Hamid Karzai was in Washington this week. He had the obligatory orchestrated lovefest with Bush at a White House press conference, with as much freedom of speech as he would have had if Bush had an actual gun pointed to his head.
It included this paean to Afghan independence:
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Mr. President, I'm here today to thank you for all that you have done for Afghanistan. And we are very, very happy. We are grateful. You sent the Vice President of the United States to come and attend the inauguration in Afghanistan. It was a tremendous honor for us to receive him there, to have him there. It was the manifestation of the commitment of the United States and yourself to the Afghan people to have that day attended by the Vice President. And we are very, very happy more importantly to have had the First Lady to visit us in Afghanistan. We were thrilled. The Afghan women were thrilled. The Afghan site were thrilled. And now you guess whose turn it is now to come to Afghanistan. (Laughter.) So we'll be hoping to receive you there very soon.] ...
The country is much greener than it was in the past few years. I thank you once again for receiving us here and for the support you've given to us all along, and will continue to do so. Thank you.
Shocked by the front-page story in the Times about U.S. forces slowly, brutally torturing two Afghan detainees to death, Karzai called for all Afghan detainees to be transferred to the custody of the government of Afghanistan.
He also called for more control over U.S. forces' operations in Afghanistan to be handed over to his government.
He also blamed the "international community" and, in particular, the United States lack of sufficient support for his government's opium-eradication efforts.
If Afghanistan was truly a sovereign country, then, of course, the least one could expect is that it would have the right to control of detainees on its own soil and to restriction of military operations on its own soil. Bush's response was to completely ignore Karzai's requests, saying only that U.S. operations in Afghanistan were on a "cooperate and consult" basis with the Afghan government.
Bush displays Karzai at the White House to trumpet the great democracy created in Afghanistan, introducing him as the first elected leader in Afghanistan in 5000 years (who was elected in 3000 BC?); at the same time, he makes it very clear that Afghanistan's sovereignty is a mockery and that it is no more than a colonial protectorate of the United States. And nobody wants to see a contradiction. Welcome to democracy in the 21st century.
My friend Jim Ingalls has just started a new blog, political conScience. He seems to be updating it a couple times a week.
He, along with his partner Sonali Kolhatkar (the host of Uprising, the radio show that started running my Empire Notes Commentaries), is a founder of the Afghan Women's Mission. Both Jim and Sonali maintain active engagement with work going on in Afghanistan and also keep up to date on the larger situation there.
Jim's blog covers a wide variety of posts, including some about science (he's a physicist).
He's just written a solid, informative analysis of the wave of demonstrations touched off in Afghanistan by Newsweek's reporting that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay desecrated the Koran).
BTW, from what I can gather, the problem with the initial reporting, which caused Newsweek to apologize and later to issue a retraction, was simply that their high-placed government source had said first that he read these claims in an official report of the U.S. Southern Command and later said he might have read the claims from some other source. So the problem is not with the report about the incident but rather with the exact identity of the source. Since recent military reports about torture allegations have been whitewashes, it would be surprising if these claims had made it into an official report. According to Calgacus, in any case, such claims are common.
Anyhow, Jim's analysis makes it clear that, as U.S. occupations continue and as abuse, humiliation, and torture continue, an almost inevitable effect will be to channel legitimate resentment and oppositional feeling into, unfortunately, destructive movements.
With regard to Afghanistan, he concludes, "It is important to see the anti-US protests as symptomatic of a real resentment, but without strengthening democratic forces, that resentment is likely to be channeled by reactionary forces, the warlords, drug lords, and the Taliban."
The "smoking gun memo" turned up by the Times of London, which details the British government's knowledge, as of July 23, 2002, at the latest, of the Bush administration's determination to go to war on Iraq no matter what has gotten remarkably little media coverage in the United States.
It includes information like this:
The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.
The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.
The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.
