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TED Talks to Julian Assange


font=3 If you aren’t familiar with TED Talks yet, I am about to change that.

TED started in 1984, the year I graduated from college, as a conference to bring together people from the fields of Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It is a nonprofit that holds annual conferences in both Long Beach and in Palm Springs each spring, and has grown to hold the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford UK each summer. The TED Talks are published on the TED Talks video site, which has the capability of translating the talks into up to 27 different languages at this point. More are planned. TED does much more each year to facilitate advancement of the arts and sciences.

The video site on the web offers hundreds of 18 minute talks – not lectures – on subjects as diverse as Cassini’s discovery of the surface tectonics on Saturn’s moon Titan to Sam Harris’s explanation of how morality is hardwired into humans and other animals. The speakers are challenged to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes.

The spelunker who plans to lead the expedition to mine moon ice is absolutely riveting. Watch him. How can cave exploration and space exploration be related? How can a spelunker think that he can go into space and mine water on the moon as a propellant for space vehicles to then go to Europa? Is this science fiction? Not the way he tells it. Watch the video. If it doesn’t make your jaw drop, you aren’t paying attention.

TED isn’t just about science.A pair of  beautiful dancers perform Symbiosis – and it is understandable. Isabel Allende tells  true tales of passion, Natalie Merchant sings nearly forgotten children’s poems from the 19th and 20th century from her recent album Leave Your Sleep.

TED is on the edge of what is happening in the world. In July 2010. Chris Anderson of TED interviewed Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks had just released the documents related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and there were rumors that it had still more documents that would set the US government on its ear.

Consider what Julian Assange says in this interview. He explains how the site operates, what it has accomplished, and what drives him. The interview includes graphic footage of a recent US airstrike in Baghdad in which a number of civilians and two Reuters reporters were killed.

Did you note that Assange specifically denies having the embassy cables? In the same breath he said assertively that if WikiLeaks had them, it has a duty to release them so that the world knows.

Assange asserted that “it’s a worry that the rest of the world’s media is doing such a bad job that a little group of activists is able to release more of that type of information than the rest of the world press combined”? Mainstream media does not release documents like  these – not since the Pentagon Papers, that is. One has to wonder if our corporate media even would release such explosive news in this day and age. The news we do get is slanted in such a way as to suit the editorial desires of the publisher, and so often one publisher publishes numerous large newspapers, owns numerous television stations, and even owns radio stations. The news is the same on each one. We no longer have news. We have propaganda. The days of Walter Cronkite are gone.

What does WikiLeaks seek to publish? According to Assange, anything that an organization wants to keep secret. If there is an economic reason for keeping a secret, then it is in the best interest of the world to expose that secret in order to level the playing field. That, he says, is what journalism is.

That is what investigative journalism should be.

Assange pointed out that releasing the video of the Apache helicopter firing on the group of civilians that included the Reuters reporters was not done to inform the Afghans or the Iraqis. They see it every day,” he claimed. “But it will change the perception and opinion of the people who are paying for it all. And that is our hope.” Knowing in advance that innocents were killed in that incident may color our perception of what happened. We hear the soldiers in the helicopter talking and laughing, but to know that the firing was indiscriminate changed how we feel about their demeanor. Is this incident isolated? Or is it typical? We do not know We know this incident happened. We saw it; We do not know if more, similar incidents have happened. We hope not; we fear so.

WikiLeaks’s activities around the globe have resulted in major changes for the better, and for human rights and freedom. The Kenyan election was one example, and recently the Iceland legislature’s passage of a law allowing freedom of speech for journalists that is perhaps the broadest in the world is another.

Americans are divided on the issue of the Embassy documents, and on the war documents. WikiLeaks released them to show abuses. Our country is committing those abuses. It is natural to defend our country, but at the same time, we should not be committing the abuses. We have been caught, Our misdeeds have been exposed by our own words. Yes, it is embarrassing. Yes, we have lost face on the world stage.

Perhaps had we not committed those abuses, our faces would not be so red right now.

Thank you, WikiLeaks, for showing us; the truth.

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December 13, 2010 Posted by | Domestic, Foreign Relations, Iraq, News, Politics, War | 1 Comment

Guantanamo Detainees


It seems, despite Dick Cheney’s assertion that all that are left in Guantánamo are the “worst of the worst,” there was at least one completely innocent guy detained there until three days ago as an “enemy combatant.” Haji Bismullah was so innocent, in fact, that that he actually fought against the Taliban and was a member of the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan. Thanks to George Bush’s suspension of habeas corpus, Haji Bismullah has spent the last six years locked up in that wretched concentration camp anyway.

A military panel, not a habeas proceeding, cleared Bismullah of his status as an “enemy combatant” last week, and over the weekend he was flown back to Afghanistan.

I’m sure he’s not bitter. It was an honest mistake, right? They all look alike under those turbans.

Between January 2002 and May 2006, 759 individuals classified as “enemy combatants” were treated to an all-expense-paid vacation to balmy Cuba, courtesy of the U.S. Government.

The Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants has now done two annual reviews.  It took several years to get the Administrative Review Board in place. When the Combatant Status Review Tribunals geared up July 30, 2004, nearly every detainee was designated a “keeper.” In less than six months, 558 detainees had had their cases heard before the tribunal. Assuming a five-day, forty-hour work week for the 25 weeks between Friday, July 30, 2004, and Thursday, January 20, 2005 (and assuming that no holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s were observed and work just continued), that’s less than two hours per case.

