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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Because this war isn’t going to end on its own

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 17th September 2008

Like eRobin, I’m already pretty impressed with the “Million Doors for Peace” effort, and it hasn’t even happened yet. Tonight I reserved a “walking list” of people in my neighborhood; I can print out neat lists of names, addresses and phone numbers; I can also print out a Google map of the households involved — all within a couple of blocks of me. Famous last words, but this may be so easy it’s almost embarrassing.

An extensive “Frequently Asked Questions” site provides a lot of the details:

Whose doors will I be knocking on?

Our goal with this project is get beyond the usual list of peace activists who sign online petitions and pass them around to each other, by going into the street (or on the phone) and reaching out specifically to people who haven’t been involved. That’s why we’ve compiled the list of new or infrequent voters which we’ll be sending you. We will put up an online petition after the canvassing is done, but the most important thing is to reach these specific people, not to simply collect names. […]

…we came up with a list of people who either haven’t voted in the past few years or else have only recently registered to vote. Political professionals say these are the people most likely to respond to our message.

Will I be asked to support a particular presidential candidate? CAN I support my favorite candidate while canvassing?

A: No. This is a non-partisan activity. We aren’t working for or against any candidate.

Am I supposed to argue with war supporters?

…The point of canvassing is to find the people who already agree with us but whom we haven’t met yet. If you spend your time debating with war supporters, you’ll run out of time before you find the peace-minded people further down the list.

And so on.

Looking over my list, I see some neighbors I would think are fairly frequent voters. Of course, I may be mistaken in that, but the quality of the list will be important.

At any rate, this is an impressive,  well planned effort. You should get involved if you’ve got a couple of hours to spare — they’re OK with you going the next day, or even with phoning people on the walking list.

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This is what elections are for

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th September 2008

Writing for the Washington Post blog “The Fix,” Chris Cilizza pronounces himself gobsmacked by the ad above, writing:

Among the extremely tough lines delivered by the tearful couple:

* “I don’t blame the Army for our son’s death, I just blame the bad policies on President Bush, Norm Coleman who voted for this.” (Nancy Anderson)

* “I have no faith in Norm Coleman. He has no ability to make up his own mind.” (Claremont Anderson)

* “If Norm Coleman would have stood up to the president and said this is not a good idea maybe he would have listened.” (Nancy Anderson)

Wow. WOW. The ad all but blames Coleman for the death of the Andersons’ son, arguing that Coleman had the power to stop it by opposing the war in Iraq from the start.  […]

While allowing that the ad helps “make clear what is at stake in this election,” Cilizza continues with the warning,

…the ad runs a real risk of being seen as an attempt by Democrats to score political points on the back of a personal tragedy. The image of a physically shaken Nancy Anderson on screen walks right up to the line of what is acceptable in the realm of politics.

No, this is a perfect strike in what is acceptable in the realm of politics. Wars have consequences.  It’s not some kind of frivolous political point to say that voting for this war — repeatedly — should have consequences as well.

Given that Cilizza doesn’t take the time to spot the “maybe” in Ms. Anderson’s statement, it’s not surprising he doesn’t take the time to provide some background about the alleged victim, United States Senator Norm Coleman.  Reports like this one (“Coleman and Franken on Iraq: Everything you need to know,” Eric Black, Minnesota Post) paint essentially the same picture the Stuarts do (emphases in original):

Norm Coleman was an early and unconditional supporter of the idea of war in Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein. After four years of toeing the pro-Bush, pro-war line, he wobbled slightly in early 2007 by doubting the wisdom of the surge. He has since recanted those doubts, thinks the war is going well and takes basically the same position on current matters as John McCain and President Bush. He believes the prospects are good for a drawdown of U.S. troops, but it must be done based on conditions on the ground as reported by commanders in the field, not according to an “arbitrary” timetable set for “political” reasons in Washington.Coleman recently told a press conference that, even if he had known then everything he knows now, he does not consider his original support for the war to have been wrong.

In a long interview with me about the whole six-year U.S.-in-Iraq saga, Coleman declined to affirm that last statement.  I asked whether he believes that after the whole tale is told the invasion and occupation of Iraq will turn out to have been worth it for the United States. He declined to answer the question directly and instead converted it, as he has often done, to a question he felt more comfortable answering: “Do I think the world is better off without Saddam Hussein running a country. The answer is yes.”

