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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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Monday, 29 May 2006
Perspective: A Memorial Day Best Forgotten
Topic: In these times...

Perspective: A Memorial Day Best Forgotten

Memorial Day 2006 was Monday, May 29, the official holiday, but all the big events had been the day before - the Indianapolis 500 was won by someone or other by a margin of 0.0068 seconds with a tricky slipstream pass in the last few feet, and the Spaniard in the French car (Alonso driving for Renault) won easily at the Monaco Grand Prix after the German driving the Italian car (Schumacher driving for Ferrari) just couldn't overcome having to start dead last after he cheated in the last qualifying run, stopping after a fine run and blocking his competitors from doing better (one thinks of George Bush playing rugby at Yale). Barry Bonds hit one more homerun, and so that day had finally hit one more than Babe Ruth ever did, but given the steroid business, no one celebrated. There was all sorts of completion to watch on television, even golf and poker, and competition to see live at the baseball parks coast to coast - and for those more active, the family stuff and picnics. Some visited the veterans cemeteries, some homes flew flags, but the holiday Sunday was full of the other stuff. What whatever you call "the other stuff," it wasn't exactly solemn. Much of it was about winning, somehow or other, and crowing about being the best. We are a competitive people.

Monday was different. As usual, the president laid a wreath at the tomb of The Unknown Soldier at Arlington, and said the right words - or words close enough. Honor the dead. They died for our freedom, or, to be stupidly precise, were killed by others for our freedom. They did the right thing, either way. There were words about the current war - the nation can best honor the dead by "defeating the terrorists ... and by laying the foundation for a generation of peace."

It may be becoming clear to many that "defeating the terrorists" is probably not a job best suited to the military, but, rather, something that's best done by a mixture of soft-power and example (be the "fix things" good guys not the avenging, stern, merciless punishers of all that is evil), and the tactics used by law enforcement organizations (which can be pretty sneaky and disruptive), and by messing up the flow of funds to the bad guys using the international financial system to starve them, and so on. But we have the military, our hammer, so all we see is nails everywhere that need to be hammered down. That's what the day was about.

And at the end of the day, Nedra Pickler, the Associated Press's White House reporter, famous for slanting things in the president's favor, has to admit the hammering is not going that well, opening with this - "Just when President Bush was trying to accentuate the positive in Iraq and declare a new beginning in the war on terror, a rash of bad news comes from multiple fronts in the global struggle."

Yep - new details about reports that Marines killed two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, last November in Haditha. The evidence mounts that it did happen, and now we have two investigations, one of the incident and one of a possible official cover-up, and congress wants their own investigation.

And the same day brought major riots in Kabul, Afghanistan. A convoy of at least three our Humvees drove into the city at high speed (a tactic to prevent attacks on them) and rammed into a rush-hour traffic jam, hitting all sorts of civilian cars. Oops. People died. Angry crowd gathered. Shots were fired. We say we only fired above the crowd, to make them go way. Afghani police did fire on the crowd, and city-wide you had your stone-throwing Afghans shouting "Down with America" and burning cars, and a UN building, and marching on our embassy, the presidential palace and ransacking buildings. The capital was shut down, and Karzai was on television trying to tamp things down. An account here says Kabul's worst riots since the fall of the Taliban. This is our ally - so we have fourteen dead one hundred forty two injured "in an outburst of rage against the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and at President Hamid Karzai, their ally." Great.

An Army spokesman later said that a large cargo truck in a coalition convoy had suffered a mechanical failure, bad brakes, hitting twelve civilian cars. No one cared much -
Mr Karzai, who postponed a three-day visit to Qatar, is a staunch friend of the West and has in the past been mocked as the "mayor of Kabul" for his tenuous grip on the country outside the capital.

Yesterday's violence exposed how tenuous this authority is even on his own doorstep.

... "Today's demonstration is because Americans killed innocent people," said Gulam Ghaus, a protester in his 20s, as he stood near a burnt-out police post.

"We will not stop until foreigners leave the city. We are looking for foreigners to kill."
This is not going well.

And there was Guantánamo again, as Memorial Day brought this -
About 75 detainees were engaged in a new wave of hunger strikes over Memorial Day weekend at the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the military announced Monday.

Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand theorized that the al Qaeda and Taliban suspects were staging a "short term, sympathy" protest to gain attention from the outside world in advance of the June 12 resumption of war-crimes trial proceedings there.

"The hunger strike technique is consistent with al Qaeda practice," said Durand.

He added that the protest "reflects detainee attempts to elicit media attention to bring international pressure on the United States to release them back to the battlefield."

... New York attorney Joshua Colangelo-Bryan said defense lawyers would only be able to learn who were the hunger strikers by meeting their clients at Guantanamo.

