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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Sunday, 24 July 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

News of What Didn't Happen, and of What Won't Happen


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) long ago filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request - joined by the Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, Veterans for Peace and the Center for Constitutional Rights - to force release of the remaining eighty-seven photographs and four videos from Abu Ghraib prison thing. The photos were among thousands turned over by the key "whistleblower" in the scandal, Specialist Joseph M. Darby - and only a few were released to the press previously. Those set off the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal last year. It has been said the video images are even more dreadful than anything seen so far.

This may be a classic case pitting "we need to know what's being done in our name" against "we'd rather not know what's being done in our name" - with the outlying position that some folks think whatever happened (apparently child rape, casual murder, gleeful but fruitless torture) was necessary and justified, if only to let the rest of the world know we can do this sort of thing and no one can stop us, so the rest of the world had better watch out. This last position is that these sorts of thing keeps us safe.

Needless to say, the Pentagon has resisted releasing the material - claiming this problem or that each time they received a judicial ruling that they had to release the stuff. One Pentagon lawyer previously argued that the material should not be released because it would only add to the humiliation of the prisoners. The ACLU countered saying the faces of the victims can easily be "redacted." Whatever.

Anyway, early last Friday news surfaced that lawyers for the Pentagon had this time flat-out refused to cooperate with a federal judge's order to release these unseen photographs and videos from Abu Ghraib. They had until Saturday. They said no. They came up with a new one, and filed a motion to oppose the release of the photos and videos, based on an entirely different argument than any they had used before: they are now requesting a 7(F) exemption from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act "to withhold law enforcement-related information in order to protect the physical safety of individuals."

So nothing was released.

Whose safety is at risk? One cannot tell as their 7(F) exemption motion is sealed. One could presume the material is so inflammatory that the risk is to the domestic population. The "bad guys" are going to be ticked off.

Greg Mitchell over at Editor and Publisher (July 23) takes up the story:
So what is shown on the 87 photographs and four videos from Abu Ghraib prison that the Pentagon, in an eleventh hour move, blocked from release this weekend? One clue: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress last year, after viewing a large cache of unreleased images: "I mean, I looked at them last night, and they're hard to believe." They show acts "that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhumane," he added.

A Republican Senator suggested the same day they contained scenes of "rape and murder." No wonder Rumsfeld commented then, "If these are released to the public, obviously it's going to make matters worse."
You've already got your detainees being threatened, sodomized with a chemical light and forced into sexually humiliating poses, of course. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has seen what more is there: "... we're talking about rape and murder here. We're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience. We're talking about rape and murder - and some very serious charges."

From the Boston Herald, May 8th, 2004, this:
The unreleased images show American soldiers beating one prisoner almost to death, apparently raping a female prisoner, acting inappropriately with a dead body, and taping Iraqi guards raping young boys, according to NBC News.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the scandal is "going to get worse" and warned that the most "disturbing" revelations haven't yet been made public.
From the investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, this:
The women were passing messages saying "Please come and kill me, because of what's happened". Basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys/children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. The worst about all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking.
You get the idea.

Simultaneously, Vice President Cheney is leading the effort to have Bush veto the bill for next year's defense programs - all 442 billion of it - if a bunch of "weak" Republicans add provisions to the bill to regulate what might be considered torture or abuse, and to investigate allegations of that sort of thing. The provisions "on the standard of treatment of prisoners" are sponsored by John McCain, who himself, as we all recall, spent years as a prisoner of war. He might know something. Or he might not. As you also recall, Karl Rove successfully painted McCain as mentally unbalanced because of that, and also suggested McCain had fathered a black "love child" with a crack addict - and that won Bush the South Carolina primary back in the run-up to the 2000 election. Bush later apologized and told McCain it was "just politics." What does Dick Cheney think of McCain?

Reuters covers the current issue this way:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Thursday threatened to veto a massive Senate bill for $442 billion in next year's defense programs if it moves to regulate the Pentagon's treatment of detainees or sets up a commission to investigate operations at Guantanamo Bay prison and elsewhere.

The Bush administration, under fire for the indefinite detention of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and questions over whether its policies led to horrendous abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, put lawmakers on notice it did not want them legislating on the matter.

... "If legislation is presented that would restrict the president's authority to protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack and bring terrorists to justice," the bill could be vetoed, the statement said.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who endured torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said after meeting at the Capitol with Vice President Dick Cheney that he still intended to offer amendments next week "on the standard of treatment of prisoners."

