A Cautious Man
June 29, 2004
There's Got to be a Better Way
An article in today's New York Times, about William Buckley relinquishing his control of his magazine, National Review, contains the following interesting statement:
"With the benefit of minute hindsight, Saddam Hussein wasn't the kind of extra-territorial menace that was assumed by the administration one year ago," Mr. Buckley said. "If I knew then what I know now about what kind of situation we would be in, I would have opposed the war."What do we know now, about the wisdom of launching the invasion of Iraq, that we didn't know then? At the time, we knew that we did not have Security Council support, even though we were ostensibly enforcing Security Council resolutions. At the time, we knew that the work started in Afghanistan was not yet complete, work that had the support of a broad array of nations (including Muslim nations). At the time, we knew that Saddam Hussein's regime was effective confined within the borders of the "no fly" zone, and that northern Iraq was basically autonomous under Kurdish control. At the time, we knew that we had inspectors on the ground in Iraq (who left only when George Bush told them to get out, on the eve of war). At the time, we knew that responsible voices (religious as well as secular) were counseling against resorting to an invasion. At the time, we knew that an invasion would mean devastation - at least, we should have.
And what did our leaders know? A lot more, or at least they should have. They should have known that the justification for war was based on picking and choosing from intelligence - to build a case for war, not to decide whether to go ahead with one. They should have known that had little, if any, actual evidence to support a connection between Hussein and Osama bin Laden. And, at the very least, they should have known how difficult the occupation would have been (their top general had told them that the planning was inadequate, before they relieved him of duty).
One did not need a crystal ball, to see today's morass of continued violence without any discovery of WMDs, to have opposed the invasion.
June 28, 2004
Sometimes it Might Seem Like it Was Planned
So this morning, everyone was surprised by the early handover of sovereignty by the Coalition Provisional Authority, to the new interim Iraqi government. As reported in the news:"Iraqi political leaders said the transfer of sovereignty occurred days earlier than had been planned in an effort to thwart possible efforts by insurgents who may have been planning attacks." Who plans these bold moves? Is it the State Department, or the Pentagon?
How about a questioner during "Ask the Whitehouse"? From an online session last Friday, when Paul Wolfowitz was taking questions:
jon, from huntington beach, ca writes:[Edited 7/1/04 to add] And Mr. Harris sitting in at This Modern World also noticed this, and paints a word picture of what could have happened after that exchange.
I realize that Iraq is in control of a great deal of the government but why dont you catch the insurgents off-guard and turn full control over to Iraq now. What difference does a few days make? I have the feeling that they are planning some big attack on the 30th. Remove the significance of June 30th.
Let the Iraq deel with the insurgents starting right now.
That’s an interesting idea. The terrorists work by surprising us and we need to think about what we can do to throw them off balance. But their real target is not so much a date as it is the new government. Saddam’s killers and Zarqawi’s terrorists are already ramping up their attacks.
June 25, 2004
We Chose the Words, and Yeah, We Drew the Lines
I wasn't going to join the folks who piled on to Veep Dick Cheney, who apparently wielded a rarely-used transitive verb in the U.S. Senate when he told Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy to go "intercourse" himself. I wasn't going to mention how many supporters of the Administration had been shocked, shocked to learn that John Kerry had said that the Administration had "F***ed" up in Iraq.
But, not content to let the story die, it is now being reported:
Vice President Dick Cheney says he has no regrets about cursing Sen. Patrick "Leaky" Leahy with what the FCC deems a naughty and costly expletive if uttered on radio or TV.No word on whether there were high-fives and fist pumps after the Veep made his statement to Fox News, or whether Cheney followed it by tugging on his crotch and spitting.
"I felt better after I said it," Cheney told Fox News Channel today. "A lot of my colleagues felt what I said badly needed to be said."
Telling Leahy to go F himself "badly needed to be said"? What the Dick is that all about?
