Saturday, June 11, 2005


In their last throes (updated)

(Via Buzzflash) There's a good piece by Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe on the state of the Iraqi insurgency—
U.S. military officials have documented more disturbing trends.

The number of attacks involving suicide bombers, for example, rose from 25 percent in February to more than 50 percent in April, according to estimates provided by Pentagon officials, who asked not to be identified.

The first two weeks of May saw 21 suicide attacks in Baghdad alone; there were just 25 in all of 2004.

Meanwhile, two U.S. soldiers on average continue to die each day. Many more are wounded, and untold thousands of Iraqi civilians are being caught in the crossfire.

But it's the Cheney-as-madman section of the article that I wanted to mention—

... recent comments to that effect by Vice President Dick Cheney, who said on May 31 that the insurgency was in its "last throes," took many U.S. officials and analysts by surprise, Pentagon officials and others with extensive knowledge of the war said in a series of interviews. The available data, they said, simply do not support such a claim.

"That is the most extreme form of wishful thinking," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military specialist at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "There is simply no basis for making that statement.

What it in fact is, is an extreme form of lying, cynicism and media manipulation. Cheney is no longer battling for control of Iraq; he's battling for control of the U.S. and trying to buy time. He knows that the broadcast media will dutifully convey his remarks and he has little choice but to put on a brave face.

It mirrored the Memorial Day script of George Bush—

Another generation is fighting a new war against an enemy that threatens the peace and stability of the world. Across the globe, our military is standing directly between our people and the worst dangers in the world, and Americans are grateful to have such brave defenders. (Applause.) The war on terror has brought great costs. For those who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, today is a day of last letters and fresh tears. Because of the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, two terror regimes are gone forever, freedom is on the march, and America is more secure. (Applause.)

.... we must honor them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives, by defeating the terrorists, advancing the cause of liberty, and building a safer world. (Applause.)

Iraq is now a "terror regime," and Bush once again conflates Iraq with his War on Terror. These are not off-the-cuff remarks; Bush doesn't know that many words. This is a cynical, lying attempt to manipulate the public by whoever approved his speech.

They really are desperate, you know. And desperate people can be dangerous.

6/12/05 - 6:00 pm

I discovered that the link I posted yesterday was to a truncated version of Bender's article. I've changed the link to the complete version.

I had to wonder why the Arizona Central cut the last 10 paragraphs. My guess is that it was old news—that the U.S. has been trying to negotiate with elements of the Sunni insurgency. But the article briefly captures one more effort by the government to put a smiley face on the war—

... one positive sign, US and Iraqi officials assert, is that the representatives of the insurgents have even agreed to sit down face to face, something they had previously been unwilling to do.

And no good article on Iraq can omit a touch of black comedy—

US and Iraqi officials maintain that some insurgents -- particularly the foreign extremists led by Al Qaeda lieutenant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- cannot be negotiated with because they have too much blood on their hands.

What would the Democrats say if the Bushies get caught negotiating with al-Qaeda?

Previous post
Superfluous beliefs (6/10/05)


Statistic of the Day

The AP poll shows there is no longer a single area in which the public approves of the job Bush is doing.
—Dan Froomkin in "The Increasingly Unpopular President"

Friday, June 10, 2005


Superfluous beliefs

Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly-
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
Invisible Woe!

That motley drama—oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.

—Excerpt from "The Conqueror Worm" by E.A. Poe

I've just been catching up a bit on Iraq punditry (thanks to Information Clearing House for the links) and was struck by how easily the obvious gets buried in denial and metaphor. And the obvious to which I refer is the true U.S. reason for going to war.

John Deutch, one of the CIA directors under Clinton and an academic, gave an annual oration to Phi Beta Kappa. Alvin Powell of the Harvard Gazette wrote in his report of it—

Deutch's talk reviewed the arguments surrounding the Iraq war's start and he said he accepts the Bush administration's contention that officials thought Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. But he also said that he believes there was a deeper reason behind the military action: the belief that intervention would result in "a near-spontaneous conversion of Iraq, and with luck, the entire Middle East, to a democratic society."

