Sunday, December 11, 2005

War News for Sunday, December 11, 2005

Bring ‘em on: A roadside bomb targeting a U.S. military patrol in Mosul killed two Iraqi civilians and wounded another. No American casualties were reported.

Bring ‘em on: Assailants blew up an electoral center Sunday in a town 12 miles south of Samarra and opened fire on a Turkoman political party office in Mosul, wounding three people. Bring ‘em on: A U.S. soldier was killed when his patrol hit a roadside bomb in west Baghdad on Sunday. One Iraqi soldier was killed and another wounded when gunmen attacked a checkpoint near Riyadh. Two members of the Iraqi army were killed and one wounded when gunmen attacked them as they drove in an unmarked car in Baiji. Iraqi police found a charred body on Saturday in the city of Tikrit, 175 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad. The body had gunshot wounds, police said. Fighting broke out between a joint Iraqi-U.S patrol and gunmen in the city of Samarra. One Iraqi soldier was killed and two suspects were arrested, the Iraqi and U.S. military said.

Kidnappings: A tense, agonized wait continued around the world as Saturday's deadline passed with only a deafening silence from the mysterious kidnappers who threatened to kill four Christian aid workers unless the Americans freed all detainees in Iraq.

While several hundred Iraqi prisoners did walk free, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said their release had nothing to do with the kidnapping. Family and friends of the hostages could do little more than watch the clock tick down in dread.

"It's draining and really we're just waiting," Ed Loney, brother of Canadian hostage James Loney, said from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., where candles flickered on porches of nearby homes in a sign of support.

"Awful is an understatement."

The New Iraq ™

Torture rooms in secret prisons: Iraqi officials have named four additional prisons run by the Interior Ministry at which prisoners were secretly held and allegedly subjected to torture.

One of the detention locations was in a basement under the Baratha mosque, which was reclaimed from Sunni control by Shiites after the fall of Saddam Hussein, The Washington Times reported.

Other sites identified in a series of interviews by The Washington Times include part of the Al-Sha'ab Olympic stadium in Baghdad, the fourth floor in the Interior Ministry headquarters in Baghdad, and the Al-Nisoor (Eagles) Prison.

The newspaper reported Saturday that more than a thousand people were also held at a prison in the Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad.

Journalists wounded and killed: More media personnel have been killed during the two-and-a-half years of Operation Iraqi Freedom than in the Vietnam War that spanned two decades. American firepower has been the second-leading cause of the fatalities (after death at the hands of the insurgents). The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists lists 13 journalists and two media assistants killed by U.S. forces.

The total number of journalist casualties varies, depending on who is keeping count: the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders lists 74 correspondents and media assistants killed in the field; the International News Safety Institute in Brussels puts the number at 93, including drivers and translators. CPJ counts 80 media staff deaths. Sixty-three is the commonly cited number for journalists killed in Vietnam. That total does not include media staff, but it is generally agreed that far fewer support personnel were deployed in that conflict. The fighting in Iraq has witnessed a heavy dependency on assistants, especially Iraqis and other Arab nationals, who often are on the firing line when it is considered too dangerous for Western correspondents to venture out.

Overall, more of those involved in the newsgathering process have been attacked, wounded and killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom than in any combat situation in recent memory, according to numbers compiled by international media groups.

Destruction of intellectual life: Many academics have been killed in Iraq since the American occupation began according to the Iraqi Union of University Lecturers.

The most striking fact is that the majority of those killed where not scientists (thus targeted for the alleged knowledge of Iraq’s weapon’s programme) but were involved in field of humanities (such as law, geography and history). The motives for these assassinations are unknown.

This ‘war on Learning’, as Robert Fisk, a reporter in Iraq for the Independent called it, is making Iraqi intellectual’s work impossible and further augments the view that a ‘normal life’ in Iraq is far too dangerous for them. According to an article in the Times Higher Education Supplement: ‘there is a widespread feeling among the Iraqi academics that they are witnessing a deliberate attempt to destroy intellectual life in Iraq’. Furthermore, quoting Dr Sinawi – a geologist formerly employed at Baghdad University and interview by THES- the academic dismissals, the assassination of intellectuals will bring a ‘disruption of higher education in Iraq for years to come. This will dramatically affect the standard of teaching and research for generations’.