On a Last Chance Power Drive
Apparently, some dim bulb in the EPA Energy Star program got the bright idea that, in order to push efficient lighting, etc., it would be a great idea to make fun of alternate-fueled vehicles (you can see the video of the ad by clicking the links on the EnergyStar site). As described in news reports (as pointed out by Daily Kos):
In a 60-second version of the public service announcement, a woman named Suzanne says she is concerned about pollution and global warming, but laments the homegrown efforts of her husband, Mark, to cut emissions from the family car. Mark - nerdy, pudgy, harried - is shown rigging up their car, first with a sail, then a microwave contraption using huge satellite dishes, and finally a helium tank with a bulbous hose.Now, speaking as a new Prius owner, I'll give the benefit of the doubt to those clowns at EPA - I don't think that they did this as part of some plot to protect the auto industry from improved efficiency standards. But, I think the fact that this ad was even made, does show that we have some, well, ignorant people setting environmental policies these days.
June 17, 2004
Where the Bands Are
Now this is an idea I can get behind (from www.draftbruce.com):
Dear Bruce:Okay, maybe it's a little hokey, and an imposition on Mr. Springsteen to make such a demand. On the other hand, if you visit Bruce Springsteen's offical website, and click on the "News" link, he currently has reprinted Al Gore's speech of May 26 (which closes, for example, with "So today, I want to speak on behalf of those Americans who feel that President Bush has betrayed our nation's trust, those who are horrified at what has been done in our name, and all those who want the rest of the world to know that we Americans see the abuses that occurred in the prisons of Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and secret locations as yet undisclosed as completely out of keeping with the character and basic nature of the American people and at odds with the principles on which America stands"), describing it as "one of the most important speeches I've heard in a long time". So, if you wish, you can visit www.draftbruce.com and sign the petition.
We the undersigned need you.
Our country's leadership is in desperate need of change.
On September 1, the Republicans will hold their convention in New York City and will nominate George Bush for President. Many people will see this event as it will be broadcast on all the major television networks. However, an opportunity exists at that time to make it clear to Americans that they can choose an alternative to George Bush.
I have put Giants Stadium on hold on September 1 in the hope that you will lead the music industry in coming together and perform in a concert for change. Once it is known that you are involved, many other artists will want to perform with you. Together your collective voices and music will send a clear message to all Americans that our country needs their vote to create change. The event is called VoteAid: "Concert for Change" and we think that it has the potential to become the largest concert in history. We would like the money that this concert generates to go to support voter registration and participation throughout the country, but more importantly your decision to play at exactly the same time George Bush is being nominated will focus all Americans on the importance in this election for their future as well as the future of the world.
June 16, 2004
No One Here Knows How it Started
Does anybody remember why we invaded Iraq? Not the myriad reasons touted on cable shout-fests and by bloggering pundits, but the actual, official, legal reason approved by the U.S. Congress? The October 16, 2002 Joint Resolution, the basis for the President proceeding to invade Iraq in March of 2003, required as a condition that the President provide Congress with his determination that -
- acting pursuant to this joint resolution is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorist and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.With WMDs being scarce, that terrorist connection became even more important to the Administration. Most recently, that was laid out by the Press Secretary:
Q: Why hasn't the administration made more of the U.N. inspectors' report that says Saddam Hussein was dismantling his missile and WMD sites before and during the war? And doesn't that, combined with the now proven al Qaeda link between Iraq -- between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist organization -- unequivocally make the case for going to war in Iraq?Today, what has been confirmed by the 9-11 Commission? (Link is a .pdf)
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think in terms of Iraq and ties to terrorism, Secretary Powell outlined the former regime's support for and ties to terrorists when he went before the United Nations. Director Tenet has testified in open session before Congress about what we know about those ties. You heard the President talk about some of those ties earlier today in the Rose Garden when he was asked a question. So I think those ties are well known, and we have talked about them previously.
Certainly, when you look at someone like al Zarqawi, he was an individual who was in Iraq prior to the decision to go to war, and he is someone who remains in Iraq. And he is a senior al Qaeda associate.
