Monday, June 28, 2004

Franz Ferdinand Assassination Anniversary

[Notice: Light posting until July 12 or so.] June 28 is the 90th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the crown prince (next in line of secession) of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was a Serbian nationalist/fanatic/terrorist (take your pick) who pulled the trigger that ended the lives of both Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie.

The immediate consequence was an escalation of tensions between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the newly independent nation of Serbia. The interlocking treaties and alliances among European powers that had been built up over decades, especially under the leadership of Germany's 19th-century "Iron Chancellor" Otto von Bismarck, led in short order to the bloodiest war that the world had known up until that time. When it was over, four European Empires - the Habsburgs' Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Hohenzollerns' German Empire, the Romanovs' Russian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire - had been destroyed.

The anniversary has gotten quite a bit of coverage in the Austrian press, which has been very interesting for me to read. Franz Ferdinand didn't seem to have been an especially beloved successor to the throne. Of course, that didn't stop the schlerotic imperial leaders of the empires of Europe from throwing themselves into a spectacular disastrous blood-letting over the whiole thing.

Of course, in reality, his assassination was only the event that finally sent a very tense situation spiraling into disaster. I know that the question of the multiple causes of the First World War and exactly what weight they had is one of the thorniest questions debated among historians of the period. So I'll happily stipulate I don't pretend to have any particular insight on that tormented question.

Franz Ferdinand, Duchess Sophie and the Vienna Court

Franz Ferdinand was the son of Karl Ludwig, the younger brother of Kaiser [Emperor] Franz Joseph, and a Sicilian princess. Franz Ferdinand became the crown prince in line for the throne when Franz Joseph's only son Rudolf committed suicide (it was actually a sucide-murder with his girlfiriend). The Habsburg court was notoriously stiff-necked, even by European imperial standards. So they not only frowed on his fathering two children out of wedlock. They also dispproved of hismarrying a mere duchess, Sophie von Hohenberg. (Actually, she got the title of Herzogin or duchess after she married; she was a Gräfin before that.)

She was of noble blood, but somehow in the convoluted system of rules governing such things among the Habsburgs, she wasn't considered to be a proper partner for the future Emperor. So she wasn't allowed to appear with him in public at court in Vienna. One of the reasons he liked going to Bosnia and was insistent of appearing in public in Sarajevo on June 28 was that in Bosnia, he was allowed to appear in public on official functions with Sophie at his side.

His aunt, Empress Elizabeth, still fondly remembered in Austria as "Sisi" (you can find an endless supply of Sisi kitsch in Vienna), had advised Franz Ferdinand to marry into "other blood", and she probably would have approved of his marriage to Sophie. She was from a Bavarian aristocratic family, and she always hated the neurotically elaborate court rituals in Vienna. She spent as much time outside of Vienna as she could, especially in Hungary, where she was also Queen of Hungary. The Habsburg Emperor had multiple official royal titles, among them "king of Jersusalem" (!!!).

But Sisi wasn't around for the wedding, because in 1898 she was murdered in Switzerland by an anarchist/nut/terrorist (take your pick). Sisi actually had sympathy for republican ideas, of which not a lot were practiced under her husband Franz Joseph's rule. She was kind of a Princess Diana type, whose personality continually clashed with the rigid and often irrational rules of court life. Like Sisi, Franz Ferdinand spent a lot of his time outside Vienna with Sophie, especially at his palace near Prague. What is now the Czech Republic was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and lots more besides. It's become normal these days for European royalty to marry "commoners" (see Prince Philip of Spain and Princess Letitia), but it was seriously frowned upon in those days.

Franz Ferdinand's Politics

Sisi probably would have had little sympathy for Franz Ferdinand's political ideas. It's often said these days that the royal families of Europe had, uh, psyciatric "issues" because they were so inbred among the royal families. The King of England and the German Kaiser during the First World War were couisins. Franz Ferdinand himself thought something like that. "If one of us is attracted to someone," he once said, "there turns out to be some petty little thing in their family tree that forbids the marriage. And so it happens, that among us husband and wife are always related to each other twenty different ways. The result is that among the children, half of them are idiots or epileptics." (Quote from first Karl Danninger article; see below.)

I'm not sure how much factual basis this idea has. John Kenneth Galbraith was probably closer to the mark when he observed that one of the main problems with monarchical systems was that when ancestry is the main criteria of who assumes power, intelligence cannot be a key critieria. The crown prince showed much more obvious talent showed immensely greater talent for his favorite talent of hunting than for heading a monarchy whose only chance for long-term survival was to make dramatic adjustments to democratic demands of the people. He was an expert shot, and reportedly shot up to three hundred thousand specimens of game by the time his own life was cut short by Gavrilo Princip's bullet.

The best thing that can be said about Franz Ferdinand's politics is that he opposed a "preventive war" against Serbia, which was advocated by many in the imperial court, especially Franz Joseph's military general staff chief, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf. The crown prince's warning would sound prophetic by the end of 1918: "If we move against Serbia, then Russia will stand behind them, and we will have war. Should the Emperior of Austria and the Czar both oust themselves from their thrones and give a free hand to the revolution?"

But the guy was not only a committed monarchist, he had some fool idea of going back to the absolutist rule of the days of Maria Theresia in the 18th century. He was rabidly anti-democracy, to the point of thinking the shabby pretence at a representative parliament under Frany Joseph was way too much of a concession. On the subject of the social-democratic movement, he wrote in a letter to the General Staff in 1896 complaining about the "subversive socialist ideas, which are gaining ground unhindered day by day, especially among the working class. To this question, there is only one answer: the army." (Preceding two quotations from Herbert Lackner article, see below).

He doesn't appear to have become more enlightened in the succeeding years. He saw himself as the representative of the old aristocracy and the large landowners. The prospective successor to throne of one of the main powers in Europe in the 20th century had not yet adjusted himself to the nineteenth.

Even on the issue of Hungary, he seemed to have had a less than adequate grasp of reality. One of Franz Joseph's most important accomplishments had been to establish a "dual monarchy" with Hungary, which is where the "Hungary" part of the Austro-Hungarian empire comes in. It turned out to be a practical arrangement that gave a significant degree of national self-rule to Hungary and stability to the Habsburgs' impossibly diverse empire. Franz Ferdinand seems to have been unsympathetic to the whole idea.

Franz Ferdinand and the Balkans

After the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, it's much easier for us to imagine what a complicated political mess the Balkan nations represented for European politicians in the early years of the 20th century. The First Balkan War of 1912 found Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria in revolt against the rule of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. The gruesome massacres and the intense, burning hatreds and ethnic grudges about which we heard so much in the 1990s were also very much part of the 1912 war.

The Habsburgs had dabbled in the Balkan wars and hatreds for centuries. They had encouraged the development of a militant Serbian ethnic consciousness of themselves as a barrier against the Ottomans. The Slovanians had been under German/Austrian rule since the 800s, although the common people continued to speak their own language. Croatia was under the Hungarian part of the empire and the Hungarians were none too generous in their manner of rule there. The Habsburgs had made Bosnia-Herzogovina independent in 1878 after a war with the Turks (Ottomans). In 1908, they foolishly annexed it formally.

The predominantly Orthodox Christian Serbians, not without reason, viewed the Catholic Habsburgs as a military threat to their recently won independence. They were also identified with the Serbs' traditional enemies, the Muslim Bosnians and the Catholic Croats. (The German/Austrian identification with Croatia carried over into the SecondWorld War, when the Germans backed a fascist puppet regime in Croatia, and even into recent years, when Germany and Austria formally recognized the independence of Croatia and Slovenia in 1991 when Serbian/Yugoslav forces still held significant parts of the territory of both countries.)

There were conspiracies aplenty afoot on that June 28 in 1914. The act that did Franz Ferdinand and Sophie in was a case of "state-sponsored" terrorism. A whole team of plotters had been sent on a mission against the crown prince by the head of Serbia's secret police, Dragutin Dimitrijevic, known as Apis. The first Karl Denninger article cited below even suggests that Apis didn't intend for it to succeed. He had recruited some inexperienced assassins, according to this theory, expected them to get caught without actually succeeding in the assassination. Instead, he planned to hang the blame for the foiled plot on civilian Serbian government and use that as an excuse for supporting a military coup in Serbia.

That's a theory at the crossroads between how-the-war-began and Balkan politics that I also don't pretend to be able to evaluate in an informed way. But it's a reminder of how tangled, treacherous and complicated Balkan politics were at that moment.