"Considering that many detainees gave up their hunger strikes earlier this year only because of abusive forced feeding techniques rather than through volitional choice, it's not surprising that a new, large-scale hunger strike has begun," said Colangelo-Bryan, who represents some Bahraini captives, including one who has repeatedly attempted suicide.

"After all, engaging in a hunger strike is one of the few means of protest available to detainees."

... Monday's announcement was extraordinary, issued early on a federal holiday. Guantanamo commanders have been more frank in recent weeks about disclosing detention challenges at the remote base, where no detainee has yet died in U.S. custody; the admiral in charge answered a question in detail recently about plans in the event a detainee does die.
Okay, is it a PR stunt, or could they be a tad upset about perpetual imprisonment without charges? Either way, it messed up the president's holiday, unless he's laughing his ass off, hoping someone does die.

But then the Independent (UK) notes a British legal rights group has just figured out that sixty of those we are holding at Guantánamo seem to be children, or were. That's here -
They include at least 10 detainees still held at the US base in Cuba who were 14 or 15 when they were seized - including child soldiers who were held in solitary confinement, repeatedly interrogated and allegedly tortured.

The disclosures threaten to plunge the Bush administration into a fresh row with Britain, its closest ally in the war on terror, only days after the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, repeated his demands for the closure of the detention facility. It was, he said, a "symbol of injustice."
Well, it's been four years, and they're adults now. And no one can prove anyone was tortured. And Lord Goldsmith is not Tony Blair. Tony says it's just fine, or will. And the Brits don't matter. They're not a world power, and haven't been for much more than a hundred years. Lord Goldsmith can rant. Blair will continue to sniff George Bush's jockstrap in ecstasy.

Still it's not a nice item to report on Memorial Day. Too many folks spent the day with their own kids. And too, only ten of these "detainees" have been charged anything at all, and these trials, the first held since WWII, are set to begin within a month or two, unless the Supreme Court rules in June that Bush overstepped his authority by ordering war-crimes trials for the Guantánamo crowd. A mess.

Meanwhile, as AP's Nedra Pickler puts it - "Add the trouble to the continuing daily violence in Iraq - at least 40 were killed in a series of bombings Monday, including two from a CBS News crew - and Bush could be in danger of losing even more support for his mission."

Maybe so, and "some in the White House have been arguing that he needs to do more to push back." Sure, say we're winning, really, and we really do have a plan, to win. Rinse. Repeat. You used to get a quick bump in the polls, so why not try again?

Somehow that may not work. People want specifics.

And this is pretty specific -
Two CBS News crew members and an American soldier were killed Monday during a wave of car bombings and shootings in Iraq that also killed at least three dozen other people. Network correspondent Kimberly Dozier was seriously wounded and underwent emergency surgery.

... At least eight bombings rocked the capital in the worst wave of violence in days. A car bomb exploded as a U.S. convoy patrolled in central Baghdad, killing veteran CBS cameraman Paul Douglas, 48; soundman James Brolan, 42; and an American soldier, U.S. officials said.

Dozier, a 39-year-old American, was in critical condition at a U.S. military hospital in Baghdad and underwent two surgeries for injuries from the bombing, said Kelli Edwards, a CBS News spokeswoman. By early Tuesday, doctors had removed shrapnel from Dozier's head but said she had more serious injuries to her lower body, CBS News reported on its Web site.

Dozier's relatives were planning to head to Germany, a man who answered the phone at her mother's home in Maryland said Monday night. The Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in southern Germany is the U.S. military's largest overseas hospital.

The CBS crew was on patrol with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, when the bomb exploded. The U.S. military said an Iraqi interpreter also was killed and six American soldiers were injured.
That's pretty specific.

So is this -
At least 37 other people were killed nationwide, most of them in Baghdad.

The attacks began just after dawn, with one roadside bomb killing 10 people and injuring another 12 who worked for an Iranian organization opposed to the Tehran regime, police said.

That bombing targeted a public bus near Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad in Diyala province, an area notorious for such attacks, provincial police said.

All the dead were workers at the Ashraf base of the Mujahedeen Khalq, or MEK. The group, made up of Iranian dissidents living in Iraq, said the dead were Iraqi workers heading to their camp.

A car bomb parked near Baghdad's main Sunni Abu Hanifa mosque killed at least nine Iraqi civilians and wounded 25, said Saif al-Janabi, director of Noaman hospital. It exploded at noon in north Baghdad's Azamiyah neighborhood and disintegrated the vehicle.

Rescue crews and Iraqi army soldiers helped carry stretchers toward waiting ambulances, AP Television News footage showed.

A bomb planted in a parked minivan killed at least seven people and wounded at least 20 at the entrance to an open-air market selling secondhand clothes in the northern Baghdad suburb of Kazimiyah.

