Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Friday, July 28, 2006

  The UN Human Rights Committee regrets

In its review of governmental policies and practices in the US, the U.N. Human Rights Committee issued a devasting report today. In the past, such periodic reports have dwelled mainly on social policies and penal practices, such as the death penalty, that have more to do with state and local government than with federal policy. These issues constitute the second half of today’s report, and there’s little that is new since the last U.N. report in 1995 on conditions in the U.S.

In its first half, though, the UNHRC report focuses on human rights abuses by the federal government, all of them introduced by George Bush since September 11, 2001. The list is depressingly long (four and a half pages) and makes grim reading, even though it omits many outlandish administration practices that are merely illegal, unconstitutional, or just plain obnoxious. All too often, the report notes that the U.S. government has not supplied requested information to the Committee.

The Committee further regrets that the State party, invoking grounds of nonapplicability of the Covenant or intelligence operations, refused to address certain serious allegations of violations of the rights protected under the Covenant.


Reaction from the Bush administration was characteristically whiny

"Our initial reaction is disappointment," said State Department official Matthew Waxman, who led a U.S. delegation to the hearing. He said the panel appeared to ignore much of the American testimony.


In a conference call from Washington, U.S. officials refused to confirm or deny reports that there have been secret detention centers in Europe and elsewhere.


Waxman denied allegations that the United States mishandles terror suspects. "Any idea that any United States or other detention operations or other activities in the war on terrorism are beyond the law is simply false."

…and dismissive.

[The UNHRC] loses perspective and credibility when it spends more time criticizing the United States than countries with no civil and political rights.

For example, the recent Committee Conclusions and Recommendations on North Korea was about half the length of that on the United States.

That will play well with the fatheads and superpatriots who form this administration’s base, but it falls afoul of two basic points. First, as even the Associated Press story noted, it’s UNHRC’s duty to investigate periodically the compliance of the 156 signatory countries with the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. UNHRC is not singling the U.S. out for criticism, nor is it “spending more time” reviewing the U.S. than it devotes to some of our more monstrous allies, say Kazakhstan. If there are fewer words in the report on a closed country like North Korea, that does not mean UNHRC has given little attention to it.

Secondly, although the UNHRC report on the U.S. is not an indictment on the scale of what you’d find in reports about brutal tyrannies, say in Kazakhstan, it ought to worry any American that there is significantly less difference in today’s report than used to be the case. Even a cursory comparison to the UNHRC report from 1995 reveals immediately how much longer and more severe the new report is.

One thing in particular is very telling about today’s U.N. report. Its list of “positive aspects” includes nothing undertaken by the current administration. Instead, it notes a series of rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court against various abuses--rulings (such as Hamdan) that the Bush administration opposed.

Bush & Co. on trial

What are the UNHRC report’s most salient new findings, aside from the obstructionistic attitude of the Bush administration? For starters, it denounces the administration’s refusal to uphold all the provisions of the 1966 treaty, to ensure the rights of all humans under its control (including those detained outside the U.S.), and to “give good faith understanding” to the Committee’s interpretation of the plain meaning of terms in the treaty.

HNHRC calls for the immediate closure of all secret prisons, which it says have existed for a long time now.

The Committee is concerned by credible and uncontested information that the State party has seen fit to engage in the practice of detaining people secretly and in secret places for months and years on end, without even keeping the International Committee of the Red Cross informed. In such cases, the rights of the families of the detained persons have also been violated.…

The State party should immediately abolish all secret detention and secret detention facilities. It should also grant prompt access by the International Committee of the Red Cross to any person detained in connection with an armed conflict. It should only detain persons in places in which they can enjoy the full protection of the law.

Some of the strongest language was reserved for the Bush administration’s torture policies.

The Committee is concerned that for a period of time the State party authorized the possible use of interrogation techniques such as prolonged stress positions and isolation, sensory deprivation, hooding, exposure to cold or heat, sleep and dietary adjustments, 20-hour interrogations, removal of clothing and of all comfort items, as well as religious items, forced grooming, and exploitation of detainees’ individual phobias. While welcoming the assurance that, according to the Detainee Treatment Act, these techniques are no longer authorized under the present Army Field Manual for current use by military personnel or on military premises, the Committee remains concerned that (a) the State party refuses to acknowledge that such techniques, several of which were allegedly applied, either individually or used in combination and/or applied over a protracted period of time, violate the prohibition in article 7; (b) no one has been punished for the approved use of the techniques; (c) these techniques may still be authorized or used by other agencies, including intelligence agencies and “private contractors”; and (d) the State party has provided no information demonstrating that oversight systems of such agencies are capable of ensuring respect for the prohibition contained in article 7.

The UNHRC report goes on to complain that investigations into allegations of torture and mistreatment of prisoners have been neither impartial nor effective. It urges that all federal agencies be bound to follow interrogation techniques that adhere to international law; that prisoners should have effective means to appeal any mistreatment; and that the government “sanction those who used or approved the use of the now withdrawn techniques”.

[The Committee] regrets that it has received insufficient information on prosecutions launched, sentences passed (which appear excessively light for offences of such gravity) and reparation granted to the victims.

UNHRC urges the Bush administration to ensure that those who committed abuse against prisoners be investigated, prosecuted, and punished accordingly; to implement procedures to ensure that these abuses won’t recur; and to stop using evidence at trial obtained by torture.

UNHRC urges that prisoners at Guantanamo be allowed to challenge their detention and treatment.

The State party should ensure, in accordance with article 9 (4) of the Covenant, that persons detained in Guantanamo are entitled to proceedings before a court to decide without delay on the lawfulness of their detention or order their release if the detention is not lawful. Due process, independence of the reviewing courts from the executive branch and the army, access of detainees to counsel of their choice and to all proceedings and evidence, should be guaranteed in this regard.