Two hours is plenty of time to review whether someone needs to be held as an enemy combatant when the detainee is not permitted to know the evidence against him, or to have the help of a legal professional, or otherwise to defend himself.

As one Washington Times commentator put it, “Detentions of alleged enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) and extraordinary renditions smack more of Franz Kafka’s The Trial than of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.”  I would expect that the men imprisoned there without any recourse and without notice of what they did wrong might feel a surreal quality to their experience. Haji Bismullah is not the only one.

Only thirty-eight men were freed by that first round of reviews by the Office of Administrative Review, and 520 continued to be held as “enemy combatants.” It’s no surprise to me that these 520 men continued to be held at Guantánamo when one considers that they were not permitted access to all of the allegations that initially gave rise to their status as enemy combatants, and that they were not given the benefit of legal representation.  What’s equally bad, though, is that only 37 of those first 558 tribunals were attended by the media.

The media weren’t turned away from any of the reviews, insisted a spokesman for the Office of Administrative Review. All the media had to do if they wanted to attend a review hearing was 1) be on the island the day the review happened and 2) ask to go.  Of course, the Office of Administrative review didn’t tell anyone in advance when the hearings were.  Dumb luck seems to be the device by which those 37 hearings were attended.  Even when the transcripts of the hearings are released, the names are redacted from them – the public has no way of knowing who the detainees were or who any of the other players are in the decision to hold or release them.

In 2005, there were 463 recommendations that resulted in 14 releases, 119 transfers of prisoners to other facilities. The Administrative Review Board decided to continue to detain 330 of the prisoners remaining in Guantánamo.  In 2006, two prisoners were released, 55 became eligible for transfer, and 273 continued to be detained at Guantánamo.

Since a Supreme Court decision in June 2008 gave detainees the right to have their detentions reviewed by federal judges in habeas cases, the government has won only three of them. Three! Not surprisingly, Bush’s Department of Justice has appealed some of the rulings it lost.

As The Decider and his waterboarding cronies prepared leave Washington, they speeded up the release of many men held at Guantánamo over the last seven years.

Nearly ten percent of the “worst of the worst” have been released in the last three months. One of them, a poor kid from Chad, who spent the first two thirds of his life in Saudi Arabia with his parents, was accused of being a member of an Al-Qaeda cell in London when he was 11. He was sent to Guantánamo when he was 14, where he stayed until last week. He says that he was tortured during his imprisonment there.

If young Muhammad Hamid Al Qarani was not an enemy of the United States before his capture and designation as an enemy combatant, you can bet he’s one now, having grown up subject to the loving nurture of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay.  He spent nearly one third of his life being held indefinitely there.  Do you think that might give a kid some issues?

In September, the Department of Defense admitted that a dozen teenagers had been held at Guantánamo over the last six years, four of whom were still there. Five of these kids were released, but one commited suicide. If my own child were held in a foreign prison, not even as a Prisoner of War but under a nebulous designation that prevents any treaties from applying to him, I would be advocating strongly for the war crimes of the country holding him to be punished – and punished severely.

There’s still another problem, though.  About 50 of the detainees who have been cleared for release have no place to go.  Either their homelands won’t accept them or they don’t have a homeland.  Some who fall under the latter status are Palestinian.  Yemen won’t accept its natives back. And even as the numbers in Gitmo dwindle, there are still thousands of detainees held in military prisons in other countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Ethiopia, and  the joint US/UK base on the Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia.

President Barack Obama has said consistently over the last two years that he intends to close the Guantánamo Bay as a detention center. Last week it was reported that he might issue the executive order closing the prison camp as soon as today, although other reports are that closing the prison might not be accomplished even within the first 100 days that he is in office.

I hope he does more than just close the prison camp. I hope he repatriates each and every person held there. If they are terrorists, their own countries can deal with them. The United States government has refused to do anything but warehouse them.

Sources:

Rulings of Improper Detentions as the Bush Era Closes (NY Times, January 19, 2009)
Obama Vows to Close Guantanamo (Al Jazeera English, November 18, 2008)
Obama Closing Guantanamo: Preparing Order in First Week (The Huffington Post, January 12, 2009)
24 Gitmo Prisoners Ruled Wrongfully Held in Last three Months (The Washington Independent, January 19, 2009)
Obama: Guantanamo Center Might Not Close Within First 100 Days (Baltimore Sun, January 20, 2009)
Annual Administrative Review Boards for Enemy Combatants Held at Guantanamo Attributable to Senior Defense Officials (DoD, March 6, 2007)
List of Individuals Detained by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from January 2002 through May 15, 2006 (DoD, May 15, 2006)

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Domestic, Foreign Relations, Iraq, News, Politics, War | Leave a comment

Putting the War for Oil in Perspective


Graphic shamelessly ripped off from Robin Nixon’s blog, “It’s the Only One We Have.”

November 5, 2007 Posted by | Environment, Iraq, News, Science, War | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Perspectives on War


I was talking recently with a couple of friends who have experience in military and foreign relations. As sometimes happens with us, the discussion turned to politics.

The question was asked, “What do you think about Russia and China conducting joint military training?”

One friend, who has a military background, dismissed the exercises as “showing off.”

“So you don’t think they can amass the power to oppose the US in world military matters?” I asked.