Despite his restraint in opposing a preventive war against Serbia, sensibly realizing that it wasn't in the interest of preserving the rotten old order in Europe, Franz Ferdinand should have realiyed that his visit to Sarajevo was seen as a provocation in Serbia and by Serbian supporters in Bosnia. He received warnings from the Serbian government about plots against him. And the day of his open-auto tour through the streets of Sarajevo was also the Serbian Vidovdan, the day of remembrance of the defeat of the Serbians in the Battle of Blackbirds Field at Amselfeld in Kosovo in 1389, when the Serbians fell under Muslim Ottoman rule.

It was not the best day to be doing something that could provoke Serbian nationalists.

Lessons of the Assassination?

After all the horribly bad Second World War analogies that have been used in defense of Bush's preventive war against Iraq,I'm almost allergic to anything that looks like an attempt to draw lessons from historical events for immediate application to comtemporary events. Especailly since the current US administration doesn't much care about learning from history, since they think they can pretty much use military force to ram any policy they want down the throats of other nations.

The assassination of head of state or other high official is certainly a classical instance of an act of war. And the Habsburg monarchy was certainly right to see Franz Ferdinand's death as a case of Serbian state-sponsored terrorism. And the Habsburgs, sure that God was more on their side on that of the Othodox Serbs, showed those Serbs that they were going to be tough against terrorism. As I said earlier, at the end of the process, four European Empires - the Habsburgs' Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Hohenzollerns' German Empire, the Romanovs' Russian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire - had been destroyed. Three Christian ones, one Muslim.

Lessons for today? At the very least, some sober caution about the possible effects of war would have been sensible on the part of the Habsburg rulers. But war fever won out. As Karl Danniger says in the second article cited below, most of the world, even in the Austro-Hungarian empire, didn't much mourn the untimely passing of the Franz Ferdinand. But, on the other hand:

[P]eople saw in the murder of the crown prince a rational function, which the crown prince during his lifetime would never have been able to call forth: Hurrah, we're going to war!
And so they did.


Uwe Wesel, Mit Bomben und Pistolen Die Zeit (Hamburg) 06/17/04

Otto Klambauer, Zwei Schüsse veränderten die Welt Kourier (Vienna) 06/23/04 (behind subscription)

Herbert Lackner, "Als ein Reich zerfiel" Profil 26/2004 (Vienna) 06/26/04 print edition

Karl Danninger, Der Vidovdan forderte seineOpfer Oberöstereichische Nachrichten 06/26/04

Karl Danninger, Franz Ferdinand: Der Jäger, der an einer Kugel starb Oberöstereichische Nachrichten 06/26/04

Britney ist verlobt!

[Notice: Light posting until July 12 or so.]  Yes, Britny's trying marriage again.  Or at least engagement.  Earlier this year, she went straight to marriage without bothering with the engagement part.  Oops! Britney to Do Marriage Again! E! Online 06/25/04.

Britney will be a stepmom right away.  Her fiance, Kevin Federline, has one child and another on the way, both with actress Shar Jackson.  Jackson's apparently having some difficulty adjusting to the new situation:

The gracious Jackson has been quoted as declaring Federline and Spears are "made for each other."

"You both smoke, you both drink and you both cheated on significant others after three years," Jackson told Us Weekly in April, apparently referencing herself and Spears' former beau, Justin Timberlake (news).

Jackson issued just one ultimatum to the twosome: "There are two little kids--she [Spears] better be prepared to babysit."

Of course, we can expect the usual nasty, cynical comments from Little Boo's detractors.  You'd think they would give her a break since she's in the middle of a long recovery from knee injury and surgery.  But nooo....

I was reading other celebrity gossip in the Austrian Sunday papers.  One said that Anna Kournakova is already married to Enrique Iglesias. (?!)  And there was a photo of Julian Lennon (John's son) with one of Mick Jagger's daughters that said they were dating.

But, of course, Little Boo is always the Big News in celebrity gossip.  She's already upstaged Jennifer Lopez in the wedding department twice this year.  And the year's not quite half over yet.

While I'm on the subject, I think it's cool that Britney in her "Toxic" video dresses up in a costume like Nina Hagen might use.  Nina and Britney have a kind of postmodern music thing in common.  Both were persecuted, too.  Nina Hagen was kicked out of her native East Germany.  (I believe this occurred before Britney was born.)  And Boo, well, just look at the grief she has to take all the time!

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Persecuting soldiers who criticize the torture policy

[Notice: Light posting until July 12 or so.]  I can't find this online. But it's from the Vorarlberger Nachrichten (Austria) 06/23/04: "'Held von Abu Ghraib' wird verfolgt".

It's about Joseph Darby, the American soldier who complained to his superiors about torture in the Abu Ghuraib branch of the gulag, and provided a CD-ROM with photos as evidence.  According to the Vorarlberger Nachrichten article by Peter Schoreder, he has been the target of threats by other soldiers in Iraq, to the point that the Army has reassigned him.

It quotes Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who we know from published reports authorized at least some of the torture personally, as saying that Darby handled himself honorably by exposing the abuses.  (Anyone who finds it credible that Rummy actually thinks that, contact me privately for some more of those hot deals I mentioned before helping children of deposed African dicatators recover lost fortunes.)  It also quotes an Army spokesperson, Dov Schwartz, saying that the Army is trying to decide what kind of medal to give him.  Given everything else that's going on with Darby, that sounds more like a threat than a promise, too.

Schroeder claims that in bars in Darby's hometown of Corrigansville, MD, photos of some of the torturers are displayed to honor them as heroes, and he didn't seem to have trouble finding people in the area who attacked Darby for doing what he did. One fool even blamed Darby for the murder of Nick Berg, who was beheaded by kidnappers several weeks ago.  And let's be clear: Darby did his duty as a soldier in reporting this seriously criminal activity.

Darby's mother Margaret suffers from cancer and has had one eye removed as a result, and may lose the sight in her other eye.  Her local church refuses to pray for her because he son did his duty as an American soldier.  Apparently their God approves of sadistic torture and lawless conduct by soldiers in Iraq.  Maybe it's the same God who speaks to George Bush.  She hopes to be able to see her son again before she loses her remaining vision.

Even Darby's brother and sister-in-law have been threatened.

Darby was reassigned outside Iraq for security reasons, according to the Army. They aren't saying where he was reassigned, except that it is in the US.  They claim it's to prevent acts of revenge against him.  But I suspect that keeping his current location secret has at least as much to do with making it difficult for reporters to find him.

It won't matter to the stab-in-the-back crowd, who are already saying that war critics are dishonoring our soldiers, blah, blah, and who in later years will accuse antiwar civilians of insulting poor, noble American soldiers.  But it's worth noting for the sake of, oh, recognizing reality, that this is Joseph Darby is an active-duty American soldier who helped expose the criminal torture at Abu Ghuraib, and did so because he was doing his duty as a soldier.

It's also important to remember that his action was not "antiwar" in the sense of attacking the Iraq War as a whole.  I don't know what he thinks of the larger policy.  It was an anti-torture, pro-law, pro-basic-decency act.

But in one sense it was an antiwar act, because the torture policy is not just a case of local excesses or failing discipline.  It is an organized policy promoted by senior US officials, and justified by the irresponsible, unethical attorneys in the Justice Department and the Defense Department who encouraged the behavior with their phony claims that the president has the authority to set aside any law or Constitutional provision he chooses in the name of wartime necessity.

In that sense, the torture policy is very much part of Bush and Rummy's war policy, and the criticism of the torture is very much a criticism of the particular kind of war they are pursuing, both in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This torture policy didn't have to be part of either war.  But Bush and Rummy chose to make it that.

As a final thought on this for now, I'll say that we can't blame the blowhards of Oxycontin radio for this situation of the threats against Darby and the trashy treatment of his mother by her own church.  That is, unless particular ones of them took part in the threats or explicitly encouraged them.  But the bile spewed over rightwing talk radio encourages exactly this kind of behavior.

Firmung in die Kirche (2)

(Light posting until July 12 or so)  Hey, this is like the good old days on AOL Journals - just a few months ago, actually, when we were limited to 2500 characters and I was always posting four- and five-part entries.

Here I am with a PC and a high-speed connection, courtesy of the Citydata firm of Feldkirch, Austria (please don't blame them for the content, though!), so I should be able to finish the last post with minimal trauma.

I wrote this current paragraph twice, and the iMac ate it both times, so I decided it was time to give up.  Anyway, the state of Upper Austria is the only place I've really had the chance to see several different village churches up close in Europe.  But the ones here are pretty elaborate.  Most of them in Austria are Catholic churches, and there is normally one in every village.  And all the ones I've seen are "pre-Vatican II" churches, which means they were built prior to the mid-1960s, which was when the Church began promoting a less elaborate architectural style.

