Monday, March 27, 2006

Bitter? Me?

Kevin Drum responding positively to Sen. Feingold's proposal for withdrawal from Iraq: An open-ended commitment in Iraq helps to fuel their civil war, not end it, and it's time to acknowledge this.

But when opponents of the war and occupation were saying this a year ago, it was apparently not yet time. Not because we were wrong, but because all but a few Democrats had made a calculated decision to follow rather than lead.

When, in early 2005, Democrats refused to take a position, planning to "make Bush own the war" without calling for withdrawal -- the only meaningful alternative to the Bush policy -- it struck me as political in the worst sense. Politicians who wanted to avoid the risk of 'soft-on-security' smears were counting on the deaths of Americans to do their political work for them. And they obliged: nearly 900 were killed and more than 2600 wounded seriously enough not to return to duty in the intervening year. (Not to mention, as those same politicians rarely do, the literally uncounted Iraqis killed by U.S. troops during the same period.)

One excuse was that leaving would ignite a civil war. Those of us who pointed out that a civil war was already underway with U.S. troops backing two of the three sides, and that the troops not only were doing nothing to stop it but probably could not do so, were simply met with fingers in ears.

Pretending (or at best wishfully thinking) right along with Bush that some kind of 'success' or 'victory' could be had was another tack. That might have sounded good on the op-ed pages and Sunday talk shows, but how could anyone seriously have believed it? And, from a purely political point of view, why would anyone vote for candidates who offered the same endless stay-the-course as incumbent Republicans?

Now that Bush and war approval are in the thirties, now that it's clear the troops can do nothing to stop civil war (and may easily make it worse; see Juan Cole today), now that approved moderates like Kevin say it's time, using the same arguments opponents of the war and occupation were making a year ago, now it's time.

Incredibly enough, many in the party are still unwilling to back Feingold's call for withdrawal, even now that the president has said that troops will be there for the duration of his term, even when they admit privately that withdrawal is the right policy. If it is, then stand up and and fight for it.

I can get beyond my bitterness, and accept that this is just how politics works. But I have a hell of a time saying honestly to the families of those 3500 men and women that they should have any confidence in politicians of either party, including mine.


Saturday, March 25, 2006

By request: antiwar song

Via Body and Soul, by request of Julia:

While digesting Reader's Digest
In the back of a dirty book store,
A plastic flag, with gum on the back,
Fell out on the floor.
Well, I picked it up and I ran outside
Slapped it on my window shield,
And if I could see old Betsy Ross
I'd tell her how good I feel.

But your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.
They're already overcrowded
From your dirty little war.
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for,
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.

Well, I went to the bank this morning
And the cashier he said to me,
"If you join the Christmas club
We'll give you ten of them flags for free."
Well, I didn't mess around a bit
I took him up on what he said.
And I stuck them stickers all over my car
And one on my wife's forehead.


Well, I got my window shield so filled
With flags I couldn't see.
So, I ran the car upside a curb
And right into a tree.
By the time they got a doctor down
I was already dead.
And I'll never understand why the man
Standing in the Pearly Gates said...

"But your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.
We're already overcrowded
From your dirty little war.
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for,
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more."

Flag Decal John Prine 1971
Video of Prine performance at Philadelphia Folk Festival 2004


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Christian Peacemakers freed!

Norman Kember, Harmeet Sooden, and James Loney were taken from an empty building in a rural area northwest of Baghdad early this morning by British soldiers. Thanks be. Tom Fox's murder is a somber counterpoint to this joyful news. The men were taken to hospital in the Green Zone, but apparently only as a precaution, and should soon be able to see their friends in the Christian Peacemaker Teams and then their families.

The British embassy clearly wished to make this appear as a military operation, emphasizing that U.S. and British forces took part. Foreign Minister Jack Straw said, "It followed weeks and weeks of very careful work by our military and coalition personnel in Iraq, and many civilians as well." Mmm-hm. No shots were fired, the captors were not around. This was a negotiated release. For which I am deeply thankful.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The fog of war: miasma of lies

Is everyone involved in this story lying?