Q: Is that why you went to war?
MR. McCLELLAN: And -- Helen, I think we spelled out our reasons why we went to war.
Q: I think you did.
MR. McCLELLAN: And certainly ties between the regime --
Q: There were weapons of mass destruction.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- ties between the regime and terrorism was a very serious concern.
Bin Ladin also explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to Hussein's secular regime. Bin Ladin had in fact at one time sponsored anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Sudenese, to protect their own ties with Iraq, reportedly persuaded Bin Ladin to cease this support and arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Ladin in 1994. Bin Ladin is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded. There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after Bin Ladin had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship. Two senior Bin Ladin associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.(Emphasis added) No connection whatsoever. When did the U.S. first realize this? Did we ever have any "credible evidence" that they were connected? Did the President ever provide any support for his determination that they were connected, which he was required to do?
June 15, 2004
A Restless Heart
Well, you've probably heard by now - Rush Limbaugh and his wife are ending their marriage (the third for both, apparently). Look, it happens to a lot of people. It's nothing to carry on about.
Nevertheless, it got me to thinking. I'm tired of hearing that the way to save "traditional marriage" is to ban any legal recognition of same-sex unions. I'm in a "traditional marriage", and I have never been able to figure out why it mattered at all to me if the couple next door were both guys. Sometimes I think that the whole "gay marriage" debate would be over, if every American realized that they do, in fact, know someone who is gay. It may be easier for some people to be against something desired by strangers, than someone you actually know.
Anyway, while a lot of Americans don't know a gay person, or realize that they know one, there are a whole lot who do know who Rush Limbaugh is. They invite him into their homes, cars and offices every weekday. They may listen to him with their children, and make approving comments about his opinions.
So, I have to ask the obvious question: What is a greater danger to traditional marriage - seeing two people entering and staying in a life-long relationship, or seeing someone you know and respect ending another in a series of marriages?
June 14, 2004
Some Folks are Born Made to Wave the Flag
A little good news/bad news on the Pledge of Allegiance front. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Ninth Circuit declaring that reciting "under God" as part of the pledge violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Court's decision was based on standing, however. That is, they decided that the plaintiff, Michael Newdow, did not actually have a legal right to represent the interests of his daughter (who lives with her mother, who has sole legal custody). That leaves the substantive issue to another day.
But the good news, as pointed out by No More Mister Nice Blog, is that this removes the pledge as an "election-year wedge issue". The bad news, as noticed by Mr. Balkin at Balkinization, is the intimation in the concurring opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas that the Establishment Clause should not apply to the states.
I'd be more worried about the implications of the Thomas view of the law, than about whether the pledge includes "under God".
Don't Get Caught on the Wrong Side of That Line
As reported this week by the Rome correspondent John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter:
A Vatican official told NCR June 9 that in his meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano and other Vatican officials, Bush said, “Not all the American bishops are with me” on the cultural issues. The implication was that he hoped the Vatican would nudge them toward more explicit activism."Not all the American bishops are with me", says the President. What would give him that idea?
Other sources in the meeting said that while they could not recall the president’s exact words, he did pledge aggressive efforts on the cultural front, especially the battle against gay marriage, and asked for the Vatican’s help in encouraging the U.S. bishops to be more outspoken.
According to sources, Sodano did not respond to the request.
We join with Pope John Paul in the conviction that war is not "inevitable" and that "war is always a defeat for humanity." This is not a matter of ends, but means. Our bishops' conference continues to question the moral legitimacy of any preemptive, unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq. To permit preemptive or preventive uses of military force to overthrow threatening or hostile regimes would create deeply troubling moral and legal precedents. Based on the facts that are known, it is difficult to justify resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature or Iraq's involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 11. With the Holy See and many religious leaders throughout the world, we believe that resort to war would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for the use of military force.That was a statement from America's Catholic bishops on the eve of war last year. More recently, they've commented on the "Torture, what torture?" situation.
