Just Above Sunset
December 11, 2005 - The Sunday Funnies in Six Panels - Now Don't Get All Excited













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The Sunday past, December 4th, was supposed to be a day off.

 

Just Above Sunset had been put to bed, as they say in the news business when all the edits are complete, the pages composed and the presses are running. In this web world that means the Earthlink host servers in Atlanta got the new pages, had done all the compiling and re-indexed all thirteen hundred pages - there are almost three years of archived words and images - and linked the domain name to the new issue. So it didn't seem fair that lots of news stories broke last Sunday. The Steelers were on television. (But they lost to Cincinnati, the team with those odd helmets.)

What's this with big news on Sunday?

ONE

A friend in upstate New York sent this, an item discussing a new General Accounting Office (GAO) report on the voting irregularities in the 2004 presidential election, particularly in Ohio.

Yes, the new electronic voting machines leave no paper trail so they cannot be audited, they're easily hacked, lots of votes went missing, the results matched no survey data and seemed anomalous, and the machines were developed and operated by corporations owned by friends of the president, and some programmers testified to some shady stuff - but the headline "GAO Confirms - 2004 Election Was Stolen!" was not quite right.

No crime has been alleged, and no one has been charged with anything. There was only means, method, opportunity and motive. Specific "acts" have not been alleged. That something is probable doesn't establish a crime has been committed. More is needed, and it's not yet there.

And what are you going to do? Toss Bush out? It's a little late for that. You go to war with the president you have, not the president you want.

That's not to say nothing should be done. You can fix the voting stuff, somehow. But reversing the election? Remember, liberals (are they "progressives" now?) are the ones who like gun control. The other side is well armed. You don't want trouble.

TWO

And email the say day brought a copy of a November 25th letter to the editor of the Fairbanks Daily-Miner (no link available, but we're talking Alaska here). The letter was written by Douglas Yates, a reader who has been discussed in the pages previously, here (June 2004) and here (January 2005) - a Marine Corps veteran and a writer, and photographer, living in Ester, Alaska.

Yates always sends interesting things, and this letter is about military recruiting. The letter is relevant here, as is the title - "Treasonous War"

Opening –

 

Unlike most in the Bush administration, I served in the U.S. military. During my tour, I was stationed at Marine Corps headquarters, Washington, D.C. While near the corridors of power, I came to value the historic trust that exists between our civilian and military leadership.

For a democratic trust to be nourished and sustained, it cannot be blind or naive. We don't raise children to be cannon fodder. We don't attack countries on a pretext.

In America, it's essential that civilian leaders be held accountable for military conduct. When mistakes happen, they must be exposed and corrected. That's the essence of integrity. Yet, lately, some people target Heather Koponen's opinions about military recruiters, suggesting such concern is un-American and damages morale.

Consider these facts: Army recruiters in Denver conspired with a high school student to forge a graduation diploma, falsified blood tests with a de-tox kit, and routinely threatened others with arrest for canceling appointments.

According to the Army, these are not isolated incidents. Last year, 325 recruiter fraud cases were prosecuted, hundreds more received reprimands. Most were issues of ethical conduct (lies, inflated promises, distortions about military benefits); one involved forcing laxatives on prospects to meet weight limits.

... Further narrowing local dialogue, this newspaper's fawning posture toward Bush's military adventure in Iraq ignores facts on the ground. See dahrjamailiraq.com for unfiltered reportage.

As Bush's wagon loses its wheels, the folly of this personal war (Bush families hold significant commercial interests in the region) will shame us all. Misled with lies from the civilian leadership, the U.S. military has been thrown into a meat grinder. There's no denying it; our troops are being abused, ridden hard and put up wet.

While many jarheads and GIs may find the truth painful, there's nothing noble about being deceived. When a nation's trust has been used in the service of a lie, it's more than a mistake. It's called treason.

 

So Murtha is not the only ex-Marine who sees a problem here. (Correction - there are no former Marines - "Once a Marine, Always A Marine.") Honor and honesty, and doing the right thing, means something to these guys.

Treason? Hard words. But you don't mess with the Marines.

 

Bush's vague service in the Texas Air National Guard in Vietnam War years has mightily impressed the folks at Fox News and the National Review - and Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin - as Kerry was seen as an effete coward for his combat tours on the rivers in Vietnam (remember the flowered band-aids worn by folks at the Republican convention, mocking Kerry's Purple Heart and all that).  But some of the guys in uniform, or now with uniforms in the closet, aren't as impressed.

 

Paul Hackett still stands by his calling Bush and his crew chickenhawks, and remember Murtha's outburst at Cheney - "I like guys who got five deferments and (have) never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."

