Monday, December 31, 2007

What will you do in 2008?

(Cross posted from Gold Star Mom Speaks Out)

"Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph."

Haile Selassi

I'm not sure there are many, including members of the 110th Congress themselves, who are particularly happy with what was accomplished in Washington DC in 2007. There was much hope after the November 2006 election that we would see real changes in the direction our country was headed; there was hope, finally, for a beginning to the end of the occupation in Iraq. Sadly, we are no closer to getting our military out of Iraq now than in November 2006 or even March 2003. We hear that the presidential candidates are either planning to leave troops in Iraq for decades, as we have in Korea, or increase the number of troops there to restore order. Of the three Democratic candidates, Clinton, Obama and Edwards, none was willing to pledge that all combat forces in Iraq would be gone by the end of the next president's term in 2013.

What did you do in 2007 to end the war? Did you act? Did you contact your legislator? Did you write a letter to the editor? Did you pick up the phone? Did you participate in a rally or a protest? Or were your days filled with inaction?

Were you indifferent when you heard of our young men and women's souls were leaving this earth from the sands of Iraq? Were you affected by the death and displacement of so many Iraqi's who never asked that this fight be brought to their land? What did you do to stop the war/occupation? Did you think it isn't your problem? Did you think nothing you did would matter or did you just not care?

Were you silent about the injustice of this pointless and endless war? Were you silent when your voice could have been heard and counted? Were you silent because it was easier that way or did you just not care?

Did you do anything to have your voice heard protesting about the erosion of our privacy rights or did you go shopping? Did the millions of displaced, wounded or dead Iraqi's not bother you or did you think it would all go away if you put a magnetic yellow ribbon on your vehicle? You know better.

What have you done to honor the lives of our military, like my son, Lt Ken Ballard who was killed in Najaf, Iraq on 5.30.2004? 902 US military were killed and 5900 were wounded in 2007- what did you do to stop the casualties? What have you done to prevent one more flag covered casket from coming home?

The media will make a lot of noise about the presidential campaign in 2008. There may be so much noise that we hear no other news. But with a little effort, you can find many websites and news programs that dig deep, as well as skim the surface to make sure you have the news you need to be an informed citizen and voter.

You needn't get your news only from the so-called mainstream media. Try,,,,,, and Project Censored to start (there are dozens of other good sites that are easy enough to find). MSNBC's nightly show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann is another good source for authentic news. Mr Olbermann provides me with a sense of grounding; when I watch the show, I know it's not me who has lost my grasp of reality; the Bush administration has.

I'm not saying this is going to be easy, but your voice is important, and if you don't speak out, Washington can't hear you.

What will you do in 2008?

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US Army Admits Shooting Iraqi Civilians

The Headline:

U.S. soldiers shoot 4 Iraqi civilians, one killed

The punchy opening hook:

U.S. soldiers mistakenly shot four Iraqi civilians, killing one, during operations against al Qaeda militants, the U.S. military said on Tuesday.

The Story:

U.S. soldiers had detained a suspected al Qaeda fighter in Tarmiya, 30 km (20 miles) north of Baghdad, on Monday when they were approached by a car that did not obey an order to stop.

The readers eyes roll:

As if this is a rare news story. Doh!

The Google Results: approached car stop fired Iraq

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Security guards fire on Iraqi car

Security guards open fire on car, kill two Iraqis Oakland Tribune ...

U.S. soldiers attempted to warn the occupants of a car carrying a freed Italian journalist before troops opened fire, ...

ABC News: Pregnant Iraqi Woman Shot Near Security Checkpoint

Worldandnation: U.S. troops fire on car, killing 2 civilians (Jan. 2005)

A shooting after nightfall --
The car rolled to a stop. It was not the first time soldiers in Iraq have fired on vehicles driven by people who were either uncomprehending of the danger ...

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: AP - Middle East
In western Baghdad, an Iraqi police officer said an American patrol fired at a group of civilian cars as they approached a bridge, killing two people. ...

What Iraq's checkpoints are like |

I could go on, but there are over a million links.


The Head Shakes:



Reuters, U.S. soldiers shoot 4 Iraqi civilians, one killed, December 4, 2007.

Originally posted on GDAEman Blog.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Dick Cheney Confession: The Continuing Story of "The Fall Of The House Of Bush"

Cross posted at Edgeing

During an interview with Craig Unger about his new book "The Fall Of The House Of Bush" Amy Goodman of Democracy Now (transcript here) refers to comments made by Dick Cheney in September 1992 after the first Gulf War, in a speech at the Economic Club of Detroit explaining why the George H. W. Bush administration did not go on to Baghdad after Saddam then.

Cheney's comments in the speech show clearly that they knew irrefutably in 2003 before the invasion, not only that Saddam Hussein was no threat militarily to any country, much less to the United States, but that they also knew exactly what the conditions in Iraq likely to be produced by an invasion would be, and that they did it with eyes wide open, with conscious and full intention of producing the humanitarian crisis and chaos and death that has followed.

And knew that the responsibility for it would be theirs.

Cheney's speech begins at about 3 min 50 sec into this Democracy Now Craig Unger interview video:

Parts two and three of the Democracy Now Craig Unger interview follow here:

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When You Know The Truth, The Facts Don't Seem So Important

Cross posted at DocuDharma and Edgeing

Jason Leopold of Truthout interviews Craig Unger, a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, on the Rise of the Christian Right and Neoconservatism.

Unger garnered national attention with his previous book, House of Bush, House of Saud. Michael Moore cited it as a key source for Fahrenheit 9/11, and the film popularized the author's reports on Saudi investments in Bush family enterprises.

In his new book, The Fall of the House of Bush: The Untold Story of How a Band of True Believers Seized the Executive Branch, Started the Iraq War, and Still Imperils America's Future, Unger turns his attention to neoconservative officials and theorists. At times he focuses so closely on neocon tactics that he misses other forces driving Bush-Cheney policies. Even so, the book offers a vivid account of the use of disinformation to promote extremism.
Leopold: Craig, thank you for being with truthout today. What are some of the issues in your new book that we don't know about - that the public does not know about?

Unger: Well, I think we've been told again and again that we got into the war in Iraq beacause of intelligence failures - that various things just turned out not to be true - that we made one mistake after another.

I actually think we got into the war for exactly the opposite reason - because of intelligence successes - and by that I mean black propaganda operations - disinformation.

Chris Pepus of Chicago Reader takes the book review further for us with...

Bush and the Neocons
By Chris Pepus, Chicago Reader, Thursday 20 December 2007

When you know the Truth, the facts don't seem so important.

Craig Unger, a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, garnered national attention with his previous book, House of Bush, House of Saud. Michael Moore cited it as a key source for Fahrenheit 9/11, and the film popularized the author's reports on Saudi investments in Bush family enterprises. In The Fall of the House of Bush: The Untold Story of How a Band of True Believers Seized the Executive Branch, Started the Iraq War, and Still Imperils America's Future, Unger turns his attention to neoconservative officials and theorists. At times he focuses so closely on neocon tactics that he misses other forces driving Bush-Cheney policies. Even so, the book offers a vivid account of the use of disinformation to promote extremism.

Unger traces the origins of Bush's foreign policy to the 1970s, when prominent bureaucrats and writers gathered around such converts to conservatism as Irving Kristol and Albert Wohlstetter. The neocons scored their first big success in 1976, when two of their allies in President Ford's administration, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, created a group outside the CIA to assess the Soviet threat. That panel, dubbed Team B, was staffed by neocon worthies and led by Richard Pipes of Harvard University. One of the group's advisers was a Wohlstetter protege named Paul Wolfowitz.

Team B concluded that the CIA had vastly underestimated Soviet power and that supporters of detente were merely assisting the Kremlin's drive for world domination. It was an imaginative assessment, given that the economy of the USSR was crippled and its military infrastructure was suffering as CIA officers pointed out. Pipes's group held, for instance, that the USSR had probably deployed a top-secret antisubmarine system, even though U.S. intelligence had found no credible evidence of such a program. As Unger writes, "The absence of evidence, [Team B] reasoned, merely proved how secretive the Soviets were!" It was a bold preemptive attack on fact and logic.

