Friday, May 28, 2004

History lesson: GOP must stop Bush

By Carl Bernstein
USA Today
May 28, 2004

Bernstein is best known for working with Bob Woodward to break the Watergate story.

Thirty years ago, a Republican president, facing impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction by the Senate, was forced to resign because of unprecedented crimes he and his aides committed against the Constitution and people of the United States. Ultimately, Richard Nixon left office voluntarily because courageous leaders of the Republican Party put principle above party and acted with heroism in defense of the Constitution and rule of law.

"What did the president know and when did he know it?" a Republican senator — Howard Baker of Tennessee — famously asked of Nixon 30 springtimes ago.

Today, confronted by the graphic horrors of Abu Ghraib prison, by ginned-up intelligence to justify war, by 652 American deaths since presidential operatives declared "Mission Accomplished," Republican leaders have yet to suggest that George W. Bush be held responsible for the disaster in Iraq and that perhaps he, not just Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is ill-suited for his job.

Having read the report of Major Gen. Antonio Taguba, I expect Baker's question will resound again in another congressional investigation. The equally relevant question is whether Republicans will, Pavlov-like, continue to defend their president with ideological and partisan reflex, or remember the example of principled predecessors who pursued truth at another dark moment.

Today, the issue may not be high crimes and misdemeanors, but rather Bush's failure, or inability, to lead competently and honestly.

To read the rest of this column, see USA Today

Gen. Zinni: 'They've Screwed Up'
May 21, 2004

Retired General Anthony Zinni is one of the most respected and outspoken military leaders of the past two decades.

From 1997 to 2000, he was commander-in-chief of the United States Central Command, in charge of all American troops in the Middle East. That was the same job held by Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf before him, and Gen. Tommy Franks after.

Following his retirement from the Marine Corps, the Bush administration thought so highly of Zinni that it appointed him to one of its highest diplomatic posts -- special envoy to the Middle East.

But Zinni broke ranks with the administration over the war in Iraq, and now, in his harshest criticism yet, he says senior officials at the Pentagon are guilty of dereliction of duty -- and that the time has come for heads to roll. Correspondent Steve Kroft reports.
“There has been poor strategic thinking in this,” says Zinni. “There has been poor operational planning and execution on the ground. And to think that we are going to ‘stay the course,’ the course is headed over Niagara Falls. I think it's time to change course a little bit, or at least hold somebody responsible for putting you on this course. Because it's been a failure.”

To read the rest of the interview transcript, see

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Rhetoric vs. Reality in Iraq
June 30 handover not exactly 'full sovereignty'

Commentary --The Monitor's View
May 28, 2004
Christian Science Monitor

One of America's biggest problems in Iraq is its enormous credibility gap with Iraqis. Unfortunately, President Bush widened that disconnect this week by promising "full sovereignty" to an interim government on June 30. On that date, he declared, "the occupation will end."

Put yourself in the sandals of an Iraqi. Will it look as if the occupation is over and the nation has full control of its affairs when the US plans to keep more than 130,000 troops there? When Washington's ambassador to Baghdad will command the largest US embassy in the world? When US advisers will populate government ministries, and an international body will check on Iraq's use of its oil revenues?

To read the rest of this analysis, see CSM


The Economist

The summary of the Economist's report below is from Global Beat at NYU, which can be reached at Global Beat. You can access the Economist article and analysis through the Global Beat link.

In its annual strategic survey, the IISS reports that the Bush administration's actions in the Middle East-- especially the war in Iraq--have accelerated recruitment of terrorist candidates ready to fight for Al Qaeda.

Despite efforts to track down terrorist cells, the IISS estimates that 18,000 graduates of training camps in Afghanistan are still operational, and Al Qaeda has been made more effective by decentralizing the command structure that was previously in Afghanistan. The lack of sufficient U.S. troop strength in Iraq is forcing the coalition to turn to local militias to keep order. More important, these militias will exact a political price for their support. Loss of U.S. prestige due to mismanged intervention is likely to further reduce the U.S. room for maneuver.

