Friday, June 30, 2006

Leaving the whole world blind

The embedded AP reporter goes to great lengths to bury the lead in his account of Army soldiers from the 502nd Infantry Regiment being investigated for the rape of an Iraqi woman and the murder of her family in Mahmoudiyah, but here it is:

a soldier felt compelled to report the killings after his fellow soldiers' bodies were found.

That would be the bodies of the two soldiers from the same regiment platoon, Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker, who were kidnapped at a checkpoint and killed earlier this month. 8000 U.S. and Iraqi troops participated in the search for them, and their grisly death was widely reported (and speculated about, since it is not yet clear how they were killed). But this story shows that the capture and killing of Menchaca and Tucker was quite possibly an act of revenge for the crimes committed by other members of their regiment platoon. The rape and killings in Mahmoudiyah

appeared to have been a "crime of opportunity," the official said. The soldiers had not been attacked by insurgents but had noticed the woman on previous patrols.

Nothing justifies kidnaping and barbarity. But it's not something that comes out of the blue.

U.S. troops must leave Iraq. All of them. Starting now.

Update: 6:00 pm, 30 June - The linked AP story has changed substantially since I posted. (I'm glad I saved the version that was online at 10:30 this morning.) The current story (also saved) is much more detailed, and makes more explicit connections between the Mahmoudiyah crimes and the abduction and killing of Menchaca and Tucker.

Update 2: 12:30 pm, 1 July - As more media cover the story, conflicting details appear. At least two different military sources are speaking to the press anonymously. Two different Iraqi police have spoken on the record. The Washington Post story is on the front page (on Saturday of a holiday weekend). The CBS story online relies heavily on the AP report linked in the post, but contains some additional information. By the end of tomorrow, I'll post a timeline of 'facts as asserted', with sources.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

A sigh of relief

A few days ago I was listening to an interview with Joe Margulies, the lawyer who won Rasul v. Bush in the Supreme Court and author of an excellent new book with the self-explanatory title Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power. As he explained the implications of the upcoming decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, I began thinking about how to respond if the ruling went in favor of the current regime.

It was hard even to face the possibility, because it would mean we'd officially, explicitly become a dictatorship. It's one thing for Congress to cave in to rule by particular men rather than by law. At the moment that branch is controlled by our would-be-dictator's party, hopelessly corrupted by criminal leaders and their sleazy slush funds. But those Senators and Representatives can, in theory, be voted out, even if the alternatives on offer seem only marginally more likely to put some needed restraints on a power-grabbing executive.

Supreme Court rulings, on the other hand, take a long, long time to reverse. If the last branch of government failed to stand in the way, it would send the chilling signal that voters are powerless to reverse the regime's policies. It would intimidate almost everyone who might get the courage to stand up in opposition. And it would raise the serious prospect of extra-constitutional methods of regime change.

But {whew!} we dodged that bullet. So to speak.

Today's Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan reaffirms that the president is bound by laws and treaties, and cannot simply set them aside when inconvenient. The most basic protections of the Geneva Convention are available to all persons detained by our government, wherever they are held and in whatever situation they were captured. And we are still ruled by laws, not men.

Now let's get to work to get rid of the craven empty suits who should have made this ruling unnecessary years ago.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Dark Side

Kremlinology for our time: Frontline has produced a detailed, unsettling examination of how the Cheney-Rumsfeld team took control of intelligence and foreign policy from September 2001 on.

The Dark Side proceeds very much -- okay, entirely -- from the point of view of the Cheney clique's opponents or victims within the regime: Richard Clarke, Jim Wilkerson (Powell's aide), Paul Pillar (CIA), Michael DeLong (Army), and many, many more. Stephen Coll, Dana Priest, and Ron Suskind are the journalists most often heard from. The immediate emotion the program left me with was a vague dread. While never raising explicitly the idea that Cheney and Rumsfeld might decline to relinquish power on or before January 20, 2009, it manages to convey the sense that if that should happen, most of the people seen onscreen should look to their personal safety.

But that's crazy talk, eh? The fact that such a show can be made and shown (and purchased for $29.95) makes clear the country's not a stifling dictatorship. The Dark Side is part of a massive push-back by the realist faction of the intel and foreign policy elite that includes a recent rundown of the Niger yellowcake lie by Craig Unger and the new Ron Suskind book The One Percent Doctrine.

The producer's online chat at the Washington Post today is worthwhile so far. Off to follow along; more later. [See comments]


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Body and Soul is back!

My favorite blogger went quiet for an agonizingly long time recently. But she's posted in the last few days, so welcome back, Jeanne.

Update: 30 June - My celebration appears to have been premature.


Saturday, June 17, 2006

Jobs and income

Note: See minimum wage updates at end of post.

Labor blogger Nathan Newman has hit on a major reason I'm not the Mark Warner supporter that so many of my fellow Virginia Democrats are. Mind you, he was for the most part the right governor for the fiscal and political ditch we were in when he was elected in 2001 (if you squint your eyes just so to avoid looking at his worse-than-crappy environmental record), but he's exactly what we don't need in the White House now.