Another parked car bomb exploded near Ibn al-Haitham college in Azamiyah, also in northern Baghdad, killing two civilians and wounding at least five - including four Iraqi soldiers, police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said.

In other attacks, a roadside bomb killed two police officers and wounded three others in Baghdad's Karradah district, while one man was killed and six were wounded when a bomb hidden in a minivan exploded.

A mortar shell exploded at a Shiite mosque in southern Baghdad's Zafraniyah district. Shiite militiamen sealed off the area and prevented police from approaching, said police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi.

Also, gunmen in separate incidents killed two police officers in western Baghdad; two police officers, identified as former Baathists, in Amarah, 180 miles southeast of Baghdad; and police Brig. Gen. Sadiq Jaafar Salih, director of the national ID card office in Diyala, authorities said.
Sure, say we're winning, really, and we really do have a plan, to win. Rinse. Repeat. You used to get a quick bump in the polls, so why not try again? The same day the new Iraqi parliament was still working on the appointment of someone, anyone, for defense and interior ministers - so they can stand up and we can stand down. That's not going well.

And that business last November in Haditha just keeps bubbling along in the background -

Here - "Military officials are close to bringing grave charges, including murder, against U.S. Marines in the deaths of two-dozen Iraqi civilians in November. Congress needs to pursue indications the military tried to cover up the apparently wrongful killings."

Here - "As military officials investigate the Haditha killings in Iraq, one of the Marines involved has spoken out about what he saw last year. Only hours after Iraqi civilians were killed, a second team of Marines was sent in to take the victims' bodies to a local morgue. Lance Corp. Ryan Briones was among the Marines sent in to recover the bodies, and he told the Los Angeles Times he is still haunted by what he saw, including a young girl who was shot in the head. '[The victims] ranged from little babies to adult males and females,' Briones told the newspaper. 'I can still smell the blood.'"

Here - "One of America's highest-ranking officers yesterday promised to "get to the bottom" of what is rapidly unfolding as one of the biggest scandals to hit the country's armed forces since the invasion of Iraq in 2003."

Here - "No good can come of speculation surrounding a Nov. 19 incident in Haditha, Iraq, in which 24 Iraqi civilians, including women and children, were killed in the aftermath of a roadside bomb attack, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today."

Here - The killing of Iraqi civilians by US Marines has done more damage to America's aims in Iraq than the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, a Democratic congressman and vocal war critic said on Sunday. Rep John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a decorated retired Marine, told ABC News there was "no question" that the US military tried to cover up the killing of as many as two dozen Iraqi civilians last year in the town of Haditha. 'I will not excuse murder,' Murtha said. 'And this is what happened. There's no question in my mind about it.'"

This needs to be settled.

Or it doesn't, as Reuters reports here -
Word that U.S. Marines may have killed two dozen Iraqi civilians in "cold-blooded" revenge after an insurgent attack has shocked Americans but many Iraqis shrug it off as an every day fact of life under occupation.

... As U.S. commentators talk of "Iraq's My Lai" and wonder if Haditha could have a similar effect as the 1968 massacre in Vietnam on public attitudes to the military and the war, few Iraqi leaders have mentioned the incident in a town 220 km (140 miles) northwest of Baghdad where Sunni rebels were very active.

... In Baghdad's bustling Karrada commercial district, Mohammed Jawdaat, 47, offered a typical view at his store, where business selling firefighting gear is booming amid the chaos of Baghdad: "It really doesn't surprise me," he said.

Like many in the city, he can recount an incident in which he says he saw U.S. forces open fire on civilians: "Six months ago a car pulled out of a street towards an American convoy and a soldier just opened fire," Jawdaat said.

"The driver was shot in the head and the person behind was killed too. They were innocents. There were no warning shots and the Americans didn't even stop. The police took the wounded."
And that's what they expect of us. We are not the "fix things" good guys, nor even the avenging, stern, merciless punishers of all that is evil. We are seen as a simple elemental danger, and like lightning from the sky that an stick you dead, what are you going to do?

And all that made for a strange Memorial Day.


Other thoughts?

There's this -
There is no "War on Terror."

There is, however, a "war" on the U. S. Constitution.

After September 11, 2001, we've learned that we can take a punch and move on. We've faced far worse threats to our national survival in our history - the Civil War, the War of 1812, World War II to name a few - but we never abandoned our Constitution. Until now.

Terror is an emotion. Emotions are part of human nature and cannot be eradicated. A "War on Terror" is therefore a war on humanity. The Bush administration has exploited the fear and shock of a nation in the wake of a surprising and dramatic act of violence to whip national fear and paranoia into a constant boil. Why?

The evidence suggests the whole point has been to seize power and steal money. We are witnessing a creeping coup in the United States, the overthrow of the idea, promulgated by our founders and by writers like Tom Paine, that the "Law is King"

... Today is Memorial Day. Today we remember countless patriots who died and fought for those freedoms our president tells us we must abandon... in the name of "freedom."

