Saturday, February 10, 2007  

Your silence will not protect you...

Robert Fisk on why silence reigns in some corners of the Middle East:
Just as they are silent now over the mutual killings in Iraq. Sure, the mass killings of Iraq would not have occurred if we hadn't invaded the country. And I do suspect a few "hidden hands" behind the civil conflict in a nation which never before broke apart. In Algeria, the French spent a lot of time in the early 1960s persuading - quite successfully - their FLN and ALN enemies to murder each other. But where are the sheikhs of Al-Azhar and the great Arabian kingdoms when the Iraqi dead are fished out of the Tigris and cut down in their thousands in Baghdad, Kerbala, Baquba? They, too, are silent.

Not a word of criticism. Not a hint of concern. Not a scintilla (an Enoch Powell word, this) of sympathy. An Israeli bombardment of Lebanon? Even an Israeli invasion? That's a war crime - and the Arabs are right, the Israelis do commit war crimes. I saw the evidence of quite a few last summer. But when does Arab blood become less sacred? Why, when it is shed by Arabs. It's not just a failure of self-criticism in the Arab world. In a landscape ruled by monsters whom we in the West have long supported, criticism of any kind is a dodgy undertaking. But can there not be one small sermon of reprobation for what Iraqi Muslims are doing to Iraqi Muslims?

Of course, but the real problem the Arabs now face is that their lands have been overrun and effectively occupied by Western armies. I worked out a few weeks ago that, per head of population - and the world was smaller in the 12th century - there are now about 22 times more Western soldiers in Muslim lands than there were at the time of the Crusades. How do you strike back at these legions and drive them out? Brutally and most terribly, the Iraqis have shown how. I used to say the future of the Bush administration will be decided in Iraq, not in Washington. And this now appears to be true.

(read the rest)


Jr. Caligula reads (gasp!) a book...

And amazingly enough, one for which there are no cliff notes, but, as the gods of irony would have it- a movie.

From the British Independent (why do they always know all the news?), comes a news item in which Shrub is seen (caught?) reading a book, not Anna Nicole Smith, but the way in which the French waged war in Algeria during the bloody war for independence that cost almost a million Algerian lives and which the French...lost.

As usual, enlightenment, if one could call it that, or at least some semblance of self-awareness, comes late to the present Administration. Perhaps we should be grateful that it comes at all.

The president has been reading Alistaire Horne's recent book, 'A Savage War of Peace" about a conflict surprisingly not unlike the US situation in Iraq. It includes torture...check...occupation by an unloved foreign military...check...outrages against civilians...check...corruption...check...porous borders...check...another religion...check...the profound belief on the part of the Western power that they are bringing order, civilization, enlightenment to an otherwise backward and benighted people...check.

As you may recall (discussed months ago), the Pentagon watched the Battle of Algiers and apparently learned nothing from the screening. They may have come away with the mistaken impression that the French had won something. Well, they didn't, and Pontecorvo's point was that colonization, occupation and attrocities against civilians eventually spawn an angry and resentful population, one that rises up and attacks you by any means.

There is a line (which I will have to paraphrase) from a press conference in which Colonel Matthieu is exhibiting his prize, a much sought after Algerian maquis. When asked by an outraged journalist how the resistance can plant bombs in the baskets carried by women, the Algerian calmly replies, "Give us your planes, Monsieur, and we will give you our baskets."
Horne compares the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib and the indefinite detention of detainees in Guantanamo to French behaviour in Algeria. It ultimately cost France the war, because the wave of public revulsion was such when it was publicised that opinion swung violently against the conflict.

Let us hope that Bush learns from his reading and then re-screens the Battle of Algiers - the sad thing is that this time, we have already lost the war, and Iraq has yet to become a country that has its own future back.

Friday, February 09, 2007  

The hour of Confession

I honestly never thought I would say this about someone like Eric Fair, but what Eric Fair, a former US Army interrogator has done is remarkable. He has opened the US/Iraq torture files the way NGO reports never can: by starting to discuss his part in the what happened. By doing so, Fair potentially paves the way for war crimes accusations and misconduct charges, but his eloquent essay, coming on the heels of the Watada court-martial, raises important questions. When asked by your commanding officers to commit what you know are immoral and degrading acts upon another human being, do you obey or do you say no?
Many Americans would like the Abu Ghraib scandal to go away, so they can get back to other things, like being puzzled as to why Iraq lies in tatters. Well, it won't. Abu Ghraib is precisely part of the reason the situation in Iraq is like it is and our moral authority in the world hovering above zilch. Something is rotten all the way up the chain of command and into the White House, and no one knows better than Eric Fair.
Despite my best efforts, I cannot ignore the mistakes I made at the interrogation facility in Fallujah. I failed to disobey a meritless order, I failed to protect a prisoner in my custody, and I failed to uphold the standards of human decency. Instead, I intimidated, degraded and humiliated a man who could not defend himself. I compromised my values. I will never forgive myself.

