Friday, November 30, 2007
Dates to watch
- Nov 30 — Today: Deadline for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to provide its initial release of documents to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) honoring EFF's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents concern ODNI's "communications with telecommunications carriers and members of Congress regarding pending legislation that would amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ('FISA')." [PDF of court order]
Put more simply, EFF wants to know of any government discussions of retroactive immunity for companies such as AT&T that illegally allowed the government wholesale access to our communications. Declan McCullagh discusses the background of the case.
- Dec 09 — Sun: According to the AP, "The U.S. military said Thursday it would submit evidence to the Iraqi judiciary system on Dec. 9 against Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who has been held in U.S. custody for more than 19 months." (See "Outrage of the Day")
"The move would be the first legal step in initiating formal charges against Hussein, who was seized in Ramadi on April 12, 2006."
- Dec 10 — Mon: The deadline for ODNI to provide EFF with "a final release of all responsive, non-exempt documents."
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Landowner of the Day
Turner has amassed 2 million acres over the past two decades to become the largest private landowner in the country. He owns large chunks of land in 11 states, with most of his holdings in New Mexico, Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota, and is restoring buffalo, cutthroat trout, wolves, black-footed ferrets and other flora and fauna that filled the Plains before the West was won. —Nate Jenkins reporting in "Ted Turner's Land Purchases Questioned"
One of the interesting features of this "little" story is that, as was the case with George Soros' support for the Democrats, conservatives have become terribly concerned over how Ted Turner is spending his money. That's surprising, since it seems that all his acquisitions have the potential for being immensely profitable.
Some are worried that he wants to create a large wildlife refuge, turn it over to the federal government and reduce the property tax base.
To restore a species you must eat itWhat could be more conservative?
Turner's organizations also have been in discussions with the World Wildlife Fund and the World Conservation Union about conserving bison. The groups have expressed interest in developing a huge park where bison could once again roam the Great Plains.
Actually, Turner's spokesmen say, the driving force behind Turner's land purchases is the desire to make money. Turner's Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico, for example, offers weeklong elk hunting excursions at $12,000 a pop. He has also entered the restaurant business with gusto, opening more than 50 Ted's Montana Grill restaurants across the country that feature bison meat.
I've been seeing more buffalo meat lately on the supermarket shelves. If you're not averse to eating red meat, bison are lower in fat and friendlier to the environment than cattle.
Turner not only holds the largest chunk of land in private hands but also owns the largest herd of buffalo.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Outrage of the Day
Writing of the Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein who has been held by the U.S. military in Iraq for 19 months—
We believe Bilal's crime was taking photographs the U.S. government did not want its citizens to see. That he was part of a team of AP photographers who had just won a Pulitzer Prize for work in Iraq may have made Bilal even more of a marked man. —Tom Curley, President and chief executive of the Associated Press, writing in "Railroading a Journalist in Iraq"
This remarkable assertion by the person who leads America's and the world's largest news organization was published on page 17 of Saturday's Washington Post. Without the paper before me I surmise that this would have been a page of the two-page editorial section. I have to wonder what the Post considers news.1
.... This affair makes a mockery of the democratic principles of justice and the rule of law that the United States says it is trying to help Iraq establish.
A year ago, our going to trial would have been good news. But today, the military authorities who created the case against Bilal have largely been rotated out of Iraq. Witnesses and evidence that Bilal may need would also be much harder to find, even if there were time to track them down. Further, if Bilal wins, he could still lose: The military has told us that even if the Iraqi courts acquit Bilal, it has the right to detain him if it still thinks he is an imminent security threat.
After months of stony silence, except for leaks of unsupported and self-serving allegations to friendly media outlets, military authorities are railroading Bilal's case before a judge in circumstances designed to put Bilal and his lawyers at an extreme disadvantage.
Perhaps it is not surprising that the operators of the world's largest prison-camp network have found a way to provide access to due process in a form that actually looks more unjust than indefinite imprisonment without charges.
But this is a poor example -- and not the first of its kind — of the way our government honors the democratic principles and values it says it wants to share with the Iraqi people.
