Tuesday, September 27, 2005

War News for Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Five Shiite schoolteachers and their driver murdered by gunmen as classes ended at the Al-Jazeera Elementary School in the village of Muelha, 30 miles south of Baghdad. Six people wounded in suicide car bombing in Iskandariyah. Senior official from SCIRI kidnapped and murdered in Qurna. Two US soldiers killed in a roadside bombing in western Baghdad. One US soldier killed in a bombing 50 miles southeast of the capital.

Bring ‘em on: Two Iraqi policemen and five civilians killed, 30 wounded in suicide car bombing at the gates of the Iraqi police academy. One person killed and four wounded when US forces opened fire on a minibus. It is unclear from the article where these incidents occurred – Baghdad, presumably.

Bring ‘em on: Eight people, including some Mahdi army militiamen, killed in long-running gun battle between US and Iraqi soldiers and Sadrist militiamen in Sadr City. This is not good news.

Bring ‘em on: Egyptian engineer working for Iraqna Mobile Company kidnapped in western Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Two guards killed, two guards and five bystanders wounded when robbers attacked a column of armored vehicles and made off with over half a million British pounds worth of cash.

Bring ‘em on: Bodies of 22 men, blindfolded and with their hands bound, found near Kut. All had been shot to death.

Bring ‘em on: Heavy fighting rages in Ramadi, two people reported killed and eight wounded. US armored vehicle reported destroyed in the fighting. One US soldier killed in roadside bombing between Ramadi and Fallujah. One US soldier killed in Ramadi gunbattle. Four US soldiers attached to the Marines killed Monday in two separate roadside bombings. Continued skirmishes between US forces and insurgents reported along the Euphrates. Gosh, a major battle in Ramadi? Why didn't I hear about this on CNN? Oh, wait...no white women disappeared there.

Another lost opportunity: In the chaotic, hopeful April of 2003, Baghdad's Karrada district was one of those neighborhoods where residents showered flowers on U.S. forces entering the capital. Revelers threw water on one another and the Americans, exuding joy at the crushing of a dictatorship that had silenced, tortured and killed their people.

Now, with the end of the third and in many ways hardest summer of the U.S.-led occupation, the lights of Karrada are dimmer. The collapse of Iraq's central power system has left Baghdad averaging less than eight hours of electricity a day.

The crowds on the sidewalks have thinned -- kidnapping and other forms of lawlessness since the invasion mean Baghdad's comparatively liberated women seldom leave home without a good reason.

Car bombings and other insurgent attacks, as unknown in Baghdad before the invasion as suicide subway bombings were in London until this summer, have killed more than 3,000 people in the capital since late spring.

Leaving the house for work each day has become a matter of turning the key and consigning one's fate to God, said Jassim Mohammed, 41, a Karrada merchant who has lost two of his closest friends and one of his lighting shops in car bombings since the Americans came.

"Now in Iraq, no one and nothing can protect you but that. Every morning you kiss them goodbye," Mohammed said, referring to his wife and children, "because you don't know if you will be back or not. Everyone in Iraq does that now."

Change of policy?: Shiite leaders have called on their followers to refrain from revenge attacks against Sunnis, fearing a civil war could result, though Sunnis have accused Shiite militias of carrying out some killings of Sunni figures.

But in one of the first public calls for individual Shiites to take action, a prominent Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed al-Yaaqubi, issued a religious edict Monday allowing his followers to "kill terrorists before they kill."

"Self-restraint does not mean surrender. ... Protecting society from terrorists is a religious duty," al-Yaaqubi said.

Government by militia: A leading Iraqi voice in favor of a negotiated power-sharing arrangement between Sunni and Shiite forces in Iraq charged this weekend that militias in the service of the U.S.-backed Iraqi government in Baghdad tried to kill him, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and other secular Iraqi nationalists by planting a car bomb in the Baghdad neighborhood where they live.

Aiham Al Sammarae, a former minister of electricity in Allawi's government, says that the bomb was discovered and defused. "I live next door to Allawi," says Sammarae, who returned to Iraq from a conference of leading Iraqi Sunnis in Amman, Jordan, on Sunday. "We found a car bomb behind Allawi's house. It would have destroyed the entire neighborhood." According to Sammarae, who spoke to me in a lengthy telephone interview from a hotel in Amman, militias tied to the Iraqi government are conducting death squad-style attacks against Sunnis who oppose the Iraqi regime, which is controlled by a pair of ultra-religious, sectarian parties. "A lot of our guys are being killed," he says. The attacks are being carried out "by the government, by militias that are part of the government."