Deutch's own beliefs about the Bush administration's intentions oddly seem to mirror what the administration has said of itself to the public. First, that we were invading Iraq to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction. Then when that didn't pan out, that we invaded Iraq to bring democracy to the Middle East. If this is the best insight that Deutch has been able to gain, I'm glad he's no longer director of the CIA—not that it matters any more.

Deutch calls for withdrawal from Iraq—

Deutch supported the five steps to disengagement in Iraq outlined by U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in January, including letting Iraqis make their own political decisions, adopting a clear exit strategy and timetable, beginning the military withdrawal, establishing regional diplomacy to discourage external intervention in Iraq, and continued training of Iraqi forces.

Since he doesn't understand—or more likely, won't acknowledge—why we're there in the first place, his steps for disengagement leave a few rungs off the ladder—and leave several in place that are the very opposite of disengagement.

Of the steps Deutch enunciates, Step One, "letting Iraqis make their own political decisions," just may result in the decision to partition the 80-year-old nation-state. Step Four needs to be examined very carefully to determine just what the administration has in mind. And Step Five is ridiculous. "Continued training of Iraqi forces" is what the U.S. now says is its principal activity. This is not disengagement but occupation under a different name. Withdrawal means withdrawal of all American military forces—period. Anything less is only the camel's nose under the tent.

But the first step in disengagement must take place in the United States. That step ideally would be the revelation of the Bush administration as the liars and war criminals that they are. Short of that it may be possible to put them in sufficient fear of such revelations that some kind of wink-and-nod compromise can be worked out behind the scenes to let them duck and run—thereby saving their sorry asses. In fact, given our political and cultural history, the latter scenario seems far more likely.

On the topic of revelations let me shift to the Downing Street memo. This memo is not the Iraq War's equivalent of the Pentagon Papers, but it will have to do for now. The media have grudgingly been forced to acknowledge its existence, and a few newspapers are expressing shock at its contents.

Such was yesterday's editorial in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which began

On the subject of when, why and how the United States decided to attack Iraq, American citizens' recent seeming lack of interest has been a puzzle to many in the rest of the world. As the Bush administration's stated reasons for war shifted, ebbed and flowed, many simply went with the flow, finding each succeeding reason -- well, reason enough. Some became more and more skeptical, even cynical; others just didn't know what to believe.

To the rest of the world the reason seems quite obvious (and is). So naturally the world is puzzled why the American public can't seem to get it.

The editorialist reviews the memo's contents, then concludes—

Attorney General Lord Goldsmith explained in the meeting that, as the memo relates, "the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation."

How could one of those occur? Blair did not address his own response to Straw and Goldsmith as described in the memo: "The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors."

This is stunning. As Mark Danner wrote in Sunday's New York Review of Books, "Thus the idea of UN inspectors was introduced not as a means to avoid war, as President Bush repeatedly assured Americans, but as a means to make war possible."

The editorialist finally limps off the page with—

These and other points make the Downing Street memo one more in a string of accounts that undercut the administration's version of events. Tuesday's brief, narrow denials may have generated the desired headlines, but they did little to set the record straight.

And neither did the editorial writer by neglecting to address the topic raised in his opening paragraph.

The one thing the Downing Street memo does not reveal is why this administration wanted to go to war. It refers to a "desire for regime change" but fails to say what lay behind that desire. This omission is of paramount importance; yet like the silent hound of the Baskervilles, no one is noticing the memo's silence on the topic.

Two days ago Ted Rall, a writer I admire, fell victim to confusing the tactics of propaganda with the reason for this war and ends up painting the Bush administration as a victim of its own propaganda—

Purveyors of propaganda, like pushers of narcotics, seal their doom when they start partaking of their own product.

Politicians live or die on their sense of what the average voter cares about and suss out their take on any given issue. Republican leaders put a thumb right on the national pulse after 9/11: Americans were willing to do just about anything in the name of fighting terrorism, including going to war against two countries that had little to nothing to do with the attacks. Working up the gay-bashing anti-abortion bigots proved equally potent in 2004. But victory wasn't the blank check for which they'd hoped. They lost touch. They believed their own hype. They overreached.

George Bush is quasi-delusional and very well may believe his own hype—or at least some of it. But that is irrelevant to this war, which Bush did not and could not start of his own accord.