The Good News! Section

Redeploying for the elections – ours, that is, in 2006: Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday he expects some 20,000 U.S. troops to return home from Iraq after next week's elections, and he suggested that some of the remaining 137,000 forces could pull out next year. "If conditions permit, we could go below that," he said in the latest administration hint of at least a modest reduction next year.

Oh boy! A secure, democratic Iraq in just six months!: U.S. troops stationed in Iraq are well-equipped and in good spirits, said Congressman Bill Shuster (R-9th District), who recently returned from a two-day visit to the war-torn country as part of a six-member bipartisan delegation.

Rejecting Democratic colleague John P. Murtha's call for withdrawal of the troops, Shuster, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said military strategists on the ground in Iraq believe American service members will have to remain in Iraq for at least six more months to complete their objective: leaving in place a secure, democratic society.

But, Shuster said, that time frame could be extended if leaders who share U.S. goals aren't successful in Iraq's upcoming national elections next Thursday.

"If we get good quality leaders elected, they can see us withdrawing troops in six to seven months," Shuster said. But, "If we get political hacks, it may be 18 months."

This article is well worth reading in its entirety if only for its unintentional hilarity. This political hack...er, Congressman, pardon me...goes to Baghdad where he has to wear a flak vest and fly in a helicopter for security, visits with soldiers in totally controlled settings, has a nice chat with Chalabi and comes back to tell us all how peachy life is in Iraq because he can see a lot more satellite dishes on the rooftops and he didn't get mortared this time. Priceless stuff.

The new Roosevelt: President Bush suggested Friday that history will vindicate his decision to invade Iraq, saying he believed that a half century from now, it will be regarded as important a transition for the world as the democratization of Japan was after World War II.

"I'm absolutely convinced that some day, 50 or 60 years from now, an American president will be speaking to an audience saying, 'Thank goodness a generation of Americans rose to the challenge and helped people be liberated from tyranny,' " Mr. Bush said. " 'Democracy spread and the world is more peaceful for it.' "

Meanwhile, On The Planet Where The Rest Of Us Live...

Analysis: When U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer transferred sovereignty to Iraqi authorities in June 2004, he left behind a script with hard-and-fast deadlines for drafting a constitution and forming a government, a script that culminates Thursday with another election for a permanent parliament.

The story of the 18-month process that unfolded after Bremer left Baghdad was one of steadfast fidelity to the script, as well as a costly period of U.S. inattention and endless frustrations with squabbling Iraqi leaders, according to a wide array of Bush advisers, Iraqi politicians and others involved in the effort. While Bush refuses to set a timetable for military withdrawal, he has stuck doggedly to the Bremer political timetable despite qualms of his staff, relentless violence on the ground and disaffection of Iraq's minority Sunni Arabs.

Bush's deadline democracy managed to propel the process forward and appears on the verge of creating a new government with legitimacy earned at the ballot box. His approach resulted in a constitution often described as more democratic than any in the Arab world. Yet by pushing forward without Sunni acceptance, the Bush team failed to produce the national accord it sought among Iraq's three main groups, leaving a schism that could loom beyond Thursday's election. And the Sunni-powered insurgency that was supposed to be marginalized by an inclusive democracy remains as lethal as ever.

"The key for a long time in Iraq to stabilization . . . has been to pull in significant elements of Sunnis near the insurgency into the political process," said Larry Diamond, a Stanford University scholar who for a short time advised U.S. authorities in Iraq, only to become a scathing critic. The press to meet the Bremer deadlines, starting in January, he said, only fueled the militants. "Much of the violence after that was entrenched or reinforced by the elections when the Sunnis were pressed to the margins."

In private, Bush aides agree there were tradeoffs but found no better alternatives, and they take heart from signs that Sunnis who boycotted the January election plan to participate this week. "Perfect wasn't on offer," a senior administration official said. "It's not that anyone thought it was a great idea, but that was the path we were on. No one had the confidence to think of moving along another path. The biggest fear was that things would get slowed down."