“I think the trainings were a desperation move,” my other friend responded. This friend has worked with the American diplomatic corps in international locations for years.

“Why do you say that?”

“China and Russia consider themselves decision makers along with US on international levels, but in recent years, they have found themselves out the picture and being ignored. They are trying to drawn some attention hoping the world will remember their presences.”

“As though the world doesn’t remember that they are both serious nuclear powers?” I was skeptical.

“They hope, among other things, that if they make a display of comradeship and display their combined military might, other countries will look to them with more respect,” said my diplomatic friend.

“They can only do so much, though,” agreed my military friend. “In the end, they know and everyone knows that we could crush them and their entire military in less than 24 hours.”

“Yeah, right,” I said sarcastically. “Like we crushed Iraq.”

“No war has ever been won faster than Iraq,” declared my military friend.

“What about the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War?”

“No. We won the war in less than eight hours and then we invaded to take out the remaining resistance. It took time to cover the land and actually get to Baghdad, but by then the war had been won.”

“What do you mean, eight hours? Eight hours from when we got to Baghdad, or eight hours from when we crossed the Kuwait border initially?”

“By military definition, a war is won when one side destroys the enemy’s military and renders it unable to fight. That only took us less than eight hours with airstrikes, before we ever crossed the border,” my military friend explained.

I repeated one of my initial questions. “Could we cripple the combined military of Russia and China as quickly, without nuclear reprisal?”

“Easily,” my military friend asserted. My diplomat friend agreed with a nod.

“Without inviting a nuclear attack from them?” I was very skeptical.

“There is no assurance that we could avoid nuclear missiles getting into our territories,” said my diplomat friend. “Desperation may lead the losing countries to try using their nuclear power, and they might get missiles through before we could destroy them.”

My military friend added, “But we have jets that have never been used in any war, sophisticated weapons…”

“Do you really believe that we are 100% capable of taking out any nuclear warhead directed at the US or its allies?” I demanded. No matter what the technology might be, error-prone humans create the equipment, program it, and operate it.

“Nothing is one hundred percent assured,” agreed my diplomat friend.

“Do you think any country would actually use nuclear weapons?”

“Yes,” asserted my military friend without hesitation. “Any Muslim country that obtains nuclear weapons will use them against us.”

I was still skeptical, but thoughtful. “I prefer to think that the lessons of Japan and even of Chernobyl would cause leaders not to use them, but if the nuclear arsenal of a country got into the hands of fanatics, I don’t think we would be able to judge what might happen. Fanatics just don’t think like we do.”

“Consider, too, that the world population is increasing and there are not enough natural resources to satisfy everyone. It won’t be long before the countries of the world will be fighting over resources as basic to sustaining life as water.” My diplomat friend has already been at the negotiating table on matters of resources and the environment.

“That is definitely true,” I agreed. “But if nuclear weapons are used, then the land affected by them becomes uninhabitable, and resources like water that pass through contaminated lands will be unusable.”

“Right, but some countries may see themselves as having no choice but to destroy more powerful countries just so they can survive. They believe the historically powerful countries are dominating the world and they need to be taken out. For instance, that is what many Muslims believe. They think the only way for Islam and their way of life to survive is if there is no powerful Western influence over their government or their culture.” My military friend feels strongly about this, in case that fact escaped anyone.

“There are plenty of countries that resent our interference in their policies. Venezuela is one. Obviously the Muslim world thinks that of any non-Muslim power. China has been careful to prevent foreign influence and accused England of causing their population to become addicted to opium in the 19th century in an effort to control them,” my diplomat friend pointed out.

“No country appreciates the interference of outside forces,” I agreed, “unless they see that country as an ally that has been invited for a particular purpose – like Kuwait during the Gulf War.”

“The bottom line,” declared my military friend, grinning, “is that we need to destroy the rest of the world sooner rather than later if we want to stay in the driver’s seat.”

“Now you’re thinking clearly!” I laughed.

“Right,” said my diplomat friend. “Instead of annexing the rest of the world, we should just annihilate those other countries. We should learn from the mistakes Rome made.”

“Not to mention the Soviet Union,” I added. “Ancient Greece, ancient Persia, Hitler, Napoleon – all made the same mistake of trying to conquer the world when they should have just destroyed it.”

“Finally you two are talking like people who know what they are talking about,” my military friend chuckled.

What’s disconcerting is that I’m not sure he wasn’t just a little bit serious.

October 16, 2007 Posted by | Foreign Relations, History, Humor, Iraq, News, Politics, War | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Defeat in Iraq?


Map of Iraq

Map of Iraq

The following is a story off the wires from a news service in India. Upon reading it, my question is this:

If the American Intelligence community believes that the British have been defeated in Basra (Al Basrah on the map above), what must they think has happened in Baghdad, where violence is so much worse? And why isn’t THAT being reported?

 

London, Aug.8 (ANI): American intelligence officials believe that British forces have been defeated in Basra.

According to The Telegraph and the Washington Post, British commanders had reportedly allowed militias loyal to three Shia Muslim groups to take control of the city. ntelligence officials were quoted as saying that about 500 British troops based at the Basra Palace have been “surrounded like cowboys and Indians”.

Basra is one of four provinces handed over to British control after of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Three of the four provinces have been pacified and handed back to local leaders; Basra, the most populous, is due to be returned by the year end.