Summing up: Coleman started out for the Iraq War, finally thought briefly about being against it, but then stayed for it.  “Yes man” seems fair.  “Maybe Bush would have listened” if Coleman had changed course seems fair. “Can’t make up his own mind” seems fair. “All but being blamed” for the war that killed the Anderson’s son seems very fair — Coleman wasn’t some slob arguing about it at the barbershop, he cast a vote that sealed the deal.

No — these all seem like very fair critiques to make of someone who wants to be reappointed to one of the most powerful positions in the country.  This is essentially a man who has not learned anything of value in the last six years, is torn mainly between political self-preservation and abject servitude to the GOP party line, and then resorts to playing games in dodging his responsibility for the predicament he helped put Americans in.

Americans like the Andersons, not to put too fine a point on it.

Cilizza’s concerns about this ad are seem like another one of those episodes of faux astonishment and outrage which — consciously or not — seek to turn the debate from the ugly, painful war issue itself to the more comfortable one of how we’re permitted to see it and debate it.  We mustn’t see the caskets.  We mustn’t speak ill of any soldier or any general.  We tut-tut when Cindy Sheehan has the bad manners to repeatedly remind us that her son is still dead.

Cilizza’s right to identify this ad as a strong one, one that cuts through the grotesque fog of denial around this war.  The ad, the campaign, and the election offer Minnesotans a valid choice: to choose continued war, or not. To agree with the Andersons, or not. To elect a Senator Franken, or a Senator Coleman.

That’s what elections are for.

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The very model of a Powerpoint counterinsurgency general

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th September 2008

In Steve Coll’s New Yorker profile of General David Petraeus (“The General’s Dilemma”, 09/08/2008), a couple of things stood out for me.  First, there’s this:

…Petraeus and those around him believed “deep in their bones that we don’t get to choose what kind of wars we fight,” John Nagl, a 1988 West Point graduate and Rhodes Scholar who became part of Petraeus’s circle, said. They felt that it was therefore essential to vanquish Vietnam’s ghosts and learn to wage irregular war successfully.

While I take Petraeus et al’s point that officers don’t get to choose them, wars like Viet Nam and Iraq are precisely the kinds of wars the country — or more precisely, the U.S. government — or more precisely yet, these days, the White House — gets to choose to fight.

In his road to the top, Petraeus — a learned warrior — earned a Ph.D., read and wrote extensively on counterinsurgency, and finally rewrote the Marine Corps “counterinsurgency” manual (US Army Field Manual 3-24 / Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 33.3.5: Counterinsurgency) so well  — and  so well timed — that Samantha Power (the future ex-Obama advisor) wrote about it in the New York Times Book Review.

But what had seemed in the 1990s like an academic exercise in keeping military options open turned into something bigger and worse in the next decade.  It became the latest life preserver thrown to a president weighted down with a strategically stupid idea: the occupation of a foreign country and its conversion by force to a mutant version of “democracy.”  Take it from Westmoreland, McNamara, and LBJ: Petraeus isn’t vanquishing Vietnam’s ghosts, he’s been making new ones from Iraq.

And even in as damaged a democracy as our own, strategically stupid ideas like that require a great deal of artful communication, spin, and con jobs to sell them… maybe “lying” sums it up.  That’s where the second part that struck me comes in:

Petraeus is a professional briefer, and with a PowerPoint slide before him he will slip into a salesman’s rapid-fire patter. He illustrates his remarks with a laser pointer; he will swirl a bright dot of emerald light around a particular sentence fragment until a listener risks succumbing to hypnosis. Petraeus and his staff will discuss at length the shading of colors on a slide, or the direction of arrows depicting causality. When I asked, in a skeptical tone, about this passionate use of PowerPoint, the General responded in the staccato of the medium: “It’s how you communicate big ideas—to communicate them effectively.”

That struck me because it suggests it was no mistake that Petraeus chose a much more misleading set of maps for his slideshow presentation to Congress in the fall of 2007 than a different general (James Jones) had a week or so earlier.  As I wrote last September, Petraeus’s maps failed to show a competing explanation for declining violence — that the surge had been too late to put out the fire of ethnic cleansing, arriving in time to witness the burned-out result.  By successfully laying claim to a bizarre kind of “success,” Petraeus gained Bush — not Maliki — the “breathing room” to extend the escalation and leave the Iraq mess for the next President to clean up.  (And like idiots, Congressional Democrats went for it, despite having been elected to get us out of Iraq.)

Read the rest of this entry »

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Impeachment and truth now. Reconciliation? Maybe later.