Team B's creativity went unrewarded in the short term, as Jimmy Carter won the presidency that year. But Ronald Reagan would use the panel's report to justify his enormous military buildup (and consequent budget deficits) in the 1980s, and in the '90s Team B alumni and followers took aim at the Clinton administration's Middle East policy. In 1996 a group of neocons led by Richard Perle produced a policy statement, "A Clean Break," that prescribed military action to remove anti-Israel governments like Saddam Hussein's. When George W. Bush entered office, flanked by Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, it became a blueprint for war.

Unger is at his best in these early chapters, where he convincingly links neocon biases to the Republicans' most disastrous policies. He gleans a thicket of reports and think-tank papers to reveal that the Bush administration's claims about Iraqi weapons programs followed the same pattern as Team B's exaggeration of Soviet power in the 1970s. Likewise, many of the administration's rosy projections for post-Saddam Iraq originated with the authors of "A Clean Break." In 1999 one of them, David Wurmser, stated that Iraq's Shiite majority "can be expected to present a challenge to Iran's influence" instead of aligning with Iran. Wurmser offered no factual support for his claim, but wrote that his thinking had been "guided" by his ideological allies, such as Ahmed Chalabi. By that point, Unger writes, "the neocon echo chamber had begun to rely on itself to reinforce its own myths."

Four and a half years into the Iraq war, the price of upholding those myths is rising. The president and vice president appear smitten by the idea of air strikes against Iran. Unger cites Philip Giraldi, a former CIA specialist in counterterrorism, who argued that in the case of Iran, Bush officials were "using the same dance stepsódemonize the bad guys, the pretext of diplomacy, keep out of negotiations, use proxies. It is Iraq redux."

Describing three decades of right-wing gambits, Unger paints a stunning portrait of arrogance and duplicity. The Fall of the House of Bush may be the definitive group biography of the neocons. But he makes a few missteps when the story moves beyond that group. For instance, he calls President Bush a "genuine born-again Christian," despite finding evidence that the president's professions of faith are as cynical as anything Team B ever presented. Bush maintains that Billy Graham converted him to evangelical Christianity in 1985, but Graham has disagreed with that and so has Mickey Herskowitz, a ghostwriter of Bush's 1999 autobiography.

Herskowitz told Unger that Bush couldn't recall the details of his 1985 meeting with Graham and replied negatively when Herskowitz asked him whether Graham had said something like, "Have you gotten right with God?" (Herskowitz was "stunned" by the book's account of Bush's conversation with the minister.) "Witnessing" about your relationship with Christ is a key element of evangelicalism. Lying about your conversion experience for electoral gain is just about the last thing a sincere evangelical would do.

Unger also underplays the importance of oil-industry leaders, including his previous subjects, the Saudis. In his 2006 book Armed Madhouse, journalist Greg Palast writes about a 2000 report by the Joint Task Force on Petroleum, cosponsored by the James A. Baker III Institute (named for and headed by Bush I's secretary of state). The panel, which included oil execs as well as foreign-policy specialists, complained that Iraq was a "swing producer" of oil, with a propensity to "manipulate oil markets."

Saddam Hussein had a history of abruptly suspending and restarting oil production. In fact, he interrupted petroleum exports for 12 days the month the task force began its work. His tactics undermined efforts by the oil companies and Saudi-dominated OPEC to control the price of crude. An earlier assessment by the Baker Institute put it this way: "In a market with so little cushion to cover unexpected events, oil prices become extremely sensitive to perceived supply risks. Such a market increases the potential leverage of an otherwise lesser producer such as Iraq." For its part the task force recommended "an immediate policy review toward Iraq," including military options. Palast says Cheney got its report early in 2001, and its economic considerations may have provided the strongest impetus for war.

Likewise, the Saudis have played a large role in developing Bush's aggressive approach toward Iran and Shiite Muslims throughout the Middle East. (Saudi rulers are Sunnis.) Bush and his aides choose to blame Iran for the disaster in Iraq, even though it's the Sunnis who've inflicted the majority of casualties on U.S. troops. The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh has reported that the administration has joined the Saudis in providing clandestine support to Sunni extremists in Lebanon and Syria. The president hopes these Sunni militias will attack Iran's allies and not America's, even though some of those receiving aid have ideological affinities with Al Qaeda. It's an astonishing policy, completely at odds with the lessons of 9/11 and battlefield realities in Iraq. That contradiction is the best indicator of the House of Saud's continuing grip on Bush-Cheney foreign policy. The administration's close ties with the Saudi royals demonstrate that there are limits to the influence of the neocons, many of whom advocate regime change in Saudi Arabia.

Bush and his aides cite Iran's nuclear capability as justification for air strikes. But Hersh has reported that American intelligence thinks Iran won't have the ability to produce a warhead until sometime between 2010 and 2015. And according to an intelligence estimate released December 3, the country shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. These assessments appear to have done little to deter the administration's drive toward confrontation. "Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon," said President Bush in response to the new intelligence estimate. "What's to say they couldn't start another covert nuclear weapons program?"

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Taking it to the malls: Bringing the war home

Even before the California Supreme Court's ruling that shopping malls can't bar protestors, participants in Iraq Moratorium #4 last week were taking their message to the malls.

Some of the action moved to the malls because that's where the people were, doing holiday shopping four days before Christmas. Most "mall walkers" did just that -- walked the malls wearing antiwar shirts or singing carols, not staging actual protests.

An exception was Madison, Wisconsin, where seven people were "arrested" -- and later "unarrested" at West Towne Mall. Organizer Joy First tells what happened:

When we got to the center [of the mall], we unfurled our banners saying “3896 US soldiers killed in Iraq,” “Over 655,000 Iraqis killed” and “Stop the War Now”. A couple of us began slowly and loudly reading names of Iraqis and US soldiers killed in the war, and a couple handed out leaflets. It was only about 5-10 minutes before the mall security and manager came over and told us we had to stop. We talked to them about why we were there and why we couldn’t stop.

We felt we had the right to be there and that we needed to get this message out. Doing this action at the mall is important to juxtapose the suffering of the Iraqi people with the commercialism of the holiday season in the US. So, we continued and mall security called the police.

Bonnie, Susan, and I laid down on the floor and were covered with the banners we had been holding. Someone laid a red rose on top of each shroud. It is very uncomfortable laying there because once you are covered with the sheet, you cannot see what is going on any more. But I did continue to hear the clear, strong voices of my friends reading the names of people killed in the war as the jolly Christmas music from the mall played in the background.

I could also people walking by – some of them supportive and some not. One comment I heard several times was that we shouldn’t be doing something like this because there were kids around. I am listening to names being read, such as Mariam, daughter of Haider Mujed, age 3, or Ayat, daughter of Jaider Mujed, age 1 or Saif Alwan, age 14, or Ali Hamid, age 2. Do you remember your 2-year old and how sweet and lovable they are at that age? People are complaining that we shouldn’t do this with children present, but I think about all the Iraqi children who are being killed and wonder who will protect them.

You can read the full report and see a video of the entire action on the Iraq Moratorium website. Go to the reports section.

Elsewhere, mall walkers in San Mateo, California confronted Marine Corps recruiters in the mall (right.) Palo Alto and San Jose groups also did mall walks, and protestors sang antiwar carols outside of Macy's in San Francisco. In Nashville, activists held signs along the roadway entering a busy mall.

A group in Hobart, Indiana pioneered the mall walks for peace in October, strolling the mall and buying a few items while wearing "Out of Iraq" T-shirts and armbands.

Being "shoppers" or mall walkers seems to remove some of the legal questions about holding a protest on private property.

There have been arguments over the years that malls are the new town squares, public places where free speech should prevail. The California decision does not answer the broaader question, but dealt with union members asking shoppers to boycott a store.

