Just Above Sunset
May 23, 2004: Notes on the War Scandals

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My friend Ric in Paris sent along these comments this week.


Bonjour Alan –


People in New York City are worried that 'the terrorists' are going to be looking for revenge.  They are worried that they will be the target because wars no longer only pit trained soldiers in uniform against each other. Of course the people in New York City have already been hit, so they know it can happen, and they are pretty convinced that nobody in Washington will do anything to stop it.  This is the only result - of the all-out 'war on terrorism' waged by armchair neocon hawks.


While few outside of America are 'surprised,' potential victims in America are disappointed and afraid.  They lack hope.  When New Yorkers become hopeless, this is a danger signal.


Is there anybody there with any ideas about how to get out of the mess the United States has created for itself?  Try to guess what it means if the answer is 'no.'


If 'no,' expect the folly to continue.  You have, as they say, not seen everything yet.


I am not following any of this carefully. I didn't 'follow' Vietnam either.  But if any remember it - a classic example of folly - that war wasn't over in '69; it dragged on until '74 or '75, ending with the United States escaping from Saigon with only the shirt on its back.


The United States looks like it is setting itself up for another debacle and doesn't appear to have any way of changing the course of history that it's following.


What 'friends of America' think about this is irrelevant.  What Americans think of it - well, it's your future.  It's time to sit down and think your way out of the situation.  This is not a reassuring message given the way things seem to be.


regards, ric


Yes.  We created a mess. 


Fred Kaplan has the best summary you can find of the trap Bush is in with this prisoner abuse business in Iraq.

See Locked in Abu Ghraib
The prison scandal keeps getting worse for the Bush administration.
Fred Kaplan - Posted Monday, May 17, 2004, at 3:22 PM PT in SLATE.COM

Here’s the premise:


The White House is about to get hit by the biggest tsunami since the Iran-Contra affair, maybe since Watergate.  President George W.  Bush is trapped inside the compound, immobilized by his own stay-the-course campaign strategy.  Can he escape the massive tidal waves?  Maybe.  But at this point, it's not clear how. 


One thinks of the old “spies and corrupt politicians” movie No Way Out – not a very good film (Kevin Costner is awful as usual) but a great title. 

Kaplan of course is referring to Seymour Hersh's latest New Yorker item and a three-part series in Newsweek - both discussed in Just Above Sunset on the 16th – May 16, 2004 - Responsibility - Military Style... and legal issues in some detail. 

Kaplan claims that if what is reported is true then it is hard to avoid concluding that responsibility for the Abu Ghraib atrocities goes straight to the top, both in the Pentagon and the White House, and that varying degrees of blame can be ascribed to officials up and down the chain of command. 

The summary? 


The gist is that last year, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put in place a secret operation that, in Hersh's words, "encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq."
This operation stemmed from an earlier supersecret program involving interrogation of suspected al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.  A memo to President Bush from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales—excerpted in Newsweek—rationalized the program by noting that we need "to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American citizens." This new sort of war, he went on, renders the Geneva Conventions' limitations on interrogating enemy prisoners "obsolete" and "quaint."

This program, Hersh reports, was approved by the CIA, the National Security Agency, and the National Security Council.  President Bush was "informed" of it.  Hersh also notes that its harsh techniques yielded results; terrorists were rounded up as a result.  So, last spring, after Saddam's regime fell in Iraq and Rumsfeld grew frustrated over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction or to learn anything about the insurgents who continued to resist the U.S.-led occupation, he put the same program in motion in Iraq. 

That's when all hell broke loose, and conventional prisoners of war—whose wardens had up to that point been following Geneva rules—were suddenly treated like terrorists whose deadly secrets must immediately be squeezed out.  Hence, the ensuing torture.


Yep.  That’s about it. 

As Kaplan says quite bluntly -


… Bush knew about it.  Rumsfeld ordered it.  His undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Steven Cambone, administered it.  Cambone's deputy, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, instructed Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who had been executing the program involving al-Qaida suspects at Guantánamo, to go do the same at Abu Ghraib.  Miller told Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of the 800th Military Brigade, that the prison would now be dedicated to gathering intelligence.  Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, also seems to have had a hand in this sequence, as did William Haynes, the Pentagon's general counsel.  Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, learned about the improper interrogations—from the International Committee of the Red Cross, if not from anyone else—but said or did nothing about it for two months, until it was clear that photographs were coming out. 


