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"We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been. I can't imagine why you'd even ask the question." Donald Rumsfeld, questioned by an al-Jazeera correspondent, April 29, 2003.

"No one can now doubt the word of America," George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 20, 2004.

A Blog by Rahul Mahajan

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May 31, 10:45 pm EST. Check out this excellent Memorial Day post.
May 31, 10:40 pm EST.
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.
When I first read those words (with which Dante begins his Commedia), over 20 years ago, actually being 35, midway through the Biblical threescore and ten, seemed hopelessly remote, like the eventual burning out of the sun or the heat-death of the universe.

When I was 14 and reading Dante, the apocalyptic fear that was foremost in our minds was nuclear holocaust. The nuclear freeze movement was at its height; the previous year had been the great demonstration in Central Park. And we had a savagely militarist president who was trying to jump-start the arms race after the detente of the 70's.

Well, that risk has not decreased. Much the reverse, the fall of the Soviet Union and decay of the systems governing nuclear weapons and nuclear material means that the risk of an accidental nuclear holocaust today is greater than the risk of a deliberate one was in the 1980's.

Even so, it looms much smaller when we think of all the threats we've discovered since then. An industrial crash when the era of cheap oil ends. Global warming, which will bring first declines in agricultural productivity in the tropics and flooding of coastal areas, and then god knows what. The depletion of the ozone layer, a problem on which at least there is some meaningful effort to fix it. The spread of AIDS, which has not been cured. Superplagues created in part by misuse of antibiotics.

Pick your poison. As Robert Frost said,
Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Is there anyone out there who thinks who doesn't believe that the "straightforward pathway" has been lost?

No wonder so many religious nuts have come out of the woodwork. You don't need any sophisticated analysis to know we're dancing on the edge of a precipice. So if you're shackled to some ignorant pre-scientific worldview, you think of it in terms of red heifers, the Temple Mount, the Antichrist, the Rapture, you name it. But in part you're just acting on your emotional sensing of what is very clearly the geist of this particular zeit.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not an apocalypse-monger. I am sometimes asked, "Do you think there's any hope or is it already too late?" The person asking doesn't have to specify the end of oil, global warming, the battle of Gog and Magog, the building of the Third Temple -- again, it's taken as given that, as Barry McGuire sang in 1965, "we're on the eve of destruction."

Anyway, what I say, to them and to you, is this. It's the wrong question. Hope leaks out every day when we don't take steps to turn the world around. It's never completely gone, but the flip-side is this: you can never recover what was already lost. Whatever catastrophes the future holds for us -- and there are undoubtedly some -- they can be mitigated by a change of course, but it is not possible to start over ab initio, to make things as if we had never started wrecking the planet. Translation: the sooner we get off our asses the better.

In contrast to when I was 14, I can now easily imagine the end of my allotted years. I can also imagine the end of a lot more. It is time for us as a species also to put away childish things.

A few thoughts on my birthday.

May 31, 4:12 am EST. The Guardian reports that, after already sending an additional 370 British troops to Iraq, Tony Blair has confirmed that he will shortly be announcing the deployment of at least an additional 3000. At the same time, he said, "I would want, certainly by the end of next year, to have a substantial reduction in the British troop commitment."

These are weasel words and may be designed just to blunt criticism of the additional deployment at a time when a clear majority of Brits wants to withdraw from Iraq. Still, there is at least the suggestion of a timeline.

Back at the ranch, even though MoveOn came out with a call to have Bush set a date for withdrawal, Kerry doesn't think that's a good idea.

May 31, 4:06 am EST. For more on life under the occupation, check out this story from the LA Times. Apparently, the problem of kidnappings, which exploded after the war, has gotten even worse recently. According to the article, in the last two months, something like 100 doctors have been kidnapped. They are generally released after payment of something between $20,000 and $200,000 in ransom. Sometimes they are warned to leave the country.

The United States military, whose presence in Iraq is still justified with the tired excuse of providing security, does almost nothing -- some Iraqis say absolutely nothing -- to deal with these actual security issues. It is the obligation of an occupying force to provide law and order; the United States is fully culpable for every Iraqi killed by criminals since the occupation started and this number must be added in to any evaluation of the "liberation."

May 31, 3:42 am EST. Kimmitt the clairvoyant is now also Kimmitt the precognitive. In an interview with BBC's Talking point program, when asked about the prison torture and Iraqi public opinon, he said, "It's because the scale of this was so small that the people of Iraq will forgive us."

Now, let's leave aside his transparent nonsense about how it was just seven people, a few bad apples, etc. The main thing is this: He didn't say "we hope the Iraqis will forgive us" or anything like that. He said, "the people of Iraq will forgive us."

Amazing. And, for a little icing on the cake, his latest response to the wedding party massacre and the video of the musicians who were killed in the attack -- "There may have been a celebration going on... (but) to suggest that somehow we had a wedding party going on there is not borne out by the facts on the ground."

Of course. Maybe a celebration, but definitely not a wedding party.

May 30, 8:30 pm EST. More and more on the prison issue. First, an important article from Friday's LA Times. It's about a four-page memo that the Red Cross sent to the U.S. military on November 6 (the same day that Bush spoke to the National Endowment for Democracy about his great plan to bring democracy to the Middle East). Some excerpts from the report:
"The ICRC found that there was a high level of depression, feelings of helplessness, stress and frustration, particularly among the detainees in the isolation cells," the report said.

"The allegations of ill-treatment documented and witnessed by delegates included deliberate physical violence and verbal abuse," it said.

The report listed five main allegations:
• The guards made "threats during interrogation."
• They used "insults and verbal violence during transfer to Unit 1A."
• They employed "sleeping deprivation: loud music, light on in the cell during night."
• They made the detainees walk "in the corridors handcuffed and naked, except for female underwear over the head."
• They kept the detainees "handcuffed either to the upper bed bars or doors of the cell for 3-4 hours."

The report noted that "some detainees presented physical marks and psychological symptoms."

 "Some detainees presented significant signs of concentration difficulties, memory problems, verbal expression difficulties, incoherent speech, acute anxiety reactions, abnormal behavior and suicidal ideas," the report said. "These symptoms appeared to have been provoked by the interrogation period and methods."

Inspectors found "obvious scars around wrists, allegedly caused by very tight handcuffing…. In some cells, beds were without mattresses and blankets."

In addition, the report said, prisoners were malnourished, and some were kept in an outside yard with little or no protection from mortar shelling.

The inspectors also learned that female prisoners were kept in the same clothing they wore when they were captured, that water was not always available and that some detainees "could not wash themselves."

Many detainees had little or no contact with their families. Requests for a copy of the Koran often went unanswered.

Many prisoners did not appear to know what they had been charged with, while others "alleged that they had been tried and ordered released but were still in custody." Others "had not seen a judge since their arrest."
According to the LA Times, the Army's response, dated December 24, "significantly played down the concerns." Although the response came out of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez's office, he does not "recall exactly" what was in it.

Today, from an article in the NY Times, we learn that Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder had by Nov. 5 completed a report saying what independent journalists in Iraq have know all along, that "Hundreds of Iraqi prisoners were held in Abu Ghraib prison for prolonged periods despite a lack
of evidence that they posed a security threat to American forces." In particular, says the article, Ryder reported that "some Iraqis had been held for several months for nothing more than expressing 'displeasure or ill will' toward the American occupying forces."

It's pretty obvious that, for example, Thursday's release of 624 prisoners from Abu Ghraib is in response to this basic reality.

For a powerful and principled dissent from reality, however, we can always go to Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt:
"The percentage of persons that were released because they've served their time - that percentage is zero," said General Kimmitt when he was asked this week about the reasons for the releases. "The number that were released because they were innocent? That number, too, is zero. Persons are held at Abu Ghraib because they are determined to be security threats, imminent security threats here in country."
The clairvoyant Kimmitt, who knew that 95% of the people killed in the attack on Fallujah were fighters without ever having to look at a corpse, also knows something about the prisoners at Abu Ghraib:
"We don't put them in Abu Ghraib to detain them for a period of time or to detain them until proven innocent," said the spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt. "They are deemed to be a security threat by a judge through multiple sources of evidence. It's that simple.

"If they were innocent, they wouldn't be at Abu Ghraib," he said.
If they were innocent, they wouldn't be at Abu Ghraib. How simple, how straightforward, how very Edwin Meese-ian.

May 30, 4:20 am EST. The tightness in the world oil market right now, far from being a reflection of short-term political exigencies, seems to be a sign of things to come for the long term. Check out this article from the Times: OPEC Meeting May Increase Quotas for Oil. The headline makes it seem like a normal, standard article about an upcoming OPEC meeting at a time of high oil prices. But check this out:
Scrambling to control high oil prices, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will meet Thursday, June 3, and may pursue a plan to raise quotas sharply or do away with them entirely, an OPEC spokesman said yesterday.

Lifting quotas entirely "could be one of the options" that OPEC considers this weekend, Dr. Abdulrahman al-Kheraigi, an OPEC spokesman, said in a telephone interview. "That option might be seriously considered,'' he said, "but I haven't heard anything official. I'm not ruling out anything, for now, though. Everything will be on the table."

He added, however, that raising quotas by 2.5 million barrels a day would be the most realistic option. "Suspending the quota ceiling is highly unlikely,'' he said, "there has to be a ceiling."
That's right. Even though it's not likely, there is talk about possibly eliminating quotas altogether.

Except for Saudi Arabia, oil producers are producing flat out. Everyone is busting their quotas. And yet the tightness remains. The article goes on to point out that a raise of 2.5 mbd will simply ratify existing production.

In 1971, the Texas Railroad Commission notified oil producers that they were allowed to run their wells continuously (the TRC had regulated oil production by allowing wells to run only on certain days). That year, oil production in the United States peaked. Even though the supergiant Prudhoe Bay field had not yet been discovered, oil production in the United States never again hit the peak it hit in 1971. A geologist named M. King Hubbert had predicted in the 1950's that oil production in the US would peak around 1970. At the time, people laughed at him. After 1971, they stopped. It's true that with the addition of the Prudhoe Bay field, the curve of production didn't follow Hubbert's prediction, but the peak point did.

What's happening here is a confluence of two things. One is the tightness in production and the fact that in recent years only Saudi Arabia has managed to retain spare production capacity. The other is the emergence of China as the world's second-largest oil importer and a consequent rise in consumption.

If the political troubles in Iraq are ever settled and there is massive investment, one can imagine that it will double its oil production. The Caspian basin is still only partly developed. And some new oil sources will undoubtedly be found. Even so, we may well be at or near a peak in global oil production, with a long slow slide downward. For a world economy built on drinking oil as if it were water, this is a scary notion.

It's also worth noting one other point. It's often forgotten, but during the Six-Day War in 1967, Arab oil-producing nations tried to work up an embargo. It had no political or economic repercussions because the world had a great deal of spare capacity. In 1973 and 1974, with very modest cuts in production, the Arab nations (along with Iran) could almost quadruple the price and get away with it because there was no spare capacity in the West.

Henry Kissinger said during that earlier crisis, "Oil is much too important a commodity to be left in the hands of the Arabs." Given the situation, that statement is truer for the empire now than it has been since the early 1980's. And, yes, there are people in the Bush Administration who know this and have known it for some time.

May 29, 3:55 pm EST. From today's Times Business section: Brazil Drops Its Complaint Over Florida Levy on Juice.

Almost two years ago, Brazil filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization over a Florida tax of $40 per metric ton on imported orange juice from Brazil. Those revenues generated were then used to finance an advertising campaign for Florida orange juice.

Well, as a result of a major campaign of threats, negotiations, and the U.S. need to get Brazil on board for the Free Trade Area of the Americas, Florida's legislature ratified a resolution that cuts the tax to one third of what it was and allows Brazilian producers to demand that their tax money go to the Florida Department of Citrus to finance research instead of going to advertising.

To me, this looks like a victory for Brazil. And, in fact, so says Brazil:
"We're ending the case in the W.T.O. because there's no need for it now," Clodoaldo Hugueney, the under secretary for economic affairs at Brazil's foreign ministry, said in a telephone interview from Brasília.

"We achieved our goals through dialogue, and we're very pleased with the outcome," he said, adding that he hoped Friday's agreement would help put an end to years of bitter finger-pointing between the countries' orange industries.
This comes on the heels of last month's WTO ruling that found substantially in favor of Brazil's case against U.S. cotton subsidies, which gave the United States six months to rewform its subsidy program (the decision is still subject to appeal). One of the amazing points in Brazil's case before the WTO: they calculated that in the absence of U.S. subsidies the world cotton price would be 12.6% higher.

U.S. government-funded dumping of goods like cotton wreaks untold havoc in Third World countries. First, the World Bank and IMF, working for the U.S. Treasury Department, tell those countries to develop export agriculture in order to gain a positive balance of payments so they can pay back their international loans; then Treasury's cohorts in the Commerce Department undercut those efforts by depressing world prices through subsidies and protectionist barriers (tariffs increase the price in the country that imposes them and depress the world market price).

One of the few groups that has targeted this horrific double standard, that has a body count just as surely as the war on Iraq, is Oxfam.

I wonder if these developments with Brazil signal a bit of a shift in the balance of power on international trade issues. In order to get the WTO created, the United States had to agree to formal international democracy. Everyone gets one vote, and there's no equivalent of the Security Council. In practice, the rich nations control things, but the legal structure exists for poor countries to fight back. At the same time, new agreements like the FTAA require consent of the other countries. This is not an administration good at winning consent.

When the United States caved after the final WTO ruling on steel tariffs, it wasn't as clear a sign of a shift in power. The economic muscle of the European Union was behind that.

May 28, 5:25 pm EST. Iyad Allawi, head of the Iraqi National Accord (part of the Iraqi National Congress) and member of the Governing Council, will be the interim prime minister of Iraq.

Hard to figure out what's going on here. We were treated to a spate of stories about Hussein al-Shahristani as the PM-designate, then suddenly told he was too shy and modest to be the PM. I don't know what Shahristani's politics are, but if even half of the story about him is true, he is a genuine hero.

When Saddam came to him in 1979 about building a nuclear bomb, according to the Guardian,
"We have signed the non-proliferation treaty and we cannot engage in non-peaceful uses of atomic energy," he told the dictator.

To no one's surprise, Dr Shahristani was arrested, tortured for 22 days, and taken to Abu Ghraib, the notorious prison west of Baghdad, where he remained in solitary confinement for a decade until his escape during the chaotic aftermath of the first Gulf war
I cut my teeth on Brighter than a Thousand Suns, Robert Jungk's (somewhat imaginative) story of the Manhattan Project. As a child, I thrilled to the American physicists' "heroic" attempt to get Truman to read a letter suggesting that maybe he shouldn't drop the bomb on Japan and the even more "heroic" attempts of Heisenberg and the other German scientists who remained in Germany not to work very hard on the bomb (this analysis of Jungk's, in particular, has been largely discredited). Even in the relatively free United States, none of them quit their jobs and went public about the bomb (I'm talking about after V-E Day -- the considerations before Germany was defeated were different, to say the least), and nobody in Germany braved the camps to say no to Hitler on the bomb.

I'm not saying this to criticize those physicists -- although many of them deserve a great deal of criticism -- but to emphasize that Shahristani was really something different. I don't know of an example of this kind of heroism among scientists in the West since Giordano Bruno went to the stake.