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th September 2008

While it wasn’t her point, Nell’s excellent post earlier this week (“Prepare to Dare or Prepare to Despair“) reminds me that I’ve been less energetic than I should have been in supporting and discussing Dennis Kucinich’s H.Res. 1258 resolution calling for George Bush’s impeachment.  The lengthy resolution presents 35 articles of impeachment, leading with Bush’s propaganda campaign for the Iraq war:

In his conduct while President of the United States, George W. Bush, in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty under article II, section 3 of the Constitution ‘to take care that the laws be faithfully executed’, has both personally and acting through his agents and subordinates, together with the Vice President, illegally spent public dollars on a secret propaganda program to manufacture a false cause for war against Iraq.

The resolution is a resource in its own right, presenting factual bases for each of the charges.*   As David Swanson of AfterDowningStreet.org said,

Impeachment is only a lengthy process when you don’t already have the evidence.  President Andrew Johnson was impeached three days after the offense for which he was impeached. … Bush and Cheney could be impeached, tried, and convicted in a week.

Not even every impeachment supporter will agree that every single article in H. Res. 1258 merits Bush’s impeachment,  removal from office, and  banning from future federal office.  But even in this the resolution serves a useful function, reminding us that impeachment is by design a political tool, to be wielded by the House of Representatives — not a judicial one or one limited to narrowly proveable violations of U.S. law.

To be sure — for those who insist on them — there are (in my opinion) such statutory and treaty violations involving illegal detention (Article 17), torture (Article 18), and illegally spying on American citizens (Article 24).

But impeachment can and sometimes must also be applied to the kinds of breaches of trust and willful poor judgment that have characterized the Bush administration, even if no specific statute is broken, even if “only” our constitutional system itself is at stake.   The cannon of impeachment may seem less warranted for, say, the relative fly of “endangering the health of 9/11 first responders,” (Article 35), but quite a bit more so for the propaganda catapult of misleading claims about Iraq and 9/11 (Article 2), Iraqi WMD (Article 3), or “even” climate change (Article 32) — regardless of whether particular statutes were broken in the latter cases.  Yet others strike at the equally profound subversion of the American political system, such as those about tampering with free and fair elections, corruption of the administration of justice (Article 28), creating secret laws (Article 22), and announcing intent not to follow duly enacted law (Article 26).

As AfterDowningStreet.com is reporting, Dennis Kucinich will present petitions supporting immediate impeachment hearings to Speaker Nancy Pelosi today. (You can still add your support here.)

Kucinich will also reportedly urge the formation of a truth and reconciliation commission — something Mark Gisleson (“Norwegianity”) supports in an article written for Mick Arran’s impeachment blog “The Bush/Cheney Impeachment Papers.” The arguments of Mr. Gisleson and others (like local congressional candidate Gordon Clark) notwithstanding, I see the “T&R” idea as a half measure ratifying a drift away from the Constitution and towards unwritten and impotent customs and conventions.

But even the half-measure of “truth and reconciliation” is not eagerly embraced by the Obama campaign.  As Mark Benjamin reported for Salon.com (via Mick Arran) this summer:

…don’t hold your breath waiting for Dick Cheney to be frog-marched into federal court. Prosecution of any officials, if it were to occur, would probably not occur during Obama’s first term. Instead, we may well see a congressionally empowered commission that would seek testimony from witnesses in search of the truth about what occurred. Though some witnesses might be offered immunity in exchange for testimony, the question of whether anybody would be prosecuted would be deferred to a later date — meaning Obama’s second term, if such is forthcoming.

On the other hand (and for what it’s worth), while it doesn’t call for either a commission or impeachment, the draft Democratic platform identified many of the same issues highlighted in H. Res. 1258.  And it closed the relevant “Reclaiming our Constitution and Our Liberties” section with the ringing words:

Our Constitution is not a nuisance. It is the foundation of our democracy. It makes freedom and self-governance possible, and helps to protect our security. The Democratic Party will restore our Constitution to its proper place in our government and return our Nation to our best traditions–including our commitment to government by law, and not by men.

Impeachment is not a nuisance either — it’s an integral part of the Constitution.  Impeachment is no esoteric afterthought — it’s the biggest actual “check and balance” in the document, and it’s mentioned six times.  Impeachment is literally patriotic.  And it would be a far more powerful tool towards uncovering the truth than any congressional committee or even special prosecutor would be — refusal to honor impeachment-related subpoenas was itself an article of impeachment in the Nixon articles of impeachment.

As Nell Lancaster wrote:

Impeachment is the key to reversing the damage of the last eight years, not simply papering it over. The time to organize for demanding it is not after the election, but now.

