Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

Creating Crises

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

Notes on Forcing Things to the Breaking Point

Thursday, February 22, gave us all the bad news from Vienna - things coming to a head - and in this case not their favorite hot, too sweet coffee thing mit schlag (you can look that up if your wish). Actually, it was the long-expected bad news -

    Iran has ignored a U.N. Security Council ultimatum to freeze uranium enrichment - a possible pathway to nuclear arms - and has instead expanded its program by setting up hundreds of centrifuges, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Thursday. The finding paves the way for new U.N. sanctions.

    Hours later, the United States said key countries would meet next week to try to develop a new U.N. resolution on the standoff.

    The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report to the Security Council and its 35-nation board that Tehran also has continued to build a heavy water reactor and related facilities - which, along with enrichment - could help it develop nuclear arms.

    In addition, the report said Iran ignored a Security Council call to cooperate with the IAEA in its efforts to shed light on suspicious nuclear activities.

Iran is not backing down, and why should they? What are we going to do - bomb them back to the 1850s or something?  We do that and we bring on a far wider war, and enflame much of the Muslim world against us - Arab, Persian and Kurd (and Indonesian) - and put our hundred and sixty thousand troops in the region at peril, along with the hundred thousand contract combatants we've hired to help out.  The issue with just supply lines would make the business we had to manage for Berlin - June 21, 1948 to May 11, 1949 - look like a minor pizza delivery, just when the local bad guys are getting the hang of taking out our helicopters.

And too, bad things could happen here - every chemical plant, Dow in Delaware and all the rest, is vulnerable, thanks to the Vice President's son-in-law (no, really). And the flow of oil from the region could well drop to a trickle, disabling every SUV with a magnetic Support the Troops ribbon from Wyoming to South Carolina.

War with Iran would be monumentally counterproductive, or "really dumb" if you wish. But we have done some really dumb things in the past. One never knows.

And it's not as if they're just asking for it, by being so difficult.  We're helping them along.

Julian Borger reports on that in the Guardian (UK) - noting we've been assisting the IAEA folks with lots of tips, except our Iran intelligence 'is incorrect' -

    Much of the intelligence on Iran's nuclear facilities provided to UN inspectors by US spy agencies has turned out to be unfounded, diplomatic sources in Vienna said today.

    The claims, reminiscent of the intelligence fiasco surrounding the Iraq war, coincided with a sharp increase in international tension as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran was defying a UN security council ultimatum to freeze its nuclear programme.

    At the heart of the debate are accusations - spearheaded by the US - that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.

    However, most of the tip-offs about supposed secret weapons sites provided by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies have led to dead ends when investigated by IAEA inspectors, according to informed sources in Vienna.

    "Most of it has turned out to be incorrect," a diplomat at the IAEA with detailed knowledge of the agency's investigations said.

    "They gave us a paper with a list of sites. [The inspectors] did some follow-up, they went to some military sites, but there was no sign of [banned nuclear] activities.

    "Now [the inspectors] don't go in blindly. Only if it passes a credibility test."

The last time around on such matters we claimed the IAEA inspectors were just plain incompetent - we knew Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological stockpiles, and a nuclear bomb program, and we knew where and told them - and the IAEA guys the UN sent in were full of crap, or corrupt, or cowards, or something. We knew, and there was something really fishy about the inspectors finding nothing.

The American people generally bought that, at the time.  But will it work this time?

Much has changed since then - skepticism has become marginally acceptable now.

The only recourse may have been to plant evidence -

    One particularly contentious issue was records of plans to build a nuclear warhead, which the CIA said it found on a stolen laptop computer supplied by an informant inside Iran.

    In July 2005, US intelligence officials showed printed versions of the material to IAEA officials, who judged it to be sufficiently specific to confront Iran.

    Tehran rejected the material as forged, and there are still reservations within the IAEA about its authenticity, according to officials with knowledge of the internal debate in the agency.

    "First of all, if you have a clandestine programme, you don't put it on laptops which can walk away," one official said. "The data is all in English which may be reasonable for some of the technical matters, but at some point you'd have thought there would be at least some notes in Farsi. So there is some doubt over the provenance of the computer."

