Grand Bounce, jumping ship, going over the hill—in every country, in every age, whenever and wherever there has been a military, there have been soldiers discharging themselves from the ranks. The Pentagon has estimated that since the start of the current conflict in Iraq, more than 5,500 U.S. military personnel have deserted, and yet we know the stories of only a unique handful, all whom have publicly stated their opposition to the war in Iraq, and some of whom have fled to Canada. The Vietnam war casts a long shadow, distorting our image of the deserter; four soldiers have gone over the Canadian border, looking for the safe haven of the Vietnam years, which no longer exists: there are no open arms for such refugees and almost no possibility of obtaining legal status. We imagine 5,500 conscientious objectors to a bloody quagmire, soldiers like Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia, who strongly and eloquently protested the Iraq war, having actually served there and witnessed civilians killed and prisoners abused, and who was subsequently court-martialed, found guilty of desertion, and given a year in prison. But deserters rarely leave for purely political reasons. They usually just quietly return home and hope no one notices.

Privatization doesn't seem to be helping much: The U.S. military has hired private companies at a cost approaching $1 billion to help dispose of Saddam Hussein's arsenal in Iraq. That spending has created fierce competition for specialized workers that's draining the military's ranks of explosives experts.

Experienced military explosives specialists can earn $250,000 a year or more working for the private companies. In the military, an enlisted man with 10 years' experience can make more than $46,000. The better pay from private companies has led troops to sign on with contractors when their service ends and has aggravated tensions between military and civilian workers in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the average American is either utterly confused or completely ignorant: Americans appear to be not just of two minds about the Iraq war but, maybe, four or five minds. The latest Gallup poll on the subject suggests -- reversing a previous trend -- that a majority of Americans no longer feel the decision to go to war was a "mistake." Now, 53% say it was not a blunder, while as recently as June the same number said it was a mistake. So what's happened to reverse that course, even if briefly? It's hard to say, looking at all the other results. President Bush's overall popularity? Actually, it has plunged in this period, to an approval rating of 44% at present. And, asked specific questions, it's hard to see why American support for the invasion has not declined rather than gone up slightly. Asked if they think we will succeed in creating a stable, democratic government in Iraq, Americans soundly reject the idea, by 58% to 37%. Similarly, 53% predict the U.S. will not win the war, while 43% say we will. And a majority, 51%, declare that President Bush "deliberately misled" the public about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This produces the final contradiction: Despite that belief, 54% still find the president "honest and trustworthy." Accoridng to Gallup, one in five who believe Bush misled the country into war nevertheless find him honest.

And, of course, the ignorance of the electorate got us where we are today: The Separate Realities of Bush and Kerry Supporters (Even more depressing to read now than when it first came out...)

But ignorance was cultivated by those in power and their willing tools in the media: Okay. I couldn't stand it any longer. When I saw the quote today from a New York Times spokesperson about Judy Miller, I blew coffee through my nose. "Judy is an intrepid, principled, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has provided our readers with thorough and comprehensive reporting throughout her career." I am submitting the lengthy piece below to prove precisely otherwise. I don't care how many awards Judy Miller has, she is a miserable failure who has irreparably harmed her country with bad journalism and by allowing her own personal beliefs to infect her reportage. Below is but one example. This is an edited excerpt from a book I wrote, which no one ever read, called "Bush's War for Re-election." And I am not trying to sell a damn book. I don't care if anyone ever buys it. But I do want people to know what this woman did.

By an administration that is, at best, just incompetent: A former employee has charged the Central Intelligence Agency was told by an informant in the spring of 2001 that Iraq had abandoned a major element of its nuclear weapons program, The New York Times reported.

But the newspaper said the agency did not share the information with other agencies or with senior policy makers.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court here in December, the former CIA officer, whose name remains secret, said that the informant told him that Iraq's uranium enrichment program had ended years earlier and that centrifuge components from the scuttled program were available for examination and even purchase, the report said.

The paper said the officer, an employee at the agency for more than 20 years, was fired in 2004.

In his lawsuit, he says his dismissal was punishment for his reports questioning the agency's assumptions on a series of weapons-related matters, according to The Times.

And at worst is actively malevolent: An FBI agent warned superiors in a memo three years ago that U.S. officials who discussed plans to ship terror suspects to foreign nations that practice torture could be prosecuted for conspiring to violate U.S. law, according to a copy of the memo obtained by NEWSWEEK. The strongly worded memo, written by an FBI supervisor then assigned to Guantanamo, is the latest in a series of documents that have recently surfaced reflecting unease among some government lawyers and FBI agents over tactics being used in the war on terror. This memo appears to be the first that directly questions the legal premises of the Bush administration policy of "extraordinary rendition"—a secret program under which terror suspects are transferred to foreign countries that have been widely criticized for practicing torture.

The policies it has created are not accidental: As the Pentagon was making its final preparations to begin war crimes trials against four detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, two senior prosecutors complained in confidential messages last year that the trial system had been secretly arranged to improve the chance of conviction and to deprive defendants of material that could prove their innocence.