UNHRC also denounces the Bush administration policies on extraordinary rendition, and it singles out several of the absurd justifications given for these policies, including the “more likely than not” standard by which it becomes permissible, in the eyes of Bush & Co., to ship a prisoner off to a country where there’s at least a 50-50 chance that the prisoner won’t be tortured. UNHRC all but endorses some of the allegations of torture by victims of this policy, and it laments the failure of the U.S. system of justice to permit such victims to bring suit against the government (it mentions the rejection of Maher Arar’s lawsuit). It urges the Bush administration to put a stop to renditions to countries that practice torture, and to investigate all serious allegations by victims of rendition.

UNHRC also denounces the federal government over its false allegations of “terrorism” against all manner of non-terrorist criminals. In particular, it takes note of the number of non-citizens who were detained for long periods without trial after 9/11/01, merely upon suspicion, as ‘Material Witnesses’. It urges that people so detained be paid reparations.

This litany of human rights offenses committed by the Bush administration closes with a flourish. UNHRC decries provisions in the Patriot Act that permit searches and seizure without notification, and which therefore cannot reasonably be challenged in court.

The State party should review sections 213, 215 and 505 of the Patriot Act to ensure full compatibility with article 17 of the Covenant. The State party should ensure that interference in one’s privacy is conducted only where strictly necessary, under protection of the law, and that appropriate remedies are made available to the affected persons.

In sum

This report portrays a long train of human rights abuses--abuses invariably significant and glaringly illegal under both U.S. and international treaty obligations. How does the Bush administration try to deflect these hideously embarrassing accusations?

It complains that the Committee rejected many of the excuses and evasions made by the Bush administration; that some of the Committee’s recommendations address things that are already “under active consideration” by courts or the federal government; that the Committee hasn’t always explained clearly how its recommendations are connected to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and that the Covenant does not apply to American behavior outside the United States.

The first three arguments are simply petty and unworthy. The fourth, whether tenable or not, is essentially an argument that Americans reserve the privilege to abuse human rights when we go abroad. It, too, is petty and unworthy. That is the testament of Bush & Co.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

  The Deer War

Milo was traveling last week along Route 6, for what purpose is unclear. Anyway he stopped to get some local honey, and sent this along. I thought it was remarkable.

“A few decades ago I moved here to central Pennsylvania. Never meant to stay more than a short time, actually. I planned to move somewhere more cosmopolitan, like Pittsburgh, but I couldn’t get the permits I needed anywhere I really wanted to live. It was the land that kept me here, for better or worse.

“The land was basically uninhabited then. Not the best terrain, but talk about cheap.

“This is apple honey, that’s buckwheat. Yeah, the flavors are quite different. Here’s a spoon. Would your daughter like some pastelli? It’s honey and sesame candy. Don’t bite off too much, dear, or you’ll never manage to chew it!

“Actually, an acquaintance of mine had gotten some land down the hill, and he held onto it for several decades before I bought it from him. He tried farming it, but had no luck. Didn’t get on with the locals either. I got it from him cheap. That was the first parcel I picked up. Over the years, I got a lot more parcels, here and there.

“At first I didn’t know what I was going to do with his land, I just wanted to have it. Really cheesed off the farmer down the road, heh, thought he was going to get it to plant. Then this plot came up for sale. It was forest, which gave me the idea it might be good for an orchard.

“The real estate agent was trouble, as those kinds of people are. He’s got that house just off Route 6, with the burned out ‘pergola’ in front.

“Pretty dark, that one. Color of molasses. You won’t see any darker, not in these parts. I like the apple better, just my taste though.

“Some hunters wanted to buy this plot, and the agent was annoyed that I outbid ’em. Kept telling me that it’s a dear highway between this ridge and the state hunting lands. ‘You’ll never get an orchard to take,’ says. ‘Deer will eat the seedlings right down to the ground.’ Some truth to that, but nothing as bad as he claimed. Just trying to sell the land to the locals. That’s the real problem round here, the locals. Practically gotta fence them out.

“Got to thinkin’, deer don’t go for figs. Cleared ten acres and put in a fig orchard. Put in another thirty acres the next year. Figured I could get these people to buy my figs, since nobody else around here has them.

“That went on for about seven – six – years. The trees kept dieing back over the winter. Figured they just needed to settle in for a few years, before they’d take to the climate. Wasn’t gonna let the locals laugh me out of business either. But I donnow, I was almost running the well dry watering them every year.

“A quart? Sure, I’ve got plenty.

“Anyhoo, the trees were just taking too long to settle, and by that time I’d bought some more parcels, so I pulled them out and stuck in a bunch of stuff, mostly apricot and pear n’ cherry, some apple too.

“Hadn’t figured on the deer eating the seedlings down to the ground the first winter. I’m tellin’ ya, I was ready to…

“Anyway I replanted, and the deer kept doing their best to ruin the orchard. Kept replacing what they killed. But I got tired of this cat and mouse game. Always chasing them off the land, then they’d come at night.

“I got smart finally and put up some fencing. Shoulda put up the 8 ft. stuff the guy in Benny’s wanted to sell me, but figured the 4 ft. ought to work. I mean, c’mon, what are the deer going to do, jump over it? Spent the whole summer putting up miles of fencing. I have some plots along the next road over too, so they had to be fenced in completely. Here I didn’t bother fencing along the road at first, but the deer went around so I had to do the road as well. Nothing worked. The damn deer just bounded over it like it wasn’t hardly there.

“I wasn’t gonna make that mistake again, so I got some guns and…yeah I took the direct route, started blasting them whenever they appeared. Takes a lot of vigilance. A lot of vigilance, let me tell you. All hours of the day and night, lying in wait. Don’t seem to smarten up, the deer, they just keep coming.

“The local ‘hunters’ of course complained. The game wardens can’t prove anything though, heh, and they can’t be bothered to keep coming out here. Haven’t even seen one in a few years now.

“Thought I finally had the deer beaten, but then one Christmas when I was away for a week they came and hit the trees real hard. They just pruned them way back. Lost a year or two’s growth right there, in a single week. Boy, I was really ready to…

“The next year I planted corn around the perimeter of the fence, thought it would block them out. It just seemed to attract more deer, though, so I’ve pretty much stopped bothering.