So even by that point it had been expressed that Bush had made up his mind to go to war, the "regime change" as a motive was illegal but that that was Bush's motive (not "disarming Saddam," as he said so often in later months), that all "diplomatic" efforts would be a sham. And even that the timeline of actions was roughly known (the war was later delayed from January to March because of Blair's insistence on trying to get a Security Council resolution). Note also the reference to the "congressional elections," an open recognition that timing of the drive was partly manipulated to influence the elections (as is virtually always true when the United States goes to war).
Earlier journalistic scoops had made it clear that the Bush administration was firmly resolved on war as early as March 2002, but this is the first document confirming the testimony of often anonymous officials.
The media watchdog group FAIR just recently put out a media advisory about the minimal coverage of the memo in the U.S. media.
Among the points in the advisory is that the Washington Post had not covered the story at all, even though its ombudsman had written acknowledging that it had gotten many complaints from readers.
Fortunately, that lack has been remedied. On Friday, Walter Pincus had a piece about the memo. As befits a subject of this importance, concrete evidence that Bush and Blair were involved in an illegal conspiracy to go to war no matter Iraq's response to political pressure, the article ran on page A18.
The State Department 2004 Country Reports on Terrorism came out recently. It states openly what what government analysts have been saying quietly since 2002: that we are in a "new phase of the global war on terrorism, one in which local groups inspired by al-Qa’ida organize and carry out attacks with little or no support or direction from al-Qa’ida itself."
It even admits that "WMD technology and know-how is proliferating within the jihadist community."
Most ominous, and most profound, the report says, "Foreign fighters appear to be working to make the insurgency in Iraq what Afghanistan was to the earlier generation of jihadists — a melting pot for jihadists from around the world, a training ground, and an indoctrination center. In the months and years ahead, a significant number of fighters who have traveled to Iraq could return to their home countries, exacerbating domestic conflicts or augmenting … existing extremist networks in the communities to which they return."
That's right. Iraq in the aught's is to the world what Afghanistan was to the 80's – with the United States in the role of the Soviet Union.
That first international jihad was created through the connivance of the United States, with the aid of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence. The United States started intervening in Afghanistan in July 1979, with the clear idea of provoking the Soviet Union into an invasion, as Zbigniew Brzezinskii admitted openly in a 1998 interview. By December, they had invaded, and the United States was poised to get what it considered "payback" for Vietnam.
$3.5 billion was spent in the largest CIA operation ever, with matching funds from the Saudis. Some of the money was used to take roughly 20,000 Islamic extremists from around the world and bring them to Afghanistan to be trained in sabotage and the use of explosives.
Among them was Abdullah Azzam, who in 1984 founded the Maktab al-Khidmat, the Bureau of Services, which created a database of foreign jihadis and helped get them their travel papers, experience that was invaluable later in getting jihadis into the United States. That organization was the base on which al-Qaeda, an organization founded by Azzam in the late 80's to carry the jihad out of Afghanistan, was built.
Those jihadis, for the most part, left Afghanistan with the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and went home – to found Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Armed Islamic Group in Algeria, and similar groups elsewhere. The civil war in Algeria that left 100,000 dead in the 1990's was one byblow of that brilliant decision by the United States; 9/11 was another.
With our penchant for learning from history, we have done it again – but worse. Afghanistan was a backwater; Iraq is central to the Arab world and the site of major holy places for Shi'a and Sunni.
What's worse, in addition to the motive of constructing an empire in the Middle East that controls or influences global oil supplies, there may well be another very particular motive for this reckless gambit.
Bush has often justified the invasion of Iraq by saying that we're taking the war to the jihadis before they bring it to us. As Ted Koppel said on Nightline recently, "It has clearly been a considered and deliberate policy of the US government to fight this war in Iraq so that we won't have to fight it here at home."
The State Department report says, "Iraq remains the central battleground in the global war on terrorism," almost as if the writers are proud of that, as if it's their handiwork.
Certainly, numerous Iraqis I've talked to are of the opinion that making Iraq the battleground is a central reason for the invasion.
Even if this policy made any sense, it would be criminal. Afghanistan lost 1.5 million people so that the United States could get payback; Iraq has lost 130,000 and counting. It's the kind of policy that devastates the chosen battleground.