The First Amendment Center offers a summary and links to stories on some of the cases, most of which have come down on the side of property rights over First Amendment rights:

Court upholds Florida candidate's petition rights in mall
State district court agrees that Kevin Wood should not have been convicted of trespassing for seeking signatures. 02.07.04

'Peace' T-shirt spawns legal fight against N.Y. town, mall
NYCLU argues that since Crossgates Mall receives tax incentives from town of Guilderland, it's a public area in which free speech is guaranteed. 05.31.04

Mall owners can limit speech, Connecticut high court says
Justices rule managers legally prohibited union members from distributing leaflets, saying shopping center is private — not public — entity. 07.20.04

Protesters at Hawaii malls can be prosecuted for trespass
State high court rejects argument that shopping center's common areas should be considered public space where free speech is protected. 08.14.04

La. man wins right to protest in front of Wal-Mart
Federal court order allows Edwin Crayton to picket on public sidewalk in front of store without permit from city. 11.14.06

Prediction for 2008: More mall walks, more protests, more legal challenges as antiwar actions escalate.

Says Joy First in Madison:

We must and we will continue to speak out against the war and occupation. As the devastation in Iraq continues and more and more people are hurt and killed, as more people become refugees, as more US soldiers come home with injuries physical, emotional, and spiritual, as more children in this country are starving and homeless because we are using all resources in Iraq, we will continue to take more and more risks in speaking out against the horrors that are caused by our government’s actions. We cannot and will not remain silent. It is our duty and responsibility to speak out.

Cross-posted on Docudharma

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Is 2008 the Year Democrats Finally Realize Iraq Is An Occupation?

Photobucket The topic below was originally posted on my blog, the Intrepid Liberal Journal, as well as the Independent Bloggers Alliance, the Peace Tree, the Out of Iraq Bloggers Caucus, the Wild Wild Left and Worldwide Sawdust.

In 2007, the Democratic Party was a self-gelding machine of ineptitude. Activists such as myself worked feverishly in 2006 to retake congress and end America’s occupation of Iraq. Instead the Bush Administration implemented a “surge” as Democrats retreated from flexing their constitutional muscle. They continued to fund military operations, never invoked the War Powers Act and impeachment was taken off the table.

Remarkable considering how unpopular both the Iraq occupation and President Bush had become. Cracks even appeared in the façade of GOP unity as their Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell warned the Bush Administration that congressional Republicans would not allow Iraq to harm their electoral prospects in 2008. Indeed, on June 26th the Washington Post quoted McConnell as saying,

“I anticipate that we'll probably be going in a different direction in some way in Iraq. And it'll be interesting to see what the administration chooses to do."

McConell was anticipating the September testimony of Army General David H. Petraues. Yet as 2007 ends there is no denying that the unpopular Bush Administration successfully thwarted both the Democratic majority and the will of the people. How did this happen?

One can offer all sorts of explanations. Among them is that sixty-votes are required in the Senate and a thin Democratic majority had no real shot of making a difference. Others may prefer to scapegoat for their controversial “Betray Us” advertisement prior to the testimony of the highly decorated General Petraeus. Finally, some may simply contend that the surge worked and the rationale for withdrawal no longer applies.

Personally, I believe Democrats never truly wanted to end our occupation in Iraq. Iraq had sapped Bush’s popularity into oblivion, debased the Republican brand and helped fill Democratic coffers. Hence, both Reid and Pelosi were content to pursue the politics of symbolism without truly forcing the Administration’s hand.

Casting symbolic votes about timetables appeared safe and had the added advantage of keeping congressional Republicans on the defensive for supporting an unpopular war. It seemed a sure way to enhance their congressional majority as well as retake the White House but changed nothing on the ground. As a result, 2007 ends with congressional Democrats appearing impotent and unprincipled. Is it any wonder their poll ratings are so low?

Tragically, Democrats failed to realize that the American public opposed the war because we were perceived as losing rather than believing toppling Saddam’s government was wrong. Furthermore, even Americans who opposed the war from the beginning are instinctively repulsed at the notion of “losing” a war. Culturally, Americans don’t accept losing a war gracefully. Most countries don’t. For example, the Vietnam War was unpopular at the end yet liberals were easily stigmatized as weak defeatists for opposing it. Hence, once the so-called surge helped establish superficial conditions of stability, casting symbolic votes about withdrawal deadlines ceased to be effective.

It is therefore imperative that in 2008 Democrats stop referring to Iraq as a war but an occupation instead. The war in Iraq was both ill conceived and immoral. Many citizens including myself took to the streets and protested in 2002-2003. We didn’t protest because we feared losing. Rather we didn’t accept the rationale for the war and feared the occupation to follow.

The war as we all know ended when President Bush declared “Mission Accomplished.” Saddam’s regime was easily toppled and weapons of mass destruction were never found. The military did its job. The war was wrong but it happened and we won. We have been sustaining a brutal occupation since its conclusion. Occupations typically result in the wholesale deaths and torture of civilians. Maintaining an occupation is corrupting to the “victor.” Numerous people including bloggers and thinkers far more intelligent and eloquent than myself already reached that conclusion and the folly of buying into Bush’s framing the Iraq debate as a “war.”

As George Lakoff wrote on July 5, 2006,

“In an occupation, there are pragmatic issues: Are we welcome? Are we doing the Iraqis more harm than good? How badly are we being hurt? The question is not whether to withdraw, but when and how? What to say? You might prefer ‘End the occupation now’ or ‘End the occupation by the end of the year’ or ‘End the occupation within a year,’ but certainly Congress and most Americans should be able to agree on ‘End the occupation soon.’ In an occupation, not a war, should the president still have war powers? How, if at all, is the Supreme Court decision on military tribunals at Guantanamo affected if we are in an occupation, not a war? What high-handed actions by the President, if any, are ruled out if we are no longer at war?”

If Democrats at long last get their heads out of their ass the “surge” can be looked upon in its appropriate context. Yes, the surge reduced deaths of American GIs. Tactically it’s been a success. To deny that is to ignore reality. Even more significant are the Iraqi Sunnis resisting al Quaeda themselves. But what does any of that have to do with ending America’s immoral occupation, facilitating a political settlement inside Iraq and earning a measure of diplomatic good will in the Muslim world? As long as this occupation has a white Christian face we’ve condemned ourselves to walking on a toxic treadmill. The occupation is not beneficial to America or Iraq.

On December 4th, I interviewed talk radio’s Thom Hartmann, about his new book Cracking The Code: How To Win Hearts, Change Minds, and Restore America's Original Vision. Hartmann eloquently echoes Lakoff about framing Iraq as an occupation instead of a war in his book. He noted during our interview that immediately after he and Lakoff suggested the “occupation” frame in 2006, Democrats took their advice. But they soon reverted to talking about Iraq as a war. Hartmann further observed that the corporatist media finds the war frame too profitable. Writing and broadcasting about an “occupation” doesn’t sell as well or profit companies such as General Electric who have a financial stake in the media as well as military operations. The media is not going to describe Iraq as an occupation any time soon.

So it’s up to the reality based community of citizen journalists, bloggers, activists and just plain regular people to set the record straight. Many progressive bloggers reading this thread properly realized this long ago. But as we head into 2008 a reminder is in order. I for one plead guilty of too often playing into the hands of predatory conservatives and describing Iraq as a war.

So no matter what presidential candidate you’re supporting in 2008, please let their campaigns know you want Iraqi policy referred to as an “occupation” and be assertive about it. Please telephone and write your representatives in congress as well (click here and here ). And on your blogs refer to Iraq as an occupation every time you post about it. Any street protests should also reinforce the message that we're opposing an occupation. Our 2008 New Years resolution should be to once and for all shift the terms of debate about Iraq from being a “war” to an “occupation.” At stake is the blood of our GIs, innocent Iraqi civilians and ending America’s estrangement from the civilized world.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Lesser Of Two Evils?

Which presidents and political parties were responsible for America's deadliest wars? To what extent can you blame a president or a political party for choosing to go to war? This map may hold some answers. It illustrates the history of American war from 1775 to 2006. War is a necessary evil. Politics, however, shouldn't be.

"Christmas In Fallujah"

Merry Christmas

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

And So This Is Christmas...

The Betrayal Is Complete: Permanent Occupation Of Iraq
If you ever doubted it...
...this should resolve the question once and for all: We are on our own.
Asked about her "greatest mistake," Pelosi said Why don't you tell me? 'Cause I think we're doing just great." Remember when Georgie stumbled over a similar question and couldn't recall any mistakes? It seems Our Only President is not the only one so afflicted.