Constitutional flaws...there might be one or two...: Iraq's proposed constitution -- and the process used to draft it -- have deepened the divide among Iraq's factions and will likely trigger civil war unless changes are negotiated quickly to accommodate the concerns of Sunni Muslims, warned a new report by the International Crisis Group.

The report comes less than three weeks before an Oct. 15 referendum on Iraq's proposed constitution. The ICG calls on the Bush administration to engage in a "last-ditch, determined effort" to broker a compromise among the country's three largest ethnic and religious groups.

"Unless the flaws of its draft constitution can be corrected in the next few weeks before the Iraqi people vote on it, Iraq is likely to slide toward full-scale civil war and the break-up of the country," says the ICG, an independent, nonprofit nongovernmental organization working to resolve conflict in 50 countries on four continents.

The group charges that the constitution was rushed, which cost the process any possibility of consensus. Critical parts of the constitution -- notably on the federal arrangements that will decentralize power -- are also so vague that they already "carry the seeds of future discord," the report says.

This is the good news: Up to 200 Iraqi Sunni politicians and scholars have pressed for voting down the draft constitution in the October referendum and threatened to declare civil disobedience if the US-led onslaughts on Sunni towns continue.

Wrapping up a two-day meeting in the Jordanian capital Amman on Saturday, September 24, Sunni leaders from Al-Anbar province sought the formation of a committee to collect five million signatures to block the charter, the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat reported Sunday, September 25.

"We are mobilizing Sunnis to vote down the draft if our demands were ignored," by the Shiite and Kurdish blocs, Ali Al-Sadoun, a Sunni politician and member of the Iraqi Council for National Dialogue (CND), told the mass-circulation daily.

As Juan Cole points out, if they started a campaign of civil disobedience it would be a major improvement…

Iraqi Security Forces

Still need work: But while it has provided evidence that the capabilities of Iraq's security forces are improving, the operation in Tal Afar has also laid bare the challenges.

Because the ranks of the Iraqi police and army are filled mostly with Shi'ite Arabs and ethnic Kurds, they are perceived in many Sunni sections not as national forces, but as factional hit squads bent on persecution. The tensions were evident in Tal Afar, a city of 200,000, largely Sunni Turkmens.

Most of the forces ''are from the Badr Organization and the peshmerga," said Ibrahim Khalil, 20, one of about 4,000 Tal Afar residents, almost all of them Sunnis, living in a camp established by the Iraqi Red Crescent outside the city. He was referring to the Shi'ite and Kurdish militias.

''They wear the military uniform for disguise," he said. ''Their treatment is very bad. They were taking people to detention prisons just because they are Sunnis."

The Iraqi soldiers from the peshmerga, which for many years was targeted by the Sunni-led army of Saddam Hussein and has long supported Kurdish forces fighting the Turkish government, spoke openly of their zeal to fight the Tal Afar insurgency, led by Sunni Turkmen, according to US soldiers who worked with them.

Meanwhile, US commanders grounded the mostly Shi'ite police commandos a few days into the operation, alleging overly aggressive tactics.

I’ll bet this makes Rustamiya residents happy as hell: NATO inaugurated an officer academy on the outskirts of Baghdad today, boosting its share in training Iraqi security forces.

NATO, which was nearly torn apart in 2003 in a row over the US-led war, has no combat role in Iraq. But it agreed last year to support US-led training of Iraqi soldiers with courses aimed at turning out 1,000 senior officers a year.

The 26-member alliance will shift the bulk of its training mission in Baghdad's heavily fortified international zone to the academy in the suburb of Rustamiya some 20 km south.

Oh Boy! We Got An Al Qaeda Guy! We’re Winning!

Woo hoo! USA! USA!: Al Qaeda's second-in-command in Iraq, Abu Azzam, was shot dead in Baghdad this week, the U.S. military said on Tuesday, a potential a blow to the group at the heart of Iraq's insurgency. U.S. and Iraqi forces tracked Azzam, said to be the right- hand man of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted man in Iraq, to a high-rise apartment building where he was shot on Sunday, U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan said. "We had a tip from an Iraqi citizen that led us to him," Boylan said. "We've been tracking him for a while." The death may mark progress against militants but attacks continued unabated. A suicide bomber blew himself up among a crowd of Iraqi police recruits north of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 10 and wounding about 30, police said. It is uncertain how much intelligence Azzam's killing will deliver, particularly since it appears he was shot without being interrogated.