Cheney and the Powers-That-Be may be disappointed that reality has turned out to be such a bad sport, but I do not believe they are deluded, as you would ordinarily understand the term. And while I certainly hope they will get their comeuppance, I am far from certain of it.

Rather early in life I had a brief exposure to some true corporate bigwigs—the movers and shakers—and I was amazed at their indifference to anything I would recognize as truth.

Some months ago I used what may be an apocryphal quote from Jeb Bush as the Quote of the Day—

The truth is useless. You have to understand this right now. You can't deposit the truth in a bank. You can't buy groceries with the truth. You can't pay rent with the truth. The truth is a useless commodity that will hang around your neck like an albatross -- all the way to the homeless shelter. And if you think that the million or so people in this country that are really interested in the truth about their government can support people who would tell them the truth, you got another think coming. Because the million or so people in this country that are truly interested in the truth don't have any money.

Whether Jeb Bush said this or not, I do not doubt for a moment that it represents his perception of the world, and it is also the perception of those who are conducting this war.

So now that I've led you down this garden path, you may be wondering to what end. You may even have surmised that I've brought you here only to say that we went to war for oil.

But I didn't. Oil itself is only a means to an end. If the world were as heavily dependent on nuclear fission as it is for petroleum, we would be after the uranium producers of the planet.

"We the people" are not after anything but a reasonably quiet and comfortable existence, but our rulers are. They are not after oil; they are after power. Perfect, complete, absolute power. Imperial power. Totalitarian power.

If you imagine that they are about anything else, that they hanker for anything else, that they are motivated by anything else, you are holding a belief about their goals that is superfluous. As George Bush père so famously said, "I like being President." But he was only voicing the shared sentiments of his class.

... one cannot fairly satisfy the great without injury to others, but that is not true of the people, whose objectives are more honest. For the former wish to exercise oppression, and the latter merely to avoid it.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


Update on "Whistleblower mugged"

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Will the Supremes now take the Padilla case?

The case of Jose Padilla, now held on the word of George Bush without charges or trial for over 3 years, will be reviewed in the Supreme Court's conference tomorrow to determine if they will hear it.

Last year the Supremes booted the case back to the lower courts because of what they said was a jurisdictional problem. Padilla's lawyers refiled the case in South Carolina.

According to Bethany Broida of Legal Times, the refiled charges "named Cmdr. C.T. Hanft, the commander of the Navy brig where Padilla is being held, as the defendant." So the case is now known as Padilla v. Hanft.

In February 2005, the U.S. District Court in South Carolina agreed with an earlier ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York and found that the government had no grounds to hold Padilla indefinitely, ruling that he must either be charged with a crime or released.

The issue of the moment is whether the Supremes will allow Padilla to leapfrog over the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has already granted an expedited hearing. The government is trying to drag this out as long as possible and is urging that Supreme Court involvement would be "premature." But at a minimum, a hearing before the Fourth Circuit will add months to Padilla's confinement. And in any event, the case will not be heard before the court begins a new session in October.

Here at Simply Appalling, Supreme Court review does not seem "premature." "Urgent" is the word that comes to mind.

"Here we have an American citizen who has been detained without trial for three years," says Jenny Martinez, the counsel of record for Padilla and an assistant professor at Stanford Law School. "At some level there is something fundamentally unfair with the government saying, 'We can keep you locked up forever and we can keep changing [the charges].'"

The legal foundation for the government's case is this—

... the government argues that Padilla's continued detention is lawful under the resolution passed by Congress shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that allows the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against those "he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks."

Doesn't the word "appropriate" imply "within constitutional bounds"? And if it doesn't, does the Congress have the power to authorize unconstitutional actions by the President? The Supreme Court's decision will say a lot about how far we've come along the road to totalitarianism, though the fact that Padilla has been held without charges for over three years already says plenty.


Quote of the Day

I've always thought being a gay social conservative was not unlike being a black Klansman. Even if you could get away with it, why in the world would you want to?
—Leonard Pitts in his column "Wrestling with the conservative-approved model of 'being gay'"

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Whistleblower mugged (updated)

I don't know what to make of this story, but any way you slice it, it is remarkable. If you didn't catch the news today of the mugging of Tommy Hook, auditor at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Bradley Graham and Griff Witte of the Washington Post gave one of the more coherent accounts.