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* I’m planning to find or publish a web page of the resolution with hyperlinks to supporting documents and reports.

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“Surge” to nowhere

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th September 2008

The Washington Post has been running its customary serial excerpts of Bob Woodward’s latest book — this time, “The War Within,” an account of the Bush administration decision to send more troops into Iraq, despite the sweeping Bush/GOP defeat in the 2006 election.   Yesterday, Woodward used the title of a backgrounder to that series first to ask a good question, and then threaten (but fail) to provide a good answer: “Why Did Violence Plummet? It Wasn’t Just the Surge.”

Woodward identifies three other factors: “a series of top-secret operations that enabled them to locate, target and kill key individuals in groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni insurgency and renegade Shia militias”; the better known “Anbar Awakening”, in which that province’s Sunni tribal leaders turned to all-out war against al Qaeda in Iraq; and Moqtada al-Sadr’s August 29(!), 2007 order to the Mahdi Army to suspend operations – “an unexpected stroke of good luck.”

And that’s it.

Ethnic cleansing runs its course in BaghdadLost in this accounting — no doubt personally dictated to him by Jack Keane or Dick Cheney — is the likeliest factor of all: that ethnic cleansing had run its course to such an extent by mid 2007 or so that the true object of most of the fighting — large, defensible, and homogeneous ethnic enclaves — had already been attained.

Why do I suspect this?  As I wrote last September (“Progress is just another word for nothing left to kill“), the conclusion comes from simply looking at a series of ethnic maps of Baghdad (provided during September 2007 congressional testimony by General James Jones) spanning the July 2006-July 2007 time period.*

Perhaps more interestingly, why would Woodward not suspect this?  He’d only need to have consulted his own newspaper last December, when Karen DeYoung’s article “Balkanized Homecoming” ran with an exceptional pair of ethnic maps of Baghdad (“Changing Baghdad“) showing just how hollow the surge’s “success” was.  DeYoung:

For many Iraqis, the homes they left no longer exist. Houses have been looted, destroyed or occupied. Most Baghdad neighborhoods, where Shiites and Sunnis once lived side by side, have been transformed into religiously homogeneous bastions where members of the other sect dare not tread.

And that remains the case.  Even DeYoung’s title is somewhat misleading; for millions of Iraqis, “homecoming” — even a “balkanized” one — remains a hopeless dream.  A UN report in late 2007 estimated that there were well over 4 million Iraqi refugees, about evenly divided between those “internally displaced” within Iraq and those who had decamped elsewhere, primarily Syria and Jordan.  (It is yet another pitiful abdication of responsibility by the U.S. that there were less than 20,000 refugees to this country at that time.)  So hold the medals ceremonies: the sheer size and apparent permanence of this exodus shows the Bush administration strategy in Iraq still hasn’t turned the corner to success.

Nor is it likely to — and reports today that “Iraq Troop Levels to Remain Steady Until After Bush Leaves Office” (Dan Eggen, Washington Post) aren’t the half of it.

In June, DeYoung reported a GAO report indicated “The administration lacks an updated and comprehensive Iraq strategy to move beyond the “surge” of combat troops President Bush launched” with his “New Way Forward” in January 2007. A similar July 2008 GAO report (“Securing, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq: Progress Report: Some Gains Made, Updated Strategy Needed”) echoes that finding, and adds another (emphasis added):

We found that the documents for the phase that follows The New Way Forward do not specify the administration’s strategic goals and objectives in Iraq or how it intends to achieve them, although they clearly state the importance the administration places on continued U.S. involvement in and support for Iraq.

It’s just like backchannel maestro General Jack Keane told Petraeus in March of this year, according to Woodward: “We’re going to be here for 50 years minimum, most of the time hopefully preventing wars, and on occasion having to fight one, dealing with radical Islam, our economic interests in the region and trying to achieve stability.”

Fifty years? What the heck, make it a hundred.

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* Lest one think only bloggers like me or (Middle East expert) Juan Cole think this is the likely explanation, the GAO’s Joe Christoff said the same in Congressional testimony in in October 2007.

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Million Doors for Peace

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 6th September 2008

Members of the United States Congress:
The five and a half years of war in Iraq has been an exercise of misplaced priorities:

  • Draining U.S. taxpayers of at least three trillion dollars which could have gone towards investments that strengthen our economy, such as: health care for our families, ensuring the best education for our children and youth, and addressing the energy crisis.
  • Resulting in hundreds of thousands of American and Iraqi’s dead and wounded.
  • And undermining the United States’ standing as a worldwide symbol for democracy and justice.

