Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, September 27, 2007

  "Coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought, and the extorted"

During the 2004 presidential campaign, Republicans expressed shock, shock, when John Kerry disparaged George Bush's pretense that a "Coalition of the willing" had joined the invasion of Iraq. Kerry described it as "trumped-up, so-called coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought, and the extorted."

I recalled that feigned Republican outrage the other day while perusing the so-called Spanish Downing Street memo.

These are the minutes of a Feb. 22, 2003 meeting between Bush and Spanish Prime Minister Aznar, which El Pais has just published. In this meeting, Bush declares that he would try to get a second UN vote condemning Hussein in order to satisfy his allies, but he doesn't really care what the resolution says and in any case with or without it he intends to invade Iraq shortly after March 15 (as soon as US forces were ready to invade). Bush also shows that he has no interest in what the UN weapons inspectors are finding, and indeed he treats the UN as a cat's paw.

There's plenty of the bully-boy President on display, too. It's particularly evident when juxtaposed to Aznar's patient attempts to get Bush to understand that he needed to appear to be making a good faith effort to work with the rest of the world.

If this were the first such document to appear, it might have provoked great public indignation. But after the publication of the much more damning British documents dating from 2002, in particular the Downing Street memo from July 2002, as well as the revelations about the bizarre January 31, 2003 meeting between Bush and Blair, it will come as little surprise to find Bush war-mongering up a storm in his February meeting with Aznar.

I was struck, in any event, also by Bush's frank admission that he was building his coalition at the UN based upon threats and bribes.

Countries like Mexico, Chile, Angola and Cameroon must know that what is at stake is the security of the U.S. and act in a friendly manner toward us.

[President Ricardo] Lagos must know that the Free Trade agreement with Chile is pending confirmation in the Senate and that a negative attitude could endanger its ratification. Angola is receiving funds from the Millennium Account which could be compromised if they don’t behave positively. And Putin must know that his attitude is endangering relations between Russia and the United States.

Sounds to me as if Bush was content to coerce, bribe, or extort other countries in order to gain their backing for an invasion. Of course that phony coalition long ago began to evaporate, and ere now Bush's apologists have moved on to the agreeable task of denouncing the treachery of formerly "willing" allies who've had enough of the Iraq quagmire.

Everyone will find something to be outraged about in this new document, so I'll reproduce a translation of the entire text. It is lightly adapted from this translation by Ruben Remus.

* *

Minutes of the conversation between George W. Bush and Jose Maria Aznar - Crawford, Texas February 22, 2003

President Bush: We are in favor of obtaining a second resolution at the Security Council and would like to do it quickly. We would like to announce it on Monday or Tuesday.

President Aznar: Better on Tuesday, after the European Union General Affairs Council. It is important to maintain the momentum accomplished by the European Union summit resolution. We would prefer to wait until Tuesday.

PB: It could be Monday afternoon, taking into account the time difference. In any case, next week. We see the resolution written in a way not including compulsory elements, not mentioning use of force, and affirming that Saddam Hussein has been incapable of fulfilling his obligations. This type of resolution can be approved by many people. It would be similar to the one obtained for the Kosovo affair.

PA: Would it be presented before the Security Council before and independently of a parallel declaration?

Condoleezza Rice: There really would not be a parallel declaration. We are considering a resolution as simple as possible, with no detailed elements that could be used by Saddam Hussein as stages which he would subsequently fail to fulfill. We are talking to Blix and others of his team to get ideas that could serve us to introduce the resolution.

PB: Saddam Hussein won’t change and will continue playing. The time has come to get rid of him. That’s it. I, for one, will attempt from now on to use as subtle a rhetoric as possible while seeking approval of the resolution. If anyone vetoes, we will go. Saddam Hussein is not disarming. We have to catch him right now. We have shown incredible patience up until now. There are two weeks left. In two weeks we will be militarily ready. I believe we will get the second resolution. We have three Africans in the Security Council, the Chileans, and the Mexicans. I will speak with all of them, also Putin, naturally. We’ll be in Baghdad by the end of March. There is a 15% chance that by then Saddam Hussein will be dead or will have left. But that possibility will not exist unless we show our resolve. The Egyptians are talking to Saddam Hussein. He appears to have signaled his willingness to go into exile if he is allowed to take 1 billion dollars and all the information he desires concerning weapons of mass destruction. Khadaffi has told Berlusconi that Saddam wants to leave. Mubarak tells us that under these circumstances there is a high likelihood he could be assassinated.

We would like to act under a United Nations mandate. If we act militarily, we will do so with great precision and focusing on our objectives. We will quickly decimate the loyalists and the regular military will quickly know what this is about. We have delivered a clear message to Saddam Hussein’s generals: we will treat them as war criminals. We know they have stockpiled enormous quantities of dynamite to demolish bridges and other infrastructure and blow up the oil wells. We have planned for a quick takeover of these wells. Also, the Saudis will help us put whatever oil is necessary on the market. We are developing a strong humanitarian aid package. We can win without destruction. We are already proposing the post-Saddam Iraq, and I believe there are good grounds to suggest a better future. Iraq has a strong bureaucracy and a relatively strong civil society. It could be organized into a federation. Meanwhile, we are doing everything in our power to fulfill the political needs of our friends and allies.

PA: It is very important to be backed by a resolution. It is not the same acting with it as without it. It would be very convenient to count on a Security Council majority support for the resolution. In fact, it is more important to have majority support than whether somebody vetoes the resolution. We believe the content of the
resolution should state, among other things, that Saddam Hussein has lost his opportunity.

PB: Yes, of course. That might be better than referring to “necessary means”.

PA: Saddam Hussein has not cooperated, has not disarmed, we should summarize his defaults and launch a more elaborate message. This would allow, for example, Mexico to move.

PB: The resolution will be tailored to your needs. Its content makes little difference to me.

PA: We will have some text sent to you.

PB: We don’t have any text. Only one criterion: that Saddam Hussein disarm. We can’t permit Saddam Hussein to string us along until the summer. In the end, he has had four months in this last stage and that is more than enough time for disarmament.

PA: That text would enhance our ability to sponsor, co-author and obtain wide support for it.

PB: Perfect.

PA: Next Wednesday I’m meeting Chirac. The resolution will have started to get around by then.

PB: That’s fine with me. Chirac is well aware of reality. His intelligence services have explained this to him. The Arabs are sending Chirac a very clear message: Saddam Hussein must go. The problem is that Chirac considers himself “Mister Arab”, while in reality he’s making life impossible for them. But I don’t want any quarrel with Chirac. We have different points of view, but I wish that were all. Greet him on my behalf. Really! The less animosity he feels there is between us the better off we will all be.

PA: How do we combine the resolution and the inspectors report?

Condoleezza Rice: In reality there will not be a February 28 report, rather the inspectors will present a written report on March 1, and their appearance before the Security Council will not take place until March 6 or 7 of 2003. We don’t expect much out of that report. As with the others, they will state on the one hand this but on the other hand that. I have the impression that Blix will now be more negative than before about the Iraqis’ will. After the appearance of the inspectors before the Council we must prepare to vote on the resolution a week later. The Iraqis, meanwhile, will try to explain they are complying with their obligations. It is neither true
nor sufficient, even if they announce the destruction of some missiles.

PB: It is like Chinese water torture. We must put an end to it.

PA: I agree, but it would be good to have as many people on our side as possible. Be a little patient.

PB: My patience is exhausted. I don’t intend to wait beyond mid-March.

PA: I’m not asking you for infinite patience. Just that you do what’s possible to make it all work.

PB: Countries like Mexico, Chile, Angola and Cameroon must know that what is at stake is the security of the U.S. and act in a friendly manner toward us.

[President Ricardo] Lagos must know that the Free Trade agreement with Chile is pending confirmation in the Senate and that a negative attitude could endanger its ratification. Angola is receiving funds from the Millennium Account which could be compromised if they don’t behave positively. And Putin must know that his attitude is endangering relations between Russia and the United States.

PA: Tony would like to hold out until March 14.

PB: I prefer the 10th. This is like a good cop, bad cop routine. I don’t mind being the bad cop to Tony’s good cop.

PA: Is it true there is a chance Saddam Hussein will go into exile?

PB: Yes, the is a chance. Even that he will be assassinated.

PA: Exile with some guarantee?

PB: No guarantee. He is a thief, a terrorist, a war criminal. Compared to Saddam, Milosevic would be a Mother Teresa. When we go in we will discover many more crimes and we will take him to the International Tribunal in The Hague. Saddam Hussein believes he has escaped. He believes that France and Germany have abandoned their responsibilities. He also believes that last week’s declarations protect him. And believes I’m very weakened. But the people around him know otherwise. They know his future is in exile or in a casket. That is why it is so important to maintain pressure on him. Khadaffi tells us indirectly that is the only thing that can finish him. Saddam’s only strategy is to delay, delay and delay.