But I digress.

The Times article, linked above, doesn't think it's fit to print that Allawi and Chalabi are actually related by blood.

The Times article brilliantly concludes with this:
Because of his anti-Saddam background and close links to the American government and the C.I.A., Dr. Allawi is likely to be regarded as a good choice because security in the country is seen as a paramount issue, some Iraqi leaders said.
Astounding. Of course, a good journalist, especially from the Paper of Record, can always find "some" "leaders" to say anything he or she wants.

But really, to suggest that "close links to the American government and the CIA" make Allawi likely to be "regarded as a good choice" by Iraqis requires a divorce from reality of the same order as Bush's. Read a single opinion poll coming out of the country, and it's clear the reverse is true. The choice of Allawi will confirm for every Iraqi what they have already figured out -- the "transfer of sovereignty" is a sham.

They had the right instincts at the beginning -- pick someone with no over ties to the U.S., then work on him behind closed doors until he understands what he's supposed to do. But then I suppose some idiot of the kind who has been planning the administration's PR since the beginning of this whole sordid mess decided they needed a puppet with all the strings showing.

May 28, 5:05 pm EST. Thanks to the many readers who wrote in to inform me that Fouad Ajami is Lebanese, not Egyptian. You're right. I was working off of memory, and in particular, remembering a piece he had written on Egypt (in the NYT Magazine, I think) which had the tone of a returning expatriate. My bad.
May 27, 1:45 am EST. If you didn't read my post on the new draft resolution yesterday or day before, here's a link to it.
May 27, 1:42 am EST. Yet more in the depressingly sordid story of our fight to bring civilization to the world. Mohamad Bazzi of Newsday, who has done some excellent reporting on several occasions, reports that the United States is using Iraqis as "bargaining chips" -- i.e., taking them hostage in lieu of wanted relatives.

Dhafir Ibrahim has been held for four months because U.S. soldiers couldn't find his father-in-law, a scientist and Ba'ath Party member.

The article quotes Bassem al-Rubaie, director of the Council of Legal Defense Care:
"We have many cases of Americans going to a house looking for someone, and when they can't find him, they take another family member in his place. This has been going on since the early days of the American occupation.
U.S. forces did this earlier with the wife and daughter of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, #6 in the deck of cards, with a $10 million bounty on his head. According to the article,
Al-Douri's wife and daughter are still in U.S. custody, although rights monitors say they have not been charged with any crime. "Taking hostages is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions - in other words, a war crime," Manhattan-based Human Rights Watch wrote Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in January.

The senior U.S. military official declined to discuss the detention of al-Douri's relatives, saying it is a "special case with very unusual circumstances." In the past, U.S. officials had likened the detentions to those of a material witness who is held for questioning.

But rights monitors say there is no basis under international law for holding family members as material witnesses. "That explanation is dubious at best," said Alistair Hodgett, a spokesman for Amnesty International USA.

Detaining a fugitive's relatives is a form of "moral coercion" forbidden under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, according to Quigley. The convention, which guarantees the rights of civilians under military occupation, also prohibits punishing someone for an offense that he has not personally committed.
This excellent article does not mention another salient fact, talked about by Juan Cole, among others, that, since very few women in Iraq are involved with any kind of armed resistance, the majority of women being held in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere are also hostages.

Interestingly, according to an LA Times story yesterday by Kim Murphy, the Russians are taking Chechen women into preventive detention, ostensibly to "pre-empt" suicide bombings:
In the last few months, dozens of women in Chechnya have been grabbed from their homes by men in masks and camouflage gear and taken away to prison or unknown fates. Many have no apparent connections to terrorist groups, investigators say, except that they recently lost relatives to the 10-year-old conflict in the mountainous breakaway republic.

Three of the women have been missing for as long as four months, according to the Moscow-based human rights organization Memorial.

"The practice is that if someone is detained and is ever found again, that happens in the first two or three days. If it's a week, or even a month, the rule is that people don't ever show up," said a human rights worker who has investigated the disappearances in the Chechen capital, Grozny. He declined to be identified for fear of reprisals.
The Russian program is small potatoes compared to the American one in Iraq. It does, however, seem to be a case of "monkey see, monkey do."

May 27, 1:20 am EST. Good news from India. The new ruling coalition, which depends on support from left parties that are not part of the coalition, agreed to demands from said parties that profit-making public sector corporations not be privatized.

Privatization was one of the biggest scams that the fundamentalists of the free market ever cooked up, a massive bait-and-switch operation.

The original justification was that public sector firms were not as efficient or able to compete as privately owned firms (which could be true insofar as public sector companies provided better job protection, but was otherwise silly), therefore if loss-making publicly owned companies were sold, private investors could turn them around and start making a profit.

It quickly became clear that there was such a fire-sale of publicly owned companies worldwide that investors (often, but not always, First World investors) generally only wanted to buy under one of three conditions:

1. They could make a huge amount of money by breaking up and selling the corporation.

2. They could make a huge amount of money by getting massive assets almost for free (think privatization of oil and gas companies in Russia).

3. The company was making a profit.

In other words, basically only in cases where the rationale didn't apply. But that never fazed the great theorists of the new world economic order.

May 27, 1:10 am EST. The most interesting thing in the Times yesterday was a fairly lengthy mea culpa, The Times and Iraq, from the editors. Now, I could quibble. I don't think the self-criticism goes far enough. But it is truly remarkable coming from what is normally the world's snootiest newspaper. It's really a must-read.

May 27, 12:55 am EST. Lots of interesting stuff on the Times opinion page yesterday. Nicholas Kristof rediscovers the fact that Kerry and Bush don't differ on support for Sharon. And the execrable Fouad Ajami, an Egyptian who says "we" for Americans and "they" for Arabs, writes one of the most profoundly Orientalist articles I've seen in some time, Iraq May Survive, but the Dream Is Dead.

He laments the likely fact that the Bush "regime change" crusade stops with Iraq:
Back in the time of our triumph — that of swift movement and of pulling down the dictator's statues — we had let the victory speak for itself. There was no need to even threaten the Syrians, the Iranians and the Libyans with a fate similar to the one that befell the Iraqi despotism. Some of that deterrent power no doubt still holds. But our enemies have taken our measure; they have taken stock of our national discord over the war. We shall not chase the Syrian dictator to a spider hole, nor will we sack the Iranian theocracy.
He tells us that it is the Arabs fault that "our" attempts to bring democracy failed:
Once the administration talked of a "Greater Middle East" where the "deficits" of freedom, knowledge and women's empowerment would be tackled, where our power would be used to erode the entrenched despotisms in the Arab-Muslim world. As of Monday night, we have grown more sober about the ways of the Arabs.
He invokes the classic trope that "dark corners of the world" like the Middle East are bound by their "history" (i.e., a Western-constructed story of ancient rivalries and bloodletting that often has little to do with history in the normal sense of "stuff that actually happened" -- and even when it does, tells only part of the story):
No foreign sword, however swift and mighty, could cut through the Gordian knot of a tangled Arab history.
And he reprises the constant American trope about how much the Vietnamese hurt "us," updated for Iraq:
In its modern history, Iraq has not been kind or gentle to its people. Perhaps it was folly to think that it was under any obligation to be kinder to strangers.
May 27, 12:35 am EST. I'm flabbergasted. According to Elaine Sciolino of the Times, there is now a debate about including references to God and Christianity in the new European Constitution:
Last Friday, the foreign ministers of seven of the 25 European Union member countries, including two old members (Italy and Portugal) and five new ones (Poland, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and the Czech Republic), sent a brief letter to Ireland, the current holder of the European Union presidency, calling for a last-minute conversion.

"The issue remains a priority for our governments" and "for millions of European citizens," the letter said.

The letter urged "a reference to the Christian roots of Europe."
Even the Constitution of our own supremely religious nation does not mention God (except for a reference to the date -- In the Year of our Lord 1787). Given the countries that are pushing this, my guess is that this is genuinely about religion, not about Turkey.

May 26, 5:35 pm EST. On June 27, 2003, Paul Bremer issued Order 17 on the Status of Forces. It says, among other things,
CPA, Coalition Forces and Foreign Liaison Mission, their property, funds and assets of [sic] shall be immune from Iraqi Legal Process
and again
All Coalition personnel shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of their Parent States and, they shall be immune from local criminal, civil, and administrative jurisdiction and from any form of arrest or detention other than by persons acting on behalf of their> Parent States
In other words, extraterritoriality, one of the concessions extracted from China by the Western powers after the Opium Wars and the heart of the Capitulations extracted from the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century (cited by the leaders of the Committee for Union and Progress as one of the primary reasons for Turkey's entering World War 1).

After Abu Ghraib, we know the reasons for this legal immunity from Iraqi legal processes -- not the putative lack of civilization of Iraqis who don't understand our advanced Western legal principles but rather our own lack of civilization.

Kamal Ahmed reports in the Observer that the new U.N. resolution will maintain the immunity provided by Order 17. In particular, he reports,
Military sources have told The Observer that the question of immunity was central to obtaining military agreement on a new United Nations resolution on Iraq to be published by the middle of next month.
"Central to obtaining military agreement?"!! Last I checked, the United States and United Kingdom were supposed to have civilian governments. The military is supposed to "agree" to the lawful decisions of civilian authorities.

May 26, 5:00 pm EST. At the time of Rumsfeld's testimony to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, I blogged about his breakdown, where he said,
I wish I knew -- and we've got to find a better way to do it. But I wish I knew how you reach down into a criminal investigation when it is not just a criminal investigation, but it turns out to be something that is radioactive, something that has strategic impact in the world. And we don't have those procedures. They've never been designed.

We're functioning in a -- with peacetime restraints, with legal requirements in a war-time situation, in the information age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had not even arrived in the Pentagon.
Well, it turns out that the real problem here -- digital cameras, not torture -- has been dealt with. AFP quotes a newspaper called The Business: "Digital cameras, camcorders and cellphones with cameras have been prohibited in military compounds in Iraq." Furthermore, a "total ban throughout the US military" is coming.

Thanks to blogger Justin Podur of The Killing Train for the catch.

May 25, 10:30 pm EST. The new draft resolution is an attempt to pull the wool over all our eyes. Under the guise of a “transfer of sovereignty,” the Bush administration is seeking from the Security Council the legal authority to continue the occupation indefinitely. The current draft resolution before the Security Council authorizes the continued presence of the multinational occupying force with the following language:
6. Reaffirms the authorization for the multinational force under unified command established under resolution 1511 (2003), having regard to the letter referred to in preambular paragraph 10 above, decides that the multinational force shall have authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq including by preventing and deterring terrorism, so that inter alia the United Nations can fulfill its role in assisting the Iraqi people as outlined in paragraph five above and the Iraqi people can implement freely and without intimidation the timetable and program for the political process and benefit from reconstruction and rehabilitation activities, and decides further that the mandate for the multinational force shall be reviewed 12 months from the date of this resolution or at the request of the Transitional Government of Iraq.
As Zeynep Toufe of Under the Same Sun points out, although the authorization can be reviewed (either after 12 months or by the Transitional Government of Iraq – which is not the same as the Interim Government that will be created on June 30), any review is in the hands of the Security Council, where the United States has veto power.

This is a dramatic new step. Until now, the only Iraq resolution in the postwar period that deals with the status of the occupying forces is UNSCR 1511. The relevant portion there says:
the Council shall review the requirements and mission of the multinational force referred to in paragraph 13 above not later than one year from the date of this resolution, and that in any case the mandate of the force shall expire upon the completion of the political process as described in paragraphs 4 through 7 and 10 above, and expresses readiness to consider on that occasion any future need for the continuation of the multinational force, taking into account the views of an internationally recognized, representative government of Iraq
The "political process" mentioned above is basically one of preparatory steps before election of a representative government. Thus, the current status of the occupying forces is that their presence is authorized by the Security Council, but that the mandate expires automatically.

Further extension of the presence of those occupying forces would require passage of another Security Council resolution.

If the draft resolution passes in the form it's in now, this gets turned on its head. The mandate for continuing the occupation is indefinite, subject to review in the Security Council. All the United States has to do to maintain legal authority to keeps its forces there is to veto any proposed Security Council resolution calling on it to withdraw.

Thus, the United States will get to exercise the fabled "negative veto," just as it did with the sanctions on Iraq. There again, the Security Council passed a resolution allowing for sanctions with no fixed time period, thus allowing the United States to extend them indefinitely just by vetoing (and in practice, just by threatening to veto) any attempt to lift the sanctions. The result was the progressive destruction of a country for twelve years with no end in sight except a U.S.-created regime change.

Basically, this resolution would transfer legal authority to continue the occupation from the Security Council to the United States.

In the future, if the United States decides to scale back its presence and just leave garrisons on several military bases, it will have leverage to exact any kind of "status of forces" agreement it wants. It will be able to tell any future Iraqi government that its forces have the perpetual right to occupy the country and don't need the permission of the government.

LIke the Platt amendment exacted after the U.S. invasion of Cuba in 1898 (which gave the United States the right to invade Cuba whenever it wanted in the future), this is a permanent impairment of Iraqi sovereignty.

If the Security Council passes this resolution, its capitulation to the United States will be even more blatant than it was over the Haiti coup.

The fact that this new power play by the United States is being billled as a step toward allowing Iraq its independence is especially disgusting.

May 25, 10:20 pm EST. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that, while Bush's overall job approval rating is 47%, only 40% approve of his handling of Iraq.

Even so, people prefer Bush over Kerry 48 to 42 on the question of who would handle Iraq better -- and this is with 58% saying that Bush has no clear plan for Iraq.

These numbers are more of a wakeup call for Kerry than for Bush.

May 25, 4:10 pm EST. Zeynep Toufe of Under the Same Sun just noticed the key central point of the new U.N. draft resolution, which escaped me on my first reading. It's huge. Go read it.

May 24, 5:35 pm EST. After a little hunting, I found the text of the new draft resolution on Iraq.

A few points worthy of note. The draft resolution engages in the same wordplay as we saw in the interim constitution, distinguishing between the Interim Government, which is what will be created on June 30 and the Transitional Government, which is formed sometime after the election of the National Assembly. When you read it, you have to keep this distinction in mind.

Thus, as expected, the resolution
Reaffirms the authorization for the multinational force under unified command established under resolution 1511 (2003), ..., decides that the multinational force shall have authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq including by preventing and deterring terrorism, ..., and decides further that the mandate for the multinational force shall be reviewed 12 months from the date of this resolution or at the request of the Transitional Government of Iraq.
What this means is that, since elections to the National Assembly will be held sometime from December 31 to January 31 of next year, the "multinational force" has unchallengeable authority at least through the end of the year and likely for several months longer, because the Transitional Government will be just in process of formation. The "sovereign" government created on June 30 will not have the power to challenge the operations of a foreign military force on its own territory.