In the end, according to participants, the political process has both succeeded and failed. It produced elections and soon a permanent government, but did not end the war, at least not yet. "I believed -- and I said from the podium -- that as Iraqis became more politically empowered, the insurgency would become politically weakened," said Dan Senor, a top Bremer adviser. "That hasn't happened. The political process has been resilient -- and so has the insurgency."

About that Japan analogy…: Dhia Abbas, with a clutch of papers tucked under his arm, clambered into a seat next to the window and, with a sigh marking the end of his workday, sat back for the ride home.

His tattered city sprawled beyond the cracked glass. Election posters festooned concrete barriers, a dash of color across the ubiquitous gray. Yellow barrels, to deter car bombs, snarled traffic.

"My sense is that Iraq is being destroyed day after day," Abbas said, a hint of pain in his voice. "Iraq and the Iraqis."

Before he stepped down, Abbas turned to a visitor. "I thought we'd be like Germany or Japan. They were rebuilt after their wars," he said. "Bush called for a war on terrorism, but he fought it on our soil, not his. He protected his people but destroyed Iraq.”

He shook his head as he walked away, toward his home. "Is this justice?" he asked.

Still, progress of a sort: Most of Falluja’s residents boycotted elections for an interim government in January, but they turned out in large numbers in October to vote against the proposed constitution. By going to the polls this week, they hope to increase Sunni influence over the new government, which could remain dominated by Shi’ites.

“We will not allow an Iranian-style country to be built over our backs. Our voices and votes were lost when we boycotted the elections,” said a 30-year-old man who gave his name only as Mustafa. “We are going to take our rightful number of seats in the assembly and the government. We refuse to remain shadows in our own country.”

Families in Falluja still recount how their homes were destroyed and their loved ones died when US forces cleared the city last year. Most people insist their votes should not be taken to mean they accept the status quo, but rather that they intend to fight from within.

And if the elections don’t go their way?: Saddam Hussein loyalists who violently opposed January elections have made an about-face as Thursday's polls near, urging fellow Sunni Arabs to vote and warning al Qaeda militants not to attack.

In a move unthinkable in the bloody run-up to the last election, guerrillas in the western insurgent heartland of Anbar province say they are even prepared to protect voting stations from fighters loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Graffiti calling for holy war is now hard to find.

Instead, election campaign posters dominate buildings in the rebel strongholds of Ramadi and nearby Falluja, where Sunnis staged a boycott or were too scared to vote last time around.

"We want to see a nationalist government that will have a balance of interests. So our Sunni brothers will be safe when they vote," said Falluja resident Ali Mahmoud, a former army officer and rocket specialist under Saddam's Baath party.

The next PM?: Iyad Allawi reckons he could be Iraq's prime minister again after Thursday's election -- and this time, he says, it won't be Americans who put him there but, possibly, old enemies whose rebel towns he once ordered bombed.

"They know I wasn't after them," he said in an interview, chuckling at the popularity his strongman image has lately won him in a town where a year ago he gave U.S. troops the go-ahead to crush a revolt by minority Sunni Arab guerrillas.

Now, running on a broad, non-sectarian slate, the secular Shi'ite said late on Saturday he is talking to representatives of the insurgents and winning them over with promises to address their grievances and pump money into battered towns like Falluja.

"The others, of course, if they get me, they'll cut me into little pieces," he added, referring to the al Qaeda Islamists he vows to "fight from room to room" if his hopes are realised of returning to power at the head of a coalition government.

Serious politics: In a sense, it is the first full-scale political contest here since the fall of Saddam. The Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted last January's election, are now campaigning fiercely, and voter turnout is expected to be considerably higher as a result. All told, 226 political groups will compete in the elections, representing more than 7,000 candidates.

The winners will form Iraq's first full-term government since the war began, and face the task of unifying an increasingly fractious and violent nation. Any U.S. plan to reduce troop levels will depend on the success of that effort.

So far, the campaign has been as turbulent as any endeavor in Iraq.