Last week I blogged about a war crime committed by U.S. troops in Ishaqi, near Balad. They flattened a house with planes and armor while a family was inside (which they knew, because they'd just finished raiding it, taking away one man).

Now, just after Time has publicized charges of Marines shooting unarmed residents in Haditha last November, Iraqi police allege that the same thing happened in Ishaqi:

Police investigators in Salahudin Province have accused American troops of executing 11 civilians, including several children, during a raid last Wednesday on a house in Ishaqi, near Balad, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official said. According to the investigators, the Americans lined up the civilians and shot them, then killed the livestock and destroyed the house, the official asserted.

A local police commander in Ishaqi told Knight Ridder Newspapers that an autopsy revealed bullet wounds in all the victims' heads.
[my emphasis]

The children in the AP picture do not appear to have been shot, though it's possible that the picture is compatible with their being shot with small arms at close range. But the AP reporter in the original interviewed family members at the morgue; they said that the children, and the two men and four women with them, were killed when the planes and armor collapsed the house with them inside. If U.S. troops had lined them up and shot them, wouldn't those weeping men in the picture have said so? The reporter and photographer saw the bodies, yet made no mention of gunshot wounds.

The American military acknowledged at the time that it had demolished the house using ground and air power, but only after insurgents began firing from the building. Three civilians — two women and a child — and one insurgent were killed in the attack, American officials said, and another insurgent was captured.

This is also bizarre. The original story contains no acknowledgement from the American military that they demolished the house with people inside, and it seems like a remarkable admission even now, as a response to the new charges ("We didn't kill them up close and personal, we killed them from our positions. The house did it!"). The U.S. military undercount of Iraqi deaths is routine, if particularly brazen and stupid in this case, where a reporter and photographer documented eleven bodies.

Neither force has earned the right to be taken at its word. Unit discipline and command responsibility have broken down to the point that these incidents are widespread. We have got to get the troops the hell out of there.

Update March 25: Chris Floyd lays out what we know and don't more vividly than I can hope to.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

A black hole of impunity

On the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the New York Times prints an investigation into the systematic torture of Iraqi detainees by a shadowy special forces unit before, during, and after the period when the Abu Ghraib torture was becoming known.

Task Force 6-26 (originally known as Task Force 121, reported by Sy Hersh in December 2003), was driven by the idea, bizarre even then, that Zarqawi was the mastermind of the resistance. [Hersh was given a different rationale: see comments.] It fed information to Rumsfeld, via his Deputy Secretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone and the notorious ultra-Christian zealot Lt. Gen. William Boykin. For a period in 2004, the unit used one of Saddam Hussein's former torture rooms for their own. Also, apparently, his standards of transparency and accountability:

It is difficult to compare the conditions at the camp with those at Abu Ghraib because so little is known about the secret compound, which was off limits even to the Red Cross.
The secrecy surrounding the highly classified unit has helped to shield its conduct from public scrutiny. The Pentagon will not disclose the unit's precise size, the names of its commanders, its operating bases or specific missions. Even the task force's name changes regularly to confuse adversaries

{NL note: Apparently 'adversaries' includes the Red Cross, DIA interrogators, and New York Times reporters}
In the summer of 2004, Camp Nama closed and the unit moved to a new headquarters in Balad, 45 miles north of Baghdad. The unit's operations are now shrouded in even tighter secrecy.
Army investigators were forced to close their inquiry [into the torture of the son of a Saddam bodyguard from Tikrit] in June 2005 after they said task force members used battlefield pseudonyms that made it impossible to identify and locate the soldiers involved. The unit also asserted that 70 percent of its computer files had been lost.
The harsh treatment extended beyond Camp Nama to small field outposts in Baghdad, Falluja, Balad, Ramadi and Kirkuk. These stations were often nestled within the alleys of a city in nondescript buildings with suburban-size yards where helicopters could land to drop off or pick up detainees.