“But that gave me an idea, I finally got smart. Put out a salt lick by the edge of the woods in sight of the house. Those damn deer just flocked to it. Musta killed twenty, thirty in the first week. Just sat in the TV room and picked them off, easy as that.

“Woulda been the end of all my problems, right there, ’cept the neighbor over the ridge, Morgan, put out some salt licks in his woods to draw the deer away. Thought he’d outsmarted me, but I showed him.

“The deer just kind of regrouped I guess, and started making incursions like into whatever orchard I wasn’t in at the time. I tried shooting randomly into the wood line, to keep them off guard, but they figured that game out quickly.

“Finally got smart and decided to root them out. I started making incursions into the woods, looking for where they bed down. Caught a few fawns, but mostly I was just wiping out their favorite spots.

“Then I got smart. The deer really love this Russian olive plant, and they need it to survive in the winter. It’s everywhere in the woods, grows like a weed, so I set about cutting it out. Got rid of it in my woods, but Morgan and his son-in-law Follweiler didn’t want me cutting in their woods, so I had to do my best when they weren’t around, know what I mean?

“Damned if that winter the deer aren’t all over my orchards. It was like an invasion, every time I turned around. They were just wiping me out. Got some dogs, which worked for a while, but by the spring the deer had got smart to them. Knew they couldn’t chase them beyond the fences. Just drove the dogs crazy, and here I’m listening to them barking all the time.

“Finally got a bit of an apple crop that spring. None of the pears or apricots have set any fruit yet, and the cherries turned out to be ornamental so they don’t produce anything. That’s another story. What a joke those cherry trees are.

“Anyway, the apples set fruit for once, and everything is great for about a month. Then guess who shows up?

“No, it wasn’t the bees, darling. Are you done with that pastelli already?

“Deer came in and took every apple within reach. As if that wasn’t enough, they also ripped up a few dozen seedlings I was hoping to graft next year. You shoulduv heard the language around here. I wasn’t going to take no more of this, no sir. Now it was personal, like.

“I gathered up my stuff – I’d been plannin’ this out – and headed up to Morgan’s salt lick to spread out some poison. There weren’t any deer about, but what’d you expect? They always manage to evade ya, like they’ve got sensors or something. So I went on to Morgan’s farm. He lets ’em graze his stubble and bed down in his woods, so he had it coming.

“Tried to set his oat field ablaze, just to teach ’im, but it sputtered out after a bit. Wind was blowing the wrong way, as it always is it seems. Anyway so I set his barn on fire. Hadn’t realized he had most of his sheep inside with the new lambs. Morgan came out his house screamin’ an’ hollerin’, but it didn’t do him any good. He pretty much lost everything ’cept a few rams that were out to pasture. I left his house alone, though, his wife being an invalid an’ all.

“Follweiler was gonna be trouble, I knew that. His barns are steel and most of his equipment was lent out right at that moment. So I headed into town to visit the library. Can you believe Follweiler, heh, is on the Library Board? The guy can barely read a newspaper, I swear.

“Anyway, I set fire to the library and this time the winds helped to whip it up. You shoulda seen the Librarian run for cover! Never saw her move so fast.

“Follweiler sells a lotta produce in the summer to Tipton’s Market, so I headed in there and wiped out the produce tables. The ones out front I tipped over, but inside I just pushed everything on the floor and made sure to stomp it. Tipton was out to lunch and the cashiers just looked on in amazement as I wiped them out, short and sweet like. You shoulda seen the looks I got from the customers. But what’d they think I’d do? This has been goin’ on for years, and it’s gotta stop.

“Then I went out to Hemmerdinger bridge, that’s what the dynamite was for. You probably don’t remember it. It was a steel grate bridge on the road up to the fire house. The state police had to come into town that way too. Took it right out.

“Then I cut around the back of town and took care of Follweiler’s brother’s house – the one that had all those gables? – and then the two other Library Board members. Forget their names.

“We’ll have to see whether they learned their lesson. The real estate agent? Beauprez…nah, that was a different time.”

Sunday, July 23, 2006

  Fleeing Family Ends Up in Path of Israeli Missile

The title of the NY Times story tells you nearly everything you might wish to know about the nature of that paper’s coverage of the conflict between Israel and Lebanon.

Fleeing Family Ends Up in Path of Israeli Missile

The reporter, Hassan M. Fattah, is not responsible for the headline. Like yesterday's lengthier report, this is a detailed picture of the mayhem visited upon the Lebanese. It is a straight-forward account of the attempts by several Lebanese families to flee the fighting, and how they were hunted down by Israeli aircraft as they fled along rural roads. The families' cars were blown up.

We've already heard about such incidents from many sources, and learned that even ambulances have been targeted.

What we had not heard, until the NY Times headline writer thought to tell us, was that (one of) these cars "ended up in [the] path of [an] Israeli Missile". I'm disappointed that the headline writer neglected to explain how this occured. But, evidently, this car, whichever one it was, drove between the attack helicopter and the intended target...perhaps a guard rail, or a stop sign? Or just a loose bit of the macadam?

Curious, too, that the headline writer does not care to tell us which of the cars carrying civilians, whose destruction Hassan M. Fattah describes, was the one which "end[ed] up in [the] path of [an] Israeli Missile". If the headline writer had spoken of "Missiles", then we might infer it is the fate of Any-Car in Lebanon to wander into the firing line of Israeli gunships.

But that pesky singular, "Missile"...what to make of it? It does seem that the writer is signalling a willingness to concede that the other passenger cars were blown up intentionally by the Israeli attackers.

The important thing I suppose, which the headline writer has thoughtfully underscored for us, is that one of the cars carrying fleeing civilians was blown up inadvertently.

That makes the other war crimes described in the article rather less distressing, don't you think?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

  Uncle Don Talent Quest

Rumsfeld gave a pair of intriguing radio interviews nearly two weeks ago. Though not in the same league as The Lone Ranger, Fibber McGee & Molly, The Green Lantern, It Pays to be Ignorant, Lum’n Abner, Easy Aces, Ma Perkins, The Texaco Star Theater, or Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, the Rumsfeld interviews were heavily scripted. They were as hammy as Bob Hope, as cloying as Just Plain Bill, and as far-fetched as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. And like the Uncle Don program, they seemed to anticipate an audience of children.