People who follow Bush’s war closely know that this has to be the 50th or 60th really important al-Qaeda bigwig claimed to be killed or captured. Yippee. It means jack to the insurgency, which is Iraqi. It means jack to the overall “War on Terror” since al-Qaeda has mutated into a decentralized network fueled by Islamic rage against US policies – losing one guy, no matter how important to a local effort, isn’t going to deal them a knockout blow. And we don’t even know if it’s true. I mean, check it out – as mentioned further on in the article, 500 detainees were just released from Abu Ghraib as a goodwill gesture to placate Sunnis. Which means there was dick to charge them with. But you can bet that CENTCOM claimed all those people were ‘suspected terrorists’ when they were detained, that is, if there was any public mention of it at all. So excuse me if I’m a bit skeptical about this claim. And anyway…

Why Killing An Al Qaeda Leader Means Jack In Iraq

Iraq is a violence wracked society where hurt people can’t even get to a hospital: When an Iraqi civilian is hurt, the reality is that for nearly half of them help will never arrive. And every violent attack in Baghdad is another strain on an overwhelmed health care system.

One reason why is that driving an ambulance in Baghdad is a risky business. There is the aftermath of insurgent bombs. And drivers, like Mohammad Hassan Hamoodi, are sometimes viewed as a threat by the military.

As he says, "Who do you fear more, insurgents or soldiers? Soldiers. American or Iraqi."

Hamoodi drives one of only 35 working ambulances in this city of more than 5 million people. In one makeshift dispatch center, four phones ring almost constantly — when the phones are working. The call log of one center reads like an emergency room nightmare: shooting, baby born, shooting, shooting, shooting.

And just getting to an emergency can take up to an hour if the ambulance gets there are all.

Where the educated classes are fleeing as fast as they can: One of Iraq's most precious resources -- doctors -- are fleeing the country in increasing numbers, scared off by persistent violence and drawn to safer, better paying jobs abroad, officials say.

A steady trickle of skilled workers has been flowing out of the country since the 2003 invasion, but in the past year, with the sharp rise in assassinations and kidnappings by insurgents, the exodus of doctors has picked up, they say.

"Iraq is like a battlefield, doctors face danger just getting to work because of terrorist acts," said Aakif al-Alusi, a senior member of the Iraqi Doctors' Syndicate, the official medics' register, who worries about the long-term social impact of the medical brain-drain.

The syndicate estimates 1,500 medical professionals -- doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists -- have fled in the past year alone, although precise numbers are difficult to obtain. Almost as many left in 2003 and in 2004, Alusi said.

Where thousands of people are displaced from their destroyed homes: The United Nations and its partners have delivered food and non-food items to over 16,000 people in the northern Iraqi city of Talafar where recent fighting between Coalition forces and insurgents displaced several thousand families, a UN statement said on Friday.

Working with the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration, the prime minister's office, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) and national NGOs, the UN had provided food, water, non-food items and tents to more than 4,000 displaced families in towns surrounding Talafar, the statement noted.

The UN, however, said it was concerned access to food, water and medical services had continued to be hindered by the presence and activities of armed elements. "The UN asks that all actors follow international humanitarian law and guidelines for civil-military interactions," said the statement.

On Wednesday, the IRCS said nearly 1,500 displaced Iraqi families had returned to the city after Coalition forces ended an operation to rout insurgents hiding there. Returnees said dozens of their homes had been totally destroyed.

Despite the returns, however, thousands of displaced people were still living in camps surviving on aid from various humanitarian organisations.

Where the quisling government and occupying forces are destroying the economy: The failure to rebuild key components of Iraq's petroleum industry has impeded oil production and may have permanently damaged the largest of the country's vast oil fields, American and Iraqi experts say. The deficiencies have deprived Iraq of hundreds of millions of dollars in potential revenue needed for national rebuilding efforts and kept millions of barrels of oil off the world market at a time of growing demand.

Engineering mistakes, poor leadership and shifting priorities have delayed or led to the cancellation of several projects critical to restoring Iraq's oil industry, according to interviews with more than two dozen current and former U.S. and Iraqi officials and industry experts. The troubles have been compounded in some cases by security issues, poor maintenance and disputes between the U.S. and its main contractor, Houston-based KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp., according to the interviews and documents. Despite the United States' spending more than $1.3 billion, oil production remains below the estimated prewar level of 2.5 million barrels per day and well below a December 2004 goal of up to 3 million barrels per day.

And where insiders make out big while everyone else pounds sand: Corruption in Iraq's oil sector looms as one of the biggest threats to the country's economy, yet it has gone largely unaddressed since the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003. In testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July, RAND Corp. senior economist Keith Crane said it is estimated that a third of Iraqi imports of gasoline and diesel fuel is stolen annually, which this year will cost the country about $2 billion. A report released earlier this year by the auditing firm KPMG disclosed that $69 million in oil produced in Iraq during the second half of 2004 disappeared, sparking concern that it had been smuggled. "People in government, or with government ties, are making hundreds of millions of dollars from the current situation," Crane said in a recent interview. "And they don't want to see that changed." As a result, money earmarked for crucial reconstruction projects disappears, a fragile, one-commodity economy stagnates and a restive, war-weary public grows increasingly mistrustful of its fledgling government.