Both papers quoted Major Mike Shearer, a spokesman for the British command in Basra, as saying that the suggestion that UK troop levels in the province (5,500), had been cut too fast, was not true.

“This is not Dorset, but Basra’s crime levels are half the level of Washington,” he said.

A second British official in Basra, while admitting that violence has increased in the city, said the American criticism was misplaced.

Gordon Brown told George W Bush at their meeting at Camp David last week that British troops planned to hand over responsibility for Basra to local leaders within months, but that the decision was in the hands of British commanders.

Britain’s former governor of Basra, Sir Hilary Synnott, said the US criticism was payback for British claims two years ago that Basra was a success while Washington had failed in Baghdad.

A think-tank report has said the legacy of British rule in Basra was “the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighbourhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias”.

A spokesman for the British embassy in Washington said yesterday that the Washington Post report did not reflect America’s official position on British force levels.

August 8, 2007 Posted by | Iraq, News, War | Leave a comment

A Twizzle in Time: A Twisted Political Fairy Tale


A Twisted Political Fairy Tale magnify

Once upon a time there was a spoiled rotten prince named George who got to be king. He was a brat of a prince, and his father, Old King George, always expected his somewhat less bratty and somewhat nobler brother Jeb to become King, but somehow Bratty Prince George weaseled his way onto the throne while the Old King and Prince Jeb weren’t looking. Now that he was on the throne, it was proving impossible to dislodge him.

One day, a group of the bratty king’s reluctant advisors were talking about him behind his back, which was the safest way to say negative things about the bratty king. Count John of the Ashy Croft mentioned his concern. “He gets this glazed look in his eyes and it there’s no getting through to him,” he complained.

General Colin the Powellful, a mighty warrior dedicated to the kingdom, related what he had seen. “He puts his arms out, stretched in front of him like a zombie or like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, and says in a weird voice, ‘must have Twizzlers, must have Twizzlers.’ It’s sick. HE thinks he’s being funny!” The grizzled general shook his head is disgust.

Condi, the Baroness Rice, who was in charge of all things having to do with grain, noted that the bratty king’s obsession with Twizzlers was so extreme that “he just seethes and bristles until I show up with his daily supply. And if I’m late, he’ll be screaming, ‘where’s my sugar? Get me some sugar!’ It’s horrifying. And I’m in charge of grains, not sugar! It’s not my job!” Her lovely brow furrowed with grumpiness as she stamped her dainty foot.

“I know what you mean,” agreed the king’s new personal physician, Dr. Moritsugu. “He does the same thing to me. It’s impossible! I’m a Doctor, guys, not a confectioner!”

Earl Rover, perhaps the bratty king’s best friend and closest advisor, confided that the famous “pretzel incident,” where the bratty king allegedly choked on a pretzel in in a local tavern, was a coverup for the real problem. “He choked on a Twizzler, but I didn’t want the public to know the awful truth.” The earl was almost in tears as he confessed this secret. “I mean, he drinks tankards of ale using Twizzlers as straws! Even peasants with iron stomachs retch at that combination. The kingdom will soon be knee-deep in barf.” The others nodded sympathetically, all looking a bit green.

Wolf O’Wits, a lesser noble desperate to keep his advisory position and fearing a fall from favor, said that he always kept a bag of Twizzlers nearby. “If the King starts suggesting that he’s unhappy with my advice, I just offer him a Twizzler. It works every time.”

The Don of Rummy, advisor of all things alcohol-and-cards-related, admitted that he also used Twizzlers to suck up to the bratty king. “I keep some around at all times,” he confided. It keeps the king calm and I can pretty much get accomplished whatever I feel I need to.” Wolf O’Wits nodded in agreement. Colin the Powellful looked askance at the Don, whose agenda he disapproved of.

Richard the Clarke, a crusty advisor left over from several kings before, posed the inevitable question: “What should we do?”

The advisors all shook their heads in bafflement and sadness. Robert the Gateskeeper spoke up. He was in charge of defense of the kingdom, and saw the bratty king’s Twizzler addiction as a weakness that could be penetrated by enemies. “We have to break his addiction,” the Gateskeeper said decisively.

“But how?” asked Baroness Rice, who was not much for original ideas.

“I know!” said Earl Rover. ” Let’s call Alan of the Green Span.” The Green Span was the most impressive bridge into the Kingdom, and Alan of the Green Span was a very famous bridge-tender. He was known for having established the toll rates that must be paid by anyone entering the kingdom on business. Many people thought he had the answer to almost everything because he was so wise. So the advisors trooped off to visit Alan of the Green Span, who was tending flowers in his retirement.

“I don’t think I can be of much assistance,” Alan of the Green Span objected as he deadheaded his petunias. “I’m retired. Let the young men in charge of things decide such policy.” When he said this he looked pointedly at the Don of Rummy. It was well known that Rummy’s policies and decisions were unpopular in the kingdom. In fact, there were rumors that Robert the Gateskeeper would replace the Don as the bratty king’s confidante very soon. But of course, those were just rumours.

Next the advisors decided to consult Alberto, the most famous lawyer in all the kingdom. “Unless you want to sue the manufacturer of Twizzlers or get an injunction to shut down production, I can’t help,” said Alberto. He shrugged his shoulders and examined his briefs. Condi examined his briefs, too.

