Topic: The Media
Editor's Choice: Hot News versus Military Matters
Thursday, January 12th, being a Thursday, was set aside for the usual - a photo shoot for the weekend edition of Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent to this daily web log. Driving around Hollywood, camera at the ready, seeking the unusual - and the last day of the Alito hearings burbled way on the car radio, or at least the last day of questioning. There will be one more day for "witnesses," who will say he's a fine fellow, or not. The Democrats have some grumpy people lined up. Alito won't be there. But the general consensus is the man will take his seat on the Supreme Court (one of the many "consensus" stories here, as if it matters). He revealed little, and nothing dramatic happened - his wife didn't leave in tears and no senators shouted at each other, as they did the previous day. Ah well, the questions were good, and the answers extraordinarily careful and masterfully non-committal.
But there was much talk, in the breaks, of this - "Supreme Court nominees are so mum about the major legal issues at their Senate confirmation hearings that the hearings serve little purpose and should probably be abandoned, Democratic Senator Joe Biden said Thursday."
So the Senator from Delaware, with that goofy smile and the too-perfect teeth, just up and said it. This was all a waste of time. Good for him. It's often said that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people, and this did seem to be a lot of strutting and striking valiant poses, and making what passes for splendid speeches these days, in one of these few times the members of this judiciary committee ever get a national television audience. They played it for all it was worth. Alito just seemed glum. It wasn't his show.
So those of us who follow politics and policy didn't really have to listen. Joe said so. Good. The jazz station from Long Beach was doing a lot of old Horace Silver stuff. Much better.
There was other news. There was what had been knocking around the bottom of many a news page for days, first flagged by the Chicago Police. Did you know that for between ninety and a hundred dollars you can get the cell phone records for any cell phone in America? If you have the name, and the number (or sometimes just the name), you can get a list of all outgoing and incoming calls for anyone at all.
No. That couldn't be true. But it is, as here this fellow plunked down 89.95 and purchased the cell phone records of General Wesley Clark, who was one of the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination last time around. The fellow called the general and confirmed that the records were just what they seemed. The calls placed are all there, with area codes and location and duration. And the incoming calls are all there. The fellow is now working on buying the cell phone records of George Stephanopoulos, the former Clinton aide who hosts the ABC "This Week" show, and those of the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, and the New York Time's Adam Nagourney. Investigative journalism just got baroque - everyone will know who is talking to whom, and the date, and the length of the call.
Who needs the NSA? Well, unlike the case with the NSA, those who buy these records won't know just what was said.
The other implications? There may be a few more divorces. Suspicious spouses won't even need to hire a private investigator. And will folks use their cell phones less? Will we see a return of pay phones, and phone booths? Who knows? Expect legislation. The cell phone is too much a part of everyone's life these days.
Still, this is curious. Privacy is for those who are very careful.
But putting all that aside, the most interesting stories of the day, other than those hearings and this cell phone business, were military.
There was this - one of our generals invoked his right not to incriminate himself in a court-martial of two soldiers who maintain that they were ordered to use dogs on prisoners at Abu Ghraib. There is, of course, the military, JAG equivalent of "taking the Fifth." You cannot be expected to testify to something that may implicate you in a crime -
The implications are obvious. Someone is not buying the "few bad apples" theory of how all this happened. We've moved into the realm of policy, and the higher-ups are covering their asses, and Pappas may sing so he doesn't face charges. How high will this go? The torture and abuse policy came from the top down, from Rumsfeld himself?
That would be interesting. This doesn't bode well for the administration.
From the Post article - "'It would seem in light of General Miller's invocation that there's more fire than smoke in terms of whether or not there was an authorized use of unlawful force,' said David P. Sheldon, an expert on military law."
More fire than smoke is not good for the administration, at least for Rumsfeld.
Here's some perspective -
Yeah, he was an artillery officer with no experience in running detention centers, but he got lots of information from the folks we held. It was all crap, but the volume of information was amazing. It looked good. And now he's shut up. He's not talking, for good reason.
More perspective on Miller here from Andrew Sullivan
And he's not talking.
From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis - "He isn't? Why not, then, torture him? If he's got a good reason not to talk he must know something interesting. Toss him in Leavenworth until he spills! Pull out his fingernails."
Leavenworth (Kansas) is home to both the famous prison and the US Army General Staff College. Make up you own comment on that.
As for Pappas, the commanding officer at Abu Ghraib, accepting immunity from prosecution this week, Jeralyn Merritt here digs up this from June 2004 in USA Today. This concerns Army Lieutenant Coronal Steven Jordan, the top military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib who oversaw interrogations, and summarizes what he said a sworn statement regarding one of our "ghost detainees" who had died while being interrogated -
This should be interesting.