It's funny you don't hear the obvious reply from the president and vice president - "Yeah, you may think you know a lot about war because you fought in one - but we STARTED one."

Don't expect a military coup to keep Bush in power after 2008 - there are too many honorable men who know something smells here.

But that was just the email. The regular news was full of odd, smelly stuff.

THREE

Dana Priest in the Washington Post had another one of those Sunday scoops she does so well. Two or three weeks ago she broke the story of our chain of secret prisons, those "black sites" around the world where we use "enhanced interrogation techniques" on people we have snatched without authority all over the world and have "disappeared" - those non-persons who are not charged and have no rights to challenge anything about this or will ever speak to anyone on the outside ever again. Well, last weekend Dana Priest had a follow up to that story of how our government is keeping us safe by refusing to play by any babyish rules. She reveals we're doing this badly.

That would be here -

Wrongful Imprisonment: Anatomy of a CIA Mistake
German Citizen Released After Months in 'Rendition'
Dana Priest - Sunday, December 4, 2005 - Page A01

The long and short of it is we grabbed a German citizen in Macedonia, we imprisoned him and beat him up and all that, held him for five months of that sort of thing, and realized he was a nobody. We decided to release him - what was the point of keeping him? But we told the German government no matter what the guy said, they should keep quiet and not reveal we goofed on this one. We didn't need any legal crap, so they needed to lie and maintain our cover. We don't do such things - no kidnapping, no secret prisons, no harsh treatment. Not us. We asked them to back us on this. Deny everything.

The opening is this –

 

In May 2004, the White House dispatched the U.S. ambassador in Germany to pay an unusual visit to that country's interior minister. Ambassador Daniel R. Coats carried instructions from the State Department transmitted via the CIA's Berlin station because they were too sensitive and highly classified for regular diplomatic channels, according to several people with knowledge of the conversation.

Coats informed the German minister that the CIA had wrongfully imprisoned one of its citizens, Khaled Masri, for five months, and would soon release him, the sources said. There was also a request: that the German government not disclose what it had been told even if Masri went public. The U.S. officials feared exposure of a covert action program designed to capture terrorism suspects abroad and transfer them among countries, and possible legal challenges to the CIA from Masri and others with similar allegations.

 

Okay, there may be three thousand folks we've grabbed and disappeared. It seems two or three dozen may have been goofs - like the guy who turned out to be a college professor who gave a bad grade to someone who later joined al Qaeda.

No, that's in there –

 

Unlike the military's prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - where 180 prisoners have been freed after a review of their cases - there is no tribunal or judge to check the evidence against those picked up by the CIA. The same bureaucracy that decides to capture and transfer a suspect for interrogation - a process called "rendition" - is also responsible for policing itself for errors.

The CIA inspector general is investigating a growing number of what it calls "erroneous renditions," according to several former and current intelligence officials. One official said about three dozen names fall in that category; others believe it is fewer. The list includes several people whose identities were offered by al Qaeda figures during CIA interrogations, officials said. One turned out to be an innocent college professor who had given the al Qaeda member a bad grade, one official said.

"They picked up the wrong people, who had no information. In many, many cases there was only some vague association" with terrorism, one CIA officer said.

 

Ad they say, close enough for government work.

This did not make Condoleezza Rice's European trip with its exercise in Dominatrix Diplomacy any easier.  If she were going to tell European leaders they'd better back us on this, and get their press and public and uppity legislatures and commissions to back off, it would be have been nice to be able to say at least we do this stuff well.

 

Elsewhere in the pages you see it didn't go that well for Rice.

The odd thing here is, of course, how Dana Priest got these two scoops.

 

Someone at the CIA doesn't much care for what we're doing - some stuffy traditionalist, no doubt - and is trying to stop it. Shades of Deep Throat meeting the young Bob Woodward in the parking structure late at night, to put an end to the Nixon crew's nastiness.

 

Seems like old times.

Someone wants their country back, the one with values, and the country that was the good guy in the story? Too late - September 11 changed everything.

Hey, they've been telling us all!  Like we weren't told?

So much for the Washington Post.

FOUR

Kevin Drum points out here that the New York Times tells us that security at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan is so bad that genuinely dangerous al-Qaeda members held there can pick the locks on their cells and sneak out through the fence. That's here, but it's more depressing than intriguing.

We grab the wrong people while the actual bad guys pull a Houdini?

Who's running the shop? There's a management problem here.

Like most management problems, someone needs to be promoted to a position where they cannot screw up. But that might not be wise here.
FIVE

The local paper, the Los Angeles Times, that arrived with a thud on the doorstep that Sunday morning - USC dismantles UCLA, Texas wins big, and they will meet over the hills in Pasadena for the national championship - no one can figure out which schools will totally collapse in the next big quake (the study done was incompetent) - and this

 

BAGHDAD - Private security contractors have been involved in scores of shootings in Iraq, but none have been prosecuted despite findings in at least one fatal case that the men had not followed proper procedures, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Times.