The draft resolution has one somewhat positive step. It says that after June 30
funds in the Development Fund for Iraq shall be disbursed at the direction of the Interim Government of Iraq and its successors, and decides that the Development Fund for Iraq shall be utilized in a transparent manner and through the Iraqi budget including to satisfy outstanding obligations against the Development Fund for Iraq, that the arrangements for the depositing of proceeds from export sales of petroleum, petroleum products, and natural gas and its products established in paragraph 20 of resolution 1483 (2003) shall continue to apply, that the International Advisory and Monitoring Board referred to in resolution 1483 (2003) shall continue its activities in monitoring the Development Fund for Iraq and shall include as an additional member a duly qualified representative of the sovereign government of Iraq, and that the provisions above shall be reviewed no later than 12 months from the date of this resolution or at the request of the Transitional Government of Iraq, and that appropriate arrangements shall be made for the continuation of deposits of the proceeds referred to in paragraph 21 of resolution 1483 (2003).
The Development fund for Iraq is the bank account that all of Iraq's oil revenues are deposited into. Currently, this money is administered by the CPA. It forms the overwhelming bulk of funds spent on any kind of human needs in Iraq; onlyt $1.5 billion of the congressional appropriation for "reconstruction" has been disbursed. This clause about handing control over Iraq's oil revenues to the Interim Government was likely inserted because of increasing international scrutiny of the occupation and increasing political dissension in Iraq (in particular, Chalabi, SCIRI, and other Shi'a organization on the Interim Governing Council have been calling for this).

Still, note a few caveats. The International Advisory and Monitoring Board will continue its operations, which means that the United States will retain an effective veto on Iraq's spending.

Furthermore, the purposed for which DFI funds are disbursed include "to satisfy outstanding obligations against the Development Fund for Iraq." What this means is that existing obligations to give obscene amounts of money to Halliburton and Bechtel for minimal services will continue; the new Interim Government is likely not to have significant discretionary funds once those existing obligations are factored in. One thing to watch for very much in the next month is whether the CPA contracts further obligations to U.S. corporations.

And again this arrangement cannot be challenged by the Interim Government, but only by the Transitional Government.

Finally, at least for now, the resolution
Condemns all acts of terrorism in Iraq, and decides that, in accordance with their obligations under resolutions 1373 (2001), 1267 (1999), 1333 (2000), 1390 (2002), 1455 (2003) and 1526 (2004) and with other relevant international obligations, all States shall take immediate and necessary steps, inter alia, to freeze funds and other financial assets or economic resources of relevant individuals and entities, to prevent the entry into or transit through their territories of relevant individuals, to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of arms and related material to relevant individuals and entities, to refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to relevant individuals or entities, to prevent individuals and entities from using their respective territories for the purpose of financing, planning, facilitating or committing terrorist acts against Iraq or its citizens, and to ensure that such individuals are brought to justice.
This resolution ought to have an explicit clause saying that acts of armed resistance against the foreing military occupying force are not counted as terrorism (as in General Assembly Resolution 42/159, passed 152-2 with one abstention in 1987 -- no prize for guessing the two).

May 24, 5:15 pm EST. There's an article in Newsday by Knut Royce about further investigations of Chalabi for leaking secrets to Iran and about the worsening split between Chalabi and the administration. Just a quick note, for now.

I love this quote at the end of the article:
Newsday, quoting intelligence sources, reported last week that the administration believes that Chalabi's top security aide, Aras Karim Habib, is an Iranian agent. An arrest warrant was issued for Habib when Iraqi police, reportedly accompanied by FBI agents, raided Chalabi's home and offices last week. He is currently a fugitive.

Asked on "Fox News Sunday" why Habib was on the run if he is innocent, Chalabi said, "In Iraq there is no justice. There is Abu Ghraib prison ... We don't want anybody to be subjected to Abu Ghraib."
May 24, 1:01 pm EST. Apparently, the Israelis have withdrawn from the Tel Sultan and Brazil neighborhoods of Rafah (they retain a small presence in the Kishta neighborhood) and have removed the blockade that cut Rafah off from the rest of Gaza -- one could say that the siege of Rafah is ended, but it's most accurate to say that it has just returned to the same level of siegte all of Gaza is under.

At least 42 Palestinians were killed in the assault (medics told an al-Jazeera reporter that 55 were killed) and at least 1650 made homeless.

The Israelis have left a major humanitarian catastrophe behind, with basic infrastructure like streets, water pipes, and electricity grids destroyed, according to the chief of the U.N. Relief and Works Administration. Israelis have been allowing aid only into Tel Sultan.

Residents were out in the streets begging for water, which was completely cut off during the assault.

The destruction and carnage provoked outrage in many parts of the world and even in the Israeli cabinet. The Post quotes Deputy Prime Minister (and Justice Minister) Yosef Lapid, a Holocaust survivor:
"On TV I saw an old woman rummaging through the ruins of her house looking for her medication, and it reminded me of my grandmother who was thrown out of her house during the Shoah," or Holocaust, Lapid said in a radio interview after the weekly cabinet session.

"We look like monsters in the eyes of the world," he added. "This makes me sick."
His comments caused the expected outrage among other Israeli politicians, and he clarified that he was not comparing the assault with the Holocaust. He just had the basic human reaction of seeing an old woman with her life destroyed and thinking of his grandmother, whose life was destroyed by the Nazis. In Israel, such human reactions by major politicians provoke outrage; in the United States, they basically don't happen. The Abu Ghraib photos were a different matter, because of the need to do political damage control in the Arab world -- but where was a single important political figure expressing outrage at the killing of 1200 people in Fallujah?

The Rafah assault is another matter where political damage control for the United States is necessary. So much so that the United States allowed the Security Council to pass a fairly strong resolution condemining the attack. It has the usual condemnation of all other terrorism, but still is fairly clear. Of course, it specifies no sanctions of any kind.

May 24, 11:45 am EST. Because of some glitch, an entry I posted yesterday didn't show up on the top page. I've now added it. An interesting coincidence: yesterday I got an email from someone in the Air Force. He was doubtful about the wedding bombing. Among other things, he asked why there wasn't a single photo of the event. Then I check my Reuters news feed this morning and see this: Iraqi Wedding Film Challenges U.S. on Air Strike (also got a tip from a reader).

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the clairvoyant who was able to discern that 95% of the dead in Fallujah were fighters without visiting either the hospitals or the mass graves, had this reaction: "Bad people have parties too."

Does anyone still have a question about why "they" hate "us?"

May 23, 12:55 pm EST. Yesterday, Rawan Abu Zeid was shot and killed in Gaza by Israeli troops, with bullets in the neck and head. She was three years old, going with some older children to buy candy.

May 22, 2:40 pm EST. More on the wedding bombing. Read this important piece by Rory McCarthy of the Guardian. Here's an excerpt, relating testimony by Haleema Shihab:
"The bombing started at 3am," she said yesterday from her bed in the emergency ward at Ramadi general hospital, 60 miles west of Baghdad. "We went out of the house and the American soldiers started to shoot us.They were shooting low on the ground and targeting us one by one," she said. She ran with her youngest child in her arms and her two young boys, Ali and Hamza, close behind. As she crossed the fields a shell exploded close to her, fracturing her legs and knocking her to the ground.

She lay there and a second round hit her on the right arm. By then her two boys lay dead. "I left them because they were dead," she said. One, she saw, had been decapitated by a shell.

"I fell into the mud and an American soldier came and kicked me. I pretended to be dead so he wouldn't kill me. My youngest child was alive next to me."
As the article genteelly points out,
Mrs Shihab's description, backed by other witnesses, of an attack on a sleeping village is at odds with the American claim that they came under fire while targeting a suspected foreign fighter safe house.
May 22, 12:45 pm EST. Interesting news. Russia just concluded a deal with the EU on its terms of admission to the WTO (theoretically, every member of the WTO can impose its own conditions on prospective entrants; in practice, it's basically the US and the EU). Part of this deal is Russia's support for the Kyoto protocol on global warming, which takes Kyoto over the threshold required to put it in force worldwide despite the withdrawal of the United States (it needs the support of developed countries responsible for 55% of greenhouse emissions).

Kyoto is of course just a band-aid for cancer, but it's better than nothing. So this is good. The whole "kinder, gentler EU" thing notwithstanding, it's rare that part of the conditionalities for entering the WTO imposed on a new country is something that's actually good for the world.

May 22, 12:30 pm EST. Grabbing a few minutes during lunch break at a weekend-long meeting. Interesting article in the Post today about Mikhail Saakashvili, the new head of state of Georgia. The previous head, Shevardnadze, was ousted in an operation patterned after the National Endowment for Democracy's anti-Milosevic campaign, which involved among other things spending $20 million to influence the 2000 elections in Yugoslavia. Of course, both of these operations are billed as promotion of democracy, when they are clearly U.S.-backed substitution of someone they like for someone they don't like. Says the Post,
Saakashvili's Georgia is becoming a case study in the American export of democracy. A winner of one of the Edmund Muskie fellowships, which are awarded to outstanding citizens of the former Soviet states, Saakashvili studied law at Columbia University and human rights at George Washington University. He is part of a generation of foreigners groomed by the United States in hopes they would go back and refashion their homelands with a Western playbook.

... But he has already alienated a few close friends who feel he has gone too far in accumulating power. "The government that came from a democratic revolution is taking a step back from democracy," said Koba Davitashvili, who quit as head of Saakashvili's party and turned down a cabinet post in protest of constitutional changes that the president pushed through to bolster his authority. "I was so angry at him."
It's American export of democracy except, stunningly, Saakashvilie is not governing in a democratic way. Well, at least we can look proudly to the democrats we installed in Haiti.

May 21, 1:40 pm EST. The English-language section of Al-Jazeera's website has just published my article, "A Forward Strategy, but not for Freedom." It analyzes the Bush administration's Middle East agenda in the light of the whole furor over "transforming the Middle East."

Ever since Bush's speech at the 20th anniversary of the NED last fall, where he said, "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe - because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty," pundits have been knocking themselves out over the putative strategy of democratizing the Middle East, starting with Iraq as the first domino.

Anyway, I analyze this and conclude (not surprisingly for those who have been reading Empire Notes):
The real goals are and have been clear since before the war.

Iraq must be made a permanent military outpost of an expansionist American military-imperial network that includes, in a looser sense, much of eastern Europe, central Asia, and the Middle East.

Its government should be a tightly controlled client state, not a client state with its own independent agendas, as Saudi Arabia has been.

The oil of the Middle East is now too important, not just as a source of supply to the US, but as a source of leverage over the other powers that need it (Europe, China and Japan) to allow Arabs more than a marginal degree of control over it.

That is the true transformation of the Middle East.

Not towards greater democracy or more elections, but toward greater and more overt American military/political domination.

In so far as elections and protecting human rights advance that goal, the US will push for them; if collective punishment, the massacre of civilians, torture, and authoritarianism advance the goal, Falluja and Abu Ghraib show that the US can do that too.
I also give a capsule review of the Bush administration's record on democracy promotion elsewhere -- like Venezuela, Haiti, and Afghanistan. So read it.

May 21, 1:30 pm EST. Still trying to figure out the Chalabi thing. His headquarters and offices were raided by American and Iraqi forces. During the course of the raid, a portrait of him ended up with a bullet hole in the forehead. And, of course, at about the same time an end has been declared to his $340,000 a month stipend and the GAO has released a report on State Department funding for the INC -- $33 million over the past four years (the report seems to slam State harder than the INC, though).

Chalabi has repositioned himself first as the voice of democracy and human rights, criticizing the United States for postponing/cancelling elections and for bringing back Ba'athists into positions of power -- saying it was like dealing with Nazis (something the United States did, of course). After the raid, he has emerged as a latter-day Moses, saying "My message is let my people go, let my people be free."

More on this later, but right now I'm hopping on a plane for a fun-filled weekend of administrative meetings in New York.

May 19, 3:20 pm EST. Deep controversy about a U.S. raid near al-Qaim on the Syrian border that killed over 40 people. According to the United States, an AC-130 Spectre gunship fired on a "foreign fighter safe house" after taking ground fire. According to the satellite TV station al-Arabiya, doctors at the hospital in al-Qaim, victims of the attack, and other witnesses on the ground, what the United States fired on was a wedding and any fire from the ground was the celebratory gunfire that is quite common on such occasions.

According to Scheherazade Faramarzi of the Associated Press,
People who said they were guests said the wedding party was in full swing — with dinner just finished and the band playing tribal Arab music — when U.S. fighter jets roared overhead and U.S. vehicles started shining their highbeams.

Worried, the hosts ended the party; men stayed in the wedding tent, and women and children went inside the house nearby, the witnesses said.

About five hours later, the first shell hit the tent. Panicked, women clutching their children ran out of the house, they said.

Lt. Col. Ziyad al-Jbouri, deputy police chief of Ramadi, the provincial capital about 250 miles to the east, said the attack happened about 2:45 a.m. He said between 42 and 45 people were killed, including 15 children and 10 women.

Salah al-Ani, a doctor at a Ramadi hospital, put the death toll at 45.

A shepherd who attended the wedding, Madhi Nawaf, said his daughter and at least one of his grandchildren were killed.

"Mothers died with their children in their arms. One of them was my daughter. I found her a few steps from the house, her two-year old son Raad in her arm. Her one-year-old son, Ra'ed, was lying nearby, his head missing," he said.

"Where are the foreign fighters they claim were hiding there? asked Nawaf. "Everything they said is a lie."
On the other hand, U.S. military officials dispute these claims:
"Ten miles from Syrian border and 80 miles from nearest city and a wedding party? Don't be naive," said Marine Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis in Fallujah. "Plus they had 30 males of military age with them. How many people go to the middle of the desert to have a wedding party?"

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said the attack was launched after U.S. forces received "specific intelligence" about foreign fighters slipping into the country.
Obviously, people in the "middle of the desert" should avoid getting married while under occupation and that people who have chosen to be "males of military age" deserve whatever they get.

Now, I wasn't there, so can't say for sure, but the exact same thing happened over the siege of Fallujah. Kimmitt denied all the claims of people on the ground, reported that time by al-Jazeera, with no more justification than the specious reasoning provided above. When I went in to see for myself, everything I saw accorded with the Iraqi accounts and those of al-Jazeera. Claims that I and others made that were initially highly controversial, like the fact that ambulances were being deliberately shot at, have now been admitted by the other side. Worse claims, like the fact that the main hospital was occupied and deliberately closed have also been admitted.

According to mourners, among those killed were the wedding singer and his musician brother. Several report that the bride and groom were killed, although reporters on the scene seem unsure of that.

Now, I'm not going to tell you which story to believe. Then again, I think it's pretty obvious.

With this plus the assault on Rafah, whose death toll is at least 39, this has been a good week for disposing of terrorist children. Several baby terrorists were killed in the Iraq raid; and when Israeli tanks fired on a peaceful demonstration in Rafah the other day, among the at least 8 killed were children of ages 10, 11, 13, and 14.

May 19, 1:30 pm EST. The Denver Post has just broken an absolute must-read story. They obtained Pentagon documents regarding investigations into at least five Iraqi prisoners being tortured to death. The methods used were brutal:
The deaths include the killing in November of a high-level Iraqi general who was shoved into a sleeping bag and suffocated, according to the Pentagon report. The documents contradict an earlier Defense Department statement that said the general died "of natural causes" during an interrogation. Pentagon officials declined to comment on the new disclosure.

Another Iraqi military officer, records show, was asphyxiated after being gagged, his hands tied to the top of his cell door. Another detainee died "while undergoing stress technique interrogation," involving smothering and "chest compressions," according to the documents.
In the case of Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, not only did they suffocate him to death, somebody then lied about it:
Immediately after Mowhoush's death was reported, U.S. military officials released a statement acknowledging he died during an interview.