Among the striking statements in the prosecutors' messages was an assertion by one that the chief prosecutor had told his subordinates that the members of the military commission that would try the first four defendants would be "handpicked" to ensure that all would be convicted.

The second officer said in a March 11, 2004, message to another senior officer in the prosecutor's office that he could not in good conscience write a legal motion saying the proceedings would be "full and fair" when he knew they would not.

It is clear that there is a larger overall plan in motion: The prison torture decisions "came from the top," asserts Robert Weiner, a former Clinton White House senior public affairs official. "No matter where these prisons are, so long as our policy is the same, torture will take place - closing Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib will not stop the outbreak of abuses and torture."

In an op-ed in today's Cleveland Plain Dealer, Weiner contends, "The orders to torture came from the top down. In the pyramid of power, first and foremost was President Bush's Jan. 25, 2002 executive order disavowing the Geneva Conventions for the 'new' kind of war we are fighting. Moreover, then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez (now Attorney General) assisted in writing the 2002 memo, which also asserted that the Geneva Conventions - respected worldwide - were 'quaint' and 'obsolete.' Last May, before all our eyes in televised hearings, Department of Defense Under Secretary for Intelligence Dr. Stephen Cambone, who coordinates DOD intelligence policy, visibly waived off and interrupted key parts of Major General Antonio Taguba's testimony before the U.S. Senate on the depths of abuses."

In the piece, Weiner and co-author Emma Dick, a human rights analyst for Weiner's issue strategies company, contend that "calls to close the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay have diverted attention from the policies that have made both Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib infamous." They call it "astounding" that "the White House is claiming it would 'restrict the president's authority' to pass bipartisan legislation prohibiting the 'cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment' of detainees, and that Vice President Cheney is meeting with Congress saying the president will veto any such bill." Cheney has even stated that "if we didn't have that facility at Guantánamo to undertake this activity, we'd have to have it someplace else," words which Weiner and Dick say "send a chill to the human rights community".

It begins with the violation of rights to due process: A former London schoolboy accused of being a dedicated al-Qaida terrorist has given the first full account of the interrogation and alleged torture endured by so-called ghost detainees held at secret prisons around the world.

For two and a half years US authorities moved Benyam Mohammed around a series of prisons in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan, before he was sent to Guantánamo Bay in September last year.

Mohammed, 26, who grew up in Notting Hill in west London, is alleged to be a key figure in terrorist plots intended to cause far greater loss of life than the suicide bombers of 7/7. One allegation, which he denies, is of planning to detonate a "dirty bomb" in a US city; another is that he and an accomplice planned to collapse a number of apartment blocks by renting ground-floor flats to seal, fill with gas from cooking appliances, and blow up with timed detonators.

In an statement given to his newly appointed lawyer, Mohammed has given an account of how he was tortured for more than two years after being questioned by US and British officials who he believes were from the FBI and MI6. As well as being beaten and subjected to loud music for long periods, he claims his genitals were sliced with scalpels.

And the creation of an atmosphere encouraging brutality: The commander of a California Army National Guard unit in Iraq under investigation for alleged mistreatment of detainees is a highly regarded special-education teacher in Salinas.

Now at the center of an international controversy, Lt. Col. Patrick Frey has been suspended from his duties and up to 17 of his soldiers have been accused of allegedly using stun guns on detainees during a operation at a power plant in Baghdad in June and allegedly extorting money from Iraqi business owners.

And moves to out and out torture and murder: The circumstances that led up to Mowhoush's death paint a vivid example of how the pressure to produce intelligence for anti-terrorism efforts and the war in Iraq led U.S. military interrogators to improvise and develop abusive measures, not just at Abu Ghraib but in detention centers elsewhere in Iraq, in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Mowhoush's ordeal in Qaim, over 16 days in November 2003, also reflects U.S. government secrecy surrounding some abuse cases and gives a glimpse into a covert CIA unit that was set up to foment rebellion before the war and took part in some interrogations during the insurgency.

The sleeping-bag interrogation and beatings were taking place in Qaim about the same time that soldiers at Abu Ghraib, outside Baghdad, were using dogs to intimidate detainees, putting women's underwear on their heads, forcing them to strip in front of female soldiers and attaching at least one to a leash. It was a time when U.S. interrogators were coming up with their own tactics to get detainees to talk, many of which they considered logical interpretations of broad-brush categories in the Army Field Manual, with labels such as "fear up" or "pride and ego down" or "futility."

Other tactics, such as some of those seen at Abu Ghraib, had been approved for one detainee at Guantanamo Bay and found their way to Iraq. Still others have been linked to official Pentagon guidance on specific techniques, such as the use of dogs.

And now it’s about to come home: The Department of Defense has developed a new strategy in counterterrorism that would increase military activities on American soil, particularly in the area of intelligence gathering.

The move is sparking concern among civil liberties advocates and those who fear an encroaching military role in domestic law enforcement.