Also, it makes no sense. The Afghan jihad in the 1980's led to 9/11; this one may lead in time to worse. You'd have to be a fool to think otherwise. Unfortunately, power doesn't merely engender corruption; it engenders stupidity as well.
Okay, You Can Have the Money, But Be Good
The Bush administration's $82 billion supplemental spending
appropriation, primarily done to fund the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq
(but with tsunami relief, "aid" to the
Palestinian Authority, and pork for the shipbuilding industry in
Maine and Mississippi, inter alia,
thrown in), has passed in final form.
It was a foregone conclusion,< and the lopsidedness of the votes (368-58
in the House and 100-0 in the Senate) was not encouraging.
But, Congress does seem, however tentatively, to have taken a stand.
From H.R.1268.PP, Section 6057a (you can search for the full text at thomas.loc.gov):
(1) None of the funds appropriated or
by this Act shall be obligated or expended to subject any person in the
custody or under the physical control of the United States to torture
or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment that is
prohibited by the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.
In 6057b, it specifies:
As used in this section--
(1) the term 'torture' has the meaning given that term
in section 2340(1) of title 18, United States Code; and
(2) the term 'cruel, inhuman, or degrading
treatment or punishment' means the cruel, unusual, and inhumane
treatment or punishment prohibited by the fifth amendment, eighth
amendment, or fourteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United
(1) "torture" means an act committed by a
person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict
severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or
suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within
his custody or physical control;
It goes on to define "severe mental pain or suffering" to include
things like threat of imminent death or threat to torture or kill
someone else, which certainly rules out the not uncommon practice of
"mock executions" (a phrase that can hardly do justice to the terror
induced by having a gun fired next to your head and knowing that the
person firing the gun would just as soon kill you).
Of course, this is the exact definition, and the exact section of code,
that Jay Bybee was working from for his infamous
memo for Alberto Gonzales in which he concluded that anything with
consequences short of "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or
even death" did not qualify as physical torture.
He also concluded that, in a criminal trial over torture charges, "if
the defendant acted knowing that severe pain or suffering was
reasonably likely to result from his actions," that did not in itself
constitute specific intent to commit torture, and thus the defendant
was not liable.
And, of course, the Bush administration steadfastly maintains that its
electrocution, beating people to death, and similar unsavory methods do
not constitute "torture."
Still, the explicit prohibition of "cruel, inhuman, or degrading"
treatment, including any proscribed by the Eight Amendment to the
Constitution, does seem to put some teeth in it. There's no way the
administration can reasonably claim that the methods employed are
alowed by the Constitution (famous last words, right?).
Of course, if it ever comes to a showdown, Congress would have to show
that the "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment was done with funds
appropriated under this bill, seemingly a difficult task given the
fungibility of money.
Overall, though, given the profoundly supine nature of this Congress,
this counts as taking a stand.
Note also what they did not take a stand on. The phrase "in the custody
or under the physical control of the United States" seems deliberately
designed to exempt "extraordinary rendition" of prisoners to be
tortured in other countries from any prohibition. Human Rights Watch
estimates that at least 100-150
prisoners have been "rendered" for torture.
And Section 6057a, clause 2, says,
Nothing in this section
shall affect the status of any person under
the Geneva Conventions or whether any person is entitled to the
protections of the Geneva Conventions.
Given that the United States is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions,
it shouldn't have been that difficult for Congress to stand up for
Remember the great groundswell of democracy in the Middle East brought
about by the enlightened policies of George Bush and the
neoconservatives? Why would you? After all, it already played its role
in abetting the propanda offensive around the Iraq elections in January.
Still, oddly enough, life goes on in those countries even after their
propaganda value for Americans is spent and we are meant to turn our
attentions to important matters like runaway brides.
Out of all the signs of emerging democracy in the Middle East, the only
one where the Bush administration could even pretend to be standing on
principle was Egypt. In Iraq, they had been forced against their will
into elections, then engineered a propaganda offensive to make a virtue
of necessity. In Palestine, elections, internally directed as they are,
cannot possibly impede the occupier. And in Lebanon, the United States
capitalized on the assassination of Rafik Hariri in order to try to
destabilize a regime in Syria that it sees as an enemy.