I want to focus on the questions asked, however, more than Rumsfeld’s tedious answers. When did it become acceptable for interviewers, even Bush apologists like Monica Crowley and Eileen Byrne, to take instructions from administration officials about which questions to ask them on air? Because the questions ‘put’ to Rumsfeld had his fingerprints all over them.

How do you do, I’m sure.

I’ll be curious to know what MSNBC has to say in defense of Crowley, whom the network recently promoted to the rank of an occasional ‘news’ anchor. Are NBC’s journalists permitted to read from Pentagon scripts?

Well, now, I wouldn’t say that!

The facts are these. On July 7 Eileen Byrne, Bush-shill and host of a radio program on the increasingly right-wing WLS station in Chicago, interviewed Donald Rumsfeld. The next day, the notorious Nixon-protégé Monica Crowley interviewed Rumsfeld on her own radio program.

Thoroughgoing masochist that I am, I set about reading through the transcripts of both programs. What I discovered were two interviews that were largely identical in the subject matter they discussed. Rumsfeld’s answers, clearly talking points, remained essentially the same from one day to the next. Most strikingly, the order in which the subjects were brought up by the two interviewers was virtually identical.

The Shadow knows!

Even if these subjects were all the most obvious issues of the day (and they are not, or not exclusively), it is nearly impossible that two interviewers on two successive days would just happen to arrange - entirely by chance - the nine or so subjects in (nearly) the same order. The only credible explanation for the parallelism between the two interviews is that the two interviewers were working from the same model.

I see only two possibilities. The first, the most likely, is that both interviewers were furnished fairly explicit instructions or guidelines about the questions they were supposed to ask.

The other possibility, that the second interviewer (Crowley), copied her questions from Byrne’s program, seems pretty remote. It would have been more work to get a copy of Byrne’s Chicago broadcast, listen to it and take notes, than simply to sit down and think of nine subjects to ask the Secretary of Defense about. Besides, even for the pampered Crowley it can’t be often that one gets a member of the ruling triumvirate on one’s show.

Ah, but there’s good news tonight!

Here are the subjects raised by Eileen Byrne, in order. As you can see from the transcript, the questions are canned.

1. North Korea
2. William Perry's op-ed on striking NK
3. diplomatic efforts on NK
4. stability of Iraq
5. political pressure in U.S. for withdrawal
6. U.S. troops' morale
7. American journalists giving away state secrets
8. Iraq War is being fought at home, in the media
9. Hamdan decision


Compare the foregoing list to the subjects broached by Monica Crowley on July 8. Notice that subjects #6 and #9 have been interchanged, but otherwise the list remains the same. Crowley’s questions to Rumsfeld are just as leading as Byrne’s.

1. North Korea
2. William Perry's op-ed on striking NK
3. diplomatic efforts on NK
4. stability of Iraq
5. political pressure in U.S. for withdrawal
6. Hamdan decision
7. American journalists giving away state secrets
8. Iraq War is being fought at home, in the media
9. U.S. troops' morale


The same essential subjects, in the same order (save a single switch, as noted). That is the decisive evidence that the two interviewers are working from the same guidelines.

Given how leading the questions are, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the conclusion that the administration had a big role in drafting the script. Here is one flagrant and typical example, where a softball from Byrne/Crowley gives Rumsfeld the opportunity to portray the Bush administration as avoiding confrontation with North Korea while cautiously using diplomacy to build international consensus.

From the Byrne interview

BYRNE: What do you make of former Secretary Perry going unilateral with a strike on North Korea, wrote about in The Washington Post? He says diplomacy has failed.

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, you know, in a sense, he is right that diplomacy has failed in the past. They had a -- in his administration -- the Clinton administration, they had an agreed framework that which the North Koreans violated and broke. In fact, they violated three or four agreements they had. They had a North-South Agreement as well.

On the other hand, you know, it seems to me at least -- and I think the president's exactly right in this case that the diplomatic path is the correct one - and that a pre-emptive strike against that missile launch, while it was still on the stand was not appropriate, and that was the decision the president made and I certainly agree with it.

From the Crowley interview

CROWLEY: Well, Mr. Secretary, one of your predecessors, the former Secretary of Defense William Perry under President Clinton, recently suggested that we ought to take some preemptive action here, that we ought to think about perhaps blowing some of these long-range missiles right off their launching pads. What do you think about that?

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, I read that article. And Bill Perry's a thoughtful person, and clearly one can make that case. President Bush has made a different case. His view is -- first of all, there are no Taepodong-2s on launching pads at the present time. The one they fired didn't work and it failed. They do -- we do believe and they're assessed to have, oh, something like three or four or five additional Taepodong-2 airframes somewhere in their country.

The president believes that the proper task -- approach is to work with the six nations -- the South Koreans, the Chinese, the Russians, the Japanese, the United States and the North Koreans -- and attempt to persuade them that they have options other than being bellicose. Time will tell whether that'll work.

When the William Perry op-ed appeared, you may recall, some commentators speculated that his bizarre proposal to launch a pre-emptive strike against the North Korean test missiles was made in consultation with the Bush administration, as the bad cop to Bush’s good cop routine. The insertion of this leading question by the Dept. of Defense into two of Rumsfeld’s interviews supports that interpretation. The propagandistic elements in these interviews were directed partly at American audiences, and partly at foreign governments.

It would be tedious to analyze the many parallels between the two scripted interviews. Instead, I’ll point toward one other revealing element. In both interviews, there’s talk of a support-the-troops website, Byrne mentions the website herself so as to cue Rumsfeld that it’s time to wrap himself in the sacrifices being made by the troops in the field. Crowley, rather interestingly, stops just short of mentioning the website and lets Rumsfeld run with the topic. Then she adds that she’s put up a link to at her webpage.

The program’s going to be different tonight, Graham.

