Monday, August 27, 2007

Taking a Break

Gone fishing the week of August 27; back on Labor Day.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Criticizing the Brass

A journalist acquaintance sent a query via email about what seems to him to be a growing propensity of active duty personnel to speak out against the Iraq war “strategy” of the Bush administration and the tactics being used.

The latest example – and the one that sparked his query – was the group of seven enlisted personnel from the 82nd Airborne Division who were nearing the end of their 15 month tour in Iraq. My correspondent wondered whether there was a cultural modification in the military that was pointing to more public criticism of the chain of command. It’s an interesting question, but the answer is no. Any public criticism of the civilians in the Pentagon, the president, or the uniformed hierarchy will still be scrutinized for violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The seven enlisted personnel will not have to worry, however, because they were careful. To see what I mean, find their op-ed through the link below and then see my paragraph by paragraft notes as sent to my journalist friend.

1. defines tactics of each side – as outsiders who have been there too long, cannot win

2. talks about failure of the press in its reporting

3. doesn’t say who is making claims of success – remember, prominent think-tank figures have recently been in Iraq and made a splash in the papers and on TV when they returned. They (and possibly others) are wrong; contested areas overall are unchanged

4. describes all the groups in the fight and the difficulty in sorting them out

5. talks of questionable tactics, risks in training and arming Iraqis, and fear among civilians of the Iraqi security forces

6. illusionary “success” – Iraqi officers do not have control of their men who are loyal first to their militias

7. Same as 6, only describes Sunnis

8. questions where Iraqi loyalties lie; no political achievements

9. U.S. troops are in an untenable position with questionable “allies” rules of engagement and international law prevent “solving” ambiguities by unrestrained force

10. In judging security status, must ask Iraqis; American grandstanding is irrelevant

11. linking military surge to meeting political benchmarks a mistake – until there is a significant improvement in security will there be any progress

12. Shi’a are using the U.S. presence as a crutch while they organize for the post-occupation

13. Iraqi government is stalling on key “reforms“-- another way to label Bremer’s errors – which the Shi’a really don’t want to implement.

14. U.S. and other outside powers have accomplished very little In the way of rebuilding and jump-starting sustainable development. Iraqis are fleeing

15. After 4 years, no promises have been kept.

16. U.S. forces are an occupation army

17. Let the Iraqis take over their own affairs – U.S. is just in the way.

Note that no part of the chain-of command is addressed, not their units, not the generals in the field, not the Pentagon generals or civilians, no one in the administration or the White House. They discuss policy errors but again do not attribute them. The nearest they come to doing so is when they describe Bremer’s decrees on de-Baathification, disbanding the army, and the “federal” system for the government.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bush at the VFW Convention

Declaring himself “open-minded,” President George Bush earlier today outlined what was essentially a “stay the course” approach in Iraq in remarks at this year’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention.

As is not uncommon at such gatherings, Bush began with a recitation of what the administration had done for veterans and veteran organizations. With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he pledged to give the troops everything they need to fight and win – and give the returning veterans all the help they need to re-integrate into society.

What followed, surprisingly, was a lengthy and not always historically accurate description of America’s 20th century wars in the Pacific. Bush spoke approvingly of the transformations of post-World War II Japan and of South Korea after its 1950-1953 civil war into powerful free market economies and vibrant democratic allies of the U.S. in the great 20th century ideological struggle against communism. Both transformations were made possible by the ideals and the sacrifices of Americans who fought in these two wars, the same ideals and sacrifices on display in today’s Iraq.

The unacknowledged targets of the speech were today’s anti-war Members of Congress and the media. Unnamed doubters and nay-sayers of the 1940s and 1950s who opposed the whole notion of rebuilding and reforming foreign cultures were the vehicle for presidential refutation of those calling for U.S. forces to leave Iraq. Pointedly elaborating on just how wrong the “experts,” pundits, and press were, Bush recalled that prominent Americans said that Japan’s official religion (Shinto) and its imperial tradition were so engrained in the society and so anti-democratic that both would have to be suppressed before democracy could gain even a toe-hold in the political life of Japan. Neither was abolished, and today Japan is a strong ally in the 21st century’s ideological struggle against extremism.

A similar but shorter recitation about Korea followed. At its conclusion, Bush commented that 50 million Asians lived in freedom today because of the sacrifices of veterans, leaving an inference that Korea, like Japan, was a “victory.”

There was no such ambiguity when Bush turned to Vietnam, a war criticized by politicians from both main parties amplified by a defeatist media. He pointed especially to the theme, heard today with regard to Iraq, that the very presence of U.S. forces was part of the problem, not part of the solution. That, he said, was untrue then just as it is untrue today. But in 1972 the U.S. succumbed to that argument and pulled out of Vietnam.