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was working on legislation defining the legal status of enemy combatants being held in Guantanamo, also said he would offer an amendment.
According to this in the Washington Post last week the Bush administration was lobbying to block legislation supported by Republican senators that would bar our military from engaging in "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of detainees, and from hiding prisoners from the Red Cross, and from using interrogation methods not authorized by a new Army field manual. The Post also reports that Cheney met last Thursday night with three senior Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee "to press the administration's case," and this was the second time that Cheney had met with Senate members to "tamp down" this incipient Republican rebellion.

Well, these off-the-reservation Republican troublemakers have "publicly expressed frustration" about what they consider to be the administration's "failure to hold any senior military officials responsible" for detainee abuse in Iraq and elsewhere.

But this in the Post item is cute:
The Republican effort is intended partly to cut off an effort by Senate Democrats to attach more stringent demands to the defense bill regarding detainees. One group, led by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), has proposed an amendment calling for an independent commission - similar to the Sept. 11 commission - to look into administration policies on interrogation and detainee abuse.
So the rebels were just trying to be good Republicans, and get the jump on the Democrats who might call for even more - like a commission!

But still, Cheney is on the warpath. He wants this all stopped!

As Hunter, over at Daily Kos puts it -
So on one hand, the Bush administration is frantically blocking the release of the photographic proof of the most horrific war crimes committed in U.S. military-run prisons.

On the other hand, the Bush administration is simultaneously threatening to veto any attempts by McCain, Graham or others to establish even rudimentary rules banning such torture - or even investigating the torture already documented.

I think it's time to invent some new swearing, because there isn't anything currently in the language that fully encompasses the White House's unapologetic attempts to ensure the Bush administration's own crafted and approved "interrogation" policies be allowed to continue unhindered. Yes, according to the Bush administration, any attempts by Republican senators to legislate against, say, the sodomizing of detained children are unduly infringing on the president's fight against terrorists.

Truly, there is no sunken depth to which this White House does not feel comfortable indulging itself in.
Overheated? Perhaps, but some of it all has been surfacing all along, like this from Scotland's Sunday Herald way back in August last year.
It was early last October that Kasim Mehaddi Hilas says he witnessed the rape of a boy prisoner aged about 15 in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. "The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets," he said in a statement given to investigators probing prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib. "Then, when I heard the screaming I climbed the door ? and I saw [the soldier's name is deleted] who was wearing a military uniform."

In another witness statement, passed to the Sunday Herald, former prisoner Thaar Salman Dawod said: "[I saw] two boys naked and they were cuffed together face to face and [a US soldier] was beating them and a group of guards were watching and taking pictures and there was three female soldiers laughing at the prisoners. The prisoners, two of them, were young."

Proof of the widespread arrest and detention of children in Iraq by US and UK forces is contained in an internal UNICEF report written in June.
Well, we'd never let such things be reported in our press. Where do they get such stuff? From our own government, in the The Taguba Report (PDF) from last year.

Andrew Sullivan:
A few weeks ago, I predicted on the Chris Matthews Show that more photographs of the Abu Ghraib abuses and torture would be released by the end of last month. After all, a judge had ruled in favor of the ACLU's request for the materials. The government obeys the law of the land, doesn't it? Not in this administration, which has, by presidential memo, declared the president above the law in fighting the war on terror.

Now they have deployed one last, desperate tactic to keep the real truth about Abu Ghraib from reaching the public.

The Bush administration first argued that dissemination of the photos would violate the Geneva Conventions. Ahem.

When that failed, they argued in a sealed brief to the court that the photos "could result in harm to individuals." Like the soldiers and commanders responsible for abusing prisoners? Or the political masters who made such abuse legal?

Look: I know we are at war and these photographs could inflame passions further. But they could also give the lie to the administration's claim that the prison was only the site for a handful of rogue soldiers making up rules on the night shift. They could give the lie to the notion that what happened at Abu Ghraib was merely "frat-house rough-housing." They could show rape and murder and torture - with legal cover sanctioned by White House memos. They could finally force someone to take responsibility for what happened, and for the policies that are still in place allowing for abusive treatment of prisoners.

We can fight a war and remain a humane, law-abiding culture as well. We'll soon see if we still live in a country in which the president is subject to the law.
Yeah, dream on.

And Sullivan also quotes some detail from the Post item about these proposed amendments to military appropriations bill. It seems the amendments would -
... set uniform standards for interrogating anyone detained by the Defense Department and would limit interrogation techniques to those listed in the Army field manual on interrogation, now being revised. Any changes to procedures would require the defense secretary to appear before Congress.

It would further require that all foreign nationals in the custody or effective control of the U.S. military must be registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross - a provision specifically meant to block the holding of "ghost detainees" in Iraq, in Afghanistan or elsewhere...
Yeah, another McCain amendment prohibits the "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone in the custody of the U.S. government. And this provision is modeled after wording in the UN Convention Against Torture - which the United States has already ratified. But that would overturn an administration position that the convention does not apply to foreigners outside the United States.