Why isn't the press defending freedom of the press? (6/16/04)
Why isn't the press defending freedom of the press? (Revisited) (6/21/04)
1The deference that the Post (and almost all other media outlets) gives to the military and to the government is well demonstrated here. We might argue that the allegations made by the military against Bilal Hussein, in the absence of formal charges or evidence, should also be published in the Opinion section. [back]
Monday, November 26, 2007
It's finally arrived: Iraq on a platter!
This AP report is so clear that I've reprinted it in its entirety—with a mere sprinkle of comments.
Iraq's government, seeking protection against foreign threats and internal coups, will offer the U.S. a long-term troop presence in Iraq in return for U.S. security guarantees as part of a strategic partnership, two Iraqi officials said Monday.
The proposal, described to The Associated Press by two senior Iraqi officials familiar with the issue, is one of the first indications that the United States and Iraq are beginning to explore what their relationship might look like once the U.S. significantly draws down its troop presence.
"One of the first indications..."? Doesn't that chap your ass? How about "temporary" military bases built to last? How about the construction of the world's largest embassy? How about the apparent insanity of any number of policies and actions if the U.S. did not intend to remain an occupier?
In Washington, President Bush's adviser on the Iraqi war, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, confirmed the proposal, calling it "a set of principles from which to begin formal negotiations."
As part of the package, the Iraqis want an end to the current U.N.-mandated multinational forces mission, and also an end to all U.N.-ordered restrictions on Iraq's sovereignty.
Iraq has been living under some form of U.N. restriction since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the officials said.
U.S. troops and other foreign forces operate in Iraq under a U.N. Security Council mandate, which has been renewed annually since 2003. Iraqi officials have said they want that next renewal _ which must be approved by the U.N. Security Council by the end of this year _ to be the last.
Translation: The U.S. wants to remove the bother of going before the U.N. in order to legitimize continued occupation.
The two senior Iraqi officials said Iraqi authorities had discussed the broad outlines of the proposal with U.S. military and diplomatic representatives. The Americans appeared generally favorable subject to negotiations on the details, which include preferential treatment for American investments, according to the Iraqi officials involved in the discussions.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Aside from the gauze of pretense that this is an "Iraqi" initiative, they're not even attempting to hide American corporatist aims.
The two Iraqi officials, who are from two different political parties, spoke on condition of anonymity because the subject is sensitive.
You bet the subject is sensitive! Truth be told, these officials would prefer not to be handed their heads on a platter by the folks back home. Who could they be, we wonder? Allawi and Chalabi were made for the part.
Members of parliament were briefed on the plan during a three-hour closed-door meeting Sunday, during which lawmakers loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr objected to the formula.
I've speculated in a number of posts that the unaccountable hostility to Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr arises from his refusal to sell off Iraqi assets to American corporate interests and his demand for withdrawal of American forces. A few months back, after al-Sadr ordered the Mahdi Army to lay low and resumed his party's participation in the parliament, the Washington Post and other mainstays of the mainstream media obligingly dropped the "radical" epithet that normally accompanies every mention of al-Sadr's name. We note that the AP has revived the practice.
Preferential treatment for U.S. investors could provide a huge windfall if Iraq can achieve enough stability to exploit its vast oil resources.
The story coyly omits to mention who would be the recipient of the windfall. Certainly not the Iraqis.
Any benefit to the Iraqis could be achieved through the exploitation of their oil by any agency. And free-market considerations would mandate that they achieve the best deal possible for themselves, including the possibility of developing the resource themselves.
Such a deal would also enable the United States to maintain leverage against Iranian expansion at a time of growing fears about Tehran's nuclear aspirations.
Previously, Saddam Hussein was the greatest lever against Iranian expansion. Of course he had to suppress the majority population, the Shia, in the bargain. Any guess as to how the U.S. will achieve the same objective?
At the White House, Lute said the new agreement was not binding.
"It's not a treaty, but it's rather a set of principles from which to begin formal negotiations," Lute said. "Think of today's agreement as setting the agenda for the formal bilateral negotiations."
Of course it's not binding, you twit. Iraq would have to have an actual government.