The Economist assesses the IISS findings along with the FBI's warning of increased threat. The IISS' director John Chipman's summary of findings is available in pdf format. Chipman's presentation is available in streaming audio (Windows media player). A 25-minute Q&A with the staff of the Military Balance and news reporters is also available on line.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Army, CIA want torture truths exposed

By Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst

Blog editor's note: For a wire service report, even one that is a "news analysis," this is particularly hard-hitting, and if it is anywhere near the mark, the Bush Administration faces even more heat in the months to come.

WASHINGTON, May 18 (UPI) -- Efforts at the top level of the Bush administration and the civilian echelon of the Department of Defense to contain the Iraq prison torture scandal and limit the blame to a handful of enlisted soldiers and immediate senior officers have already failed: The scandal continues to metastasize by the day.

Over the past weekend and into this week, devastating new allegations have emerged putting Stephen Cambone, the first Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, firmly in the crosshairs and bringing a new wave of allegations cascading down on the head of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, when he scarcely had time to catch his breath from the previous ones.

Even worse for Rumsfeld and his coterie of neo-conservative true believers who have run the Pentagon for the past 31⁄2 years, three major institutions in the Washington power structure have decided that after almost a full presidential term of being treated with contempt and abuse by them, it's payback time.

Those three institutions are: The United States Army, the Central Intelligence Agency and the old, relatively moderate but highly experienced Republican leadership in the United States Senate.

None of those groups is chopped liver: Taken together they comprise a devastating Grand Slam.

To read the rest of this analysis, see UPI

Monday, May 17, 2004

Senators to Press Scandal
A GOP-controlled panel, feeling slighted by the administration and obliged to look at abuse of prisoners, has no plan to drop the issue soon

By Richard Simon and Elizabeth Shogren
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
May 17, 2004

WASHINGTON — As the White House struggles to get beyond the prisoner abuse scandal, it faces an unsettling fact: The Senate Armed Services Committee — controlled by Republicans — plans to keep the issue alive for weeks to come.

That promises more headaches for the White House and once undreamed-of opportunities for Democrats on the committee, such as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and other critics of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq.

The Armed Services Committee, led by 77-year-old Senate veteran John W. Warner of Virginia, has served noticed that it would not pull back, as the House Armed Services Committee has done. Instead, Warner plans extended hearings to call on the carpet such high-profile officials as Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, and L. Paul Bremer III, head of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

More disturbing still for the White House, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate committee say they will shift the focus from the misdeeds of a handful of guards at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. What they want to dig into instead is how senior Pentagon officials loosened the rules protecting prisoners during interrogation.

To read the rest of this analysis, see Los Angeles Times

Sunday, May 16, 2004

The Rise of bin Laden
A Review of
Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
by Steve Coll
Penguin, 695 pp., $29.95

Review by Ahmed Rashid
The New York Review of Books
Issue of May 27, 2004

Blog editor's note: What follows are some excerpts from a review of a new book dealing with the rise of Osama bin Laden. The review is written by a Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist whom I consider to be perhaps the most knowledgeable journalist writing today about Afghanistan, bin Laden and the Al Qaeda. His high praise for Coll's book, for me, makes it 'must' reading for anyone genuinely interested in how well the Bush Administration has done in the 'war' on terror.

As millions of people around the world gathered in front of their TV sets in March and April to observe the public hearings held by the independent commission investigating the September 11 attacks, the one name that seemed to hover over the room was Osama bin Laden. While they watched, one senior official after another from the Clinton or Bush administrations spoke of the numerous attempts by the CIA before September 11 to capture or kill him.

Some of the stories of their efforts to capture bin Laden had already been told. Those who had followed recent accounts of the work of US intelligence knew that the Clinton administration would not give an order to kill him in February 1999, when he was at a hunting camp in southern Afghanistan with a group of Arab princes. They also knew that the CIA hired both an Afghan mercenary group to kidnap him from an al-Qaeda farm in Kandahar in Afghanistan and a group of Pakistani commandos to do the same. Some of the listening public probably knew as much as the members of the commission.

Among the best informed were those who had read Ghost Wars by Steve Coll, a remarkable book published a few weeks before the public hearings began, which got much attention among people who follow intelligence matters, although nothing like the publicity given shortly afterward to Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies.[1] Clarke, after all, was one of the most powerful experts on terrorism in the White House. That he would openly say that the administration he once worked for was fighting the wrong war was wholly unexpected. Steve Coll's background is quite different. He was a reporter in Afghanistan, and he has been the managing editor of The Washington Post since 1998.