“Alberto had a good idea, actually,” remarked Gutierrez, who was the advisor over the various commercial guilds in the kingdom. “If there is an injunction, then no more Twizzlers can be made, and the king will have to do without. Perhaps a modicum of sanity will then return to the throne.”

“Yes,” agreed Michael of Shirt Off, who was very concerned that the kingdom be secure so that he could go play half-naked golf. “An injunction is just the thing to do.”

So the advisors, now joined by Gutierrez and Shirt Off, and with the blessing of Alan of the Green Span (and accompanied by a selection of his finest cut flowers) went back to Alberto.

“There has to be a reason to shut down production of Twizzlers,” explained Alberto. Obviously we can’t give the real reason because the king would simply issue a decree saying that Twizzler production could go on. We have to come up with another reason.”

The advisors thought and thought. Then an advisor who had not spoken up before had an idea. Michael of Leave It, generally a lazy advisor known for his tendency to procrastinate, suggested looking at the label on a package of the King’s favorite Twizzlers. “Corn Syrup, Flour, Sugar, Cornstarch, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil 2% or Less, Salt 2% or Less, Artificial Flavorings 2% or Less, Citric Acid 2% or Less, Potassium Sorbate 2% or Less – a Preservative, Artificial Coloring 2% or Less – Includes Red 40 …”

“What does THAT mean?” cried Wolf O’Wits.

“I recognize some of those words, but not very many,” agreed Richard the Clarke.

“Aha!” shouted Gutierrez. “I think we have our angle!”

Even Alberto looked confused, but as Gutierrez explained his reasoning, smiles appeared on the faces of all the advisors. Alberto grinned. “Yes, I think that will work,” he said.

The next day Judge John Robert, the highest judge in all the land, entered an injunction against the manufacture of Twizzlers. Puffing on his houka, the high Judge announced that henceforth there would be a permanent injunction against the manufacture not only of Twizzlers but of any item claiming to be food that did not contain all ingredients easily recognizable as food to any casual label-reader.

It was not long before the bratty king left the kingdom on a crusade to other lands to find the elusive Twizzler. He left his most trusted advisors in charge, but his penis, which he jokingly referred to as “Chainy” accompanied him assuring that there would be no offspring of the bratty king left in the kingdom.

Years went by and no one heard from the bratty king. A new king was selected and assumed the throne. Even though the new kinghad his own issues, nothing as serious as the Twizzler escapade ever troubled the kingdom again. And the citizens were healthier, to boot.

Children, the moral of the story is that if you can’t pronounce it, if it’s not made of things you can imagine consuming raw, don’t eat it. It might make you as crazy as bratty King George.

Bardic voices inspiring this fairy tale include Broken Newz.

January 10, 2007 Posted by | Creative Writing, Fiction, Humor, Iraq, News, Politics, War, Writing | Leave a comment

Bush: “There is No Civil War” and “It’s Al Qaida’s Fault”


magnify

This photo, a slide from a power point presentation prepared by the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), shows the drastic increase in sectarian violence in Iraq since the February bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra. CENTCOM is the military command that oversees the war in Iraq.

As of this writing, the slide is nearly two months old. October and November were the deadliest months for American forces in Iraq since the war began, and it was not exactly a picnic for the Iraqis. The death squads that roam Baghdad didn’t exist before Samarra’s bombing. Snipers were not out in the force that they now are. Scores of tortured, usually dismembered or decapitated bodies have been found daily in Baghdad since August. Anbar Province is practically lawless.

Why is the situation deteriorating? There are numerous reasons apparent from the slide.

• Iraqi police are ineffective at best, and are being rounded up and murdered by local militias.

• Moderate politicians have little influence and often are kidnapped or assassinated. Those who scream for drastic action get more attention and militant followings.

• More important than the political leaders are the religious leaders, and the moderates among them are being assassinated and silenced. Again, the militants seem to gravitate toward the extremists, not the moderates.

• Sectarian conflicts among the members of Iraq’s security forces are increasing.

• Police and military desert their posts and jobs in greater numbers.

• Militias, not the military or the police, seem to be “law enforcement” in Iraq, and they are becoming more and more active.

• Violence motivated by sectarian differences has moved into a “critical” phase.

Neighborhoods “allow” the violence to go on, according to CENTCOM. I question how the neighborhoods could stop armed militia members from their random kidnappings and murders, but CENTCOM obviously knows more that I do about that situation.

At the bottom of the slide, CENTCOM notes that “urban areas [are] experiencing ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaigns to consolidate control” and “violence [is] at all-time high, spreading geographically.” Based on the news reports I’ve seen, violence also appears to be increasing exponentially. The sheer number of mutilated, tortured corpses found since August, often at the rate of more than 50 a day, boggles the mind.

According to the New York Times, President Bush said Tuesday that al Qaida was responsible for the increasing sectarian violence in Iraq. He claimed that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al Qaida leader in Iraq who was killed by American forces over the summer, operated al Qaida in Iraq with the primary purpose of causing this kind of conflict between the different branches on Islam in the country. Naturally the president says that the US “will continue to pursue al Qaida to make sure that they do not establish a safe haven in Iraq.”