Because of these reasons, the majority of American and Iraqi people want the United States to begin a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq as soon as possible, with a date certain for completing that process.

Therefore, we, the undersigned, call on [Your Representative and Senators] to immediately support and pass legislation that will set a specific date to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq within a year.

On September 20, an alliance of organizations including USAction, MoveOn.org, United for Peace and Justice, Pax Christi USA and others will be circulating this petition in a new kind of demonstration — a demonstration of power. The goal is to have 25,000 volunteers visit or call a million households, asking for people’s agreement with the statement.  That will (1) help elevate the issue of Iraq and its economic, human and moral costs, and (2) expand a database of war opponents to pressure whoever gains the White House this November to accelerate their plans for withdrawing American troops from Iraq.

The idea is that you sign up here; Million Doors for Peace will contact you with a list of addresses to visit or call; on September 20th, that’s what you do; then you report back to the web site with the information you’ve gathered. According to the e-mail alert I got, the addresses will be of “new or infrequent voters.”

I’m going to do itI hope you will too.

After the FISA vote this summer, I vowed I was not going to just be a foot soldier for the Democratic Party this fall.  I wish the Obama campaign well, and will work with it in the weeks ahead.  But I won’t put all my work there this fall.  As Russ Feingold put it earlier this year, “January 21 is as important as January 20,” meaning that it wasn’t enough just to elect the right guy.  Even Obama will need to see pressure (and be able to point to it) if we want a timely withdrawal from Iraq rather than endless postponements of one — to say nothing of McCain.  This will be one small way for me to help prepare the ground for that.

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Consistency in the pursuit of empire is no virtue

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th July 2008

The Washington Post’s lead editorial on Wednesday, “The Iron Timetable,” made clear from the start that the paper’s editorial board will be little more than an auxiliary of the McCain campaign from now on:

Barack Obama yesterday accused President Bush and Sen. John McCain of rigidity on Iraq: ““They said we couldn’t leave when violence was up, they say we can’t leave when violence is down.” Mr. Obama then confirmed his own foolish consistency. Early last year, when the war was at its peak, the Democratic candidate proposed a timetable for withdrawing all U.S. combat forces in slightly more than a year. Yesterday, with bloodshed at its lowest level since the war began, Mr. Obama endorsed the same plan. After hinting earlier this month that he might “refine” his Iraq strategy after visiting the country and listening to commanders, Mr. Obama appears to have decided that sticking to his arbitrary, 16-month timetable is more important than adjusting to the dramatic changes in Iraq.

Well, good for him — if that’s what Senator Obama has decided (I still believe so), and if he actually sticks to that decision (I wish I could count on it).

In one way, Wednesday’s editorial may have set a land speed record for “fastest to be overtaken by events,” given the “time horizon” gambit now being floated by the Bush administration itself. But neocons and their media enablers are never ones to let the facts get in their way. So in case the editorial’s argument — that is, its cheap rhetorical trick — is used more often in the days ahead, it’s worth taking on. The question isn’t whether Obama (or McCain) are “foolishly” consistent about how to conduct the mission in Iraq in the face of some changed conditions. The question is whether having U.S. troops in Iraq was, is, or ever will be in our country’s best interest. And whether the Post likes it or not, that question was answered “no” a long time ago.

As Senator Obama noted, “What’s missing in our debate is a discussion of the strategic consequences of Iraq.” And the Post’s reply to that is telling (emphases added):

Indeed: The message that the Democrat sends is that he is ultimately indifferent to the war’s outcome — that Iraq “distracts us from every threat we face” and thus must be speedily evacuated regardless of the consequences. That’s an irrational and ahistorical way to view a country at the strategic center of the Middle East, with some of the world’s largest oil reserves. Whether or not the war was a mistake, Iraq’s future is a vital U.S. security interest. If he is elected president, Mr. Obama sooner or later will have to tailor his Iraq strategy to that reality.

Largest oil reserves? That’s funny, last I checked invading Iraq was all about the central front in the war on terror. Before that it was freedom, democracy, and all that jazz. Before that it was Saddam’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Before that it was Saddam’s nonexistent ties to Bin Laden. (Remember Bin Laden?)