In the winter of 2004-5, Warner told a small gathering of local Dems that most Virginia localities would be thrilled to have our area's low unemployment rate. My colleagues all nodded earnestly. I was impolite enough to mention that jobs by themselves aren't enough -- about a third of Rockbridge county households scrape by on less than $20,000 a year. He looked at me as if I were from Mars.

I got special pleasure, then, when the governor was publicly needled on his failure to comprehend that income and jobs are two different things. Speaking at the Buena Vista Labor Day breakfast, Leslie Byrne, our Lt. Governor candidate, passed on the comments of a woman who'd come up to her after a campaign stop with Warner: "I was interested to hear the Governor talk about all those jobs that have been created. I know it's true, 'cause I've got three of 'em."

Huge laugh and the most applause of any line of that speech-filled day.

I have some optimism that our next Senator, Jim Webb, sees things Byrne's way; her early endorsement was a big factor in overcoming "but he was a Republican" sentiment among primary voters.

Speaking of wages and income: A vote on Kennedy's bill to increase the federal minimum wage to $7.25 may come up in the Senate early next week. John Edwards is gathering signatures to support it. (Bonus at that link: lots of pointers to solid information on federal and state minimum wage.) The Kennedy bill is unlikely to pass, but it could be a different story in January, if we get the new Senate we deserve. Make your Senators take a position!

The minimum wage is a disgrace; currently at its lowest level relative to average U.S. hourly wages in almost 50 years, and at almost the lowest level in real purchasing power in that same period.

Update: Wednesday, 21 June - Kennedy's minimum wage vehicle is a proposed amendment to the defense spending bill. Debate is continuing this morning. Monday Frist tried to kill a clean vote by adding a poison-pill anti-abortion amendment to the Kennedy amendment, but withdrew it yesterday. Vote should come today; there's still time to call your Senators.

Update 2: Thursday, 22 June - The Kennedy amendment won a majority of votes, 52-46, but unbeknownst to me the Republicans had engineered a rules agreement requiring it to get 60 votes or be withdrawn. This was done to allow "moderate" Republicans to vote for the Kennedy bill and their party's inadequate increase proposal without any danger of either one passing. (R's proposed a raise to $6.25, not enough to lift the families of minimum-wage breadwinners out of poverty.)

Typical. Political theater while more Americans struggle and suffer. Last week, House members voted themselves a pay raise of more than $3000. Since the last increase in the minimum wage, ten years ago, members of Congress have voted themselves nine raises totaling nearly $35,000 a year. So, never mind their six-figure salaries: Congressional pay raises alone are more than three times the entire yearly earnings of a full-time minimum wage worker. ($10,712; h/t Working Families/AFL-CIO).


Friday, June 09, 2006

Do the math

In comments at Obsidian Wings yesterday, I said:
I wonder if the DoD releases figures on how much has been paid out so far in "condolence payments" of up to $2500 per life ... For how many of those lives have the troops who killed them been punished in any way, including something as light as reprimands?

Within an hour of posting, I learned the answer to the first question, published that same day by the Boston Globe:

The amount of cash the US military has paid to families of Iraqi civilians killed or maimed in operations involving American troops skyrocketed from just under $5 million in 2004 to almost $20 million last year, according to Pentagon financial data.

The dramatic spike in what's known as condolence payments -- distributed to Iraqi families whose loved ones were caught in US crossfire or victimized during US ground and air assaults -- suggests that American commanders made on-the-spot restitution far more frequently...

That's almost 8000 civilian victims of U.S. military last year alone -- not a number we've heard much.

Now my second question -- how many servicemembers have been held accountable -- takes on more urgency. The Globe reporter may be trying to dig out an answer right now, but I imagine that will be much harder to extract. Call me cynical, but I'll be amazed if the number is as high as 400.

Update: The Scottish Sunday Herald reports:

Some 600 cases of abuse by GIs against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far been investigated by the Pentagon. Although around 230 soldiers have been disciplined, most military personnel found guilty of abusing civilians received “administrative” punishment such as being reduced in rank, loss of pay, confinement to base or extra duty. Out of 76 courts martial, only a few resulted in jail terms of more than a year.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Torture Awareness Month

June 26th is the date that the United Nations has marked as the International Day in Support of Survivors and Victims of Torture. This year a coalition of human rights, civil liberties and faith organizations have declared June Torture Awareness Month in an effort to respond to the growing evidence that the United States government is engaging systematically in the use of torture and inhuman treatment as part of the “war on terror.” We believe that the use of torture and inhuman treatment must end immediately and everyone involved in committing these abuses or fostering the environment in which they occurred be held accountable.

Follow the link for more information, including many suggestions of possibilities for action, large and small. Another way to help is to spread the word: Elendil is organizing Bloggers Against Torture to support Torture Awareness Month, along with an outstanding, developing calendar of actions to be taken during June.