PA: Actually the greatest victory would be to win the match without firing a single shot and entering Baghdad.

PB: For me that would be the perfect solution. I do not want war. I know what wars are. I know the destruction and death they bring. I am the one that has to console the mothers and widows of the dead. Of course, for us this would be the best solution. Also, it would save us 50 billion dollars.

PA: We need you to help us with our public relations.

PB: We’ll speak all we can. On Wednesday I will speak about the situation in the Middle East, proposing a new scheme of peace, which you’re familiar with, and about weapons of mass destruction, about the benefits of a free society, and I will place the history of Iraq in a wider context. Maybe that will help you.

PA: What we are doing is a very profound change for Spain and the Spanish people. We are changing the politics our country had followed in the last 200 years.

PB: I am guided historical sense of responsibility equal to yours. When some years later history passes judgment on us I don’t want people to ask why Bush, or Aznar, or Blair did not confront their responsibilities. In the end, what people want is to enjoy freedom. A short while ago, in Romania, I remembered Ceausescu’s example: all it took was for a woman to call him a liar to bring down the whole edifice. It’s the irrepressible power of freedom. I’m convinced I will get the resolution.

PA: Let’s hope so.

PB: I made the decision to go to the Security Council. In spite of divergent opinions in my administration, I told my people we had to work with our friends. It will be wonderful to be obtain a second resolution.

PA: The only thing that worries me is your optimism.

PB: I’m optimistic because I believe I am right. I’m at peace with myself. It has fallen upon us to confront a serious menace to peace. It irritates me no end to contemplate the insensitivity of the Europeans to the suffering Saddam Hussein inflicts on the Iraqi people. Perhaps because he is dark (skinned), distant and Muslim, many Europeans believe he is all right. I will not forget what Solana once told me: that why do we Americans believe Europeans are anti-semitic and incapable of facing their responsibilities? This defensive attitude is terrible. I must recognize I have a magnificent relationship with Kofi Annan.

PA: He shares your ethical concerns.

PB: The more the Europeans attack me, the stronger I become in the United States.

PA: We would have to make your strength compatible with European appreciation.

crossposted from

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

  Waxman blasts State Dept. IG for obstructing investigations

In a stunning fourteen-page letter, which ought to be read in its entirety, Rep. Henry Waxman accused Howard J. Krongard, the State Department Inspector General, of obstructing and undermining a string of important investigations concerning Iraq. Waxman charges Krongard with having "interfered with ongoing investigations to protect the State Department and the White House from political embarrassment."

The Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has the goods on Krongard. Seven current and former employees of the IG's office have offered damning testimony about Krongard's frequent, partisan, and improper interference into investigations. These include the former Assistant IG for Investigations, John DeDona, and his Deputy, Ralph McNamara, both of whom resigned after Krongard "halted or impeded investigations undertaken by their office." They've also given Waxman plenty of documentation, including some extremely embarrassing inter-office emails among investigators who resented Krongard's abuse of his office.

The Committee got this damning testimony after Krongard had testified to the Committee on July 26, trying to justify his own actions and particularly his own investigation into the construction of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Waxman plans to hold another hearing into Krongard's conduct on October 16.

From Waxman's letter to Krongard requesting his testimony at that hearing:

One consistent element in these allegations is that you believe your foremost mission is to support the Bush Administration, especially with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than act as an independent and objective check on waste, fraud, and abuse on behalf of the U.S. taxpayers. According to the officials [who testified to my Committee], your strong affinity with State Department leadership and your partisan political ties have led you to halt investigations, censor reports, and refuse to cooperate with law enforcement agencies. The officials also report that you are dismissive of your statutory obligations to Congress.

As to specific allegations, the most damaging are:

-that Krongard has not permitted any investigators to travel to Iraq to look into fraud in any of the $2.6 billion of State Dept. contracts there;

-that he prohibited employees of his office from cooperating with investigations into various abuses by the builders of the new, ginormous U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and that without an adequate investigation he improperly exonerated the main contractor of charges of treating construction workers like slaves.

-that he interfered into an investigation into illegal conduct by Kenneth Tomlinson, the notoriously partisan Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (VOA) and a close friend of Karl Rove, by passing information about the probe secretly to Tomlinson. (Tomlinson was being investigated for using his office to run a horse racing operation, among other illegal practices.)

However the list of Krongard's alleged abuses is long and astounding. In addition, Krongard stands accused of harassing employees who tried to do their jobs assiduously, and creating a "dysfunctional office environment in which you routinely berate and belittle personnel, show contempt for the abilities of career government professionals and cause the staff to fear coming to work." There is a very high turn-over rate in his office; at the moment, only 7 of the 27 Investigators' positions are filled.

Furthermore, Krongard has all but stonewalled the Committe investigation into his conduct of the Embassy contractor investigation. The IG interviewed only six workers on the project, and only those whom the contractor had selected for him to interview. The Committee has asked him to turn over his work notes relating to this investigation, but Krongard has turned over a total of only six pages.

You'll want to read the full Waxman letter. The Washington Post and NY Times have write-ups of it.

For background on the shocking allegations that the Embassy contractor, First Kuwait Trading & General Contracting, had dragged workers on false pretenses to Baghdad and held them there as virtual slave laborers, see articles here and here and here.

Krongard has been Inspector General of the State Department only for two years. You can get some sense of how famously and openly partisan Krongard has been from the fact that, when Bush partisans decided in 2006 to close down Stuart Bowen's embarrassing investigations as Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Howard Krongard was one of their point men. Republicans justified the attempt to eliminate SIGIR (later abandoned) by arguing that the State Department and Pentagon Inspectors General could take over all the necessary investigations in Iraq:

“I think we are competitive to do what they ask us to do,” Mr. Krongard said, referring to Congress.

What the Republicans in Congress were angling for, of course, was to shut down the investigations. Krongard definitely was willing and able to do that for them.

This man should be forced out of the State Department as soon as possible. Krongard is yet another corrupt Republican Party hack put in charge of reining in the government's investigative machinery. Alberto Gonzales was just the most notorious of many such crooks in the Bush administration.

crossposted from

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Monday, September 17, 2007

  US military is outsourcing pell mell in Iraq

In today's Washington Post, Walter Pincus calls attention to a very interesting document. It suggests that the rosy scenario of "progress" in Iraq, as painted last week by George Bush and his favorite general, David Petraeus, might actually have been a tad overdrawn. I wonder as well whether this document is related to another odd thing I was puzzling over last week—the outsourcing of the oversight conducted by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

Pincus reports:

...10 days ago, [Petraeus'] commanders in Baghdad began advertising for private contractors to work in combat-supply warehouses on U.S. bases throughout Iraq because half the soldiers who had been working in the warehouses were needed for patrols, combat and protection of U.S. forces.

"With the increased insurgent activity, unit supply personnel must continue to pull force protection along with convoy escort and patrol duties," according to a statement of work that accompanied the Sept. 7 request for bidders from Multi-National Force-Iraq.

All of the small logistics bases, called Supply Support Activities, or SSAs, are "currently using about 50% of their assigned (currently less than 100% strength) military personnel for other required duties (force protection, patrols, escort duties, etc. along with performing 24 hour combat operations)," the statement says.

As Pincus suggests, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the military is so desperate to hold the line in Iraq that it needs to put out on the streets nearly every soldier and marine who can fire a rifle. Support roles are being filled increasingly with civilian contractors. That's a longstanding trend, of course. But this memo implies that the current ad hoc measures weren't anticipated and had to be implemented suddenly. Besides, stripping the warehouses of trained personnel has a whiff of desperation about it.

The proposal, which is for six months and has a six-month extension option, calls for some personnel to be familiar and experienced with "hazardous/radioactive material handling." At the same time, it states, "Contractor personnel are not required to have a security clearance to perform duties in the SSA." A comment on the Web site version of the proposal adds, "Ensure this is correct."

Three things really stand out. First, the Army began advertising the contract even before it had ascertained truly basic information about the requirements. Second, putting contractors without any sort of security clearances in charge of critical nodes in the system of military resupply is frankly pretty shockingly lax...even for the Bush government. And third, the Army doesn't have any clear idea how long this situation will continue, but suspects that it will be extended beyond 6 months and may have to be expanded to encompass 100% of the warehousing activities.

Although the initial request is for 101 individuals qualified in warehouse operations, "additional manning may be required and the contractor should anticipate possible increases," according to the proposal. Some locations may end up being "completely manned by contract personnel," the statement says.