And then came the presidential affirmation of more war, more death, more destruction for Iraqis, for U.S. forces in Iraq, and quite possibly for the U. S. itself: “The price of America’s withdrawal [from Indo-China] was paid by millions of innocent citizens.” And should the U.S. leave Iraq before the job is done, the terrorists will simply attack the U.S. homeland.

It is true that when U.S. forces withdrew from Vietnam and Cambodia, the communist regimes that took over inflicted a horrific price on the peoples of those countries. But what Bush didn’t mention was that the frequent incursions of U.S. forces into Cambodia weakened that government and made it easier for the Khmer Rouge to sweep to power. And lest we forget, it was the communist Vietnamese regimes that threw the Khmer Rouge out of power while the U.S. did nothing.

Bush pledged that for as long as he remained in the White House, the U.S. would not abandon Iraq like the U.S. abandoned Vietnam. He asserted that the surge had changed the dynamics on the ground in Iraq. As proof, Bush claimed that since the beginning of 2007, U.S. forces had killed or captured, on average, 1,500 al-Qaeda and other terrorists every month. Given this momentum, the White House would not do anything to interfere with “success.”

Bush ended by declaring that America’s moral position and political interests – freedom for the Iraqi people and liberty for all men and women in the Middle East – were one and the same and were shared by the Iraqi government headed by Prime Minister al-Maliki, “a good man with a difficult job.” Bush’s problem is he has only 18 months left to “win,” and the shorter the time left, the more insistent and close-minded he is likely to be – witness his criticism of the Iraqi prime minister.

For his part, al-Maliki simply rejoined “We care for our people and our constitution and can find friends elsewhere.”

Monday, August 20, 2007

Bird Brains or For the Birds

This will be short as I was out of the information loop for most of the day.
An observant relative forwarded a BBC story from “up north” about the ability of crows to fashion and use in quick succession “tools” to get at food.

Moreover, the researchers who hail from Canada, have taken some 2,000 incidents over seventy-five years of observed creative or new ways that crows get at food and developed an avian intelligence rating system.

At the top are crows and jays, both of which in my limited experience are rather unpleasant types. Next in line are falcons, with hawks, herons and woodpeckers scoring quite impressively.

One story, which is attributed to a Zimbabwe (at the time still Rhodesia) falconer but is not unique to that country, has a vulture sitting on a fence near a mine-field waiting for the unsuspecting domestic cow or wild buckhorn to stumble in and set off a mine.

Three points in the Canadian report are noteworthy:
- the most unpleasant birds are the most adaptable when it comes to “getting” for themselves;
- hunting species, both “domesticated” and wild, have to be highly calculating to intercept their prey in flight;
- parrots, the mythic icon of swashbuckling brigands, despite their relatively large brain, scored poorly.

Translated into human behaviors:
- the self- centered and greedy often are also the most demanding and pushy people on the planet;
- we go to great lengths to train soldiers to kill people and destroy things but fail to weigh the psychological effects arising from either repeated killing of enemy soldiers and witnessing the deaths of colleagues;
- those who talk but only say (and do) the same thing eventually are “outed” and eventually are ignored by everyone else.

When all three types end up running a country, it makes one wonder if the voting public aren’t like another species, now extinct in the avian world but not among humans – the dodo.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Jose Padilla Remade

“Paranoiac, surrealistic, dark, macabre, cynical, foreboding.”

These are the adjectives in a review of the 1962 movie “The Manchurian Candidate.” The film was remade in 2004. It played out in real life in Miami on August 16.

Set in the early 1950s after the Chinese had entered the Korean War, the movie is an exposition of the public’s macabre fascination about reports that the Soviets and Chinese Communists were developing methods of brainwashing humans and then, as on a tabula rasa, reprogramming them to commit horrific crimes – creating, if you will, a cadre of automata that, once set in motion, would stop at nothing to carry out their “program.” Worse, because these robotic victims would look and act “just like us,” they could re-enter society to await their instructions. And by the time officials realized (if they ever did) “who ” physically was responsible for a catastrophe, the deed would have been done and the perpetrator gone or dead just as his or her mind was "gone."

As it turned out, although unknown at the time, the U.S. government was “exploring” the same subject. But like other “sensitive” research projects in the “black worlds” of bio-medical and chemical substances, of spies and counter-spies, Washington’s interest – whether the work was done by or for the Central Intelligence Agency or the Pentagon – the programs were always presented as purely defensive, especially when an administration sought funding to initiate new lines of enquiry or to run covert operations aimed at learning what the Soviets and the Chinese communists were developing.

There were some skeptics. When from time to time doubts were expressed or questions were posed challenging the “defensive” intent of the U.S. work, the Pentagon would trot out its Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program to make its case. This “experience” – “instruction” is too mild a term – was given to military personnel deemed to be most susceptible to capture by the enemy in the performance of their military mission – inter-continental bomber pilots, long range reconnaissance patrol and pathfinder personnel, and super-secret specialized units such as Navy SEALs and Delta Force.

