Sunday, December 31, 2006


The disaster in Iraq spins faster and faster out of control.

New year's resolution: bring 'em home.

Decade's resolution: put the criminals in the dock. Last night, at the ceremony for former President Ford at the Capitol, several of the most deeply blood-soaked and corrupt were walking together -- Kissinger, Cheney, Greenspan. Convenient for taking into custody, if we lived in a country that even began to live up to its ideals.

To a happier new year.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Return of the light

In the spirit of the season, an illuminating post about the Persian tradition of Yalda, ten thousand years old.

Peace on earth, goodwill to all people.

Image source.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Haditha charges (updated)

It looks very likely that at least six Marines in Kilo Company will be charged tomorrow for their part in killing 24 Iraqis -- unarmed men, women, and children -- at Haditha a year and a month and a day ago.

It also seems possible that, for once, there will be some consequences for those who organized and/or turned a blind eye to the coverup. In particular, Capt. Lucas McConnell, commander of Kilo Company but not present that day, will probably be charged with dereliction of duty. I am most curious about what charge will be brought against 1st Lt. William Kallop, who
wasn't present when the civilians were killed, but went to the scene after the squad radioed in what had happened. He subsequently nominated Wuterich [the sergeant who led the killing squad] for a medal, saying he had "led a counterattack on the buildings to his south where his Marines were still receiving sporadic fire from. That counterattack turned the tide of the ambush and killed a number of insurgents still attempting to fight or attempting to flee the area."
Time's Baghdad reporter's investigation and story on the third anniversary of the invasion forced the massacre into awareness outside Iraq, and the Time story was itself instigated by video shot by a Haditha resident. Now, the editors appear to be trying to distance themselves from the magazine's role. One of their Washington staff has written an article on the military's investigation of the role of Marine Corps higher-ups that concludes with this bit of self-parody:
Many observers and politicans have already decided those involved are guilty ... Others have asserted that civilian casualties are a tragic reality of a morally confusing battlefield. The truth, as it always is in the fog of war, is likely somewhere in between.
I swear I didn't make that up. For reporting of command responsibility issues aimed above the ten-year-old level, try here.

Update: 21 Dec 10:15 pm - Charges. Four members of Kilo Company are charged with unpremeditated murder:

Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, 12 individual murders, a thirteenth count for ordering his squad to kill six people in one house, and one count each of making a false official statement and soliciting another sergeant to make false official statements. The Reuters reporter is the only one so far to raise my question: why is Wuterich not charged with the deaths of all 24 people killed?

Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz, five murders (the men in the taxi), and making a false official statement with intent to deceive (reporting that Iraqi troops shot the men?). Dela Cruz was on his second tour; during the first, he was part of the battle in the Najaf cemetery in August 2004.

Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, three murders.

Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, two murders, as well as negligent homicide of four Iraqi civilians and assault on two others. Tatum was on his second tour, and took part in the assault on Fallujah in November 2004. [Kilo Company revved up for the destruction of Fallujah with a chariot race, reported by Newsweek this past June.]

"The reporting of the incident up the chain of command was inaccurate and untimely," said the officer announcing the charges.

For that, four other Marines are being charged with failing to properly report or investigate the incident (dereliction of duty). The highest ranking of those is Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani; the others are 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, Capt. McConnell and Capt. Randy Stone. Kallop seems to have skated. Witness for the prosecution?

Sickeningly, the defense is planning simply to stick to the coverup story:
Defense lawyers dispute the Iraqi witnesses' version of events and say the men from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division were engaged in a furious battle in Haditha after the bomb exploded and the civilians may have been killed during the chaos.
The very first cover story, issued in a press release a day after the killings, was that 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by a roadside bomb and that Marines and Iraqi army soldiers killed eight insurgents in a subsequent firefight.

"We now know with certainty ... that none of the civilians were killed by the explosion," said the spokesman. In fact, we've known that with certainty since February, when the military in Iraq put out a revised story in which the Haditha civilians were killed only in a firefight. By that time, Time had alerted the brass to the video and results of interviews with survivors, with an implicit threat to publish.

Bush was briefed then, according to Tony Snow, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation that led to today's charges was begun. The investigation into the coverup didn't begin until after Time published the story in March.

Within a few months the NCIS investigation had turned up enough evidence to make it clear that Haditha was a massacre, not a firefight. Lt. Col. Chessani and Capt. McConnell were relieved of command, officially not for Haditha but for a variety of command failures. Members of Congress were briefed in May, and Murtha took huge heat for relaying the bad news. Yet it took another six months to bring charges. I'm sure there were no political considerations...


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Out of the mouths of babes

Someone should resurrect the famous New Yorker cartoon of the mother and young daughter at dinner, with the mother as the Bush administration and the child as the U.S. public:

Mother: "It's a surge, dear."

Child: "I say it's escalation, and I say the hell with it!"

The inspiration for this is today's front-page story in the Washington Post, in which it becomes clear that the Joint Chiefs of Staff share the child's opinion, if not her frankness.

I wrote a letter to the editor urging an end to the use of the 'surge' euphemism, given the damage done by a year's worth of calling the civil war 'sectarian violence'. If sending 20,000 more troops to Baghdad isn't an escalation, I don't know what is.

Update: 19 Dec 2:00 pm - Pat Lang and Ray McGovern know what's going on, and make the case against escalation while bemoaning it as a done deal with Cheney and Bush at the helm:
once an “all or nothing” offensive like the “surge” contemplated has begun, there is no turning back. It will be “victory” over the insurgents and the Shia militias or palpable defeat, recognizable by all in Iraq and across the world.
I and tens of thousands like me should be marching on the White House and obstructing traffic with die-ins in D.C., holding signs like We say it's escalation, and we say the hell with it!

But I'm taking my first homemade wreath to my cousins' house instead.

P.S. Yes, I failed once again to deliver on the garden blogging. I'm a terrible blogger.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Lessons we pretend we never learned

Groundhog Day: The U.S. military writes a new counterinsurgency manual, and the reporter covering it pretends that such a thing hasn't happened since Viet Nam:
The distaste for counterinsurgency can be traced, like so many other things in the military, to the residue of Vietnam. After more than a decade of crushing failure, the generals vowed, more or less, never to get mixed up again in a guerrilla war. Hoffman says war colleges across the country literally purged their libraries of books on fighting guerrilla warfare ... Then came 9/11.

I've written about this phenomenon before:
[George Packer:] "the Army’s most recent field manual on the subject is two decades old."

That would be the manual with which they ran the counterinsurgency war in El Salvador. By the mid-1980s, the United States funded 90% of the Salvadoran national budget. U.S. military "advisors" (many more than the 500 legally allowed or acknowledged, and many of whom were in combat) directed that war in detail. That level of involvement lasted for a decade.

The Newsweek writer is even more dishonest or clueless than Packer, who at least acknowledged that there was a counterinsurgency manual in use twenty years ago (though he was no better at drawing any inferences from that fact).

The recurring pretense that nothing like this has ever happened before, where 'this' is torture, or counterinsurgency, or domestic repression, makes me crazy. If a search for 'El Salvador' comes up empty in an article on U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine, even just reading it makes me feel as if I'm participating in airbrushing history.

Maybe I should institute a regular feature like the "Letters We Never Finished Reading" fillers in the New Yorker of old. Well, maybe not; a better move would be to maintain the one regular feature already promised. This Monday, garden blogging for sure...

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