Monday, July 31, 2006


Taken Sunday morning July 30, the picture shows the house where Israeli air strikes killed sixty people, including somewhere between 27 and 37 children. The BBC reporter on scene described it as having been "crushed sideways into an enormous crater" by the strike, which took place in the dead of night (midnight or one o'clock).

An Israeli Air Force general claims that the house didn't collapse until eight in the morning, and hints that explosives stored inside, rather than IAF bombs, collapsed the building. He provides no evidence whatsoever to support this claim, and none has come from press, rescue workers, survivors, or any other source. But that hasn't stopped the atrocity deniers, who are being quoted in comment sections of respectable blogs and linked prominently from less respectable ones. Max Sawicky calls them out, bless his heart. In comments to that post, I provide links to another of the deniers (which I won't do here) and to the reporting that refutes them: Ha'aretz, Lebanon Daily Star, BBC.

Update: 8:15 pm 31 July - Okay, most of the denialism is disgusting, but some of the attempts to make the case for a staged massacre are almost funny. One of the bright lights at Powerline saw the picture below of the demonstrations in Beirut on Sunday, and decided that there hadn't been enough time to produce it in the hours that passed between the news of the massacre and the demonstration. Ergo, the "massacre" had to have been planned, and the banner prepared ahead of time.

Well, neither the grasping-at-straws blogger nor I read Arabic, but I'm betting that the words on the banner don't refer specifically to Qana. My guess is that they refer to Secretary Rice's "birth pangs" comments, which may have inspired the design and production of the banner as soon as they hit the news ten days ago. I'd be pleased for anyone who reads Arabic to translate the banner. No, this is not a caption contest.

Blogger not posting the photo, grrrr.

Update 2: 3:45 pm 1 Aug - Image now up in new post.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

We stand on guard for thee

I hope both these men are alive today. [See Updates below.] The man on the right is Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener, a Canadian serving at the UNIFIL UN Truce Supervision Organization post in south Lebanon that was destroyed by Israeli bombing yesterday. Four UN observers were killed, one of them Canadian.

A week ago, Major Hess-von Kruedener emailed CTV, a Canadian network, an on-the-ground report. It gives some context to yesterday's events.

As does this:
The U.N. observers killed when an Israeli bomb hit their bunker in Lebanon Tuesday called an Israeli military liaison about 10 times in the six hours before they died to warn that aerial attacks were getting close to their position, a U.N. officer said.

After each call, the Israeli officer promised to have the bombing stopped, an officer at the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) base in Noqoura said.

Finally, an Israeli bomb exploded directly on the U.N. post near Khiyam, killing four U.N. observers from Austria, Finland, Canada and China, the U.N. officer said.
Update: 6:45 pm 26 July - The Canadian killed is now thought to be Maj. Hess-von Kruedener, I'm sorry to say.

Update 2: 6:30 pm 27 July - Bruce R., a Canadian military blogger who earned my enduring respect in the darkest moments of winter 2001-2, provides a corrective rundown of the UN deployments in Lebanon. Maj. H-vK was with the UN Truce Supervision Organization, UNTSO. I hope Canadians are as steamed as I am at Prime Minister Harper's effort to blame the victims rather than the military that killed them:
[Harper] questioned why the observation was manned, given the Israeli offensive that had started in southern Lebanon two weeks earlier.

"We want to find out why this United Nations post was attacked and also why it remained manned during what is now, more or less, a war during obvious danger to these individuals," said Harper.

He also did not condemn Israel's show of force.
Bruce, replying to right-wing commenters at Kevin Drum's site who, like the PM, sought to blame the UN for the Israeli Air Force's bombing, answered that "question" clearly and concisely:
...50 military observers from UNTSO's Observer Group-Lebanon, four of whom were just killed. Their job was to observe the hostilities and report back on what was going on to New York. They could hardly give the UN their independent eyes on the ground if they weren't actually close enough to observe the situation. That's what military observers do.
Update 3: 11:55 am 30 July - More from Bruce R.:
when national leaders who have lost personnel on UN service react by saying they don't understand why those personnel were there in the first place, what they're really saying is they place no value in old-style peacekeeping, or the deterrent effects it can produce, in the current situation or anywhere else.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

You go, Amlo!

Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is pushing for a recount in the election that may have been stolen from him, and Ginger Thompson, or her editor at the NY Times, waits until the very end of the story to get to the point:
“They have a real case,” said John M. Ackerman, an expert on electoral law at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. [He] argued that a recount would strengthen democracy by removing public doubt about the transparency of the process. He said he believed that Mr. López Obrador had shown enough evidence to raise the tribunal’s attention.
Further up the page:
Election authorities announced last week that Mr. Calderón, a former energy minister, had defeated Mr. López Obrador by a slim margin of 243,000 votes out of 41 million cast. Those results have not been ratified by the Federal Electoral Tribunal, which has until Aug. 31 to rule on whether it will grant Mr. López Obrador’s request for a recount. Until it does, Mexico remains without a settled heir to the presidency.
That last bit allows the reader to sense Ms. Thompson's lower lip beginning to tremble with concern, echoing her earlier plaint that Lopez Obrador's screening of videos showing election fraud "added to Mexico’s strong sense of political uncertainty."