"Mowhoush said he didn't feel well and subsequently lost consciousness," read the press statement, which is still posted on a Pentagon website. "The soldier questioning him found no pulse, then conducted CPR and called for medical authorities. According to the on-site surgeon, it appeared Mowhoush died of natural causes."
In several of the cases of people being tortured to death, there is apparently no criminal investigation.

Kudos can be sent to (to be considered, letters must include full name, home town and daytime phone number).

May 19, 1:10 pm EST. Israel's new Operation Rainbow has reached massive proportions. Directed at the Rafah refugee camp, it has involved sealing off Rafah from the rest of Gaza, cutting off electricity to tens of thousands in the Tel Sultan neighborhood, hundreds of planned home demolitions, and the killing of at least 33 people in the last two days.

The latest incident involved Israeli firing of a missile and 4 tank shells at a crowd of peaceful demonstrators, killing at least 10.

All of these assaults on civilians are deliberate reprisals for the killing of 13 Israeli soldiers involved in the occupation of Gaza.

May 19, 12:50 pm EST. All's well that ends well. Manmohan Singh will be Prime Minister of India and financial markets have recouped their losses. The Sensex, the index of the Bombay Stock Exchange, crossed 5000, up from a low near 4200 during the crash on Monday.

Much commentary on the Indian election results suggests that the electorate has resoundingly rejected neoliberalism. My own read from looking at the state-by-state results is that rejection of the BJP's Hindu supremacist ideology is the most important effect, followed by the fact that the rising tide in India the last few years has not lifted too many of the poorest boats. Even this second factor, however, does not amount to a general referendum on neoliberalism.

In the populous province of Andhra Pradesh, however, where Chief Minister Chandrababa Naidu made himself the darling of the Western media by planning a whole raft of neoliberal reforms, the elections were precisely a referendum on those programs, and the results were an overwhelming rejection. Naidu's Telugu Desam Party took only 5 seats in the Lok Sabha (House of Commons) compared to 31 for the Congress Party.

George Monbiot has a great piece in the Guardian about Naidu's policies and the response to them. As he notes, Naidu's reduction of the food subsidy has probably killed thousands of people through malnutrition-related disease, but that is as nothing compared to the havoc that would be wrought if the full program, prepared by McKinsey at Naidu's behest, were to be implemented.

May 18, 6:00 pm EST. Check out this excellent article, "Torture and Moral Agency: the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations," by new blogger Zeynep Toufe at Under the Same Sun (her permalink pages are a bit hard to navigate from, so I'm linking to the main page and you have to scroll down a bit to get to the article).

She puts her finger right on something that's been bothering me ever since the Abu Ghraib story broke:
For the powers-that-be, scapegoating individuals serves as a smokescreen to deflect attention from unjust power structures. When the individuals targeted are far down in the social hierarchy, this serves the added benefit of deflecting attention from the people at the top, the ones who give the orders and who create the structures of injustice and oppression that we live under. In the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal, we see this pattern playing out, with the rhetoric about a “few bad apples” and the focus on a handful of Army reservists.

Progressives are right to focus instead on institutional change and on accountability for those at the top. They are right to oppose these efforts to cover up the systematic nature of torture in American gulags around the world. Unfortunately, in doing so, many are on the verge of degenerating into a denial of individual moral agency.

Human beings are capable of choice and morally accountable for their actions. Circumstances can alter culpability-- people in certain kinds of institutions and situations are more likely to commit morally reprehensible actions. But to deny their ability of choice and their role as moral subjects and not just objects is to deny their humanity. Individual moral agency is at the core of one’s right to an equal standing before one’s community. That is not a right that can or should be sacrificed at the altar of institutional responsibility.
She draws attention to the fact that even the activist, feminist antiwar organization Code Pink referred to Lynndie England as a "girl" in order to minimize her agency. Lots of good stuff in the article.

May 18, 5:30 pm EST. Take a look at one of's latest initiatives -- a sign-on letter to John Kerry telling him to "Go Big."

The actual letter, while calling on Kerry not to adopt the "failed Republican-lite swing voter strategy," is so vague and full of bromides that Kerry's campaign will almost certainly respond by saying, "We're already doing what you're asking for." The idea that it will put any pressure on Kerry is absurd; it doesn't even seem as if it's designed to.

But, more important than that is MoveOn's background material (it's on the same webpage). Get this:
It's clear that Kerry has it in him to be a visionary candidate. In a speech to the California Democratic State Convention, he referred to Robert Kennedy's famous quotation: "Some men dream things that are and ask why. I dream things that never were and ask why not?" Then Kerry said:
That is the question at the heart of our campaign. That is our cause.

Why not have an economy where equal opportunity is a fact? Where people who work hard and do the right thing can not only make ends meet but can actually reach higher and hope for more?

Why not give every working American access to high-quality, affordable health care?

Why not have public schools where children set out on a lifetime of learning and possibility? Where "no child left behind" is a promise kept, not broken and forgotten.

Why not preserve our environment so our great grandchildren can breathe clean air, drink clean water, and know that they too live in a land that can be called "America the beautiful."

John Kerry needs to hear from us — that we want him to offer a bold vision for our country's future and play to our hopes rather than our fears.
Of course, Kerry has actually achieved the difficult task of being a less visionary candidate than Al Gore in 2000. And it's not clear why a cheap quotation (which Kerry somehow managed to get wrong) followed by the kinds of platitudes that politicians from all parts of the spectrum routinely use no matter what specific programs they're calling for is evidence of potential to be a visionary.

But notice the most important thing about MoveOn's message. There's no mention of Iraq.

It's become crystal-clear -- hell, it's been clear for a long time -- that Iraq is the pivotal issue for the election. Iraq is what caused Bush's job approval rating to plummet to 42% in a recent Newsweek poll (the same poll shows that 62% say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States, compared with 41% in April 2003; since the economy has been improving the last few months, it's pretty clear once again that Iraq is the difference). Iraq is giving the administration the biggest black eye it has faced.

Conservatives are defecting from the administration in droves. Even stenographers to the powerful like George Will have criticized the administration in no uncertain terms. And even a reflexive conservative apologist like David Brooks is preparing himself for the recognition that the occupation is a failure (the terms in which it is a failure -- i.e., that it is a failure at U.S. control rather than a failure at "bringing democracy to Iraq" -- are another question).

Most important, the country is now split on whether the United States should withdraw immediately or "stay the course."

John Kerry seems to lack even the "vision" necessary to understand that he could have a real chance at winning if, as a purely opportunistic move, he became the withdrawal candidate. And, several steps behind even David Brooks, lacks the vision to push him on such an elementary point.

With enemies like that, Bush doesn't need friends.

May 18, 2:55 pm EST. What's happening in India right now is a particularly vivid illustration of the fact that in modern "democracies" very often capital gets a bigger vote than the electorate. In Third World countries, in fact, it's often foreign capital that gets the largest vote. For example, when in the last election campaign in Brazil it looked as if Lula was going to be elected, there was a major campaign to warn Brazilians that the markets would tumble, there would be a capital strike, etc. if they voted for him, which was only called off when Lula pledged not to rock the boat.

In India, Congress can only form the government with the support of the Left parties, including the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM). Now, neither of these parties is particularly communist. They are political parties that participate in normal electoral politics and happen to be marginally less eager to sell of all of India's public-sector companies at notional rates than some of the other parties (and back before the world changed, the CPM took some steps to implement the government-mandated land reform, unlike most other parties that controlled state governments).

But initially after the election results came out, the head of the CPM said something about abolishing the Privatization Ministry. Very quickly, other people on the Left made it clear that some privatization was OK, that Congress would be in charge, and so on (and one should note that the CPM seeks foreign investment in the provinces it controls just like any other party). Even so, the stock markets in India crashed. The primary index, the Sensex (based in the Bombay Stock Exchange), fell about 6% initially and then another 11% after it became known that the Left parties would not join the ruling coalition, but retain even greater leverage by supporting Congress from the outside. What is not clear to me yet is how much the Sensex fall has to do with Indian investors and how much with foreign investors.

This kind of sanction from capital can put a real damper on the policies of an incoming government. In this case, it was seen as so serious that Sonia Gandhi, the head of the Congress Party, has signalled that she would not seek the Prime Ministership, instead suggesting that Manmohan Singh be the prime minister. It's not at all clear to me that if she were in office she would implement different policies than Manmohan Singh, but the significance of the move is this: throughout India, Manmohan Singh is the name most closely associated with what Indians call "economic liberalization" and what many Latin Americans call "neoliberalism."

So a new prime minister, the most powerful position in the Indian government, is being offered up solely because his name will make speculative financial markets less jittery. Here in the United States, the election is being fought on the basis of who can get more money bundled by corporate CEOs to air meaningless attack ads.

Wouldn't elections worldwide be much more efficient if we just eliminated the middleman -- the people?

May 17, 6:55 pm EST. Yesterday, the New York Times printed an extremely interesting chart about "progress" in Iraq. Go to this page and click on the text at the right that says "Graphic: Op-Chart" (the link above will stay good, but I'm not sure about the javascript for the chart).

The assessment was put together by the mainstream centrist-liberal Brookings Institution. Keep in mind when you look at these figures, that much of the information must come from the CPA, in particular the definitions (i.e., does "renovation" simply mean "repainting"?).

It reports some progress. The difficulties with gasoline supply before have eased dramatically. This corroborates with my experience -- gas lines were fewer and shorter in April than in January, when a wait of 2 to 6 hours to get gas in Baghdad was the norm. Supposedly, telephone service is now at 130% of prewar levels (no indication on whether that includes cell phones). The accuracy of this is harder to gauge. In my last trip, I went to a major hospital without a single working phone line and two others that had only one line (and one of those had gotten its phone service only a month earlier).

Supposedly, there were 12,000 schools needing repair last year and only 9500 remain -- it doesn't say who fixed them. Out of 600 health-care clinics, 52 have received "renovation." 2000 small loans have been disbursed -- this number is a joke in a capital-starved nation of over 25 million people.

And now the other side. Unemployment remains at 45%. Electrical capacity is at 3800 MW now, while it was at 4400 MW before the war, even though under the sanctions it was never possible to import enough spare parts to rebuild infrastructure. Oil production is still about half a million barrels a day before the prewar levels -- which were themselves a million barrels a day below the production capacity that existed before the sanctions eroded it.

The most striking thing? Ever since the Iraq spending bill of last fall, a whole series of liars has claimed that $87 billion is being spent on the reconstruction of Iraq (some, like Christopher Hitchens, can't even be bothered by the strictures of ordinary liars and stretch that to "almost $100 billion"). Now, all of us who actually read with any care knew that $66 billion of that was for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, more billions were for security forces, and that about $15.5 billion was supposed to be for reconstruction.

But want to guess how much of that has been disbursed? Well, I don't think you could. Total U.S. aid disbursed (for everything, not just reconstruction): $1.5 billion.

That's right; after a year, $60 of "aid" per Iraqi. And, of course, most of that has been going straight to the pockets of Halliburton and Bechtel shareholders, with perhaps a little paint splashed on some schools as a result.

May 17, 10:55 am EST. Abdel-Zahraa Othman (usually known as Izzedine Salim) of the Islamic Dawa Party, and holder of the rotating presidency of the Governing Council, was killed by a massive car bomb today as he waited in line at a checkpoint to enter the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority. The dollar fell 1.2% against the euro, its biggest drop in two weeks (and attributed by some observers to the assassination of Salim first and the bombings of HSBC offices in Turkey second).

Surprisingly, Salim is only the second member of the Governing Council to be assassinated since its inception (the first was a woman, Aquila al-Hashimi).

It's not clear what the precise meaning here is. Like many other groups on the Governing Council, the Dawa Party has moved to dissociate itself from U.S. policy in the last seven weeks or so. This could be a move by Zarqawi, who has denounced the Shi'a as kafir and as collaborators and who was likely unhappy when the Dawa emerged as the most popular of the Governing Council parties in recentt polls. Maybe.

This lack of security even for high-level government officials is certainly a major problem for the occupation and underscores the near impossibility right now of creating a client government that  simultaneously obeys U.S. dictates and is able to maintain stability.

The killing elicited the same kind of response worldwide that one might expect. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in Brussels, said, "What this shows is that the terrorists and insurgents in Iraq are trying to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power from the occupiers to the Iraqi people."

Of course, there is no transfer of power being planned, therefore no attempts to disrupt it. But, if there were, surely the kind of terrorists who did the Ashura bombings, the kind who killed Nicholas Berg, would probably try to disrupt it. Fine.

But it's ridiculous to keep pretending that the mass of the resistance, the people who fought in Fallujah, or even Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, are fighting because they want to disrupt any "transfer of power" or because, unlike what Thomas Friedman likes to call Iraq's "silent majority," they are against democracy. They're fighting because they're against house raids, detentions, torture, being bombed, civilians being killed at checkpoints, and the complete failure of the government to provide the basic services necessary to their way of life.

May 15, 8:31 pm EST. Potentially important developments in Israel/Palestine. As you recall, on May 2 Likud rejected Sharon's unilateral Gaza pullout scheme (by roughly 60 to 40). Afterwards, Palestinian militants engaged in numerous attacks on Israeli soldiers, which have killed 13 -- the standard Israeli attacks have killed over 30 Palestinians and involved numerous civilian targets.

Then, on Saturday, over 120,000 Israelis marched in favor of a withdrawal from Gaza and were addressed by, among others, Shimon Peres. He told them that they far outnumbered the Likud voters who had rejected the pullout plan.

The Reuters articles that are linked above both mention the same concern:
Israel's top brass are concerned that Palestinian militants may have adopted Hizbollah tactics in their latest ambushes in Gaza.
What this means is clear. After a brief initial period, Hizbollah basically settled down to the following tactics: concentrate their attacks on the military, with attacks on civilians essentially confined to "reprisals" for Israeli killing of civilians. Hizbollah managed to get Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon; it is still the only Arab armed force that has made Israel withdraw from land it has occupied (although one could very well make the case that it was the scare Egypt gave Israel in 1973 that made them agree to give back the Sinai at Camp David).

Attacks on civilians have not caused much concern from "Israel's top brass," but these recent attacks on soldiers have. The reason is that they can be politically effective in a way that the terrorist attacks on Israel are not.

As one person who has spent time in Palestine said to me when I asked her about the political effectiveness of the Hamas/al-Aqsa Martyrs' strategy of blowing up buses, restaurants, hotels, etc. (it is clearly immoral and illegal, but immoral and illegal actions are often effective), "When you attack soldiers, people call for withdrawing the soldiers. When you attack civilians, people call for sending in more soldiers to protect them."

May 15, 6:25 pm EST. Following up on the story of Indians held as slave labor by U.S. forces and/or contractors in Iraq. A few people wrote that I was unkind to the Times about the story that they ran on the issue.

If you'll recall (or re-read), the Times story reported no specific claims made by the men who were victimized and closed with a quote from one blaming the Indians who had lured them to Iraq with false promises, not the Americans who mistreated them.

I just thought of this because I saw this Reuters report on the WaPo website. Among other things, it says,
They were then kept for nine months working 18 hours a day in U.S. camp kitchens, threatened with beatings and verbally abused by soldiers before their contractor employer let them go home.

"They did not abuse us physically," Fasil said, referring to U.S. soldiers.