Now comes this brief and at times incoherent story from Albuquerque's KRQE-TV—

The Los Alamos whistle blower says he won't be intimidated after he was brutally beaten over the weekend. However, KRQE News 13's has learned investigators are now questioning Tommy Hook's story.

Federal? State? Local?

Hook insists the beating at a Santa Fe strip club over the weekend was brought on because he is scheduled to talk to congress next week. But investigators now say there are inconsistencies in the time frame of around the incident.

The man has his jaw wired, has suffered severe trauma and is under sedation. Not to mention that he had a stroke about a year and a half ago. I would be surprised if there were not inconsistencies in the time frame. Clearly someone wants to put Tommy Hook's credibility in doubt without disclosing anything more than innuendo.

Hook says he was pulled from his car and beaten by at least four men last Saturday.

He says he drove the club after receiving a call from someone saying they were a Los Alamos lab employee. Hook says the caller claimed to have more information that would useful to Hook as he prepared to testify before congress.

When I read in other accounts that Hook says the man asked to meet him at the only stripper bar in Santa Fe, why was I thinking "Set up!"?

"This individual was telling me I should keep my F***in mouth shut. And I immediately jumped to the lavatory when he said that that he was trying to keep me from not having me not talk in front of congress," said Hook in an interview with CBS News.

This garbled paragraph is interesting for its reference to "an individual" and the lavatory. No other story speaks of any encounter other than the beating in the parking lot.

Since the bouncer was able to obtain some license plate numbers, it shouldn't be too hard to track at least some of the attackers down. There is nothing questionable about whether the man was beaten or not. Instead of questioning the timing of Hook's story, why haven't any arrests been made of one of the attackers?

This story is about who was behind the attack and why. Is this an officially sanctioned Brown Shirt assault? Frightened fellow workers? Crooked vendor corporations?

Environmental News Service says some congressional investigators are on the way—

Congressional staff from the House Energy and Commerce Committee were scheduled to arrive Tuesday to investigate Hook’s allegations.

Also flying to Santa Fe is the Project On Government Oversight’s (POGO) Senior Investigator Peter Stockton, who investigated the 1974 murder of nuclear whistleblower Karen Silkwood in his previous position as a Congressional investigator.

This could get mighty interesting.

6/9/05 - 7:45 pm

I actually wrote an update yesterday that was eaten by the vagaries of Blogger. But just as well; there's now a lot more.

The first thing to note is that, according to the Project on Government Oversight (PoGo), the congressional staff that were "scheduled to arrive" Tuesday were not coming as a result of the beating, as I had supposed from other accounts, but had prearranged to meet with Hook.

All news accounts that I've seen have referred only to Hook's testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee coming "later in the month" with no mention of this meeting. This is important to the timing. If Hook was beaten with the intention to shut him up, it would have had to occur before he was to meet with the staff on Tuesday.

If you want to see just how wrong the press can get it, this is the case to watch. Media accounts are all over the place,1 though some of the confusion is undoubtedly due to the lawyers representing the various parties.

KRQE-TV in Albuquerque has apparently been selected (or has selected itself) to be the purveyor of a number of leaks from "investigators." When I first wrote this post, KRQE had put out a brief, garbled account saying that investigators (no specification whether these were local, state or federal) had questions about the "time frame." They have since modified and embellished the same report. If you check the KRQE quotes above, you will see that the account has been altered.

The current form now says "investigators have found inconsistencies in the time frame in which the incident was reported by Hook and also how the altercation occured [sic]."

(I hope you don't have to rely on KRQE for your news.)

KRQE has a new report out. Apparently one of the assailants has been questioned or arrested. His lawyer is maintaining that the attack had nothing to do with Hook's work at Los Alamos—

A lawyer in Santa Fe has been hired to represent a man who says he was involved in the beating. The man reportedly claims the attack has nothing to do with the fact that the victim is the Los Alamos National Labs whistleblower.

Santa Fe investigators also have some new questions as they continue to investigate the details surrounding the beating of a Tommy Hook earlier this week.

CBSNews gives a slightly more detailed version—

A lawyer representing one of the men involved in the fracas told the Albuquerque Journal that the dispute that nothing to do with the nuclear research laboratory.

