Thursday, May 31, 2007

What's the hurry?

Yesterday a young man committed suicide in Guantanamo. Abdul Rahman Ma Ath Thafir al Amri, 34, of Taif, Saudi Arabia, was never charged with a crime. He was never permitted to see a lawyer. He has been imprisoned for the last five years. He was interrogated again and again and again, and quite possibly tortured. For most of the past year he has been locked away, like the hundreds of other men held with no charges and no hope of a trial or release, in a solitary cell for 22 hours a day.

His death deepens the stain on this country. The hopelessness that drove him to suicide was created by those who voted to deny him the fundamental right of habeas corpus. You, Sherrod Brown. You, Debbie Stabenow. You, Arlen Specter. You, John "What's the hurry?" Warner. If there were any justice in this world, you and all the other cowards like you would have nightmares for the rest of your lives about being locked away forever with no redress, no hope of release, no contact with the rest of the world.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Return of garden blogging: bearded iris

Raising my eyes from the screen, I realize the need to savor the glorious blooms of May.

We're nearing the end of the season for bearded iris, which come in such a vast range of colors and color combinations that it's easy to go overboard trying to grow some of each. But for effect, there's nothing like a single big clump of one beautiful variety in full bloom.

In the yard of a double-wide trailer on the way into town is just such a clump. At its absolute peak, glowing in the late-afternoon light, it was such a spectacle that I just had to pull over and drink it in. As I reluctantly pulled away, I wondered how the owners, who grow nothing else of horticultural note, came to plant an iris as relatively new and fancy as 'Haute les Voiles'.

Chalk it up to globalized, industrial plant production and mass marketing: from France to Holland to Wal-Mart, where the picture on the box probably caught the owner's eye. For once, the result has more than lived up to the advertising.

Image: 'Haute les Voiles' as seen at the 2002 national convention of the American Iris Society in Memphis, Tennessee. I've lost the photographer's name.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Haditha check-in

The New York Times' Paul von Zielbauer is on the Marine atrocity beat. He's the author of the surprisingly analytical article I blogged a few posts ago. His recent follow-up, on the Haditha hearings, is a return to media normalcy -- 'Lawyers on Haditha Panel Peer into Fog of War':
...the seven-day hearing opened a rare public window onto a debate about how the Marine Corps is fighting in Iraq against a ruthless insurgency that uses civilians as cover and disregards the laws of conflict taught in the United States.
As a description of what happened on November 19, 2005 in Haditha, that's just bizarre.

A roadside bomb exploded as a convoy went by, killing a marine in the gruesome way that such weapons do. The squad leader went berserk, ordering five unarmed men out of a nearby taxi and shooting them on the spot, after which another sergeant pissed on their bodies. Then a lieutenant arrived and ordered the unit to "take" a nearby house. They proceeded over the next several hours to kill nineteen men, women, and children in four houses with fragmentation grenades and machine guns.

Who disregarded the laws of conflict here? Where in this episode are insurgents using civilians as cover?

Von Zielbauer lets this exchange go by without a word of correction:

“If there had been 150 bodies [of noncombatants killed in action] that day,” Major McCann asked, ... “where would we be, in your mind?”

Captain Dinsmore, a 21-year veteran testifying by telephone from Iraq, offered a relatively impassioned response. He said the Iraq war rarely provided clear lines between combatants and civilians. The marines in Haditha that day, under small-arms fire in a profoundly hostile Sunni Arab region, could either abide by the laws of war and risk being killed, or could take aggressive steps to protect themselves and their squad members, and risk committing a war crime.

The clarification that the reporter fails to mention: The investigation that finally took place (after Time published the story of the massacre four months later) found no forensic evidence that the unit took any fire at all, small arms or otherwise. All the bulletholes in the area were from the marines' weapons. The witnesses and participants tell wildly different stories about who was being shot at. And the only weapon found in the four houses where the residents were killed was one pistol, which had not been fired.

But who's counting? Fog of war, man, fog of war.

Update: 21 May 3:30 am - Somehow I missed until today William Langewiesche's 'Rules of Engagement', an eminently worthwhile piece on the Haditha incident that appeared last November. I don't remember anyone linking to it or discussing it at the time, but the pointers to his just-out article on nuclear proliferation all mention and praise 'RoE'. Rightly so; reading it has, among other things, helped me take a more generous view of von Zielbauer's article in the Times. But I wish that Langewiesche had stuck with the story, because I'd be very interested in his response to a number of points that have come out since he finished writing.