"The psychological abuse was worse," he said, sitting in a tiny cement-floored hut, the air heavy with wood smoke from cooking fires.

American soldiers made vague threats the contract kitchen staff would "face the consequences" if they stopped work, sometimes patting their guns as they spoke, the pair said.


At one camp, Q-West, several hours from Baghdad, a soldier fired at a stray dog while walking over to negotiate with workers who had gone on strike to demand unpaid overtime.

"We went back to work. When they shot at the dog, I felt I might also be shot at like a dog and killed," Shajahan said.

Several times, he added, supervising soldiers tried to hit him, accusing him of not working properly.
And in the story in the South China Morning Post (May 5, News section, p. 11), you can see these claims:
"We were slaves in American kitchens," Hameed told the Hindustan Times. "We barely got two hours of sleep. Any slip-ups and we were tortured for days."

Shahjahan said: "Once I told the kitchen leader that as I was a devout Muslim I could not cook pork. I was beaten with rifle butts."
The Irish Times (May 5, World news, p. 13) also reported their claims of being used as human shields whenever their camp was attacked by Iraqi resistance forces.

So, if we put all of this together, at least according to these several men, American soldiers threatened to kill them and tried to beat them, "civilian" contractors running the kitchens beat them with rifle butts, they were incredibly overworked, and a soldier killed a dog to threaten them and break up a strike.

Apparently, none of this was "fit to print." Letters to

May 14, 5:10 pm EST. Check out the Washington Post's political eulogy for outgoing Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. In what purports to be a summing up of his tenure, the Post says
IN 1998, WHEN Atal Bihari Vajpayee took the helm of the world's largest democracy, nobody predicted the extent of his success or his alignment with U.S. interests. His Hindu nationalist party seemed likely to exacerbate tensions with India's non-Hindu minorities, inflame relations with Muslim Pakistan and generally make India an awkward international partner -- a prospect that appeared to come true a few months into Mr. Vajpayee's tenure, when his government defied the world by detonating five nuclear bombs. Six years later, however, Mr. Vajpayee has improved relations with Pakistan, gone out of his way to forge an alliance with the United States and advanced the remarkable program of liberalization that has turned India into a star economy. But if all that was unexpected, so was yesterday's news. Having called an early election to capitalize on his apparently robust popularity, Mr. Vajpayee lost.
In the midst of that encomium, where, of course, the key point is the "forge an alliance with the United States" part, the Post somehow omits to mention that his party, the BJP, instigated a carefully planned and executed pogrom in Gujarat that claimed the lives of 2000 Muslims (supposedly in retaliation for the killing of 59 Hindus by a Muslim mob). And then it had the gall to run for re-election (in the local Gujarat elections) on the strength of that massacre. The BJP Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time of the massacre, Narendra Modi, is still a member in good standing of the party.

But all of that isn't relevant. Vajpayee did his best to ally with the empire, so he must be a great guy:
The sharpest discontinuity is likely to come in relations with the United States and possibly with U.S. allies such as Israel. India has become a leading customer for Israeli weapons technology. With Mr. Vajpayee in office, the Bush administration hoped that India might be persuaded to send peacekeepers to Iraq -- a remarkable shift from the Cold War, when India proudly led the Non-Aligned Movement and seized every opportunity to tweak American leadership.
Though it is not likely to indulge in massacres of Muslims, the coalition that replaces the BJP will be much worse because
The Congress Party-led coalition is expected to swing back to traditional anti-Americanism, sounding off against the United States at the United Nations and perhaps challenging U.S. influence in the Middle East by launching its own peace initiative.
Not that! Anything but a new peace initiative!

The editorial is not just ignorant drivel that focuses on U.S. imperial hegemony as the criterion by which everything is to be judged, however. It has its humorous side; the launching of such a peace initiative, the Post says, "would test the Bush administration's reserves of forbearance and tact."

May 14, 4:55 pm EST. From today's Iraqi Press Monitor. Baghdad, the paper of the Iraqi National Accord (represented on the Governing Council by Iyad Allawi), condemns the killing of Berg but also calls for release of all prisoners not yet convicted of a crime:
The abuses in Abu Ghraib prison have served the interests of terrorists. Two days ago, an American was killed under the pretext of revenge for prisoners. Thus, what we expected came true: namely, that the wave of violence might open endlessly in spite of reassurances made by the American president and other officials that such abuses would not be repeated. To avoid the wave of hatred, we think all prisoners who were not convicted must be released, especially given news reports that say 60 percent of them were arrested by mistake. Besides, Iraqis' participation in supervising prisons is a prerequisite. As to the hurry in trying those responsible for abuses, it is indisputable. As we condemned abusing Iraqi prisoners, so do we condemn killing the American hostage.
Ad-Daawa, the paper of the Islamic Dawa Party, also represented on the Governing Council, says that the occupation forces "know nothing but the language of force." It goes on to say,
The scandal falsifies the slogans of liberation, independence, and progress. The other side of the coin is immorality by the Americans who talked too much of human rights and values which were violated by their soldiers. The Iraqi wounds cannot be healed by faint apologies made by Rumsfeld and US military leaders who harboured these violations in spite of their knowledge of them. If papers had not published the scandalous photos, the leaders would have kept silent forever. Worse than the soldiers' sadism, though, is their admission of receiving orders to carry out the abuse.
Again, even the handpicked allies of the United States cannot accept what it is doing.

May 14, 3:50 pm EST. Apparently, it has been concluded that the pictures published by the British Daily Mirror that showed, among other things, a British soldier urinating on an Iraqi prisoner, were fakes. The editor of the Mirror, Piers Morgan, has resigned.

On the other hand, Defence Minister Adam Ingram, who lied to the House of Commons, claiming he had never received "adverse reports" about British treatment of Iraqi prisoners, refused to apologize, claiming that the protests received from the International Red Cross and from Amnesty International, were not proper reports:
"Report has a specific meaning to me," he told the Commons. "It's something that is properly researched, properly constructed and properly presented."
There's accountability. An editor who was deceived about some pictures but published relatively accurate reports about what British troops were doing to prisoners (based on testimony that has not been discredited, even if the photos have been) resigns, but a member of the Cabinet, who has a statutory duty to inform the Parliament about issues under his purview, lies and doesn't even apologize. Well, I suppose the British are still doing a little better than those of us on the other side of the Atlantic.

May 14, 12:30 pm EST. I am reminded by a reader where the French learned the technique of la baignoire, which they used to such effect in Algeria and which the United States has used at least on Khalid Shaikh Muhammed (although, no doubt, the addition of a board to which the subject is strapped no doubt makes it merely "stressful interrogation" instead of torture).

It was a favorite technique of the Gestapo during the Nazi occupation of France.

May 14, 2:20 am EST. In case you're wondering about the difference, in Rumsfeldian terms, between "abuse" and "torture," check out this article from the Times, Harsh C.I.A. Methods Cited in Top Qaeda Interrogations.

In it we are told that, at least for Khalid Shaikh Muhammed,
C.I.A. interrogators used graduated levels of force, including a technique known as "water boarding," in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown.
Very graduated. Of course, suffocation methods like this are among the most classic and most effective forms of torture. The French in Algeria called it la baignoire (the bathtub) -- immerse the subject in a bathtub of urine or filthy water and keep putting him under. It's just as nasty as electric shocks to the genitals, something the United States has also been fond of in the recent past (in the Vietnam War, in particular).

According to the Times, " Defenders of the operation said the methods stopped short of torture and "did not violate American anti-torture statutes." Not up on American laws on torture, but if that claim is true, we should be ashamed of having legislation that is so uncivilized. It's for damn sure that it violates the U.N. Convention against Torture.

May 13, 9:45 pm EST. More video. has posted the video of the beheading of Nicholas Berg. You need Windows Media Player to view it. It's extremely difficult to watch.

Also, from some time ago, video of U.S. troops killing a wounded Iraqi and then cheering. You need RealPlayer for this.

May 13, 2:25 pm EST. There's an article in today's Wall Street Journal that's essential reading on Iraq -- "Lingering Presence: Behind the Scenes, U.S. Tightens Grip On Iraq's Future --- Hand-Picked Proxies, Advisers Will Be Given Key Roles In Interim Government --- Facing Friction Over the Army." It's by Yochi Dreazen and Christopher Cooper. Unfortunately, the Journal continues its deeply unAmerican policy of charging for content, so it's only available to subscribers or to people who can use the Dow Jones/Factiva archives.

We've already gone over the main aspects of "limited sovereignty" -- a foreign occupying army, foreign control of your army, foreign control of your revenues, no law-making authority (in the words of future proconsul John Negroponte). But, according to this article, the situation is even worse than this:
Haider al-Abadi runs Iraq's Ministry of Communications, but he no longer calls the shots there.

Instead, the authority to license Iraq's television stations, sanction newspapers and regulate cellphone companies was recently transferred to a commission whose members were selected by Washington. The commissioners' five-year terms stretch far beyond the planned 18-month tenure of the interim Iraqi government that will assume sovereignty on June 30.

The transfer surprised Mr. Abadi, a British-trained engineer who spent nearly two decades in exile before returning to Iraq last year. He found out the commission had been formally signed into law only when a reporter asked him for comment about it. "No one from the U.S. even found time to call and tell me themselves," he says.

As Washington prepares to hand over power, U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer and other officials are quietly building institutions that will give the U.S. powerful levers for influencing nearly every important decision the interim government will make.

In a series of edicts issued earlier this spring, Mr. Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority created new commissions that effectively take away virtually all of the powers once held by several ministries. The CPA also established an important new security-adviser position, which will be in charge of training and organizing Iraq's new army and paramilitary forces, and put in place a pair of watchdog institutions that will serve as checks on individual ministries and allow for continued U.S. oversight. Meanwhile, the CPA reiterated that coalition advisers will remain in virtually all remaining ministries after the handover.
In many cases, these U.S. and Iraqi proxies will serve multiyear terms and have significant authority to run criminal investigations, award contracts, direct troops and subpoena citizens. The new Iraqi government will have little control over its armed forces, lack the ability to make or change laws and be unable to make major decisions within specific ministries without tacit U.S. approval, say U.S. officials and others familiar with the plan.
The article goes on to tell us that
The nerve center of the U.S. presence in Iraq will be a massive new embassy. CPA officials recently decided that most employees of the new embassy will remain in a former palace used by Saddam Hussein even though the building is seen by many Iraqis as a symbol of Iraqi sovereignty. The embassy needs the space: It will ultimately employ approximately 1,300 Americans, as well as 2,000 or more Iraqis. The current occupation authority employs 1,500 people.

The U.S. plans to convert a nearby building into the formal embassy that incoming U.S. ambassador John Negroponte can use for ceremonial functions. In an unusual move, two of Mr. Negroponte's top deputies will also have ambassadorial rank. James Jeffrey will become the deputy chief of mission at the embassy. Blunt and often profane, Mr. Jeffrey, a former Army special forces officer, is currently the ambassador to Albania and has held senior posts in Turkey and Kuwait. Ron Newman, currently the ambassador to Bahrain, also has a military background and is likely to join the embassy in Iraq in a senior position such as defense attache.
So it's pretty clear. John Negroponte become Douglas Macarthur. He has control over people at every level of the Iraqi government and over Iraq's armed forces. Any major decision will require his approval. If municipal garbage collection is ever started up again, maybe Negroponte will allow the Iraqis to make decisions about that for themselves -- maybe. The technical term for this state of affairs? Democracy.

May 13, 12:30 pm EST. Color me stunned. India's electorate has once again rubbished the conventional wisdom. The ruling Hindu fundamentalist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) was expected to win the national elections on the basis of a strong economy and possibly because of the recent rapprochement with Pakistan. Indeed, most of the commentary was over whether they would win an outright majority or would need, as is typically the case in India recently, to form a ruling coalition.

Well, the results are in and the Congress Party, which was once associated with the Indian Freedom Movement but more recently with inertia and corruption, has won 149 seats and the BJP only 136. 272 are needed to form a Parliamentary majority.

Atal Behari Vajpayee is stepping down as prime minister and the Congress is going to join with the left parties to form the government.

I'm happy to see the BJP out. What they have done to whip up religious hatred internally and to ally with the United States and Israel externally is inexcusable. On the other hand, the "world's largest democracy" now faces the almost certain prospect of being ruled by an Italian, Sonia Gandhi, whose claim to leadership of Congress is her marriage to Rajiv Gandhi, whose claim was that his mother was Indira Gandhi, whose claim was that her father was Jawaharlal Nehru.

Explanations for the BJP's disastrous defeat are legion. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), part of the Hindu fundamentalist complex of organizations, has said that the BJP lost because it "betrayed Hindus" and "compromised national security" by easing tensions with Pakistan. The RSS, the fascist organization at the core of the Hindu fundamentalist complex, has also claimed that voters perceived a dilution of ideology from the BJP.

On the other hand, India's economic growth has not been like China's. It's much more modest -- the current per capita income of $480 per year is 30% higher than it was four years ago, but not exactly something to write home about. Second, the wealth hasn't been spread around as much. In China, you have simultaneously an increasingly impoverished rural poor and a huge new class of moderately affluent people. In India, the poor are in much the same situation they were in four years ago and understandably have voted to throw the bastards out.


May 12, 7:15 pm EST. The murder of Nicholas Berg once again brings into sharp relief a rather disturbing parallelism. Zarqawi or whoever said they killed him in retaliation for the "Satanic abuses" committed in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Of course, Berg had nothing to do with them and seems to have been genuinely interested in aiding reconstruction in Iraq, unlike most of the military contractors that descended vulturelike on Iraq after the occupation. And killing someone who is helpless in your custody to draw attention to the lack of civilization of those who have killed others who were helpless in their custody seems somehow shall we say counterproductive.

Now let's look at the flip side. Check out these remarks by Republican senators, reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:
"They're not soldiers, they're monsters ... and we are not going to rest until every last one of them is in a cell or a cemetery,'' said House Republican Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.

"The beheading video should be a wake-up call of who we're dealing with here,'' said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who sits on the Armed Services Committee, which is looking into the prison scandal. "They are despicable in every way and behave like animals. We must vanquish this enemy because defeat is unacceptable."

Discounting the killers' claims that Berg's slaying was an act of retaliation, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said, "Seems to me that this underscores, in part at least, the tremendous value of interrogation and better intelligence to prevent atrocities like this."
Because they are elected representatives of the colossus that bestrides the world, and must worry about public relations around the globe, as opposed to self-selected extremists, their language is more measured and careful. DeLay and Graham would tell you that the "they" in their sentences refers only to the bad people who don't want democracy for Iraq, certainly not to all Iraqis or all Arabs or all Muslims; at the same time, they know exactly what "they" means to their constituents. Roberts says this killing shows that we need interrogation and intelligence; he's not quite openly saying that this killing justifies the torture of Iraqi and other prisoners, he's just implying it to his base.

Read these statements correctly and they are exact parallels of each other. The same justification of atrocities against innocents (remember the Red Cross claim that 70 to 90% of the prisoners in Iraq were innocent of all charges) because "we" are at war with "them."

Ever since the Abu Ghraib revelations, the steady drumbeat not just in the right wing but in the mainstream has been, "We're better than Saddam was." With the killing of Berg, it's now "We're better than Zarqawi."

Personally, I'm against the soft bigotry of low expectations.