We have failed to properly address the abuse of Iraqi detainees. Men like me have refused to tell our stories, and our leaders have refused to own up to the myriad mistakes that have been made. But if we fail to address this problem, there can be no hope of success in Iraq. Regardless of how many young Americans we send to war, or how many militia members we kill, or how many Iraqis we train, or how much money we spend on reconstruction, we will not escape the damage we have done to the people of Iraq in our prisons.

Fair has yet to address the more egregious sexual abuse such as rape and sodomy of male and female prisoners, but perhaps, as he says, the book on Abu Ghraib has really yet to be opened.
(read the rest)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007  
It has come to my attention that the State Department has been dropping by my humble blog quite a bit of late, partially because of the dialog on another blog regarding (and possibly now including) one Brent Blascke. I am rather curious about this. I was wondering, DS reader(s) if this is part of your job description or are you so terribly bored that you are websurfing on this site? Given the recent topics here and the post concerning Blascke over on Sabbah's blog, I find your sudden interest rather odd.

Just thought I'd mention it.


Dinesh D'Souza needs a moral compass

This from the NYT review of D'Souza's latest book, "The Enemy At Home." The title alone is incindiary and devisive.
He writes that American prisons at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib “are comparable to the accommodations in midlevel Middle Eastern hotels” in terms of cleanliness, food and amenities, and argues that abuse at Abu Ghraib did not reflect a disregard for human rights, but rather “the sexual immodesty of liberal America.” (“Lynndie England and Charles Graner were two wretched individuals from red America who were trying to act out the fantasies of blue America.”)

One would think D'Souza, of all people, would have a keen sense of colonial legacy, colonial behavior and post-colonial concerns, but apparently, being the poster boy of the intellectual Right (yeah, there really is such a thing...) seems to have taken precedence over rigorous analysis.
(read the rest)

Monday, February 05, 2007  

Watch this carefully...

Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse to serve in Iraq, is being court-martialed today for refusal to go. He is being charged with failure to deploy and two accounts of "unbecoming of an officer." Two previous charges were recently dropped - in part, I suspect, because they hinged on interviews he had given several journalists, namely Sarah George and Dahr Jamail. George had been subpoenaed by the prosecution, and was facing a decision- testify or go to jail and was intending to probably do the latter when those charges were suddenly dropped.
Watada has been discussed here before with comparison being made with the Courage to Resist movement in Israel.
Here is what the LA Times had to say today:
First Lt. Ehren Watada is giving it all back and, out of courtesy, packing it up. The Army had treated him with the utmost respect until the moment it decided to court-martial him. It was nothing personal. The Army does what it has to do.

Just as Watada himself did what he felt he had to do seven months ago when he became the first — and only — commissioned officer in the United States to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq.

His conscience, he said, had overtaken him. He told the world what he had privately told his superiors months earlier: that he believed the war was illegal and immoral, and he would play no role in it.

Watada tried to resign; the Army respectfully denied him. He said he was willing to fight in Afghanistan; the Army refused him again — a soldier can't pick and choose where he fights. As his unit shipped off to Iraq, Watada stayed to face the consequences.

(read the rest here)
Watada is a man of courage and conviction, and a voice that speaks for many who dare not. As the Bush juggernaut rolls ever more resolutely towards Iran, I think we should hope that more officers and other enlisted personnel like Watada stand up. Unfortunately, a desperate DOD needs an example to head off a potential defection, and so I think Watada will end up being convicted of failure to deploy, at the very least.

Sunday, February 04, 2007  


This is funny and scary at the same time. Slate has gotten ahold of a nifty little pdf from the DHS folks - that's Department of Homeland Security to you and me, in which said DHS has gathered a bunch of internal suggestions for improvement. Apparently the nice folks at DHS who so enthusiastically and with such dedication raise the terror alert at oppportune times (like the Superbowl- I'm sorry, but why on earth would somone blow up such a sorry example of cultuah, and in Florida of all places?), are, get this, unhappy.

Here is one suggestion:
Build Trust, by:
-Clearly defining the DHS mission to the American People.
- Publically and internally establishing Homeland Security goals and performance metrics so all can objectively see and measure Homeland Security success.