"This was an altercation in the parking lot of a topless bar, nothing more," attorney Doug Couleur told the newspaper. "This has absolutely nothing to do with Hook's employment, his witness status, his employment status, or any of that."

The dancer's testimony: Did Hook have his wanker wiggled?

The previously modified KRQE story said,

A dancer at the club says she recognized Hook as the same man who got a lap dance from a waitress the night of the beating. Hook's attorney argues that club employees have confirmed that Hook didn't interact with any girls at the club.

The AP gives the dancer's name as Jeanette McCalip. Remember that McCalip is not the lap dancer but the witness to the lap dance. The AP story has this—

Roger Prucino, a Santa Fe attorney who represents Cheeks owner Elmo Montoya, said he interviewed Montoya and a manager who was at the bar Saturday and early Sunday when Hook was beaten.

Prucino said he could not confirm a report by a dancer at the club, Jeanette McCalip, that she recognized Hook as the same man who got a lap dance from a waitress earlier that night.

"I got no lap dance from any dancers," Hook said. But he said people were dancing around him while he was at the bar.

Robert Rothstein, Hook's attorney, said a private investigator who talked to bar employees was told Hook didn't interact with any of the club's dancers.

The latest KRQE report has

... the owner of the club says Hook ... received a 50 dollar lap dance at the club. That’s contrary to what Hook has maintained.

It is beginning to look as if we have to be careful with the words "dancer" and "waitress." The picture I'm getting is of "dancers" who perform on a stage perhaps and "waitresses" who perform up close and personal.

How much did Hook have to drink?

The one fact on which accounts that mention the matter agree is that Hook was drinking light beer. But how many did he have?

KRQE: "the owner of the club says Hook had a total of six beers...."

Hook's lawyer Rothstein: "two or three" (via NY Times)

How long was Hook at the bar?

Hook's lawyer: "Hook arrived at the bar at 11:30.... Sometime after 1:30 a.m., Hook went to his car...." (via NY Times)

How many assailants were there?

Given the variation in the number of assailants, it must have been very dark, and some people may have been seeing double.

KRQE: "Hook says he was pulled from his car and beaten by at least four men."

Hook's wife: "between four and six men"

A cover-up?

In the midst of all the confusion Peter Stockton of PoGo is accusing the FBI of deliberately leaking an alternative version of events. NewsMax has

In the FBI scenario, described in several New Mexico newspapers, Hook went to the topless bar not to meet a fellow Los Alamos whistleblower – as his wife and attorney have claimed – but because his wife was out of town.

He had several drinks and got a lap dance. When he left the bar, he nearly backed into someone with his car in the parking lot, which touched off the fight, according to the version of events that Stockton says was leaked by the FBI.

The Guardian gives

Rothstein [Hook's attorney] said he also heard allegations that the beating stemmed from an altercation in the parking lot and possibly Hook backed his car into someone. But Rothstein said that story hasn't been confirmed and Hook's car was found in a parking space beside the club.

Some other mysteries

Why is the lap-dancer herself not identified in any account?

There was either a woman on Hook's lap or there wasn't, and Jeanette McCalip should be able to identify her if there was. Remember that it is always possible that Hook went to "Cheeks" to meet someone as he says and in the boredom of waiting, decided to go for a little $50 lap dance. Or that it was a set-up, paid for by someone else. Or that it didn't occur at all.

Where and how does an individual and a "lavatory" come into this story?

KQED says this is from a CBS report. If so, I can't find it.

Which agency or agencies has been leaking to the local press and why?

Further update

Anna Macias Aguayo of the AP had this to report this evening—

Authorities said Thursday that the beating of a Los Alamos nuclear lab auditor outside a bar was unrelated to his status as a whistleblower.

"Facts, evidence and information obtained during the course of this investigation has led investigators to believe that the altercation involving Mr. Hook is an isolated incident and is in no way related to Mr. Hook's whistleblower status at the Los Alamos National Laboratories," Santa Fe Deputy Police Chief Eric Johnson said in the statement.

The investigation is "leaning toward a fight in the parking lot as a result of Mr. Hook backing into a pedestrian," Johnson said.