In the past two weeks, 11 people associated with Allawi's group have been killed, including one of its leading candidates in southern Iraq.

On Tuesday, gunmen stormed five northern offices belonging to the Kurdistan Islamic Union, killing two party members and wounding 10.

It is often hard to distinguish political killings from the terrorism that has become a part of daily life here, but in both cases, the parties have accused rivals of carrying out the attacks.

Election shut-down: The government announced Sunday it will close all borders, extend curfew hours and ban travel across provincial boundaries as part of stringent security measures to protect voters during this week's parliamentary elections.

The Interior Ministry said the emergency measures will take effect early Tuesday and last until Saturday morning. The nighttime curfew will be extended by three hours, all international borders and airports will be closed and travel across provincial boundaries will be banned.

The Orwell Administration

Fake news: The recent disclosures that a Pentagon contractor in Iraq paid newspapers to print "good news" articles written by American soldiers prompted an outcry in Washington, where members of Congress said the practice undermined American credibility and top military and White House officials disavowed any knowledge of it. President Bush was described by Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser, as "very troubled" about the matter. The Pentagon is investigating.

But the work of the contractor, the Lincoln Group, was not a rogue operation. Hoping to counter anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world, the Bush administration has been conducting an information war that is extensive, costly and often hidden, according to documents and interviews with contractors, government officials and military personnel.

The campaign was begun by the White House, which set up a secret panel soon after the Sept. 11 attacks to coordinate information operations by the Pentagon, other government agencies and private contractors.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the focus of most of the activities, the military operates radio stations and newspapers, but does not disclose their American ties. Those outlets produce news material that is at times attributed to the "International Information Center," an untraceable organization.

Secret laws: John Gilmore is suing the government because he doesn't think he should be required to show ID before boarding a commercial flight. I think this is stupid and he deserves to be thrown out of court.

At least, that's what I'd think if it weren't for this:

“The Bush administration...claims that the ID requirement is necessary for security but has refused to identify any actual regulation requiring it.

“A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals seemed skeptical of the Bush administration's defense of secret laws and regulations but stopped short of suggesting that such a rule would be necessarily unconstitutional.

“"How do we know there's an order?" Judge Thomas Nelson asked. "Because you said there was?"

“....The Justice Department has said it could identify the secret law under seal, which would be available to the 9th Circuit but not necessarily Gilmore's lawyers. But any public description would not be permitted, the department said.”

Pardon me, but what the fuck? Secret laws? Now we have secret laws? God damn. I am surely glad we won the cold war. We could have ended up living in a totalitarian state or something. And as always, my question is - where are all the civil libertarians? Where are all the good conservatives who were always so worked up about big intrusive government? What happened to all those guys?

Secret prisons: Poland was the heart of the CIA's secret detention network in Europe, with bases there until recently holding a quarter of the 100 detainees estimated held in such camps worldwide, a human rights group said.

"Poland was the main base for CIA interrogations in Europe, while Romania played more of a role in the transfer of detained prisoners," Marc Garlasco, a leading analyst at Human Rights Watch, was quoted by Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza on Friday as saying.

Garlasco said the CIA had set up two detention centers in Poland, which were closed shortly after the Washington Post published an article about secret prisons last month.

Renditions: Private American contractors who help the CIA capture terrorism suspects abroad and transfer them to secret jails are increasingly becoming the target of investigations in Europe and at home.

In Italy, Sweden, Germany, and the United States, lawmakers, public prosecutors, and human rights groups are scrutinizing the role of the US companies, which are far easier to track down and hold accountable than the CIA.

In some cases, inquiries focus on companies that appear to be thinly veiled CIA fronts. A lawsuit brought last week by the American Civil Liberties Union against three obscure companies accused of conspiring with the secret agency is seeking financial compensation for a German man who alleges he was wrongfully imprisoned and tortured by the CIA. But in other cases, scrutiny by European investigators and human rights advocates has focused on mainstream companies whose part-time work for the CIA now threatens to leave a permanent mark on their reputations.