“Surrealistic, dark, macabre, cynical, foreboding” – these terms, along with “illegal, sadistic, immoral,” and others conveying complete disregard for the basic rights that every human being possesses – describe the non-defensive applications to which the years of Pentagon and CIA “defensive” research have been put by the Bush administration in its “global war on terror.”

Americans see themselves always on the side of “right,” always acting for truth and justice. They also assume that their government will likewise, in the main, adhere to what is right. The reason that Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the secret CIA prison system came as such a shock to many was the sheer extent of the Bush administration’s disregard for even the minimum standards of justice and humane treatment of prisoners and detainees as mandated in national statutes and international law – not to mention simple respect for another human being.

Now another name must be added to the list of those who were and may still be subjected to physical and mental torture in these prisons. Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested in Chicago on May 8, 2002 by the FBI, depicted as the central figure in a plot to detonate a “radiological” bomb, was declared an “enemy combatant” by President Bush on June 9, 2002 so that the government could transfer Padilla to a navy brig where he was (according to the White House) beyond the jurisdiction of the U.S. civil courts. For 43 months, he languished in strict solitary confinement in a 9x7 foot cell whose windows were blackened to prevent sunlight entering his cell. The disorientation from this tactic was reinforced by random periods in which the cell was illuminated all the time or left unlit, and further reinforced by clanging noises as guards would open and close automated doors on other cells for various time periods.

Almost two years passed – until March 3, 2004 – before Padilla’s lawyers saw their client again. By this time, Padilla was a broken person. He did not want to see his lawyers and refused to cooperate in preparing his defense. Another two years passed as both sides file motions and prepare themselves for an eventual trial. In October 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the president could not hold an American citizen in military custody indefinitely. The government transferred Padilla to a Miami civilian prison and subsequently charged him on January 6, 2007 with conspiracy to murder U.S. persons overseas and with providing material support to terrorist organizations overseas. The trial started in May, and on August 16, a jury found Padilla and two others guilty.

Also on August 16, Dr. Angela Hegarty, a forensic psychiatrist who, at the invitation of Padilla’s attorneys, interviewed him for a total of 22 hours last year, spoke on the “Democracy Now” radio program about her encounters with the prisoner. Hegarty found his reasoning, thinking, and memory powers impaired – conditions that are directly associated with and are the result of “extreme isolation for prolonged periods of time.”

Dr. Hegarty’s conclusion is chilling: “What happened in the brig was essentially the destruction of a human being’s brain….His personality was deconstructed and reformed.”

This, it seems, is a case in which real life has imitated art – with one glaring difference. In the movie, no one is accountable although the “bad guys” lose and justice is done.

In real life, no one is accountable either. But both Jose Padilla and justice lose.

(The full transcript of the interview with Dr. Hegarty, “EXCLUSIVE: An Inside Look at How U.S. Interrogators Destroyed the Mind of Jose Padilla” is on line at

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Liberia Doesn't Need AFRICOM

On May 2, the Boston Globe ran an opinion piece calling for the rapid negotiation and ratification of an International Arms Trade Treaty.

The author was Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, president of Liberia since the beginning of 2006 (and Africa’s first woman president). Her country’s story is that all too familiar one of coups and corruption that, in the Cold War era, U.S. administrations ignored in the quest for countries whose leaders could be bribed to oppose the Soviet Union. Liberia was an early recipient of the Reagan administration’s “low-cost” strategy of using military equipment and training as inducements to win support for U.S. policies.

But there was a potential “problem” of sorts; Liberia throughout the 1980s was ruled by former army Sergeant Samuel K. Doe who seized power in a bloody coup in 1980. Initially popular with the majority of Liberians, Doe also courted Washington and was rewarded as foreign assistance rose from $20 million to $96 million by mid-decade. But Doe’s rule became increasing brutal and his regime more corrupt – just as the end of the Cold War loomed and the U.S. cut back foreign and military aid. Unfortunately for Liberia, Doe’s death at the hands of one of many armed opposition groups did not end the mayhem. By the time the 13 year civil war ended in 2003, an estimated 250,000 Liberians had perished and the country was in complete ruins. With UN and other assistance, over the ensuing 12 months, 100,000 former fighters were demobilized and 28,000 weapons recovered and destroyed.

Given this history, one might think that Liberians would shy away from spending for military re-armament when so much still has to be done in the way of economic redevelopment and rebuilding civil society. Indeed, in her May opinion piece, President Johnson-Sirleaf herself unequivocally states that all the efforts being made to rehabilitate Liberia and reconcile Liberians with each other “will come to naught if the international trade in weapons is not controlled.”