Those negotiations will take place during the course of 2008, with the goal of completion by July, Lute said.
That would be just about the time the new Democratic President will begin to get settled in office. Do you think he or she is going to announce a withdrawal instead of a "deal" to occupy Iraq?
The new agreement on principles spells out what the formal, final document will contain regarding political, economic and security matters.
"We believe, and Iraqis' national leaders believe, that a long-term relationship with the United States is in our mutual interest," Lute said.
Gee. We invaded Iraq to prevent the spread of "weapons of mass destruction," then to remove a tyrant, then to spread democracy—but certainly not out of self-interest. Now we learn that long-term occupation will be in our "mutual interests." The Mafia, we should note, uses similar methods and language when making an offer you can't refuse.
From the Iraqi side, Lute said, having the U.S. as a "reliable, enduring partner with Iraq will cause different sects inside the Iraqi political structure not to have to hedge their bets in a go-it-alone-like setting, but rather they'll be able to bet on the reliable partnership with the United States."
Translation: The U.S. intends to run the country into the foreseeable future, so the religious, cultural and regional rivalries will be irrelevant under the new regency.
When asked about the plan, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo noted that Iraqi officials had expressed a desire for a strategic partnership with the U.S. in a political declaration in August and an end to the U.N.-mandated force.
"Thereafter then, the question becomes one of bilateral relationships between Iraq and the countries of the multinational forces," she said. "At that point we need to be considering long-term bilateral relationships and we're following the Iraqi thinking on this one and we agree with their thinking on this and we'll be looking at setting up a long-term partnership with different aspects to it, political, economic, security and so forth."
Bilateral relationships with the countries of the multinational forces? That would be, in order of importance, the United States, Blackwater, Dyncorp, Aegis, Erinys and a host of other "security services" too numerous to name. Oh, I forgot. Blackwater et al. aren't countries. Other than the U.S., all countries in the "multinational force" have either withdrawn or are withdrawing.
Still, it's good to know the Iraqis are taking the lead on this. It wouldn't look good if the U.S. had a role in the planning.
She said any detailed discussion of bases and investment preferences was "way, way, way ahead of where we are at the moment."
Sometimes I'm not certain whether I'm reading a news account or the script for a comedy act.
The Iraqi officials said that under the proposed formula, Iraq would get full responsibility for internal security and U.S. troops would relocate to bases outside the cities. Iraqi officials foresee a long-term presence of about 50,000 U.S. troops, down from the current figure of more than 160,000.
No word yet on what those 50,000 troops would be up to. But according to this account, don't you love the way Iraqi officials seem to be taking over U.S. military planning? "Iraqi officials foresee..."
The Iraqi target date for a bilateral agreement on the new relationship would be July, when the U.S. intends to finish withdrawing the five combat brigades sent in 2007 by President Bush as part of the troop buildup that has helped curb sectarian violence.
If the U.S. Congress can't set timelines for troop reduction, I'm pleased to know that someone can.
On Sunday, Iraq's Shiite vice president hinted at such a formula, saying the government will link discussions on the next extension of the U.N. mandate to an agreement under which Iraq will gain full sovereignty and "full control over all of its resources and issues."
Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi said Iraq wanted an "equal footing" with the U.S. on security issues as a sovereign country so Iraqi could "have relations with other states with sovereignty and interests."
Not since the British Raj in India will a country have been on such an equal footing with its occupier.
He said the government would announce within days a "declaration of intent" that would not involve military bases but would raise "issues on organizing the presence of the multinational forces and ending their presence on Iraqi soil."
A casual reader might conclude that foreign forces will be leaving Iraqi soil. That may seem confusing, but isn't really. When the U.N. mandate ends, so will the justification for the presence of the so-called "multinational forces." Then it will be up to the Iraqis to form "bilateral agreements" to continue the occupation of their country.
So far the only country that seems interested in taking them up on the offer is the United States. Poor Iraq. You'd think there'd be a greater demand!
One official said the Iraqis expect objections from Iraq's neighbors. Iran and Syria will object because they oppose a U.S. presence in the region.