So pardon me if I don’t get too excited about one dead terrorist. Granted, Iraq would be much better off without an al-Qaeda presence but it would still be a basket case and the US invasion and occupation is the reason. There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq until we went in. This is why we don’t give a lot of play to these ‘success’ stories. You want to read happy crap about Iraq, go to CENTCOM’s website. I was there this morning and I see they fixed up another school.

Speaking Of Rebuilding A Destroyed Nation

Bound to get it right sometime: The U.S. military plans to take over responsibility from the State Department for providing assistance to Iraq's Defense and Interior ministries, following a determination that greater resources and technical expertise are needed.

Getting the ministries to exercise effective control over Iraq's fledgling security forces remains key to enabling those forces to operate on their own and allow the withdrawal of U.S. troops. But while the number of Iraqi forces has grown steadily to more than 192,000, the ministries have yet to put in place many of the budgeting, contracting, personnel management and other systems necessary to administer the country's military and police units, U.S. military officers and diplomats said.

Responsibility for the ministries has rested with the State Department's Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, while the Pentagon has overseen training of Iraq's fielded forces. This division of tasks was intended to reinforce the principle of civilian control of the security services, according to officials here, but it has led to some gaps.

The State Department office has struggled to fill all the adviser slots allotted to it, especially at the Interior Ministry, where at least 10 of 51 positions remain vacant. Several U.S. military officers also said that a number of advisers had tended to play only limited roles, helping Iraqi authorities to identify problems but not to solve them.

And what the hell, it’s not like we can’t just throw more money at it: The Senate would give President Bush $50 billion more for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of a $440 billion defense spending measure a panel approved Monday.

The House already has approved $45 billion more for the wars as part of its $409 billion version of the bill providing money for the Defense Department for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.

Both the Senate and House versions provide for a 3.1 percent pay raise for the military, but the bills differ in other areas. The conflicts must be sorted out before Congress sends the final bill to the president for his signature.

Overall, Congress already has given the president about $350 billion for combat and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan and fighting terrorism worldwide since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service, which writes reports for lawmakers. That total includes $82 billion that lawmakers approved in May.

The Bush administration has not yet asked for more war money, but lawmakers are reluctant to wait for a formal request. Costs are certain given that there's no end in sight to involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan.

And you know our expenditures will be most carefully monitored: When Joseph E. Schmitz took over as the Pentagon's inspector general in 2002, the largest watchdog organization in the federal government was under fire for failing to fully investigate a senior official, falsifying internal documents and mistreating whistle-blowers. He publicly pledged to clean it up. Three years later, similar accusations now surround Schmitz.

Schmitz slowed or blocked investigations of senior Bush administration officials, spent taxpayer money on pet projects and accepted gifts that may have violated ethics guidelines, according to interviews with current and former senior officials in the inspector general's office, congressional investigators and a review of internal e-mail and other documents. The case has raised troubling questions about Schmitz as well as the Defense Department's commitment to combating waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayers' money, especially in politically sensitive cases.

Our New American Values: Torture, Death, And Porn

A sacred trust: "Command is a sacred trust. The legal and moral responsibilities of commanders exceed those of any other leader of similar position or authority. Nowhere else does a boss have to answer for how subordinates live and what they do after work." -- Dep't of the Army, Field Manual 22-100, sec. 1-61. With a sense of timing that can only be described as exquisite, the Secretary of the Army, Francis J. Harvey, and the Army Chief of Staff, General Peter J. Schoomaker, have published a defense of the Army's handling of the torture and prisoner abuse scandal in the National Review Online, just as another, particularly gruesome, chapter in this seemingly endless saga breaks across the front pages of the nation's newspapers. We are rapidly arriving at the point where the denials of military senior brass and political appointees who supervise them can only be viewed either as shirking responsibility or as confirmation that torture and abuse are official U.S. policy. It is hard to judge which of these alternatives is more harmful to the nation and its armed forces.