The hand-off...

"Principles" for Permanent Iraqi Presence
A "democratic Iraq" here means the Shiite-led Iraqi government. The current political arrangement will receive U.S. military protection against coups or any other internal subversion. That's something the Iraqi government wants desperately: not only is it massively unpopular, even among Iraqi Shiites, but the increasing U.S.-Sunni security cooperation strikes the Shiite government -- with some justification -- as a recipe for a future coup.
In other words, we're staying in Iraq to defend George Bush's ass, and his puppet Nouri al-Maliki against all enemies, foreign and domestic. What will the presidential candidates say about this?

And So This Is Christmas... and what have you done?

Merry Christmas, Nancy...

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Military Evangelism Deeper, Wider Than First Thought

Military Evangelism Deeper, Wider Than First Thought
By Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report, Friday 21 December 2007

For US Army soldiers entering basic training at Fort Jackson Army base in Columbia, South Carolina, accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior appears to be as much a part of the nine-week regimen as the vigorous physical and mental exercises the troops must endure.

That's the message directed at Fort Jackson soldiers, some of whom appear in photographs in government issued fatigues, holding rifles in one hand, and Bibles in their other hand.

Frank Bussey, director of Military Ministry at Fort Jackson, has been telling soldiers at Fort Jackson that "government authorities, police and the military = God's Ministers,"

Bussey's teachings from the "God's Basic Training" Bible study guide he authored says US troops have "two primary responsibilities": "to praise those who do right" and "to punish those who do evil - "God's servant, an angel of wrath." Bussey's teachings directed at Fort Jackson soldiers were housed on the Military Ministry at Fort Jackson web site. Late Wednesday, the web site was taken down without explanation. Bussey did not return calls for comment. The web site text, however, can still be viewed in an archived format.

The Christian right has been successful in spreading its fundamentalist agenda at US military installations around the world for decades. But the movement's meteoric rise in the US military came in large part after 9/11 and immediately after the US invaded Iraq in March of 2003. At a time when the United States is encouraging greater religious freedom in Muslim nations, soldiers on the battlefield have told disturbing stories of being force-fed fundamentalist Christianity by highly controversial, apocalyptic "End Times" evangelists, who have infiltrated US military installations throughout the world with the blessing of high-level officials at the Pentagon. Proselytizing among military personnel has been conducted openly, in violation of the basic tenets of the United States Constitution.

Perhaps no other fundamentalist Christian group is more influential than Military Ministry, a national organization and a subsidiary of the controversial fundamentalist Christian organization Campus Crusade for Christ. Military Ministry's national web site boasts it has successfully "targeted" basic training installations, or "gateways," and has successfully converted thousands of soldiers to evangelical Christianity.

Military Ministry says its staffers are responsible for "working with Chaplains and Military personnel to bring lost soldiers closer to Christ, build them in their faith and send them out into the world as Government paid missionaries" - which appears to be a clear-cut violation of federal law governing the separation of church and state.

"Young recruits are under great pressure as they enter the military at their initial training gateways," the group has stated on its web site. "The demands of drill instructors push recruits and new cadets to the edge. This is why they are most open to the 'good news.' We target specific locations, like Lackland AFB [Air Force base] and Fort Jackson, where large numbers of military members transition early in their career. These sites are excellent locations to pursue our strategic goals."

Mikey Weinstein, the founder and president of the government watchdog organization the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, whose group has been closely tracking Military Ministry's activities at Fort Jackson and other military bases around the country, said in an interview that using "the machinery of the state" to promote any form of religion is "not only unconstitutional and un-American but it also creates a national security threat of the first order."

A six-month investigation by MRFF has found Military Ministry's staff has successfully targeted US soldiers entering basic training at Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston, with the approval of the Army base's top commanders.

"I've said it before and I will say it again," Weinstein said. "We are in the process of creating a fundamentalist Christian Taliban and somebody has to do something to stop it now."

Weinstein points out that on Fort Jackson's Military Ministry web site, the basic training battalion commander, Lt. Col. David Snodgrass, and the battalion's chaplain, Maj. Scott Bullock, who appear in uniform in a photograph with Bussey, is a clear-cut violation of Military rules. MRFF contacted Bussey via email on Wednesday to request information about the "similar programs" he claimed Fort Jackson has for soldiers of other faiths. Bussey, responding to MRFF via email, did not provide an answer to the watchdog group's question, but, instead, he fired back a query of his own asking MRFF Senior Research Director Chris Rodda to direct him to the place in the Constitution where it states there is a "separation of church and state."

A spokesperson for the Fort Jackson Army base did not return calls for comment. Earlier this week, after MRFF exposed the potential constitutional violations between Military Ministry and the Fort Jackson Army base, Bussey added language to Military Ministry at Fort Jackson web site in the form of a "notice to MRFF and ACLU types" in bold red letters that says the Bible study classes are strictly voluntary, not command directed in any way, allows soldiers to exercise for themselves the right of freedom of religion ... and similar programs exist on Fort Jackson for Soldiers of all faiths."

Clause 3, Article VI of the Constitution forbids a religion test for any position in the federal government, and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights says Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion.

In July, the Pentagon's inspector general (IG) responded to a complaint filed a year earlier by MRFF that accused Pentagon officials of violating the federal law governing the separation of church and state. The IG did not address the church/state issue, but he issued a 45-page report admonishing several high-level Pentagon officials for participating, while in uniform and on active duty, in a promotional video sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ's Christian Embassy group. The IG report quoted one high-ranking military official as saying he believed his participation in the video was acceptable because Campus Crusade for Christ had become so embedded in the Pentagon's day-to-day operations that he viewed the organization as a "quasi federal entity."

The IG report recommended the military officials who appeared in the video be disciplined, but the Pentagon would not say whether it has in fact punished the military officers who appeared in the video.

MRFF uncovered another recent Campus Crusade for Christ promotional video filmed at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs that would appear to violate the same military rules detailed in the IG report. Cadets and academy officials appear in uniform discussing how Campus Crusade for Christ helped strengthen their bonds with Jesus.

Scot Blom, the Campus Crusade for Christ director assigned to work at the Air Force Academy, says in the video the organization "has always been very intentional about going after the leaders or the future leaders" and that's why Campus Crusade for Christ picked the Air Force Academy to spread its fundamentalist Christian message. Every week, according to the video, cadets are encouraged to participate in a Bible study class called "cru" short for "crusade."

"Our purpose for Campus Crusade for Christ at the Air Force Academy is to make Jesus Christ the issue at the Air Force Academy and around the world," Blom says in the video. "They're government paid missionaries when they leave here."

Weinstein said the recent promotional video for Campus Crusade for Christ, and the photograph of US soldiers holding Bibles in one hand and rifles in the other posted on the Fort Jackson Military Ministry web site, gives the impression the Pentagon endorses the fundamentalist Christian organization and underscores that the occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan appears to be more of a modern-day fundamentalist Christian crusade. That message, Weinstein said, could lead to more "jihads" against the United States.

Indeed. Weinstein, a former White House counsel during the Reagan administration, former general counsel to Texas billionaire and two-time presidential candidate H. Ross Perot and a former Air Force Judge Advocate General, said he had an "unexpected" telephone conversation with several senior Bush administration intelligence officials this week who encouraged him "to continue to fight for the separation of church and state in the US military" because, these senior administration intelligence officials told Weinstein, US troops are being put in harms way.

Weinstein said the senior administration intelligence officials told him they too have been tracking Islamic web sites where people have been discussing on message boards the fundamental Christianity issues Weinstein has raised within the US military. The intelligence officials told Weinstein they are concerned the fundamentalist Christian agenda surfacing in the military could lead to attacks against US soldiers. Weinstein said he could not identify the senior Bush intelligence administration officials he spoke with because they contacted him with the understanding they would not be named.

Fundamental Christianity's Influence on the Bush Administration

While Weinstein has worked tirelessly the past four years exposing the Christian Right's power grab within the military, he says the White House continues to thumb its nose at the constitutional provision mandating the separation of church and state.