I smell a hint of desperation in this contract. So much for the rose-lined garden path General Petraeus asked us to try very, very hard to believe in.

I wonder if this could be related to another extremely curious instance of outsourcing that came to light last week? The Army has decided to outsource much of the work of investigating the reconstruction of Iraq, which until now has been done by personnel working under the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).

The Army Contracting Agency announced the other day that it is asking for private companies -- small businesses only -- "to procure all personnel, equipment, tools, materials, supervision, and other items and non-personal services necessary to perform data collection, analysis, design, formation and other project management support to ensure publication of the quarterly report."

The Bush administration has tried and failed to close down SIGIR in the past. It could be that the outsourcing of SIGIR's work is a round-about way to undermine the Special IG. But it might also be the case that SIGIR personnel working in Iraq were desperately needed for other work. It's not just the military, but also State Dept. and other civilian agencies in Iraq, that cannot fill critical positions.

Just a theory. In any event, we're seeing some rather peculiar hand-to-mouth solutions for some dimly understood and unexplained problems in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the summer doldrums in the Iraq war are nearly over. Insurgents have just declared a new Ramadan offensive. Don't hold your breath waiting for Petraeus to amend his congressional testimony.

crossposted from

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

  Lincoln Chafee quits the GOP: "Not my party any more"

crossposted from unbossed

A few months ago, without fanfare, former Senator Lincoln Chafee left the GOP—something that I had predicted was virtually unthinkable within his social circles in Rhode Island.

“It’s not my party any more,” he said

It's remarkable how candid Chafee is now about his disaffection with the national GOP.

Chafee said he disaffiliated with the party he had helped lead, and his father had led before him, because the national Republican Party has gone too far away from his stance on too many critical issues, from war to economics to the environment...

“There’s been a gradual depravation of … the issues the party should be strong on,” and the direction of the national party, he said.

"Depravation"...that's putting it mildly.

Chafee also complained about the Republicans' failure to treat seriously any of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. But at the core of his critique is the belief that the national GOP doesn't come close to reflecting traditional New England Republican values.

Yesterday, he criticized Republican leaders for abandoning fiscal conservatism, once a mainstay of Republican politics, by passing tax cuts without spending cuts to balance the resulting loss of revenue.

He said the “starve the beast” strategy that Republicans have used in an attempt to shrink government has undermined social programs that bolster a strong American middle class. He mentioned Pell grants, which help needy students attend college, and Head Start programs, which support the education of low-income children. Instead of supporting those “good social programs,” he said, the party’s approach was “squeeze, squeeze, squeeze.”

There are two things remarkable about his decision to re-register as an unaffiliated voter. The least of these, the one that commentators outside R.I. are most likely to focus on, is the fact that the national GOP went to bat heavily for Chafee, both in his primary challenge by Stephen Laffey and in the general. That heavy investment of both money and staffers greatly limited the Republicans' ability to respond to strong Democratic Senate challenges elsewhere in 2006.

More remarkable is Chafee's willingness to leave the state Republican Party, in which his family has been a fixture for generations. Traditionally the R.I. GOP is both a political party and a tight-knit social circuit. I witnessed this, growing up in one of the few Republican towns in R.I. It's one of the things that has maintained some coherence for the Republican Party in New England states as the national Party went off the rails during the last few decades. Inevitably, a break with the Party means severing or straining many social contacts for an insider like Chafee. He commented to the Providence Journal:

He said he regrets that leaving the Republican Party means leaving the Rhode Island Republican Party...However, he said, “The national shadow just got too great for me.”

h/t to Libby at Newshoggers

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Friday, September 14, 2007

  CIA finally fessing up to waterboarding

Unless I'm mistaken, the CIA and the Bush administration generally have always refused to confirm or deny that they employ the torture technique to which they've applied the euphemism "waterboarding". Even after Dick Cheney endorsed it in a radio interview last October (a story broken at, the administration tried to pretend that he had done no such thing.

This evening, ABC News is reporting that (anonymous) current and former CIA officials have stated that the CIA has now banned the use of waterboarding. It would seem to be the closest thing yet to official confirmation that the Bush White House authorized waterboarding of prisoners.

The controversial interrogation technique known as water-boarding, in which a suspect has water poured over his mouth and nose to stimulate a drowning reflex, has been banned by CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden, current and former CIA officials tell

The officials say Hayden made the decision at the recommendation of his deputy, Steve Kappes, and received approval from the White House to remove water-boarding from the list of approved interrogation techniques first authorized by a presidential finding in 2002.

The officials say the decision was made sometime last year but has never been publicly disclosed...

While new legislation reportedly gave the CIA the leeway to use water-boarding, current and former CIA officials said Gen. Hayden decided to take it off the list of about six "enhanced interrogation techniques."

I'm not sure how to reconcile the last two sentences quoted, since the "new legislation" in question dates to 2007 rather than 2006. Perhaps the penultimate sentence should more accurately read "...sometime within the last year..."?

Anyone, one cheer for the CIA torture regime:

While welcoming the move, some critics say the CIA did not go far enough.

"I can say it's a good thing, but the fact remains that the entire program is illegal," John Sifton of Human Rights Watch told

As a result of the decision, officials say, the most extreme techniques left available to CIA interrogators would be what is termed "longtime standing," which includes exhaustion and sleep deprivation with prisoners forced to stand, handcuffed with their feet shackled to the floor.

"It is a very severe form of torture which causes tremendous psychic toll to people," said Sifton.

Regarding psychological torture, I'll draw your attention to this excellent opinion piece by James Ross of HRW

The crystal blue waters and bright, hot day begged for a jump in the surf. But my friend, a refugee from Ethiopia, just wouldn't go near the ocean. "I haven't gone swimming for years," he said, shaking his head sadly, "Ever since the regime tortured me when I was a student. They stuck my head in dirty water until I thought I would drown."

People tend to think of torture as physical...

But torture is as likely to be mental as well as physical. The iconic photo of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal -- the hooded man on a box with outstretched arms -- was being subjected to psychological torture. The wires attached to his arms went nowhere -- he merely believed he would be subjected to electric shock.

It's worth noting that today's revelation comes only one day after ABC revealed some other embarrassing information about the use of waterboarding, which likewise appeared to confirm that the CIA has been using that form of torture:

When Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was strapped down to the water-board, he felt humiliated -- not by the treatment but by the fact that a woman, a red-headed CIA supervisor, was allowed to witness the spectacle, a former intelligence officer told ABC News...

A current CIA official says that KSM actually told interrogators the only reason he confessed was because of the water-boarding.

So on two consecutive days we see current and former CIA officials confirming in different ways that the CIA has been using waterboarding.

What are we to make of today's revelation? There's a real chance that CIA types decided that yesterday's leak didn't look very good, and they set about trying to reassure the public that all that torture is a thing of the past. I notice, for example, that ABC says the okay to ban waterboarding came from "the White House", rather than from a named official.

Could be true, then, that waterboarding has been banned by somebody or other...but one should never believe anything coming from the CIA without independent evidence. In any case, the CIA did not say that it has ceased contracting out waterboarding or any of the other currently favored forms of torture, whether to free-lancers or to foreign countries. Nor has the CIA necessarily closed down its secret prisons around the globe. It also left most of its preferred list of tortures intact.

So maybe less than one cheer for the CIA's torturers; considerably less than one.

crossposted from

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  Bush on Iraq: the view from the ground

Milo rang last night to suggest I repost this piece written a few years ago. He thinks new readers might still find it relevant. Milo believes that Bush administration policies on Iraq never really go out of style, as I too discovered in the past. So without further excuse, "The view from the ground" (lightly revised).

I don't want to badmouth anybody, but I think he was misleading you. It's much worse than he's letting on. The whole situation is a mess. It's not going to just get better by itself, you can see for yourself that it's broken beyond repair. It's up to you of course whether you want to trust him. But I think he's leading you down the path, making you think you can get off easy, then dropping the bad news on you later.

It's just not possible to do it his way. And they won't let us anyway even if it would work, which it won't. He's already wrecked so much of the...well, I don't want to badmouth anybody, but take it from me it's beyond repair.

You see those pipes? That's your leech field and they're all clogged. You've got to replace the entire septic. Dredge all this muck out and put in a new system.

But once you do that, you're all set.

Just like in Iraq. Cut out the terrorists, drop in a new army, and you're ready to go. You've got to listen to the generals. Just let the experts do their work, you'll get the best results.

I'm with the President a thousand percent, don't understand what those Democrats want from him. Did you see his speech yesterday? Made sense to me. So what if Iraq's a mess now? Let'm backfill and landscape, and you're all set.

Just too many bodies exposed at the moment.