So these churches have lots of pictures and figurines of angels and saints and long-forogtten bishops on the altar.  This Lambrechten church actually has two side-altars, though that's probably not the right name for them.  (Hey, I'm not a cradle Catholic, okay?)  So you can spend some time during the service trying to figure out which saint or church hero it is peaking out from behind this corner or that.

The service, intentionally or not, fitted in with the Sonnenwendfeier theme, because it emphasized fire.  As in the fire of faith, the fire symbolozing the Holy Spirit, and so forth.  I especially enjoy hearing sermons, or homilies as the Catholics call them, in German, because the priest normally articulates the words very clearly.  And also speaks High German, which is nice for me, because in Upper Austria, people speak Middle Bavarian dialect and that can be a challenge to understand.

I always enjoy the practice in speaking when I'm around here, too.  If you don't live in a place where a language that's not your native language is spoken, understanding what people are saying or writing is easier than talking.  For instance, on Friday night at the Sonnenwendfeier, I asked someone if she had "blown up the fire."  That's because the German words "springen" (to jump) and "sprengen" (to blow something up) sound very similar, but they have distinct past tenses.  So I picked one, and there was a 50-50 chance I would have gotten it right.

But at church, no one jumped the fire or blew up the fire or torched Hänsel and Gretel.  They just lit a bunch of candles and talked about fire a lot.  Afterward, we had lunch in a Wirtshaus (local restaurant) and I went back home and had a siesta.  No, I know siesta isn't an Austrian tradition.  But I don't mind importing a Spanish transplant when I'm on vacation.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Vacation II: Firmung in der Kirche

(Light posting until July 12 or so.) Oh, this doesn't look good.  I'm posting for the first time using a Mac.  Or am I supposed to say iMac?  In any case, I don't see my usual format menu.  On the bright side, though, the format looks okay so far.

German keyboard, exotic iMac technology.  This could get ugly!

Why do Mac fans love these machine so much?  Don't answer that - I know that particular brand of enlightenment will be forever denied me.  I can only figure out how to open one Explorer window on this thing.  I usually have three or four open at once.  So it would be hard to post links.  That is, if I could see a menu that would let me post links...

Anyway, I've been hanging out in Upper Austria for the last couple of days.  The big event Sunday was the confirmation of one of my nieces-in-law (is that a word?), which took place in the village of Lambrechten, where they live.  My wife is the godmother, so she was part of the ceremony.  

This event involved about 50 "Firmlings", or confirmation candidates.  They all gathered in the street in front a couple of blocks from the front of the church.  It was raining lightly, but that didn't seem to bother anyone very much.  Well, except when my umbrella folded up prematurely and dumped water on my sister-in-law.  Anyway, the procession was headed by a street orchestra with about half men and half women, with a  female marshal conducting, all dressed in green jackets, Tyrolian hats and black skirts for the women and black Lederhosen for the men, with drums and horns for the musical instruments.  This is what we Americans would call an "oom-pah" band.

So, the oom-pah band led the procession with the bishop and the local priest and a deacon or two following,  then the Firmlings and their godparents, followed by everyone else.  I thought this was pretty cool.  But then, I can be easy to please at times.  (When I don't have to use an iMac, especially.   Don't German Macs allow you to do brackets?)

Okay, the iMac seems to be seriously freaking out.  So I'm going to finish this later.

(Continued in next entry)

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Vacation posting

[Notice: Light posting until July 12 or so.]  But I am posting today.  I arrived in Austria yesterdaz with my wife, who's from here.  Soon after we got here, we went out to the home of one of her brothers and celebrated a Sonnenwendfeier, or summer solstice celebration.

This was the first of these I had attended.  The first part is like a cookout, where you bake potatoes and cook sausages over the fire.  They had neighbors and neighbors' kids over, and the kids enjoyed playing with, and more or less in, the fire.  There was plenty of beer to drink and also Most, a homemade drink that's bascially alcololic apple cider, with the taste heavily on the apple and the content heavy on the alchohol.  So it can sneak up on you if you're not careful. 

Later on, you jump over the fire.  Or jump over the fire several times, if you feel inspired.  There was plenty of fuel available to keep the fire going for hours - paper, wood chips, tree branches.

But the highlight of the event is the burning of Hänsel and Gretel effigies.  One of the neighbors had constructed pretty impressive, adult-sized versions of the fairy-tale pair.  They left them standing near the fire for an hour or so before they were dumped in, too.

It was really fun.  Good Most and sausage, too.  I had heard about the jumping-the-fire ritual.  But burning Hänsel and Gretel in effigy was a new one on me. 

Although, I had always thought that there was supposed to be nekkid pagan dancing along with these things.  I didn't see any of that last night!  Or maybe we just left too early.

News without Fox

I know I have online access to many European news sources all the time.  But it is nice to be able to have time to just browse through some papers and read the articles that catch your eye.  No, that's not an argument against reading online news, I'm just admitting I'm occasionally old-fashioned and nostagic about these things.  It usually passes quickly.

But on the plane, I read through the Financial Times Deutschland, where there was a lot of news about the negotiations currently going on over the European Union consititution.  The big question right now is over how much weight majority decisions should have, and on which categories of issues.  Currently, major decisions can be vetoed by a single member, a procedure that is unworkable for a growing Union that is also moving toward closer political and economic integration.  The decision, which was apparently reached Friday night, was to require a 55% majority of countries that represent at least 65% of the population for EU decisions to override national preferences.  On issues relating to economic and currency policies and to internal functions and criminal laws, a majority representing 72% of the population would be necessary.

There's also a contest going on for the next head of the EU Commission, the person who will succeed Italy's Ramano Prodi in that position. Germany's social-democratic Gerhard Schröder and France's conservative president Jacques Chirac favor Belgian liberal Guy Verhofstadt for the post.  Britain's Labour government favored Jean-Claude Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg.  In general, the conservative in the EU Parliament favored Juncker, while social-democrats and liberals favored Juncker.  But the partisan split was more complicated than that, because the envionmentalist Greens backed Juncker, as well.

The latest twist is that Juncker's repeated assertions that he would refuse the position if offered have finally convinced his backers that he's really not interested.  So now they are backing British EU Commissioner Chris Patten.  Patten, who was the last British governor in Hong Kong before the city was restored to full Chinese control, was once a favorite of American conservatives because of what they took to be his hard line against Communism in that situation.  Their admiration abruptlz cooled when Patten in his EU role was highly critical of the US-British drive for war in Iraq.

And I was intrigued by a piece on Germany's Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's push for a United Nations reform that would give Germany a permanent seat on the UN Security Council with veto power, like the five current permanent members: the US, Britain, France, Russia and China.  Britain and France are also backing that goal, interestingly enough because they all expect to have a European Union permanent Security Council seat instead of separate seats for member countries.  Brtain and France seem to be calculating that it will be easier to accept politically when they lose their individual permanent seats in favor of a single EU one, if Germany is also joining them in giving up a permanent seat when the time comes.

Part of the implication of this policy for Germany is that it implies a willingness bz Germany to take a greater part in UN military actions in the world than it has so far.  We see the immeidate implications of that in the Afghan War, where Germany remains committed to the NATO mission there (the US troops there are not acting as part of the NATO mission)´, despite the grim prospect for any kind of military-political success being achieved there.

NATO is currently providing internatioal forces to hold the capital city of Kabul and the northern citz of Kunduz, the latter fairly recently established.  German officials also propose extending the NATO force to addditional northern citz, Faisabad.  But as the Financial Times Deutschland put it (06/17/04), "So far, Germany has not found a partner nation for that undertaking."

This is part of Fischer's way of showing that Germany is serious for the long term about taking a more active part in international military operations, a willingness that is reflected in the push for a permanent Security Council seat, as well.

Not that it makes the slightest bit of difference in the Oxycontin world.  But for those not unhinged from reality, whether from chemical or other causes, it's a significant fact that our NATO partners are doing much more in the way of stability operations in Afghanistan than the US is.  Germany's "red-green" coalition government is pushing to expand those operations.

Finally, I see that Turkey doesn't seem to be too thrilled with President Bush's holding up Turkey as an example of what the US wants to see for governments in Islamic countries.  The Turkist parliamentary president, Bülent Arinc, noted that democracy and "laicism", i.e., separation of church and state, in American terms, are part of Turkey's constitution.  He also says, "Turkey is the only country that has combined Islamic tradition with modernization."  He sees Turkey as a possible example for other democratizing countries for those reasons.

But he rejects the notion of Turkeý as a "model."  He also stated clearly, "We donät have the intention to export our regime to other countries."  He said that US plans for promoting democratic reforms in the Middle East is not clearly defined: "It is unclear what is meant.  We're still groping in the dark."