The gravity of the threats we face tempts us to tolerate an ends-justify-the-means morality. The inherent justice of our cause and the perceived necessities involved in stopping terrorism can lead to a minimalist morality that accepts a "permissive" interpretation of international law, the "inevitability" of mounting civilian casualties in Iraq, and the "realism" of an over-reliance on military responses to the problem of global terrorism.Now, I know that the President was talking about other issues, such as same-sex marriage, when he seemed to ask that the American bishops get more "with" him. On balance, given the Catholic view on issues of war and peace, help for the poor, worker rights and the environment (to name a few), Bush may prefer for the bishops to keep quiet. Basically, the President seems to be all for having religious support to tell other people what to do, but can't be bothered with advice about how he should act. That just makes it more outrageous for him to be trying to claim that the "religious" vote should belong to him.
The moral challenge at this moment is to address the horrendous cases of abuse in a way that proves to the world – and, most importantly, to ourselves – that our nation has not succumbed to these risks. The universal condemnation of what has taken place at Abu Ghraib is a hopeful sign that, despite the unspeakable evils done to us and the terrible threats we face, our nation is committed to acting in full accord with fundamental moral norms and America's cherished ideals of liberty and justice for all. In doing so, we will uphold international law, strengthen the moral fiber of our nation, and best honor the memory of the victims of September 11th and the soldiers and civilians who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Or, as the good folks at Get Your War On have put it,
Remember when a reporter asked George W. Bush who his favorite political philosopher was, and he answered "Jesus Christ"? Do you think Jesus would have rolled over in his grave, if he hadn't risen from it?
June 09, 2004
You Better Look Hard and Look Twice
With all the torture authorization revelations now tumbling out, I think it's time to revisit other episodes in our "War on Terror". Specifically, a matter I've commented on here before, the case of Captain James Yee, the Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo who was detained on, and then "cleared" of, espionage charges. Back in March, I had reviewed the details of the case and his release. At the end of that post, I noted the official statement on behalf of the then-commander at Guantanamo:
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, Commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, dismissed all charges related to the alleged mishandling of classified information pending against Army Chaplain James J. Yee, ending an investigation that began with his apprehension at the airport in Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Fla., in September 2003. Citing national security concerns that would arise from the release of the evidence, Miller decided to drop these charges. Miller made his decision after consultation with government lawyers and intelligence officials. Although Miller considered Yee's offer to undergo a debriefing in exchange for the government dropping the charges, granting him immunity and supporting his resignation, relevant law enforcement agencies could not support Yee's request for immunity.(Emphasis added). Back in March, I had asked, "What 'relevant law enforcement agencies' wanted the Army just to drop this, and are they the same ones who told [the customs officer] to detain Captain Yee in the first place? And finally, will anybody in the news media bother to pursue any of these questions?" Now, however, a more pointed question must be asked: What did Chaplain Yee know about the treatment of the Guantanamo detainees, and were they trying to keep him quiet?
I am not normally prone to speculation like this. However, there are enough circumstances present to warrant including Chaplain Yee in the investigation. As noted in May:
The decision to jail Yee was made by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, then commander of Guantanamo's detention camp. He oversaw the espionage investigations of all four men. He has since been transferred to Iraq, where he is now engulfed in the controversy involving prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.If you remember, as previously reported, this is not the first time General Miller was sent to Iraq:
When the Army dropped six criminal counts against Yee in March, military officials said they did so to avoid making sensitive information public — not because he was innocent.
"The idea was to get a handle on what worked in Cuba and to apply it to Iraq," says one of the officials. "The trend [in Iraq] was negative, and they wanted that reversed, and they wanted Saddam's head on a platter."And as also reported, General Miller's visit to Iraq in August of 2003 resulted in some changes there:
Cambone tasked his deputy, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, with traveling to Guantanamo Bay and assessing whether tactics employed there that had successfully produced “actionable intelligence” might be transferred to Iraq.