But this was minor story. If it eventually brings down Rumsfeld and Cheney, and exposes the real guidelines - the "bad apples" were ordered to do what they did as a matter of secret prohibited-by-treaty-and-law policy - then the media will fit it in somewhere. Fox News will cover the missing white woman in Aruba. She's still missing.
But the oddest story to get play, against all this, is rather old. Perhaps this is because of a new poll - it seems only about nineteen percent of Americans think Iraqis can assemble a sound, democratic government in the next twelve months - one that is able to maintain order without our help. Seventy-five percent said they didn't believe that would ever happen. Bummer.
So when a senior British officer calls the US Army "its own worst enemy," people sit up and take notice. Maybe there's another way to get this whole thing back on track.
This first got press notice in The Guardian (UK) and the Sidney Morning Herald, and the story was picked up by the Washington Post (here, here and here , respectively).
The Guardian said "what is startling is the severity of his comments - and the decision by Military Review, a US army magazine, to publish them." Well, Military Review is printed bi-monthly in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, and quarterly in Arabic. Only twelve thousand copies are distributed. This is an obscure publication, or was until now.
You can read the whole thing here - item 2 - Changing the Army for Counterinsurgency Operations (.PDF format and fourteen dense pages). It has two editorial disclaimers up top -
That's a warning about more than the spelling, grammar, and paragraphing. The magazine, the Army, and the British government are washing their hands of this, although the magazine prints it. It's something to talk about.
The Guardian says what this Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster says reflects criticism and frustration voiced by British commanders of American military tactics. And he was the second most senior officer responsible for training Iraqi security forces. A Brigadier, by the way, is the equivalent of a one-star here.
What the verdict?
Plus: American soldiers were "almost unfailingly courteous and considerate."
Minus: At times "their cultural insensitivity, almost certainly inadvertent, arguably amounted to institutional racism."
Plus: The US army is imbued with an unparalleled sense of patriotism, duty, passion and talent.
Minus: "Yet it seemed weighed down by bureaucracy, a stiflingly hierarchical outlook, a predisposition to offensive operations and a sense that duty required all issues to be confronted head-on."
And he says our Army has a wonderful "can-do" approach - but that leads directly to another trait, "damaging optimism."
Optimism isn't always realistic or good? Phone George and tell him.
The idea is all this "is unhelpful if it discourages junior commanders from reporting unwelcome news up the chain of command."
The idea here is what the Brits have long said - US military commanders have failed to train and educate their soldiers in the art of counter-insurgency operations and the need to cultivate the "hearts and minds" of the local population.
Yeah, yeah. The Brits did well is Basra because they knew this stuff from dealing with Northern Ireland and all that. But Basra went sour too.
Our officers rag on the Brits for being too reluctant to use force - and their officers say all we want to do is "to kill or capture all terrorists and insurgents: they saw military destruction of the enemy as a strategic goal in its own right." Yeah, all we know how to do is that - "the US army has developed over time a singular focus on conventional warfare, of a particularly swift and violent kind."
But we think it works. This guy says "such an unsophisticated approach, ingrained in American military doctrine, is counter-productive, exacerbating the task the US faced by alienating significant sections of the population."
From The Guardian -
So what is the answer?
Colonel Kevin Benson, director of the US Army's School Of Advanced Military Studies, told the Post the brigadier was an "insufferable British snob." But he took that back. He said he was just upset. He's going to write a response.
The Post notes that Lieutenant General David Petraeus - the man who "runs much of the Army's educational establishment, and also oversees Military Review" - said he doesn't agree with many of this guy's assertions, but "he is a very good officer, and therefore his viewpoint has some importance, as we do not think it is his alone."
Nope it isn't his alone. The Guardian notes that General Sir Mike Jackson, the head of their army, told their MPs in April 2004 just as our forces attacked Fallujah - "We must be able to fight with the Americans. That does not mean we must be able to fight as the Americans."
Is this all "inside baseball" - and not really news?
Not when General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Thursday, January 12th, issues a public statement, as reported here. He calls the critique "very helpful" "in opening debate but "off the mark" because we're not too centralized. And as for the rest - "If only one percent of what he said turned out to be something that needs to be adjusted to, then we are all better off for it."
Rumsfeld said he had not read the article, but he said - "Broad sweeping generalizations of that type need to be supported by information." He doesn't believe any of it?
Okay, time to reread the Graham Greene novel about Vietnam - all about "damaging optimism." That's what made The Quiet American so dangerous, after all.
Well, optimistically, this Alito fellow will be just fine on the Supreme Court, and listen and think things through and be fair. And the cell phone thing will be straightened out, as more and more folks buy the detailed phone records of their congressmen and senators. And in Iraq we'll move from playing "whack-a-mole" and figure out how to get that place up and running so we can move on.
Or maybe not.
By the way, from the photo shoot mentioned up top, a narrative photo (every picture tells a story?) - the Stella Adler Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, Thursday, January 12, 2006, about noon. Note the lower left.