They also oppose the possibility of an Iraq-style invasion.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia will not like the idea of any reduction in their roles as Washington's most important Arab partners.
"Partners"? If they had fallen under the old Soviet sphere of influence, the press would have referred to them as "satellites." And satellites don't have a say in the matter. The difference between a "partner," such as Iraq, and a "satellite," such as Saudi Arabia, is that satellites are not occupied.
Well, don't come to me later and say the press didn't inform the public of U.S. plans for Iraq. Oh, sorry. I put that backwards, didn't I? The AP account is quite clear. These are not U.S. government plans for Iraq, but Iraqi government plans for the U.S.
Lessons in sovereignty - Part I (9/19/05)
The Pottery Barn Rule revisited (4/5/06)
The Bush plan for Iraq: What you should expect (1/11/07)
Taking sides in a civil war (1/14/07)
Muqtada al-Sadr and a date to watch (2/9/07)
Empire of the Day (11/25/07)
Military Cover-up of the Day
At least 20,000 U.S. troops who were not classified as wounded during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan have been found with signs of brain injuries....
The data ... show that about five times as many troops sustained brain trauma as the 4,471 officially listed by the Pentagon through Sept. 30. These cases also are not reflected in the Pentagon's official tally of wounded, which stands at 30,327.
—Gregg Zoroya reporting in "20,000 vets' brain injuries not listed in Pentagon tally"
I refer to this as a "cover-up" not only because the military and VA are clearly fudging the statistics but also because USA Today was able to obtain the data from some locales only through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Rep. Bill Pascrell, founder of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, estimates that "more than 150,000 troops may have suffered head injuries in combat."
Explosions may cause concussions without leaving visible scars, so it's inevitable that some injured soldiers will not be immediately diagnosed, or diagnosed at all. But this may be a bigger factor in the undercount—
Soldiers and Marines whose wounds were discovered after they left Iraq are not added to the official casualty list, says Army Col. Robert Labutta, a neurologist and brain injury consultant for the Pentagon.
This recalls a practice the Pentagon developed during the Vietnam War for handling reports that might swell statistics on the dimension of the military's drug epidemic at the time. If just before returning to the U.S. a soldier self-reported a drug problem—as many had developed—the soldier would be held back for "further evaluation" and/or treatment before being allowed to return home. Naturally there were fewer reports of drug problems.
I wouldn't be surprised if there is a similar disincentive to report problems incident to brain injury, since the technique is already in use with soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Luis Sinca recently reported—
Each Marine received a questionnaire. Were they having trouble sleeping? Did they have thoughts of suicide? Everybody knew the drill. Answer yes and be evaluated further. Say no and go home.
As with PTSD, the costs of treatment plus, in many cases, disability payments will be enormous. Just another "untold" cost of the war.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Cocktail of the Day
The Purple Finger cocktail—
grenadine, cassis, black currants, and vodka —recipe reported by Craig Unger in "A tragicomedy of errors"
A little cloying perhaps, but not bad if you shoot it!
Doing the Watusi at the polling station: Reflections on David Corn (2/7/05)
Tags: news and politics
Empire of the Day
We have only one hegemonic power at the moment. It is not accumulating territory, it is trying to accumulate influence and control. That's not working. —Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the world Anglican Communion of churches, as reported by Paul Majendie in "Anglican leader launches attack on U.S."
His Grace was beside himself—
It is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering and normalizing it.
Rightly or wrongly, that is what the British Empire did — in India for example.
It is another thing to go in on the assumption that a quick burst of violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put things back together again — Iraq for example.
And this was in an interview for a Muslim "lifestyle" magazine!
The Queen heads the Church of England. If this keeps up, Prime Minister Gordon Brown may have to ask her to get on the phone with her Archbishop. Clearly he hasn't read the memo.
Quote of the Day - Henry Wallace on Fascism - 16 (8/12/04)
Superfluous beliefs (6/10/05)
The hawkish liberal (10/15/05)
Quote of the Day (10/25/07)
Headline of the Day (10/26/07)
Imperialism denied (11/2/07)