Within a few weeks, Boykin had dispatched Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the officer who had implemented Gonzales’ "new paradigm" interrogation rules at Guantanamo Bay, off to Baghdad to figure out how to crack captive insurgents.
“There was a realization that the U.S. needed to be much more methodical about getting at the insurgent networks in Iraq,” says William Arkin, an NBC News military analyst and intelligence specialist. “There was a well-known understanding that these thousands of Iraqis who were being detained needed to be exploited, and Boykin definitely dispatched [Maj. Gen. Geoffrey] Miller to figure that out.
So Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the Coalition commander in Iraq, and his top intel officer, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, asked for a fixer. They got one in Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commandant at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the U.S. military had held more than 600 detainees for more than two years without charges. A Texan with a jutting jaw and thinning hair, Miller was nothing if not self-assured, much like his ultimate superior, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. According to a subsequent inquiry by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, Miller's task was "to review current Iraqi Theater ability to rapidly exploit internees for actionable intelligence." Translated into English, that meant to beef up interrogation techniques so as to break prisoners more quickly. Or as Karpinski puts it, Miller's plan was to "Gitmo-ize" the place, to teach the soldiers manning Abu Ghraib his best psychological and physical techniques for squeezing information out of detainees. That included using Karpinski's MPs to "enhance the intelligence effort." At a meeting of top military-intelligence and MP commanders last September, Miller bluntly told Karpinski: "You're going to see. We have control, and [the prisoners] know it."(Emphasis added) We now know more about the techniques which were authorized at Guantanamo, under the "Torture, what torture?" approach:
United States Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld personally approved four special interrogation techniques used on two al-Qaeda operatives held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who then talked about the terrorist network and its plans, the commander of US forces in Latin America said today.We are also learning now that other new "techniques" were approved, for use at Guantanamo - which General Miller could also have brought over to Iraq on his 2003 visit:
Army General James Hill, who heads the US Southern Command, declined to describe the techniques. He said other detainees might "figure out a way to resist those techniques" if they were disclosed.
But Hill specifically denied that police dogs have been used to intimidate detainees during interrogations at Guantanamo, contrary to a sworn statement by an Army intelligence officer under investigation in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.
In the statement, as reported May 26 by The Washington Post, Col. Thomas Pappas, commander at Abu Ghraib when abuses of detainees occurred, said the use of dogs was urged by Major General Geoffrey Miller in a 2003 visit to Iraq.
According to people who have seen the interrogation matrix, according to the official statements of the Pentagon spokesman, the 24 or so techniques that Secretary Rumsfeld approved fall far short of anything that they would consider to be torture. Now of course we have to take their word for it because they haven't revealed what those techniques are. But according to the Pentagon spokesman, 17 of those techniques are ones that already are used in the army. They're part of the army's field manual on interrogation that's been in place for years. Seven of them are not... four of them require Rumsfeld's personal authorization before they can be used.There are more details of the Rumsfeld approval issue, in a PBS NewsHour interview at this link (along with some enlightening transcripts of Attorney General Ashcroft's grilling in the Senate yesterday).
So, where are we? It seems that General Miller was authorized, directly by the Secretary of Defense, to use additional "techniques" on the Guantanamo prisoners. He is then dispatched to Iraq in August of 2003; we have seen what they did at Abu Ghraib, after General Miller's "visitation". That would warrant a further investigation at Guantanamo. As for Chaplain Yee, when he was arrested in September of 2003 it was reported that "the 'highest levels' of government made the decision to arrest Capt. Yee, who had counseled suspected al-Qaeda terrorists at Guantanamo for a lengthy period." He was detained for carrying out "classified material", but his case was dismissed when the government could not state what that classified material was.
Maybe Chaplain Yee was carrying sensitive information out of Guantanamo - in his head, based on what he saw, and was told by the detainees. Maybe Chaplain Yee has been silenced (for now) as a result of the Army's prosecution (including allegations of adultery and having pornography). Maybe other people know what was going on, and have seen what they did to Chaplain Yee. Maybe someone with some authority should look into this.