But even on the Post’s realpolitik premise, they’re wrong. First, Iraqis will remain eager to sell us as much oil as we’re stupid enough to have to buy. Second, broadly speaking, when the United States finds itself “doing counterinsurgency,” we’ve already screwed up. That’s what we’ve been doing in Iraq: American troops killing whoever’s killing them back that month, on behalf of a mission that changes from one six month unit to the next.

Third: as the “time horizon” concession (such as it is) makes clear, even the people we’re allegedly propping up want us out, and sooner rather than later. The oddest thing about the editorial was its silence about the Maliki government’s own demands for a withdrawal date. The people hanging on to power in the Green Zone realized their best bet is to create some plausible distance between them and the U.S., and a plausible timeline for a U.S. departure. If so, this week’s “show of force” in Sadr City is more for our consumption than for Sadr’s, i.e., “see? we run things. now leave.”

There’s more to dislike about the editorial — the patently false claim that a 16 month timetable for withdrawal is militarily infeasible, for starters.

But while it’s not the most important thing about the piece, I think it’s revealing that the editorial’s lede speaks of “Barack Obama,” but “President Bush” and “Sen. John McCain.”

That’s “Senator Obama” to you, Fred Hiatt, for the remainder of the campaign. The Washington Post likes to set itself up as arbiter of ‘serious’ talk about foreign policy, but its execution is not often this plainly ham-handed: Senators and Presidents think unfoolishly, Baracks think foolishly. While I remain a Missourian (i.e., “show me”) about Obama, I’m already clear about the Post: they’re not on my side, or the American people’s side, when it comes to this war, this occupation, and this oil reserves empire.

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Department of followups: obliteration, Altstoetter, UPDATE: Zimbabwe

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 11th May 2008

An occasional review of further developments in stuff I’ve written about before.

  • Past diminishing and well into negative returns…, April 24, 2008 — Responding to Senator Clinton’s threat to “obliterate” Iran if it were to attack Israel,* Iranian cleric and “Assembly of Experts” member Ahmed Khatami said:

    A disreputable American (presidential) candidate has said that if Iran attacks Israel, she will obliterate Iran if she is the president. I tell the American people, it is a shame for them that their presidents are servants of Israel without any willpower.

    What they are saying recently is just psychological war. However, if the crazy people in Washington or Tel Aviv take any military action, the Iranian nation will hit them with such a slap that they will not be able to get on their feet again.

    We are observing the siege of Shiite Sadr City in Iraq. It seems Americans would like to make what happened in Gaza happen in Sadr City too. We can only conclude that America is fighting Islam.

    What the “slap” would be is left to our imaginations, but Americans are now presumably in the collateral damage crosshairs if Iran chooses to retaliate for any American military action. A corollary to “violence begets violence” is “reckless, foolish talk begets reckless, foolish talk.”

  • Practice to deceive, April 22, 2008 — In prior posts I’ve echoed the suggestions of legal scholars like Scott Horton and Philippe Sands that the Nuremberg “Judges” or “Justice Trial”, a.k.a. U.S. v. Altstoetter, is a precedent for trying lawyers like John Yoo and David Addington for war crimes based on giving the color of law to illegal acts. However, writing at “Balkinization,” New Zealand legal historian Kevin Jon Heller argues otherwise:

    The bottom line, in my view, is that as reprehensible as Yoo’s opinions were –- and they were indeed reprehensible -– the case provides far less support for prosecuting him than most scholars assume.

    The key difficulty, Heller believes, is that none of the Altstoetter defendants merely gave legal advice; rather, all were also part of the Nazi legal machinery denying habeas corpus to prisoners and issuing verdicts. Heller asserts that the NMT (Nuremberg Military Tribunal) arguably convicted all the defendants for their deeds rather than their legal advice:

    … the mode of participation they use to convict a defendant -– ordering, aiding and abetting, joint criminal enterprise, etc. -– and often even fail to identify which of the defendant’s acts discussed in the judgment they consider criminal. […] … individual responsibility required the prosecution to prove “that a defendant had knowledge of an offense charged in the indictment . . . and that he was connected with the commission of that offense…

    Related posts at “Balkinization” include Marty Lederman’s setup for Heller, “What, if Anything, Does the Nuremberg Precedent Tell Us About the Criminal Culpability of Government Lawyers?,” acknowledging the potential relevance of Altstoetter, and “What’s the Relevance of Altstoetter, Anyway?” following Heller’s piece which reiterates Lederman’s skepticism about the propriety of Altstoetter-based criminal charges against Yoo et al for their “aspirational” readings of U.S. and international law, rather than an inquiry into whether constitutional obligations were breached.**