If there were really a "War on Terror," an emotion, Wes Craven would be hiring a lawyer: he scares people. The "War on Terror" is a sham. You know what changed after September 11th? We, the people of the United States, forgot how strong we are. We gave in to fear, when the only thing we should have feared was fear itself. Osama bin Laden wants you to be afraid. So does George Bush.

I know I'm not alone when I say, I'm an American and I'm not afraid. I know I'm going to die. I accept that I'm going to die, no problem. What I do not accept and will not accept is the notion that I must live as a slave to fear for the purposes of craven, cowardly men who, in their time, pissed the bed rather than fight an actual war, later to become powerful and use that power to line their pockets with my tax dollars. Give me liberty or give me death. Take your "terror" and shove it.

We went after the criminals who attacked us when we invaded Afghanistan, then quickly abandoned any pretense of being concerned with actual terrorists by fighting a ginned-up war of aggression against a tin-pot dictator for whom our chickenshit president and his buddies have always had a hard-on. If the U. S. were serious about thwarting terrorism or about minimizing our exposure to acts of violence designed to make us afraid, we would have rigorous port security and massive international goodwill and cooperation in the lawful identification of anarchic, violent networks. But we don't have that. We have our sons and daughters fighting to maintain bases in the sand near oil fields, sacrificing their lives, bodies and minds for a pack of lies.

Ann Coulter and other right wing totalitarian cheerleaders like to talk about traitors to America. George Bush and the Republicans have betrayed America, the actual laws of America and the very idea of America. On Memorial Day, as we remember our sons and daughters who have sacrificed their lives in the blistering sands of Iraq, it does their memory due honor to point this out. Noble men and women fallen, their blood cries out for lawful justice.

In each of our minds lies the beginning of our return to freedom, so please, say it after me: "There is no 'War on Terror.'"

It's high time for America and Americans to remember our strength. We need not be afraid. When we surrender to fear, we lose our country, we lose our faith in each other, we lose our future and we lose our freedom. The best way to honor the sacrifices of our nation's men and women killed in battle is to embrace, once again, that precious liberty.

It's time to be America again.
Over the top?

Try the mild-mannered Bob Herbert at the New York Times with this (very expensive subscription required) -
The point of Memorial Day is to honor the service and the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in the nation's wars. But I suggest that we take a little time today to consider the living.

Look around and ask yourself if you believe that stability or democracy in Iraq - or whatever goal you choose to assert as the reason for this war - is worth the life of your son or your daughter, or your husband or your wife, or the co-worker who rides to the office with you in the morning, or your friendly neighbor next door.

Before you gather up the hot dogs and head out to the barbecue this afternoon, look in a mirror and ask yourself honestly if Iraq is something you would be willing to die for.

There is no shortage of weaselly politicians and misguided commentators ready to tell us that we can't leave Iraq - we just can't. Chaos will ensue. Maybe even a civil war. But what they really mean is that we can't leave as long as the war can continue to be fought by other people's children, and as long as we can continue to put this George W. Bush-inspired madness on a credit card.

Start sending the children of the well-to-do to Baghdad, and start raising taxes to pay off the many hundreds of billions that the war is costing, and watch how quickly this tragic fiasco is brought to an end.

At an embarrassing press conference last week, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain looked for all the world like a couple of hapless schoolboys who, while playing with fire, had set off a conflagration that is still raging out of control. Their recklessness has so far cost the lives of nearly 2,500 Americans and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, many of them children.

Among the regrets voiced by the president at the press conference was his absurd challenge to the insurgents in 2003 to "bring 'em on." But Mr. Bush gave no hint as to when the madness might end.

How many more healthy young people will we shovel into the fires of Iraq before finally deciding it's time to stop? How many dead are enough?
And this -
Even those who share Bush's post 9/11 vision are puzzled by the bloody muddle of it that's been made. In the London Spectator of May 20 (online for subscribers only, alas), Philip Bobbitt, the author of The Shield of Achilles, articulated his exasperation at how the war on terror has been mangled.

"What [the Bush] administration has done - and I support the war in Iraq - what they have done is heartbreaking, because they have steadily removed the greatest source of their power, which was the rule of the law. You may think of Abu Ghraib as a battle, and we lost. Guantanamo is a battle that we have lost. It will cost us lives, it will cost us political influence, and above all it may cost us our strategic objectives. Not simply by ignoring it, but having a studied contempt for the law, and not just international law, and which needs desperately to be reformed, but for even our domestic laws. The administration has kicked away what should have been its strongest prop. It baffles me. And it angers me."
It seems a lot of folks were angry on Memorial Day.

Posted by Alan at 21:54 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006 22:12 PDT home

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