Indeed. This week a US District Court judge ruled the White House must disclose its visitor logs showing White House visits by nine fundamentalist Christian leaders.

The ruling was issued in response to a lawsuit filed by the government watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), and could very well show how much influence fundamental Christian leaders such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer and Moral Majority co-founder Jerry Falwell have had on the Bush's administration.

"We think that these conservative Christian leaders have had a very big impact," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW. "The White House doesn't want to talk about how much influence these leaders have, and we want to talk about how much they do have."

Bush has been vocal about his fundamentalist Christian beliefs and how God has helped him during his presidency. A couple of weeks ago, the White House sent out Christmas cards signed by President Bush and his wife Laura that contained a Biblical passage from the Old Testament:

"You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you."

The inclusion of the Biblical passage caught the attention of longtime broadcaster Barbara Walters, who was a recipient of the presidential Christmas card.

Walters said she doesn't recall receiving "religious" holiday cards from past presidents and she wondered how non-Christians would receive such an overtly religious greeting.

"Usually in the past when I have received a Christmas card, it's been 'Happy Holidays' and so on," said Walters. "Don't you think it's a little interesting that the president of all the people is sending out a religious Christmas card? Does this also go to agnostics, and atheists, and Muslims?"

The Biblical passage inside the Christmas card did not amount to a constitutional violation because it was paid for by the Republican National Committee, but Weinstein said it's intolerable, nonetheless, because military officials believe they have the approval of the White House to allow fundamentalist Christian organizations and their leaders to proselytize in the military.

Recently, Bush nominated Brig. Gen. Cecil R. Richardson, the deputy Air Force Chief of Chaplains, to replace the outgoing Air Force Chief of Chaplains, and is in line to be promoted to Major General. Richardson was quoted in a front-page, July 12, 2005, New York Times story saying the Air Force reserves the right "to evangelize the unchurched." The distinction, Richardson said at the time, "is that proselytizing is trying to convert someone in an aggressive way, while evangelizing is more gently sharing the gospel."

Weinstein filed a federal lawsuit against the Air Force in October 2005 after Richardson's comments were published alleging "severe, systemic and pervasive" religious discrimination within the Air Force. Weinstein is a 1977 graduate of the Academy. His sons and a daughter in law are also academy graduates. Weinstein's book, "With God On Our Side: One Man's War Against An Evangelical Coup in America's Military," details the virulent anti-Semitism he was subjected to while he attended the academy and the religious intolerance that has permeated throughout the halls over the past several years.

The federal lawsuit Weinstein filed was dismissed, but the Air Force agreed to withdraw a document that authorized chaplains to evangelize members of the military. Still, Weinstein said MRFF would lobby senators to oppose Richardson's nomination because of his past statements Richardson has refused to retract.

"The Military Religious Freedom Foundation will do everything in our power to convince the United States Senate to reject the nomination of Brig. Gen. Cecil R. Richardson to become the chief of Air Force chaplains and his promotion to the rank of major general," Weinstein said in an interview. "We view Richardson as the prototypical poster child of the type of constitutional rapist we are trying to eradicate from existence within the US military."

In September, MRFF filed a lawsuit in federal court against Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and US Army Maj. Freddy Welborn, on behalf of an Army soldier stationed in Iraq. The complaint filed in US District Court in Kansas City alleges that Jeremy Hall's an Army specialist currently on active duty in Combat Operations Base Speicher, Iraq, First Amendment rights were violated when Welborn threatened to retaliate against Hall and block his reenlistment in the Army because of Hall's atheist beliefs.

"When You Join the Military, Then You Are Also in the Ministry"

The executive director of Military Ministry, retired US Army Major General Bob Dees, wrote in the organization's October 2005 "Life and Leadership" newsletter, "We must pursue our particular means for transforming the nation - through the military. And the military may well be the most influential way to affect that spiritual superstructure. Militaries exercise, generally speaking, the most intensive and purposeful indoctrination program of citizens...."

Moreover, Military Ministry's parent organization, Campus Crusade for Christ, has been re-distributing to military chaplains a DVD produced a decade ago where Tommy Nelson, a pastor at the Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas, tells an audience of Texas A&M cadets and military officers when they join the military "then you are also in the ministry."

"I, a number of years ago, was speaking at the University of North Texas - it happens to be my alma mater, up in Denton, Texas - and I was speaking to an ROTC group up there, and when I stepped in I said, "It's good to be speaking to all you men and women who are in the ministry," and they all kind of looked at me, and I think they wondered if maybe I had found the wrong room, or if they were in the wrong room, and I assured them that I was speaking to men and women in the ministry, these that were going to be future officers," Nelson says in the DVD.

Jason Leopold is senior editor and reporter for Truthout. He received a Project Censored award in 2007 for his story on Halliburton's work in Iran.

Also see:

Charges in Religious Lawsuit Against Army Detailed

Soldier Who Sued Army Facing Threats

Pentagon Sued Over Mandatory Christianity

Kill or Convert, Brought To You By The Pentagon

Video, Report Details Evangelism At Highest Levels Of US Military

Swastikas at Hunter Airfield, and a Rabbi on the Run

With God on Our Side: Evangelical Christianity On Steroids In  US Military

Ft. Leavenworth Army Chaplains Preaching Anti-Semitism to US Soldiers

Anti-Semitic Bible Teachings Disappear From Army Site

There's more: "Military Evangelism Deeper, Wider Than First Thought" >>

Saturday, December 22, 2007

War is not healthy for children and other living things

Just in time for Christmas, UNICEF has released their preliminary findings from a report on the status of children in Iraq after nearly five years of warfare.

The findings are grim.

Two million children are threatened by disease, inadequate nutrition and inconsistent education. And making matters worse, children are frequently caught in the wars crossfire - literally.

“Iraqi children are paying far too high a price,” said Roger Wright, UNICEF’s Special Representative for Iraq. “While we have been providing as much assistance as possible, a new window of opportunity is opening, which should enable us to reach the most vulnerable with expanded, consistent support. We must act now.”

Among the problems highlighted in the report

  • Only 28 per cent of Iraq’s 17 year olds sat their final exams in summer, and only 40 per cent of those sitting exams achieved a passing grade (in south and central Iraq).
  • Many of 220,000 displaced children of primary school age had their education interrupted, adding to the estimated 760,000 children (17 per cent) already out of primary school in 2006.
  • Children in remote and hard-to-reach areas were frequently cut off from health outreach services.
  • Only 20 per cent outside Baghdad had working sewerage in their community, and access to safe water remains a serious issue.
  • An average 25,000 children per month were displaced by violence or intimidation, their families seeking shelter in other parts of Iraq.
  • By the end of the year, approximately 75,000 children had resorted to living in camps or temporary shelters (25 per cent of those newly-displaced since the Samarra shrine bombing in February 2006).
  • Hundreds of children lost their lives or were injured by violence and many more had their main family wage-earner kidnapped or killed.
  • Approximately 1,350 children were detained by military and police authorities, many for alleged security violations.
And still, against all odds and that reality - UNICEF and other aid organizations managed to deliver critical assistance even though they struggled under the yoke of the lowest funding levels since 2003.

Health care was delivered and house-to-house immunization campaigns were waged, protecting four million children from polio, and three million more from measles, mumps and rubella. Because of dedicated efforts like these, Iraq remains polio-free, and cases of measles dropped from over 9,000 in 2006 to just 156 in 2007.

Nearly five million children benefited from efforts to deliver educational services. Materials and textbooks were supplied, schools were rebuilt and restored, classrooms were added to existing structures to accommodate displaced children who were forced to relocate to flee violence and ethnic strife. (It is estimated that approximately 83% of Iraqi children of primary school age were in school in 2005-2006. The numbers for 2007 are currently in the crunching process.)

Shi'ite children in a refugee camp near Najaf

UNICEF has been instrumental in providing sanitation, hygiene and most importantly - clean, potable water to as many as 500,000 internally displaced refugees. Currently, at least 200,000 Iraqis only access to clean water is a UNICEF tankering project. These are the most desperate and destitute, living in tent cities that have sprung up, populated with people who fled the violence but had no where to go.