[Update on 6/16] I just noticed a news report from June 11:
Four Democratic members of Congress are calling on the Pentagon to investigate the Army’s treatment of a Muslim chaplain who was suspected of espionage and imprisoned for 76 days before all charges were dropped.I wish them good luck.
The Army’s decision to drop all charges against Capt. James Yee “raises important questions about the strength and legitimacy of initial assertions by Army officials that Capt. Yee had engaged in espionage and treasonous conduct at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and three other House members said in a letter to the Pentagon’s inspector general.
June 07, 2004
Killing Just to Kill
From TalkLeft comes word that the Iraqi interim government will restore the death penalty in that country. The linked article contains additional details, not mentioned in the excerpt quoted by TalkLeft. For example, the Justice Minister who stated that the death penalty was being revived, is very clear about who the likely candidate is:
"Under Saddam Hussein, there were some 120 crimes punishable by death, but we are going to narrow it down to those who, for instance, were responsible for mass graves or plundering the country's oil wealth," the minister said.Now, I would guess that any lower-down officers who deserted, or otherwise left the way clear for American forces to enter Baghdad, won't be subject to the same penalty. In any event, I don't know if this is just some way for the new government to show that it is "independent", or if this has some other implication (such as a potential return to the "good old days").
. . .
The justice minister, less than a week after his appointment, was adamant that Saddam deserved no less than the firing squad.
"Some people ask me if Saddam Hussein can escape a death sentence. For me, his case is very simple. He was the head of the armed forces and he deserted.
The US adviser to the Iraqi justice ministry forwarded a request from the coalition for the death penalty to be abolished, but Mr Hassan said he rejected it.Look, this isn't about shedding tears for Saddam Hussein. The "new Iraq" is supposed to be moving forward, becoming a modern democracy. The trend in the modern world is to move away from capital punishment. The region's most democratic country, Israel, abolished the death penalty, as did the most progressive Muslim country, Turkey. A return to capital punishment in Iraq would be consistent with the approach of "traditional" Muslim countries. In an informative article published in 2000, Professor William Schabas noted: "Although essentially all Moslem or Islamic countries retain the death penalty in their domestic law, practice varies considerably from one to another. Some, like Iran and Iraq, are enthusiastic practitioners, while others, such as Tunisia, conduct executions in only the rarest of cases. The religious argument is invoked frequently, yet the diversity of practice would suggest there is little consensus even among Moslems as to the scope of capital punishment." If we're trying to get Iraq to transform, then this is not a helpful step.
"I told him the social situation and the cultural level were not the same in Iraq and his country," he stressed.
"A sentence should contain a deterrent element. The harshness of a sentence and its deterrent element should be decided on the basis of local social values."
We can't know how hard the Coalition Provisional Authority pushed (if at all) to prevent the return of the death penalty. Unfortunately, the desire for revenge may have resulted in this situation. My own personal opinion is that, in a country where there has been, and may continue to be, so much death, the government should set an example and reject violence and death.
Of course, that's advice that others could take, as well.
When Saddam was captured last December, the United Nations and the European Union voiced their opposition to the idea of restoring the death penalty, but Mr Hassan remained unimpressed.
"There are still many countries like the United States that resort to the death penalty. Why shouldn't Iraq have the right to do it?" he asked.
My Electric Surges Free
I took delivery of my 2004 Prius this past weekend. I realize that I'm now part of a cult, complete with online gurus.
As I mentioned to my neighbor, while I tell myself that it's eminently practical for the type of drivng I do, it's also "cool". I haven't put much of a dent in the gas supply yet, so I don't know what my actual mileage is - I'll report back. In the meantime, the coolest part has been being able to push the "Start" button, and drive away silently before the gas engine gets going.
Way cooler than those guys in the new Beetles or Cooper Minis, imho.