    However, Lederman also acknowledges Scott Horton’s comment about Heller’s post. There’s much more in Horton’s comment, but one part makes a point I made in “Practice to Deceive” — that the way in which the advice and directives were concealed argues for knowledge that said advice was criminal in nature:

    Philippe Sands’s key finding — if there is just one — is that the bottom up narrative that the Administration puts forward surrounding the introduction of torture techniques is a sham. He follows the story to its roots, and he finds that it is, to the contrary, a “top down” story, with a number of lawyers engaging in an elaborate scheme to cover it up with the paper trail that starts with the Diane Beaver memoranda. Key to this unraveling is the story of the senior lawyers’ trip to GTMO at the launch of the process, a trip about which Haynes repeatedly lied. Now it’s possible to explain this from a PR angle focused on domestic politics, which undoubtedly was a major focus of the White House throughout, but a prosecutor could just as well make the case that this shows recognition and belief that the scheme was essentially criminal (or presented substantial likelihood of criminal culpability) and thus needed to be concealed.

  • Zimbabwe: enough is enough, April 10, 2008 — The repression of Zimbabweans following their election of Morgan Tsvangirai (contested by Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and state apparatus) continues unabated — but so far at least without the logistical resupply of a ship full of weapons sold by China to the Zimbabwean government. The An Yue Jiang was not allowed to dock in South Africa, Namibia or Angola — generally thanks to union activism in those countries.But Nell Lancaster (“A Lovely Promise”) points to a recent article at Sokwanele *** alerting readers that the government of Malawi may be the weak link in the chain of refusals to allow the ship to offload its deadly cargo. As the Sokawanele author Hope puts it, the case is important because (a) political violence in Zimbabwe continues, (b) the case has proven to be something people outside Zimbabwe can get involved in, and (c)…

    it is also forcing countries in the region to ‘nail their colours to the mast’, so to speak. In the open glare of the public eye, this story shows us which nations are concerned for the safety of the Zimbabwean people, and which ones are more concerned with the loyalty to the Zanu PF regime.

    The Malawi embassy in Washington, D.C. can be contacted at (202) 721-0274. Embassy e-mail addresses I’ve found include embassy@malawi.com.tw (Taiwan) and mwiun@undp.org (UN); several others are listed here.

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    * Clinton’s remarks to Chris Cuomo (emphases added): whatever stage of development they might be in their nuclear weapons program, in the next 10 years during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.” Like him or not, Khatami is justified to consider this, on careful consideration, as a (reckless) threat of nuclear retaliation by Clinton for a nonnuclear attack — even if, in a subsequent interview with Keith Olbermann, she conditions a U.S. nuclear response on an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel. In another interview with Andrea Schaefer, she claimed “facts on the ground have changed” since October 2007 (before the release of an NIE denying an active Iranian nuclear weapons program was underway) — and considered the notion of Iranian theocrat undeterrability plausible enough to repeat without qualification on national TV.
    ** Lederman thus at least implicitly concedes the possibility and potential propriety of impeachment proceedings against Yoo (and possibly the president) by Congress. As may or may not be well known, one of the consequences of a conviction for an impeachable act is that the convicted person may not hold federal office again. Both impeachment and conviction are thus useful and possible after that person has held federal office.
    *** The word means “Enough is Enough”; the site chronicles Mugabe’s repression and democratic resistance to it in Zimbabwe.

    NOTES: (1) Khatami remark link is to a Real News Network video clip, transcript, and translation of Khatami’s remarks. (2) Nell has an earlier post about the An Yue Jiang here.

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A nation turns its stony eyes from you

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 6th May 2008

Last week I had to put down my newspaper in the Metro for a long time. The front page news photo — connected with the story “U.S. Role Deepens in Sadr City” — was this:


Two-year-old Ali Hussein is pulled from the rubble of his family’s home in the Shiite
stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq, April 29, 2008.
(Karim Kadim/AP Photo)

It might have been a more cropped version. Certainly all I looked at was the boy, Ali Hussein, aged 2. According to the caption, he died at the hospital he was brought to. Reacting to the photo in a letter to the editor this weekend, Virginia mom Valerie Murphy was upset, writing:

We know that a war is going on. Must you use a photograph of a dying Iraqi 2-year-old, especially on the front page?

I can think of no other reason for putting such a picture on the front page than to stir up opposition to the war and feed anti-U.S. sentiment.

You have sensationalized a child’s death and subjected young children to inappropriate images. From now on, I will preview what’s in your paper before my children see it.