Not surprisingly, neither the American military commanders most familiar with the situation nor Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, agree with Bush’s assessment of al Qaida. The conflict between Sunni and Shi’a that has heavily armed militias roaming the streets of Baghdad and other cities is more complicated that simply what happened at Samarra. Although the al Qaida-sponsored attack in Samarra may have started things back in February, neither that attack nor any continued efforts of al Qaida are credited with the roving bands of militia that kidnap, torture, mutilate, and kill members of the other sect in what amounts to sectarian cleansing of neighborhoods in Baghdad and other cities.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the senior spokesman for the American military in Iraq, says that mortar and rocket attacks between Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods are on the rise, and things are expected only to get worse because of last week’s attacks. Last Thursday, our Thanksgiving Day, a series of bombs exploded in a Shiite district of Baghdad killing more than 200 people. The following day, Shiite militias attacked Sunni mosques in Baghdad and in the nearby city of Baquba.

King Abdullah of Jordan and Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, have both said publically that Iraq teeters at the brink of civil war, something that President Bush seems to spend da great deal of time denying. Jordan is one of the moderate states in the Middle East that is on reasonably good terms with the US. In the geography of the Middle East, however, Syria and Iran, both of which border Iraq and both of which have large Kurdish populations, may have more influence than Jordan, and certainly more influence than the UN. Bush has repeatedly said that the US will never ask either of those countries for help to stem the sectarian violence in Iraq.

In August Gen. John P. Abizaid, who heads CENTCOM, publically mentioned the likelihood of civil war in Iraq. The sides in a civil war would be along sectarian lines – and there are essentially two divisions: Sunni and Shi’a. Throw in the Kurds’ eternal quest for a homeland and a third party comes into the mix.

Bush says it’s not a civil war, but earlier this month Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples of the Defense Intelligence Agency described the conflict between the two sects of Islam as an “ongoing, violent struggle for power.” Prime Minister Maliki says that the sectarian attacks are “the reflection of political backgrounds” and that “the crisis is political.”

What is a civil war but a political struggle for power between two or more opposing armed factions? The American Heritage Dictionary defines “civil war” as simply “a war between factions or regions of the same country.” Wikipedia, my go-to authority for anything that needs defining, goes into a little more detail:

“A civil war is a war in which parties within the same culture, society or nationality fight for political power or control of an area. Political scientists use two criteria: the warring groups must be from the same country and fighting for control of the political center, control over a separatist state or to force a major change in policy. The second criterion is that at least 1,000 people must have been killed in total, with at least 100 from each side.”

Regardless of the definition used, I think the sectarian conflict in Iraq qualifies. In the NY Times article that supplied Wiki’s definition of the term, James Fearon, a political scientist at Stanford, agrees.  “I think that at this time, and for some time now, the level of violence in Iraq meets the definition of civil war that any reasonable person would have,” he said.

General Caldwell, the military spokesman,  described Al Qaida as having been “severely disorganized” by American and Iraqi efforts this year, but reminded us that it is “the most well-funded of any group and can produce the most sensational attacks of any element out there.” He summarized the continuing violence in Baghdad this way: Shiite militias conducting murders and assassinations in the city’s Sunni western section, and Sunni insurgents and Al Qaida staging “high visibility casualty events” in the city’s predominantly Shiite east.  And despite the fact that a tourniquet might be applied to the sectarian violence if influential neighboring nations exerted pressure on the warring factions, President Bush appears determined to ignore Iran and Syria, Iraq’s two key neighbors, as long as possible.

General Caldwell won’t say that Iraq is engaged in a civil war because the government still operates and there is not “another viable entity that’s vying to take control.”  Yes, that would take it out of the part of the Wiki definition, certainly, but the people of the middle east are not only accustomed to theocratic control of their governments, Islam demands it.  Sunni and Shi’a are battling in the streets to determine which branch of Islam will dominate Iraq’s government.  But struggles for political and economic power were taking place on many levels throughout the country, including fights among Shiite groups seeking dominance in the south and among Sunni elements in Iraq’s west.

The Wiki definition also says that civil wars occurs when there is fighting or voilence intended to force a major policy change.  Changing the government’s Sunni leanings to Shi’a and vice versa are huge policy matters in any Islamic state.

The question of whether the fighting constitutes a civil war has becoming an increasingly sensitive one for the Bush administration, as Democrats cite agreement among a wide range of academic and military experts that the conflict meets most standard definitions of the term.

Why is President Bush so reluctant to admit what seems obvious to so many experts? I wonder if Bush believes that if the administration is left with no alternative but to concede that Iraq is in a state of civil war, then the American mission there will have failed despite “Mission Accomplished” being declared there three and a half years ago.

I’d love to hear from politically conservative friends as well as the more liberal-leaning ones who tend to comment on my political blogs.

November 15, 2006 Posted by | Foreign Relations, Iraq, News, Politics | Leave a comment

Kurdistan


Kurdistan magnify

Kurds are one of the largest ethnic populations in the world without a country.

The Kurds are an ancient people who have inhabited the area of Kurdistan for as long as 8,000 years.  The Kurdish language cannot be taught legally in Iranian schools.  It is banned entirely as a language in Syria, and Turkey has prosecuted people for using it even as recently as 2003.  The only part of Kurdistan where the language thrives is Iraq, and Iraq hosts Kurdish refugees from the other parts of Kurdistan. Although the language in Indo-Iranian in origin, “the historical development of the Kurdish language (both grammar and vocabulary) is distinct and different than the other members of the Iranian language family,” according to Wikipedia.

