Friday, May 28, 2004

Gray Lady Down
During the march to war with Iraq, many respected individuals and organizations were concerned that the facts supporting WMD's, Saddam's ties with bin Laden and other issues were muddled at best. Colin Powell was on the TV circuit last week outright admitting that mistakes were made regarding the accuracy of WMD evidence. Were the news organizations out there doing their best not to get wrapped up in the hysteria and actually do their fact-checking? Reporters from the NY Times, such as Judith Miller, were relying heavily on sources such as Iraq exile Chalabi for their stories. The basic "5 W's" may not have been followed closely enough. A May 26th story from the Times' editors offers up a mea culpa:

"Over the last year this newspaper has shone the bright light of hindsight on decisions that led the United States into Iraq. We have examined the failings of American and allied intelligence, especially on the issue of Iraq's weapons and possible Iraqi connections to international terrorists. We have studied the allegations of official gullibility and hype. It is past time we turned the same light on ourselves.

In doing so - reviewing hundreds of articles written during the prelude to war and into the early stages of the occupation - we found an enormous amount of journalism that we are proud of. In most cases, what we reported was an accurate reflection of the state of our knowledge at the time, much of it painstakingly extracted from intelligence agencies that were themselves dependent on sketchy information. And where those articles included incomplete information or pointed in a wrong direction, they were later overtaken by more and stronger information. That is how news coverage normally unfolds.

But we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged - or failed to emerge.

The problematic articles varied in authorship and subject matter, but many shared a common feature. They depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on "regime change" in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks. (The most prominent of the anti-Saddam campaigners, Ahmad Chalabi, has been named as an occasional source in Times articles since at least 1991, and has introduced reporters to other exiles. He became a favorite of hard-liners within the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi exiles, until his payments were cut off last week.) Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations - in particular, this one."

Incredible to think that one man, Chalabi, could have so successfully planted himself in both the media's mind and the neoconservatives' as well. He told this administration exactly what they wanted to hear: Saddam was extremely dangerous, he had nuclear weapon capability, he was in cahoots with Bin Laden and most damaging, he convinced them that Americans would be greeted quite warmly, and that he alone could rule Iraq (giving the U.S. a nice ally in this volatile region). A nice fantasy, to be sure. Anyone who dared question these presumptions was quickly brushed aside. So this is why we see an ever-changing "why" for invading Iraq, from the presence of WMD that threaten America (not found yet, dispite the capture of many Iraqis who would know exactly where they are) all the way to "bringing democracy to Iraq." The problem with that is the simple fact that democracy in Iraq might not be what we think:

"FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) - With U.S. marines gone and central government authority virtually nonexistent, Fallujah resembles an Islamic mini-state - anyone caught selling alcohol is flogged and paraded in the city. Men are encouraged to grow beards and barbers are warned against giving "western" hair cuts.

"After all the blood that was shed, and the lives that were lost, we shall only accept God's law in Fallujah," said cleric Abdul-Qader al-Aloussi, offering a glimpse of what a future Iraq may look like as the U.S.-led occupation draws to a close. "We must capitalize on our victory over the Americans and implement Islamic sharia laws."

The departure of the marines under an agreement that ended the three-week siege last month has enabled hardline Islamic leaders to assert their power in this once-restive city 50 kilometres west of Baghdad.

Some were active in defending the city against the marines and have profited by a perception - both here and elsewhere in Iraq - that the mujahedeen, or Islamic holy warriors, defeated a superpower.

Under the agreement, the marines handed security in the city to a new Fallujah Brigade made up largely of local residents and commanded by officers of Saddam Hussein's former army.

With the departure of the marines, the position of the U.S.-appointed civil administration has been weakened in favour of the clerics and the mujahedeen who resisted the U.S. occupation. That is a pattern that could be repeated elsewhere in Iraq after the occupation ends June 30, unless other legitimate leaders come forward to replace those tainted by association with the occupation."


"Women rarely appear in public and when they do, they are covered from head to toe in accordance with Islam's strict dress code for women. The lives of men revolve around Islam's tradition of praying five times a day."