Only in Egypt was it apparently putting pressure on a staunch ally to
allow democracy and a possible threat to his rule -- primarily by
having Condoleezza Rice cancel
a trip to Egypt in protest of the imprisonment of opposition
politician Ayman Nour.
At the time, my speculation was that quite probably this was a game
played with Mubarak, whereby he agree to take a meaningless hit from
the Bush administration in order to serve its larger propaganda
purposes. At any rate, in this one case where there seemed even the
slightest sign of a commitment to democracy-promotion by the
administration (unlike Haiti, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.), it
didn't seem as if anything was actually going to change.
And, lo and behold, Egypt's Parliament has just
approved a new electoral law that, while nominally allowing for
Mubarak to be contested in the presidential "election" this fall, in
actuality makes it nearly impossible to contest him.
Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party controls 90% of the seats in
the lower house, the People's Assembly, so passage of the law was very
The key features of the new law:
Recognized parties in existence for over 1 year can field a
presidential candidate. The Muslim Brotherhood, the opposition group
with the largest mass base, has no recognized party and cannot compete.
Ayman Nour, one of the best-known non-MB oppositional politicians,
cannot run because his party, Ghad, is less than a year old.
In 2011, only parties with 5% or more of the seats in
Parliament can field a candidate. Currently, no opposition party meets
Independent candidates can run if they get the "support of
250 elected politicians drawn from the People's Assembly, the Shura
Council, which is the upper house of Parliament, and the provincial
councils in each of 26 governorates." The numbers are such that
Mubarak's party can make sure no independent can run.
The director of Kifaya, the pro-democracy umbrella group, says of the
new electoral law, "It is a return to a referendum, it is not open
elections." Kifaya is calling for a boycott of the September elections.
The Times article linked above, talking about the disappointment
engendered after the high hopes of earlier months, says that Mubarak
"fed expectations for real change when he said in an unusual series of
television interviews in late April that he would be perfectly happy to
win just 60 percent of the vote."
This is perhaps the biggest story in Iraq over the past few months --
the second biggest being the U.S.-engineered Ba'athist restoration in
the Iraqi security services, and the concomitant creation of a
repressive police state in which Iraqi human rights violations merge
seamlessely with American human rights violations. Third, I suppose,
would be the revelations about the scale of corruption -- where again,
the CPA and the current half-Iraqi half-American system are about
I haven't been writing about it much, hoping perhaps to wait until I
could capture it all. But, of course, the story continues to burgeon.
The three main arenas of sectarian conflict right now are the formation
of the government and cabinet, composition and operations of the
security forces, and acts of the Sunni insurgents. There are certainly
others, like Kurdish ethnic cleansing attempts in Kirkuk, Shiite
Islamicization of local government in the south, or the incipient
parcelization of Baghdad into armed camps based on sectarian
identity, divided no-man's-lands. And, of course, all of these
different threads tie into each other very closely.
I hope to address this in a more comprehensive way, but for now just a
snippet to show how complicated, confused, and contradictory Iraqi
Robert Worth recently profiled
Fakhri al-Qaisi for the Times. Al-Qaisi is one of the founders of
the new National Dialogue Council, an umbrella group of 11 different
Sunni political parties, united to exercise some clout in the new
Even though he is one of the moderates, he is clearly virulently
anti-Shi'a. Here he is complaining about the Shi'a politicians'
supposed marginalization of Sunnis in the formation of the cabinet:
"They offered us joke ministries," Mr. Qaisi
said in an interview in a
Baghdad hotel. "What will the resistance do when they hear of this?
They will send a car bomb."
There seems perhaps to be an undertone that this is somehow an
acceptable response, even though with Sunni holding only 17 out of 275
seats in the assembly, any cabinet seat given to them is because of
The article continues:
During a raid on his house last year, American soldiers
pregnant daughter to the floor, and she later miscarried, he said, and
his son was so frightened that he has become mentally ill. But Mr.
Qaisi seems far less angry at the American troops than at the Shiite
militia members who were also in on the raid.
