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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, 27 November 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Lining Up the Week: What's Hot News, What's Not

First a follow-up… In these pages a month ago - October 23, 2005, Doing Good, Doing It Right - you'd find an extensive discussion of the Australian television footage of our soldiers burning the corpses of two dead Taliban fighters with their bodies laid out facing Mecca, and using the images in a propaganda campaign in southern Afghanistan. At the time our guys said they burned the bodies for hygienic reasons - but then a psychological operations unit broadcast a propaganda message on loudspeakers to the Taliban guys, taunting them to retrieve their dead and fight, as in this -
Attention Taliban you are cowardly dogs," read the first soldier, identified as psyops specialist Sgt. Jim Baker.

"You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be."
Something was lost in translation there. He probably said "girly men."

We said it never happened. Now? Reuters - Saturday, November 26, 11:47 AM ET - US military admits it burned bodies. Well, we're still claiming the "hygienic reasons" thing, but four psyops guys are facing charges. As before, for immediate tactical advantage you sometimes screw up your larger strategic aim, which in this case might be to appear to be the good guys who bring civility and democracy and the rule of fair and dispassionate law to a land of chaos. Will the reprimand of four soldiers give us a mulligan here? Sorry about that. Our bad. Let's move on.

Case closed, maybe.

Of course, now the Brits have a bit of the same sort of problem, as reported in the Sunday Telegraph (UK) on November 27th - 'Trophy' video exposes private security contractors shooting up Iraqi drivers: "A 'trophy' video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal."

You see, the private contractors who help out in the war, for a lot of money, don't fall under anyone's jurisdiction actually. The video shows these guys randomly shooting civilians, just folks passing by, for giggles. The video uses an Elvis Presley thing for a soundtrack - Mystery Train. The company involved here is Aegis Defence Services, set up in 2002 by one Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, a former Scots Guards officer, and we learn these folks were recently awarded a £220 million security contract in Iraq by the United States. Aegis helped with the collection of ballot papers in the country's recent referendum. Good guys? Aegis said this really wasn't their people - they have no idea who was randomly picking off civilians in the video. But then this Spicer fellow had a problem back in 1998 when his private military company, Sandlines International, was accused of breaking United Nations sanctions by selling arms to Sierra Leone. One wonders about them, and what they do for dun.

Well, someone was blowing off steam, and showing the video for laughs. The locals are rather angry. The British Foreign Office? - "Aegis have assured us that there is nothing on the video to suggest that it has anything to do with their company. This is now a matter for the American authorities because Aegis is under contract to the United States."

Will we do something, or pass this back to the Brits? Or will we say the new Iraqi government should bring charges? It's their country now. Aegis says it looks like them but it isn't their guys, the Brits say it's our problem. We will probably say it's the Iraqis' problem - our troops were not involved and, if a crime has been committed, let the new local legal system deal with it.

The video is here (Windows Media) or here (QuickTime) - via the media resource site Crooks and Liars.

Minor note. Aegis - the goatskin shield or breastplate of Zeus or Athena. Athena's shield carried at its center the head of Medusa. Athena was the goddess of wisdom, of course. Yeah, right.

Sunday, November 27th also brought us the tale of Colonel Ted Westhusing, in the Los Angeles Times, here, which they ran on the front page, upper left. This fellow was a West Point guy, very bright, one of the leading scholars in military ethics. Like all West Point guys he was big on honor and duty. The question posed is where he killed himself or was murdered when he uncovered a load of corruption and "human rights violations" (random killing again and torture and that sort of thing) by private contractors we have working for us in Iraq.

Key passage -
So it was only natural that Westhusing acted when he learned of possible corruption by U.S. contractors in Iraq. A few weeks before he died, Westhusing received an anonymous complaint that a private security company he oversaw had cheated the U.S. government and committed human rights violations. Westhusing confronted the contractor and reported the concerns to superiors, who launched an investigation.

Westhusing seemed especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty, honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the U.S. had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military.
That's a curious conflict. Free enterprise and lack of regulation is supposed to be a good thing.

His suicide note?
"I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored.

Death before being dishonored any more.
Friends and family say this is crap. The guy was too bull-headed and single-minded in making things right to ever be suicidal. They go with the evidence the contractor bumped him off.

The Times reports the position of the military. Suicide. It comes down to the guy being too inflexible. They quote an Army psychologist explaining -
Westhusing had placed too much pressure on himself to succeed and that he was unusually rigid in his thinking. Westhusing struggled with the idea that monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war. This, she said, was a flaw.
Yep, you read that right. We take the position that the guy just didn't understand that sometimes profit matters more than doing the right thing. He should have lightened up.

Will our military contractors, our mercenaries for whom we accept no responsibility, be the topic of the week? Probably not.