1The most bizarre headline was offered by the Guardian: "No Evidence Whistleblower Was Beaten," which then opens with—

There's no evidence that a Los Alamos lab whistleblower who was beaten up outside a topless bar had been in a minor accident in the parking lot or had cavorted with dancers at the bar, his lawyer says.

It certainly pays to keep reading. [back]


Quote of the Day II

There will be no truth about the Middle East conflict in this court.
—William Moffitt in his opening statement at the trial of former USF professor Sami al-Arian

Unconventional warfare

From Adrian Blomfield in the Telegraph
The insurgents seem to be improving the sophistication of their attacks.

The ministry yesterday said that one insurgent, posing as a fruit vendor, had sold poisoned watermelons to police officers manning checkpoints on one of the main roads from Baghdad to the north. At least one policeman died.


Quote of the Day

I know nothing about the point of view of Great Britain in the arbitration of the international fisheries problem, and nothing about the point of view of the United States. I shall therefore discuss the question from the point of view of the fish.
—Robert Benchley as quoted by Bill Moyers in his speech at the Take Back America conference

Monday, June 06, 2005


"Serbia is deeply shocked" (updated)

"Serbia is deeply shocked," said its President Boris Tadic, according to CNN. What has shocked Serbia is the screening of a video of a massacre at the war crimes trial of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. President Tadic continued, "Those images are proof of a monstrous crime committed against persons of a different religion. And the guilty had walked as free men until now."

In the video a Serbian Orthodox priest blesses the soldiers before they go off to carry out the executions of 6 Muslims. Members of the unit were members of the Serbian police force. The video was subsequently shown on Serbian television, which has led to the arrests of ten members of the "Scorpions," the paramilitary unit that carried out the massacre.

According to NPR, President Tadic has also promised the arrest of General Mladic before the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre next month. Mladic has been hiding in the open with the support of the army and police. A recent Serbian poll found that 50% of the population did not believe that massacres occurred.

Scoop reported that a Belgrade newspaper has revealed that copies of the videotape had been passed around for years in the Scorpions' home town.

The newspaper quoted residents of Sid, where the Scorpions special police battalion was based, as saying the local video rental shop once possessed five copies of the execution tape, shot in Bosnia at the time of the Srebrenica massacre of 8000 Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces.

The copies were not for the general public, with only those close to the Scorpions allowed to view them, the paper quoted locals as saying.

There is also a torture video but that has not been released to the public.

I note all this to point to the complicity of the population in such actions, though the CNN account would indicate that not all are complicit—

Among those stunned by Wednesday's broadcast were the wife and daughters of Branislav Medic, a Serb mechanic and part-time paramilitary volunteer in Bosnia in 1995.

Talking to the daily Blic, she recalled that he went off with his 'Scorpions' unit that summer and came back exhausted.

"We turned on the TV," she was quoted as saying. "He said we should send our two younger daughters to bed. The two oldest stayed, one is 19, the other 17. The younger one closed her eyes. I viewed the footage for just a second.

"I did not have strength to watch. Only the sound could be heard. The older one watched until the end. She hasn't said a word since then. She just cried."

Torturers, murderers and executioners always seem to turn out to be so ordinary. You can usually find characterizations such as "family man," "hard worker," "well-respected." Afterward government spokesmen give their "bad apple" speech and all is forgotten.

Thank God that could never happen here.

4:46 pm

I've just been reading Rod Norland's article in Newsweek. Norland was a war cheerleader who is leaving Iraq deeply depressed. I couldn't help but think of the shocked Serbs as I read his account.

Things really went downhill in Iraq after Abu Ghraib, he says. Then he adds,

The most shocking thing about Abu Ghraib was not the behavior of U.S. troops, but the incompetence of their leaders. Against the conduct of the Lynndie Englands and the Charles Graners, I'll gladly set the honesty and courage of Specialist Joseph Darby, the young MP who reported the abuse. A few soldiers will always do bad things.

I'm glad that Mr. Norland applauds Spc. Darby vs. the "bad apples." His feelings, however, were not shared by the folks back home.

Here's the caption in the Joe Darby story from last August as told by Wil S. Hylton at GQ—

When he saw the horrific abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, Joe Darby knew he had to blow the whistle. But coming forward would change his life—as well as his family's—forever, and for the worse. Because back in his own community and in the small towns of America, handing over those photos didn't make Joe Darby a hero. It made him a traitor.