Fighting the power: On December 7 twenty-five Christians set out from Santiago de Cuba on a seventy-mile pilgrimage to Guantánamo Bay. Their mission is simple: to meet with more than 500 men who have been held without trial, virtually incommunicado, for nearly four years. If they are turned away, they will fast in support of Guantánamo's hunger strikers and hold a three-day vigil at the prison gates.

The march, which coincides with International Human Rights Day on December 10, is the first time private citizens have attempted to take a protest to Guantánamo's doorstep.

Ancient History

A war launched on deliberate lies: More than a year before President Bush declared in his State of the Union speech that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa, the French spy service began repeatedly warning the CIA in secret communications that there was no evidence to support the allegation. The previously undisclosed exchanges between the U.S. and the French, described by the retired chief of the French counter-intelligence service and a former CIA official during interviews last week, came on separate occasions in 2001 and 2002.

Support the Troops

Honor the fallen: There's controversy over how the military is transporting the bodies of service members killed overseas, 10News reported.

A local family said fallen soldiers and Marines deserve better and that one would think our war heroes are being transported with dignity, care and respect. It said one would think upon arrival in their hometowns they are greeted with honor. But unfortunately, the family said that is just not the case.

Dead heroes are supposed to come home with their coffins draped with the American flag -- greeted by a color guard.

But in reality, many are arriving as freight on commercial airliners -- stuffed in the belly of a plane with suitcases and other cargo. John Holley and his wife, Stacey, were stunned when they found out the body of their only child, Matthew, who died in Iraq last month, would be arriving at Lindbergh Field as freight.

Suck it up, mom: While most of her friends and neighbors are amusing themselves with Christmas decorations and holiday gifts, Patricia Arndt is fretting over far more serious matters. The single mother from Medford has been unexpectedly pulled from the inactive Army reserve and ordered to report for active duty by Feb. 5.

As Christmas nears, Arndt, 43, is trying to sell the Medford home she says she will not be able to keep on an Army salary of approximately $60,000 a year, and is searching for someone to care for her 13-year-old son, Shane. She expects to train for an 18-month tour of duty that could take her to Iraq or Afghanistan. She said she never saw her return to active duty as a possibility. "Never in a million years," she said.


Analysis: The biggest challenge in post-war Iraq is developing new security forces and structures. This would not only enable the Americans to depart Iraq but would ensure that the country had the resources to cope with the long-term destabilizing dynamics that were unleashed by the toppling of Saddam. However, the experience of the past 33 months has not been altogether encouraging. There have been three fundamental trends, in regard to developing new security forces. The first was the creation and development of the new Iraqi Army. This has been under the tutelage of the Americans, who are slowly developing a new armed force, albeit a very small one. There is a tacit agreement between the Americans and Iraq's neighbors that the new Iraqi Army remains limited in size and is not equipped with ultra-modern and lethal American weaponry. In other words, the new Iraqi Army will be strong enough to maintain internal order, but it will never acquire the size and weaponry to threaten even the country's weakest neighbors. The second is the development of a new Iraqi police force, which has been largely undertaken by the British. This has been a failure through and through. While the British have tried hard to train a core of top tier police officers, the treacherous nature of policing in Iraq, coupled with the heavy penetration of the rank and file by militias (especially the Sadrists and their offshoots) have blunted any success they may have had. The third has been the creation of a new Iraqi intelligence service, which mainly due to the political landscape of post-Saddam Iraq, has led to the emergence of two Iraqi secret states; one controlled by the Americans and the other by Iranian-backed Shi'ite Islamists. The abuses discovered in the Interior Ministry facility are partly rooted in the fragmented nature of the new Iraqi security forces. But it is also important to remember the ferocity of the insurgency in Iraq and the fact that the country simply does not have the security and judicial resources to respond appropriately. Those who are tasked with fighting the insurgents on the ground protest that not even the most sophisticated judicial apparatus in the world would be able to prevent abuses by security forces faced with catastrophic threats and enemies who regularly resort to extreme methods. More broadly, the complex and fragmented nature of the new Iraqi security forces is informed by the evolving political superstructure. As Iraq is steadily transformed into a weak federal state with deep sectarian and ethnic cleavages that are exacerbated by daily bombings and communal massacres, the security forces will continue to develop along fragmented, militia-based and ethnocentric lines.