May 12, 5:25 pm EST. Lebanon's Hizbollah has condemned the murder of Nick Berg, referring to it as
this horrible act that has done very great harm to Islam and Muslims by this group that claims affiliation to the religion of mercy, compassion and humane principles.
It also said that the killing was much like
the Pentagon school -- the school of killing and occupation and crimes and torture and immoral practices that were exposed by the great scandal in occupation prisons.
One of the reasons for this statement is that Zarqawi (or "Zarqawi") is virulently anti-Shi'a, has called for attacks on the Shi'a as collaborators and even as infidels, and was likely involved in the attacks on Shi'a pilgrims on the holy day of Ashura. Even so, it is a condemnation.

May 12, 4:40 pm EST. Venezuela just asked U.S. military "advisors" to vacate their offices on Venezuelan military bases, including those at the armed forces headquarters of Fuerte Tiuna in Caracas.. According to Reuters, the Venezuelan Defense Minister, when asked why he had made the request, said, "Because they are still there." Apparently,
In August 2001, Venezuela's government asked the U.S. military mission to leave the Fuerte Tiuna site it had occupied for more than 50 years. But the mission continued to operate there, even through the coup the following year that briefly ousted Chavez.
Oddly, the U.S.-backed coup attempt (and continuation) has got Chavez suspicious about U.S. intentions. And the over-the-top imperial policies of the Bush administration once again generate a backlash that jeopardizes the comfortable base-level bipartisan imperialism that has built up over 50 years and more.

May 11, 8:00 pm EST. Reuters reports that
Spanish forces in Iraq refused a request, apparently from the United States, to hand over "dead or alive" an Iraqi religious leader if they encountered him, Defense Minister Jose Bono was quoted as saying on Monday.

"The occupying countries can engage in offensive actions. But coalition countries like Spain cannot participate in offensive actions and therefore we said categorically that we were not prepared to hand over dead or alive -- as we were asked to do at one point -- a certain religious leader," Bono was quoted as saying by Europa Press news agency.

Bono did not say if he was referring to rebel Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who has led an uprising against the U.S.-led occupation. He also did say who made the request, but appeared to be referring to U.S. forces who have vowed to kill or capture Sadr.
I was tipped off to this story by Juan Cole's blog, which also says that the Spanish refusal was predicated on their reading of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1511, passed last fall, which authorizes a multinational coalition under U.S. command. The relevant clause of the resolution says that it
authorizes a multinational force under unified command to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq
Of course, an invasion of Najaf to capture al-Sadr isn't exactly "contributing" to the "maintenance of security and stability in Iraq," so the Spanish had a pretty good case.

Cole suggests that this occurred in early April (the time of the request was not made clear by Bono in his recent statements). If so, it's interesting. The U.S. forces in Iraq love to throw around words like "cowardice;" Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt repeatedly suggested that the mujaheddin of Fallujah, who took on F-16's, F-18's, AC-130 Spectre gunships, Apache and Cobra helicopters, Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and much more, armed only with Kalashnikovs, RPG launchers, and small mortars, are "cowards." What is more cowardly than provoking a potentially huge crisis by shutting down al-Sadr's newspaper and firing at peaceful demonstrations by his supporters, then asking the Spanish to do the heavy lifting and invade Najaf to capture al-Sadr?

May 11, 7:40 pm EST. Just caught a segment on the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer. In the middle of a fairly banal discussion of wartime atrocities, in the context of course of the Abu Ghraib pictures, Margaret Warner suddenly asks one of the panelists (is that the word?), "Is there something different about Americans?" The amazing thing is, she's asking, "is there something about Americans that makes them less likely to commit atrocities?" Right in the middle of a discussion of what is clearly a massive scandal involving torture, rape, and murder, she conjures up out of thin air the idea that somehow this shows that Americans are less likely to commit atrocities than others. The fact that America fights more wars than all other countries put together and is thus more likely to commit atrocities of course is unmentionable.

This is a culture so bent on self-congratulation that it can't even discuss its atrocities without beating its chest about its superior morality.

May 11, 2:30 pm EST. More from the Iraqi Press Monitor. Abdul Basit Turki was the Iraqi government's Human Rights Minister. Along with the Minister of the Interior, he resigned over the assault on Fallujah.

Al-Bayan, the organ of the Islamic Dawa Party, reports that
Former Minister of Human Rights Abdul Basit Turky said abuse of POWs and detainees is still practiced in all American bases. Turky said he had warned US top administrator L. Paul Bremer of those violations after having receiving reports from the Umm Qasr, Airport and Abu Guraib Prisons where the inmates were abused. He added that he had more information about violations of human rights.
Of course, we know abuse is continuing. After all, the current head of the Iraqi prison system, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller (former warden of Guantanamo), according to Sy Hersh, authored a military report recommending exactly the kinds of techniques that were so infamously used in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Here's part of the transcript from Hersh's appearance on the O'Reilly Factor:
HERSH: This guy Taguba is brilliant. He could have made a living doing -- it's a credit to the Army that somebody with that kind of integrity would write this kind of -- it's 53-page report.

O'REILLY: OK, but Sanchez the commander put him in charge fairly quickly. They mobilized fairly quickly.

HERSH: No, look, I don't want to ruin your evening, but the fact of the matter is it was the third investigation. There had been two other investigations.

One of them was done by a major general who was involved in Guantanamo, General Miller. And it's very classified, but I can tell you that he was recommending exactly doing the kind of things that happened in that prison, basically. He wanted to cut the lines. He wanted to put the military intelligence in control of the prison.
And we know that, instead of hoods, they will now use blindfolds when interrogating prisoners.

But if we had some actual journalists in our media (aside from Hersh, seemingly the last reporter in America), they would be beating down Turki's door to find out what he knows, since he was supposedly in charge of human rights for the whole country of Iraq.

May 11, 2:10 pm EST. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting's Iraqi Press Monitor is useful for those who don't read Arabic but want to get a glimpse of what's being said in the Iraqi press. It's important to remember that, contrary to the model in the United States of "objective" reporting, in Iraq one has the at one time far more common model of publications that serve as mouthpieces for the various organizations -- SCIRI has its publication, Dawa has its own, and so on. There are also some that purport to be independent.

Al-Sabah (the publication of the Coalition Provisional Authority) reports,
Many Fallujans have expressed anger over pornographic pictures left by US soldiers in the city, especially in the industrial district. One resident told al-Watan that US Marines, before their withdrawal from the industrial district, left thousands of pornographic pictures and compact discs. Upon entering the city, Iraqi police collected the pictures and destroyed them. Lawyer Abdul Sattar al-Dulaimi attributed this to the immoral behaviour of the American soldiers aimed at defaming the conservative religious city.
It seems unlikely this was a deliberate plan to defame Fallujah (known as the city of a thousand mosques). It does, however, once again raise the question of this society's addiction to pornography, in both a specific and a generalized sense, and the connection of that with the Abu Ghraib pictures.

Of course, we know that the techniques used were deliberately thought out as those that would make it easiest to break Arabs under interrogation and that the orders for them came from higher up. See, for example, a Guardian article from Saturday, UK forces taught torture methods:
The sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was not an invention of maverick guards, but part of a system of ill-treatment and degradation used by special forces soldiers that is now being disseminated among ordinary troops and contractors who do not know what they are doing, according to British military sources.

The techniques devised in the system, called R2I - resistance to interrogation - match the crude exploitation and abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad.
But the glee on the faces of the soldiers, their cheesy "Hi, Mom!" waves at the camera, suggest something beyond military interrogation techniques, something that derives not from an understanding of Arab cultures and their pathologies but rather from pathologies of American culture.

May 10, 6:50 pm EST. Unfortunately, Haiti's virtually fallen out of the news. But check out this Times article by Lydia Polgren from several days ago, Deepening Poverty Breeds Desperation in Haiti. Unsurprisingly, things are worse after the American-and-French-backed regime change:
Difficult as it may be to believe, people here say, life in the poorest nation in the hemisphere has gotten worse in the past two months.
In more detail,
Mounds of garbage choke the streets. Electricity in the capital has been scarce for weeks. The police force has fallen deeper into disarray, and crime has spiked, including a rash of kidnappings aimed at wealthy businesspeople. The price of rice, the Haitian staple, has doubled in some parts of the country.
Now, what other country with a recent U.S.-instigated regime change does this sound like? No garbage collection, scarce electricity, an explosion of crime -- as Iraqis say, "This is the freedom." The only reason the price of staples in Iraq hasn't increased is that the United States has delayed dismantling the Saddam-instituted food rationing system with its network of 44,000 local food-distribution agents.

Of course, Haiti is worse off than Iraq because it is desparately poor, doesn't have oil, and never had the well-developed infrastructure that Iraq had. But the direction of change after the United States destroyed the existing order is the same. This isn't nation-building so much as wanton nation destruction followed by creation of a cronyistic gangster-style state that does the bidding of the United States but doesn't bother to fulfill the functions of a government (a project at which the United States is succeeding in Haiti but failing in Iraq).

But the important thing is, the mission is accomplished. Aristide has been ousted and replaced by compliant rulers. Just one of the many things Gerard Latortue has done for his masters is to drop what he called Aristide's "ridiculous" claim for $22 billion in reparations from France for one of its many colonial depredations in post-independence Haiti (see this post and this one for background on this) -- not that poor Haiti was ever going to get very far on collecting.

The United States is now moving to cement the transition by offering $40 million dollars in aid to be used for, among other things, "police support" and "strengthening democracy" -- in other words, increasing the repressive power of the current U.S.-backed government and manipulating the political process to keep Lavalas out of power when elections are finally held.

May 10, 5:55 pm EST. According to Reuters, Monsanto just decided to indefinitely scrap plans for introducing the world's first biotech wheat crop (Roundup Ready wheat) because of overwhelming opposition from wheat growers and wheat buyers, as well as environmental, religious, and consumers' organizations.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently put out a study showing that other GM crops -- corn, soybeans, and canola -- end up contaminating non-GM strains.

May 10, 11:40 am EST. For those of you in the Greater Austin area (or with friends in it), I'll be speaking tonight at 7:00 pm Central time at the Bass Lecture Hall in the LBJ Complex on the University of Texas at Austin campus. More details are here.

May 10, 11:38 am EST. Interesting article in the Post: Shiite Cleric's Militia Seizes Control of Baghdad Slum. The author, Daniel Williams, opens by saying
Gunmen and commanders loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr took over the giant Sadr City slum in Baghdad on Sunday, seizing control of police forces, municipal administration and schools and blocking freedom of movement in an area just five miles east of U.S. administration headquarters.
He goes on to conclude
With the quick takeover, which was completed at dawn, Sadr City joined two southern towns, Najaf and Kufa, now under the control of Sadr's militia.
This takeover may be temporary, as were the attempts in early April when the Mehdi Army took over police stations in Sadr City but were driven back by U.S. assault.

But it reminds me of one of the stark, overwhelming realities of the occupation, that hits you right in the face as you travel around Baghdad. The Americans may have a visible presence and indeed at certain times it was constant -- hummers in the street, tanks disrupting traffic, helicopter overflights -- but at the same time its presence is ephemeral and not conducive to any sort of meaningful control over the country.

The patrols mean nothing. They cause problems, people get killed, but the soldiers have no way of knowing or policing what's happening even in the shops on the street they're patrolling, let alone one street over where they never drive. And when even some people withdraw their implied consent to the existence of the patrols, as in Sadr City, Shuala, and to a lesser extent Aadhamiyah and Kadhimiyah in early April, it's hard enough even to set up a stationary presence, let alone use it for any purpose.

The United States can take territory but throughout the 13 months of the occupation it has set up no real way of holding territory. Its Kurdish allies in the north can hold territory because they have a legitimate popular base, but the United States cannot do it directly -- in the modern age, colonialism really doesn't work.

May 9, 4:15 pm EST. More on the diabolical brilliance of the Pentagon. Time Magazine has obtained an email that warns Pentagon employees about the Taguba report:
Those who have read the report should
Couldn't make this stuff up.

May 9, 2:45 pm EST. From Baghdad Burning, a "girl blog from Iraq," the last word on the occupation:
I sometimes get emails asking me to propose solutions or make suggestions. Fine. Today's lesson: don't rape, don't torture, don't kill and get out while you can- while it still looks like you have a choice... Chaos? Civil war? Bloodshed? We’ll take our chances- just take your Puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go.
May 8, 7:00 pm EST. A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted on Wednesday and Thursday found that six out of ten Americans still believed that the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib were "isolated incidents," the rationalization that all the pundits and spinmeisters led with as soon as the story broke.

The view was indefensible at the time; Seymour Hersh's story, statements from the Red Cross, claims from Amnesty International, and much more had already made the case clear. If it persists after Rumsfeld's testimony on Friday, then it will be evidence of yet more willful blindness.

But Rumsfeld warned the committee that the worst was yet to come. He said he had looked at the full array of unedited photographs of the situation at Abu Ghraib for the first time Thursday night and found them “hard to believe."

"There are other photos that depict incidents of physical violence towards prisoners, acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhumane," he said. "... It’s going to get a good deal more terrible, I’m afraid."

Rumsfeld did not describe the photos, but U.S. military officials told NBC News that the unreleased images showed U.S. soldiers severely beating an Iraqi prisoner nearly to death, having sex with a female Iraqi female prisoner and “acting inappropriately with a dead body.” The officials said there was also a videotape, apparently shot by U.S. personnel, showing Iraqi guards raping young boys.
This phrasing about a U.S. soldier "having sex" with a female Iraqi prisoner, which occurred originally in the Taguba report, is of course breathtaking evidence of sexism or rather some nexus between sexism and racism that is still endemic in the culture. This is rape. This is not a context in which there could be any meaningful notion of consent. This should be obvious. The only question is whether the use of this phraseology, and its unthinking transmission in media reporting, requires that the female prisoner in question be one of the Untermenschen or whether it might be used in other contexts.

Anyway, imagine video of a person being beaten nearly to death, a woman being raped, a corpse being desecrated, and young boys being raped. Will people in the United States be able to see this and still construct some convoluted rationale for our inherent moral superiority?

May 8, 1:20 pm EST. Check out the story of Nadem Sa'adoun Hatab, a 52-year-old former Ba'ath Party official, who died in the custody of U.S. Marine reservists at Camp White Horse in southern Iraq

Apparently, he was subject to repeated "beatings and karate kicks to the chest." One assault fractured a bone in his throat and he was left to die of slow strangulation lying in his own feces.

Apparently, Sgt. Gary Pittman delivered these repeated chastisements because Hatab "refused to follow orders."

None of the Marines spoke Arabic and they had no translator assigned to them.

What more is there to say?

May 7, 8:50 pm EST. One more index of U.S. failure to get Iraq properly under control -- oil futures just hit $40 a barrel for the first time since the 1991 Gulf War.

May 7, 6:10 pm EST. Rumsfeld has cracked repeatedly, lost his temper, and at one point in the House Armed Service Committee hearing was spluttering without anything to say. And this is when he is being repeatedly thanked, buttered up, and told he has a wonderful distinguished record and is a man of integrity. But anyway, he's very clearly revealed what to him is the real problem. Questioned about why he didn't know earlier the extent of this problem, at one point he said,
I wish I knew -- and we've got to find a better way to do it. But I wish I knew how you reach down into a criminal investigation when it is not just a criminal investigation, but it turns out to be something that is radioactive, something that has strategic impact in the world. And we don't have those procedures. They've never been designed.