His fellow Americans so admired him that he had to be hidden and his family moved. Basically they had to go into a witness protection program.

Also last August, Staff Sgt. Ivan “Chip” Frederick, one of the first to plead guilty to a crime in the Abu Ghraib scandal, issued a plea on Darby's behalf—

Lastly, I am concerned for the well-being of Specialist Darby and his family. I just learned that he was placed in protective custody because of threats against him. To all who have supported me, I want you to know that I have no bad feelings towards Specialist Darby and neither should you. He did what he thought was right, and it was right. I ask you to accept that and move on.

So Mr. Norlund of Newsweek thinks that Mr. Darby is somehow representative and the others are just bad apples? As disconnected from reality as Mr. Norlund appears to be, he was nevertheless one of the more important representatives of the media responsible for bringing us the news from Iraq!


No more "Meet, greet and plead" in Florida's Broward County

Howard Finkelstein, head of the Public Defender's office in Broward County, Florida (Ft. Lauderdale), has thrown a monkey wrench into the court system. He's alerted Broward's state and local judges that his public defenders will advise against a guilty plea by any defendant at the time of arraignment (when charges are first presented to the court) unless the public defender has had adequate time to meet with the client.

The public undoubtedly thinks that's normal procedure, but they moved away from "normal procedure" decades ago in Broward County.

According to Dan Christensen of the Daily Business Review

Pleas at arraignment began to occur about 20 years ago in Broward in response to jail overcrowding and federal court mandates to reduce the number of inmates, said Chief Assistant Broward Public Defender Bob Wills. "What started as a system issue has snowballed into a case management issue," he said. "It shouldn't be that way."

It really should be viewed as what it is—unconstitutional.

... the desire of judges to move cases expeditiously is now at odds with the Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel. The first rule of the American Bar Association's model rules of professional conduct says "competent representation" requires "the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation."

Even the prosecutors agree—

Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz is backing Finkelstein. "We're supportive of anything that makes the criminal justice system better," said Satz spokesman Ron Ishoy. "The new public defender has identified a problem on the defense side and has set out to fix it. We'll do our part to help make it work."

"You can't give advice sufficient for your client to make an informed decision if you don't know what's in the background of your client or the case," said Randolph Braccialarghe, a Nova Southeastern University law professor and former Broward prosecutor.

How bad was it?

According to Finkelstein and his staff, about 80 percent of all criminal defendants -- and 40 percent of all accused felons -- plead guilty at arraignment in Broward. Many of them are represented by one of his 128 assistant public defenders.

"In the past, we did nothing until the time of arraignment, and that's 4 1/2 to six weeks after arrest," Finkelstein said. In that time, perishable evidence can be lost, witnesses can disappear and lives can fall apart. "You can lose your job, your apartment, even your family," he noted.

How did anyone with this much sense get elected?
In January, Finkelstein told his staff to contact any defendants who haven't gotten out of jail within 48 hours. He also created an early representation unit, and staffed it with three lawyers and four interviewers.

The second part of Finkelstein's initiative is to end the practice at arraignment of "meet, greet and plead." Typically, those deals help defendants get out of jail immediately but stain them with a felony conviction and set them up for consequences if they have future encounters with law enforcement.

"Pleading guilty is something that will be with clients forever because withholding adjudication or sealing records doesn't matter anymore in the computer age," Haughwout said. "So clients need to be aware of consequences and options, and lawyers can't advise them simply by looking at a [probable cause] sheet at arraignment."

This is a rare item of good news about Florida's courts. The Florida Republican legislature, with the encouragement and connivance of Jeb Bush, has been strangling the state court system in a manner similar to the efforts of their brethren in the Congress and White House.

The judges of course aren't concerned about justice but the size of their dockets—

... one Broward criminal court judge acknowledged that judges are concerned about the new policy. "Judges may be upset that their dockets will be clogged by cases that would otherwise be resolved at arraignment," said the judge, who did not want to be identified. "Everyone is concerned about their case numbers."

The judge also warned that the move could hurt Finkelstein's clients. "Prosecutors may say we aren't offering pleas at arraignment anymore," the judge said. "The people that would penalize are the clients. The best plea you get is at arraignment."