For now, though, just wanted to note a passage that answers some of my questions about the immunity deal offered to the lying little weasel Lt. William Kallop:
Like other lieutenants in Kilo Company, Kallop was junior in all but rank to the senior enlisted men, to whom he naturally deferred. He had a reputation of being a little soft, a little lost. He was the pleasant son of a wealthy New York family, who had joined the Marine Corps, it was believed in Kilo Company, to prove something to himself before returning to a life of comfort. As a soldier he was said to be average.

When the allegations against Kilo Company surfaced in the spring of 2006, his parents vigorously reacted. They hired a New York public-relations firm that specializes in legal cases, and then engaged a defense attorney who is a former Marine general and was once one of the top lawyers in the Corps. The implicit warning may have had some effect. While McConnell and Chessani were humiliated and relieved of their commands, and Wuterich was fingered in public, Kallop was left untouched, though technically upon his arrival at Route Chestnut on November 19 he had become the commander on the scene.
Image: Sgt. Frank Wuterich by Lucian Read in Haditha, fall 2005.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Polite and deadly silence

Discussion of the U.S. role in the factional war now raging in Gaza puts one beyond the pale in U.S. politics. But ignoring it doesn't make it disappear.

We're arming and supporting a faction of Fatah in order to end the Palestininan governing coalition and bring down the elected Hamas government. Even if it fails to bring about such a collapse, this policy achieves a host of subsidiary goals: dividing Palestinians, driving the population to a point where they will be willing to accept rule by anyone as long as the fighting stops and the economy is allowed to function, and painting Palestinians to the world as inherently violent and unstable.

This crime, facilitated by a despicable man as part of a policy with a long, vile history, makes me so angry and sick that I have to struggle to avoid letting it paralyze me. One way to do that is simply not to stay quiet.

The results on the ground in Gaza are pushing Palestinians over the edge into despair. Read one mother's personal account here, and her journalistic and political analysis here. Most of all I recommend the excellent, linkful overview by Tony Karon. Update: 19 May 10:45 am - Another worthwhile piece by Paul Woodward and Mark Perry on the news coverage (and suppression) of the plan. End update.

The unwillingness to talk about this use of our tax dollars allows liberals to read the news from Gaza and tut-tut to themselves about "those people." Let's end the polite silence and averted eyes. As Laila El-Haddad says:
"The most troubling part is how this is unfolding with such purpose, and yet with so little protest.
Footnote: Although for the last year and a half I've been expecting and tracking the usual U.S. government reaction to the wrong party winning an election held with its approval, it took Jonathan Schwarz applying his gift of dark comedy to make me realize that my own silence about it is a big part of why the situation eats at me so. I aspire to post again someday without being prodded by A Tiny Revolution, but in the meantime: read him daily.

Update: 20 May 6:00pm - Coverage on the front page of Friday's Washington Post means that media silence on this U.S. policy is over: 'Fatah Troops Enter Gaza With Israeli Assent; Hundreds Were Trained in Egypt Under U.S.-Backed Program to Counter Hamas'. It's in the open; when is anyone in a position to affect it going to speak up?


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Congress gives away its war powers. Again.

Apparently 100 House Democrats believe that any president, even the one we have now, should have the ability to start a war at his/her whim. Last night the "first branch" passed up another chance to re-assert the constitutional powers that they've been gradually ceding to the executive over the last fifty years: Rep. DeFazio's amendment to the defense authorization bill that would have forbidden any attack on Iran without explicit authorization from Congress.

It wasn't even close. 136-288, with 100 Democrats voting against, including Van Hollen, Hoyer, Emanuel, netroots-beloved P. Murphy and Sestak, and {sigh} even Carol Shea-Porter. Speaker Pelosi was one of 12 not voting. Roll call here.

Congress has built up such a long record of declining to exercise its war powers that a Supreme Court justice -- even an "originalist" -- would be hard pressed to rule in Congress' favor if by some chance they objected to a military strike ordered by Bush. The only thing that can prevent more wars of aggression is political pressure, as Jonathan Schwarz concludes in a cogent review of the issue in Mother Jones.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Get a MoveOn on impeachment

Deep in the impenetrable innards of the MoveOn website is a survey question waiting for your answer:
Do you think Congress should impeach President Bush?

The lever-pullers over there at 'Democracy in Action' apparently don't want to know what MoveOn's three million members think about impeachment badly enough to ask them by email, or to pose the question on the front page of the website. You've got to be tipped to its existence and location by word of mouth or word of blog (thanks in this case to Jonathan Schwarz of A Tiny Revolution). As with so much else at the site, there's no indication when the survey page was created, or what it's connected with. Still, the impeachment question is being asked, and you get a chance to expand on your answer in an accompanying comment box. Maybe it'll become a movement...

And when pigs fly, maybe MoveOn itself will become an organization transparent enough to make it possible for 'members' to see how many people responded and to read their own and others' comments.

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