Will this?

Ayad Allawi, formerly prime minister in the interim government of Iraq (his fifteen minutes of fame as the US-backed good guy, with a visit or two to the White House), drops this bomb in the British press -
In a damning and wide-ranging indictment of Iraq's escalating human rights catastrophe, Allawi accused fellow Shias in the government of being responsible for death squads and secret torture centres. The brutality of elements in the new security forces rivals that of Saddam's secret police, he said.

... 'We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where people are being interrogated,' he added. 'A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations. We are even witnessing Sharia courts based on Islamic law that are trying people and executing them.'

He said that immediate action was needed to dismantle militias that continue to operate with impunity. If nothing is done, 'the disease infecting [the Ministry of the Interior] will become contagious and spread to all ministries and structures of Iraq's government', he said.
Didn't Donald Rumsfeld say democracy was messy? Well, lots of lefty-loonies say we have made things worse - bringing back the terror of the Saddam regime (with different players this time) combined with little running water and no electricity in the major cities for large parts of each day, a strangled oil industry producing little funds for running things, roaming militias in army uniforms, or in the army, doing nasty things to old enemies, and so on. Now our guy, the former prime minister, is saying this? Drat. Time for Karl Rove to go after him.

On the other hand, as reported the Washington Post, you have Abdul Aziz Hakim, who heads the Shiite Muslim religious party that leads the current government, and who oversees the party's rather scary Badr Brigade ("death squads and secret torture centers" the specialty there), saying this is not so. He says we, the squeamish Americans, are keeping him from important work -
The leader of Iraq's most powerful political party has called on the United States to let Iraqi fighters take a more aggressive role against insurgents, saying his country will only be able to defeat the insurgency when the United States lets Iraqis get tough.

... Hakim gave few details of what getting tough would entail, other than making clear it would require more weapons, with more firepower, than the United States is currently supplying.

... In Iraq, "there are plans to confront terrorists, approved by security agencies, but the Americans reject that," Hakim said. "Because of that mistaken policy, we have lost a lot. One of the victims was my brother Mohammad Bakir, because of American policies."

"For instance, the ministries of Interior and Defense want to carry out some operations to clean out some areas" in Baghdad and around the country, including volatile Anbar province, in the west, he said.
Sounds like a Shiite civil or tribal war (they'll get around to "cleansing" the Sunnis later), and we're being asked to choose sides.

Which way will we go? Which Shiite faction will we support in eliminating the other? Decisions, decisions?

Then there's this, a rundown on investigative reporter Seymour Hersh's Sunday, November 27th appearance on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" discussing his latest New Yorker article "Up in the Air" - a chat providing a little more detail on the Bush administration's withdrawal proposal.

Yeah, you heard that right - White House Lays Foundation for US Troop Withdrawal, Sunday, November 27 - and they're saying that the plan is "remarkably similar" to a plan by Democratic senator Joe Biden, but they thought of it first, but this is not "cut and run." You see, things are going so well in getting the new Iraqi government up and running we've sort of, kind of won, or something.

So what was all that anger about that late Friday night with the witch-lady from Cincinnati calling the decorated Marine a coward and that forced vote to "stay the course" and all the rest? We're getting out anyway? This very odd.

But during the CNN interview Hersh said that although the Bush administration will probably withdraw US troops from the ground next year, that won't mean that will be the beginning of the end of the war. Not at all. Hersh has great sources in the military (in those Vietnam years he broke the story of the My Lai massacre) and says we will shift to an air war. We'll just let the guys in power there, whoever they are, tell us where to drop the bombs and let the chips fall where they may.

Of course the problem is obvious. We don't know why we're bombing this and that.
HERSH: It's the concern of a lot of people in the Pentagon. They'll tell you no, that they're going to be joint units. The Pentagon will officially say there's going to be joint units, Iraqi and Americans together. But eventually we know it will evolve into Iraqis calling in targets.

And it's not just spotting. We use a lot of sophisticated laser guided weapons and you have to have somebody on the ground to actually do a strike or illuminate a target with a laser beam for the plane to come in. And as I've had people in the Air Force say to me, what are we going to be bombing? Barracks? Hospitals? You know, who knows who's going to be telling us what to do?

BLITZER: So what you're hearing is that the U.S. air power, the U.S. Air Force, they're getting jittery even thinking about the fact that they may be called in to launch air strikes based on what they're getting from Iraqis on the ground.

HERSH: It is good to know there is a lot of ethics in the Air Force. There's a lot of guys that are, that drop the, they know the force of the weapons they have, and they don't want to be responsible for bombing the wrong targets. They don't want non-Americans telling them what to do. This is a real doctrinal issue that's being fought right now in the Pentagon.
But our guys will not be on the ground any longer. So what if we're asked to bomb some dude's cousin's wedding with a five hundred pound laser-guided thing because some uncle pissed him off?