There's another way to clear the dockets. Convince the state and county to rescind laws that result in criminalizing citizens. Many of these trespasses are so commonly practiced, such as marijuana use, that conviction for a crime has become more a random stroke of bad luck than the implementation of justice.


"Our secrets keep us sick"

How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm
After they've seen Paree?
How ya gonna keep 'em away from Broadway
Jazzin around and paintin' the town?
How ya gonna keep 'em away from harm, that's a mystery.
They'll never want to see a rake or plow
And who the deuce can parley-vous a cow?
How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm
After they've seen Paree?

—refrain from "How 'Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm?" a hit from World War I by Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis

I can't do better than Meredith Owen's opening summary from "The Fulton County Daily Report"—

When Richard W. Merritt signed on as a staff attorney with Powell Goldstein1 more than a year ago, the law firm had to be impressed with his background: eight years as a Marine officer and a degree from the University of Southern California Law School.

Merritt didn't mention on his resume, however, that he had just won a publishing contract for a book, "Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star," which appears in bookstores this week.

With the book's release date nearing, Merritt told his supervising attorney about it in early March, Merritt said. The firm fired him a few days later. The human resources director told him that, because of the book, they didn't believe he'd be able to serve clients as well as Powell Goldstein standards would require.

As it turns out, Merritt probably has few secrets to reveal as a gay porn star, since he only worked in the industry for four months.

Despite the sensational title, the book isn't a salacious account of what happens in the movie underworld. Rather, it's a from-the-heart memoir that recounts growing up in a fundamentalist Christian home, attending straight-laced [sic] Bob Jones University, discovering a larger world in the Marines, coming out with his sexuality and recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. As for his acting career, it occupied all of four months -- and eight movies -- in 1995.

Jeez! I've been on binges that lasted longer than that. What's the big deal?

Merritt started writing "Secrets of A Gay Marine Porn Star" three years ago, after overcoming an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Telling his story, he said, was a way to come to grips with his own experience -- and a way to help others heal. "Part of my message in the book is that our secrets keep us sick," he said.

How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm
(After they've seen Parris Island)?

Merritt was raised as a fundamentalist Christian in Greenville, S.C., where he attended Bob Jones University, an evangelical Bible college, and, before that, Bob Jones Academy and Bob Jones Elementary School. Early in his college career, he enlisted in the Marine Reserves. Three months of boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., exposed him to people from a wider world and he returned to Bob Jones a changed young man.

He was expelled after school officials learned that he'd broken the school's rules by dancing with young women at a local nightclub and listening to rock and roll music. He transferred to Clemson University and, after graduating, went on active duty, serving in Japan, the Philippines and Korea. Around this time, in the early 1990's, he started to realize that he was gay.

Pissing on a policy

Mitchell says his decision to go professional with his act was in reaction to the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays.

"I was furious at this policy. I had just come out of the closet and was in an angry, militant, 'act up' phase," Merritt said. He answered an ad for gay actors and models in San Diego's Gay and Lesbian Times on a whim while he was stationed at Camp Pendleton and ended up auditioning for a gay porn video.

"I thought it would be a way to get back at the powers that be that passed this stupid law," he said.

It's also a good way to get a date.

Up from the ooze

It was also, perhaps, a way to rebel against an upbringing that censured homosexuality. His porn persona, Danny Orlis, was the name of a character in a Christian children's book series that Merritt read while growing up. In stories like "Danny Orlis and Trouble on the Circle R Ranch" the capable, Hardy Boys-like hero helped to extricate others from their scrapes. When a movie producer asked the adult Merritt for an actor pseudonym, "it just came out, right out of the unconscious," he said.

A better life awaits

Merritt said he's received job offers from other law firms but is taking a hiatus from law for a book tour. He will be signing "Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star" in Atlanta at Outwrite Books on Wednesday.

Merritt would like to continue practicing law but with a focus on public interest or civil rights work. "I'd go back into porn before I'd go back to work for a large law firm," he said cheerfully.

Who wouldn't?

Isn't it refreshing to read about a real marine who didn't become a fake journalist? Look for "Secrets of A Gay Marine Porn Star" at your local bookstore this week.


1Known in the trade as "PoGo." [back]

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