Instead, security contractors suspected of reckless behavior are sent home, sometimes with the knowledge of U.S. officials, raising questions about accountability and stirring fierce resentment among Iraqis.

Thousands of the heavily armed private guards are in Iraq, under contract with the U.S. government and private companies. The conduct of such security personnel has been one of the most controversial issues in the reconstruction of Iraq. Last week, a British newspaper publicized a so-called trophy video that appears to show private contractors in Iraq firing at civilian vehicles as an Elvis song plays in the background.

The contractors function in a legal gray area. Under an order issued by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority that administered Iraq until June 2004, contractors suspected of wrongdoing are to be prosecuted in their home countries. The contractors have immunity from Iraqi courts and have so far not faced American prosecution, giving little recourse to Iraqis seeking justice for wrongful shootings.

 

As Drum comments, this confirms last week's Telegraph story that private contractors are shooting "scores" of Iraqis just for the hell of it and pretty much doing it with impunity.

Well, that was discussed in these pages here, with lots of links to the sources. It's not our problem. The Aegis folks are a UK outfit, so we say it's the UK's job to deal with it. As noted previously, the UK folks are saying Aegis was under contract to us, so its OUR problem. The Iraqis have no say. We set it up so the contractors are immune from their fledgling, work-in-progress legal system.

There's not much more to say.

But there is this from Digby over at Hullabaloo

 

Has anyone bothered to ask whether withdrawal of the military would mean withdrawal of contractors? Somehow, I doubt it. Our private army that answers to no one but its owners so it doesn't have to deal with all these messy old fashioned "laws" and "regulations" is going to be in Iraq for a long, long time.

I have little doubt that Rummy and Cheney have realized that it's a little more expensive since you have to pay the soldiers more than a hundred grand a year, but they're worth it. They're not hung up on all this honor and tradition crap. They know how to get the job done...

 

Hadn't thought of that. Yipes!

SIX

That professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan, the one who knows all the players and knows all the languages, Juan Cole, explains on the same day how Bush has created a theocracy in Iraq.

What?

The item is long and detailed with lots of odd names and odd players, but ends with this –

 

An Iraq dominated by religious Shiites who had often lived in exile in Iran for decades is inevitably an Iraq with warm relations with Tehran. The U.S., bogged down in a military quagmire in the Sunni Arab regions, cannot afford to provoke massive demonstrations and uprisings in the Shiite areas of Iraq by attacking Iran. Bush has inadvertently strengthened Iran, giving it a new, religious Shiite ally in the Gulf region. The traditional Sunni powers in the region, such as the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, are alarmed and annoyed that Bush has created a new "Shiite crescent." Far from weakening or overthrowing the ayatollahs, Bush has ensconced and strengthened them. Indeed, by chasing after imaginary weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he may have lost any real opportunity to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon should it decide to do so.

The real winners of the Iraq war are the Shiites.

 

And then there's Nir Rosen in The Atlantic with this

 

What about the goal of creating a secular democracy in Iraq that respects the rights of women and non-Muslims?

Give it up. It's not going to happen. Apart from the Kurds, who revel in their secularism, Iraqis overwhelmingly seek a Muslim state. Although Iraq may have been officially secular during the 1970s and 1980s, Saddam encouraged Islamism during the 1990s, and the difficulties of the past decades have strengthened the resurgence of Islam. In the absence of any other social institutions, the mosques and the clergy assumed the dominant role in Iraq following the invasion. Even Baathist resistance leaders told me they have returned to Islam to atone for their sins under Saddam. Most Shiites, too, follow one cleric or another. Ayatollah al-Sistani - supposedly a moderate - wants Islam to be the source of law. The invasion of Iraq has led to a theocracy, which can only grow more hostile to America as long as U.S. soldiers are present.

 

Okay then, we went there to disarm Saddam.  Nothing there.

 

We really went there because he had ties to al Qaeda.  Nothing there.

 

We really went there to fight them there so we wouldn't have to fight them here.  Madrid, Casablanca, Bali, London - but yes, not here.

 

We really, really went there do build a secular, free-market, tolerant and pluralistic democracy that would transform the region as all nations in area would see what a fine thing that was and all change into secular, free-market, tolerant and pluralistic democracies.

 

But it seems we'll have to settle for a theocracy, allied with a nuclear armed Iran, that Saudi Arabia and Jordan, our long-time allies, will see as a real threat they will have to deal with.

Close enough?

Who says Sunday is a slow news day?































 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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