In an argument that eerily foreshadowed the July London terror attacks, the Pentagon in late June announced its "Strategy for Homeland Defense and Support," which would expand its reach domestically to prevent "enemy attacks aimed at Americans here at home."

Critics say the fears raised by the Pentagon are being used as a justification for the military to conduct wider, more intrusive surveillance on American citizens.


Opinion: "With the war stalemated, repeated deployments wearing down morale of U.S. troops and too few new recruits to maintain force levels, the Bush administration may be deliberately provoking civil war as its “exit strategy.” The goal is not so much to exit Iraq, but leave behind a skeletal military force that would maintain the network of permanent bases under construction throughout Iraq while maintaining access to massive oil deposits in the North and South. Breaking Iraq into a series of mini-states, a strategy being pushed by some White House allies in the media, is seen as one way to ensure these goals."

Opinion: We should take a moment, however this debate turns out, to applaud the effort by three Republican senators to stand up to the White House and insist that the United States not just fight harder than its enemies, but also stand taller. No one should be surprised that these voices of reason are coming from men experienced in the ways of war. Senator McCain was a P.O.W. for five years in Vietnam. Senator Graham spent many years as an Air Force lawyer. And Senator Warner is a veteran of World War II and Korea.

A few days ago I spoke with John Hutson, a former admiral who is now president of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H. He was one of the signers of the letter to Senator McCain. He stressed that this is a very big issue for the country. If the United States fails to get its act together with regard to the humane treatment of detainees, he said, we will "have changed the DNA of what it means to be an American."

Comment: President Bush assures us that the ongoing twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are worth the sacrifices they entail. Editorialists around the nation agree and say that a steadfast American public was willing to stay the course.

Should anyone be surprised by this national resolve, given that these wars visit no sacrifice of any sort -- neither blood nor angst nor taxes -- on well over 95 percent of the American people?

Letter: As I mentioned, there is not much for a young man to do in small towns like ours after high school. Christopher had mentioned to me when we talked last, before his enlistment, about riding that 4-wheeler ATV around as an Army scout and having a good time. His recruiter had him hooked. He also mentioned going to shoot some "'Raqis."

This is my sadness. Our children are being weaned on hatred and violence in this country. It starts with television, gets reinforced and is refined with violent video games (one, in particular, produced and distributed by the U.S. Army), and finally the infection spreads through violent team sports in high school. Football in the South is the battlefield training ground for the next generation of cannon fodder. Kids are told to go out there and "hurt 'em, tear 'em up, kill 'em." It is ingrained.

(Careful now, don't get me confused with the liberal Left. I own guns and support the Right. There is a huge difference between defense of home and property and exporting violence to other countries.)

As I travel in other countries I see no parallel. There are of course team sports, but violence and undercurrents of hatred that lurk within are, as much as I can tell, not there.

Christopher didn't know it, but as a small town Southerner he was being trained for his death since early childhood.

Comment: The country remains in the throes, not the last throes mind you, but in the constantly shifting throes of manipulated language and principles. It isn’t a war on terrorism now but a struggle against extremism, especially Muslim extremism. And could there be any more bizarre positional shift than Rumsfeld’s refusal to obey a court order to release photos and videos of Abu Ghraib abuses - - his reason? - - showing prisoners in embarrassing circumstances is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. Weren’t they those quaint, outdated rules that didn’t apply to prisoners in Iraq and Guantanamo according to present Attorney General Gonzales?

Domestically, issues are so entangled in political jargon it is almost impossible for ordinary Americans to grasp the underlying import of decisions enacted by Congress, under the tutelage of The White House, - - decisions that have substantial impact on their lives.

Opinion: Step by step, piece by critical piece, a non-violent neo-conservative revolution in slow motion made steady headway. Now the final pieces are ready to be cemented in place – two Supreme Court appointments. John Roberts is the first. When Chief Justice Rehnquist steps down (or dies,) Bush will promote Associate Justice Antonin Scalia to Chief Justice and fill his empty seat with one of the two neo-conservative women he passed over the first time in favor of Roberts. After that the US Supreme Court will in the neo-conservatives bag for decades -- the capstone of the neo-con revolution. After that it matters less whether a conservative occupies the Oval Office or if conservatives hold majorities in both houses of congress. The Supreme Court will always be there to reverse any "counter-revolutionary" legislation. Governance in the US will mirror that of Iran where an elected president and legislature can pass whatever laws they want, but unelected mullahs of the Supreme Council have the final word. If they don't like it, it's ain't happening.

So, there you have it. When liberals complained that Republican policies benefited the rich conservatives would shake their heads and cluck how awful it was that Democrats had to resort to "class warfare." Well, they were right about one thing, there was class warfare being waged, not by the liberals, but conservatives. And they won that war.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Toronto, OH, Marine killed in Iraq.

Local story: Tallmadge, OH, Marine killed in Iraq.

Local story: McKenzie, TN, soldier killed in roadside bombing south of Baghdad.

Local story: Toronto, OH, Marine killed in ambush in western Iraq.

Local story: Americus, GA, soldier killed in bombing outside of Baghdad.


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