Army Values The Army is the oldest of the nation's institutions, antedating the Presidency, the Congress and the courts. It played a unique role in defining and unifying the nation and in fixing the traditions with which the country has been associated since its founding. First among these may well be the tradition of humane warfare, articulated by George Washington after the Battle of Trenton, December 24, 1776. "Treat them with humanity," Washington directed with respect to the captured Hessians. He forbade physical abuse and directed the detainees be quartered with the German-speaking residents of Eastern Pennsylvania, in the expectation that they would become "so fraught with a love of liberty, and property too, that they may create a disgust to the service among the rest of the foreign troops, and widen the breach which is already opened between them and the British." (Things unfolded exactly as Washington envisioned). Washington also set the rule that detainees be given the same housing, food and medical treatment as his own soldiers. And he was particularly concerned about freedom of conscience and respect for the religious values of those taken prisoner. "While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious of violating the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of hearts of men, and to Him only in this case are they answerable." Under Abraham Lincoln, in 1862, Washington's orders were expanded in the world's first comprehensive codification of the laws of war, General Orders No. 100 (1862), also called the Lieber Code. Among other points, Lincoln clarified what was meant by "humane" treatment. It could under no circumstance comprehend torture, he directed in article 16. This tradition has been a source of pride for our nation for over 200 years. The pressing question today is whether this legacy has been betrayed by those in the highest positions of our Government and in the Department of Defense. The evidence to this effect is now overwhelming.

Shirkers at the Top The torture and abuse saga has now raged on the public stage for 18 months, and a comparison of the Harvey/Schoomaker article with the current newspaper headlines suggests strongly that the Pentagon views the problem as little more than a public relations squabble. This scandal exposes an assault on core values of the Army by senior policymakers -- for the most part political appointees outside the scope of military investigation. The doctrine of humane treatment has been all but eviscerated. But for the long term, the damage done to the doctrine of command responsibility may be even more troubling. Under both military doctrine and U.S. law (Ex parte Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1 (1946)), command authority bears responsibility for the conduct of soldiers under its supervision. Where command authority fails to control the operations of its troops, particularly by permitting atrocities and war crimes, the command authority assumes criminal liability. Similarly, when crimes are committed and the command authority fails to punish those with supervisory responsibility, the result may be to pass criminal liability up the chain of command. In light of the disciplinary actions recommended and not carried out with respect to general and field grade officers, and the fact that detainee abuse remains unresolved after the passage of years, criminal responsibility has now been passed up the chain of command to those who exercise oversight, potentially including the authors of the National Review piece. This liability exists independently of liability that may arise from the formulation and implementation of policy that foments or permits abuse. As a highly regarded Army reserve lawyer -- now called up to active duty in Iraq -- recently wrote, these developments cumulatively reflect "abdication of responsibility by the Defense Department and the Army. The question is not whether these officers actually directed the abuses or participated in them; rather, the question is how they acted as generals and leaders to facilitate the abuses, fail to prevent them, or fail to stop them." The introduction of torture and abuse as interrogation practices has badly corrupted military intelligence and is undermining morale and discipline throughout the service. The decision to scapegoat the "grunts" for decisions that clearly were taken at or near the top of the chain of command has further undermined confidence in the chain of command and in the integrity of the Army as an institution. The systematic denial of the doctrine of command responsibility threatens the ethic of the military on the most fundamental level. One must wonder when and where this whirlwind of destruction that now engulfs our military and threatens to undermine our national security will end.

This is an outstanding article, well worth reading in its entirety.

A sacred trust, part 2: U.S. Army troops subjected Iraqi detainees to severe beatings and other torture at a base in central Iraq from 2003 through 2004, often under orders or with the approval of superior officers, according to accounts from soldiers released by Human Rights Watch. The new report, "Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division," provides soldiers' accounts of abuses against detainees committed by troops of the 82nd Airborne stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury (FOB Mercury), near Fallujah. Three U.S. army personnel - two sergeants and a captain - describe routine, severe beatings of prisoners and other cruel and inhumane treatment. In one incident, a soldier is alleged to have broken a detainee's leg with a baseball bat. Detainees were also forced to hold five-gallon jugs of water with their arms outstretched and perform other acts until they passed out. Soldiers also applied chemical substances to detainees' skin and eyes, and subjected detainees to forced stress positions, sleep deprivation and extremes of hot and cold. Detainees were also stacked into human pyramids and denied food and water. The soldiers also described abuses they witnessed or participated in at another base in Iraq and during earlier deployments in Afghanistan. According to the soldiers' accounts, U.S. personnel abused detainees as part of the military interrogation process or merely to "relieve stress." In numerous cases, they said that abuse was specifically ordered by Military Intelligence personnel before interrogations, and that superior officers within and outside of Military Intelligence knew about the widespread abuse. The accounts show that abuses resulted from civilian and military failures of leadership and confusion about interrogation standards and the application of the Geneva Conventions. They contradict claims by the Bush administration that detainee abuses by U.S. forces abroad have been infrequent, exceptional and unrelated to policy.

The Human Rights Watch report:

Leadership Failure - Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division

Silence: Where do American religious leaders stand on torture? Their deafening silence evokes memories of the unconscionable behavior of German church leaders in the 1930s and early 1940s.