Clearly, then, both Byrne and Crowley had been advised that Rumsfeld wished to put in a plug for his feel-good website. And that is not unusual. A few days earlier, Rumsfeld gave an interview on ABC radio to Fred Thompson in which that interviewer also brought up America Supports You. It’s a sign that Rumsfeld regularly exercises influence over the questions he’s asked by the radio interviewers he agrees to speak to.

But it’s one thing to include a single soft-ball question upon instructions from the DoD, as Thompson did. It’s quite another to work through an entire script written by the Great Man himself or his staffers. Thompson’s interview is, apparently, conducted according to the rules of journalism. Byrne’s and Crowley’s interviews, however, are flagrant propaganda.

Recently, Columbia Journalism Review had an excellent survey of the troubling and often illegal innovations in propaganda as practiced by Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense. This Pentagon does not seem to care that it is prohibited from spreading propaganda inside the United States. It regularly disseminates propaganda abroad that it knows will make its way back to America.

Meanwhile, the concept of military information operations, or IO, was undergoing a remarkable transformation. On October 30, 2003, Donald Rumsfeld signed a secret Pentagon directive, in the works for at least a year, known as the Information Operations Roadmap….

The roadmap recognizes that the globalization of the information environment has eroded boundaries that have protected the public and the press from consuming propaganda aimed at foreign populations, making it likely that “psyop messages . . . will often be replayed by the news media for much larger audiences, including the American public.”

The Smith-Mundt Act, signed into law in 1948, was designed to prevent the American people from being targeted with propaganda meant for foreign audiences (specifically, it prohibited the broadcast of the Voice of America within the U.S.). But technology has rendered it effectively moot. The question of legality may now rest on the very subjective test of whom the government means to influence. The roadmap itself, which was recently declassified, puts it this way: “The distinction between foreign and domestic audiences becomes more a question of USG [U.S. government] intent rather than information dissemination practices.”

The most abusive and dangerous forms of Pentagon propaganda these days are disinformation campaigns, generally floated abroad but sometimes even to US news media. That, rightly, is the focus of the CJR piece. What we’ve seen by comparing the Byrne and Crowley interviews is another small piece in that picture – that the Pentagon manipulates interviews with at least some right-wing radio hosts in ways that can only be described as propaganda. And with the reference to William Perry’s opinion piece, as I said, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Rumsfeld no longer distinguishes in any meaningful way between propaganda directed abroad and that which is directed at Americans living in America. You cannot get much more American than Chicago (WLS).

That’s a joke, son.

A side note: The thing which first attracted my attention in these interviews was an egregious comment by Rumsfeld in the Crowley interview:

CROWLEY:On this question of how much damage we're actually doing to ourselves here in our ability to fight this war, how damaging are these front-page disclosures of state secrets by The New York Times and other newspapers?

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, you know if you have an enemy that is vicious; is determined; that is uncompromising and is -- has demonstrated a willingness to kill tens of thousands of people -- clearly what you want to do is to find ways to learn what they're doing and prevent them from doing it before they kill additional thousands of Americans.

To the extent they are then advised as to what it is we're doing to keep track of them, their lives are made easier. I mean, our goal is to make their lives more difficult - to put pressure on them - to make it harder for everything they do; make it harder for them to move between countries; harder for them to raise money; harder for them to recruit people; harder for them to communicate with each other; harder for them to get weapons. And to the extent people get up in the morning and decide they want to make it easier for them by telling them exactly how we put pressure on them that clearly advantages the enemy and the terrorists.

Get up in the morning and decide to make things easier for terrorists. It’s hard to decide which is worse, whether Rumsfeld believes that slander or not. Anyhow, the statement reveals a lot about his attitude toward real journalism as practiced by people other than his mouthpieces on right wing radio.

To return where we started: How can it be acceptable for Byrne and Crowley to be interviewing Rumsfeld using a script that almost certainly was prepared in the DoD? It was a sorry joke when recently MSNBC began promoting Monica Crowley as an authentic news anchor. Her performance on Connected Coast to Coast was always rabidly partisan, such that you sometimes got the impression that Ron Reagan was embarrassed for her.

But for MSNBC to be trying to promote her now as a serious journalist? To my mind, the kind of evidence I laid out here ought to be grounds for sacking Monica Crowley.

Update: At Unbossed, commenters made important observations. First, BobB crunches the numbers on the probability that both interviewers happened by chance to raise the 9 issues in (nearly) the same order. Bob puts the probability that this occured randomly at 1 one-hundredth of 1 percent (.0001). In other words, this fact alone puts the probability at 99.99% that Crowley and Byrne worked from the same model or guideline. (Bob sets aside the curious fact that they both came up with an identical list of 9 issues to discuss with Rumsfeld; the improbability of that also is great, but much harder to express mathematically.)

Secondly, em dash points out that NPR has reported that Rumsfeld's feel-good website is an obscenely expensive propaganda campaign begun in 2004 as the nation was losing patience with the Iraq occupation. It encourages citizens to submit messages for the troops overseas, but these simply go into a database where they're counted AND NOT forwarded to any actual troops. A few are posted on the website, though it turns out these are edited by Pentagon propagandists, as Martin Kaste reports:

... their online "message to the troops" system, which apparently edits out all political content, with the exception of sentiments in praise of President Bush, finishing the job in Iraq and criticisms of antiwar protestors. Those comments are left in.

Much of the PR work has been let out to private contractors and some in DoD are fed up with this boondoggle, which serves as a vehicle for administration propaganda:

One recent effort is a campaign to get people at major league baseball games to "text-message" their support to the troops on their cell phones... even though those messages aren't actually sent to the troops.

Plenty of people in the armed forces say they're grateful for the effort, but there are some at the Pentagon who have come to believe the effort verges on tax-payer-funded propaganda. The fear is that an appeal to support the troops could also be seen as a call to support the war in Iraq.

Crossposted at Unbossed.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

  The blinkers come off at the NY Times

In the late spring of 2000, I composed my first op-ed and offered it to a variety of American newspapers. It commented on the absurd manner that George Bush had selected Dick Cheney, or allowed Cheney to select himself, as Bush’s running mate. Particularly egregious was the selection of a fellow Texan, a direct challenge to the Twelfth Amendment.

The electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves

You’ll recall that Cheney dashed up to Wyoming to re-register to vote there, a stunt all the more preposterous because he continued to live in Texas. From this episode, I surmised that both men believe that the normal rules don’t apply to them. Bush had asked voters to judge his qualifications to become president on the basis of how he chose his running mate, and I took him at his word. Bush proved himself to be a scoundrel, contemptuous of the law and the norms of society. I’d applied for enough jobs where the Chair of the search committee manipulated the process, to recognize Cheney’s vile personality as well. Neither man had the slightest intention of being held to the rules that most of us live by.

I said so plainly in my op-ed, and gave the grounds for thinking this pair would be a disastrous choice for the country. Not one of the papers I offered this essay to was willing to print it. Not a single paper, large or small. One editor wrote that he enjoyed the way I’d presented the material, but the op-ed simply was too personal, too strongly worded, had too much irony and sarcasm.

That is to say, the op-ed that never saw print was written in a style that has since become familiar in political blogs. But blogs did not really exist at the time, and editorial page editors in 2000 did not see any reason to give voice to these kinds of personal opinions on the opinion pages. What we tended to get, instead, were the irresponsible, tendentious, sanctimonious, hypocritical, misinformed, partisan but polite effusions of syndicated columnists tucked away well inside the Beltway bubble. Very few of them bothered to point out that Bush and Cheney had signaled that they would make up their own rules the moment they had a chance to do so.

It’s been a ghastly five and a half years. The arrogance, the recklessness, the damage, the shame. These were beyond imagining in 2000, though the outlines could have been predicted, had journalists been willing.

Today’s NY Times editorial The Real Agenda comes as close as anything I’ve yet seen in a major US publication to stating what long ago ought to have become obvious: The Bush administration’s policy is to ignore rules that are inconvenient; the Constitution is at most an obstacle to be circumvented.

Over and over again, the same pattern emerges: Given a choice between following the rules or carving out some unprecedented executive power, the White House always shrugged off the legal constraints. Even when the only challenge was to get required approval from an ever-cooperative Congress, the president and his staff preferred to go it alone.

The point of the editorial is to describe the disastrous consequences of this attitude in the wake of the September 11 bombings, particularly in the monomaniacal pursuit of unchecked Executive power. We are treated to some blunt language about the administration’s torture policies - finally. The editorial is neither more insightful nor more pointed than what bloggers have been stating for years. What it represents is not an epiphany, but a new willingness by a major news outlet to state the obvious, to speak plain truths that citizens of this nation have been saying for years.

For one brief, shining moment, it appeared that the administration realized it had met a check [the SCOTUS ruling on Hamdan] that it could not simply ignore. The White House sent out signals that the president was ready to work with Congress in creating a proper procedure for trying the hundreds of men who have spent years now locked up as suspected terrorists without any hope of due process.
But by week’s end it was clear that the president’s idea of cooperation was purely cosmetic. At hearings last week, the administration made it clear that it merely wanted Congress to legalize President Bush’s illegal actions — to amend the law to negate the court’s ruling instead of creating a system of justice within the law. As for the Geneva Conventions, administration witnesses and some of their more ideologically blinkered supporters in Congress want to scrap the international consensus that no prisoner may be robbed of basic human dignity. …

The administration’s intent to use the war on terror to buttress presidential power was never clearer than in the case of its wiretapping program. The president had legal means of listening in on the phone calls of suspected terrorists and checking their e-mail messages.… And Republicans in Congress were all but begging for a chance to change the process in any way the president requested. Instead, of course, the administration did what it wanted without asking anyone. When the program became public, the administration ignored calls for it to comply with the rules. As usual, the president’s most loyal supporters simply urged that Congress pass a law allowing him to go on doing whatever he wanted to do. …

Jane Mayer provided a close look at this effort to undermine the constitutional separation of powers…To a disturbing degree, the horror of 9/11 became an excuse to take up this cause behind the shield of Americans’ deep insecurity. The results have been devastating. Americans’ civil liberties have been trampled. The nation’s image as a champion of human rights has been gravely harmed. Prisoners have been abused, tortured and even killed at the prisons we know about, while other prisons operate in secret. American agents “disappear” people, some entirely innocent, and send them off to torture chambers in distant lands. Hundreds of innocent men have been jailed at Guantánamo Bay without charges or rudimentary rights. And Congress has shirked its duty to correct this out of fear of being painted as pro-terrorist at election time.

The newfound willingness of the editors of the Times to report inconvenient news is welcome. I wonder whether they have some thoughts about the Twelfth Amendment, which might yet see the light of day?

Crossposted at Unbossed

Friday, July 07, 2006

  Some clues for a clueless president

On July 4, George Bush delivered a bewildering message to assembled troops: "You're winning this war" in Iraq. Everybody knew that's not remotely true, though nobody interrupted his speech to say so. Later that afternoon, Mister Bush held a birthday party for himself. It was an act of hybris, or at least folly, as everybody knew his birthday actually came days later. It would have been considered rude to say so, I think, so the event proceeded as scripted.

In between, Bush gave a revealing interview to Stars & Stripes. Too bad it has gone almost unnoticed, because the questions asked were blunt and entirely foreign to the president's experience. Anyway, Bush's pat answers depicted a man supremely indifferent to the most basic concerns of the troops he had just gotten through lying to.

The interview happens to be a brilliant self-portrait of a strutting peacock. On the one hand, we see a serious journalist asking serious questions. On the other, an actor delivering rehearsed lines as if from a stage.

For normal humans, a 60th birthday would be a good time to reflect on one's life, take stock of successes and failures. It's as good a time as any to think about one's contributions to the world.

George Bush, however, whose balance sheet tilts heavily toward failures, shows no inclination to ponder any of it. That's nowhere more transparent than with his most colossal failure, in Iraq. Mister Bush's policy has been to declare over and over that he'll continue doing, or not doing, whatever created the Iraqi quagmire in the first place.