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Investigations galore

[Notice: Light posting until July 12 or so.]  I will be posting some.  But I figure I should preface the posts with a notice so people won't figure I've disappeared into the gulag.  Or become mesmerized by Fox News.

Bob Dreyfuss has a good post about Investigation Summer 06/15/04.  There are major investigations under way.  And, at best, none of them are likely to look particularly good for the Bush administration.

As Dreyfuss summarizes:

There are several investigations of U.S. intelligence in connection with Iraq, the 9/11 commission is finishing its work, the Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame investigation is proceeding, there are several panels looking at the Abu Ghraib scandal, investigators are examining who leaked what to Ahmed Chalabi, there is Halliburton dirt to be revealed and more. In normal times, any one of these would be enough to knock the pins out from under a president, but taken together it’s a blitzkrieg.

The magnitude of the torture revelations is still sinking in for our sad excuse for a political press corps.  While they pursued their favorite trivial pursuits, and passed on the administration's false claims of Iraqi WMDs, the Bush gang was building a gulag based on the premise that the president could set aside any law, any treaty, any provision of the Constitution, as long as he claimed it was in pursuit of some national security objective.  They set up an elaborate torture network - a criminal network - under that cover.  The Los Angeles Times reported on the experience of Sean Baker, a US soldier who found himself a victim of the Bush gang's torture policy (I've referred to this case before):

Ex-Soldier Recalls Beating He Received in Guantanamo Drill Los Angeles Times 06/15/04

Baker was the guy who was ordered to pose as an uncooperative witness in Guantanamo and who still suffers seizures from the vicious beating he received from his fellow soldiers, all of whom were breaking the law and violating their duty as US soldiers by engaging in the action they did.  Unfortunately, the Bush torture policy has a lot of accomplices:

Lt. Col. Jim Marshall, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command, said that an internal investigation in February 2003 concluded that no one was liable for Baker's injuries and there was no need for a criminal inquiry. Another spokeswoman, Maj. Laurie Arellano, said the investigation concluded that Baker's injuries were a "foreseeable consequence" of the drill.

Marshall said procedures had been reviewed to prevent future injuries. "While it is unfortunate that Spc. Baker was injured, the standards of professionalism we expect of our soldiers mandate that our training be as a realistic as possible," he said.

Members of immediate response forces are "handpicked based on maturity, common sense and judgment," Marshall said, adding that they were trained to use the minimum force necessary.

Anne Applebaum notes that the cowardice and lack of responsiblity in Congress that allowed the Iraq War to occur and the torture gulag to be set up despite the warnings they had is unfortunately continuing: So Torture Is Legal? Washington Post 06/16/04.  And not only in Congress:

As I say, connect the dots: They lead from the White House to the Pentagon to Abu Ghraib, and from Abu Ghraib back to military intelligence and thus to the Pentagon and the White House. They don't, it is true, make a complete picture. They don't actually reveal whether direct White House and Pentagon orders set off a chain of events leading to the abuses at Abu Ghraib, prisoner deaths in Afghanistan or other uses of torture we haven't learned about yet.

But who will fill in the blanks? Here is the tragedy: Despite the easy availability of evidence, almost nobody has an interest in pushing the investigation as far as it should go.

Clearly the administration will not ever, of its own volition, tell us what the White House knew and when the White House knew it: There's an election coming up. As if to underline this point, the president ducked and dodged last week when asked at a news conference about torture, declaring that "the instructions went out to our people to adhere to the law." But which law? The Geneva Conventions? Or the law as defined by secret memos?

Will the military itself pursue the investigation honestly?  The same military that sends pathetic characters like Lt. Col. Jim Marshall and Maj. Laurie Arellano (see above) out to justify the criminal torture of one of their own fellow soldiers?

Molly Ivins, at least, isn't afflicted with the timidity that affects the Big Pundits: How Comforting 06/15/04.

How comforting to know the Department of Justice memo on the subject of torture advises it "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impaired bodily function or even death." (Memo available on Just beating the living crap out of someone doesn't count at all. The Geneva Conventions are not binding on us, nor are any other international agreements if it impedes the war effort, says the DOJ. ... Under the DOJ theory of the Constitution, the president can not only approve torture, he can also approve genocide.

Michael Froomkin's much-quoted analysis can be found here: OLC's Aug. 1, 2002 Torture Memo ("the Bybee Memo") 06/14/04.  (In a later post, he notes that in the elision above in Ivins' column, she technically misquotes his 06/04 post.)  In another post, Froomkin also takes on the sophomore-philosophy class argument that justifies torture as an emergency measure: The 'Terrorist With an A-bomb' Torture Scenario 06/16/04.

Close encounters with Fox News

I watched some segments of Fox News last night.  I saw a few minutes of Bill O’Reilley interviewing Newt Gingrinch.  Newt was making some completely fatuous comparison of the “war on terror” – which apparently in FoxWorld is synonymous with whatever the Bush administration is doing – with the Union side in the Civil War.


They had some weird dialogue going about how there are “anti-American Americans” like Michael Moore who take a “European” view of world affairs and they these people are all very dangerous and bad.  It’s amazing how “European” has become practically another word for “enemy” in Oxycontin land.  Wasn’t it just yesterday that the same crowd was promoting the concept of “European-American” to be a name for good respectable Republican white folks?


It’s hard to keep up with the vocabulary in the land of the Patriotically Correct Blowhards.  It was weird.  I wish they could at least stabilize their word-meanings long enough for us regular folks to at least be able to understand what they are talking about.


Later I saw Brit Hume, one of Fox’s big stars, interviewing Stephen Hayes explaining why Saddam Hussein was joined at the hip to al-Qaeda and was also heavily involved in the 9/11 attack.  Hume, vaguely mimicking the role of a journalist, nodded and agreed with everything he said.


All of it just made up, of course.  Hadley just published a book recycling the same phony stories that Rummy’s and Cheney’s rump intelligence operations made up based on raw intelligence, largely fed back to them by the Iranian agent Ahmed Chalabi who theywere supporting to be the American puppet ruler in post-Saddam Iraq.  None of these claims have panned out.  But there was Hadley, cheerfully repeating them.  And there was Hume, cheerfully pretending to be a reporter, adding a fake veneer of respectability to them for anyone who might actually mistake Fox News for being a news organization.


It's kind of amazing to see how the Republican Right has created their own echo chamber.  They make some up.  Then repeat to each other endlessly.  Then sneer at anyone who doesn't believe it.


But a bogus claim (i.e., "Bin Laden was Saddam's right-hand man") repeated five hundred times doesn't get any less bogus for the repetition.  A flaky propaganda image ("The Iraq War is like World War II") doesn't become any less flaky because smirky ex-Congressmen repeat it pompous tones.  Sad.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Being David Brooks

Hey, cool, Nick Confessore has an analysis of "the problem with David Brooks": Paradise Glossed June 2004.  Brooks being the New York Times columnist.

I suspect I'm not the only one who has noticed that the quality of Brooks's Times column varies wildly from week to week. One day, he's funny, unpredictable, insightful; you read along, glad that the Times has given this man a permanent place in its pages. Three days later, he's bloviating like Michael Savage, and Maureen Dowd doesn't seem so silly anymore. But if you peruse Brooks's considerable pre-Timesian oeuvre, you'll find that the same inconsistency is evident throughout his work. There is Brooks the Journalist. And there is Brooks the Hack.

Kind of a Jekyll-and-Hyde thing, I guess.  It just seems that the Jekyll side is getting the upper hand lately.

Iraq War: Didn't we declare victory again not long ago?

Remember how James Baker, the faithful fixer for the Bush family, took on the job of getting other countries to forgive Iraqi debt?  We haven't been hearing much about that, for months now, actually.

I figured because it wasn't going so well.  Otherwise the White House and its media echo chambers would have been reminding up endlessly about that bit of Good News on Iraq.

Looks like I was assuming right. Debt and Dollars in Iraq 06/14/04.  It looks like up to half the $120 billion in foreign debt may be written off.  A lot was uncollectable, anyway.  But the Bush administration had been hoping for much more.

Steve Gilliard is commenting on Sunday's European Parliament elections and the elections in Britain earlier in the week: It's time to pay the piper 06/15/04.  Backing Bush on Iraq just doesn't seem to be a popular thing among European electorates.  Maybe after the two world wars, they don't think "preventive wars" are such a great thing?  Gilliard reminds us that it's a genuine puzzle why Tony Blair would tie his boat to Bush's battleship:

The song is over, Tony. It's time to hang it up and let Gordon Brown stand for PM. Even then, that might not save Labour. Everyone will always wonder why Blair went along with Bush's mad scheme. There is no real explaination for it. If Blair had said no, the US would have been unable to invade Iraq. It would have been politically untenable. We couldn't just say nasty things about the Brits and be done with it.