Despite the hate whipped up by administration propagandists against those it brands "terrorists," most Americans agree that torture should not be permitted. Few seem aware, though, that although President George W. Bush says he is against torture, he has openly declared that our military and other interrogators may engage in torture "consistent with military necessity."

For far too long we have been acting like "obedient Germans." Shall we continue to avert our eyes -- even as our mainstream media begin to expose the "routine" torture conducted by US forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo?

The ramifications have not yet begun to unfold: This could become a public-relations catastrophe. The Bush administration claims such sympathy for American war dead that officials have banned the media from photographing flag-draped coffins being carried off cargo planes. Government officials and American media officials have repeatedly denounced the al-Jazeera network for airing grisly footage of Iraqi war casualties and American prisoners of war. The legal fight over whether to release the remaining photographs of atrocities at Abu Ghraib has dragged on for months, with no less a figure than Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Meyers arguing that the release of such images will inflame the Muslim world and drive untold numbers to join al-Qaeda. But none of these can compare to the prospect of American troops casually bartering pictures of suffering and death for porn.

If American soldiers in the field are always considered representatives of their government, international law clearly prohibits publishing and ridiculing images of war dead. The First Protocol of the Geneva Conventions states that "the remains of persons who have died for reasons related to occupation or in detention resulting from occupation or hostilities ... shall be respected, and the gravesites of all such persons shall be respected, maintained, and marked." The first Geneva Convention also requires that military personnel "shall further ensure that the dead are honorably interred, if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged."

No one can reasonably expect a war without war crimes. But thanks to modern communications technology, photographic evidence of its brutality will always be with us. Roughly two hundred soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan document their experiences in online "milblogs," and digital cameras are ubiquitous. No one can stop soldiers from posting pictures of eviscerated corpses for all to see, and no one should ever again be able to feign ignorance of war's human cost. Or so you'd think. Yet in the days since the European press uncovered the gore-for-porn story, not a single US print newspaper other than the Express has touched it.

Representatives from Amnesty International and Human Rights First even refused to comment, although both organizations ostensibly exist to condemn just this kind of practice. Perhaps no one wants to give Chris Wilson more publicity, or daily editors are too sensitive about being viewed as unpatriotic. Or perhaps the story is just too ugly to contemplate.

Americans have thousands of media outlets to choose from. But they still have to visit a porn site to see what this war has done to the bodies of the dead and the souls of the living. One of the pictures on Wilson's site depicts a woman whose right leg has been torn off by a land mine, and a medical worker is holding the mangled stump up to the camera. The woman's vagina is visible under the hem of her skirt. The caption for this picture reads: "Nice puss -– bad foot."

But don’t worry – we’ll punish the responsible parties!: Army Pfc. Lynndie England, whose smiling poses in photos of detainee abuse at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison made her the face of the scandal, was convicted Monday by a military jury on six of seven counts.

England, 22, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating detainees and one count of committing an indecent act. She was acquitted on a second conspiracy count.

The jury of five male Army officers took about two hours to reach its verdict. Her case now moves to the sentencing phase, which will be heard by the same jury beginning Tuesday.

The World Is Full Of Scumbags

Arrogant scumbags: Tony Blair is at now at odds with the public over keeping troops in Iraq according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today which shows that voters want Britain to set a timetable for pulling troops out of the country despite the worsening security situation.

The poll also shows rapidly rising dissatisfaction with Mr Blair's leadership. Only 41% of voters are persuaded by the prime minister's argument that troops have a duty to remain in the country until things improve. By contrast, a majority of voters, 51%, want the government to set out plans to withdraw troops from Iraq regardless of the situation in the country.

Yesterday Mr Blair again argued that no arbitrary date should be set for withdrawal. In a BBC interview he said: "I have absolutely no doubt as to what we should do. We should stick with it."

But the poll, taken after last week's attack on British troops in Basra, shows that a clear majority, 64%, believe the situation in the country is worsening despite the presence of British forces. Just 12% now share Mr Blair's belief that British troops are actually helping to improve the security situation.

Cowardly scumbags: But on Iraq, a big disconnect exists between what registered Democrats believe about the war and what elected Democratic officials and alleged party leaders like Howard Dean are willing to do. Only two Democratic officeholders -- Representatives John Conyers of Michigan and Cynthia McKinney of Georgia -- planned to be anywhere near the antiwar rally scheduled this weekend in Washington.

Forget about standing up alongside Michael Moore. Merely speaking up against the war in Iraq continues to terrify Democrats. One exception is Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who voted against Roberts and is also a strong, consistent Democratic voice against Iraq. But Kennedy is not running for president.