Ghost Wars, which has taken him twelve years to write, spells out the CIA's covert work in Afghanistan ever since the Soviet Union invaded that blighted country in 1979. Coll recounts in detail the CIA's encouragement and support of the Islamic jihad against the Soviets, and the consequences of this support for the rise of radical Islamists like bin Laden. Not surprisingly, the book gives particular emphasis to the critical period during the late 1990s after bin Laden established himself in Afghanistan and then, with the help of the Taliban regime, began his global jihad against the US and the West.

Conclusion to review

In hindsight, September 11 was the result both of a chronic failure of intelligence gathering and coordination among agencies working in Washington and of a failure to conceive of a strategy for the region including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and neighboring countries. But since September 11 there has been a far bigger blunder by the Bush administration: its failure to sustain momentum in the efforts to make Afghanistan more secure and more stable and to catch bin Laden. No hindsight is required in order to make this judgment. What needed to be done after the defeat of the Taliban should have been obvious. What successive US administrations could have done to prevent September 11 will always be debatable; perhaps the failure of intelligence to anticipate it is ultimately understandable, in view of the ponderous workings of bureaucracies. What is unforgivable is the failure of the current US administration to maintain the resources and manpower needed to rebuild Afghanistan and to arrest bin Laden after September 11, and its decision to go to war in Iraq instead.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

How a secret Pentagon program came to Abu Ghraib.

The New Yorker
Issue of 2004-05-24

Blog editor's note: This is Hersh's third article in a series on Abu Ghraib prison and the abuses that occurred there. It is the first analysis of which I'm aware that gives details about how the abuses came to occur. Judging from the latest Hersh piece, the idea that a few bad apples were to blame is in sharp need of revision. The Pentagon has denied Hersh's article categorically. As an aside, a lawyer friend of long experience tells me that at least two of the Cumberland Seven who have been charged with crimes at Abu Ghraib have hired top-flight lawyers with long experience in matters such as these, which means that they are not going to take the rap quietly.

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America’s prospects in the war on terror.

According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon’s operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld’s long-standing desire to wrest control of America’s clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.

Rumsfeld, during appearances last week before Congress to testify about Abu Ghraib, was precluded by law from explicitly mentioning highly secret matters in an unclassified session. But he conveyed the message that he was telling the public all that he knew about the story. He said, “Any suggestion that there is not a full, deep awareness of what has happened, and the damage it has done, I think, would be a misunderstanding.” The senior C.I.A. official, asked about Rumsfeld’s testimony and that of Stephen Cambone, his Under-Secretary for Intelligence, said, “Some people think you can bullshit anyone.”

To read the rest of this article, see New Yorker

Friday, May 14, 2004

The Wrong Direction

The New York Times
May 14, 2004

Watching President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld this week, it was hard to avoid the sinking feeling that they had already moved on from the Abu Ghraib prison mess and were back to their well-established practice of ignoring all bad news and marching blindly ahead as if nothing unusual had happened. That was the impression that emerged from Mr. Bush's disconnected performance on Monday, when he viewed photos and video stills of the atrocious treatment of prisoners by soldiers under his and Mr. Rumsfeld's command, and then announced that the defense secretary was doing a "superb job." It was stronger than ever yesterday, during Mr. Rumsfeld's road trip to Iraq, where he drew a curious parallel between himself and Ulysses S. Grant and announced his approach to the prison scandal: "I've stopped reading newspapers."

Mr. Rumsfeld told the soldiers that they had broad public support at home despite the Abu Ghraib scandal. That is obviously true. It is also beside the point. The proper way for Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld to show support for the troops is not to use them as a screen from the heat over the mismanagement of the military prisons. It is to fix the problem, now. The solution is real changes, not cosmetic ones like yesterday's announcement that Abu Ghraib's inmates would be moved within the prison grounds to new temporary quarters, which have been dubbed Camp Redemption.

To read the rest of the editorial, see New York Times

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Dancing Alone

New York Times
May 13, 2004

Blog editor's note: In one of the most remarkable journalistic sea changes on the Bush Iraq policy to date, Thomas L. Friedman writes a column that in many ways is this era's equivalent of Walter Cronkite's famous "WE ARE MIRED IN STALEMATE" broadcast February 27, 1968 after the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.