As security improves, a clearer picture of the needs of Iraqi children will emerge, but UNICEF stresses that the challenges will be amplified by repatriating families, who will be some of the most vulnerable citizens in need of help. Many have exhausted savings and are returning to homes that may or may not be standing, and if standing, they may be standing on an ethnic battleground.

To meet the coming challenges, UNICEF and its partners are spearheading IMPACT: Iraq. IMPACT: Iraq is an initiative that draws together a network of NGOs and UN teams to rapidly assess and respond when families are vulnerable. The intent is to facilitate local recovery, because strong families make strong communities.

To help seize the current opportunity, UNICEF calls for support to:

1. rapidly increase attention and action to meet the immediate needs of children and families inside Iraq - focusing on all vulnerable groups;
2. widen humanitarian access to Iraqi children and their families in conflict zones, behind security barriers and in detention centres; and
3. strengthen Iraq’s capacity and initiatives to improve governance and mobilize its own resources to invest in national recovery.

“Iraqi children are the foundation for their country’s recovery,” said UNICEF spokesman Wright. “Where children’s lives are protected and revived, community recovery will swiftly follow. We continue to owe them our very best in 2008 and beyond.”

I agree. Now, in the spirit of the season, let's give the late, great, John Lennon the final word:

There's more: "War is not healthy for children and other living things" >>

Friday, December 21, 2007

Romney's tears

(Cross posted from Gold Star Mom Speaks Out )

There are a lot of things you can say to a Gold Star family and there are also a lot of things you shouldn't say to or about a Gold Star family. While most people are kind and empathetic when speaking to a family who has lost a loved one in war, some people can really be insensitive and insulting.

Mitt Romney, a Republican running for President was the latter this week. The AP reports that Mitt Romney's eyes filled with tears Monday as the Republican presidential contender recalled watching the casket of a soldier killed in Iraq return to the United States and imagined if it were one of his five sons.

How disingenuous. If there was a possibility that any of his 5 sons might serve their country in the military and die as a result, I might give him credit for his imagination. But Romney told us his sons are serving this country by campaigning for their father. What's the worst that could happen to them on the campaign trail? A paper cut? To suggest that serving your country campaigning for one's father is the same as serving your country in the military and underfire is just wrong. If it wasn't so serious, it would be laughable.

While I appreciate that he thinks he could imagine losing a child to war, Romney would have to have a hell of an imagination to get even anywhere near what my life is like since losing my only child, Lt Ken Ballard, to George Bush's war 3 1/2 years ago. There are not enough painful words in our language to describe the anguish that I and nearly 4000 other families feel as we wake up every morning knowing that our loved one is never coming home and that they will never again join us for the holidays. There are no words to describe the gaping hole in our hearts that will never, ever heal.

Perhaps Romney might try to imagine opening the door to the military casualty team to be told that your loved one is dead. He might try to imagine meeting his child's flag covered casket inside the belly of an airplane at the airport as he comes home for the last time. Or maybe he might imagine standing over his son's grave at Arlington National Cemetery with the sound of Taps is being played in the distance. But, mercifully, he will never know, because no one should ever know the reality of a Gold Star family.

If Mitt Romney finds imagining this war so painful, he could take steps to end this endless occupation. As a presidential candidate, Mitt Romney could make ending the war part of his platform. But, a quick search of his website lists issues such as Defeating the Jihadists, Competing with Asia, Taxes, Immigration, America's Culture and Values and others but has no specific statement on Iraq. I'm pretty sure that means it's okay with Mitt for other people's kids to keep getting blown up, as long as it is not one of his own.

Mitt Romney should stick to talking about things he knows. He will never know the pain of losing a child in a war he never supported.

There's more: "Romney's tears" >>

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Arrested Development

One of the biggest factors driving the insurgency in Iraq has been our ham-handed approach toward the Iraqi populace. In an insurgency, the support of the populace is the ultimate prize--lose that, and you lose the war. General Petraeus' much-vaunted counterinsurgency operations were supposed to address this issue head-on, and they have, up to a point. But one of the most glaring examples of our occupation behaving counter-productively has been our detention operations, where the policy seems to have been to arrest as many people as possible on whatever grounds are handy.

I'm not writing about this from the outside. In 2004-2005, and to a lesser extent this year, I have had close, inside contact with the detention programs in Iraq. I lived and worked at Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons and saw firsthand how mass arrests have negatively affected our image over here. One of the most common refrains I have heard from Iraqis is that the Americans arrest them for no reason, then release them later without even bringing any charges. I would bet a year's salary that there isn't a single Iraqi who hasn't had this happen to someone close to him. It's what they have come to expect from us.

Now Major General Douglas Stone is seeking to change all that. (Link via Iraq Newsladder.) He's finally making the argument that many of us were making back when the war started: if you arrest innocent people, then keep them locked up with genuine badguys, they won't come out on the other end with a positive opinion of you. Or, as General Conway said after hearing out Gen. Stone, "If you roll up 150 guys in a village and you don't have probable cause, you've just created 150 little terrorists."

Actually, it's worse than that. Because it's not just the 150 guys you arrested who radicalize, it's also their families and friends. Moreover, you've just made anyone who has ever heard their story (and again, EVERYONE has) that much less likely to believe you when you roll through town distributing leaflets about how wonderful the "justice" and "democracy" you've graciously bestowed upon them is. If you want to know why the Iraqis have been so hesitant to jump aboard the America bandwagon, maybe this has something to do with it.

Which is what is so confounding about the fact that Petraeus himself planned for 40,000 detainees as part of the surge. Did Petraeus actually believe that locking up 40,000 people would somehow make the Iraqis like us more? How does it make sense that, at the very same time we began talking with insurgents and indeed fighting alongside them, we implemented a policy of arresting them at an even higher rate than previously? It simply makes no sense.

Any idiot could see three years ago that our detention policies were actively fueling the insurgency. Petraeus' counter-insurgency tactics were supposed to address the areas where our actions were fueling the resistance. I'm glad that someone is finally in charge who seems to get it, but why on earth has it taken four and a half years to reach such an obvious conclusion?

(Cross-posted at Decline and Fall)

There's more: "Arrested Development" >>

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Iraq Moratorium Fridays is organizing Moratorium Fridays, the third Friday of every month. Since this Friday also happens to be the shortest, darkest day of the year, with many schools closed, and many people ducking out early from work for holiday shopping, they are asking people to organize or join in the various events planned around the country to drum up support for the anti-war advocacy.

Information about planned events can be found on this page.

There's more: "Iraq Moratorium Fridays" >>

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Remembering homeless veterans, bringing the troops home

Friday is a day to remember the homeless, as well as a day to take some action to stop the war in Iraq.

And, yes, they are related. As the environmentalists remind us, everything is connected.

National Council for the Homeless explains:

Each year since 1990, on or near the first day of winter and the longest night of the year, National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) has sponsored National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day to bring attention to the tragedy of homelessness and to remember our homeless friends who have paid the ultimate price for our nation's failure to end homelessness. This year, the National Health Care for the Homeless Council (NHCHC) has joined us in co-sponsoring this event.

In an effort to maximize the impact of the day, NCH and the NHCHC have encouraged local and statewide organizations to hold memorials of their own. Last year, over 100 cities across the nation, from Detroit to Seattle to Washington, DC, sponsored events to honor those who had died and to recommit to the task of ending homelessness.
The National Council for Homeless Veterans answers the question: How many homeless veterans are there?

Although accurate numbers are impossible to come by -- no one keeps national records on homeless veterans -- the VA estimates that nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. And nearly 400,000 experience homelessness over the course of a year. Conservatively, one out of every three homeless men who is sleeping in a doorway, alley or box in our cities and rural communities has put on a uniform and served this country. According to the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Urban Institute, 1999), veterans account for 23% of all homeless people in America.
Friday, December 21, is also Iraq Moratorium #4, which includes a plea to remember and honor veterans and their families during the holiday season, the fifth Christmas with US troops in Iraq -- at the same time that we take action to end the war and bring the troops home. There is no better way to support our troops than to get them out of Iraq.