"If the U.S. troops came alone, we would shake their hand,"
Mr. Qaisi said. "But they brought our enemies with them."
Behind the Shiite religious parties, Mr. Qaisi sees a darker
Iran. Like a number of other Sunni politicians, he has taken to calling
the Shiite leaders "Safawis" - an allusion to the Safavid rulers who
came from what is now Iran to conquer Iraq in the 17th century.
Most tellingly, Mr. Qaisi has a perception of Iraq's most
fundamental realities that is utterly opposed to that of the Shiites.
He and many other Sunnis believe that much of the terrorism ostensibly
carried out by Sunni fighters is in fact directed and financed by Iran.
He even says that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist whose
network often attacks Shiite mosques and civilians, is largely a front
for Iran's Shiite government.
Mr. Qaisi refuses to believe that Shiites make up 60 percent
population, the figure that has been widely accepted inside and outside
Iraq for a number of years. Instead, he believes they are closer to 30
percent - less, he adds, than Iraq's Sunnis.
During my travels in Iraq, none of the Sunnis I spoke to were anywhere
near as open in calling Shi'a the enemy, and many said quite the
contrary. But I did talk to many who wanted to question the extent of
the Shi'a population.
And certainly the central dynamic of the past year has involved Sunni
seeing Shi'a as a bigger enemy than the occupying forces and Shi'a
seeing Sunni as a bigger enemy than the occupying forces -- in addition
to Arabs and Kurds seeing each other as the ultimate enemy.
But what's really remarkable about al-Qaisi and yet very typically
Iraqi is that, although he holds these absurd views, all three of his
wives are Shi'a.
Reading this article reminded me of the time I interviewed an engineer
in Baghdad, someone quite well known to anti-sanctions activists, and
out of the blue he began defending Saddam's murderous Anfal campaign
against the Kurds to me. I got angry and started criticizing him and he
was then at pains to point out that his wife was Kurdish.
Another Sunni Arab, who did some translating for us, was vocal about
support for Saddam and about the superiority of Sunni Arabs; at the
same time, he had numerous Shi'a friends and did not pay attention to
Shi'a vs. Sunni when making friends.
As of that point, the sectarian prejudice, contempt, and anger was much
more of a political and much less of a personal thing. This was why
Iraqis could look at a history of severe conflict and say with some
confidence that civil war and a bloodbath was unlikely.
Now, the violence is becoming more and more personal. As it does, the
danger of Iraq dissolving into a welter of violence grows.
SENTRY: We spotted an Arab female about 100
meters below our
emplacement, near the light armored vehicle gate.
HEADQUARTERS: Observation post "Spain," do you see it?
OBSERVATION POST: Affirmative, it's a young girl. She's now running
HQ: What is her position?
OP: She's currently north of the authorized zone.
SENTRY: Very inappropriate location.
OP: She's now behind an embankment, 250 meters from the barracks. She
keeps running east. The hits are right on her.
HQ: Are you talking about a girl under ten?
OP: Approximately a ten-year-old girl.
OP: OP to HQ.
HQ: Receiving, over.
OP: She's behind the embankment, dying of fear, the hits are right on
her, a centimeter from her.
SENTRY: Our troops are storming toward her now. They are around 70
meters from her.
HQ: I understand that the company commander and his squad are out?
SENTRY: Affirmative, with a few more soldiers.
OP: Receive. Looks like one of the positions dropped her.
HQ: What, did you see the hit? Is she down?
OP: She's down. Right now she isn't moving.
COMPANY COMMANDER [to HQ]: Me and another soldier are going in. [To the
squad] Forward, to confirm the kill!
CC [to HQ]: We fired and killed her. She has...wearing pants...jeans
and a vest, shirt. Also she had a kaffiyeh on her head. I also
confirmed the kill. Over.
CC [on general communications band]: Any motion, anyone who moves in
the zone, even if it's a three-year-old, should be killed. Over.
Israel denies that there is any specifically authorized practice of
"confirming a kill" (which the company commander did by firing at the
child at pointblank range).