It is time to ask this question: Do we have any chance of succeeding at regime change in Iraq without regime change here at home?

"Hey, Friedman, why are you bringing politics into this all of a sudden? You're the guy who always said that producing a decent outcome in Iraq was of such overriding importance to the country that it had to be kept above politics."

Yes, that's true. I still believe that. My mistake was thinking that the Bush team believed it, too. I thought the administration would have to do the right things in Iraq — from prewar planning and putting in enough troops to dismissing the secretary of defense for incompetence — because surely this was the most important thing for the president and the country. But I was wrong. There is something even more important to the Bush crowd than getting Iraq right, and that's getting re-elected and staying loyal to the conservative base to do so. It has always been more important for the Bush folks to defeat liberals at home than Baathists abroad. That's why they spent more time studying U.S. polls than Iraqi history. That is why, I'll bet, Karl Rove has had more sway over this war than Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Bill Burns. Mr. Burns knew only what would play in the Middle East. Mr. Rove knew what would play in the Middle West.

To read the rest of Friedman's column, see New York Times

Prisoner Abuse: Patterns from the Past
Cold War U.S. Interrogation Manuals Counseled "Coercive Techniques"

National Security Archive
May 12 , 2004

The National Security Archive has just posted a series of primary documents entitled "Prisoner Abuse: Pattern from the Past" on its website. These documents focus on the Cold War-era U.S. interrogation manuals and the use of "coercive techniques" and place the Abu Gharib torture in the
proper historical context. The documents can be read at National Security Archive

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Bush apologizes after more photos surface

Globe and Mail
May. 6, 2004

Blog editor's note: To view the photos discussed in the story below, see Washington Post
The publication of more photos showing the abuse and degradation of prisoners in Iraq prompted U.S. President George W. Bush to apologize Thursday for the humiliation they had suffered.

The new photos threaten U.S. efforts to limit a scandal spiralling out of control. They come amid reports from the International Committee for the Red Cross that its officials were worried about activities at Abu Ghraib prison, near Baghdad, long before stories of mistreatment became public.

The photos come a day after Mr. Bush assured the Arabic world that the United States would not stand for such behaviour. On Thursday, after a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II, he said he was apologetic for the behaviour of some U.S. soldiers.

To read the rest of this story, see Globe and Mail

Powell aides go public on rift with Bush

Chief of staff says secretary of state is fed up with apologising for the administration and is disdainful of 'ideological' hawks

Gary Younge i
May 6, 2004
The Guardian

Colin Powell's key aide has described US sanctions policy against countries such as Pakistan and Cuba as "the dumbest policy on the face of the Earth".

In an article in GQ magazine Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff of the United States secretary of state, bemoans Mr Powell's firefighting role in President George Bush's cabinet.

"He has spent as much time doing damage control and, shall we say, apologising around the world for some less-than-graceful actions as he has anything else."

The article, which includes an interview with Mr Powell, is most illuminating for the comments made by his close friends and colleagues who are explicit about his distrust and disdain for the hawks in the administration.

To read the rest of this story, see Guardian

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

American soldiers brutalized Iraqis. How far up does the responsibility go?

The New Yorker
May 4, 2004

Blog editor's note: Hersh is the Pulitizer Prize-winning reporter who also broke the My Lai atrocity story during Vietnam, and is considered one of the best investigative reporters in contemporary journalism.

In the era of Saddam Hussein, Abu Ghraib, twenty miles west of Baghdad, was one of the world’s most notorious prisons, with torture, weekly executions, and vile living conditions. As many as fifty thousand men and women—no accurate count is possible—were jammed into Abu Ghraib at one time, in twelve-by-twelve-foot cells that were little more than human holding pits. . .

... A fifty-three-page report, obtained by The New Yorker, written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba and not meant for public release, was completed in late February. Its conclusions about the institutional failures of the [U.S. occupation] Army prison system were devastating. Specifically, Taguba found that between October and December of 2003 there were numerous instances of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib.

To read the rest of this article, see New Yorker

Iraq Abuse May Undermine U.S. 'War on Terror'

By Caroline Drees, Security Correspondent
May 3, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers feeds Arab and Muslim fears that the "war on terror" is part of a broad effort to humiliate them and plays into the hands of extremists like al Qaeda, analysts say.