(An expanded version of this post is at Docudharma.)

There's more: "Remembering homeless veterans, bringing the troops home" >>

Monday, December 17, 2007

Out of the Depths: CIA Torture Victim Speaks

Blogger Deep Harm over at Daily Kos did a nice job of writing up a review on Mark Benjamin's recent article at, Inside the CIA's notorious "black sites". Benjamin's article details the case of CIA Yemeni prisoner (now released), Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah.

Mr. Bashmilah was held for 19 months in a succession of prisons, trapped inside the CIA's secret worldwide gulag. Now the one-time CIA torture victim has filed a declaration as part of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU against Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing Company, and implicated in secret CIA rendition flights.

According to Mark Benjamin, Mr. Bashmilah -- a businessman who had travelled from his home in Indonesia to Jordan to help arrange a surgery for his mother -- was subjected to extreme psychological torture and physical maltreatment, first by the Jordanians:

After his arrest, the Jordanians brutally beat him, peppering him with questions about al-Qaida. He was forced to jog around in a yard until he collapsed. Officers hung him upside down with a leather strap and his hands tied. They beat the soles of his feet and his sides. They threatened to electrocute him with wires. They told him they would rape his wife and mother.

It was too much. Bashmilah signed a confession multiple pages long, but he was disoriented and afraid even to read it.

Psychological Torture in Action

Apparently the confession wasn't enough for the Americans, and the Jordanian interrogators dumped Bashmilah into the CIA gulag in October 2003. And, it was not waterboarding that the CIA in its black sites practiced upon their new prisoner, but, as I've been warning, severe psychological torture:

Flight records show Bashmilah was flown to Kabul....

He was then placed in a windowless, freezing-cold cell, roughly 6.5 feet by 10 feet. There was a foam mattress, one blanket, and a bucket for a toilet that was emptied once a day. A bare light bulb stayed on constantly. A camera was mounted above a solid metal door. For the first month, loud rap and Arabic music was piped into his cell, 24 hours a day, through a hole opposite the door. His leg shackles were chained to the wall. The guards would not let him sleep, forcing Bashmilah to raise his hand every half hour to prove he was still awake....

"During the entire period of my detention there, I was held in solitary confinement and saw no one other than my guards, interrogators and other prison personnel," he wrote in his declaration.

The loud music, the isolation, the temperature extremes... all these are hallmarks of CIA psychological torture, and meant to break down prisoners' will and psyche. At some point Mr. Bashmilah was moved to another cell. This time there were two video cameras, another stock staple of CIA torture, as photography of prisoners was mentioned as far back as the early 1960s in CIA interrogation manuals. Think of that while you follow the ongoing controversy over CIA destruction of videos of interrogations of two of their more famous prisoners. No congressional committee to my knowledge is calling for the release of Mr. Bashmillah's tapes.

At the new prison, it was more of the same:

It was another tiny cell, new or refurbished with a stainless steel sink and toilet. Until clothes arrived several days later, Bashmilah huddled in a blanket. In this cell there were two video cameras, one mounted above the door and the other in a wall. Also above the door was a speaker. White noise, like static, was pumped in constantly, day and night. He spent the first month in handcuffs. In this cell his ankle was attached to a 110-link chain attached to a bolt on the floor.

The door had a small opening in the bottom through which food would appear: boiled rice, sliced meat and bread, triangles of cheese, boiled potato, slices of tomato and olives, served on a plastic plate.

Guards wore black pants with pockets, long-sleeved black shirts, rubber gloves or black gloves, and masks that covered the head and neck. The masks had tinted yellow plastic over the eyes. "I never heard the guards speak to each other and they never spoke to me," Bashmilah wrote in his declaration.

One of the more revealing aspects of the Bashmilah case is the appearance of mental health professionals, either psychologists or psychiatrists, or both, in the CIA prisons. Their job appeared to be one of patching up the psyche/emotional state of the prisoner so they didn't break down too much. Or conversely, it was part of a perverse good cop/bad cop regime that contributed to the prisoner's despair and confusion.

Here's what Benjamin reports:

It may seem bizarre for the agency to provide counseling to a prisoner while simultaneously cracking him mentally -- as if revealing a humanitarian aspect to a program otherwise calibrated to exploit systematic psychological abuse. But it could also be that mental healthcare professionals were enlisted to help bring back from the edge prisoners who seemed precariously damaged, whose frayed minds were no longer as pliable for interrogation. "My understanding is that the purpose of having psychiatrists there is that if the prisoner feels better, then he would be able to talk more to the interrogators," said Bashmilah....

He said the doctors told him to "hope that one day you will prove your innocence or that you will one day return to your family." The psychiatrists also gave him some pills, likely tranquilizers. They analyzed his dreams. But there wasn't much else they could do. "They also gave me a Rubik's Cube so I could pass the time, and some jigsaw puzzles," Bashmilah recalled.

PHR Noodges APA

Stephen Soldz reports that Physicians for Human Rights has recently circulated an email highlighting a renewed call for the American Psychological Association to call for a moratorium of psychologists working at national security interrogation sites like Guantanamo's Camp Delta, or CIA "black sites". Signed by Frank Donaghue, PHR's new Chief Executive Officer, it reads in part:

You have probably seen recent news reports about the CIA’s destruction of video recordings of interrogations allegedly showing the use of waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques. Last week, PHR released a statement, calling on the Attorney General and Congress to immediately launch independent investigations into both the alleged destruction of evidence of torture and the “enhanced” interrogation program itself. As PHR noted in our report Leave No Marks, waterboarding and other techniques can constitute war crimes.

Recent statements on ABC News and the Today Show by former CIA operative John Kiriakou allege that doctors were present during the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, which involved the use of sleep deprivation and waterboarding. PHR is calling for the Department of Justice, Congress and major health professional associations to conduct legal and ethical investigations. Those investigations must determine how physicians and psychologists participated in harsh interrogations as monitors and interrogators.

We continue to urge the American Psychological Association (APA) to place a moratorium on the participation of its members in all national security interrogations. Though PHR applauded the APA’s passage of a resolution this August stating that the tactics used by the CIA are unethical, the APA can take more steps to protect detainees from harm and US personnel from engaging in illegal abuse. PHR is asking the APA to follow the examples of the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association in refusing to allow its members to engage in abusive interrogations.

Finally, the House yesterday passed a bill which would make the Army Field Manual the unified standard for detainee treatment, prohibiting the CIA’s “enhanced” interrogation program. Now it must go before the full Senate.

Reformism and Nihilism in the Fight Against Torture

Well, the House bill passed, but then was blocked on a procedural motion by GOP representatives. But, I've been leery about the whole House bill, and any "reform" that outlaws waterboarding and other atrocities, but leaves intact the kind of psychological torture performed on Mr. Bashmilah -- like sensory deprivation and sensory overload, sleep deprivation, and solitary confinement, not to mention other kinds of psychological manipulations. The Army Field Manual allows manipulation of fear in prisoners, along with isolation, sleep deprivation, and forms of sensory deprivation. And that's what's "legal".

Additionallly, it is a truism by now that all actors and organizations involved in these by now multitudinous stories on torture deny they torture. While the American Psychiatric Association and American Medical Association have enacted their own kind of moratorium of doctor participation in interrogations, it's not clear this ever really stopped. The situation with the American Psycological Association is, if anything, even murkier.

What's left for us critics of U.S. use of torture amounts to a kind of activist nihilism. It's not clear to me that anything has changed in U.S. prisons and GWOT interrogation centers. The recent revelations over the Standard Operation Procedure manuals for Guantanamo got a little play in the press, before dropping like a stone out of sight into the dark pond that is U.S. media coverage (and that includes the bloggers).

Fifty years or more of torture, human rights abuses, covert wars, and hidden histories, have amounted to very little change. There was the UN Convention Against Torture. But then, there was were the Geneva Conventions, too. And the Magna Carta. And this country has chosen to abrogate them all.

It seems to me that only serious political change will bring about an end to the practice of torture. Lawyers will not do it. Doctors and psychologists will not do it. Even Congress will not do it. Only when humanity seizes the reins of history again and steers it back onto the road of progress will we see again appreciable movement against the evils that confront us in the form of torture, repression, and inequality.