"On Sunday, for example, scores of masked mujahedeen, shouting "Allahu Akbar," or God is Great, paraded four men stripped down to their underpants atop the back of a pickup truck that drove through the city. Their bare backs were bleeding from 80 lashes they had received as punishment for selling alcohol. They were taken to a hospital where they were treated and released.

Residents said a man found intoxicated last week was flogged, held overnight and released the next day."


"Are we Muslims, or not?" asked Abdul-Rahman Mahmoud, a 40-year-old father of three. "We are. So, we must apply God's laws. The mujahedeen's word is heard and respected, and the same goes for our clerics."

Sheik Omar Said of the Fallujah branch of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a Baghdad-based organization created last year to defend the rights of the Sunni Arab minority, insists that nearly everyone in Fallujah really wants Islamic law."


"However, the mujahedeen are clearly profiting from the hero status they acquired during the April battles against the marines.

There is even talk of building a museum dedicated to the "struggle" against the American occupation. Money has been collected in recent weeks to help the families of those who died in the fighting, said by the locals to number 1,000 "martyrs."

How will all of this eventually play out? I have no idea, but so far we all have to come to the realization that this march to war was on a road of very shaky evidence.

Monday, May 24, 2004

What Will Bush Say Tonight?
Well, his speech writers will have to come up with several new memes....can't use "we removed torture chambers and rape rooms" anymore. I suspect it will consist of several "stay the course" and "can't show signs of weakness by running" lines. Who will be the lucky recipient of a brand new Iraq at the end of June? I'm pretty sure Chalabi is out of the running!

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Where is God in Times of War?
If you believe this faith-based administration, this Country has been called on by a higher power to "deliver God's gift to the world (freedom)." Certainly Bush believes this, but his recovery from alcoholism-fueled faith is an example of the struggle between the peaceful teachings of religion and the "cowboy mentality" we Americans enjoy watching in movies. Wars are outside the realm of god, as the Pope has often said:

"When war, as in these days in Iraq, threatens the fate of humanity, it is ever more urgent to proclaim, with a strong and decisive voice, that only peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and united society," John Paul said. "Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of men."

The pontiff said that peace is "a gift of God and a humble and constant achievement by men."

...and here as well:

The Pope also questioned the President's statements invoking God's name as justification for the invasion. "God is a neutral observer in the affairs of man," the Pope said. "Man cannot march into war and assume God will be at his side."

The recent news items regarding Abu Ghraib and the wedding party massacre only serve to reinforce what past participants in wars have said: war is hell, nothing holy about it. Once started, all manners of human behavior are unleashed.....

Friday, May 14, 2004

Best Interviewer on Television?
Has to be Jon Stewart of The Daily Show. While TDS is progressive-leaning, it skewers everybody, no political party is left untouched. But what sets TDS apart from any of the other talk shows (Hannity, Dennis Miller, etc.) is that Jon is respectful of his guests, no matter how far apart their views might be. A good example of that was this
week, where Jon interviewed Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign, and Bill
Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard. On any other show, there would've been heated accusations, ratings-grabbing shouting matches......but on TDS, Jon actually talked to these folks, trying to discuss issues without any name-calling. Amazing, and very, very adult.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Somebody Give Dubya a Newspaper......
I know that Dubya is proud that he doesn't get his news from the "biased media," but you'd think somebody on his staff would change a few of his patented catch-phrases in order to reflect the latest news (from an excellent quote summary in Slate):

"There's still remnants of that regime that would like to take it back. … They could torture people and have rape rooms, and the world would turn their head from that and let it happen. But they can't do that anymore."—Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, BBC interview, March 16, 2004

"There are no more rape rooms and torture chambers in Iraq."—National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, CBS Early Show, March 19, 2004

"A fifty-three-page report, obtained by The New Yorker, written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba … listed some of the wrongdoing: 'Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.' "—Seymour M. Hersh, "Torture at Abu Ghraib," The New Yorker, posted April 30, 2004

"Because we acted, torture rooms are closed, rape rooms no longer exist, mass graves are no longer a possibility in Iraq."—Bush, remarks at "Ask President Bush" event, Michigan, May 3, 2004