There are plenty of clues that would tell a more reflective president that the U.S. is not in fact winning a war which three years ago Mister Bush declared victory in. Since Mister Bush can't make anything of this unwelcome information, I thought I'd identify some of the more salient clues I found while perusing the news on his actual birthday.

Let's begin with the Stars & Stripes interview. By soliciting questions in advance from the troops about their pressing concerns, the interviewer inadvertently exposed what is NOT on the President's conscience. It happened to be whatever the interviewer asked Bush about.

1st Clue that the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq

President Bush has met hundreds of families of fallen soldiers, but he has yet to attend a servicemember's funeral, he said Tuesday.

"Because which funeral do you go to? In my judgment, I think if I go to one I should go to all. How do you honor one person but not another?" he said.

Evidently the President, who did not serve in Vietnam, never learned the custom of paying respect to all the dead from a war. He is happier honoring nobody, and seems to think everybody else is as well. Neither has George Bush ever figured out the significance of mass casualties. Something of their significance (however little) might have impressed itself on his conscience, if he had tried to fit even a few of the more than 2500 funerals into his busy vacation schedule.

Hint to the President: When casualties are so frequent that you can't find the time to attend all the funerals of soldiers killed in a war you started, it's a clue that the war is not going well.

2nd Clue that the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq

One soldier now serving in Iraq asked how many times he would have to return to the war zone in the next five years. Bush said he did not have an answer.

Second and third deployments to Iraq have been no more popular than first time deployments. In the military, as in life generally, people typically like to have some hope for the future. Given Mister Bush's open-ended commitment to occupying Iraq, this was a natural question to ask. Imagine what the troops, reading this interview, will make of the fact that the President offered no reassurance whatever that deployments will not continue at this pace for at least another five years.

Hint to the President: When you can't predict some improvement within the next five years in a war you started, it's a clue that you can't realistically claim you're winning it.

3rd Clue that the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq

Another soldier asked if Army rotations in Iraq could be shortened from one year to six months.

"In asking that question through the chain of command, the response I get is that it's important to manage the Army flows in such a way that we can sustain our efforts, and they believe -- they being the planners in the Army itself -- the best way to do it is for a year. And therefore ... my answer to the troop is that really depends on what the leadership recommends."

Readers of Stars & Stripes will be puzzled by the insinuation that Bush has been asking this very question up and down "the chain of command". The soldier just wanted to know if the President was going to intervene with top brass to shorten rotations in Iraq.

Hint to the President: When career soldiers are trying to find new ways to get sent home from the war zone as soon as possible, it's a clue that the war you started is going badly.

4th Clue that the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq

Bush was asked if a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be acceptable in return for a cease-fire by insurgents.

Bush called the question hypothetical and deferred comment to Gen. George Casey, commander of Multinational Force-Iraq.

Media outlets have reported that Sunni insurgents have offered such a trade-off. Bush said, however, "I'm not sure they have or haven't. ... I will tell you that whatever decisions I make will be made upon the recommendations of commanders and with one thing in my mind: Can we win?"

Either Bush is so out of touch with the peace negotiations in Iraq that he's unaware of the most basic proposals; or he prefers to appear that way rather than address them; or he expected the journalist to pretend along with him that the proposal is merely hypothetical. Anyhow, it's up to the President rather than Gen. Casey to decide whether to make such a trade-off. What's with passing the buck?

Hint to the President: When you tell the troops that you are asking yourself "Can we win?", it doesn't make a lot of sense to declare "You are winning". Anyhow, the fact that servicemembers are following peace negotiations more closely than you are, and are trying to ascertain whether they'll provide grounds for leaving Iraq, ought to indicate that you are not in fact winning the war you started.

5th Clue that the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq

From beginning to end, the Stars & Stripes interview gives the impression that George Bush as not thought at all about the nature of the Iraq War, which, you'll remember, he started. Another story very much in the news yesterday gave us a glimpse of an Army officer who, by contrast, has reflected deeply about the conflict.

A Fort Lewis Army officer who refused to serve in Iraq could face seven years in prison under charges filed Wednesday.

The Army accused 1st Lt. Ehren Watada of missing his brigade's troop movement to Iraq, twice speaking contemptuously of the president and three acts unbecoming an officer....

Watada said he was morally obligated to obey the Constitution, not what he claimed were unlawful orders to join in an illegal war. He also released a DVD statement criticizing what he said was the "wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people."

Military personnel are obligated to refuse to obey illegal orders, though upholding that obligation is always perilous to one's career. The officer in question came to this decision by a roundabout route, and perhaps reluctantly.

[He] joined the Army in the spring of 2003 as the invasion of Iraq was launched....Watada said he initially supported the war because he believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. While he had some early concerns about the conflict, he felt it was important to give Bush the benefit of the doubt.

As the war progressed, Watada said, his feelings changed after reading articles that asserted the war was illegal. He became convinced that there was "intentional manipulation of intelligence" by the Bush administration.

Another report in Watada's hometown paper gives further details about what could be called over-reaching by the Army in the charges leveled against him.

Watada was charged with missing movement, contempt toward officials and conduct unbecoming an officer....

[His attorney] said he welcomes the contempt and conduct charges because they stem from comments Watada made against the war and provide him with an opportunity to raise constitutional free speech issues.

"I can't understand why the Army wants to make a martyr out of him and give him a platform," to continue to speak out against the war in Iraq, he said....

[Watada's father] said Army officials had been telling his son that he was going to have to serve 20 years for refusing to deploy with his unit. But he believes they were just trying to break down his resolve.

"He just was not going to go because he had firmly made up his mind that killing Iraqis was just something he could not do," he said....

The younger Watada is not a conscientious objector and has stated his willingness to fight in combat, as long as it is not in Iraq. He twice tried to resign his commission as an Army officer or be allowed to serve somewhere else, including Afghanistan.

Hint to the President: When the mainstream press publishes respectful stories about an Army officer who refuses to be deployed to Iraq to fight a war you started, and these reports explain carefully that the officer considers the war illegal, it is a good clue that you are not winning that war.