This doesn't mean it's not worth fighting. The ACLU, PHR, Amnesty International, the Electronic Freedom Foundation, Human Rights First, etc., all are holding the line against the barbarism of untrammelled militarism and political repression. All of them deserve your support.

There's more: "Out of the Depths: CIA Torture Victim Speaks" >>

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The latest worry for U.S. troops — a superbug

The Observer reports that U.S., U.K. and Canadian troops are bringing back a new virulent bacteria from both Afghanistan and Iraq:

The bacterium, Acinetobacter baumannii, first emerged as a “mystery infection” afflicting US service personnel returning from the war in Iraq in 2003-04. It was described by a scientific journal specialising in hospital epidemiology as the “most important emerging hospital-acquired pathogen worldwide.” The journal added that it was potentially a “major threat to public health” due to its ability to mutate rapidly and develop a resistance to all known drugs.

Although different types of acinetobacter have been known for decades in hospitals, the new “T” strain identified in the injured troops is particularly virulent and has been observed to appear in US servicemen within two hours of being admitted to a field hospital. It affects the spinal fluid, bones and lungs, causing pneumonia, respiratory failure and other complications. Equally worrying is its resilience. Extremely difficult to eliminate from medical facilities once established, the bug can survive for up to 176 days in a human host. US officials concede that, once established in the medical evacuation chain, the germ is almost impossible to stamp out.

It remains to be seen just how bad this may become, but, it doesn’t sound good to read about.

There's more: "The latest worry for U.S. troops — a superbug" >>

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bush Adds Another Gem to Lie Log

Cross-posted from The Paragraph

In August, I think it was … [National Intelligence Director] Mike McConnell came in and said, we have some new information. He didn’t tell me what the information was …” (2007-12-04)x60 President Bush uttered that statement last week, claiming ignorance about the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) finding that Iran has had no nuclear weapons program for years.x61 But inside reports say that the White House saw a draft of the NIE with similar views a year ago, and that Vice President Cheney had held up its release.x62 During that year, Bush and Cheney had been drumming up fear of Iran getting a nuclear weapon, even to the point where Bush raised the specter of World War III.x63 So this gem goes into the Bush lie log, joining others such as these:

  • We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq.” (2003-03-08)x65 Bush spoke that to the nation two weeks before launching the invasion of Iraq, and after spending a half-year beating the war drum. The Bush regime planned for an Iraq invasion on its first week in office, and conjured up intelligence that was “being fixed around the policy.”x66x67 A month and a week before that statement, Bush met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and told him that the start of bombing was “penciled in” for March 10th.x68

  • We gave him (Saddam Hussein) a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power.” (2003-07-14)x69 Actually, Hussein was complying with the UN resolution and weapons inspectors were making good progress, when Bush warned them to get out just before he launched the “shock and awe” attack.x70 In the years since, Bush has often repeated this false history.

  • If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of.” (2003-09-30)x71 Bush was playing dumb about the leak that blew the cover of covert CIA agent Valeri Plame. Actually, Bush had authorized such leaks in a vain try at smearing Plame’s husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, who had publicly undermined one of Bush’s false bases for invading Iraq—that the country was developing nuclear weapons.x72 But one could say that part of Bush’s statement was true: one of the leakers, Cheney’s top aide I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, who was convicted of lying to FBI agents about the leak program, was “taken care of” when Bush commuted his jail time.x73

  • By the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires – a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.” (2004-04-20)x74 At the time Bush spoke this, he had the National Security Agency (NSA) tapping into phone and internet communications at the data switches of AT&T and Verizon—all without a court order.x75x76

  • Both those men are doing fantastic jobs, and I strongly support them.” (2006-11-1)x77 Bush said this about Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and went a step further, as the reporter wrote: ”[Bush] replied in the affirmative when asked if he wanted Messrs. Rumsfeld and Cheney to stay with him until the end.” But Bush had already decided to oust Rumsfeld, and three days later did so. While this lie is not as weighty as the others, it is special in that Bush admitted he was lying. After ousting Rumsfeld, he told the same reporter: “The reason why is I did not want to make a major decision in the final days of the campaign. The only way to answer that question, and get it on to another question, was to give you that answer.”x78

Further Reading

‘Log of lies from the Bush-Cheney administration’ – Unknown News

‘George W. Bush IS a Liar’ by Robert Parry,, 2006-04-14


60 ‘Press Conference by the President’ 2007-12-04

Q Mr. President, thank you. I’d like to follow on that. When you talked about Iraq, you and others in the administration talked about a mushroom cloud; then there were no WMD in Iraq. When it came to Iran, you said in October, on October 17th, you warned about the prospect of World War III, when months before you made that statement, this intelligence about them suspending their weapons program back in ‘03 had already come to light to this administration. So can’t you be accused of hyping this threat? And don’t you worry that that undermines U.S. credibility?

THE PRESIDENT: David, I don’t want to contradict an august reporter such as yourself, but I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was Mike McConnell came in and said, we have some new information. He didn’t tell me what the information was; he did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze. Why would you take time to analyze new information? One, you want to make sure it’s not disinformation. You want to make sure the piece of intelligence you have is real. And secondly, they want to make sure they understand the intelligence they gathered: If they think it’s real, then what does it mean? And it wasn’t until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.

61 ‘National Intelligence Estimate: Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities’ November 2007

62 ‘Cheney Tried to Stifle Dissent in Iran NIE’ By Gareth Porter, IPS, 2007-11-08

63 ‘Press Conference by the President’ 2007-10-17

65 ‘War on Terror – President’s Radio Address’ 2003-03-08

66 ‘Will Bushies Sell Iran War ‘Product’?’ source 75 the Paragraph 2007-09-08

67 ‘America Puts Brakes on Drive for More War’ source 103 The Paragraph 2006-11-30

68 ‘Bush Was Set on Path to War, British Memo Says’ By DON VAN NATTA Jr., March 27, 2006

“Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning,” David Manning, Mr. Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser at the time, wrote in the memo that summarized the discussion between Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair and six of their top aides.

“The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March,” Mr. Manning wrote, paraphrasing the president. “This was when the bombing would begin.”

69 ‘President Reaffirms Strong Position on Liberia – Remarks by the President and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in Photo Opportunity The Oval Office’ 2003-07-14

70 ‘Bush’s Favorite Lie’ by Robert Parry,, 2007-11-09

71 ‘President Discusses Job Creation With Business Leaders’ University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, 2003-09-30

72 ‘George W. Bush IS a Liar’ by Robert Parry,, 2007-11-09

Bush had included the bogus Niger claim in his State of the Union Address in January 2003. But Wilson’s first-hand account of his assignment in 2002 to check out the Niger suspicions – and his conclusion that the evidence was weak – represented the first major assault on Bush’s pre-war intelligence from a mainstream government figure.

The White House struck back, organizing anti-Wilson leaks to friendly reporters. Privately, Bush declassified information that tended to bolster his Niger claim – even though by then its truthfulness had been discredited by U.S. intelligence agencies.

With President Bush’s clearance, Vice President Dick Cheney dispatched his chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, to leak information to Washington Post investigative reporter Bob Woodward on June 27, 2003. Libby approached New York Times correspondent Judith Miller on July 8 and Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper on July 12.

73 ‘Bush Commutes Libby’s Prison Sentence’ By Amy Goldstein, Washington Post Staff Writer, Tuesday, July 3, 2007

74 ‘President Bush: Information Sharing, Patriot Act Vital to Homeland Security – Remarks by the President in a Conversation on the USA Patriot Act’ Kleinshans Music Hall, Buffalo, New York, 2004-04-20

75 ‘Big Brother Bad Idea Still Breathing’ source 25, The Paragraph 2007-10-28

76 ‘A Simple Censure is Warranted’ The Paragraph 2006-04-03

77 ‘Bush Stands By Cheney, Rumsfeld’ By TERENCE HUNT, Associated Press, November 2, 2006

78 ‘VIDEO: Bush Admits He Lied About Rumsfeld For Political Purposes’ – Think Progress, 2006-11-08

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