It's all Saddam's fault anyway. He's the one who chose to go to war against us, we didn't attack him. He kicked out the inspectors. If he didn't want war, he shouldn't have done that.

What's that? They're all smashed right through here. If you ask me, some idiot drove a truck right over the yard and crushed the pipes. You've got an oil fill pipe over there. I bet it was an oil tanker backing up to the house instead of parking at a safe distance.

Idiot, if you ask me.

It was up to Bush to decide whether or not to go into Iraq, it wasn't Congress's decision to make. Saddam wouldn't let the inspectors in, so what could Bush do? He couldn't let'm thumb his nose at us. Course if he let them in, they'd've found the WMDs so he slammed the door in their face.

Can't believe the French couldn't even see that.

They go straight down the hill. Bet they polluted the stream. Even back then there were rules. Can't believe they got away with it. You know some money changed hands. That's the way this town council has always been.

Can't trust politicians about anything.

Bush admitted the WMD intelligence was bad, you gotta admire his honesty. Of course it was bad, the CIA just didn't do its job.

You can't fault Bush for that.

Gotta come out too. I know he tried to convince you he could save it, but you can see for yourself it's all fouled up. I've got some expertise here, so I think you gotta take that seriously.

Never seen anything quite this messed up. They did everything wrong, including a few things I've never seen before.

Amazing, really.

Not that any of it matters. Saddam was a danger and we had to take him out first before he hits us with WMD. Even if Bush got everything else wrong, he got that right. You don't want to see a mushroom cloud over Cincinnati or wherever.

Aluminum tubes? No, I'm going to use PVC. Never use aluminum that way, it would be all wrong for the job.

The people who are accusing Bush of lying just aren't telling the truth. There's no evidence he ever hyped the evidence for WMD, and it doesn't matter how many times the Democrats say it, it just isn't true.

Besides every other country saw the same intelligence, and they all voted to give the President authority to overthrow Saddam. You can't just go back and rewrite history.

It's always been about giving the Iraqi people freedom and democracy, simple as that.

This is just preliminary. I'll come back next week to take exact dimensions and measure your gradient. It'll take a few weeks to draw up a plan and get estimates back for materials and fill. This is a little tricky, I want to get everything right at the outset and give you folks an accurate idea of what you're getting into here.

As I said, I think you have to give Bush credit. He's admitting that not everything went according to plan in Iraq. You won't hear many presidents admitting that mistakes were made.

Especially when they're really big mistakes.

I'm gonna put in a tank triple the size of the current one. I'd put in a bigger one but there's no room. It's much more than you probably need, but it really makes sense to go with a bigger size than necessary so you don't have problems down the road when maybe you have kids. Trying to cut corners can really cost you in the end.

The generals in Iraq say they have everything they need to win. In fact they're already winning. They don't need any more troops.

Probably start bringing them home soon, maybe, but only when there's a complete victory.

If you ask me, Bush is right to refuse to explain when that'll be. That would be artificial. We don't want the terrorists to get any ideas.

I'm pretty sure I can begin this job in three weeks, if the permit comes through. It's complicated so count on it taking at least five days. I'm thinking more like seven. Eight at the outside.

My God, look at how fast he's going on this road. No concern for life and limb.

Can you believe they're even criticizing Bush now over civilian casualties. What did they think would happen when we went to war?

It's pretty irresponsible.

Better turn my engine off. Gas is so expensive now I can barely afford to fill up. What was I saying.

crossposted from

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  "Remove one zero": Manipulating body counts in Iraq

Together with the Maliki government, General Petraeus is campaigning aggressively to convince reporters and the public that his claims of diminished sectarian violence are based on sound statistics. The GAO, the Associated Press, McClatchy and others have found that the Pentagon is undercounting and underreporting deaths and violence generally. The credibility of Bush and Petraeus, and their prescription of more-of-the-same, won't stand up if their statistics are revealed as nothing but a load of hooey.

At the National Press Club on Wednesday, Petraeus was greeted as a conquering hero. Never the less he remained sufficiently defensive as to wave around some papers that, he claimed, showed he was being straight regarding his highly dubious statistics. He called it "setting the record straight":

As only the military can, we have a three-page document on ethnosectarian violence methodology. And it is fairly comprehensive. And it's pretty logical and rational.

Today's LA Times has more regarding the record-straight-setting operation from the Pentagon:

U.S. military officials sought Wednesday to counter accusations that they were manipulating death tolls to make Iraq look more secure.

Stung by accusations that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, had presented selective statistics during his testimony before Congress, the military released a statement here outlining its definition of sectarian violence: bombings, killings or other attacks committed by an ethnic group or religious sect against another, for purely sectarian purposes...

The Iraqi government also compiles statistics, but does not differentiate between sectarian and other violent deaths.

And there's the rub. Petraeus is far from eager to acknowledge that the Pentagon is dependent for its statistics upon those compiled by Iraqi civil authorities—which often are inaccurate, unmethodical, falsified, and incomplete, and always dispersed rather than centralized. The figures given for murders, bombings, and other acts of violence are a minimum count rather than an accurate representation of what is happening. The central Iraqi government, naturally, has an interest in cooperating in the pretense that the situation is really not so grim as news reports suggest:

In Baghdad on Wednesday, the national security advisor, Mowaffak Rubaie, agreed with the U.S. military that numbers coming from the media and other outlets were "very, very, very exaggerated."

Asked what the true death toll was, Rubaie said, "I don't have a figure, but I can say one thing: You probably would be correct if you removed one zero from the figures which are in the public domain or published by the newspapers."

But bashing reporters who dig out the truth won't get you very far. Iraqis know perfectly well that the Maliki and Bush governments are minimizing the body count deliberately:

Noureddine Hayali, a member of the main Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, said he suspected officials were not reporting sectarian deaths in other cities.

He also questioned whether the U.S. military figures included such incidents as killings last March in the northern city of Tall Afar...

"It is not in the interest of the government to show all these numbers. They want to show that they have made progress by decreasing death numbers," Hayali said.

Even Iraqi officials, when pressed, admit that their own figures are incredible:

Rubaie acknowledged that the government needed to devise a method to account for its dead citizens.

"I admit that we, as the Iraqi government, have a responsibility to go back to our records and do this properly and openly and help produce a figure which is credible," he said.

It's simply preposterous, then, for Petraeus and Bush to pretend that these Iraqi statistics are reliable.

Retired Army Col. Douglas A. Macgregor, a defense analyst ... said several factors made body counts unreliable in Iraq. Among them are the Muslim practice of burying bodies as soon as possible, the general chaos of war, and sectarian agendas within Maliki's government.

"You're talking about an environment where there is absolutely no accountability for anything," Macgregor said. "The bottom line is, whatever figures you are given are simply inaccurate."

Don't think so? Here are pertinent comments by the Independent's Patrick Cockburn in what is, to my mind, one of the classic dissections of Bush's "surge".

More lies have been told about casualties in Iraq and the general level of violence there than at almost any time since the First World War. In that conflict, a British minister remarked sourly that he suspected the military authorities of keeping three sets of casualty figures: "One to deceive the Cabinet, a second to deceive the people and a third to achieve themselves."

The American attitude to Iraqi civilian casualties is along much the same lines. The Baker-Hamilton report drawn up by senior non-partisan Democrats and Republicans last year examined one day in July 2006, when the US military had reported 93 attacks on US and Iraqi forces. Investigation by US intelligence agencies revealed that the real figure was about 1,100.

The Iraqi government has sought to conceal civilian casualty figures by banning journalists from the scenes of bombings, and banned hospitals and the Health Ministry from giving information. In July, AP reported, 2,024 Iraqis died violently, a 23 per cent rise on June, which was the last month for which the government gave a figure.

This is almost certainly an underestimate. In a single bombing in the district of Karada in Baghdad on 26 July, Iraqi television and Western media cited the police as saying that there were 25 dead and 100 wounded. A week later, a list of the names of 92 dead and 127 wounded, compiled by municipal workers, was pinned up on shuttered shopfronts in the area.

That is a measure of how much lying is going on. For General Petraeus and George W. Bush to pretend to the American public that their statistics are credible is a mark of extreme arrogance.

crossposted from

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

  Bush & Co. not even trying to make sense

Today some Bush administration mouthpieces floated so far free of logic, reason, and fact that they must now count as extraterrestrial objects.

For example, this idiocy:

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said a status report going to Congress on Friday would not show "dramatic differences" from a similar one in July. That review found satisfactory progress on just eight benchmarks.

"It has only been 58 days since the last assessment," she said.