6th Clue that the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq

Meanwhile a young Marine in Colorado, Joshua Christianson, threatened to kill himself with an assault rifle because he feared he might be deployed to Iraq.

"We may never know what caused him to do this," said Loveland police Sgt. Rae Bontz, referring to the standoff...Next-door neighbor Gale Stiner said he walked outside to get his newspaper about 6 a.m. and saw Christianson in the middle of the street holding the weapon. The Marine said hello and asked Stiner how he was doing. "He was pretty calm," Stiner said. "I wasn't really afraid."...

"He's not willing to go back to the Marines," [a family friend said.] "And he was recently promoted."

Lizotte, the high school friend, said Christianson liked to drink and go to parties. "He was crazy, but not in a bad way," said Lizotte, who has known Christianson for about five years. Lizotte said she was disappointed to learn that Christianson had threatened to kill himself. But she said she's not giving up on her friend. "He's still a good guy."

Hint to the President: When a Marine threatens suicide rather than deploy to Iraq, and the press describes him as rational rather than deranged, that is a clue that you are not winning the war, which you started by the way.

7th Clue that the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq

Well, there are a lot of clues that Mister Bush hasn't convinced many American servicemembers that things are going well in Iraq. Perhaps the Iraqi government, dependent as it is upon U.S. military support as it tries to negotiate an end to the civil war, has some soothing words to say about its sponsor. Here are the Prime Minister's latest thoughts about the U.S. military presence in his country:

Iraq's prime minister urged the U.S. military on Thursday to keep "reckless" troops from serving in Iraq in order to prevent abuses like the alleged rape and murder of a teenager and her family by U.S. soldiers in March.

Expanding on calls for an independent inquiry and a review of foreign troops' immunity from Iraqi law, Nuri al-Maliki said commanders should do a better job in preparing their soldiers.

"There needs to be a plan to educate and train soldiers, and those who are brought to serve in Iraq shouldn't bear prejudices nor be reckless toward people's honor," Maliki said.

Iraqi Army and Interior Ministry units, notoriously corrupt and ruthless, are themselves implicated in many atrocities committed during the civil war. It's deeply ironic, then, that al-Maliki has lost patience with the behavior of American troops.

Hint to the President: When your hand-picked Prime Minister says he doesn't trust the training of the troops you're sending to Iraq, it's unwise to brag that you're winning the war. And, incidentally, you're ultimately responsible for the war and all that has transpired in it. Perhaps you could reflect on that.

Crossposted at Unbossed and at Daily Kos.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

  No immediate plans for internment of Iranian-Americans

If you thought the NSA's illegal domestic spying was the outer limit of the perversions of law and decency that this badministration could invent, this report today in the LA Times will give you more to think about. The Times reveals that California Office of Homeland Security recently has been collecting daily reports from federal law enforcement agencies that monitor, among other things, political protests around the state. These included "A demonstration in Walnut Creek at which U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) and other officials spoke against the war in Iraq." A spokeman for the California Attorney General condemned the practice.

"When we discovered their existence, we informed OHS officials that we had absolutely no use for that kind of information," [Tom] Dresslar said. "Collecting information on protests has no legitimate anti-terrorism intelligence function. None. No intelligence agency has any need to maintain this kind of information."

That aspect of the LA Times report has gotten a little attention, but buried in the story there is a much more troubling allegation.

Anti-terrorism ideas from the state homeland security office have stirred qualms before.

Past and present members of the attorney general's office said they were troubled by a meeting at the security office last September in which federal and state officials discussed ways to prevent Islamic militants from recruiting prison inmates. In attendance were officials from the FBI, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and various local law enforcement agencies, according to documents obtained by The Times.

One account of the meeting is provided in a whistle-blower complaint filed by a former high-ranking official in the attorney general's office, Edward Manavian.

The complaint says homeland security information analyst William Hipsley proposed monitoring private conversations in state prisons between inmates and Islamic clergymen and, citing a potential national security threat from Iran, getting a list of Iranians living in California.

State law makes it a felony to eavesdrop on conversations between a person in custody and his attorney, doctor or religious advisor.

The proposal was to implement these two programs without warrant, as has become the custom under the badministration. The Times might also have noted, though oddly it didn't, that Iranian ethnicity is not grounds for suspicion per se under any set of laws known to Americans.

Chiz. The idea of drawing up a watch-list of Americans based upon ethnicity would be vile under any circumstances. But in California, which is still trying to live down its role in the internment of Japanese-Americans sixty years ago?

The Homeland Security Office and Hipsley denied that Manavian's description of the meeting is acccurate. Manavian was later demoted, he says because he refused to cooperate in this flagrant violation of civil rights. Laura Rozen remarks that she met Manavian a few years ago, and found him to be a straight arrow...

hardly of the type one would expect to become a whistleblower without having witnessed something pretty outrageous. A former cop and counter-narcotics officer, he directed the CATIC (California Anti Terrorism Information Center) out of the California AG's office; the CATIC itself drew criticism for allegedly compiling intel reports on other domestic protests as I remember. The fact that he's blowing the whistle on these alleged abuses really stands out. (I suppose it also could raise the question of the possibility of a turf war? if the office of homeland security's gain was CATIC's loss?)

Manavian resigned after his demotion, and is bringing his complaint before the California Personnel Board. It does not sound to me like the product of a turf war.

As the previous link demonstrates, when Manavian headed up CATIC he justified compiling adviseries on relatively mundane upcoming protest marches and even mass cycling events organized by Critical Mass, on the grounds there was a reasonable suspicion that participants would break laws. Even if the expected violations were nothing more severe than blocking roads, Manavian claimed that it was his duty to issue an advisery.

Hard to know what to make of him as a whistleblower on behalf of civil liberties, but on the whole I suspect Rozen's hunch is right. If even Manavian thought the California Homeland Security gang was way out of bounds, that's probably a good indication that they've been conspiring secretly to violate the rights of Iranian-Americans.

The good news, though, is that Manavian's complaint says nothing about plans to build internment camps any time soon.