We're functioning in a -- with peacetime restraints, with legal requirements in a war-time situation, in the information age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had not even arrived in the Pentagon.
Of course, the "peacetime restraints" and "legal requirements" is a joke. There is no standard of evidence and obviously no standard of treatment of prisoners.

But to Rumsfeld, the real problem is people "running around with digital cameras" and then leaking pictures to the media so that people would actually find out.

The most common theme in criticizing what's been done is that it harms America's image and it endangers American soldiers. No reflection about whether Arabs' image of America may be a lot more accurate than that of Americans.

May 7, 1:40 pm EST. The Senate Armed Services Committee is in the middle of live televised hearings about the Iraqi prisoner abuse. The much-maligned al-Jazeera, supposedly so biased, is airing those hearings live, as is al-Arabiya. Imagine CNN giving that much unanswered time to Iraqis.

Rumsfeld just snapped, under very mild questioning from Republican senator Susan Collins. I can't do justice to his outburst, so I'll have to wait for the transcript. Apparently, he's upset about the proliferation of digital cameras.

May 7, 11:35 am EST. A small success for Empire Notes and its readers. This is a follow-up on my initial post about Indian slave labor in Iraq. Late last night, I got an email saying this:
Please take a look at the story by David Rohde on page A14 of Friday's paper (5/7). We've been getting some mail from your readers, and hope this will address their concerns...

NYT foreign desk
And, lo and behold, there is a story, entitled Indian Contract Laborers in Iraq Complain of Exploitation. It's a lousy story and tries to place the blame on the Indian "coyotes" who round these guys up and not on KBR (which only holds the Indian laborers' passports for "safekeeping") or on the U.S. military. But then expecting better than a lousy story from the Times is unreasonable.

Thanks to all the people who wrote in to the Times. No word yet from the Post, though.


PS. I got a followup email from a clerk at the Times saying he was acting on his own initiative and does not represent the Times.
May 7, 3:30 am EST. You may have heard of the video of three Iraqis being killed by U.S. helicopter pilots in December, the third of them being clearly wounded and incapable of attacking. Robert Fisk recently wrote about it.

Well, you can see it here. From whatever I can see, none of the three men killed were attacking or able to attack the helicopter. The third man is clearly helpless. Warning: This is a real live snuff film. It's disturbing. The fact that it looks so much like a video game makes it if anything more disturbing.

May 6, 9:45 pm EST. The liberal war-hawks are still clinging to their cherished fantasies. Check out Thomas Friedman's latest column, Restoring Our Honor:
Mr. Bush needs to invite to Camp David the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the heads of both NATO and the U.N., and the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria. There, he needs to eat crow, apologize for his mistakes and make clear that he is turning a new page. Second, he needs to explain that we are losing in Iraq, and if we continue to lose the U.S. public will eventually demand that we quit Iraq, and it will then become Afghanistan-on-steroids, which will threaten everyone. Third, he needs to say he will be guided by the U.N. in forming the new caretaker government in Baghdad. And fourth, he needs to explain that he is ready to listen to everyone's ideas about how to expand our force in Iraq, and have it work under a new U.N. mandate, so it will have the legitimacy it needs to crush any uprisings against the interim Iraqi government and oversee elections — and then leave when appropriate. And he needs to urge them all to join in.
It's odd that Friedman's fantasy meeting involves no Iraqi political figures, but what's absolutely striking is that he seems to believe that some kind of U.N. figleaf can give a destructive military occupation "legitimacy." It's one thing to say end the occupation and ask for the U.N. to help oversee a transitional period leading up to elections, along with some sort of caretaker Iraqi government; it's quite another to dream about having the mujahedding lay down their weapons because there are French troops joining in the brutality and negligence of the occupation. He also seems to have no clue that nobody wants to join in the mess the United States has created and pay a price when it wasn't their fault to begin with. Come to think of it, Kerry has the same problem.

And on top of everything else, Friedman still clings to the central fantasy of the liberal hawks:
Let's not lose sight of something — as bad as things look in Iraq, it is not yet lost, for one big reason: America's aspirations for Iraq and those of the Iraqi silent majority, particularly Shiites and Kurds, are still aligned. We both want Iraqi self-rule and then free elections. That overlap of interests, however clouded, can still salvage something decent from this war — if the Bush team can finally screw up the courage to admit its failures and dramatically change course.
The Iraqi silent majority is not silent; it's saying, "U.S. Out!" It's also saying that the Americans are arrogant racists who commit crimes not so dissimilar to Saddam's. People like Friedman continue to claim that poll results showing that Iraqis are in favor of democracy are an asset for the United States, not seeming to realize that Iraqis are in favor of democracy instead of what the United States has brought them. Iraqis want elections; the United States wants to delay them. Iraqis want sovereignty; the United States has invented the oxymoronic phrase "limited sovereignty."

May 6, 1:30 pm EST. In a bizarre sense, the U.S. military is using the "cover" of the abuse/torture/degradation pictures to launch a significant assault on Najaf and Kufa. In the past 10 days, hundreds have been killed, the vast majority most likely members of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army.

The reason for the withdrawal from Fallujah but the renewed intensity in Najaf is likely a calculation that the Mehdi Army's base of support in Najaf is a minority and that other Shi'a clerics are increasingly uncomfortable with Sadr, while in Fallujah the mujaheddin were so obviously just townspeople defending the town.

The calls by some senior Shi'a clergy for Sadr and his people to leave Najaf and fight with the Americans somewhere else must have been taken as signs of sufficient isolation that a careful assault that spared the holy shrines but targeted the Mehdi Army could work.

Remember that the poor, downtrodden, unemployed Shi'a who form the Mehdi Army are exactly the ones who were supposedly going to be "liberated" -- now they are facing the ultimate liberation.

May 6, 1:20 pm EST. Yet more pictures, this time from Dagbladet, dating from April 25, 2003.

Iraqis suspected of theft forced to march through the streets naked

Iraqis suspected of theft forced to march through the streets naked

May 6, 2:20 am EST. Here's an excellent story about the torture (and resulting coma) of Sadiq Zoman, an Iraqi who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, by my friend Dahr Jamail of the New Standard.
May 5, 11:46 pm EST. More pictures, originally from the Washington Post. They have over 1000 pictures, which were common knowledge at Abu Ghraib.

Naked Iraqi man held on leash by female soldier

Naked chained Iraqi man with women's underwear on his head Naked hooded Iraqi man chained to bars

Iraqis stripped naked and chained

May 5, 9:20 pm EST. Check out this think piece by Washington Post staff writer Philip Kennicott. It's one of the finest commentaries on this whole mess that I have yet seen. Here's an excerpt:
The American leaders' response is a mixture of public disgust, and a good deal of resentment that they have, through these images, lost control of the ultimate image of the war. All the right people have pronounced themselves, sickened, outraged, speechless. But listen more closely. "And it's really a shame that just a handful can besmirch maybe the reputations of hundreds of thousands of our soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines. . . . " said Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Sunday.

Reputation, image, perception. The problem, it seems, isn't so much the abuse of the prisoners, because we will get to the bottom of that and, of course, we're not really like that. The problem is our reputation. Our soldiers' reputations. Our national self-image. These photos, we insist, are not us.

But these photos are us. Yes, they are the acts of individuals (though the scandal widens, as scandals almost inevitably do, and the military's own internal report calls the abuse "systemic"). But armies are made of individuals. Nations are made up of individuals. Great national crimes begin with the acts of misguided individuals; and no matter how many people are held directly accountable for these crimes, we are, collectively, responsible for what these individuals have done. We live in a democracy. Every errant smart bomb, every dead civilian, every sodomized prisoner, is ours.
May 5, 8:10 pm EST. Miller just visited Abu Ghraib and toured with reporters. Here's what they saw:
As Miller spoke to reporters in cellblock 1A, where the photos of Iraqis in humiliating positions were taken, five women inmates screamed, shouted and waved their arms through the iron bars.

"I've been here five months," one woman shouted in Arabic. "I don't belong to the resistance. I have children at home."

At a tent camp inside the prison used for detainees with medical conditions, prisoners ran out shouting at the bus of journalists. Some hobbled on crutches while one man waved his prosthetic leg in the air.

"Why? Why?" he shouted in Arabic. "Nobody has told me why I am here."

Another prisoner produced a bullhorn and read aloud a statement in English.

"The problem of the Iraqi prisoners isn't only what is written in the news," he said. "Iraqi prisoners need freedom, their dignity and their rights."

He complained of "random capturing from the streets," soldiers stealing property during raids on homes, "illogical questions with no relation to reality" and "mental and psychological interrogations for no obvious reasons."

Prison authorities did not allow the journalists to speak to or photograph the detainees.
With any luck, some of them will remember that they are reporters and get the story on those detainees anyway.

May 5, 4:02 pm EST. As the prison story continues to metastasize, the United States is being forced to make some changes. The latest, according to the Post, is that Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller (former warden at Guantanamo, now head of the U.S. prison system in Iraq), says that there will be dramatic reductions in the prison population at Abu Ghraib.

The story says that he plans to reduce the current population of 7,000 to at most 1500 or 2000. In talking with organizations in Iraq like the National Association for the Defense of Human Rights, I have routinely heard claims that Abu Ghraib's population is actually double that, about 15,000. Although those estimates were derived by a plausible method, it's of course difficult or impossible to say with certainty where the number is in that range.

Notice that these plans for rapid release of prisoners validate claims that have been made by Iraqi human rights organizations and independent journalists for many months, that the vast majority of people are held there for no real reason, with no standards of evidence applied.

May 4, 11:45 pm EST. The prisoner story is growing massively. Knut Royce has an article in Newsday that says 25 prisoners have died in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Iraq. Two of them were murders (including one by torture or "stressing") and another 10 are under criminal investigation.

Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba's 53-page internal report on prisoner abuse is on the web.

May 4, 10:40 pm EST. More updates on what is still the big taboo Iraq-related subject in the U.S. press -- oil. Several days ago, according to the Guardian, John Browne, CEO of British Petroleum, said that the company has no future in Iraq. He went on to blame this squarely on the continuing disorder in the country:
"We need a government, we need laws and we need decisions. We have not got any of that yet. A whole range of steps need to be taken," said the BP boss as he unveiled new record profits this week.

"It's not obvious to me you need foreign oil companies to do that [redevelopment]."
Today, the Guardian reports that Shell intends "to establish a material and enduring presence in Iraq." Shell, if you will recall, is still reeling from the revelation that it overstated its proven reserves by 3.9 billion barrels (20% of its total claimed reserves).

BP has had record profits and is writing off Iraq; Shell is restructuring, firing people, and generally flailing, and it is clinging desperately to Iraq.

Remember that BP has changed its tune. In October 2002, Browne was concerned enough about a potential grab by U.S. oil companies that he felt the need to issue a pointed warning:
"We have let it be known that the thing we would like to make sure, if Iraq changes regime, is that there should be a level playing field for the selection of oil companies to go in there if they're needed to do the work there,"
None of this means that oil is not at the heart of the occupation of Iraq -- it's the sole reason that the Middle East has been of such crucial strategic importance to the architects of U.S. hegemony in the postwar era. But,as I wrote about at length in my last book, although the tremendous profit to be made from owning Iraq's oil is a potential consideration, political/military leverage over oil as a source of influence over other countries is the heart of it. As, for example, in this famous quote from a 1945 State Department planning document that referred to the oil of Saudi Arabia as "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history" -- it is the strategic power that comes first.

Anyway, ever since the rise in armed resistance last summer, it's been clear that in order for the oil majors to deign to do major investment in Iraq they will need extensive guarantees (or complete pacification of the country). It is still true that the goal is a permanent massive U.S. military presence in Iraq, combined with the creation of a closely-held military client state government, in order to exert a whole new level of regional hegemony and control over the region's principal resource.

The fact, however, that BP is more interested in Sakhalin Island than in Iraq is an index of the failure of the United States in attaining its goals to date.

May 4, 5:50 pm EST. More of what Iraqis derisively refer to as "the freedom." Ismail Zair, the editor of al-Sabah, the CPA's newspaper, has quit and is taking almost his entire staff with him. He accuses his American corporate bosses of restricting the advertising they could take and off speaking to reporters about stories.

He says he and his staff are "celebrating the end of a nightmare we have suffered from for months…. We want independence. [The Americans] refuse."

It reminds me of this stinging criticism of the Iraq Media Network's TV operations (later christened al-Iraqiya) published in Television Week by Don North, who had been the senior TV adviser for the IMN. He cited authoritarianism and restrictions on press freedom as problems.

I wrote more about this, and what it shows about the basic attitude of the Bush administration to the media (as "information warfare," rather than informing the public or even propagandizing them) a few months back.

May 4, 11:05 am EST. The Times of India has picked up the claims reported in the Khaleej Times story that I mentioned previously. India's Ministry of External Affairs has questioned the U.S. Embassy in India about the details of Indians held in Iraq against their will and performing forced slave labor.

If you get a chance, please email Rajiv Chandrasekaran, head of the Washington Post's Baghdad bureau, and also email the Times's news desk and ask them (nicely) to look into this story.

May 4, 10:30 am EST. A little racism with your mid-morning coffee. From Richard Cohen, a moderate/liberal columnist for the Post, who has written a few decent op-eds about Bush:
Rumsfeld more or less agreed: "Well, there's no question but that . . . you can't have a city taken over by a bunch of terrorists" -- although almost instantly it was taken over by a fat Iraqi general, purportedly once of the Republican Guard. Grand history had become low farce.
It's a very little thing, just one word that has nothing to do with his point. Calling Saleh a "fat" Iraqi general. I haven't seen a picture of Saleh; he may be fat. But there is absolutely no way that someone like Cohen would, in a similarly offhanded manner, when the reference had no discernible connection to what he was writing, refer to, say, Norman Schwarzkopf as a "fat American general."

Cohen is probably no more racist than the average white American. And this incident is not some horrible crime that must be avenged. It's just a little insight into how easy it is for the dominant culture here to disparage the "other," especially if that other is both foreign and non-white.

I've tried very hard to attempt to communicate how much racism has to do with the over-the-top brutality of American soldiers in Iraq. That racism comes from a different part of the political spectrum and is much more overtly virulent. But it is part, along with this example, of a larger and more encompassing system of belief, expression, and action.

May 4, 9:20 am EST. A story from the Khaleej Times, the chief English-language paper published in the United Arab Emirates.

A group of 20 Indians, who paid an unscrupulous agent to get them visas to Kuwait, were instead left in Baghdad. They claim they were taken to a U.S. military camp in Mosul and held as slaves for nine months:
"We were slaves in the American kitchens. We barely got two hours of sleep. Any slip-ups and we were tortured for days,” Hameed said.

While Hameed alleged they were often used as shields when Iraqi militia attacked their camp, his brother Shahjahan said they were forced to cook pork despite being Muslim.

The men said they were not allowed to call or write home, but were told 12,000 rupees (268 US dollars) would be sent to India every month.

They got their chance to escape when their camp was attacked at the end of April. An Iraqi truck driver took them to Baghdad from where they travelled to Fallujah, Jordan, Doha, finally arriving in Bombay on April 28.
And these people are not even the "enemy" (also known as the Iraqi people). But they are Untermenschen. If true, then these allegations are likely the tip of another iceberg. Let's see if the U.S. media follows up this story.