Naomi Klein: It was the "Mission Accomplished" of George Bush's second term, and an announcement of that magnitude called for a suitably dramatic location. But what was the right backdrop for the infamous "We do not torture" declaration? With characteristic audacity, the Bush team settled on downtown Panama City.

It was certainly bold. An hour and a half's drive from where Bush stood, the US military ran the notorious School of the Americas from 1946 to 1984, a sinister educational institution that, if it had a motto, might have been "We do torture". It is here in Panama, and later at the school's new location in Fort Benning, Georgia, where the roots of the current torture scandals can be found.

According to declassified training manuals, SOA students - military and police officers from across the hemisphere - were instructed in many of the same "coercive interrogation" techniques that have since gone to Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib: early morning capture to maximise shock, immediate hooding and blindfolding, forced nudity, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep and food "manipulation", humiliation, extreme temperatures, isolation, stress positions - and worse. In 1996 President Clinton's Intelligence Oversight Board admitted that US-produced training materials condoned "execution of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion and false imprisonment".

Some Panama school graduates went on to commit the continent's greatest war crimes of the past half-century: the murders of Archbishop Oscar Romero and six Jesuit priests in El Salvador; the systematic theft of babies from Argentina's "disappeared" prisoners; the massacre of 900 civilians in El Mozote in El Salvador; and military coups too numerous to list here.

Yet when covering the Bush announcement, not a single mainstream news outlet mentioned the location's sordid history. How could they? That would require something totally absent from the debate: an admission that the embrace of torture by US officials has been integral to US foreign policy since the Vietnam war.

Richard Reeves: Hopefully, Bush, whom I characterized a week ago as running a strong race to be our worst president ever, will look a little better next week after the Iraqi elections we made possible. That would be a good thing for Iraq as it seems to collapse before our eyes. Certainly our ever-changing strategies there are collapsing. In fact, the "Plan for Victory," as the president called his speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, is a strategy to mask defeat.

Bravado aside, the new strategy, borrowed from failure in Vietnam and 19th-century British colonialism, could be called "Bases and Borders." The president put it this way: "We will increasingly move out of Iraqi cities, reduce the number of bases from which we operate and conduct fewer patrols and convoys."

What we will do, as laid out in the 35-page strategy paper that accompanied the Annapolis speech, is to begin redeploying our troops in force-protection areas. They will then venture out on raids now and then -- and try to secure the borders from what Bush called "regional meddling and infiltration." That means trying to block Syria, Iran and Turkey from pursuing their interests on Iraqi soil.

Newly trained Iraqi units will be left to try to turn the Iraqi-protected cities into larger versions of what were called "strategic hamlets" in Vietnam. The border strategy is an updating of the Demilitarized Zone between South and North Vietnam, or British forts along barren boundaries between tribes in make-believe countries. Unfortunately for us, the real problems of our adventure are already inside the borders of Iraq. Once more we are in a civil war, this time one we helped trigger by clumsily overthrowing a vicious dictatorship.

And all the while, as happened at home in the 1970s and happened in Britain in the late 1800s, we will tear up our own country in the process.

Juan Cole interview: Some people in the Bush administration wanted this to end with a friendly government in Baghdad that would welcome or tolerate long-term U.S. military bases. It's clear they're not going to get that.

The best they can hope for now is a weak parliamentary government, with a strong Islamist tinge to it that might have some people in it who are U.S. clients and will listen to some kind of special pleadings for U.S. interests in matters of oil and construction contracts.

The worst-case scenario is much more frightening.Under most scenarios, the insurgency goes on, perhaps for 10 more years. If the Americans aren't very careful about how they leave, we could end up with a hot civil war that could turn into a regional war. If it is an all-out war between Shia and Sunni you could have Iran coming in on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other. You have guys involved here who have already pioneered oil pipeline sabotage as a tool of guerrilla war. So that scenario would put 20 percent of the world's petroleum production at risk of being taken off the market.