There, there, darlin'; unclench. As it happens, Mexico has -- by design and as a matter of completely normal routine -- a very long period between elections and certification, and between certification and the actual transfer of power. Nice try at getting the readers all verklempt, but we're not buying. Nope, we're sitting back in the chaise, sipping a cool one, and looking forward to the recount.


We could all use a vacation

Off to the s.o.'s family reunion tomorrow, and away from the computer for long stretches of time. So, thankfully, not many updates for a few days on the unhappily developing story of the 1st Platoon, B Company and their victims and enemies.

But having followed along from early in the reporting of the Mahmoudiyah crimes, I'm compelled to note today's NY Times story:
Insurgents posted an Internet video on Monday showing the mutilated bodies of two American soldiers abducted in June and found murdered days later during a search by American and Iraqi forces south of Baghdad. A message with the video says the soldiers were killed out of revenge for the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl in March, a crime in which at least six American soldiers are suspects.
My previous posts: June 30, July 5, July 7 (with many updates from following days).

On the bright side, the Sunnis in the Iraq assembly will resume attending, based on a promised release of their kidnaped colleague. The figleaf of unity threatened to shred completely a few days ago, when there was no word of her or her bodyguards (also taken), and the Sunni bloc vowed to pull its four ministers out of the government. This link covers those events and some grimmer ones.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Thought for the day

Every day. This ribbon is for sale here. I'd prefer it were from United for Peace with Justice or another organization whose politics I support, but this says what needs saying.

And here's Brooooce, saying what needs saying with a fine twenty-piece band behind him. (Save the downloaded video to a new file to enjoy it whenever you like.) Another version here (audio, Real Media).


Friday, July 07, 2006

Geography of atrocity

In the interest of context, the image is part of an map, edited by me to highlight the locations of the two incidents that may (or may not) be connected.

Update: 1:30 pm, 8 July - "a military official disclosed Friday that three other soldiers still under investigation [for the Mahmoudiyah crimes] include a sergeant, a specialist and a private first class. ... all four men were in the same platoon." NYTimes

Update 2: 1:00 pm, 9 July - Reuters reports three were charged yesterday with rape and murder, and another soldier with dereliction of duty for failing to report the crime. No names or information on rank. The man accused of dereliction is almost certainly the one who stayed behind at the checkpoint. AP reports four charged with rape and murder, one with dereliction. One of the two accounts is wrong; how hard is it to report the actual text of the military's statement?

Update 3: 3:25 pm, 10 July - Soldiers charged are: Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Spc. James P. Barker, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, murder, rape, and obstruction of justice. Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, dereliction of duty and making a false official statement. Apparently I was wrong about Yribe being the checkpoint stay-behind; according to the general who ran today's press conference he "was not there that day, but afterwards had some tacit knowledge." [Results give AP the nod over Reuters in yesterday's reading comprehension contest.]

Update 4: 3:45 pm, 10 July - According to locals in Mahmoudiyah, relatives of the Hamzas asked resistance fighters to take revenge for the crime, and the Youssufiyah checkpoint kidnaping and murder were part of that revenge.

Update 5: 4:05 pm, 10 July - The human rights minister of Iraq announces plans to ask the U.N. to end immunity from local law for U.S. troops. The minister is correct in her assessment that a climate of impunity fosters more violations. I have plans to ask Congress to end the climate of impunity that surrounds our President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense. They are about as likely to meet with success as the human rights minister's plans. But good luck to both of us.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Mahmoudiyah update

The arrest of former soldier Steven Green, and in particular the public filing of the FBI affidavit in federal court Monday to support the charge of murder and rape against him, makes it somewhat pointless to post the timeline I pieced together over the weekend. The Washington Post account is the best of those available. The Post's previous reporting on the neighborhood and family of the victims is also indispensable.

I didn't have the stomach to post about the case on the Fourth of July, much less to approach it from the angle that Billmon has. But now that many more facts in the case are out in the open, I'll take the opportunity to review the information that supports (and that undercuts) a connection between the Mahmoudiyah crimes and the kidnaping/murder/mutilation of Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker. I'll also offer some further thoughts and questions.

First, and fundamentally, the Mahmoudiyah accused were part of the same platoon as Menchaca and Tucker: 1st Platoon, B Company of the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry regiment. A platoon contains only 40 men or so. The 502nd is part of the 101st Airborne Division, based at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, but has been attached to the 4th Infantry Division during this deployment. Since at least late November 2005, B Company has operated in the 'Triangle of Death' area south and southwest of Baghdad.