Not so, it appears – at least if one only reads the U.S. State Department’s Internet site. It speaks of the desire to build “a professional, apolitical military” that would be one of the “cornerstones for building a stable and democratic Liberia.” Moreover, “standing up a reformed and professional Armed Forces of Liberia is part of the exit strategy for the U.N. Mission in Liberia.” To this end, in 2005 the U.S. exported nearly $96,000 worth of military equipment and services to Liberia and provided almost $3 million under the Foreign Military Finance program. The 2008 security assistance funding request for Liberia is now up to $16.8 million.

But there is more going on. This October 1, the Pentagon will formally “stand-up” a new unified regional military command: U.S. Africa Command or AFRICOM. For the first year, AFRICOM will be working in parallel with U.S. European Command or EUCOM, the regional command that currently is charged with “overseeing” events in sub-Saharan Africa. At the end of 12 months, AFRICOM will be fully functional. The question is “where.”

So far, none of the countries that have been approached as possible sites for a 1,000 strong forward headquarters have been willing to even entertain the idea. Most have been in the Maghreb – the tier of Muslim countries that comprise the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea from Tunisia to Mauritania. Any among this northern tier would be close to the band of weak or failing states that comprise the so-called Sahel, the area south of the mountains that delineate the Maghreb. East African countries bordering the Red Sea, and Gulf of Aden out into the western Indian Ocean, while willing to train and work with U.S. forces and the UN, have also turned away enquiries seeking space for a regional command headquarters.

Now, the Pentagon has turned its attention to another part of the continent – West Africa. The area in question extends from Cote d’Ivoire south and east around the “hump and then further down the coast. It is not only an active (and potentially expandable) source of petroleum (U.S imports 5% of its daily consumption from Nigeria), the intense violence that breaks out from time to time in the oil fields is the consequence of traditional criminality than terrorism sponsored or directed by groups claiming to be affiliated with Osama bin Laden..

So we are back at Liberia. Only now Johnson-Sirleaf is suggesting that Liberia would be just the place for the new Headquarters on a self-help basis along the line of “the Lord helps those who help themselves.” Yet if Iraq demonstrates anything, it is that in the 21st century, the very presence of U.S. nationals, especially armed soldiers in military uniform or official civilian representatives almost invites violent extremist activities – and does so with little if any regard for the lives of non-Americans who become “collateral damage.”

AFRICOM is to be different, according to the Pentagon, as it will do much more than train, equip, procure, conduct military exercises, and watch for infiltration by extremists and capture or kill any who enter countries cooperating with the U.S. One of AFRICOM’s core missions, on a par with military missions, is to coordinate with other U.S. departments and agencies a long term or “sustainable” development program aimed at lifting Africans out of poverty and war by helping them help themselves.

But if this latter is the goal, why is the Secretary of Defense creating a geographical unified command that will be the focal point instead of the Secretary of State increasing the size of the African desk in Washington, adding more African specialists to USAID both in Washington and on the African continent, and pushing for all non-defense agencies to fully staff all U.S. embassies? Africa is evolving its own standing security forces under the African Union as well as sub-regional peacekeeping organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States or ECOWAS. And while these need equipment and training, that can be done with less controversy and suspicion under the aegis of the UN.

If Washington really wants to change how foreign policy is implemented, it might start by not re-dividing the globe into military fiefdoms. During most of the Cold War, Africa was in turmoil because the two superpowers used it for proxy wars. The Bush administration sees Africa today as one more battleground in the “global war on terror.” Africa has had more than its share of terror in the 20th century thanks to the tons of weaponry poured into the continent’s civil wars. Yet when left to themselves, the countries of West Africa, including Liberia, declared and enforced a moratorium on small arms imports. And it worked.

Liberia doesn’t need more soldiers or the new weapons they will bring. Africa doesn’t need a new U.S. command to watch over it. If Bush wants to rearrange the world, I know a continent that could use help: Antarctica.

After all, as the ice floes melt, someone needs to rescue the penguins.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Iraq Security

“I don't want democracy! I just want security.”
Baghdad resident Mahmoud Mekki

“The army is worn out. We are just keeping
people in theatre who are worn out.”
U.S. soldier in Iraq

Reading the Los Angeles Times and the Observer (UK) in which these plaintiff statements are found, one can almost hear the cry for help that forms the context in each case.

Yet to read the statements and the reports of Members of Congress and academicians as they return from visits to Iraq (and Afghanistan), it is as if there are two Iraqs existing side by side in parallel universes, each totally oblivious to the existence of the other.

For Iraqis, the period right after President Bush’s January 2007 announcement of the U.S. troop increase brought some relief from the string of successive 3,000-plus fatalities per month among Iraqi civilians, most of whom were found in and around Baghdad. By March, however, those numbers began to rise again as the militias and death squads adjusted to the increased U.S. troop levels by shifting the methods and locations of their operations.