... [T]he mystery of Blair will haunt historians for decades to come. Why did he risk everything on Iraq and then did little to prevent the debacle which followed. Was it some kind of wacky Christian zeal? A cold political bet? It doesn't matter now. If he stands again for election, he'll lose and take Labour with him. Now, that might not return the Tories to power, but Charles Kennedy could well wind up the next PM if people do in the next general election what they did this weekend.

Gilliard is also right about this:

When Bush admitted that he couldn't get NATO troops last week, it was a reality many in the Democratic party haven't accepted. ... The war was never popular in Europe and it wasn't because they were cowards. Europeans know how colonial adventures end, badly. There is no reason to think Iraq will divert from the pattern.

Remember how the Iraqi oil revenue was going to pay the financial costs of the Iraqi occupation?  Yeah, I know, that was long ago and far away.  It was in that alternative universe where Iraq was brimming with WMDs, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were best buddies, and the Iraqis would greet us in the street to toss flowers our way.  In the world we live in, things are a bit different:  Waiting For The Oil To Flow Again Business Week 06/15/04 issue.

The ensuing year has thrown a lot of cold water on such dreams. Not only is Iraq years from achieving its potential of producing 6 million barrels a day, but it is also still struggling to achieve its prewar output of 2.5 million -- let alone the 3.5 million or so it produced before the 1979 war with Iran.

The reason is clear: Saboteurs have attacked Iraqi pipelines and other installations on an almost daily basis. The attacks, the latest of which came June 9, are crimping exports and slowing rehabilitation work. But U.S. policy has contributed to the problem as well. Occupation authorities have opted to leave major investment decisions for a future Iraqi government. As a result, they have barely spent what's needed just to get the industry going again. "Time has been wasted," says Vera de Ladoucette, senior director for Middle East research at Cambridge Energy Research Associates in Paris.

But, not to fret, Iraqi optimists!  If everything foes brilliantly from here on out, things could start looking peachy on the Iraqi oil front by, oh, 2008 or so.

Remembering the Remembering Reagan Week

I see that Patrick of Patrick's Place was featured recently on AOL People Connections.  Good to see.  Patrick has one of the more active AOL blogs that deals with political and media issues.

In one of his recent posts, he gave special attention to what a bad boy I was about remembering Ronald Reagan's faults.  So go check out his explanation of what a prick I was about the whole thing.

He's too polite to put it that way, of course.  He has several posts there about Ronald Reagan's funeral and the issues surrounding it.  Check those out, too, while you're there.

Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow was also a bit of a prick about the Reagan Week, too:  This Modern World: Reagan McNews 06/15/04.  But he draws much better than I do.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Torture in the gulag: "The prison riot made me do it!"

Where have we heard that excuse before?

Unit Says It Gave Earlier Warning of Abuse in Iraq New York Times 06/14/04

Beginning in November, a small unit of interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison began reporting allegations of prisoner abuse, including the beatings of five blindfolded Iraqi generals, in internal documents sent to senior officers, according to interviews with military personnel who worked in the prison. ...

The beating of the former generals, which had not been disclosed, is being examined by the Pentagon as part of its inquiry into abuses at Abu Ghraib, according to people knowledgeable about the investigation.

By mid-December, those people said, two separate reports of the beating had been made — one by the assessment branch and one by a military intelligence analyst. The analyst asked a former general at the end of an interrogation what had happened to his nose — it was smashed and tilted to the left, and a gash on his chin had been stitched.

The prisoner, in his 50's, told the story of the beating, which he said had occurred about a week earlier. His account closely matched that given independently to the Detainee Assessment Branch by another former general around the same time.

According to their accounts, here is what happened: One evening after fierce riots had erupted at the prison in late November, a group of soldiers rounded up the five former Iraqi generals, who were suspected of instigating the revolt. On their way to the prison's isolation unit, the soldiers stopped the captives, who were handcuffed and blindfolded, and arranged them in a line. Then the guards attacked the prisoners with a barrage of punches, beating them until they were covered in blood. (my emphasis)

Let's note again.  The article is about how law-abiding American soldiers reported the abuse and tried to get the law enforced.  Unfortunately, their superiors responsible for restoring order and discipline and enforcing the law were not such good soldiers or such good Americans.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Partisan "Bipartisanship"

David Brooks is back to mourning the exitence of partisanship: Circling the Wagons New York Times 06/05/04.

I can't go into as much detail as I would like on this whole question.  The bottom line is that it's phony as Bush's WMD claims about Iraq.  Brooks is a stauch Republican partisan.  And he's calling for being bipartisan nicey-nice in an election year?  Get real.

What Brooks means is that he wants Democrats to not be too critical of Bush the Magnificent, Liberator of Peoples and Hooder of the Unrighteous.  And it's easy to see why.  The Iraq War is a disaster.  And it will keep on being a disaster through Election Day.  Bush's senior officials are facing very serious criminal investigations in three major matters: the exposure of CIA agent Valerie Plame; the Ahmed Chalabi/Iraqi National Congress espionage case; and, the war crimes involving torture.

It would make matters much more convenient for Bush if Democrats just declined to campaign against him because they didn't want to appear "partisan."

Brooks was doing a similar schtick last year, which got to be kind of a fad for several months among Republicans:

David Brooks, Democrats Go Off the Cliff Weekly Standard 06/30/03

It faded away in the fall, though, as the situation in Iraq continued to deteriorate dramatically.  Or rather, most Democrats had the sense not to fall for this transparent Republican plea for a fake "bipartisanship."  The Republicans kept repeating it reliably.

One lasting part of the schtick, though, is the phenemenon of "Fox Democrats."  Those are the ones that are rolled out on conservative programs as "liberals," who then proceed to say, "I'm a staunch Democrat, but I totally agree with the Republicans on [insert issue of the day]."  Entertaining for those who want to enjoy the pleasing sensation of broad-mindedness without the effort of actually engaging in thought.

Media Matters does a takedown of on of the main "Fox Democrats," Susan Estrich: Hannity & Colmes substitute host Estrich: progressive standard-bearer? 06/09/04.

The incomparable Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler has analyzed Estrich's act a number of times, e.g., Susan's Lament 10/03/03; Motive Mouths 12/10/03.  In the latter, Somerby explains:

What does it mean to be a “Fox Democrat?” For one thing, you reliably trash liberals and other key Dems. In her most recent screaming blunder, Estrich took after Hollywood’s Laurie David, who had helped plan a meeting of tinsel-town liberals looking for ways to defeat Bush. Uncritically citing a Matt Drudge report—a report she didn’t attempt to confirm—Estrich wrote a nasty column, claiming that David had stupidly dubbed the meeting a “Hate Bush” affair. (Note the Standard RNC Spin-Point: If you’re against Bush, then you must be a hater.)

He goes on to explain that Estrich wound up doing a retraction when the Drudge story turned out to be bogus, though she whined that her version was based on "published reports."  The Howler's take on her retraction:

It can’t get dumber. “Published reports.” Published reports by Matt Drudge. Still describing a “Hate Bush” meeting, Estrich offered a clowning “correction.”

I posted several times last fall about the particular Republican game of  stigmatizing criticism of Bush as "hate speech":

Loving Bush or Stimatizing Dissent? 09/19/03 (1 of 2)
Stigmatizing Dissent: "Anger-Baiting" 09/19/03
Stigmatizing Dissent: Bush Weighs In 09/21/03
Stigmatizing Dissent: Molly Ivins Weighs In 09/24/04
Stigmatizing Dissent: David Brooks Weighs In (Again) 09/30/04

I've also taken note at various times of how Religious Right Republicans are known to dissent in pretty provocative ways themselves.  For instance:

Pat Robertson Suggests Blowing Up State Department 10/10/03

Various developments in the torture story

I must say, it gets kind of sickening sometimes when I spend some time concentrating on some of the torture stories.  It's a grim subject.

But an important one.  So here are several recent pieces on this.

Josh Marshall (06/13/04) references this Newsweek article: A Tortured Debate 06/21/04 issue; accessed 06/13/04).  (How many times will we hear that rhetorical device, "tortured debate," "tortured argument," etc.?)  Marshall emphasizes the angle showing that the Office of the Vice President was intimately involved in the discussions over torture in the gulag.  Marshall has done a good bit of work on how Cheney, despite his reputation among a lot of people even now of being particularly competent, seems to be very involved in one Bush administration policy disaster after another.

This is a major story about how Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top American military officer in Iraq, may be directly implicated in the war crimes involving torture: General Granted Latitude at Prison Washington Post 06/11/04.