How does that square with Petraeus' testimony to Congress that "progress" has been especially significant during the last few months ("the overall number of security incidents in Iraq has declined in 8 of the past 12 weeks, with the numbers of incidents in the last two weeks at the lowest levels seen since June 2006.")? Indeed, when pressed by Senator Biden to explain why his own rosy scenario differed radically from other recent pessimistic reports, such as the GAO report on Iraq, Petraeus replied that the other reports did not incorporate the remarkable results of the last five weeks.

The appeal to the last 5 weeks made no sense, of course, even on its own terms. We've been told over and over again that the occupation of Iraq is a very long term project and "progress" has to be measured in small increments over years. Along comes Petraeus claiming that "progress" revolves around events of just five weeks' time.

In any case, Perino's statement today shows the contempt that the White House holds for any who took Petraeus' words seriously.

* *

Then there was all the nonsense about the circumstances and meaning of the murder of sheik Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha.

The White House said Abu Risha's death was an "unfortunate and outrageous act" and that it believed al-Qaida was responsible.

The White House had no actual details, but General Petraeus wasn't waiting around for pesky facts.

General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, issued a statement calling the sheikh's death a tragedy. "It's a terrible loss for Anbar province and all of Iraq. It shows how significant his importance was and it shows al-Qaida in Iraq remains a very dangerous and barbaric enemy. He was an organising force that did help organise alliances and did help keep the various tribes together."

The CSMonitor adds:

Petraeus first met Abu Risha during an encounter outside a US military headquarters building in Ramadi in March.

"I have enormous respect for what you and your tribe have started," Petraeus told the sheikh during the meeting, captured by a videographer.

This is the General whose judgment we are supposed to accept as the first and last word of wisdom on Iraq?

To begin with, nobody has produced any clear evidence to show which group killed Abu Risha. Even the WH, not known for its subtlety, hasn't gone as far as Petraeus—who immediately rushed to the conclusion that al Qaeda was responsible.

Makes you wonder how Petraeus attained the reputation, at least among the DC elite, for being level-headed and brilliant?

As the Monitor points out, Abu Risha had tense relations with other powerful sheiks even within the (mainly tribal) "Anbar Awakening" group. He was also loathed by many other Sunni groups in Anbar Province, including a rival tribal coalition and especially the anti-occupation insurgents, particularly after he appeared with George Bush ten days ago.

Among Abu Risha's chief rivals in Anbar was Ali Hatem al-Suleiman, another leader in the Duleimi tribe.

"Clans that cooperated with the British nearly a century ago still live in shame," al-Suleiman told the AP by telephone Wednesday, referring to Britain's period of colonial rule in Iraq. "Only a mercenary would meet with Bush, who had no business coming to Anbar anyway."

And then there were all those who detested Abu Risha because he was a crook and a thug, a leader of highway robbers, who had among other things stolen millions of dollars donated by the US.

Sheikh Sattar, whose tribe is notorious for highway banditry, is also building a personal militia, loyal not to the Iraqi government but only to him. Other tribes — even those who want no truck with terrorists — complain they are being forced to kowtow to him. Those who refuse risk being branded as friends of al-Qaeda and tossed in jail, or worse. In Baghdad, government delight at the Anbar Front's impact on al-Qaeda is tempered by concern that the Marines have unwittingly turned Sheikh Sattar into a warlord who will turn the province into his personal fiefdom.

It takes a particular kind of fool to rush immediately to the conclusion, in the absence of evidence, that al Qaeda was behind Abu Risha's murder. But then Petraeus and the administration cannot bring themselves to admit, even now, that they were playing a dangerous game showering money, power, and influence on a petty crook.

crossposted from

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

  President Petraeus

Have you had the sense deep inside your thumos, right in the very core of your truthiness, that saint General Petraeus' behavior as a Bush administration shill is just a little bit, well, odd? Composing a flagrantly political op-ed for the Washington Post in the dying days of the 2004 campaign? Pressing hard for a "surge" that he'd been highly skeptical of? Ignoring a mental health survey on the effects of prolonged deployments in Iraq, until it was made public half a year later, and then expressing shock, shock at its findings. Lying flat out to Congress about the extent of continued violence in Iraq—and meanwhile suppressing the statistics? Failing even to submit a written report? Calling his behavior "odd" is putting the matter charitably.

The resourceful Patrick Cockburn may have identified the explanation that makes sense of it all finally: Petraeus has his eyes set on the White House.

From tomorrow's Independent:

The US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, expressed long-term interest in running for the US presidency when he was stationed in Baghdad, according to a senior Iraqi official who knew him at that time.

Sabah Khadim, then a senior adviser at Iraq's Interior Ministry, says General Petraeus discussed with him his ambition when the general was head of training and recruitment of the Iraqi army in 2004-05.

"I asked him if he was planning to run in 2008 and he said, 'No, that would be too soon'," Mr Khadim, who now lives in London, said.

General Petraeus has a reputation in the US Army for being a man of great ambition. If he succeeds in reversing America's apparent failure in Iraq, he would be a natural candidate for the White House in the presidential election in 2012.

If the "surge" is abandoned now as a failure, however, Petraeus' putative political career will go nowhere.

This information comes from a single source, it's worth emphasizing, and one who expresses skepticism about the success of the "surge". But Cockburn is a canny reporter, and I trust that he has confirmed that Khadim did indeed work closely with Gen. Petraeus during the period in question.

It's also worth mentioning this new article by the equally formidable Gareth Porter, who depicts intense hostility between Petraeus and his Commanding Officer, Admiral William Fallon. If Porter's sources are right, Fallon thinks Petraeus is far more interested in making powerful connections and advancing his own career than in doing what is necessary and right by the military.

In sharp contrast to the lionisation of Gen. David Petraeus by members of the U.S. Congress during his testimony this week, Petraeus's superior, Admiral William Fallon, chief of the Central Command (CENTCOM), derided Petraeus as a sycophant during their first meeting in Baghdad last March, according to Pentagon sources familiar with reports of the meeting.

Fallon told Petraeus that he considered him to be "an ass-kissing little chickenshit" and added, "I hate people like that", the sources say. That remark reportedly came after Petraeus began the meeting by making remarks that Fallon interpreted as trying to ingratiate himself with a superior...

The policy context of Fallon's extraordinarily abrasive treatment of his subordinate was Petraeus's agreement in February to serve as front man for the George W. Bush administration's effort to sell its policy of increasing U.S. troop strength in Iraq to Congress.

In a highly unusual political role for an officer who had not yet taken command of a war, Petraeus was installed in the office of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, in early February just before the Senate debated Bush's troop increase. According to a report in The Washington Post Feb. 7, senators were then approached on the floor and invited to go McConnell's office to hear Petraeus make the case for the surge policy.

Fallon was strongly opposed to Petraeus's role as pitch man for the surge policy in Iraq adopted by Bush in December as putting his own interests ahead of a sound military posture in the Middle East and Southwest Asia -- the area for which Fallon's CENTCOM is responsible.

Those who are familiar with the US Navy will recognize that "chickenshit" is a technical term of abuse that has highly specific applicability.

crossposted from unbossed

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  Iraq is for Lovers

The civil war in Iraq has become sexy again and the love-struck are everywhere today.

At the National Press "Club" luncheon, saint General Petraeus announced right away that he'd dispense entirely with the Tiresome Litany of evidence, argument, and analysis. Instead, he performed a few Card Tricks and then took questions.

The Journalists in attendance, taking turns at plumping his pillows, hung upon his every Word. A few brave but trembling souls ventured to ask the Great Man some questions, with gushing avowal that Petraeus is the Bestest General Ever.

General, I congratulate you on your very, very successful accomplishment of the very difficult mission in Iraq.

Pesky Questions about the Saint's honesty and candor were banished on the breeze.

General, welcome home. I found your testimony to be most clear, concise and honest. And I thank you for that.

Gales of laughter greeted his every witticism, as if the Journalists were in the presence of Mark Twain himself. The blushing Young Things even tittered at Petraeus' Punctuation Marks.

But with that, I'd be happy to hand off to Ambassador Crocker.

It was a regular Love-In.

General, thank you very much for doing a wonderful and a magnificent job for the nation.

Petraeus' glamorous testimony in Congress ("his boyish straight talk", as one Serious Journalist opined) was so very manly that even the Bookish Types in the capital city were All Atwitter.

"I thought [Petraeus'] demeanor, along with his chest of medals, really bought all the time that George W. Bush needs right now," said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution.

In fact they were jostling each other over at Brookings for the pole Position next to his heart.

I was struck when I was in Iraq in July by how much information was whispered in my ear...I think the attacks on him have been unfounded

And who better to pass judgment in such a Sensitive Matter than Sen. Larry Craig, who today sprang forward to defend the honor of this truly Virtuous General?

"Unfortunately, many were quick to prejudge the surge..."