Much is made by the returning visitors of the “alliances” that have been struck with the tribal sheiks and other leaders of groups who live – and fight – in Iraq’s vast western al-Anbar province. Completely overlooked – possibly because the visiting dignitaries are too busy talking and are not hearing what is being related – is the fact that these new “allies” have decided that the quickest way to get the occupation forces out of their province and their country is to get rid of the foreign al-Qaeda-affiliated groups who have set up shop in Iraq to fight the U.S. and coalition. Once these extremists are forced to flee or are killed, there will be a “decent interval” for the coalition to pack up and start leaving. Should the U.S. not do so, the probability that these groups and tribes will start attacking western troops again must be high.

And yet, other reporting portrays General David Petraeus, the overall coalition commander in Iraq, telling congressional visitors in Iraq that the United States “will be in Iraq in some form for 9 or 10 years.” (The Hill) Listening to the generals who have been saying every six months for more than three years “give us six months and we can finish the job,” at least part of the “presence” General Petraeus envisions will be military.

Whose military, in what condition, and just where they will be located, remains up in the air. One analyst in Washington who writes under the name of Herman Mineshaftgap projects that if non-U.S. coalition forces continue to pull out of Iraq at the same average monthly rate that has prevailed since January 2006, they will be all out by February 2009, the first month with a new president in office.

What about U.S. troops? An American officer stationed in Mosul in the relatively quiet norther part of Iraq, seemed to summarize the level of Army and Marine Corps’ mental and physical exhaustion when he said that “We’re plodding through this….I don’t know how much more plodding we’ve got left in us.” (Observer UK)

When troops in the field reach that state, they are more of a danger to themselves and to each other than they are to an enemy. Moreover, at some unknown future time and place, some unique set of circumstances will combine to initiate a psychological event that could explode into the larger communiand se troops who re-enter “normal” society And they will be a danger to the society they re-enter at some unknown future time and place and in a manner that that cannot be predicted.

The other point that emerges in the post-Iraq trip news conferences is the nearly complete absence of references to what ordinary Iraqis like Mahmoud Mekki are enduring in terms of living under what is a virtual state of siege in their neighborhoods. In the first week of August, families in three different parts of Baghdad had electric power each day from the national grid for 15 minutes (Shi’a dominated area), 12 minutes (Sunni dominated), and 0 minutes (mixed). Neither electric power generation nor oil production has returned to pre-war levels under the occupation. In fact, Dr. Mineshaftgap has correlated increases in U.S. troop strength in Iraq with oil and electricity production and found that when U.S. troop numbers rose , the other two parameters fell and when troop strength fell, the power and oil output went up.

So, what are we doing talking about 9 or 10 more years in Iraq? Why, given the record of the past five years, should Iraqis even want us to stay? Ask the troops; ask Iraqis like Mahmoud Mekki.

And listen to what they say – really listen.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Guantanamo -- Again

The U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is back in the news this week.

Regrettably, why “GITMO” was in the news was not because the administration had a timetable for closing the prison camp that is the raison d’etat for retaining the base – even though the President, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Defense have all expressed a desire to see the prison camp closed down.

No, the “headline” news is that the government has finally completed the “combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) procedures for the “Gang of 14” – what the Bush administration calls “high-value” prisoners. These are the prisoners who had been concealed in the CIA’s secret overseas jail system to preclude “interference” by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) while the CIA or “friendly” foreign intelligence services conducted interrogations. Given the one-sided rules that stack the proceedings against defendants, it was absolutely no surprise that all 14 were designated “enemy combatants” since the only other possible designation is “not enemy combatant.”

Theoretically, this clears the way for these 14 to be charged with a crime and to stand trial before special military commissions created by the Military Commissions Act passed by Congress in December 2006. But the whole military commission trial process is in limbo because presiding judges in two cases brought earlier this year ruled the commissions lacked jurisdiction. The 2006 act empowered military commissions to try “unlawful enemy combatants.” But CSRTs, the tribunals that categorize detainee status, are limited to one of two rulings: a detainee is a danger to U.S. persons or interests – in which case the individual is an “enemy combatant” – or the person poses no threat and is not an enemy combatant.

In attempting to circumvent basic legal rights that all defendants have if tried within the U.S. military courts-martial system by substituting the military commissions for regularly constituted courts-martial boards, the administration ran afoul of international treaties as well as the U.S. legal system. One can anticipate that when Congress returns in September that the administration will press to correct the difference in terminology so it can conduct the trials of the “GITMO 14.”

Below the headlines, the Pentagon continues to struggle to free 80 detainees who are no longer considered to be a danger. Some do not want to return to their countries of origin because they fear they will be arrested as soon as they return – quite possibly simply because they are linked to the prison at Guantanamo. Some the administration does recognize would be arrested and could be killed – e.g., Uighurs who oppose Chinese repression in their homeland – but other countries are reluctant to take them in, again in part because of the GITMO connection. (The administration approached 100 countries before Albania agreed to take in five of 22 Uighurs.)