In other news, Congress recently approved Bush's proposed $200 million
in aid to the Palestinian Authority (which he tacked on, like the
tsunami aid, to the Iraq military spending supplemental), with some
the fine print of the document gives $50
million of that money directly
to Israel to build terminals for people and goods at checkpoints
surrounding Palestinian areas. Another $2 million for Palestinian
health care will be provided to Hadassah, the Women's Zionist
Organization of America, while the allocation of the rest of the money
is tightly prescribed.
Bad enough to give Israel money to build things for the Palestinians,
when their general practice is deliberately to destroy Palestinian
government buildings, but to give money for health care for
Palestinians to Hadassah is done purely to insult. Israeli soldiers at
checkpoints and the U.S. Congress have that in common.
Eli Stephens of Left I on the News,
while agreeing with me about MoveOn's opportunism regarding the Iraq
war and occupation, points out that my earlier post, where I hold them
responsible for the actions of Zack Exley, a former staffer, smacks of
That is, of course, true. I wrote hastily. What I meant is, given the
abundant evidence of MoveOn's opportunism on the war, dating from
October 2002 when it raised $2 million for four senatorial candidates,
at least one of whom, Jean Carnahan, had voted for the war, through its
abortive call of last year, quickly forgotten, for national protests
against the occupation, to its stunning silence of recent months, that
Zack Exley's working for the Blair campaign is the icing on the cake.
BTW, some of you may recall that Normal Solomon wrote a good piece
on this subject some time back.
Radio Commentary -- Democracy and American Culture in Iraq
My weekly radio commentaries are now being picked up by Flashpoints (which airs on KPFA
in the Bay Area, KPFT in Houston, and a couple of other places) as well
as by Uprising (KPFK in Los
A coherent picture is finally starting to emerge of U.S.-built
“democracy” in Iraq. A deeply postmodern administration that
consistently believes in symbolism over substance, and that seems to
have no recognizable conception of democracy, has built in Iraq exactly
what its worst critics might have predicted.
In some spheres, democracy has been reduced to meaninglessness; in
others, it has been redefined as corruption, repression, and lack of
We saw a worldwide orgy of media coverage over the undeniable courage
of Iraqis in turning out to vote, complete with purple-stained
Republican fingers at the State of the Union address. But for three
months, as politicians were locked in sectarian wrangling and refused
to form a government, we heard almost nothing. It’s almost enough to
make you forget that the point of those elections was to form that
government, which was then supposed to do something.
And now that the government has been formed, it is scheduled to lock
itself in even more intractable sectarian wrangling over the
constitution; meanwhile, no responsible Iraqi body will be addressing
the severe needs of the people.
We have a “democratic” Iraqi government that beats,
arrests, and intimidates reporters, routinely confiscates TV tapes,
and even arrests journalists for “insulting” politicians. Many
reporters say they refuse to cover the new Iraqi security forces
because of harassment; others have quit their jobs entirely. The
Baghdad bureau of al-Jazeera remains closed, as it has been for months.
Let’s leave aside the distressingly frequent killing of Arab reporters
by American troops.
The new system is ferociously
corrupt. Transparency International reports that Iraqi businessmen
universally complain about the need for bribery in all dealings with
the government; some say the level of corruption is an order of
magnitude beyond that of Saddam’s regime in the late years of the
sanctions. The report says the new Iraq could become “the biggest
corruption scandal in history.”
This comes after the massive corruption of the U.S.-run Coalition
Provisional Authority, which spent or committed over $19 billion of
Iraqi oil revenues, much of it to U.S. corporations, but has been
unable to account for $8.8 billion of Iraq’s money.
Initially, the administration had grandiose schemes of remaking Iraq in
the neoconservative image, with a government stamped “Made in the USA”
that had nothing discernibly Iraqi about it. Now that those notions
have collapsed completely, they have reversed course and for the past
year have been seeking the most efficient of Saddam Hussein’s
executioners in the military and from his dreaded Mukhabarat to destroy
their enemies for them.