And since the defenders of torture of course try to wrap this kind of perversion in the American flag and in the name of "supporting the troops," it's worth remembering that some of the soldiers placed in the situation of being expected to torture prisoners or facilitate the crimes instead obeyed the law and did their duty as soldiers.  Which in this case was to disobey criminal orders: Early complaints of Abu Ghraib abuse went nowhere, recrods show AP 06/12/04. 

At least five soldiers objected last fall to abuses they saw at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. One demanded to be reassigned, saying the behavior he witnessed there "made me sick to my stomach."

Up the chain of command, the noncommissioned officers who heard such complaints did little to stop the mistreatment, according to Army records obtained by The Associated Press.

One of those same NCOs, Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick, is accused of stomping on prisoners' toes and punching another prisoner so hard in the chest that he remarked, "I think I might have put him in cardiac arrest." Frederick is among six soldiers facing courts-martial. Another soldier pleaded guilty last month.

The military's full-blown investigation into beatings and humiliations at Abu Ghraib began in January, after one soldier wrote an anonymous letter to superior officers about troubling photographs. That soldier, Spc. Joe Darby, came forward later to talk to Army investigators and eventually became known as the whistle-blower who uncovered the scandal.

Now, the superpatriots and the Christian Right zealots and the Oxycontin blowhards and the stab-in-the-back crowd are already preparing to rewrite this history so that it will be "War critics accused random soldiers coming home from Iraq of being war criminals and yelling 'torturer' and 'baby killer' at them."

So, it's worth noting in real-time that it was an American soldier doing his duty as an American soldier and an American patriot, who made the complaint that eventually blew the lid of the Abu Ghuraib torture and forced the Pentagon, whose senior officials had connived at breaking the law, to begin to deal with war crimes involved.

In one important sense, too, soldiers like Joe Darby are antiwar protesters in an important sense, in that they objected to the way the war was being fought through the employment of means criminal under American and international law.  That does not mean they were necessarily against the Iraq War as a policy.  Whatever crimes may have been involved in planning the invasion of Iraq - and preventive war is a crime - the operations could have been conducted without torturing prisoners.  And it's important to keep in mind: the law requires that the war be conducted without those methods.

The question whether this particular type of war, or the way in which the war was planned, have in some way increased the likelihood of these kinds of incidents, is a different matter.  An extremely important one.  But separate from the question of the war crimes at issue.

Helena Cobban has a long, informative post on the current state of the laws of war as they apply to the torture cases:  Bush, Rumsfeld and 'Command Responsibility'  06/11/04.  She also links to this paper by a Marine Corps attorney about the post-Second World War trial of the Japanese general Yamashita, a key predent in command responsbility cases: The Yamashita War Crimes Trial: Command Responsibility Then and Now by Maj. Bruce Landrum, 05/23/03 [the date is shown at the directory listing for Landrum_Yamashita]. 

Billmon has been looking at the role Christian zealotry at the Pentagon played in concocting the legal justifications for torture, based on the president's alleged power to set aside any law or Constitutional provision he chooses, as long as he claims it's being done in pursuit of national security needs: Praise the Lord and Pass the Thumbscrews 06/07/04 and There's Something About Mary 06/09/04.

Defending Torture, Sophomore Philosophy Version

Fred Hiatt comments on The Consequences of Torture Washington Post 06/14/04, making it clear he's pretty clueless on the whole topic.  Mimicking Deep Thought, Hiatt makes the case for torture in his first three paragraphs:

"What if by using torture against an al Qaeda operative, U.S. forces were able to prevent a significant terrorist attack and save hundreds or thousands of American lives," a reader wrote to The Post in a letter published Friday. "Should torture be authorized?"

It's a seemingly simple question, one that many of us asked ourselves in the days and weeks after Sept. 11, 2001. Back then, the answer seemed relatively simple, too: If you could save, say, 3,000 lives by subjecting one terrorist to harsh or even painful interrogation methods, how could that not be the moral thing to do?

Now, after months of disturbing revelations about prisoner abuse and prisoner homicide by U.S. soldiers and interrogators, is the answer still simple? Many would say yes --would say, asthe letter writer was suggesting, that we cannot afford to be squeamish in the midst of a war on terrorism. Because the United States has been spared further attacks at home, they would say, we moralists may delude ourselves into thinking that we can once again afford the luxury of pure principle and uncompromised civil liberties. But let terrorists strike again -- perhaps more catastrophically than before -- and we will once again put the Geneva Conventions into proper perspective.

He proceeds to hem and haw his way to the realization that, gosh, maybe it's more complicated than that.

Which doesn't begin to describe the nature of that pitch for torture.  It's a fine argument for sophomore philosophy class.  Although calling it a "sophomoric" argument is giving it too much credit.  That situation he describes occurs frequently in action movies and comic books.  In real life, torture is not carried out under battlefield conditions where the lives of the whole platoon depend on getting some captured schmuck to talk immiediate.

Torture is carried out under the conditions at Abu Ghuraib, at Guantanamo, in the various other stations of the Bush-and-Rummy gulag.  Leaving aside recreational S&M with consenting adults, torture torture is and always has been carried out almost exclusively by governments or quasi-governmental groups, in conditions wherer they have people captured and under control.  The main exceptions would be free-lancing perverts, organized crime gangs and cult-type groups.  But systematic torture is almost exclusively the practice of governments.  And in all the kind of instances cited, the goal of torture is not primarily (and usually not even partially) to secure information about crimes committed - much less imminent killings - but to terrorize the target population.

Even Fred Hiatt seems to dimly recognize that allowing torture for the hypothetical case of the comic-book emergency would mean in practice that it would be used extensively.  And Big Pundits get paid big money for writing stuff like that!  Any country parson could reason out and explain more this issue more clearly.

Torture in the gulag: How bad is it really?

I'm going to be away for three weeks soon, and my pre-departure posting time is getting limited.  I'll be doing some updates in my time away, but not daily.  But through Thursday, I'll still be posting links to items I think are noteworthy.  But my comments may be limited.

Economist Brad DeLong has posted an account (06/10/04) by author Rick Pearlstein of a speech given by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh at the University of Chicago.  That sounds like a rumor chain the way I said it.  But it's a first-person account by Pearlstein of Hersh's speech.  The whole thing is well worth reading.  The final paragraphs of Pearlstein's account reproduced by DeLong are grim reading:

And this was one of the most stunning parts. He had just returned from Europe, and he said high officials, even foreign ministers, who used to only talk to him off the record or give him backchannel messages, were speaking on the record that the next time the U.S. comes to them with intelligence, they'll simply have no reason to believe it.... He lamented of his journalistic colleagues, "I don't know whey they don't just tell it like it is."...

He said the people most horrified by the way the war was planned were the military commanders responsible for protecting their troops.... He talked about the horror of the 1000 civilian deaths in Fallujah (but was careful to note the Marines were doing their job, placing the blame with their superiors)....

He talked about how hard it is to get the truth out in Republican Washington: "If you agree with the neocons you're a genius. If you disagree you're a traitor." Bush, he said, was closing ranks, purging anyone who wasn't 100% with him. Said Tenet has a child in bad health, has heart problems, and seemed to find him generally a decent guy under unimaginable pressure, and that people told him that Tenet feared a heart attack if he had to take one more grilling from Cheney. "When these guys memoirs come out, it will shock all of us."...

He said that after he broke Abu Ghraib people are coming out of the woodwork to tell him this stuff. He said he had seen all the Abu Ghraib pictures. He said, "You haven't begun to see evil..." then trailed off. He said, "horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run."

He looked frightened.

Remember, Hersh is the war correspondent who exposed the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War.  He's done some of the best investigative reporting on the Afghan and Iraq War.  When a jaded war correspondent like him says, "You haven't begun to see evil," it makes my blood run cold.

Torturing children in front of their mothers?  My gut response to this report, on top of all the other things we know about the gulag, is the same as DeLong's:  "Either Seymour Hersh is insane, or we have an administration that needs to be removed from office not later than the close of business today."

Torture in the gulag: The early days

But Allah had some other plan
A secret not revealed
Now they're dragging me back
With my head in a sack
To the land of the infidel

- Steve Earle, "John Walker's Blues"

This is an informative article by reporter Richard Serrano on the case of John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban":  Prison Interrogators' Gloves Came Off Before Abu Ghraib Los Angeles Times 06/09/04.

I wasn't surprised in 2002 when our Christian zealot Attorney General allowed Lindh, who was captured while fighting for the Taliban's army in Afghanistan, to "cop a plea" and settle for 20 years in federal prison.  One might think that it wouldn't be too hard to get a guilty verdict at trial against an American citizen caught fighting for the army of an enemy country in active combat with the US.