This week, arrangements were successfully concluded with Afghanistan to return five detainees to Kabul’s control and with Bahrain for one detainee. Whether there were – and if so the nature of – any conditionalities attached to the agreements returning the six to their countries of origin was not disclosed. But one of the impediments slowing the repatriation process is Washington’s frequent demand that the returned individual be incarcerated or be subject to police monitoring for a period of time. The Bush White House claims that 30 previously returned GITMO inmates were known to have resumed active opposition to U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The other relevant news is a change in policy by the new British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. In contrast to Tony Blair’s position, Brown is willing to accept five detainees that were permanently resident in but not citizens of Great Britain at the time they were swept up and sent to GITMO. However, Washington could end up wrecking this transfer by insisting on London’s agreement to keep the five in prison once they are back in Britain. The law lords are completely unimpressed by White House claims that the jury-rigged GITMO process dispenses “justice.” That means that even should Brown agree to conditions, he might be unable to carry through.

What is becoming more apparent with each passing day is that the Bush administration is going to hand its successor another sticky wicket in the form of some 200 detainees it is either unwilling to return to their countries of origin, cannot put on trial because there is insufficient “evidence” even for the tribunals and commissions to act, or cannot find countries willing to accept former prisoners.

It gives new meaning to the phrase “illegal immigration.”

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Oyez Oyez

This is a case when “National Security” seems to defy common (ordinary) sense.

About six weeks ago, I attended a meeting whose subject was the way ahead in Iraq. By happenstance, I sat beside a very “down-market” attired former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, which is why the following caught my eye.

In case you can’t immediately place the name, he was the one who determined that the pre-March 2003 “intelligence” that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire “yellow cake” from Niger was a hoax. If you still can’t place him, his spouse is Valerie Plame Wilson – she whose “outing” as a covert CIA operative by columnist Robert Novak eventually led to the trial and conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice-President Cheney’s former chief of staff, followed by a presidential commutation of the 30-month prison sentence.

Plame has been trying to get the CIA’s clearance to publish her memoirs. The agency, after an extensive review and back-tracking on original objections, agreed to let the memoir pass except for one item: the date Plame began working for the CIA up to January 2002, the earliest date the agency acknowledges she was an employee.

Plame and her book publisher filed suit against the agency in federal court for redress. They agued that the information was already in the public domain and, therefore, including it within the book would not reveal any classified information.

According to court documents, Plame had requested, before she resigned from the CIA, that the agency waive the minimum age requirement to receive proceeds from a deferred annuity. A letter dated February 10, 2006 from the agency’s Chief of Retirement and Insurance Services pointed out that the minimum age provision for starting the payments was statutory and could not be waived. The letter, on CIA stationary with no classification marking and sent via first class mail, listed the dates that Plame began work at the CIA and the date, under the law, that she could start drawing the annuity.

In January 2007, Representative Jay Inslee (WA) introduced a private bill to set aside the age requirement for Plame. Part of Inslee’s remarks on introducing the measure included the February 10, 2006 CIA letter with the employment dates, all of which became part of the publicly available Congressional Record (January 16, 2007, pp. E118-E119).

The agency’s argument, which carried the day with the judge, essentially was that it had never officially acknowledged in public that Plame worked for the CIA at any time before January 1, 2002. The February 10, 2006 letter on CIA letterhead was not a public document. The fact that the letter later appeared in the Congressional Record was not done with the approval of the agency. In a somewhat bizarre logic chain, the agency sent a letter to the Clerk of the House of Representatives informing the Clerk that the February 10, 2006 letter reprinted in the Congressional Record, although not marked as classified, did in fact contain classified information. But the CIA did not specify what information was classified nor did it ask the Clerk to take any action. Thus, from Langley’s perspective, even though anyone with access to the internet could get the information from the on-line Congressional Record, Plame’s employment record prior to January 2002 remained classified and she could not include it in her memoir.

Supporting documentation from the Deputy CIA Director concentrated on the need to protect “sources and methods” – i.e., human agents – using official and non-official cover and “front” organizations of the CIA that Plame may have used in her earlier work and that could still be extant. The documentation suggests that part of her covert activities were directed against terrorist organizations, which might explain why the agency is skittish about Plame’s work prior to the start of 2002.

In the end, however, the judge seemed swayed by the agency’s argument that as long as it does not officially confirm anything – even though it is in the public domain – there remains a degree of ambiguity that will give pause to others and, in so doing, offers some degree of “protection” from adverse reactions by foreign governments. In this regard, the classic example – hauled out once again – is the Cold-War era vignette involving the shoot-down over Soviet territory of Gary Powers’ U-2 just days before a much-anticipated summit in Paris between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower. According to Khrushchev, he was willing to let the meeting happen until Eisenhower not only acknowledged the incident but also said that he, not some underling in the State or Defense Departments, had approved the mission. For a head of state to admit in public that he had willfully violated another country’s sovereignty was too much a breach of diplomacy for business as usual.