For centuries the Kurds have been persecuted much like the Jews of Europe and the Native tribes of North America.  For instance, in the 16th century, as the Ottomans conquered more and more of Persian, entire Kurdish regions of Anatolia were systematically destroyed.  Cities were and crops were burned and the people who survived were forcibly marched to Azerbaijan and even further east, as far as 1,500 miles away to Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains.

Because of their ethnic identity, Kurds have continually sought autonomy from the governments that have split Kurdistan.  When the Ottoman Empire finally decayed out of existence in the early  20th century, many Kurds expected that autonomy.  When it failed to materialize, they believed that the newly created Turkish republic had betrayed them.  Backed by the United Kingdom, Turkish Kurds declared independence in 1927 and established the Republic of Ararat, which was never recognized by the international community.  In 1931Turkey resumed control over the disputed area. Turkey again suppressed Kurdist revolts in 1937-1938, while Iran did the same in the 1920s. The Soviet-sponsored Kurdish Republic of Mahabad, in Iran, lasted barely more than one year after World War II.  Kurds fought Iraq’s Baathist government for independence in the 1960’s and in 1970 rejected limited territorial self-rule within Iraq, unsuccessfully demanding larger areas including the oil-rich Kirkuk region.

During the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime implemented anti-Kurdish policies and practices which were widely condemned by the international community.  Among the more notorious actions against the Kurds under his rule was the Halabja poison gas attack, when Saddam used of chemical weapons against the Kurds. Thousands died.

Later, Saddam’s army, under the command of Ali Hassan al-Majid, carried out  a systematic genocide of the Kurdish people. From March 29, 1987 until April 23, 1989, more than 2000 Kurdish villages were destroyed and an estimated 50,000 Kurds were killed in rural areas. The large Kurdish town of Qala Dizeh (population 70,000) was completely destroyed by the Iraqi army. The campaign also included Arabization of Kirkuk, a program to drive Kurds out of the oil-rich city and replace them with Arab settlers from central and southern Iraq. Kurdish sources report the number of dead to be greater than 182,000. Saddam Hussein is currently on trial and no doubt awaiting sentencing for his crimes against the Kurds.

So should Kurdistan be autonomous?

Since we invaded the country, the most peaceful portion of the Iraq has been the Kurdish north.  I have seen several articles about non-Kurdish Iraqis moving to Iraqi Kurdistan to escape the violence.  One has to wonder if this mass migration will result in the violence being brought to the doorstep of the peaceful Kurds. To a degree, it already has in cities like Kirkuk and Mosul.

Kirkuk itself is a thorny issue within the issue of Kurdish autonomy within Iraq.  Kirkuk is in a region with vast oil resources, but lies on the southwestern edge of the Kurdish area.  Negotiations with the Baathist government in 1970 broke down over whether or not Kirkuk would be part of the Kurdish autonomous region.

Iraqi Kurds want independence.  It would seem at first glance that an independent Kurdistan would be reasonable, except that our ally Turkey objects.  Turkey has the largest population of Kurds.

The area that would make an ethnic Kurdistan actually spreads into six countries: Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.  An estimated 25-40 million Kurds inhabit the area, which is approximately the size of France.  If Iraqi Kurds win independence, there could very easily be a domino effect in the other five countries with Kurdish populations.  This would destabilize the entire region, especially Turkey, Iran and Syria.  I can’t imagine anyone wants to see any of these countries, especially Iran or Syria, destabilized.

November 4, 2006 Posted by | Foreign Relations, Iraq, News, Politics, Religion, War | 1 Comment

Bush: ‘We’ve Never Been Stay The Course’


Think Progress » Bush: ‘We’ve Never Been Stay The Course’

Do You BELIEVE this BS? And Bush actually expects the American public to BUY this sudden denial of everything he’s said for the last three years?

Now, here’s another look at the “Stay the Course” idea. The Washington Post can sure spin things for this president. It’s “Cut and Run” from “Stay the Course.”

Bush’s New Tack Steers Clear of ‘Stay the Course’

Now, is he a moron, or does he think WE are?

October 24, 2006 Posted by | Foreign Relations, Iraq, News, Politics | 1 Comment

The Hunt for WMD Continues


 

Terror Watch: The Hunt for WMD Continues

Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R. – Mich.) demanded in recent weeks that US intelligence agencies continue to look for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  He might be another voice in the crowd, but unfortunately he is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.  The intelligence officials who report to his committee say there is nothing new to discover.

We have been in Iraq for three years now.  The UN weapons inspectors found nothing in the years preceding our invasion of Iraq, and since the invasion nothing of any significance has been found.  Yet Rep. Hoekstra wants to devote hundreds more man hours to continue looking for these phantom WMDs.

To be fair, some old chemical weapons have been found.  Recently 300 old chemical shells were found, and there were 500 sarin shells found earlier.  All of these shells, though, dated back to before the 1991 Persian Gulf War.  They were in such bad condition they couldn’t have conceiveably been used for any destructive purpose.

Saddam Hussein did not possess WMDs  before President Bush decided to invade Iraq.  He apparently had no plans to revive his program.   The WMDs that justified the invasion did not exist.  We went to war over phantom chemicals.

Hoekstra insists that “there are continuing threats from the materials that are or may still be in Iraq.” The thing is, though, Hoekstra has said he wants the intelligence agencies “to more fully pursue a complete investigation of what existed in Iraq before the war.”   BEFORE the war?  Why? It’s beating such a dead horse!  They don’t exist, and even if they do, they are in such poor shape they can’t be used!  Why waste the manpower and money to continue this wild goose chase?  Is he that desperate to somehow vindicate the White House?  Even the White House has backed off on its claims of WMDs.