"I'm not a lawyer. My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture. … I don't know if it is correct to say what you just said, that torture has taken place, or that there's been a conviction for torture. And therefore I'm not going to address the torture word."—Rumsfeld, Defense Department Operational Update Briefing, May 4, 2004

"It's very important for people, your listeners, to understand in our
country that when an issue is brought to our attention on this magnitude, we act—and we act in a way where leaders are willing to discuss it with the media. And we act in a way where, you know, our Congress asks pointed questions to the leadership. … Iraq was a unique situation because Saddam Hussein had constantly defied the world and had threatened his neighbors, had used weapons of mass destruction, had terrorist ties, had torture chambers …"—Bush, interview with Al Arabiya Television, May 5, 2004

The amazing thing to hear is how many right-wing talking heads are actually downplaying this incident.....Rush Limbaugh actually referred to the pictures as examples of "frat hazing," and "good old American pornography." Incredible. Of course, I'm sure Rush would've said the same thing if the prisoners were American soldiers being stacked naked by Iraqi prison guards.....

Whether you think that this behavior was condoned by folks at the top or not, the damage to US credibility has been done. Abuse and torture within these wartime prisons is an unfortunate reality of war. Many Americans see these prisoners as symbols of the 9/11 attacks, and so their abuse and torture is almost payback for some. The soldiers in the prisons, many of them who have been there for a long time and have had to indure untold stresses, feel the same way and so unleash their own anger on the prisoners. This is a reality of any war, where the enemy is dehumanized and our own base instincts are unleashed. The main difference between this incident and any other war? Two words: digital cameras. Yep, these new and cheap little cameras have allowed instant transmission of pictures to occur now.

My solution to the Abu Ghraib problem? Simple: tear that goddamn prison down. That symbolism would be a start, and then build a school or woman's hospital..something other than a famous torture chamber.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Bill and Ted's Excellent Broadcast
Did anyone else catch Ted Rall's appearance on the O'Reilly show last night? Ted's Pat Tillman cartoon has raised the ire of many folks, O'Reilly included. Ted raised many good points, all of which were thrown back at him with the usual "Republican moral indignation" tactics: Never calmly discuss issues (even ones that might be hard to face and discuss), resort to childish name-calling ("so Ted Rall thinks he's smarter than everyone else!" What??) and then throw 9/11 back to you ("..we have to avenge the 3,000 killed.."). Real dialogue is needed, folks, and we never hear it in the world of "instant labling" that many talking heads (Hannity, O'Reilly, etc.) live in. So, let me get this straight: Democratic administrations automatically lie to you, but Republican administrations don't? You've gotta be kidding! Ask yourself this simple question: Right now, if President Gore was mired in Iraq after many military leaders advised against occupation, no WMD's are found (after President Gore insisted they are there, and they pose a threat to you!), President Gore landed on an aircraft carrier in a jumpsuit one year ago to proclaim "Mission Accomplished," all of the Hannity/Limbaugh etc. folks would be supporting Gore?????? No way in hell! They would be asking the same "unpatriotic" quesitons folks like Rall and others have always been asking. So you see, folks, it isn't about the right actions, it's about defending your party, even when they are driving the car over the cliff.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

.....Worth a Thousand Words......
The outrage expressed in the Arab world over the prison pictures reinforces just how important images are in framing public opinion. Although we don't know for sure just how far up the chain prior knowledge (or even support for) these interrogation methods go, these pictures have only bolstered the rumors of torture within Saddam's famous prison. The US forces renamed the airport...why in the world keep this infamous prison open, let alone not rename it?

Images of civilian deaths have also been kept away from the public, except in places like The Memory Hole. Any military action in Iraq, like aerial bombing, is televised in a surreal green-hued nighttime method. Are there civilian casualties? Certainly. Should we see them? If the images of horribly mutilated bodies changes public opinion about war, then perhaps they should be available for the public to see. I'm reminded of the one epsode of the old "Star Trek" tv series, where two planets spent centuries at war, but computers fought the war, with the computed casualties sent off to die painlessly in chambers. When the computers were put out of order, the possibility of horrible deaths actually triggered talks of peace.......

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?