McCain and these guys are making trouble, and Sullivan points out the administration's difficult position now -
Why would the Bush administration want to retain the option to use "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of detainees? They don't support torture, do they? The amendment would simply bring order and law to what has been a free-wheeling and disastrously inept detention policy, made up by Bush officials as they went along. It beggars belief that, after Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Gitmo and the dozens of deaths in interrogation that the administration wouldn't want some way out of its own impasse.

But no: as so often, it sticks its heels in, and refuses to acknowledge an obvious and terrible mistake in the war. I look forward to the hard right describing McCain as a leftist or unpatriotic because he wants to restore America's reputation as a country that acts ferociously but always humanely in its own defense.
Well, calling McCain leftist or unpatriotic may come soon, or they'll trot out the "mentally unbalanced" thing again, or go back to the illicit interracial sex thing.

We'll see how this plays out.

Somehow it seems a morality play. On one side, the pragmatists and realists, who seem to claim common decency is just stupid these days, if not dangerous, and maybe it always was. On the other side, the idealists who remember what this country once was, or tried to be - and think it should still be.


Will this story have legs? Over the weekend Frank Rich, is his weekly make-those-in-power-uncomfortable column in the New York Times recalled something many had forgotten about this CIA leak story - Wilson blows the White House WMD tall tales sky high and folks at the White House, maybe Bush's Brain, Rove, orchestrate a way to get back at him by blowing his wife's cover as a CIA agent working undercover to help control the spread of WMD and such. The issue Rich raises has to do with the day the investigation of this all started:
As White House counsel, [Alberto Gonzales] was the one first notified that the Justice Department, at the request of the C.I.A., had opened an investigation into the outing of Joseph Wilson's wife. That notification came at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 29, 2003, but it took Mr. Gonzales 12 more hours to inform the White House staff that it must "preserve all materials" relevant to the investigation.
Ah, think Rosemary Wood and the missing eighteen and a half minutes of Nixon talk that mysteriously got erased way back when.

Yep, as this came up on the Sunday talk shows:
On CBS's Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer noted that this time gap would have "give[n] people time to shred documents and do any number of things." Gonzales argued that he asked for and received permission from the Justice Department to wait until the next morning to order White House staff to preserve all documents regarding their contacts with journalists about Valerie Plame. But he did tell one person the night before?

SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you the obvious question, Mr. Attorney General. Did you tell anybody at the White House, get ready for this, here it comes?

GONZALES: I, I told one person, ah, in, in the White House of, of the notification, and, and ?


GONZALES: and immediately - ah, I told the chief of staff. And immediately the next morning, I told the President and, shortly thereafter, there was a notification sent out to all the members of the White House staff.
What that means?

This: "So the one person who knew that an investigation was underway was Chief of Staff Andrew Card, who also happened to be aboard Air Force One in July 2003 with Ari Fleischer, Colin Powell, and the top secret State Department document that contained the identity of Valerie Wilson. So, did Card tell Rove or Libby or anyone for that matter the night before Alberto Gonzales sent out the email to staff that they would soon be asked to preserve all documents?"

Ah, there's probably nothing to it all. Would these guys use the twelve hour gap to shred embarrassing evidence? That would be wrong.

Steven Brant does offer one interesting detail: "I wish you could have seen Bob Schieffer's face as he came back from commercial break to his next guest, Senator Joe Biden, who he then took up this issue with. Bob Schieffer said to Joe Biden (I'm paraphrasing here... I'll post the transcript when it's available) 'You know, everyone in The White House has these Blackberries. And you have to wonder what sort of message Andrew Card emailed at 8 pm to the other people in The White House... what sort of documents could have been shredded in those twelve hours.'"

Democratic senator Biden is not a trusting fellow, is he?

Nothing may come of this all, but Rich also adds another gem, his theory on why Bush's life-long friend Alberto Gonzales did not get that Supreme Court nomination:
When the president decided not to replace Sandra Day O'Connor with a woman, why did he pick a white guy and not nominate the first Hispanic justice, his friend Alberto Gonzales? Mr. Bush was surely not scared off by Gonzales critics on the right (who find him soft on abortion) or left (who find him soft on the Geneva Conventions). It's Mr. Gonzales's proximity to this scandal that inspires real fear.

... A new Gonzales confirmation process now would have quickly devolved into a neo-Watergate hearing. Mr. Gonzales was in the thick of the Plame investigation, all told, for 16 months.
Yeah, it would have been messy.

Posted by Alan at 22:11 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 24 July 2005 22:31 PDT home

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