Love is back in the air, and we can thank Iraq for that.

crossposted from unbossed

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

  What was the goal of the "surge", anyhow?

George Bush assured Americans more than half a year ago that his proposed "surge" had twin goals. The diplomatic goal was to give Nouri al Maliki's government "breathing space" during which to advance the cause of sectarian reconciliation. Nearly everybody, including Bush's ambassador in Iraq, agrees that nothing significant has been achieved toward that goal.

And the military goal of the "surge"?

Here was George W. Bush addressing the nation on January 10, 2007:

The most urgent priority for success in Iraq is security, especially in Baghdad. Eighty percent of Iraq's sectarian violence occurs within 30 miles of the capital. This violence is splitting Baghdad into sectarian enclaves, and shaking the confidence of all Iraqis...

America will change our strategy to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence and bring security to the people of Baghdad. This will require increasing American force levels. So I've committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq. The vast majority of them -- five brigades -- will be deployed to Baghdad. These troops will work alongside Iraqi units and be embedded in their formations. Our troops will have a well-defined mission: to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs.

The military goal, simply, was to put a stop to the sectarian violence that was tearing neighborhoods apart, to secure them with the help of Iraqi troops, and to protect the population. So how has that part of the "surge" gone?

The mass expulsion of Sunnis from Baghdad has nearly been completed this year, right under General Petraeus' nose.

U.S. military officials say that Baghdad was once 65 percent Sunni and is now 75 percent Shiite.

Not only has the Sunni population not been protected during this period, but Iraqi government forces actively took part in the sectarian cleansing of the few remaining Sunni neighborhoods of Baghdad.

The surge of U.S. troops—meant in part to halt the sectarian cleansing of the Iraqi capital—has hardly stemmed the problem. The number of Iraqi civilians killed in July was slightly higher than in February, when the surge began. According to the Iraqi Red Crescent, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has more than doubled to 1.1 million since the beginning of the year, nearly 200,000 of those in Baghdad governorate alone. Rafiq Tschannen, chief of the Iraq mission for the International Organization for Migration, says that the fighting that accompanied the influx of U.S. troops actually "has increased the IDPs to some extent."

When Gen. David Petraeus goes before Congress next week to report on the progress of the surge, he may cite a decline in insurgent attacks in Baghdad as one marker of success. In fact, part of the reason behind the decline is how far the Shiite militias' cleansing of Baghdad has progressed: they've essentially won. "If you look at pre-February 2006, there were only a couple of areas in the city that were unambiguously Shia," says a U.S. official in Baghdad who is familiar with the issue but is not authorized to speak on the record. "That's definitely not the case anymore." The official says that "the majority, more than half" of Baghdad's neighborhoods are now Shiite-dominated, a judgment echoed in the most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq: "And very few are mixed." In places like Amel, pockets of Sunnis live in fear, surrounded by a sea of Shiites. In most of the remaining Sunni neighborhoods, residents are trapped behind great concrete barricades for their own protection...

Shiites present their creeping takeover of Baghdad as part of a narrative of liberation—American officers have dubbed it Shiite "Manifest Destiny."...

Officially, the Iraqi government is asking residents to return to their old neighborhoods as the massive troop presence enforces a degree of calm; those who do are offered a million-dinar reward (approximately $800). But, says the U.S. official familiar with refugee issues, "Sunnis are reluctant to go back to areas when it's only Iraqi security forces there managing their safety. In a lot of cases security forces participated in their displacement." A humanitarian worker focused on IDPs and a U.S. military official both say that often families only return to their houses long enough to grab a suitcase and pocket the reward money before leaving again.

In brief: The stated diplomatic goal was a failure; the stated military goal was a failure.

What does the Bush administration call for? More of the same—exactly what it was calling for last January.

crossposted from unbossed

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Monday, September 10, 2007

  Progress in Iraq, again

By now you'll have heard that Gen. David Petraeus, in typically disingenuous testimony to Congress, announced immediately that under his leadership the military objectives of the "surge" are being met and coalition forces "have achieved progress in the security arena". He then bolstered this nonsense with a series of outlandish lies.

It's worth reprising a point I made in June in a post that, I regret, did not attract much attention: "Progress in Iraq". In it I showed that the phrase "progress in Iraq" has been a constant rhetorical trope going all the way back to the very beginning of the Bush administration's excuse-mongering about the disastrous occupation. Bush & Co. did not turn to fictional "progress" after other excuses had failed to convince. "Progress" has been their constant companion, as they have tried to explain away or deny all the unpleasant facts that are in front of our eyes.

From the outset "progress" was most definitely an excuse, nothing more. For over two months after declaring victory in Iraq, as I showed, Bush avoided acknowledging in public the burgeoning Iraqi insurgency. In late June 2003 he finally was forced to discuss it—in a radio address that emphasized the "progress in Iraq" being made. It immediately became Bush & Co.'s favorite catch-phrase for the (failure of the) occupation. And it remains ever thus.

So Gen. Petraeus ignores the nearly two dozen American casualties today and instead invokes "progress". Gen. Petraeus ignores the vast majority of Iraqis who believe that security has worsened under the "surge", and instead invokes "progress". Gen. Petraeus ignores the crumbling of the Iraqi government, and instead invokes "progress".

For some measure of the rank dishonesty of this shameless mouthpiece for the administration, consider that Gen. Petraeus has the audacity to claim in his opening remarks today that the murders of civilians are down, that the ethno-sectarian violence is down, that the number of "security incidents" (?) is at its lowest level since June of 2006.

The facts don't concur.

If there has been a drop in certain kinds of violence during the last few weeks, that is only because of the stifling heat which each summer tends to depress, briefly, the level of violence. The attacks and deaths each month this summer are at the highest levels ever experienced in Iraq during those months. An very basic point. But you will look in vain in Petraeus' testimony for any mention of it.

You also will not find him discussing another basic point that I've made over and over again: The ethnic/sectarian cleansing of Baghdad has picked up pace and advanced so far, under Petraeus' nose during this "surge", that Sunnis have been driven out of large parts of the city. No wonder, then, with some 35,000 fleeing the city in the last few months alone, that sectarian murders and bombings in Baghdad have stabilized.

You may recall that in January, inserting himself once again into partisan politics, Gen. Petraeus stated that the Democrats' proposal for withdrawal from Iraq would bring disaster:

Petraeus warned of incalculable dangers of any rapid U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, as favored by many congressional Democrats, saying it would lead to intensified terrorist inroads, "ethnic cleansing" and a bloodbath in Baghdad.

Decidedly ironic, then, that his own command in Iraq has witnessed (many Iraqis would say abetted) the decisive stages of the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad.

Little wonder that Americans distrust Petraeus nearly as much as Iraqis.

Update: Here are two clear examples of Gen. Petraeus caught in outright lies today.

First, examine the third of the slides he presented to Congress (on page 4 of this PDF). It presents four maps of "ethno-sectarian violence" in the neighborhoods of Baghdad since December 2006. These maps pretend that the ethnic/sectarian mix of various neighborhoods has remained constant during this period. In fact, as I've commented here and elsewhere, the Sunnis have been driven headlong out of many neighborhoods since December 2006. Despite the map, there are no longer either majority Sunni or mixed Sunni-Shia neighborhoods east of the Tigris. And west of the Tigris, Sunni-dominated areas have shrunk considerably.

The maps falsify one of the most delicate of issues: The failure of the "surge" to stem ethnic/sectarian cleansing of Baghdad. If that information were brought to the fore, it would call into question the claims by Petraeus and other spokespeople for the Bush administration that the "surge" is responsible for an alleged drop in violence in Baghdad. If there is any such drop, it may be due in large part to the success of Shia attempts to drive Sunnis from their homes and into exile.

Secondly, Think Progress had the goods on another of Petraeus' lies. The General told Congress today that before the "surge" nobody could have predicted its success in transforming Anbar Province.

...our experience in Iraq has repeatedly shown that projecting too far into the future is not just difficult, it can be misleading and even hazardous. The events of the past six months underscore that point. When I testified in January, for example, no one would have dared to forecast that Anbar Province would have been transformed the way it has in the past 6 months.

The trouble is that when Petraeus testified to the Senate in January, he stated that the transformation in Anbar was already underway:

You’ve seen it, I know, in Anbar province, where it has sort of gone back and forth. And right now there appears to be a trend in the positive direction where sheikhs are stepping up and they do want to be affiliated with and supported by the U.S. Marines and Army forces who are in Anbar province. That was not the case as little as perhaps six months ago, or certainly before that.

So in January, Petraeus used the evidence of the shift in Sunni alliances to call for Congress to support a "surge". In September, Petraeus uses that evidence to claim success for the "surge".