While experts say the war in Iraq and the "war on terror" are not necessarily related, the maltreatment of Iraqi prisoners will hurt efforts to rein in global terrorism and blurs the distinction for many who already question U.S. motives, credibility and respect for human rights.

"Those Americans who mistreated the prisoners may not have realized it, but they acted in the direct interests of al Qaeda, the insurgents, and the enemies of the U.S.," said Tony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has held various positions in government.

To read the rest of this story, see Reuters

Diplomats criticize Bush policy on Israel

[in Seattle Post-Intelligencer]
May 4, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Sixty former U.S. diplomats have signed a letter to President Bush contending that his "unabashed support" for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is costing the United States "credibility, prestige and friends."

The letter expresses deep concern over Bush's April 14 endorsement of Sharon's proposal to pull out of Gaza but keep some Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

"By closing the door to negotiations with Palestinians and the possibility of a Palestinian state, you have proved that the U.S. is not an evenhanded peace partner," the letter said.

The number of diplomats who have signed the letter was disclosed by the office of Andrew I. Killgore, who was ambassador to Qatar from 1977-80. A co-author of the letter was Richard H. Curtiss, a former chief inspector of the U.S. Information Agency.

To read rest of story, see SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER

Monday, May 03, 2004

U.S. Official: Abuse Allegations Are 'a Big Deal
Charges Involving Army-Run Prison in Iraq Seen as Setback for Military; Britain Launches Inquiry

By Sewell Chan
Washington Post Foreign Service
May 3, 2004

BAGHDAD, May 2 -- The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff acknowledged Sunday that allegations that Iraqi prisoners were abused at a detention facility run by the Army have set back efforts to cultivate a positive image for the U.S. military in the region.

"Where a handful of people can sully the reputation of hundreds of thousands of people that are over there trying to give a better life to 50 million people, it's a big deal, because we take this very seriously," Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said on CBS's "Face the Nation," referring to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Myers added: "There are a lot of Iraqis that have daily contact with our forces, and they get to know the character and the compassion of our forces. And so they probably understand this is an aberration. Not that it won't be used against the United States of America. It certainly will."

Last week, CBS broadcast images showing Iraqis stripped naked, hooded and being otherwise tormented, allegedly by their U.S. captors.

The British military has also begun an investigation into abuses, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Sunday, after the Daily Mirror newspaper published photographs Saturday that purportedly showed British troops kicking, stomping and urinating on a hooded Iraqi detainee in the southern city of Basra.

"These allegations are being taken extremely seriously," Straw said, according to the Reuters news service. "The allegations are terrible."

Human rights advocates criticized the alleged abuses by U.S. soldiers at the prison in Abu Ghraib, a suburb of the capital.

To read the rest of this story, see Washington Post

Wolfie's Fuzzy Math

The New York Times
May 2, 2004

This administration is the opposite of "The Sixth Sense."

They don't see any dead people.

Beyond the president's glaring absence at military funerals; beyond the Pentagon's self-serving ban on photographing the returning flag-draped coffins at Dover; beyond playing down the thousands of wounded and maimed American troops and the thousands of hurt and dead Iraqi civilians, now comes the cruel arithmetic of Paul Wolfowitz.

What can you say about a deputy defense secretary so eager to invade Iraq he was nicknamed Wolfowitz of Arabia, so bullish to remold the Middle East he froze the State Department out of the occupation and then mangled it, who doesn't bother to keep track of the young Americans who died for his delusion?

Those troops were killed while they were still trying to fathom the treacherous tribal and religious beehive they were never prepared for, since they thought they'd be helping build schools and hospitals for grateful Iraqis.

Asked during a Congressional budget hearing on Thursday how many American troops had been killed in Iraq, Mr. Wolfowitz missed by more than 30 percent. "It's approximately 500, of which — I can get the exact numbers — approximately 350 are combat deaths," he said.

As of Thursday, there were 722 deaths, 521 in combat. The No. 2 man at the Pentagon was oblivious in the bloodiest month of the war, with the number of Americans killed in April overtaking those killed in the six-week siege of Baghdad last year.

To read the rest of Dowd's OpEd column, see The New York Times