In case you need at refresher on one of these names, Lieutenant General William "Jerry" Boykin, see Who would Jesus assassinate?  We ask our consultants.  Lieutenant General William "Jerry" Boykin and his Christian Army learn from the Israelis for details - from last December in the daily weblog. 

So what is this trap Kaplan sees closing in on Bush? 

Well, he points out that members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have said they will keep their hearings going until they "get to the bottom of this." And notes that Republicans as well as Democrats are “behaving in an unusually—and unexpectedly—aggressive fashion on the question of how high up the blame should go.” Not good. 

And he points out that the courts could get involved, noting Newsweek reports that the Justice Department is likely to investigate three deaths that occurred during CIA interrogations, possibly with an eye toward charges of homicide.  Thus war-crimes charges, for willful violation of the Geneva Conventions, are not out of the question.  And Rumsfeld and Cambone could conceivably face perjury charges; if the latest news stories are true, their testimony before the armed services committees --taken under oath -- will certainly be examined carefully. 


Then there is the press.  Blood in the water. 

This leads to chaos -


All of these hound-hunts will be fueled by the extraordinary levels of internecine feuding that have marked this administration for years.  Until recently, Rumsfeld, with White House assistance, has quelled dissenters, but the already-rattling lid is almost certain to blow off soon.  As has been noted, Secretary of State Colin Powell, tiring of his good-soldier routine, is attacking his adversaries in the White House and Pentagon with eyebrow-raising openness.  Hersh's story states that Rumsfeld's secret operation stemmed from his "longstanding desire to wrest control of America's clandestine and paramilitary operations from the CIA." Hersh's sources -- many of them identified as intelligence officials -- seem to be spilling, in part, to wrest back control.  Uniformed military officers, who have long disliked Rumsfeld and his E-Ring crew for a lot of reasons, are also speaking out.  Hersh and Newsweek both report that senior officers from the Judge Advocate General's Corps went berserk when they found out about Rumsfeld's secret operation, to the point of taking their concerns to the New York Bar Association's committee on international human rights. 

The knives are out all over Washington -- lots of knives, unsheathed and sharpened in many different backroom parlors, for many motives and many throats.  In short, this story is not going away. 


So what can Bush do? 

Kaplan says, and many would agree, Bush cannot fire Rumsfeld.  That wouldn’t stop the investigations.  And yeah, the next guy up for the job would of course face confirmation hearings.  That could get real messy and keep the all the issues up front and center.  And Bush cannot fire Rumsfeld, as Kaplan points out, because “if he did, especially if he did so under political pressure, he would undermine his most appealing campaign slogan—that he stays the course, doesn't buckle, says what he means and does what he says.” Yeah, just like that Horton the Elephant made famous by Doctor Seuss. 

No way out there. 

So does Bush fire the lesser officials - Cambone and Feith and the hyper-zealous “my God is better than your god” Boykin?  Perhaps they know too much and would not go gently. 

This is a mess.  I wonder what advice Karl Rove is giving Bush tonight. 

Well, our international reputation has taken its final blow already – our “legitimacy,” always questioned by much of the world, has been thoroughly and objectively trashed.  So? 

Just keep on doing what we’re doing, since all this cannot be made worse. 


For an even more bitter perspective you might try this link:
Bush the torturer must leave office
Harvey Wasserman, The Columbus Free Press (Ohio), May 12, 2004

Here’s how it opens:


The torture at Al Ghraib is a direct reflection of George W.  Bush's moral character, his political beliefs and his military abilities. 

Those images streaming out of Iraq reflect the true face of George W.  Bush.  Until he resigns or is removed from office, there is no way to begin removing the stain on the American character. 

This is not about Donald Rumsfeld or a few "bad" soldiers in the field.  Nor is it merely about "softening up" detainees to extract information about terrorism. 

At their core, these outrages are gratuitous and psychotic.  They stem directly from the morals and character of the man now occupying the Oval Office. 


Bush resigns?  Unlikely. 

Bush is removed from office – by impeachment?  Not with both houses of congress controlled by his party. 

Bush is removed from office – through an election? 

Now THERE’S an idea! 

That might work, if there isn’t another major terrorist attack here late in the summer, followed by martial law and the elections being put off until we’ve finally and definitively won the war to rid the world of all evil in all its forms.  You know, that could take some time. 


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Paris readers add nine hours....