Yeah, we get out and provide muscle for the Iraqi equivalent of the mob. We went to war for that? We lost over 2,100 of our guys to end up doing the bidding of folks with this grudge or that?

Great solution.

But it's not a "news" story. It's in the realm of "later" - where we might be soon.

In the realm of "now" there are other stories that might be good this week. There's that Abramoff scandal that might take down more than half of the Republican congressional leadership. That's cool. The links has all the names. Over in the UK the opposition party may do what Senator Pat Roberts' intelligence committee can't seem to get around to doing on this side of the pond - there, a full investigation of Blair's responsibility for manipulating questionable intelligence to con the Brit politicians into supporting this war. Here? More farting around. The other odd story - either a blip or something more - may be this from the Telegraph (UK), Bolton loses British backing for UN tactics. It seems Bolton suggested stopping all UN spending of any kind until there was real reform, shutting the place down, and even our best and truest ally decided that was madness. When you lose the Brits?

But will this week have more on Walter Pincus' Washington Post troubling scoop, Sunday, November 27, on the Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA?
The Defense Department has expanded its programs aimed at gathering and analyzing intelligence within the United States, creating new agencies, adding personnel and seeking additional legal authority for domestic security activities in the post-9/11 world.

The moves have taken place on several fronts. The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts - including protecting military facilities from attack - to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.

The Pentagon has pushed legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence. Backers say the measure is needed to strengthen investigations into terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
Why does that sound a little scary? Read a little into this and you'll see Harris Technical Services Corporation (HTSC) provides services to CIFA, as does Unisys, ISX and Sytex. All the branches of the armed services are involved too. The military hired the geeks to watch out for "treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage."

Is the military supposed to do this? What about laws like laws like that Posse Comitatus business?
Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said the data-sharing amendment would still give the Pentagon much greater access to the FBI's massive collection of data, including information on citizens not connected to terrorism or espionage.

The measure, she said, "removes one of the few existing privacy protections against the creation of secret dossiers on Americans by government intelligence agencies." She said the Pentagon's "intelligence agencies are quietly expanding their domestic presence without any public debate."
Who needs public debate? You have to trust the military, right?

You'll find a ton of supporting documentation here if you want to know more.

I see also CIFA has been reading at least two blogs - Jesus's General and Uncommon Thoughts. They report finding CIFA logons in the site statistics. Neither says nice things about the Bush administration, and they're pretty sarcastic. Treason? You never know. Time to check out the Just Above Sunset and As Seen from Just Above Sunset site meters. There are a lot of .MIL logons each week. May have to tone it down. Who would take care of Harriet-the-Cat if the editor has been "disappeared" as an enemy combatant? But the number of site visits each week is far too low for this to be a real worry.

Still, this is where we are these days. One should watch what one says.

And one might worry when that Hersh fellow adds this in his Sunday chat with Wolf Blitzer -
You know, Wolf, there is people I've been talking to - I've been a critic of the war very early in the New Yorker, and there were people talking to me in the last few months that have talked to me for four years that are suddenly saying something much more alarming.

They're beginning to talk about some of the things the president said to him about his feelings about manifest destiny, about a higher calling that he was talking about three, four years ago.

I don't want to sound like I'm off the wall here. But the issue is, is this president going to be capable of responding to reality? Is he going to be able - is he going to be capable if he going to get a bad assessment, is he going to accept it as a bad assessment or is he simply going to see it as something else that is just a little bit in the way as he marches on in his crusade that may not be judged for 10 or 20 years.

He talks about being judged in 20 years to his friends. And so it's a little alarming because that means that my and my colleagues in the press corps, we can't get to him maybe with our views. You and you can't get to him maybe with your interviews.

How do you get to a guy to convince him that perhaps he's not going the right way?

Jack Murtha certainly didn't do it. As I wrote, they were enraged at Murtha in the White House.

And so we have an election coming up - Yes. I've had people talk to me about maybe Congress is going to have to cut off the budget for this war if it gets to that point. I don't think they're ready to do it now.

But I'm talking about sort of a crisis of management. That you have a management that's seen by some of the people closely involved as not being able to function in terms of getting information it doesn't want to receive.
Blind at the top? On a mission from God and listening to no one?

Senator Urges Bush To Explain Iraq War, Sunday, November 27 - and that would be super Republican Warner of Virginia suggesting a series of FDR-style "fireside chats." Maybe Warner needs to rethink that.

We'll see what happens.

Posted by Alan at 21:53 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 27 November 2005 21:59 PST home

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