Torture gulag open for business

The problem was that a trial would have brought out some uncomfortable facts about how the US and its Afghan allies were treating prisoners, about how the CIA was conductng interrogation and about who was authorizing the specific treatment Lindh was receiving in Afghanistan in what we now know was the beginnings of the torture gulag.

In the intensity of the war fever that prevailed form the 9/11/2001 attacks until June of 2003, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld could get away with sneering at the Geneva Conventions as just "some convention" that he didn't care if our Afghan allies (the Northern Alliance) were following when it came to murdering prisoners-of-war in cold blood.  The American press, the Congress and most of the public was indifferent.

But Lindh, traitor though he may have been in the eyes of the world, was an educated, articulate white guy from the United States.  And his lead attorney, James Brosnahan, had been a prosecutor in the Iran-Contra cases.  He knew than most about the kind rogue foreign-policy operation that Iran-Contra represents, and that characterizes the most important foreign policy initiatives of the Bush team.  He knew which buttons to push.  And he knew however much Bush and Ashcroft may have been tempted to go the distance with a trial, that the Pentagon and the CIA wouldn't want the dark side of their conduct in the Afghan War held up to the cold light of day and examined carefully in a trial that would be carefully covered by the national press.  Our "press corps" may not do well on war; celebrity trials they understand.

Knowing what we now know about torture in Abu Ghuraib and Guantanamo and at what high levels it was authorized and directed, Brosnahan's advocacy of his client looks in retrospect like matter-of-fact descriptions of everyday practice in the Bush-and-Rummy gulag.  In a Time interview dated 01/26/02, Brosnahan gave us an early glimpse into the gulag (my emphasis):

In an interview with TIME, Brosnahan suggested that the U.S. was breaking with widely accepted international norms in its treatment of Lindh. "My opinion is, I should have been allowed to see him in December," Brosnahan told TIME. Brosnahan says he was unfairly kept away from his client for 54 days. "I think our government is playing with dynamite. He has the right to counsel under the Geneva Convention."

Lindh was captured as part a group of Taliban troops taken by the forces of Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum, one of our Northern Alliance allies known for being a particularly brutal commander in a world of brutal commanders, in November, 2001.  They were transferred to a prison fortress at Qala-e-Ganghi near the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where most of them were killed as part of the suppression of a prison revolt that broke out.  A badly wounded, starving Lindh was one of the few that survived the revolt.

The Serrano article recounts Lindh's experiences at the hands of his fellow Americans.  He was held for weeks in a large metal container, where he was often kept naked and strapped to a stretcher.  He was deprived of food and sleep and his interrogators threatened to kill him.  They even took photographs of themselves posing with their naked, wounded prisoner.  He was denied counsel, and not old for weeks that his parents had retained counsel on his behalf.  Serrano's report cites documents indicating that directions to torture Lindh came from the Office of Defense Secretary DonaldRumsfeld:

After AmericanTaliban recruit John Walker Lindh was captured in Afghanistan, the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld instructed military intelligence officers to "take the gloves off" in interrogating him.

The instructions from Rumsfeld's legal counsel in late 2001, contained in previously undisclosed government documents, are the earliest known evidence that the Bush administration was willing to test the limits of how far it could go legally to extract information from suspected terrorists. ...

What happened to Lindh, who was stripped and humiliated by his captors, foreshadowed the type of abuse documented in photographs of American soldiers tormenting Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. ...

The documents, read to The Times by two sources critical of how the government handled the Lindh case, show that after an Army intelligence officer began to question Lindh, a Navy admiral told the intelligence officer that "the secretary of Defense's counsel has authorized him to 'take the gloves off' and ask whatever he wanted."

Lindh was being questioned while he was propped up naked and tied to a stretcher in interrogation sessions that went on for days, according to court papers.

In the early stages, his responses were cabled to Washington hourly, the new documents show.

The torturers justify their sadism, of course, by arguing that they were urgently trying to secure information to prevent new terrorist attacks on Americans.  But the torturers didn't get any information from Lindh on any impending attacks.  And it was quickly evident to them that Lindh was a foolishly devout American who was part of the Taliban government army, not some hardened al-Qaeda operative who had inside access to Osama bin Laden's plans.

This is one of the reasons Ashcroft decided to let Lindh plead out.  If this information had been aired at trial in 2002, and Brosnahan would have been able to get much of it into the public trial record, Congress and the public would have been confronted with the fact that senior Pentagon officials, both civilian and uniformed, were breaking the law on torture in a serious - and systematic - way:

One Army intelligence officer said in the documents that he had been advised that "instructions had come from higher headquarters" for interrogators to coordinate with military lawyers about Lindh.

"After the first hour of interrogation, [the interrogator] gave the admiral in charge of Mazar-i-Sharif a summary of what the interrogators had collected up to that point," the documents say. "The admiral told him at that point that the secretary of Defense's counsel has authorized him to 'take the gloves off' and ask whatever he wanted."

The Army intelligence officer responded that if a "criminal investigator" wanted to later question Lindh, "that was fine."

But in the meantime, the officer said, he was "interested in tactical information. He was in the business of collecting [intelligence] information, not in the business of Mirandizing."

The officer did ask to be faxed a Miranda form, according to the documents, "but he never got it. He never gave Lindh a Miranda warning."

Keep in mind that Lindh's trial would have gotten under way in late summer 2003.  This was the time when the propaganda push for invading Iraq was ramping up.  The Bush administration would be seeking a blank check for war from Congress, and attempting to gain foreign allies for its invasion.

Having information like this being publicly aired and scruntinized at the same time wouldn't have been helpful for the drive to war.  The Republican media echo-chamber and our prostrate mainstream press corps would have tried to minimize it.  But, like I said, sensational trials are something the media understands.  They couldn't have kept away from it.

The LA Times piece recalls also that a condition of Lindh's plea bargain was that he would not bring up his treatment while he was in captivity in Afghanistan.

CIA Misconduct

The Serrano LA Times article also mentions the death of Mike Spann, who was reportedly the first American death in the Afghan War, and who was lionized as a hero by President Bush.  Mike Spann and another agent called Dave Tyson in the Serrano article actually touched off the prison rebellion by their questioning of prisoners there.

Lindh was one of the prisoners they interrogated, not realizing at the time he was an American.  And they did it on video, a video sequence that would have become familiar TV viewing if a Lindh trial had proceeded.  It shows Spann and Tyson threatening to kill the prisoner if he refuses to cooperate.

Apart from its relevance to the Lindh trial, it raised questions about just how the prison revolt started.  At best, these two guys coming in to a prison they had good reason to know was poorly guarded, full of prisoners that Dostum and his lieutenants had repeatedly, openly and publicly threatened to murder, and they're questioning prisoners and threatening to kill them.  You have to question their judgment, at minimum.

And it may seem an obscure point, but Spann and Tyson were not in uniform.  Trivial as that may appear, the fact that the Taliban troops didn't have a clearly identifiable uniform was the very, very thin fig leaf that the Bush administration used publicly to justify not applying the provisions of the Geneva Conventions to the Guantanamo captives.  We know now, of course, that Ashcroft and Rummy had adopted a theory of presidential power that says the president can set aside any law, treaty or provision of the Constitution he finds inconvenient.

US Troops and the Northern Alliance

Back when Rummy was on TV in 2001 sneering at the Geneva Conventions, in response to a question about the Northern Alliance murdering prisoners, he said in response to the same question that he didn't have "even the slightest problem in working with the Northern Alliance" (my emphasis) despite the fact that some of them were murdering war criminals.

Stephen Biddle of the Army War College prepared an important early analysis of the early phase of the Afghan War for the Army's Strategic Studies Institute: Afghanistan and the Future of Warfare: Implications for Army and Defense Policy (Nov 2002;*.pdf file).  The main focus of the paper is the practical implications of the Afghan experience for current ideas of defense "transformation," in which the Army would rely on much smaller numbers of troops in war than previously.

But the paper is interesting in other ways, as well.  It is based in part on classified accounts from Afghan veterans that in the Army Military History Institute's archive.  And he also describes alevel of US participation that was much more intense than one could have determined from the news reports and official statements at the time, though some reports certainly hinted at this at the time.

His focus on that reality is mainly to emphasize that, though the Northern Alliance warlord forces did well against the poorly-trained Taliban troops, they required direct American involvement to hold their own against the far better-prepared al-Qaeda cadres, and even then al-Qaeda put up a tough fight in the battles.  Biddle also mentions how the prison revolt in which Lindh was captured was suppressed:

In the Qala-e-Gangi fortress uprising,the renegade prisoners were quickly driven out of the above-ground prison yard and isolated in a handful of small underground chambers whose locations and perimeter were well-known. These were then pounded by allied airpower:entire ammunition payloads of multiple AC-130 gunships and no fewer than seven 2,000-pound JDAMs were expended against this tiny area.