May 3, 4:35 pm EST. The Los Angeles Times has published excerpts from Major General Antonio Taguba's report on abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and Camp Bucca in Iraq (the report mentioned in Seymour Hersh's article). Here's part of it:
I find that the intentional abuse of detainees by military police personnel included the following acts:

•  Punching, slapping and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet.

•  Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees.

•  Forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing.

•  Forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time.

•  Forcing naked male detainees to wear women's underwear.

•  Forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped.

•  Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and then jumping on them.

•  Positioning a naked detainee on a box [of meals ready to eat], with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes and penis to simulate electric torture.

•  Writing "I am a Rapest" (sic) on the leg of a detainee alleged to have forcibly raped a 15-year-old fellow detainee, and then photographing him naked.

•  Placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee's neck and having a female soldier pose for a picture.

•  A male MP [military police] guard having sex with a female detainee.

•  Using military working dogs (without muzzles) to intimidate and frighten detainees, and in at least one case biting and severely injuring a detainee.

•  Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees.

In addition, several detainees also described the following acts of abuse, which under the circumstances, I find credible based on the clarity of their statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses:

•  Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees.

•  Threatening detainees with a charged 9-millimeter pistol.

•  Pouring cold water on naked detainees.

•  Beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair.

•  Threatening male detainees with rape.

•  Allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell.

•  Sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broomstick.

Military Intelligence (MI) interrogators and other U.S. Government Agency interrogators actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses….

Sgt. Javal S. Davis, 372nd MP Company, stated in his sworn statement as follows: "I witnessed prisoners in the MI hold section, wing 1A, being made to do various things that I would question morally…. Also the wing belongs to MI, and it appeared MI personnel approved of the abuse." Sgt. Davis also stated that he had heard MI insinuate to the guards to abuse the inmates. When asked what MI said, he stated: "Loosen this guy up for us. Make sure he has a bad night. Make sure he gets the treatment." … Finally, Sgt. Davis stated: "The MI staffs to my understanding have been giving … compliments … like, 'Good job, they're breaking down real fast. They answer every question. They're giving out good information, finally, and keep up the good work.' Stuff like that."

Mr. Adel L. Nakhla, a U.S. civilian contract translator, [said], "They made them do strange exercises by sliding on their stomach, jump up and down, throw water on them and made them some wet, called them all kinds of names such as 'gays,' do they like to make love to guys, then they handcuffed their hands together and their legs with shackles and started to stack them on top of each other." …

The 320th MP Battalion and the 372nd MP Company had received no training in detention/internee operations. I also find that very little instruction or training was provided to MP personnel on the applicable rules of the Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war … [and] few, if any, copies of the Geneva Conventions were ever made available to MP personnel or detainees….

Operational journals at the various compounds and the 320th Battalion [site] contained numerous unprofessional entries and flippant comments, which highlighted the lack of discipline within the unit. There was no indication that the journals were ever reviewed by anyone in their chain of command….

Basic Army Doctrine was not widely referenced or utilized to develop the accountability practices throughout the 800th MP Brigade's subordinate units. Daily processing, accountability and detainee care appear to have been made up as the operations developed with reliance on, and guidance from, junior members of the unit who had civilian corrections experience….

The Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca detention facilities are significantly over their intended maximum capacity, while the guard force is undermanned and under-resourced. This imbalance has contributed to the poor living conditions, escapes and accountability lapses at the various facilities. The overcrowding of the facilities also limits the ability to identify and segregate leaders in the detainee population who may be organizing escapes and riots within the facility.

The screening, processing, and release of detainees who should not be in custody takes too long and contributes to the overcrowding and unrest in the detention facilities….

The Iraqi guards at Abu Ghraib demonstrate questionable work ethics and loyalties, and are a potentially dangerous contingent…. These guards have furnished the Iraqi criminal inmates with contraband, weapons and information. Additionally, they have facilitated the escape of at least one detainee….

In general, U.S. civilian contract personnel (Titan Corporation, CACI, etc….), third-country nationals and local contractors do not appear to be properly supervised within the detention facility at Abu Ghraib. During our on-site inspection, they wandered about with too much unsupervised free access in the detainee area…. Several interviewees insisted that the MP and MI Soldiers at Abu Ghraib received regular training on the basics of detainee operations; however, they have been unable to produce any verifying documentation, sign-in rosters or soldiers who can recall the content of this training.

The various detention facilities operated by the 800th MP Brigade have routinely held persons brought to them by other government agencies (OGAs) without accounting for them, knowing their identities, or even the reason for their detention. The Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib called these detainees "ghost detainees." On at least one occasion, the 320th MP Battalion at Abu Ghraib held a handful of "ghost detainees" (6-8) for OGAs that they moved around within the facility to hide them from a visiting International Committee of the Red Cross survey team. This maneuver was deceptive, contrary to Army Doctrine and in violation of international law….

In addition to being severely undermanned, the quality of life for soldiers assigned to Abu Ghraib was extremely poor…. There were numerous mortar attacks, random rifle and [rocket-propelled grenade] attacks, and a serious threat to soldiers and detainees in the facility…. Finally, because of past associations and familiarity of soldiers within the brigade, it appears that friendship often took precedence over appropriate leader and subordinate relationships.


During the course of this investigation I conducted a lengthy interview with [Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of the Army Reserve's 800th Military Police Brigade], that lasted over four hours, and is included verbatim in the investigation annexes. Brig. Gen. Karpinski was extremely emotional during much of her testimony. What I found particularly disturbing in her testimony was her complete unwillingness to either understand or accept that many of the problems inherent in the 800th MP Brigade were caused or exacerbated by poor leadership and the refusal of her command to both establish and enforce basic standards and principles among its soldiers…. Karpinski … blames much of the abuse that occurred in Abu Ghraib on MI personnel and stated that MI personnel had given the MPs "ideas" that led to detainee abuse….

Psychological factors, such as the difference in culture, the soldiers' quality of life, the real presence of mortal danger over an extended time period, and the failure of commanders to recognize these pressures contributed to the … atmosphere that existed at Abu Ghraib….

Due to the nature and scope of this investigation, I acquired the assistance of Col. Henry Nelson, a U.S. Air Force psychiatrist, to analyze the investigation materials…. He determined that there was evidence that the horrific abuses suffered by the detainees at Abu Ghraib were wanton acts of select soldiers in an unsupervised and dangerous setting….

Several Army soldiers have committed egregious acts and grave breaches of international law at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca, Iraq. Furthermore, key senior leaders in the 800th MP Brigade and the 205th MI Brigade failed to comply with established regulations, policies and command directives in preventing detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib and at Camp Bucca [from] August 2003 to February 2004….

May 3, 2:30 pm EST. The new U.N. role in the "transfer of sovereignty" in Iraq is basically that of providing a figleaf for continued U.S. control. The United States had to go to the U.N. just to find someone who could converse and negotiate with Arabs rather than dictate to them, and Lakhdar Brahimi is essential to them, but he is there to serve a U.S. agenda.

But the U.N. has not "taken over" the negotiations; it's been brought in to serve as an agent of the occupation. Its role is to use a little smooth talk and a little listening to others' concerns to sugarcoat the process of ramming U.S. desires down the throats of the Iraqis it is dealing with.

A recent article in the Washington Post acknowledges this:
Although Brahimi will take the lead, Blackwill has become his partner in the process and is likely to remain in Baghdad until a government is named, U.S. officials said. But unlike earlier efforts, the United States will keep a low profile.

"It's important that the U.N. be seen as an independent entity out there," the senior administration official said. "If he's seen as an instrument of the United States, it would undermine the outcome we wish to have."
Note well. It's not essential that the U.N. be an independent entity, but that it be seen as one and not as "an instrument of the United States."

It's very unclear, however, just who is to be fooled by this little charade. As the previous post indicates, even the allies and collaborators of the United States on the Governing Council are not.

May 3, 1:45 pm EST.One of the most open secrets about the occupation of Iraq is that even the collaborators on the Governing Council do not like what the Americans are doing. The most recent Iraqi Press Monitor, a daily digest prepared by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, quotes al-Adala, the newspaper of SCIRI (Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), saying that "limited sovereignty" is a farcical concept:
Statements by US Secretary of State Colin Powell that Washington will give Iraq an incomplete sovereignty is strange for sovereignty is either complete or there is no sovereignty at all. Sovereignty does not mean that a strong side imposes its dictations on the weaker one then says you are free to make the decisions you desire.
The newspaper of the Iraqi National Congress, al-Mutamar, says
The UN contradicts itself: it imposed unjust sanctions on the people of Iraq and now it sympathises with them. The dirty UN employees are double agents: they were spies for the Americans and also received bribes from the former regime. Now, al-Akhdhar al-Ibrahimi impudently said he would resign if US troops did not grant large participation for Sunnis in the next government. He refused to hold elections, claiming that the situation is not suitable, as if we have to wait forever because the situation will not get better as long as al-Ibrahimi and his American masters do not want that.
They're tarring the U.N. by saying they are lackeys of the United States ("al-Akhdhar al-Ibrahimi" is usually rendered in English as "Lakhdar Brahimi"). And this is from Chalabi's organization.

May 2, 5:45 pm EST. Check out this fascinating tidbit from billmon. A reader of his stumbled across a cached copy of the diaries of one of the private contractor/mercenaries who worked at Abu Ghraib. It sheds light on a few key points -- and has not been reported on in any newspaper. The power of Google strikes again.

May 2, 2:30 pm EST. Yesterday, the Daily Mirror in Britain published photos of British soldiers urinating on an Iraqi prisoner, beating him, jabbing him in the groin with a rifle butt, and more. Later, bleeding, with his jaw broken and missing numerous teeth, he was thrown off the back of a truck and left without medical care.

The story that went along with the pictures had a lot more as well. Apparently,
Weeks after the pictures were taken, a captive was allegedly beaten to death in custody by men from the same Queen's Lancashire Regiment. It is also alleged a video was found of prisoners being thrown off a bridge.
Furthermore, there was apparently the same kind of atmosphere of impunity and coverup that we've seen in Abu Ghraib:
Soldier B claimed after the alleged September beating troops were told to destroy incriminating evidence.

He said: "We got a warning, saying the Military Police had found a video of people throwing prisoners off a bridge. It wasn't 'Don't do it' or 'Stop it'. It was 'Get rid of it.'"
The article certainly makes it look as if beating Iraqis, even beating them to death, is not rare among the British troops. British military sources have claimed the photographs may be fakes; there have been no claims about the supporting testimony. The Mirror counterclaims that it has run "extensive checks" on the authenticity of the photos.

May 1, 8:30 pm EST. Seymour Hersh has an article on Abu Ghraib and the systematic torture and degradation of Iraqi prisoners that is absolutely required reading. In the magical way that he has, he got his hands on a 53-page internal report that shows that the offenses go far beyond those shown in the photos, both in severity and in breadth. A few highlights:
Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.
Numerous photographs and video were made, most of which have not seen the light of day. They did not stop even at the ultimate crime:
Two Iraqi faces that do appear in the photographs are those of dead men. There is the battered face of prisoner No. 153399, and the bloodied body of another prisoner, wrapped in cellophane and packed in ice. There is a photograph of an empty room, splattered with blood.
Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick, one of the defendants, describes a prisoner who was interrogated by "OGA," an acronym meaning "other government agencies" -- the CIA or its mercenary employees:
They stressed him out so bad that the man passed away. They put his body in a body bag and packed him in ice for approximately twenty-four hours in the shower. . . . The next day the medics came and put his body on a stretcher, placed a fake IV in his arm and took him away.” The dead Iraqi was never entered into the prison’s inmate-control system, Frederick recounted, “and therefore never had a number.”
And, in case anyone still had any doubts, this was a deliberate matter of policy. Said Frederick,
I questioned some of the things that I saw . . . such things as leaving inmates in their cell with no clothes or in female underpants, handcuffing them to the door of their cell—and the answer I got was, “This is how military intelligence (MI) wants it done.” . . . . MI has also instructed us to place a prisoner in an isolation cell with little or no clothes, no toilet or running water, no ventilation or window, for as much as three days.
The reason was simple; according to an earlier report, in Afghanistan, they first figured out the best way to "set favorable conditions for subsequent interviews" when dealing with Muslim men, in particular with Arabs.

The torturers got rave reviews from the intelligence agencies: "Good job, they’re breaking down real fast. They answer every question. They’re giving out good information."

There's a lot more in Hersh's article. The lawyer defending Frederick was involved in the defense over My Lai; once again, he will endeavor (and presumably succeed) to show that this was a widespread, systematic matter of policy, not the aberration of a few individuals. Why he will think this is in the least exculpatory I cannot imagine, but it worked for William Calley, who in the end spent a few years under house arrest and a few months in military prison for his role in lining up hundreds of civilians and machine-gunning them just the way the Einsatzgruppen did in the invasion of the Soviet Union.

And, just to show that the United States really understands the need to ensure basic human rights, the new chief will be Geoffrey Miller, the guy who was in charge of Guantanamo before. No, I'm not smart enough to make this up.

A year after Bush's famous "Mission Accomplished" declaration, the mission truly is accomplished. Nobody can even pretend any more that the United States has the slightest shred of credibility in the Middle East.

It's been a tissue of lies from the beginning, starting with the justifications for going to war, continuing with the claims about conduct of the war and occupation, and ending with the goals of the United States in occupying Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction, civilization and the Geneva Convention, bringing democracy to Iraq -- a bloody sham, the entire thing. You can read thousands of words of analysis on every aspect, or you can just look at those pictures.

Despite the facts, despite Hersh's story, the whole mess is still salvageable in the United States. A culture desperately looking for reasons to continue its hysterical self-congratulation (bad enough after the fall of the Soviet Union, but even more stomach-churning after 9/11) will not take long to come up with a redeeming story even for this -- these are isolated incidents, swiftly dealt with, they actually show how civilized we are because everybody else does this but nobody else punishes it, ...

There is literally nothing that could be done that would convince the Arab world or really any part of the Third World of that at this point, but the American public is always an easy mark for a new story about American exceptionalism.

If this new story is swallowed, it will be the loss of a "teachable moment" just as profound as the one after 9/11 and the one in the runup to the Iraq war. It should teach us something, not just about the people who committed these crimes, not just about the military and the paramilitary organizations that created the institutional culture behind it all, not just about the war and the fanatical militarism of the Bush administration, but about the country we live in and about our culture.

Yes, it's true that although the methods are those of Saddam, the scale of the atrocities is much less. But then it's also true that Saddam's methods were those of the Vietnam War, except that in the Vietnam War the scale of atrocities was much greater. The difference is not one of morality, but merely one of power, sophistication, and ease of control. The greater power of the United States means it can use superficially cleaner methods when it's more in control and that it is capable of much dirtier acts when it loses control.

It's a complex lesson, hard to understand and internalize if you live in middle class middle America, where nothing uncivilized ever seems to happen. But, difficult as it is, it's one we need to learn.

For Iraqis, the lesson is a simple one. Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.

May 1, 7:40 pm EST. Last month, traffic at Empire Notes was way up. April statistics: 81,722 unique visitors, 150,644 visits, 211,397 page views.

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