They have started working
with informal militias, not under the control of the Iraqi
government, to carry out their most deadly missions. The most
important, Adnan Thabit’s Special Police Commandos, are drawn mostly
from the Saddam-loyalist Republican Guard. Thabit is being advised by
Jim Steele, whose last important job was working with El Salvador’s
paramilitary death squads.
In El Salvador, the United States at least had the shame to try to hide
its connections with the death squads; in Iraq, U.S. officers talk
openly about how these militias supposedly won’t feel the constraints
that Americans feel. Given that Americans beat detainees to death,
administer electric shocks, and carry out mock executions, it is not
quite clear what those constraints are.
Perhaps the flagship of the new Iraqi democracy so graciously created
by the United States is the TV show “Terror in the Hands of Justice,”
which airs twice daily with videotaped confessions of tortured Iraqi
resistance fighters. Where, even in the history of repressive police
states, have you heard of the like?
The show is Thabit’s brainchild, but the idea of demonizing the
resistance by saying they are homosexuals could equally well be his own
idea or inspired by the infamous techniques being used by American
soldiers in Abu Ghraib.
All in all, the United States has created in Iraq not the slightest
shred of representative democracy or liberal culture but rather a
twisted amalgam of Iraqi political culture under Saddam and American
political culture under Bush.
Usually, when we intervene, we say it’s to inject American culture and
democracy when really we’re trying to create a client state where
popular aspirations are repressed in favor of U.S. imperial interests.
This time, it seems, we actually have
injected American culture -- the narrowest, most bigoted form, which is
what dominates the country today -- into Iraq.
A couple days ago, Adam Nagourney had an interesting article
in the Times about American political operatives helping in Tony
Blair's reelection campaign. Among those mentioned were Karen Hicks,
field director for Howard Dean's New Hampshire campaign; Joe Trippi,
one-time campaign manager for Dean; and Zack Exley, who not only worked
on Dean's and Kerry's campaigns, but before that was on the staff of
I think this is indicative, not just of how superficial and insincere
the Dean campaign's opposition to the war was, but also of how fake
MoveOn's is. You could have excused their working for Kerry, who
supported the war and wanted to win the occupation, by saying that
Kerry was at least marginally less in favor of the war than Bush.
But now they're working for Tony Blair, who, on the other side of the
pond, is the one who pushed for the Iraq war, who lied about it, and
who supported the Bush administration in its premeditated
campaign for regime change.
Whatever connivance was involved in Lynndie England's plea bargain has
been undone, by a combination of a bolt from the blue from Charles
Graner and England's own stubborn incapacity to understand that she had
done anything wrong.
Testifying at England's sentencing hearing, Graner said that three
pictures he had taken, of her posing with a leash around the neck of a
naked Iraqi man were to be used as a "legitimate
training aid for
other guards." What exactly guards were going to learn from such a
picture was apparently not made clear.
Frustrated that statements supposedly made to support mitigation of the
sentence kept on verging on protests of innocence, Judge Col. James
Pohl stopped the hearing and threw out England's plea, admonishing her,
"If you don't want
to plead guilty, don't. But you can't plead guilty and say you're not
guilty. ... You can't have it both ways."
Lynndie England pled
guilty to 7 out of 9 original counts with which she was charged.
While she pled, the judge almost scuppered the deal when he questioned
her (according to the UCMJ, the judge must be assured that the guilty
plea is actually true).
From the Post article:
England told the judge, Col. James L. Pohl, that she was
Iraq as a records clerk with the 372nd Military Police Company, based
in Cumberland, Md., and had no training as a prison guard when the Army
assigned her to work at Baghdad's toughest prison. When Pohl asked the
defendant why she posed for the leash picture, she responded that she
had been told to do so by a superior.
"Did you question this procedure?" the judge asked.
"I assumed it was okay," England replied, "because he was an
military police soldier], he had the corrections-officer background. He
was older than me."
Pohl appeared troubled by her answer, noting that she had to
knowledge that her actions were wrong to be legally culpable. He told
prosecutors that "it's going to be difficult to make a photograph of a
lawful act into a crime."