We knew.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Early fruits of Operation Swarmer

Yesterday, near Balad, U.S. forces landed in helicopters, raided a house, and took away one man. Then American warplanes and armor flattened the house, killing eleven people inside, including five children. AP photos showed the victims covered in dust and bits of rubble.

The U.S. military is marking the three-year invasion anniversary in its own way, with the largest air assault since 2003, in the area north of Baghdad.

Update: The post title is misleading. 'Operation Swarmer' seems to be a photo op involving many helicopters, a slew of embedded reporters, and no fixed-wing aircraft, with no resistance and not much shooting of any kind. The Balad episode is far more typical of the day-to-day counterinsurgency war, and happened a day before the Potemkin offensive (another p.r. goal of which may have been to disassociate helicopters and planes with bombing).


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Tom Fox

Friends believe there is that of God in every person. More in some than in others, perhaps.

Tom Fox's inner light shone through his life and work. May his death deepen our commitment to peacemaking.

A member of Langley Friends Meeting has posted a remembrance and appreciation of Tom Fox. The first post of this blog contains a link to his daughter Catharine's appeal for his release, which is something of a eulogy as well.

Update: via Jeanne at Body and Soul, an excellent overview at Electronic Iraq using selections from Tom Fox's Iraq blog.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld is coming to town

On Tuesday, May 16, the Worst SecDef Ever will be here to deliver the graduation address at Virginia Military Institute. As when Bush spoke at VMI in June 2002, the security bubble (a.k.a. "the cone of silence") will probably extend to the edge of town. So the East Lexington bridge over the Maury will be our free speech zone; with any luck, there'll be enough of us to cover the length of the bridge.

Suggestions welcomed for signs, props, and chants. We're going to have fun, despite the grimness of the underlying issues. Rumsfeld has made himself into a cartoon figure of evil: unresponsive arrogance and stupendous, whopping lies wrapped in a package of verbal tics, gee-whiz speaking style, and manic hand gestures.

All neatly captured in one of my favorite Fafnir posts, Drivin with Donald. The post is one of many included in Untidy, a book compilation of blog writing on Rumsfeld. The book came out last year, but the man keeps on providing inspiration...


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Through the prism of Viet Nam

That's how someone of my age sees any U.S.-initiated war.

One of the sources of my deep uneasiness about backing James Webb for Senate is that he stands on the other side of the great gulf in our generation and our party over Viet Nam. Despite Webb's sound and early opposition to the war on Iraq, he makes no connection between it and the Viet Nam war. Far from acknowledging that war as a fundamentally doomed assault based on lies, Webb was actually a proponent of the late 1970s "stabbed in the back" Viet Nam narrative that poisons our politics to this day.

In contrast, William Odom's assessment seems sane and accurate. In Iraq Through the Prism of Vietnam he outlines the three phases of the earlier war and their failures:

Phase One...began with hesitation and a gross misreading of American strategic interests (the “containment of China”). It concluded with the U.S. use of phony intelligence that made it seem that North Vietnamese patrol boats had attacked U.S. ships in the Tonkin Gulf without provocation.
Phase Two...was marked by a refusal to reconsider the war’s strategic rationale. Rather, debate focused only on tactical issues as the war went sour.
Phase Three...was marked by “Vietnamization” and “make-believe diplomacy” in Paris, policies still ignoring the strategic realities at the war’s beginning. ... The key problem in South Vietnam had always been achieving a political consolidation among anti-Viet Cong elites. It was not building effective military and police forces.

Odom goes on to marshal persuasive parallels with the Iraq war, and puts us at late stage two/early stage three. Given how much more quickly we're moving through the stages, unless we withdraw soon, it may not be much longer before the helicopters start to lift off.