Dick Case: The theme's unvaried, in the Rose Garden or along the Black River: The outcome of the war in Iraq will be determined on the ground, by the generals, and not by the "politicians in Washington."

The word-play is pathetic. We wouldn't be stuck in Iraq in an impossible and tragic situation if not for the "politicians in Washington," the president and vice president in particular. Every day it gets scarier and scarier, the hole deeper and deeper.

Bring the troops home? Hell no. Except in body bags.

The costs of the war in - lives, money and national prestige - mean we see no way out of the hole Bush/Cheney made for us. How can we leave when we've done nothing but pull down a dictator and started an undeclared civil war?

On NPR the other day, a kinsman of a soldier just killed by a roadside bomb was interviewed. The poor patriot, a mere kid trying to do "the right thing," was dead after only three days at the war front.

"What's the point?" the man asked.

What indeed, Dick Cheney?

Anthony B. Robinson: After the Soviet Union imploded (in part due to its own military excesses), and 9/11 stunned Americans, these same politically active religious conservatives were quick to substitute Islam for communism. Falwell and Robertson recycled old lines with a new infidel. Franklin Graham, son of Billy, denounced Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion." Southern Baptist President Jack Graham declared, "Satan is the ultimate terrorist" and "this is a war between Christians and the forces of evil, by whatever name they choose to use." A crusade theory of warfare marched on, giving sanction to a new stratagem, "preventive war."

Eclipsed in the storm of fear and rhetoric was the older tradition of mainstream Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. The ethical tradition of just war lays down rigorous tests if a war, always understood as a tragic option and always to be a last resort, can be considered just and justifiable. Such conditions include, but are not limited to, "just cause" (usually self-defense); public declaration of war by a lawful authority; no ulterior motives (self-aggrandizement or vengeance); reasonable probability of success, and avoidance of harm to non-combatants.

As the debate on the Iraq war enters a new phase, those who foisted a crusade theory of warfare on Americans, and those who bought it, have much to answer for. Such a mentality encourages an overreliance on the nation's military, a rush to war, the failure of careful analysis and the erosion of proscriptions against torture and abuse. In moving from a just war ethic to a crusade theory of warfare Americans have lost their way, and some Christian leaders have betrayed their faith. Christian faith ought always to be a check on war's excesses and a challenge to an overreliance on the military, not a cheerleader in war's camp. As a Christian and a soldier, Andrew Bacevich is arguing exactly that.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Staff Sgt. Gary R. Harper Jr. was a devoted soldier who died while living his dream of serving the United States, according to those who remembered him Saturday at a celebration of life service at the Virden High School gymnasium.

Harper, 29, spent part of his young life in Virden, playing football and running track for Virden High. He was born in Rockford and lived in Amboy before moving to Virden.

The husband and father of three was the first U.S. soldier with ties to Virden to die in the Iraq War. He was killed Oct. 9 when his reconnaissance mission was attacked by enemy forces, according to the military.

Local story: The Christmas tree that rose above Cpl. William "Billy" Taylor's coffin - though seemingly out of sync with the somber mood of a funeral - contained beneath it Middle Georgia's final tribute to the fallen Marine: toys for tots.

They were but a small collection of the more than 400 toys that were donated in honor of Taylor's love of children and sacrifice to his country. It was Nov. 30 when, during a firefight in Fallujah, Iraq, a bullet slipped through a small gap in Taylor's Kevlar vest and killed the 26-year-old father, two months after he had landed in Iraq.

Local story: A soldier from Brandon died in Baghdad when a bomb exploded near the convoy he was escorting, his father said. Clifford Smith said Friday that 1st Lt. Kevin J. Smith, 28, was killed after insurgents detonated an explosive as the convoy of engineers went along the Tigris River to a power plant. The blast also injured three other soldiers, the elder Smith said. Smith died within 30 seconds, said his mother, Georgianna Stephens-Smith. The bomb tore a hole in the Humvee and caused massive injury to his right shoulder and upper body, she said. "His last words were: 'Look after my men.'"


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