Then, the lawyers for both the prosecution and the defense requested a
returned, England had changed her tone and her explanation, saying she
knew at the time that use of the leash "was not only morally wrong but
legally wrong." She continued, "I had a choice, but I chose what my
friends wanted me to do."
England went on to say that she had deliberately done
posing for other pictures, including one that showed seven naked
prisoners forced to form a human pyramid. "I knew it was wrong," she
said. "Who would morally do something like that in a U.S. prison?"
Now, it seems obvious that Ms. England is neither very bright nor very
reflective and had spent no great amount of thought on the moral
questions surrounding her conduct. She simply went along with Graner's
wishes, with peer pressure, and didn't have a care in the world about
what she was doing -- made all the easier by racist dehumanization of
the her victims.
She wasn't even smart enough initially to make a show of repentance and
understanding that what she did was wrong until her lawyers coached her
once again during the recess.
the Same Sun points out, her claim not to know about the Geneva
Conventions, while hardly surprising, has nothing to do with the issue
of knowing whether breaking prisoner's fingers, leading naked men
around on a leash, and administering electric shocks is wrong
But what really interests me is this. The article in the Post says,
England's defense team has been arguing for
nearly a year that her case
was part of a bigger picture, initially trying to get top U.S.
officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, to testify
at her court-martial about the nation's policies for handling and
interrogating detainees. They argued that England was simply doing as
she was told, and that as a low-ranking soldier she was not in a
position to question orders.
"Do you believe any of this conduct
was in any way encouraged by a chain of command?" he asked.
"No, sir," she said.
I assume that this about-face also occurred after the one-hour recess.
Now, put this together with the fact that the evidence against Ms.
England was, shall we say, rather graphic and hard to refute, and ask
yourself, "What was the plea bargain really about?"
Was it about evidential issues relating to Ms. England's crimes or was
it -- at least tacitly -- about an agreement to forget about
implicating people higher up in the chain of command, indeed to forget
about even subpoena'ing them?
It might be argued that prosecutors were actually worried that
England's defense would successfully present her as a mentally
defective person incapable of understanding what she was doing and get
her totally or partially exonerated on those grounds, but I don't think
that's how courts-martial generally operate.
The military officers who would make up the jury would know very well
that the decision had been made at the top that these few people in the
pictures were to be punished and would furthermore not want to cast the
military in an even worse light than it already is by agreeing that the
military recruits people who can't tell right from wrong and puts them
in charge of prisoners.
So, the evidence is far from conclusive, but the inferential case seems
to me quite strong, that the real terms of England's plea bargain were
about covering the ass of the military hierarchy.
This is much in accord with the entire conduct of the military in
investigating the proliferating torture scandal in the past year.
Indeed, I would say that England, Graner, et al., have been prosecuted
not primarily because of their crimes but because they took too many
Several days back, on the first anniversary of the televised Abu Ghraib
revelations, George W. Bush gave a press
conference to "explain" his Social Security plan by saying exactly
what he's been saying on every occasion since he first brought the
In the course of questions, someone asked him about the persistence of
the Iraqi resistance, and he said, "There are still some in Iraq who
aren't happy with democracy. They
want to go back to the old days of tyranny and darkness and torture
chambers and mass graves."
Not just on any day, mind you. On the anniversary of the first major
torture revelations. By the way, I just discovered a blog called Rummy's Diaries, whose
proprietor is systematically going through documents and news reports,
including some of the vast
trove unearthed by the ACLU, and compiling a chronology (past
entries are retrospectively updated as new evidence comes to light).
And after the destruction of Fallujah in November, followed by the
quick moving in of heavy equipment for "reconstruction" -- meaning,
bulldozing all the bodies off the streets and into, guess what, mass
graves. As I wrote about the April assault on Fallujah, they were
already forcing the creation of new mass graves because of
their bombing, but this time they actually made the mass graves
And yesterday, Andrew Card, Bush's chief of staff, was on CNN
denouncing North Korea's missile test, saying, "I think they're looking
to kind of be bullies in the world."
When Henry Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, Tom Lehrer
announced the death of satire. Reality, he said, had become a
self-parody; no longer could satire improve on it. Still true 32 years