"Shameless" may have been too kind.

crossposted from unbossed

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

  Fred Thompson's candidacy has crashed

I've argued that Fred Thompson's shady work as a lobbyist before and after his Senate career was likely to scuttle his presidential campaign once voters learned some details about his work on behalf of foreign countries. And just days after Thompson entered the race, it looks like his campaign has been blown out of the sky.

The NY Times reveals today that Thompson was paid in 1992 to advise lawyers defending Libyan intelligence officials who were accused of masterminding the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Think of that. The Republican's knight in shining armor worked for Libyan terrorists (one of whom is now serving jail time for the bombing).

Thompson was working as a lobbyist at the time for the Washington, DC firm Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn. It was there that Thompson did some of his most notorious work as a registered agent of foreign governments—or in the case of Jean Bertrand Aristide, of a government in exile. So when one of the firm's partners was hired to help the Libyan terrorists avoid extradition for the Lockerbie crime, Thompson pitched in his expertise as a former prosecutor.

A little over three years after Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, Fred D. Thompson provided advice to a colleague about one of his law firm’s new clients: The man representing the two Libyan intelligence officials charged in the terrorist bombing.

The colleague, John Culver, a partner at the Washington firm of Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn began advising the two suspects’ Libyan lawyer in February 1992. Mr. Thompson, according to a memorandum from that era written by his secretary, held “discussions with Culver re: Libya” that same month.

At the time, Libya was facing international outrage for refusing to comply with a United Nations demand that the two suspects be extradited to the West for trial in the 1988 bombing, which killed 270 people. Revelations that American firms were representing Libyan interests provoked a furor among the Pan Am victims’ families. Some law firms refused to represent the country or the suspects, while others withdrew.

The involvement of Mr. Thompson, who worked part-time for Arent Fox as a lawyer and lobbyist from 1991 until shortly before his election to the Senate in 1994, never became public.

Odd that Mr. Thompson didn't make a big deal during his Senate campaign of the fact that he had been called in to help on such a high profile case. It would have cemented his reputation as a "serious" and "worldly" candidate in the face of charges that Thompson was merely a Hollywood lightweight.

But, alas, disclosure of the information had to wait until Mr. Thompson entered the presidential race. Should be the end of his campaign, if there is any justice in the world.

The bigger question, however, is this: What does this revelation say about the research skills, not to mention the common sense, of Republicans and others who've been desperately eager for Thompson to ride in and save the Republican Party from itself in 2008? These people, it seems, are never careful about what they wish for.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

  What Petraeus report?

You thought the Bush & Co. legerdemain had run its course when it was revealed last month that the White House rather than (saint) General Petraeus would write the much-anticipated report on Iraq to be given to Congress—though based, we were told, upon Petraeus' report to Bush. But you underestimated their duplicity once again, didn't you? Today we're told that Petraeus won't produce an actual report at all.

A senior military officer said there will be no written presentation to the president on security and stability in Iraq. "There is no report. It is an assessment provided by them by testimony," the officer said.

The only hard copy will be Gen. Petraeus' opening statement to Congress, scheduled for Monday, along with any charts he will use in explaining the results of the troop surge in Baghdad over the past several months.

Thereby the whole process of lying about "progress in Iraq" will be much facilitated.

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  Outsourcing oversight in Iraq?

According to Al Kamen, something distinctly odd is afoot with Stuart Bowen's office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The Army is in the process of outsourcing some and perhaps all the work of doing the investigations that Bowen oversees.

[The IG's quarterly reports] also must be quite taxing to produce, since it appears Bowen is outsourcing the effort. The Army Contracting Agency announced the other day that it is asking for private companies -- small businesses only -- "to procure all personnel, equipment, tools, materials, supervision, and other items and non-personal services necessary to perform data collection, analysis, design, formation and other project management support to ensure publication of the quarterly report."

Well, at least he's not outsourcing himself.

I have found nothing whatever about this initiative at the website of the Army Contracting Agency...not surprising, since it is pretty darned uncommunicative. Kamen is the only one who has the story; perhaps an insider contacted him with the news.

What the heck is going on? Do any of our readers know?

On the face of it, outsourcing such critical and politically embarrassing investigations smells fishy, particularly given the heightened tensions over the Iraq debacle inside Washington.

On the other hand, Bowen has been accused in the past of being sloppy and supercilious in overseeing the work, and of indulging in unnecessarily expensive bells & whistles in the production of these quarterly reports. Those allegations came mainly from several former employees. So it could be that the outsourcing of his staff of investigators (if that is what Kamen's information points toward) was a response to that controversy or grew out of the investigation into it by the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency.

I've argued in the past that the PCIE investigation of Bowen looked suspiciously like retribution from the Bush administration. The quarterly reports from Bowen's office have been much more damning of the situation in Iraq than nearly all other government publications.

It's also just possible, given the Bush administration's mania for privatizing as much of the federal workforce as possible, that Bowen's office is getting carved up in the name of "efficiency".

crossposted from

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

  The Jones Commission throws Bush a lifeline

As I predicted yesterday, based upon a pre-publication summary by CNN, the new report to Congress by the Jones Commission tries to soft-peddle the unfolding disaster in Iraq. Sure it’s a mess, the commissioners say, and there’s little sign of political reconciliation among Iraqi factions, but we should remain bogged down there anyway (only less so).

And just as predictably, both proponents and critics of the policy of quagmire took the Jones Commission report as confirmation of their previous views.

Still, as the International Herald Tribune perceived, the commisioner’s testimony today in the Senate was directed mainly toward providing cover for George Bush.

…the 12-to-18-month estimate until Iraqi forces gain autonomy, described in the report and by Jones in congressional testimony Thursday, would push back further into the future estimates of when American forces can step back from their leading role…

When McCain asked Jones whether a timetable for withdrawal would be advisable, the general replied, "I think a deadline of this magnitude would be against our national interest."

And we know that Bush’s policy has been to run out the clock on his presidency and leave the nightmarish occupation to his successor. Recently Bush had this to say in private interviews at the White House:

For now, though, Mr. Bush told the author, Robert Draper, in a later session, “I’m playing for October-November.” That is when he hopes the Iraq troop increase will finally show enough results to help him achieve the central goal of his remaining time in office: “To get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence,” and, he said later, “stay longer.”

So whatever carping General Jones and his fellow retired officers may do in the report about what are (after all) absolutely glaring problems in Iraq, at the end of the day they made it their goal to provide cover for the current administration policy.

Their report is (as I commented yesterday) fulsome in its praise for alleged improvements in Iraqi military forces. It doesn’t really peel back the surface to consider whether appearances match reality. I remain highly skeptical that the Iraqi armed forces have significantly improved in effectiveness, cohesion, and leadership. American forces certainly don’t trust them.

And, anyway, the absurdly rosy picture the Jones report paints of the pathetic Iraqi navy and air force gives the game away entirely. The commissioners, as we see in this most ridiculous section of the report, are perfectly ready to talk nonsense about Progress. I discussed this in some detail yesterday, so I’ll simply point you toward pages 72-85 of the Jones Commission Report and ask whether their discussion of the Iraqi navy and air force makes any damned sense.

Furthermore, the commissioners‘ notion that the escalation has lessened violence in Iraq is demonstrably false. Inadvertantly, they have supplied an illustration at page 34 which demonstrates why all the happy-talk about decreased sectarian violence in Baghdad misses the point. As the maps of Baghdad show, the ethnic cleansing of the city has progressed rapidly during the past year. There are now very few mixed Sunni/Shite neighborhoods left. The Shites have succeeded in driving Sunnis out of most of the city, and such violence as persists in concentrated in the few areas where Sunnis retain a toehold. Is the Bush administration going to try to chalk that up as a victory for the escalation?

All the talk about levels of violence in Iraq is merely a distraction from the truly important point. The escalation was sold to the American public, as even Gen. Petraeus admitted, in order to give Maliki’s government time to advance the process of reconciliation. It hasn’t happened. Indeed, Maliki is now much weaker politically than even six months ago. All the rest is blather.

I noted in very short order some truly egregious flaws in this report. For example, it attributes to Iran nothing but malign influence in Iraq even though some prominent Iraqis have praised the stabilizing influence of Iran. But, then, the commissioners didn’t bother to talk to many Iraqi government officials…not even Prime Minister Maliki nor his predecessor, Ibrahim al Jaafari.

Characteristically, however, they did find time to talk to the dimbulb who dreamed up the escalation, Fred Kagan.