Here again is a case where CIA claims of possible compromise of sources and methods may be more a cover hiding embarrassing lapses, including – given the date of Plame’s officially acknowledged employment at the CIA – ones that could have contributed to the success of four plane hijackings on 9/11 and the deaths of nearly 3,000 people. On the other hand, maybe there are sources that could be endangered somehow by “official” confirmation that would not otherwise be.

For those who are really interested, you will have to wait until the book is published and you can plug in the dates from the Congressional Record. Then you can be the judge and draw your own conclusions.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Reflections on Hiroshima Day

Sixty-two years ago today “Little Boy” was dropped in Hiroshima from the Enola Gay.

The number killed from that bombing on August 6 or from its effects in the ensuing weeks and months and years remains unknown. An early post-war random-sample survey by the U.S. Occupation forces estimated 66,000 died, a little over one quarter of the population – estimated at 255,000 on the basis of the ration records that somehow were not destroyed.

But the ration records would have counted only Japanese civilians. An unknown number of slave laborers, prisoners, and Japanese military personnel were also in the city but were not part of the rationing system. Some observers have posited that the actual population was 400,000, which at 25.5% fatality rate would mean 102,000 died.

Hiroshima police estimated in 1946 that almost 130,000 were killed or injured by the blast or subsequently died from radiation effects. Of this number, the police determined that 92.000 died or were otherwise unaccounted for at the end of 1945.

As more time passed, the numbers estimated to have been present in the city – and therefore the number of fatalities – grew, despite the fact that in the latter months of the war, the population fled urban areas to escape fire-bombing raids. Aviation author and journalist Daniel Ford believes that the early post-war consensus figure of 90,000-92,000 fatalities is probably as accurate a figure as will ever be determined.

On a new subject.

July 27th marked the 50th Anniversary of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the organization charged with overseeing the peaceful use of nuclear energy. It also is a key participant in attempts to enforce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty first signed in 1996. Trying to be the world’s watchdog charged with detecting and sounding the alarm when a country tries to develop nuclear weapons is a thankless job when the world community declines to respond or a major power threatens unilateral military action before the weight of the UN can be brought to bear

Despite predictions made decades ago, there are still only eight (possibly nine if North Korea actually has a weapon) nuclear weapons states. Iran hangs in the balance, but with astute diplomacy might not pursue a weapons program. On the other hand, the Bush administration is pushing its nuclear development agreement with India which has inadequate checks to preclude India diverting technology or materials to its weapons program. Congress may not act on the latest administration draft when it returns from its August recess, but pressure will undoubtedly be applied to move forward.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is believed to be building another plutonium reactor at its Khudhsb nuclear weapons site. And Islamabad has also raised the spectre of a new nuclear arms race in Asia if the U.S.-India deal goes through.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Buying Time

“The only way you deal with the threat we face from al-Qaeda or from Iran and these other places is to have a policy in place that has bipartisan support and that can be sustained through multiple administrations. So when I talk about gardening, it may be the next administration or the administration after that that harvests all this.”

Time. According to the cliché, it heals all wounds. But judging from the last few days, one suspects that the cliché might not hold true in non-western societies.

Time: that would seem to be the operative concept for the way ahead, at least from the perspective of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates after nearly a week in the Middle East visiting, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia and then, on his own, stopping in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

The purpose of the swing was to fire up lukewarm allies and neighbors of Iraq to take more – and more concrete – action that would contribute to quelling violence in Iraq. Although he did not visit Baghdad, Gates said the military “surge” had started to show results, and it was now time for regional players to intensify their anti-terror and anti-al Qaeda efforts.

Time: Eight years at most, possibly no more than four. This time line has driven the Bush administration's agenda to finish the 1991 war against Iraq and then, after September 11, to conduct the Global War on Terror. The White House had planned on drawing down the bulk of the invasion force by September or October 2003. U.S. forces never fell below 120,000.

Only 55 days remain until the mid-September status report from the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker is due to Congress and the American public. Little will change between now and then, except perhaps an uptick in the number of attacks by al-Qaeda-in-Iraq in the two weeks before Crocker and Petraeus report. One can therefore expect that Gate’s assessment presages what will be reported: progress on the military and security fronts; setbacks and missed deadlines on the political front.

There is already a distinct groundswell among ground commanders in Iraq against cutting force levels anytime soon. In fact, senior officers want to retain the surge troop levels well into 2008 and possibly into the beginning of 2009.

What seems lost in all this is exactly what the surge was to accomplish: gaining time and “breathing room” for the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to submit to the Iraqi parliament legislation dividing the oil wealth, organizing and protecting elections for provincial and local governments, and scaling back the draconian de-Baathification decrees that denied employment under the new regime to anyone who registered as a Baath party member.