Democratic senators who are in the presidential contender mix, such as Clinton, Kerry, and Joseph Biden of Delaware, have yet to label their votes to authorize war a mistake, even though the underlying rationale -- weapons of mass destruction -- was long ago revealed as false. Given the reluctance to admit mistakes in Washington, they probably never will. These Democrats, meanwhile, continue to tailor their opposition to the way the war is being waged, not to its underlying purpose or morality.

But There Are Still Some Heroes In Our Country

Ian Fishback: When Army Capt. Ian Fishback told his company and battalion commanders that soldiers were abusing Iraqi prisoners in violation of the Geneva Convention, he says, they told him those rules were easily skirted. When he wrote a memo saying Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was wrong in telling Congress that the Army follows the Geneva dictates, his lieutenant colonel responded only: "I am aware of Fishback's concerns."

And when Fishback found himself in the same room as Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey at Ft. Benning, Ga., he again complained about prisoner abuse. He said Harvey told him that "corrective action was already taken." At every turn, it seemed, the decorated young West Point graduate, the son of a Vietnam War veteran from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, whose wife is serving with the Army in Iraq, felt that the military had shut him out. So he turned to those he knows best. He sought guidance from fellow infantry commanders and his West Point classmates, and learned that they agreed with him that abuse of prisoners was widespread and that officers weren't adequately trained in how to handle them. Then, in a lengthy chronology obtained Saturday by The Times, recounting what he saw in Iraq and his numerous efforts to get the Army's attention, he wrote that "Harvey is wrong." He wrote that Army guidance was "too vague for officers to enforce American values." He concluded that violations of the Geneva Convention were "systematic, and the Army is misleading America." This summer, after weighing the possible effects on his career, he stepped outside the Army's chain of command and telephoned the Human Rights Watch advocacy group. He later met with aides on the Senate Armed Services Committee. On Friday, he authorized them to make public his allegations, along with those of two sergeants, of widespread prisoner abuse they had witnessed when they served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 as members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. Within hours, the Army announced it had opened a criminal investigation.

Contrast this honorable young man with the Air Force generals who are afraid to protest against the new US nuclear first strike policy that the Pentagon is proposing because it might damage their careers. What cowards they are.

Jed Rakoff: A federal judge Monday rejected a government argument that he was interfering with the president's constitutional authority to wage war by insisting that Guantanamo Bay detainees be asked if they want their names to be made public.

The government raised the objection after U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff last month ordered the Defense Department to pose the question to detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base.

The judge wrote that the argument was without merit, and that it was offered improperly after he had already rejected the government's other reasons for insisting that the information not be released to The Associated Press.

In April, the AP filed a lawsuit asking for transcripts of 558 tribunals conducted in the last year to give detainees a chance to challenge their incarceration. The government released the documents but redacted facts about each detainee's identity.

In his ruling last month, Rakoff noted that the government had argued the identities should be kept secret to protect the privacy of the detainees rather than for national security reasons.

The judge said each detainee could answer "yes" or "no" to the question of whether he wanted his identity revealed.

"One might well wonder whether the detainees share the view that keeping their identities secret is in their own best interests," he wrote last month.

Maurice Hinchey: New York congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) delivered a fiery critique of the Bush Administration's drive to war in Iraq, labeling the push part of a "conspiracy" to deceive Congress and occupy the country.

The speech, made Sept. 19 outside the District Courthouse in Binghamton, New York before the federal trial of the St. Patrick’s Four, was transcribed by RAW STORY's Jennifer Van Bergen.

Speaking of the four protesters who spilled their own blood at a military recruiting center, Hinchey said "what they were protesting was the conspiracy of the Administration of George W. Bush to bring about an attack and then an occupation of the country of Iraq, and as a result making the world a much more dangerous and difficult place than it was prior to those actions."

"It is that conspiracy," he added, "that conspiracy which has now been documented by among other things official British documents called the Downing Street Memo which are communications between the highest ranking officials of the British government – the head of the British Intelligence, the foreign officer, the prime minister himself."


Analysis: Posted on a bulletin board at Centcom headquarters here is a 1918 admonition from T.E. Lawrence explaining what he learned in training Arab soldiers: "It is better to let them do it themselves imperfectly than to do it yourself perfectly. It is their country, their way, and our time is short."

That quote sums up an important shift in U.S. military strategy on Iraq that has been emerging over the past year. The commanders who are running the war don't talk about transforming Iraq into an American-style democracy or of imposing U.S. values. They understand that Iraqis dislike American occupation, and for that reason they want fewer American troops in Iraq, not more. Most of all, they don't want the current struggle against Iraqi insurgents, who are nasty but militarily insignificant, to undermine U.S. efforts against the larger threat posed by al Qaeda terrorists, who would kill hundreds of thousands of Americans if they could.