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  “Information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals”

That remarkable statement finally made its way today onto the pages of the Washington Post, buried though the article was on page A 16. The statement comes from last December’s Iraq Study Group Report, and presented such a damning indictment of the administration that the ISG held it back until the final page of its report. The Associated Press’ military analyst Robert Burns wrote an article highlighting the ISG allegation that the Bush administration deliberately under-reports violence in Iraq. Yet few papers printed his story. Most large newspapers, like the Post, ignored it.

Nines months later, the allegation finally merits attention.

I won’t complain about today’s article by Karen DeYoung, Experts Doubt Drop In Violence in Iraq. Those doubts have been widely discussed here and elsewhere for months, of course, but DeYoung’s report brings together plenty of material and is well worth a read. However her treatment of the ISG information is somewhat lacking in critical detail and context.

Challenges to how military and intelligence statistics are tallied and used have been a staple of the Iraq war. In its December 2006 report, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group identified "significant underreporting of violence," noting that "a murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the sources of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the data base." The report concluded that "good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals."

All well and good, except that the ISG was much more damning than DeYoung lets on. The ISG report provides a devastating example: On a certain day in July 2006, the Pentagon reported a total of 93 attacks on coalition and Iraqi forces. US Intelligence Agencies, however, had information about more than 1100 such reports on that day. In other words, the administration was attesting to only about 8% of the known attacks.

Why has the Post seen fit to report this decisive information only today? Isn’t the problem (proven, one supposes, beyond any reasonable doubt) that the Pentagon cannot be trusted about basic questions of fact, of some consequence to the national debate about what to do about the debacle in Iraq?

Incidentally, DeYoung has another article today on the Jones’ report to Congress, which I picked apart yesterday. Like some earlier articles on their findings, she paints it as uniformly bleak for the Bush administration’s point of view. No mention, regrettably, that the Jones report tries in its own way to please both the administration and its critics with a dash of squishy optimism.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

  Fictional Iraqi military branches are making "progress"

This would get filed in the Not laughing any longer folder, except my disk space has been exceeded.

A report to Congress by the Independent Commission on Security Forces in Iraq, obtained today by CNN, demonstrates how far backwards the supposedly serious people in Washington will bend to avoid declaring forthrightly that the occupation of Iraq, and now the escalation, is a disaster. When the ICSFI report is released publicly tomorrow, I think we'll see that it satisfies all Parties with that on-the-one-hand-but-then-on-the-other game.

How absurd are the results? The Commission (composed mainly of retired military officers and headed by Gen. James Jones) actually claims that two virtually non-existent branches of the Iraqi military are making significant progress towards fanciful goals.

From CNN's summary of the report (with quotations from the report):

  • The "Iraqi air force's relatively late establishment hampers its ability to provide much-needed air support to ground operations" but "it is nonetheless progressing at a promising rate during this formative period."

  • "The Iraqi navy is small and its current fleet is insufficient to execute its mission. However, it is making substantive progress in this early stage of development."

Let's compare those assessments to the facts. As even the Pentagon acknowledged in its latest quarterly report on "progress" in Iraq, the combined manpower of the Iraqi navy and air force is about 2,000 men (pp. 42-43). The phrases "late establishment" and "small" barely begin to describe the problems faced by these two nominal branches of the Iraqi military.

Even if they had many times their current force, in any case, they'd be nearly irrelevant. The report pretends, tongue in cheek, that the Iraqi navy possesses a "current fleet". That hasn't been true since the first Gulf War. As the Pentagon quarterly report reveals, Iraqi naval and marine personnel have to get their sea legs on oil platforms. There are, it's alleged, plans to buy a small fleet of small boats, and if all goes swimmingly, they'll be on hand no earlier than late 2008. But for now, the "current" fleet has only a handful of boats and is capable only of shoreline patrols against smuggling.

But the air force, that must be impressive? According to the Pentagon report, it has a handful of (no doubt fearsome) Cessnas (and such) with which it does some ground surveillance. The air force also has 10 helicopters for evacuating casualties, and all of 3 1960s vintage turboprop transport planes. Yep, that's it for the Iraqi air force. But perhaps it's churlish to focus on the lack of aircraft per se, when as the ICSFI report assures us, it is merely the late start that "hampers" the air force from doing whatever Cessnas normally would do in warfare.

So, according to the pleasant ICSFI report, the virtually non-existent Iraqi navy and air force are "making substantive progress" and "progressing at a promising rate". In other words, CNN has gotten a hold of one of the hardest hitting reports yet on the debacle in Iraq.

* *

Given that the new, dissembling report concludes that Iraqi armed forces won't be ready to operate independently for at least the next year and a half; that the Iraqi Interior Ministry is a ministry in name only; and that sectarian infiltration has rendered the Iraqi national police so ineffective and unreliable that they ought to be disbanded and recreated from scratch—one has to wonder just how bad are things? In the world of facts, I mean, the one surveyed recently by the GAO.

* *

And while we're toying with imponderables, what does it say about the culture of Washington that such a squishy report is treated in the federal capital as if it were a "harsh indictment" of progress in Iraq? There's surely a reason why Bush administration officials were briefed on the Independent Commission's report last week, whereas Congress will not hear from General Jones until this Thursday.

According to several administration officials, the Jones commission also reached largely positive conclusions about the Iraqi Army’s performance since the start of the new security strategy in Iraq — a sign, several officials said, that a determined American effort to remake Iraqi institutions holds some promise of success.

The officials who agreed to discuss the commission recommendations did so in some cases because they believed that disclosing them publicly would help diffuse their impact and focus attention on the Petraeus-Crocker report.

If Washington's serious people would care to get a truly harsh indictment of Progress in Iraq, perhaps they could arrange a sit-down with me some afternoon.

Crossposted from Unbossed

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

  The gang that can't shoot straight

True, George Bush has put America's military in an almost untenable position in Iraq and then undercut the armed forces at every stage through his political ineptitude. Still, the military's top brass has also displayed a wondrous capacity to bungle its response to a low-tech guerilla insurgency. They really don't care much for guerilla war, that could hardly be clearer. Instead, the Pentagon prides itself on what critics view as its almost monomaniacal pursuit of high-tech war "systems".

It turns out though that the Pentagon isn't entirely competent with high-tech stuff, either. Today we learn from the Financial Times that in June a Pentagon computer system was badly breached by Chinese military hackers, who managed to shut it down for over a week.

The Chinese military hacked into a Pentagon computer network in June in the most successful cyber attack on the US defence department, say American officials.

The Pentagon acknowledged shutting down part of a computer system serving the office of Robert Gates, defence secretary, but declined to say who it believed was behind the attack.

Current and former officials have told the Financial Times an internal investigation has revealed that the incursion came from the People’s Liberation Army...

The PLA regularly probes US military networks – and the Pentagon is widely assumed to scan Chinese networks – but US officials said the penetration in June raised concerns to a new level because of fears that China had shown it could disrupt systems at critical times.

“The PLA has demonstrated the ability to conduct attacks that disable our system...and the ability in a conflict situation to re-enter and disrupt on a very large scale,” said a former official, who said the PLA had penetrated the networks of US defence companies and think-tanks.

The Pentagon confirmed today that its system had been hacked and downplayed the threat. It also refused to identify the culprits. The Chinese officially have denied any involvement.

Once again, the Pentagon knew perfectly well what kind of threat it was facing.

The Pentagon warned earlier this year that China's army is emphasizing hacking as an offensive weapon. It cited Chinese military exercises in 2005 that included hacking "primarily in first strikes against enemy networks."

Indeed, in the last few weeks alone the US State Department and several German government systems have been breached by Chinese hackers. Only a few days ago, the International Herald Tribune reported the Chinese are waging an almost limitless cyber war around the globe.

U.S. and other foreign military analysts say that Chinese defense planners have identified the heavy dependence on computers of most modern military forces as a potential weakness that could be exploited in a conflict.

They cite articles and reports in Chinese military journals and magazines that suggest attacks aimed at extracting intelligence from enemy computer networks or disrupting communication and signals processing could deliver a decisive military advantage...

"Chinese capabilities in this area have evolved from defending PRC networks from attack to offensive operations against adversary networks," Richard Lawless, deputy under secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, told the House Armed Services Committee in June.

As part of its response to the threat of computer attack, the Pentagon last year created a new cyberspace command to coordinate offensive and defensive operations.

Furthermore, a June report to Congress by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission also warned of the capabilities of Chinese hackers. It cited the testimony of the head of the US Strategic Command, Gen. James Cartwright, expressing concern that China regularly hacks into official and private cyber networks to collect important intelligence.

More and more the upper ranks of the US military prefer to plan for, and spend for, and dream about high tech warfare. Too bad, just as with their latest unpleasant encounter with guerilla warfare, there are such inexpensive, low-tech ways to tie the Pentagon into knots.

crossposted from Unbossed

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