But al-Maliki ran out of time. Parliament has gone on a month’s summer recess, congratulating themselves as they depart in limiting the recess to one month instead of the scheduled two.

Al-Maliki himself may be running out of time. While Gates was traveling in the Middle East, the largest Sunni party in the Iraq parliament announced it was withdrawing its six cabinet members from the government. This comes on top of the on-and-off boycott of cabinet meetings by ministers from Moqtada al-Sadr's faction.

The basic deficiency running through all these events is the complete absence of trust – a condition that takes time to develop but one which is lost in seconds. In Iraq there is no trust among and within the sectarian, ethnic, and tribal factions. And this in turn precludes the formation of a viable national government capable of providing public security and routine services to the population.

The people are voting with their feet an estimated 60,000 a month. For many, fleeing is all they have time and strength to do if they are to survive.

Secretary Gates' reference to himself as a gardener calls to mind Peter Seller's role as Chauncey (or Chance) the gardener in the movie "Being There." Sellers portrays a simplistic, innocent man who has lived a completely sheltered life who, on the death of his benefactor, is thrown on on the street. A minor accident propels him into high society where his simple observations of the rhythms of life in the garden are interpreted as pearls of wisdom by rich and powerful people.

Time in the form of death threw Chauncey into the rush of the clock, but he in his simplicity took no notice. For in the garden, all is well – and always will be well.

Unfortunately, Iraq is not a garden and Secretary Gates is not Chauncey.
That much time there is not.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

July War Statistics

Last Monday’s New York Times contained an op-ed piece by two Brookings Institution scholars, Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, who have, in varying degree, been critical of the war in Iraq.

The two men had just returned from an eight-day trip to Iraq to get a close-in look at the effects (if any) of the Bush troop “surge” first announced on January 10th but took until mid-June to get the nearly 30,000 additional U.S. soldiers and Marines into Iraq. Apparently, if O’Hanlon and Pollack are to be believed, the tide of battle is shifting in favor of the U.S. Why? Because the foreign fighters and al-Qaeda-in-Iraq “imports” have forgotten the first rule of an insurgency: keep in the good graces of the local power brokers – in this case, the sheiks.

The two scholars noted the fall-off of U.S. fatalities in Iraq during the month of July, the first full month after all the troops were in place. Whereas the U.S. had endured more than 100 fatalities in each of the previous three months, July’s total was “only” 78, a drop of 30 percent from the April-June average.

They also found U.S. troop morale higher than during previous visits, a change they said that reflected a sense that the coalition forces and the Iraqi police and army were finally making progress against the militias, foreign fighters, death squads, and others who attacked the security apparatus.

What was striking about the op-ed was its focus on the U.S. perceptions of the problem, the change in tactics brought by the new coalition commander, General David Petraeus.

This is all well and good, but to draw any conclusion from these and other heretofore rare experiences (e.g., walking down a street in Ramadi without body armor) misses the fundamental point: what matters is the experiences and the sense of security engendered by Iraqi forces army and police units among the Iraqis who have hung on in their own homes despite the daily threats and the daily bombings.

And while the “new” tactics may seem to be working, one must never lose site of the fact that there is no military solution for Iraq’s impasse. The necessary political component of strategy – a political reconciliation of the factions and sustainable progress on the 18 benchmarks the Iraqis set for themselves – has remained stuck on dead center.

So the numbers:

U.S. fatalities in July: 78, for a total of 3,657 since March 19, 2003 , of whom 78 are women and 116 died of self-inflicted wounds. U.S. wounded total 25, 558. Four soldiers are missing.

UK fatalities increased by 8 in July to 164; other coalition countries have lost 129 soldiers in Iraq. Of these latter figures, UK female deaths stand at 5 while Ukraine has lost one woman among its 20 deaths.

Iraqi civilian deaths in July, based on informal totals from the various Iraqi ministries, were 1,652,an increase of 30 percent over June – offsetting almost exactly the 30 percent decrease in U.S. fatalities. Another 232 Iraqis in the security forces also were killed in July. Since January 2005, at least 42,195 Iraqis have been reported killed

As for monetary costs, the Government Accountability Office released an estimate that put direct war costs at $1 trillion. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction reported that the Pentagon could not locate or otherwise account for 190,000 small arms given to Iraq police and army in 2004-2005. This is part of an overall sum of $19.2 billion in equipment sent to Iraq that is missing. The Inspector General called the corruption epidemic among Iraqis a “second insurgency.”

Iraqis in Baghdad still have to live with one to two hours of electricity per day. The World Bank estimates that repairing – better yet rebuilding – the electricity grid in Iraq will cost $27 billion; so far the U.S. has invested $4 billion.

Over in Afghanistan, the 12 U.S. fatalities in July raised the total for the year to 63 and fore Operation Enduring Freedom to 420. Coalition forces suffered 17 fatalities in July, the highest monthly total for 2007. This puts their total for the year to date at 66 and for the war at 225.