Well, it was worth a try. 

And of course IAEA officials do not comment on intelligence passed to them by foreign governments, saying all such assistance is confidential. It would be interesting to know what their actual comment might be on the funky laptop provided by our super-duper secret informant in Iran. "Yeah, right," comes to mind.  There are real and quite serious issues - the IAEA guys didn't really need the help.

So which side is escalating this issue?  Both seem to be.  It's quite mad.

Perhaps a third and less nutty party might calm the waters here, and Times of London reports that might be, however unlikely, Tony Blair, further shedding his "Bush's poodle" image -

    Tony Blair has declared himself at odds with hawks in the US Administration by saying publicly for the first time that it would be wrong to take military action against Iran.  The Prime Minister's comments came hours before the UN's nuclear watchdog raised the stakes in the West's showdown with Tehran.

First the man announces the withdrawal of a big chunk of British troops from Iraq, just when we're poring more of ours in to make this all work, against all advice and in defiance of the apparent wishes of the American people and congress, and any number of sentient beings - and now this.

To be fair, the item also mentions there are a bunch of Blair-like girly-men on this side of the pond, and in the White House of all places -

    But there are deep fissures within the US Administration. Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, who has previously called for direct talks with Tehran, is said to be totally opposed to military action.

    Although he has dispatched a second US aircraft carrier to the Gulf, he is understood to believe that airstrikes would inflame Iranian public opinion and hamper American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. One senior adviser to Mr Gates has even stated privately that military action could lead to Congress impeaching Mr Bush.

    Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, is also opposed to using force, while Steve Hadley, the president's National Security Adviser, is said to be deeply sceptical.

    The hawks are led by Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, who is urging Mr Bush to keep the military option "on the table". He is also pressing the Pentagon to examine specific war plans - including, it is rumoured, covert action.

This leads one writer to ask why the Brits always seem to know more than we do? No one here is reporting this inside stuff - "Reading between the lines, it sounds like we probably won't launch an attack on Iran... unless Dick Cheney gets his way.  Which he usually does."

But that impeachment business offers an odd choice - "While there's a part of us that would like to see 'Mr Bush' impeached, if the choice is that or no war with Iran, we'll gladly stick it out until 1/20/09."

On the other hand, this president likes to "force the issue" on everything, and is advised by his second father, the man his actual father disliked and distrusted, Cheney.  This could get interesting - but that might be the wrong word.  Things are being forced to a crisis point.  Heck, even Senator Joseph "Holier than Any of You Will Ever Be" Lieberman - the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2000 - says he will certainly quit the side he's nominally on and happily join the Republican Party - and throw the Senate to them - if the Democrats persist in opposing any of the president's policies. The Nation's Prude has spoken. Vote the wrong way, say the wrong thing, and I'll ruin everything for the Democrats.

Choose sides.  That's the order of the day.  And Joe really loves his new power - and his new friends at Fox News.

As for Prime Minister Blair, he's a different sort of guy. Andrew Sullivan argues Blair is just doing what is necessary in all these matters, and that British withdrawal is hardly a watershed. It's small - minimal - and the timing obviously indeterminate. In short, it is "the least that Blair can still do to appease the overwhelming sense of public opinion in Britain, while not rupturing the alliance, or leaving irresponsibly."

He is not choosing sides, and Blair is blackmailing no one. 

And Sullivan notes this about the withdrawal -

    It is not, whatever the unhinged vice-president says, a sign of great success. Blair, a man of good faith who is yet another victim of this presidency, was candid about that:

    "What all this means is not that Basra is how we want it to be," Mr. Blair said, "but it does mean that the next chapter in Basra's history can be written by Iraqis." The city, he said, "is still a difficult and dangerous place."

    What's more telling is how unpopular the war is in Britain, and how an entire generation of Brits have now grown up thinking of the United States as a bullying, torturing force for instability in the world. That's not the America I love - but it is the image of America that Bush and Cheney have built for the largest generation of human beings ever to grow up on the planet. In Italy, the government has fallen because there is no longer support for even a minimal presence in Afghanistan, let alone Iraq.