I had a rare opportunity to hear a detailed explanation of U.S. military strategy this weekend when the Centcom chief, Gen. John Abizaid, gathered his top generals here for what he called a "commanders' huddle." They described a military approach that's different, at least in tone, from what the public perceives. For the commanders, Iraq isn't an endless tunnel. They are planning to reduce U.S. troop levels over the next year to a force that will focus on training and advising the Iraqi military. They don't want permanent U.S. bases in Iraq. Indeed, they believe such a high-visibility American presence will only make it harder to stabilize the country.

The commanders' thinking is conveyed by a set of "Principles for a Long War" for combating the main enemy, al Qaeda and affiliated movements. Among the precepts they discussed here: "use the indirect approach" by working with Iraqi and other partner forces; "avoid the dependency syndrome" by making the Iraqis take responsibility for their own security and governance; and "remove the perception of occupation" by reducing the size and visibility of American forces. The goal over the next decade is a smaller, leaner, more flexible U.S. force in the Middle East -- one that can help regional allies rather than trying to fight an open-ended American war that would be a recruiting banner for al Qaeda.

This article is by David Ignatius – I thought it was quite interesting but don’t really have a very good sense of whether he is a real journalist or another Beltway tool. Readers?

Opinion: Ms. Greenhouse and Mr. Greenfeld are only two of the many whistle-blowers done in by this administration so far. (Congressman Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, lists nine on his Web site.) Even top government officials who are not whistle-blowers, merely truth-tellers, are axed. Lawrence Lindsey, the president's chief economic adviser, was pushed out after he accurately projected the cost of the Iraq war at $100 billion to $200 billion. Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, was shunted aside after he accurately estimated the number of required troops ("several hundred thousand") for securing Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, who presented rosy scenarios of getting the job done with Iraqi oil income and low troop deployments, stayed on to bungle the war.

Their errors were compounded when the administration staffed the post-Saddam American occupation with exactly the same kind of appointees it would later bring to homeland security: the two heads of "private sector development" in Iraq were a former Bush fund-raiser in Connecticut and a venture capitalist who just happened to be Ari Fleischer's brother. As The Washington Post reported last year, major roles in the L. Paul Bremer regime were given to 20-somethings with no foreign service experience or knowledge of Arabic simply because they had posted their résumés at the Heritage Foundation, the same conservative think tank where Mr. Bremer had chaired a task force.

The damage done to the mission in Iraq and homeland security alike by Enron governance is immeasurable.

Opinion: George W. Bush will go down in history as the president who fiddled while America lost its superpower status.

Bush used deceit and hysteria to lead America into a war that is bleeding the US economically, militarily, and diplomatically. The war is being fought with hundreds of billions of dollars borrowed from foreigners. The war is bleeding the military of troops and commitments. The war has ended the US claim to moral leadership and exposed the US as a reckless and aggressive power.

Focused on a concocted "war on terrorism," the Bush administration diverted money from the New Orleans levees to Iraq, with the consequence that the US now has a $100 billion rebuild bill on top of the war bill.

The US is so short of troops that neoconservatives are advocating the use of foreign mercenaries paid with US citizenship.

US efforts to isolate Iran have been blocked by Russia and China, nuclear powers that Bush cannot bully.

The Iraqi war has three beneficiaries: (1) al Qaeda, (2) Iran and (3) US war industries and Bush-Cheney cronies who receive no-bid contracts.

Everyone else is a loser.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Elizabethtown, KY, soldier who died September 16 in a Baghdad roadside bombing interred in Cranks, KY.

Local story: Wilmington, VT, soldier killed in roadside bombing in Iraq.

Local story: Two Wisconsin National Guardsmen, one from Oshkosh and one from Mayville, killed in a roadside bombing in Iraq.

Local story: Vista, CA, soldier killed in Iraq by a hidden bomb.

Local story: Washington, NC, soldier killed in roadside bombing in Iraq.

Local story: Two California National Guardsmen, one from Antioch and one from Oceanside, killed in roadside bombing in Baghdad; and one California Marine, from Vista, killed in a bombing in Taqaddaum.

Local story: Hardwick, VT, soldier killed by a sniper near Ramadi. (To the servicemember who sent me this story – Thank you, and I’m sorry I wasn’t able to post it sooner.)

Note to Readers: I’d like to extend a warm personal welcome to our new blog colleague Helena. Her website is a valuable resource which I’ve constantly failed to take adequate advantage of and now that she’s going to be cross-posting here, I can stop feeling guilty about it. She’s going to be a great asset to the site. Welcome aboard, Helena.


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