Jamal Ware, a spokesman for Hoekstra, asserts that Hoekstra’s main concern is that all munitions dumps and sites that could still pose a hazard to U.S. soldiers be found. “Any effort that chairman Hoekstra has made in this area has been aimed at insuring the safety of our troops overseas,” he said.  So it’s not to make the Iraqi people more secure.  It’s to make our soldiers more secure.  But the alleged WMDs don’t pose a threat to our people!

There are those in the U.S. intelligence community who see Hoekstra’s demands as a waste of time.  One source Hoekstra claimed for proof of the existence of the WMDs was Georges Sada, a former Iraqi Air Force general who claimed in a book that chemical weapons were flown from Iraq to Syria prior to the U.S. invasion. Sada has admitted he never actually saw any of the weapons, but his allegations were prominently featured on Fox News.

The bottom line is that more than three years into the war, the mission is not accomplished and is unlikely ever to be accomplished.  There are better and more productive things to spend our intelligence resources on than a search for ghosts.

October 8, 2006 Posted by | Iraq, News, War | 1 Comment

‘Just a Comma’ on National Punctuation Day


'Just a Comma' magnify

According to the Carpetbagger Report, which can be accessed on the Think Progress website, this afternoon on CNN’s Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, George W. Bush practically said that all the sectarian violence in Iraq is irrelevant. When history views what is going on in Iraq now, Bush claims it will be seen as “just a comma.”

Is it just me, or does anyone else think he needs to go back to primary school and learn punctuation?

This is what was said:

BLITZER: Let’s move on and talk a little bit about Iraq. Because this is a huge, huge issue, as you know, for the American public, a lot of concern that perhaps they are on the verge of a civil war, if not already a civil war…. We see these horrible bodies showing up, tortured, mutilation. The Shia and the Sunni, the Iranians apparently having a negative role. Of course, al Qaeda in Iraq is still operating.

BUSH: Yes, you see — you see it on TV, and that’s the power of an enemy that is willing to kill innocent people. But there’s also an unbelievable will and resiliency by the Iraqi people…. Admittedly, it seems like a decade ago. I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is — my point is, there’s a strong will for democracy.

Presubably our Ivy League-educated Miscommunicator in Chief meant that all the mutilations, the suicide bombs, the beheadings, as well as all the senseless murder of civilian men, women and children in the marketplaces and at mosques, will be only a footnote in Iraqi history. That would make more sense, anyway.

I find it extremely hard to believe that what is happening in Iraq right now will be reduced to some kind of punctuation mark – a squiggle that doesn’t even mention it. Heck, I’ll go out on a limb and admit that I believe that it will even merit considerably more than a footnote! The Boston Tea Party merits more than a footnote, after all, and it had all the hallmarks of a fraternity prank, the likes of which I’m sure our esteemed chief executive was familiar with at Yale. If dumping a cargo of tea into Boston Harbor is part of the legend of American democracy, surely the mutilations and murders of thousands of people over a period of a few months will be part of the legend of Iraqi democracy.

How could we have re-elected this idiot? How could this fool ever have been elected president in the first place? Oh, yeah. I forgot. He wasn’t.

Perhaps Bush decided to make this comment because today is National Punctuation Day. No kidding. It really is.

September 24, 2006 Posted by | Foreign Relations, Grammar, History, Iraq, News, Politics, War | Leave a comment

Government Report: Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq


In a nutshell, even though “Mission Accomplished” happened years ago, the violence is much worse.  Aren’t we proud of what we did for that country? The people are so much better off! You only stop the killing by having a stable government in place.  And didn’t we do a good job of making sure their government was stable?

I’ll be the first to agree that Saddam Hussein was and probably still is evil incarnate on a par with Stalin and Hitler and Vlad the Impaler.  Obviously something or someone needed to stop him and his heinous offspring from their reign of terror.  But that is what revolutions are for.  Now we and our allies are mired in a situation that is repidly deteriorating into a much larger mess with as many people being murdered daily as Saddam himself managed.  Are we really improving things?

I admit to selfish motivation.  There is someone in Iraq right now who I very desperately want to come home as soon as possible in one piece.

Here’s a link to the report, dated August 29:

Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq

September 1, 2006 Posted by | Iraq, News, Politics | Leave a comment

Will the Killing Ever End?


When will it end? What is the point of Iraqi bombers targeting a market where men, women, children, and elderly people are going about the business of daily living? To protest grocery shopping? To shout against the unfairness of pomegranate prices? To frighten people away from the places they need to go as a matter of survival? Iraqi terrorist bombers are targeting their own wives, sisters and mothers. They kill their own tiny sons and daughters and their motives are unfathomable. They murder their grandmothers. They slaughter their fathers and grandfathers and cousins.

Why do the Iraqi and American governments claim no civil war is going on there? How can such a claim possibly be justified? Identifiable segments of society in Iraq have not only declared American soldiers as targets, but Iraqi citizens as well. Government buildings house the regulations and operations of complex institutions. They are the repositories of the records. Owning property, probating a will, and obtaining a guardianship are a few of the ways people interact with their governments. When these records are destroyed, lives are disrupted.

I just don’t get it.

August 30, 2006 Posted by | Iraq, Politics | Leave a comment