    Soft power can be over-hyped. It's no substitute for military prowess. But soft power still matters. Once, for all the residual anti-Americanism out there, it was a significant plus for the U.S. Bush has somehow managed to give the U.S. a soft-power deficit - in a war against some of the most barbaric, evil enemies we have ever faced. That really is an achievement. And it will take another generation to fix it. It's one reason Obama is so appealing, I think. Electing him after Bush-Cheney would amount to the strongest signal that America is moving past the Bush-Cheney era. That's a message the world is desperate to hear, and it would make enlisting more allies in the war against Islamist terror much easier.

How did Barack Obama get in there? It's a matter of choosing sides. He's the anti-Cheney, and exists on a far different planet than the one Lieberman thinks he is on at the moment. He's also about "not choosing sides" - he's just about doing the right thing.

But is our "surge" - the opposite of what Blair ordered - the right thing to do?

Consider this nugget from Newsweek -

    The British are leaving, the Iraqis are failing and the Americans are staying - and we're going to be there a lot longer than anyone in Washington is acknowledging right now. As Democrats and Republicans back home try to outdo each other with quick-fix plans for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and funds, what few people seem to have noticed is that Gen. David Petraeus's new "surge" plan is committing U.S. troops, day by day, to a much deeper and longer-term role in policing Iraq than since the earliest days of the U.S. occupation. How long must we stay under the Petraeus plan? Perhaps 10 years. At least five. In any case, long after George W. Bush has returned to Crawford, Texas, for good.

    But don't take my word for it. I'm merely a messenger for a coterie of counterinsurgency experts who have helped to design the Petraeus plan - his so-called "dream team" - and who have discussed it with NEWSWEEK, usually on condition of anonymity, owing to the sensitivity of the subject. To a degree little understood by the U.S. public, Petraeus is engaged in a giant "do-over." It is a near-reversal of the approach taken by Petraeus's predecessor as commander of multinational forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, until the latter was relieved in early February, and most other top U.S. commanders going back to Rick Sanchez and Tommy Franks. Casey sought to accelerate both the training of Iraqi forces and American withdrawal. By 2008, the remaining 60,000 or so U.S. troops were supposed to be hunkering down in four giant "superbases," where they would be relatively safe. Under Petraeus's plan, a U.S. military force of 160,000 or more is setting up hundreds of "mini-forts" all over Baghdad and the rest of the country, right in the middle of the action. The U.S. Army has also stopped pretending that Iraqis - who have failed to build a credible government, military or police force on their own - are in the lead when it comes to kicking down doors and keeping the peace. And that means the future of Iraq depends on the long-term presence of U.S. forces in a way it did not just a few months ago. "We're putting down roots," says Philip Carter, a former U.S. Army captain who returned last summer from a year of policing and training in the hot zone around Baquba. "The Americans are no longer willing to accept failure in order to put Iraqis in the lead. You can't let the mission fail just for the sake of diplomacy."

Well, at least no one is any longer pretending that Iraq has a credible government, military or police force of their own - so saying that sort of thing is just for the rubes who listen to the public statements of the administration.  Behind the scenes we'll just step in and provide that sort of thing, from now on, forever. After all, the locals may take another six hundred years to sort out their issues.  It hardly matters now.  David Petraeus is thus not choosing political sides in the great debate over here.  He's just doing what must be done over there. But keep it quiet - the truth of the matter interferes with all the posturing.

And as for that soft power business that Sullivan frets about - an entire generation of Brits (and so many others) who have now grown up thinking of the United States as a bullying, torturing force for instability in the world - well, there's different side to that issue too.

We may very well have driven one of our own citizens quite mad, as policy -

    Accused al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla suffers from intense stress and anxiety stemming from his isolated years in military custody and cannot adequately help his lawyers prepare for trial, two defense mental experts testified Thursday.

    Defense lawyers hope to delve more deeply into Padilla's treatment at a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., later in the federal hearing, when they are allowed to question brig officials directly involved in his custody. Those officials have never spoken publicly about the case, and the hearing will continue Monday.

    "He is immobilized by his anxiety," said Patricia Zapf, a forensic psychologist who administered tests on Padilla last October. "He believes he will go back to the brig and he will die there."