Oh, please...

But this is the scary part (what, you didn't find the above remotely disturbing?)

Recommendation 5: Engage the State, Local, Tribal and private Sector in an "Outside the Beltway-Focused" Collaborative Process:

Note the use of "tribal" and "private sector."

The private sector thing is actually already in place, although you have yet to receive your secret decoder ring, complete with one serving of fallafel and Rumsfeld's Field Guide to Terrorists. Remember the exhortation to keep your eyes open and to be aware of and report any suspicious activity? Did you know that America's Most Wanted was behind a tip line (called TIPS, so original) to help you do just that? Ever wonder why we don't hear too much about it these days? Americans have an interesting definition of anything suspicious and unusual. Remind them enough and they'll report their neighbor, the paperboy and the nun down the street in a heartbeat- because, with the phrase better safe than sorry ringing in their ears, you never know...
Why no one has reported Gonzales for impersonating a real lawyer is beyond me.

But it's the tribal that is becoming an issue. Much of this "tribal" we're talking about lies on the borders, and more specifically, the US/Mexico border, especially the California and Arizona borders. DHS money is being dangled in front of First Nation governments on tribal lands where poverty is rampant and unemployement exceeds 40%. Like No Child Left Behind, this is no Reservation on the border left Unfenced, Should a tribe not cooperate, there is the suggestion that other funding and services will be cut. A Good Indian is a DHS Indian. And the fences will start going up- the very same fences that cut through tribal land and sacred sites, the ones with the stakes being driven into the ground and the wildlife from the area, the ones where plants and the natural habitats are being trampled along with centuries of tradition.
Never mind that the Border Patrol has yet to apprehend a single Middle Eastern OTM in non-border checkpoint crossings in the last five years. (my interview with the BP/2006). No, DHS money talks and walks, and now, thanks to them, the Tribal sector is finally wearing the White Hats and defending the US, even while the DHS has them over a barrel.


Morocco- telling jokes behind closed doors...??? ?????

Morocco, as some of us have noted, is doing a two step: one step forward, two giant steps back. We mentioned in an earlier post how Morocco is returning to its old ways of employing torture, and has acquired some new ways- namely acquiring the US as a client state in its ever growing quest to outsource, including torture.

Many of us were hoping that freddom of the press would be something Mohammad VI would embrace, especially in light of the fact that he had separated the Ministry of the Interior from the Ministry of Information and retired many of his father's loyal servants in the upper eschelons of the ministeries. But now, with the suit against Nichane over the jokes issue, questions are being raised. The official charge was "insulting Islam" since many of the jokes recounted in the issue were making fun of religion- these being jokes you can hear at school, among friends, told by colleagues,at home- in short, many are common knowledge. So why the thin skin? What is really beneath this? In a relatively moderate society, does this signal that al Malik is turning towards a stricter, public interpretation of Islam? Is this a harbinger of crackdowns on journalists and once again will we see young journalists going to jail for pieces they wrote for the opposition papers. And what about the bloggers? Will Morocco look to Egypt for its model, as Moroccan bloggers become emboldened by the medium?

Laila Lalami of Moorish Girl has a very articulate Op-ed over at the NYT that is very much on target.
But while the court cases against independent news magazines like Nichane, Le Journal Hebdomadaire and several others are within the bounds of Moroccan law, they appear to single out the independent press, to the exclusion of more partisan publications. These cases highlight a particularly troubling pattern, in which the regime represses the progressive voices it claims to champion.

Meanwhile, newspapers like Attajdid, the mouthpiece for an Islamic party, go unmolested, probably because they are careful to confine their criticism to social issues and generally avoid two of the three infamous “red lines” — the king and Western Sahara — that limit press freedom in Morocco. When it comes to the third taboo, Islam, such publications often set the tone for public debate, as they did during the Danish cartoons controversy.

The government then tries to prove that it, too, can defend Islamic values; hence the case against Nichane for printing jokes deemed offensive to the religion. It is a high-stakes game between the religious right and the government, and it is unclear which will come out the winner.

In a sign of the times, Nichane has retreated. The magazine has already announced that it will not appeal the court’s decision, and it is likely that it will respect the “red lines” from now on. In contrast, Aboubakr Jamaï, Le Journal Hebdomadaire’s besieged editor, resigned from his post in order to save his magazine. Since any salary he makes in Morocco can legally be seized to pay his colossal fine, he argued, he has to leave the country and work elsewhere. Morocco cannot afford to lose his voice.

(read the rest)
(info courtesy of Angry Arab News Service)

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