"Alled" in this case means American and British.  Since Lindh was imprisoned and initially interrogated here, this action would have inevitably come under closer scrutiny in a trial.  American and British troops bombing a prison-fortress to suppress a prison revolt, lilling all the prisoners-of-war there, would have led to more questions about just how how "slight" Bush and Rummy may have thought the problems of killing POWs really was.

The desriptions of the military campaigns make it clear that Special Forces assistance in reconaissance and close coordinate of American tactical firepower with the Northern Alliance infantry were important parts of the military campaign.  For instance:

By the December fighting along Highway 4 south of Kandahar, ...  concealed al Qaeda defensive positions among a series of culverts and in burned-out vehicle hulks alongside the road remained wholly undetected by any friendly element until their fire drove back an AMF (Afghan Military Forces —our Northern and Southern Alliance allies) advance. An al Qaeda counterattack in the same sector using a system of wadis for cover approached undetected to within 100-200 meters of AMF and American SOF [Special Forces] positions along the highway before opening fire on friendly forces.

 The following description of Operation Anaconda gives an idea of how critical the intimate American involvement was:

In Operation ANACONDA, well-prepared al Qaeda positions survived repeated aerial attack by U.S.PGMs.  On Objective Ginger, for example, American infantry inadvertently disembarked from their assault helicopters almost on top of an unseen al Qaeda position on March 2; after being pinned down for much of the day,they were extracted that night.American troops then spent much of the next 10 days fighting their way back toward the Ginger hilltop from more secure landing zones well to the north.  In the meantime,American aircraft pounded the hill. Yet in spite of over a week of sustained heavy bombing,al Qaeda positions on Ginger survived to fire upon U.S.infantry when the latter finally reached and overran the objective. One dug-in al Qaeda command post was found surrounded by no fewer than five JDAM craters, yet its garrison survived and resisted until they were overrun by U.S.infantry.

Biddle's argues that the wide-spread impression that the American role in Afghanistan was primarily to provide assistance to capable local forces in the Northern Alliance is misleading.  This example shows how closely involved the US was in giving tactical direction to the AMF (Northern Alliance) warlords in battle:

At Bai Beche on November 5, for example, the dug-in al Qaeda defenders refused to withdraw in spite of over 2 days of heavy American air strikes.To dislodge them, Dostum’s AMF cavalry was ordered to charge the position. The first attempt was driven back. The American SOF [Special Forces] attached to Dostum’s forces observed this reverse and began calling renewed airstrikes against the al Qaeda positions in anticipation that Dostum would eventually order a second assault. In the process, however, a SOF warning order to the cavalry to prepare for another push was mistaken by the cavalry as a command to launch the assault, with the result that the cavalry began its attack much sooner than intended. The surprised Americans watched the Afghan cavalry break cover and begin their advance just as a series of laser-guided bombs had been released from American aircraft in response to the SOF calls for air support. The SOF commander reported that he was convinced they had just caused a friendly fire incident: the bomb release and the AMF cavalry advance were way too close together for official doctrinal limits, and the air strike would never have been ordered if the SOF had known that the cavalry was then jumping off for the second assault. As it happened, the bombs landed seconds before the cavalry arrived on the position. In fact,the cavalry galloped through the enormous cloud of smoke and dust that was still hanging in the air after the explosions, emerging behind the enemy defenses before their garrison knew what was happening. The defenders, seeing Dostum’s cavalry to their rear, abandoned their positions in an attempt to avoid encirclement.

There was nothing wrong with the fact that the US forces were intimately involved.  The Afghan War was a legitimately and necessary military response to the 9/11 attacks, in which the Taliban government of Afghanistan had played a key supporting role as the chief state ally of al-Qaeda.  And the Northern Alliance, though out of power, was recognized by the US, the United Nations and all but three other nations of the world as the legitimate, legal government of Afghanistan.

But the examples I quoted from Biddle's paper show the extent to which the American forces were calling the shots (literally) and giving precise tactical direction to Northern Alliance forces in the Afghan War.

So did they know that our allied warlords like Dostum were deliberately murdering prisoners-of-war in large numbers?  You can bet that some of them did.  And in light of the recent revelations, including Serrano's about the Defense Department direction at the time on torturing Lindh, Rumseld's comment in early December 2001, in direct response to a question about these murders, that he didn't have "even the slightest problem in working with the Northern Alliance" takes on an even more sinister tone, if that is possible.


Torture in the gulag, it now appears, started in 2001.  It will be left to those investigating and prosecuting war crimes to determine exactly when the directions were given and by whom.  But it certainly appears by November, 2001, the conscious practice of waging war by discarding the requirements of American and international law had begun.  And not just as a matter of isolated incidents, or inevitable excesses in the heat of combat, but in a systematic way as a matter of policy.

In the current climate of debate over the Iraq War, I'll mention again that I supported the Afghan War.  [01/07/06 - I've corrected that sentence; it previously read that I supported the Iraq War, which I did not.  I did support the Afghan War, though, which is what I meant to write.] The initial combat could have been handled without the torture and murder of prisoners.  But I also operate on the assumption that if I'm going to be saying out loud that I support a particular war, that I should also be conscious of the actual consequences of the war.

War is not a sport.  It's systematic killing.  It can't be approched like a football game.  The fact that so many Americans, including many in Congress, were willing to do so for so many months is now coming back on our heads.  It didn't have to be this way.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Prospects for NATO

It appears I'm not the only one who is skeptical about the future of NATO.  Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, who was Deputy Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration expects The Atlantic Alliance (06/08/04) of the future to be not NATO, but a practical cooperation between the United States and the European Union.

When Americans think of the Atlantic alliance, they normally think of the military partnership between the United States and Europe (i.e., NATO). But for European nations, like France, the Atlantic alliance is increasingly coming to mean the European Union. While an American general has and always will command NATO, the 25 nations of the European Union will soon begin deploying their own forces under the command of a European officer.  Moreover, when NATO invoked its collective defense clause after 9/11 and was ready to participate as an alliance in the war in Afghanistan, the United States ignored Europe and toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan without NATO. ...

The real question is whether the United States, France and the rest of Europe can remain staunch allies or global partners as they did during the Cold War if they disagree about the institutional arrangements, the threat, and the means to deal with the threat? The answer is no. Though it is not in the interest of either the United States or Europe to sever their alliance, but this new selective partnership will be different from that which has existed since D-Day.

During the Cold War, the U.S. relationship with Europe was carried on through NATO.  Economic differences were put aside to maintain the strategic relationship. Now that situation is reversed. Despite the attention given to Asian nations like China, Europe still remains America's largest trading partner - our largest source of foreign investment, and our favorite place to invest. For example, since the US invasion of Iraq, US investment in Europe has increased by 30 percent. As a result, the primary U.S.-European relationship must engage the European Union, be conducted on the basis of equality, and focus on specific issues.

Korb doesn't seem to be making a pessimistic prediction as a cover for griping about "old Europe."  He is saying "NATO is dead though nobody wants to say it out loud," and looking to a more practical future "Atlantic alliance."

Ron Brownstein reports on a statement to be formally issued this week by 26 former national security officials expressing their dismay over the disastrous course of the Bush administration's foreign policy: Retired Officials Say Bush Must Go Los Angeles Times 06/13/04.  They are particularly concerned about the astonishing degree to which Bush's gang has managed to alienate countries that a few short years ago were close American allies:

"We just felt things were so serious, that America's leadership role in the world has been attenuated to such a terrible degree by both the style and the substance of the administration's approach," said Harrop, who earlier served as ambassador to four African countries under Carter and Reagan.

"A lot of people felt the work they had done over their lifetime in trying to build a situation in which the United States was respected and could lead the rest of the world was now undermined by this administration — by the arrogance, by the refusal to listen to others, the scorn for multilateral organizations," [William] Harrop [ambassador to Israel under the Bush 1 administration] said.

Jack F. Matlock Jr., who was appointed by Reagan as ambassador to the Soviet Union and retained in the post by George H.W. Bush during the final years of the Cold War, expressed similar views.

"Ever since Franklin Roosevelt, the U.S. has built up alliances in order to amplify its own power," he said. "But now we have alienated many of our closest allies, we have alienated their populations. We've all been increasingly appalled at how the relationships that we worked so hard to build up have simply been shattered by the current administration in the method it has gone about things."