Second, at least two non-participating members of the platoon had an idea of what had happened. Despite the participants' warning among themselves not to say anything about the events of that night ever again, it seems clear that some of them did. Sometime in April, Private Green, the apparent ringleader of the March crimes, was sent back to Ft. Campbell. On May 13, he was discharged for an unspecified "personality disorder." To those in the unit who knew or had heard rumors about the atrocity in Mahmoudiyah, Green's departure had to have been a reminder -- no matter how unrelated the events leading to his discharge. (To those who participated in the crime, Green himself was a daily reminder, so that his departure might well have been a relief: out of sight, out of mind.)

Third, some locals became aware that Abeer Hamza had been violated, although the immediate neighbors and relatives of the murdered family appeared to believe initially that the attackers were Shiite militia. The rape and killings took place only a few weeks after the destruction of the golden mosque in Samarra, which set off an intensified wave of sectarian attacks and prompted many families to move from mixed neighborhoods into solidly Shiite or Sunni ones; the Hamza family had only recently moved to the neighborhood. Mahmoudiyah is on the way from Baghdad to the cities of the south, and many Shiites have been killed there and in the area.

But the possibility of danger from the nearby U.S. troops was also known to the family and neighbors. Abeer was a pretty young woman of 15; her complaints about the repeated advances from the soldiers at the checkpoint, only 650 feet from the house, had led her mother to ask a neighbor the day before her death to let Abeer sleep at their house. The neighbor saw the aftermath of the crime, with Abeer's dress pulled up to her neck. Medical officials who handled the body knew she had been raped. The family did not have a public funeral.

Mahmoudiyah hospital officials say that a day or two after the killings soldiers came around to ask where the funeral was. If that's true, both the absence of a public funeral and the soldiers' visits are bound to have raised suspicions outside the family. There is also this, from the CBS/AP story of July 1:
Mahmoudiya police Capt. Ihsan Abdul-Rahman said Iraqi officials received a report March 13 alleging that American soldiers had killed the family.
There is a history of civilians killed by U.S. troops in the area; another police officer mentioned "a shooting at a checkpoint in April that left 11 Iraqis dead." However, I should note that statements from the Mahmoudiyah police have proven the least reliable of any of the original reporting on this story. Different officers, on the record, have given detailed, specific accounts to reporters, but the accounts are wildly incompatible with each other.

Fourth, the Mahmoudiyah perpetrators and Menchaca and Tucker were serving in very similar situations at the time of the events that made them notorious: manning a checkpoint in a small group, relatively isolated from their base and from other units. Three months after the Mahmoudiyah crime, when Spc. David Babineau was killed and the other two taken away in an attack on their checkpoint at Youssufiyah, the possibility that it was a revenge attack might have occurred to those who knew about it. On the other hand, attacks on U.S. forces are so common in the area that no connection may have been made at the time.

Fifth, kidnaping of U.S. soldiers has been extremely rare during this occupation. The scale and publicity of the hunt for Menchaca and Tucker was unlike anything B Company members had experienced in their time in Iraq. The discovery of the mutilated bodies in Youssufiyah on June 19 was wrenching enough, but the agony was prolonged by the length of time it took to disarm the many bombs laid along the path to the bodies, a process that killed another soldier and wounded several more.

Sixth, the disclosure of the crimes came about only days later, when soldiers in the 1st platoon were being counseled in the aftermath of the recovery of Menchaca's and Tucker's remains. The first to talk were two men who had not taken part but had heard about it. Whether or not the kidnaping/killings had been a revenge attack, the soldiers who revealed the Mahmoudiyah crimes made a connection between them. The Army criminal investigation began the next day. One of the participants still in Iraq admitted to his part; some stories said that he has been charged, but the Post reporting contradicts that, and there is no confirmation from the Army so far.

Questions small and large occur. On the small side: How did the men in Green's "fireteam" get access to alcohol, much less feel free to drink it while on duty? Where did they get the shotgun and rifles they carried to the Hamza house? Are active-duty soldiers allowed to keep non-military-issue weapons? Where is the base for B Company, and how far is it from Youssufiyah and Mahmoudiyah? Had Ryan Lenz, an AP correspondent embedded with the 520th until early June and the first to report the story, heard of the Mahmoudiyah crimes before the Army announcement on June 30?

But the main question that this horrifying crime raises is the same one that has been with me since March 2002, when I realized that this invasion and occupation was going to happen:
What the hell business do U.S. troops have being in Iraq?

Bring 'em home.

Update: 2:00 pm, 6 July - Thanks to elendil in comments, who pointed to this LA Times story, which says the military is investigating whether the two incidents are connected. My prediction is that they'll find the official answer to be 'no'.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Confusion to George the Third!

And to George the Forty-third!

Happy Fourth of July. Today is a day to bask in our freedoms and inalienable rights, some recently reaffirmed. It's a day to enjoy some fine potato salad and fireworks.

So, nothing else until tomorrow.