Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, May 17, 2007

  Some food for thought

It's one of those days when important and thoughtful commentary seems to greet you at every turn of the internet tubes. Perhaps on a day with so much high profile news, readers of Inconvenient News may appreciate some tips about excellent material that shouldn't be overlooked.


First, diarist rerutled has done an analysis of the probability that the now-infamous firing of the US Attorneys was engineered for political purposes: NumberCruncher: DoJ Firings Were to Swing Elections. There are a few quibbles to make about the assumptions and parameters used by the author, but overall the results appear impressive: the Justice Department concentrated on hounding US Attorneys from swing states.

Background: In addition to the 8 US Attorneys actually fired, news has dribbled out regarding others who were pressured or who resigned under suspicious circumstances in the period before the 2006 election. There's also increasing evidence that Bush's political operative, Karl Rove, was involved from the start in the scheme to fire large numbers of USAs.. During the last week we also learned that Rove pressured the DoJ before the 2006 elections to take action on Republican allegations of "voter fraud" in many of the districts of the US Attorneys who were subsequently fired. (As I've commented in the past, accusations of "voter fraud" have long been a tool of the GOP to suppress the non-Republican vote.) Meanwhile, the White House continues to refuse to hand over to Congressional investigators large numbers of relevant emails from Rove.

A report today in the Washington Post adds the further information: the DoJ considered firing at least 26 US Attorneys (including the 8 who were fired ultimately). Many of those now identified in this new group of Attorneys, like several of the 8 who were indeed eventually fired, had successful and even impressive records on the job; therefore, the suspicion grows more intense that these firings were politically motivated. The Post provides this useful overview of the state of available information about the evolving list of USA's who had their heads on the chopping block.

The statistical analysis of the distribution of the firings by rerutled, thus, has a fairly broad basis—what with all the new names we have. What it shows pretty conclusively is that the vast majority of US Attorneys fired or threatened with firing worked in the most politically competitive states.

For the sake of argument, let's identify as "swing states" the 21 states in which the vote margin between Bush and Kerry was within 5%. Seven of the eight fired US Attorneys came from swing states (and the eighth, from Arizona, had a vote-margin of only 5.3%). Of the longer list of 26 Attorneys whom the WaPo reports were under threat, only 5 came from non-swing-states.

The mathematical probability that this pattern would occur merely by chance is highly remote, as rerutled points out.


Secondly, the Washington Post runs a very striking op-ed today about torture by retired Generals Charles Krulak and Joseph Hoar, the retired Commandant of the Marine Corps and CiC of US Central Command.

It's one thing for the WH to deny what everybody knows, that it endorses torture, or for Gen. Petraeus to urge soldiers in Iraq not to practice torture, however weakly ("history shows that [acts of torture] also are frequently neither useful nor necessary.").

It's quite another for retired officers of this stature to take an unequivocally strong stance against torture in Washington's paper of record. Their column explicitly rejects the excuses and equivocations about torture offered by George Tenet, as well as condemning the disgusting show of affection for torture by nearly all the Republican politicians at the latest presidential candidates' debate. As Krulak and Hoar say:

We have served in combat; we understand the reality of fear and the havoc it can wreak if left unchecked or fostered. Fear breeds panic, and it can lead people and nations to act in ways inconsistent with their character.

The American people are understandably fearful about another attack like the one we sustained on Sept. 11, 2001. But it is the duty of the commander in chief to lead the country away from the grip of fear, not into its grasp. Regrettably, at Tuesday night's presidential debate in South Carolina, several Republican candidates revealed a stunning failure to understand this most basic obligation. Indeed, among the candidates, only John McCain demonstrated that he understands the close connection between our security and our values as a nation.

Tenet insists that the CIA program disrupted terrorist plots and saved lives. It is difficult to refute this claim -- not because it is self-evidently true, but because any evidence that might support it remains classified and unknown to all but those who defend the program.

These assertions that "torture works" may reassure a fearful public, but it is a false security. We don't know what's been gained through this fear-driven program. But we do know the consequences.

And incidentally, McCain's rejection of torture, always equivocal, grew wobbly as it became apparent that the Republican audience was eager for red-meat. The Krulak/Hoar column is today's must-read:

To understand the impact this has had on the ground, look at the military's mental health assessment report released earlier this month. The study shows a disturbing level of tolerance for abuse of prisoners in some situations. This underscores what we know as military professionals: Complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality.

This point is so obvious, whether applied to the military or to CIA operations, that it's horrifying to realize that it still needs to be said.


More briefly, a Pentagon scandal about the body armor that it supplies to troops finally is about to get serious attention from the US corporate media. An excellent blogger, occam's hatchet, has been writing off and on about this scandal, taking his lead from the work of a group named Soldiers for the Truth. Today he announces that NBC has picked up the story and plans to broadcast a segment about it tonight on the Nightly News. See his post today, Body armor about to hit the fan.

Briefly, the current body armor ("Interceptor") is highly fragile and can take only a single shot before it crumbles. The main contractor manufacturing "Interceptor", Armor Holdings, is however run by a well-connected Republican donor. The Pentagon was pressured in 2005 and 2006 to test the effectiveness of "Interceptor" against some rival body armor types including "Dragon Skin", which on the face of it appears to be superior.

The mandated tests, run by Col. John Norwood, were called off before completion. "Interceptor" was not faring well in the tests that had been done. Since the tests never produced documented results, the Pentagon has taken no action to substitute a better body armor for the much-criticized "Interceptor". A few months after the tests were abruptly cut short, Col. Norwood retired and went to work for Armor Holdings as a Vice President.

Are you as scandalized as I am by the perennial revolving door in DC?

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