Because after all, it’s all about the children.

As another great Virginian once said, “It is well that war is so invisible, or we should grow weary of it,” or some similarly repellent comment. This ought to be (yet another) “Napalm Girl” photo of the Iraq War, but it’s gone MIA from the Internet since then, except at the photojournalism analysis site BAGnewsNotes, Glenn Greenwald, and the Kansas City Star.

It’s a small miracle it ever appeared at the Washington Post — it’s less of one that you won’t find the front page photo they used there now.* Meanwhile lead editor Fred Hiatt was writing this weekend that Somalian chaos proves we’re right to be creating Iraqi chaos, or something like that. Hence my reposting of the photo, which I hope falls under “fair use” given that I’m discussing it here.

Did the pilot who dropped the bomb intend to kill Ali Hussein? No. Did the commander who gave him the order take sufficient care to avoid that? I don’t know — though dropping a bomb in a populated neighborhood ought to be a last resort, even for a highly critical mission. Let alone this one. Did the commander-in-chief who continues to wage this war take sufficient care to avoid it? Definitely not. Did the people who voted him into office twice, or who ever supported a needless war? Also, no. Did this or does this war and occupation serve any discernible legitimate purpose? Not in my opinion.

I’m among those who ever supported this war — so some of little Ali’s blood is on my hands too. At the time, I thought I was advocating protecting my own child and others from future attacks, ones worse than 9/11. Instead, if anything, I’ve made them more likely.

And if a Ms. Murphy speaks for any appreciable number of others, or if we passively allow this war to continue, we may collectively deserve the “terror nation” epithet Rev. Wright so controversially bestowed. Just as with Senator Durbin’s comments once about abuses at Guantanamo, what was said is not unthinkable. It’s not impossible. It may or may not always have been the truth, but it may be the truth now.

My own little Maddie turns 10 today. I love her dearly. I know this boy’s father must have loved him, too — look at him, he’s an angel even in his final moments. There’s nothing I can do for either of them but ask forgiveness — and do whatever peaceful thing I can think of to help bring this war to an end.


=====
* A zoomed out shot of the same scene, from a different angle, is part of the online photo slideshow for the story.
UPDATE, 5/10: The father speaks (ABC News):“You attacked civilians’ houses crowded with people for the sake of a few militants,” said Hussein’s father, his face in tears. “A considerable number of people were killed for the sake of killing four.”
CROSSPOSTED to American Street, Air America (via RSS feed)

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Mission accomplished! — "Responsible Plan" dropped off at Van Hollen’s office

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st May 2008

As advertised, I joined my friends Michelle Bailey, Hank Prensky, and Joy Austin-Lane in a short visit to Congressman Chris Van Hollen’s (D-MD-8) local Hyattsville office (just outside Takoma Park), to bring the Congressman a copy of “A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq.”

Michelle is a fellow impeachment activist — or I should say I am, she and Lisa Moscatiello were the ones who started Takoma Park impeachment activism, I joined in late. I was also very gratified that former Takoma Park City Council members Hank Prensky and Joy Austin-Lane joined us.

We met at a local cafe first and went over what we were going to say. I had brought along talking points supplied by TrueMajority.org which helped us gather our own thoughts.

I introduced the plan as a comprehensive legislative agenda calling for a complete exit from Iraq, with no permanent bases, that I hoped Rep. Van Hollen would be able to support. I noted that Rep. Van Hollen is indeed a co-sponsor of many of the legislative initiatives the plan highlights — for instance, a key bill calling for a diplomatic offensive with Iraq’s neighbors — which we thanked him for.

I also noted that the plan calls for an end to off-budget appropriations for the Iraq war; Mr. Prensky added that he hoped Van Hollen would vote against the looming Iraq supplemental appropriations bill. Ms. Austin-Lane recalled the opposition to the Iraq war in Takoma Park, and the City Council resolution she and Mr. Prensky voted for opposing it.

As an impeachment activist, Michelle added that she hoped Van Hollen would reconsider his opposition to impeachment; I joined her in that, but emphasized that wasn’t a feature of the plan we’d come to discuss.

I added that I hoped Van Hollen would consider making the “Responsible Plan” part of the DCCC’s 2008 agenda, and that I thought he should make sure to support the candidates who’ve endorsed it.

It was a pleasure meeting Mr. West, who staffs Chris Van Hollen’s Hyattsville office. He listened carefully, took notes, and told us he’d have the copy of the “Responsible Plan” in Rep. Van Hollen’s hands this afternoon.

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