    The hearing before U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke on Padilla's competency is crucial in deciding whether he and two co-defendants will stand trial in April.

As you might recall, Padilla, a thirty-six-year-old United States citizen, is charged with being part of a North American terror support cell that provided money, recruits and supplies to Islamic extremists around the world. He, and the two others involved, have pleaded not guilty.  They face life imprisonment.

Curiously, the administration initially claimed that Padilla was on an al Qaeda mission to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in some unidentified major city when he was arrested in May 2002 at O'Hare, and was then designated an "enemy combatant" - and he was imprisoned by the military without any criminal charges. But the dirty-bomb allegations are not part of the Miami case at all.  They had to drop that. This is the best they can do with him.

Now he's claiming in court filings that he was tortured by the military - and officials have denied he was, saying he is quite competent for trial.

The denial from the Defense Department is classic  - "It has always been our policy to treat all detainees humanely. The government in the strongest terms denies Padilla's allegations of torture, allegations made without support and without citing a shred of record evidence."

But then, how he was treated is highly classified, so any evidence, they argue, cannot be admitted. That's cute.

The defense trotted out a second forensic neuropsychiatrist, who, after twenty-who hours with the guy, says he cannot assist in his own defense -

    Padilla's symptoms are most acute when he is asked to talk about his 3 1/2 years in the brig, including interrogations techniques used on him, or to review evidence in his criminal case, including transcripts of intercepted telephone conversations, Hegarty said.

    "He doesn't want to because it hurts so much, and because it hurts so much he shuts down," Hegarty said.

But, if you've chosen sides, he's guilty as sin, so what does it matter?

Naomi Klein suggests that it might matter quite a bit - "America has deliberately driven hundreds, perhaps thousands, of prisoners insane."

The Miami case is the start of the reckoning -

    Something remarkable is going on in a Miami courtroom. The cruel methods US interrogators have used since September 11 to "break" prisoners are finally being put on trial. This was not supposed to happen. The Bush administration's plan was to put José Padilla on trial for allegedly being part of a network linked to international terrorists. But Padilla's lawyers are arguing that he is not fit to stand trial because he has been driven insane by the government.

    Arrested in May 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare airport, Padilla, a Brooklyn-born former gang member, was classified as an "enemy combatant" and taken to a navy prison in Charleston, South Carolina. He was kept in a cell 9ft by 7ft, with no natural light, no clock and no calendar. Whenever Padilla left the cell, he was shackled and suited in heavy goggles and headphones. Padilla was kept under these conditions for 1,307 days. He was forbidden contact with anyone but his interrogators, who punctured the extreme sensory deprivation with sensory overload, blasting him with harsh lights and pounding sounds. Padilla also says he was injected with a "truth serum", a substance his lawyers believe was LSD or PCP.

So what did you expect?

And how does it fit in the matter of choosing sides?

Try this -

    It's difficult to overstate the significance of these hearings. The techniques used to break Padilla have been standard operating procedure at Guantánamo Bay since the first prisoners arrived five years ago. They wore blackout goggles and sound-blocking headphones and were placed in extended isolation, interrupted by strobe lights and heavy metal music. These same practices have been documented in dozens of cases of "extraordinary rendition" carried out by the CIA, as well as in prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Many have suffered the same symptoms as Padilla. According to James Yee, a former army Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo, there is an entire section of the prison called Delta Block for detainees who have been reduced to a delusional state. "They would respond to me in a childlike voice, talking complete nonsense. Many of them would loudly sing childish songs, repeating the song over and over." All the inmates of Delta Block were on 24-hour suicide watch.

    Human Rights Watch has exposed a US-run detention facility near Kabul known as the "prison of darkness" - tiny pitch-black cells, strange blaring sounds. "Plenty lost their minds," one former inmate recalled. "I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors."

    These standard mind-breaking techniques have never faced scrutiny in an American court because the prisoners in the jails are foreigners and have been stripped of the right of habeas corpus - a denial that, scandalously, was just upheld by a federal appeals court in Washington DC. There is only one reason Padilla's case is different - he is a US citizen. The administration did not originally intend to bring Padilla to trial, but when his status as an enemy combatant faced a Supreme Court challenge, the administration abruptly changed course, charging Padilla and transferring him to civilian custody. That makes Padilla's case unique - he is the only victim of the post-9/11 legal netherworld to face an ordinary US trial.

So now it all comes out, and one must decide whether one sides with the government on this -

    The CIA and the military have known since the early 1960s that extreme sensory deprivation and sensory overload cause personality disintegration - that's the whole point. "The deprivation of stimuli induces regression by depriving the subject's mind of contact with an outer world and thus forcing it in upon itself. At the same time, the calculated provision of stimuli during interrogation tends to make the regressed subject view the interrogator as a father-figure." That comes from Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation, a declassified 1963 CIA manual for interrogating "resistant sources".

    The manual was based on the findings of the agency's notorious MK-ULTRA program, which in the 1950s funneled about $25m to scientists to carry out research into "unusual techniques of interrogation". One of the psychiatrists who received CIA funding was the infamous Ewen Cameron, of Montreal's McGill University. Cameron subjected hundreds of psychiatric patients to large doses of electroshock and total sensory isolation, and drugged them with LSD and PCP. In 1960 Cameron gave a lecture at the Brooks air force base in Texas, in which he stated that sensory deprivation "produces the primary symptoms of schizophrenia".

    There is no need to go so far back to prove that the US military knew full well that it was driving Padilla mad. The army's field manual, reissued just last year, states: "Sensory deprivation may result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, depression, and antisocial behavior" - as well as "significant psychological distress".

    If these techniques drove Padilla insane, that means the US government has been deliberately driving hundreds, possibly thousands, of prisoners insane around the world. What is on trial in Florida is not one man's mental state. It is the whole system of US psychological torture.

Maybe it's a good thing, really. Watch enough episodes of "24" and trust Fox News and the Vice President. You have to do what you have to do.  Or are you on the other side of this business?

The item has a response from a reader -

    As an older US citizen I am mortified that as a country we are so apathetic about our own Constitution that we have allowed our government to be usurped by a gang - yes I mean a gang - of people so out of touch with our democratic principles and ethical requirements as citizens that we think it acceptable to adopt the tactics of other (yes, other) totalitarian regimes of the not too distant past.

    We are now no longer any better than any other central authority that has tortured, maimed, and driven mad through pain, people arrested as "enemies of the State" or captured as combatants on the battlefield.

    My country no longer has any moral standing upon which to stand to say that something is inhumane. We are now inhumane and callous, and our representatives in Washington can do no more than dither and fumble around the edges of the issues while the administration recreates the worst behavior of Nazi concentration camp doctors and guards. Yes, Nazis. We are now the enemy we tried and convicted in Nuremburg in 1947 for following orders from on high without questioning their morality or purpose.

    We told them then, and hanged some for this very thing: "I was only following orders." This is neither an excuse nor an answer a person sworn to uphold his or her country's honor, either in peace or in war, should give and still claim not to be a puppet. The behavior is barbaric, and the people from the administration, past and present, on down to the lowest enlisted person and civilian or CIA operative should be held responsible for their actions. If the World Court were able to arrest and try and convict them for crimes against humanity you would hear no complaints from me.

That's choosing sides. Or treason.  You decide.

Another reader - "We are well on the road to beginning to deserve what we get."

We are?

We're only being forced to choose sides. That seems to be the plan.

"What is the question now placed before society with the glib assurance which to me is most astonishing? That question is this: Is man an ape or an angel? I, my lord, I am on the side of the angels. I repudiate with indignation and abhorrence those new fangled theories." - Benjamin Disraeli, in a speech at the Oxford Diocesan Conference

Disraeli of course was speaking out against what he understood to be Darwin's theories.  Somehow, however, it fits here - and even apes treat their own kind better.

So, presented with dire artificial crises, and "new" ways to deal with them, and asked to approve what used to be considered awful and at the very best is just plain dumb, it's always best to go with the angels.

It's too bad the apes are running the joint.

This item posted - in its final version - February 24, 2007

[Creating Crises]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik