13 May 2004

and the wheels on the bus keep falling off

Via Talking Points Memo comes a report from the Baltimore Sun that Powell says Bush was 'informed' of Red Cross concerns:

"We kept the president informed of the concerns that were raised by the ICRC and other international organizations as part of my regular briefings of the president, and advised him that we had to follow these issues, and when we got notes sent to us or reports sent to us ... we had to respond to them, and the president certainly made it clear that that's what he expected us to do," Powell said.

Powell said that he, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld kept Bush "fully informed of the concerns that were being expressed, not in specific details, but in general terms."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said last week that the president was first informed about the abuse of detainees in Iraq by Rumsfeld, who "let the president know that there were allegations of prisoner abuse in Iraq and that the military was taking action to address it."

There seems to be considerable confusion, I suspect deliberate, about where the responsibility lies. Taguba says that military intelligence ran Abu Ghraib. Cambone says that military police had operational control and military intelligence only had tactical control. Rumsfeld says that whoever had control it certainly wasn't him. Bush says that whoever had control it certainly wasn't him and he didn't know about whatever it was that Rumsfeld hadn't told him. But Powell says he had told Bush.

A couple of weeks ago Secrecy News posted a CRS Report that found no-one actually knows the source of authority for the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Is this a government or the deckchair shift on the Titanic?

axis of abuse

Go read Boykin, Schoomaker and Cambone: A Bushian trifecta for the roles of various actors in the matter of Abu Ghraib.

US Under-secretary of Defence for Intelligence Cambone appeared with General Taguba before the Senate yesterday. The transcript is instructive.

CAMBONE: The order placing the military police at Abu Ghraib under the tactical control of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade -- and here, for more of the detail, I can defer to General Smith -- but on November 19th of 2003, General Sanchez issued an order effectively placing Abu Ghraib under the tactical control of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade.

This order was within the authority of General Sanchez to give. And, as I say, Lieutenant General Smith might elaborate on the reasons that the order was given.

But what it did is it gave a senior officer responsibility for the facility -- for the facility. We needed someone to take care of such matters as security, force protection, the internal security, living conditions for the troops and other things. It did not give, as far as I understand it, the military intelligence brigade commander authority over military police operations.

And as I might note, if you look at General Karpinski's CNN interview last night, she makes comments to that effect.

Let me stress that the promulgation of the order in no way changed the rules governing the conduct of military police and military personnel in Iraq with respect to the laws of war, the Geneva Convention, CENTCOM directions or CJTF directions and instructions.


TAGUBA: Sir, the -- I did not question the order that was given to Colonel Pappas on the fragmentary order that he received on the 19th of November. It was not under my purview. I did ask him to elaborate on what his responsibilities were.

LEVIN: Your report states that that change in command, quote, "effectively made a military intelligence officer rather than an M.P. officer responsible for the M.P. units conducting detainee operations at that facility."

LEVIN: Is that your conclusion?

TAGUBA: Yes, sir. Because the order gave him tactical control of all units that were residing at Abu Ghraib.

LEVIN: All right.

Secretary Cambone, you disagree with that?

CAMBONE: Tactical control is the question here.

LEVIN: Do you disagree with what the general just said?

CAMBONE: Yes, sir.

LEVIN: Pardon?

CAMBONE: I do. I do not believe that the order placing Colonel Pappas in charge gave him the authority to direct the M.P.s' activities in direct OPCON (ph) conditions.

Is that true, General?

It's frankly unbelievable that a general of Taguba's rank and an under-secretary to Rumsfeld are unable to agree on who had control of the Abu Ghraib prison. It almost sounds like the kind of administrative cock-up bound to lead, under a less superb defence secretary, to the abuse and torture of prisoners.

Failing To Recognize Failure

In the course of committing this strategic error, Rumsfeld made many tactical misjudgments. He willfully alienated allies whose assistance, many warned him, would be necessary for a successful occupation. He arrogantly excluded officials from other federal departments -- especially State and USAID -- who knew much more than he did about reconstruction in general and Iraqi society in particular. He ordered (or at least accepted the order -- we don't yet know who made the decision) the dismantling of the Iraqi army, a move that created a massive power vacuum and put tens of thousands of armed, angry, unemployed citizens on the streets. He believed that Ahmad Chalabi, an exile who had no political base in Iraq, would readily be accepted as the country's new leader -- and, on that basis, didn't think that much "postwar" planning would be necessary. Far more unforgivable (after all, everybody's wrong sometimes), Rumsfeld devised no backup plan in case his belief proved mistaken (as it did).

All these mistakes have been recited many times before. The odd thing about the long list, viewed in the context of Abu Ghraib, is that Bush gave Rummy a pass for the whole lot. One of the president's jobs is to relieve the nation of Cabinet officers who make consistently bad decisions, especially bad decisions that swell the ranks of our casualties and diminish our standing in the world. The responsibility, to use a much-tarnished word, lies not with Rumsfeld but with Bush.

I while ago I blogged that 'unthinkable' is not a policy. Rumsfeld stands at the head of a chain of command that bears responsibility for Abu Ghraib. That does not make him a 'superb' secretary of defence. Refusing to think about what that means in terms of the US' standing in the world is bad policy but about par for the course.

We now know that the ICRC, the State Department and the CPA itself all drew Rumsfeld's attention to the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Rumsfeld then appeared before the Senate and announced he had forgotten to bring a copy of the chain of command for Abu Ghraib with him. More later.

Censored words unmasked: US intelligence exposed as student decodes Iraq memo

Armed with little more than an electronic dictionary and text-analysis software, Claire Whelan, a graduate student in computer science at Dublin City University in Ireland, has managed to decrypt words that had been blotted out from declassified documents to protect intelligence sources.

She and one of her PhD supervisors, David Naccache, a cryptographer with Gemplus, which manufactures banking and security cards, tackled two high-profile documents. One was a memo to US President George Bush that had been declassified in April for an inquiry into the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. The other was a US Department of Defense memo about who helped Iraq to 'militarize' civilian Hughes helicopters.

It all started when Naccache saw the Bush memo on television over Easter. "I was bored, and I was looking for challenges for Claire to solve. She's a wild problem solver, so I thought that with this one I'd get peace for a week," Naccache says. Whelan produced a solution in slightly less than that.

Demasking blotted out words was easy, Naccache told Nature. "Optical recognition easily identified the font type - in this case Arial - and its size," he says. "Knowing this, you can estimate the size of the word behind the blot. Then you just take every word in the dictionary and calculate whether or not, in that font, it is the right size to fit in the space, plus or minus 3 pixels.

About 16 ways round this technique spring to mind immediately. All the same, we'll hear the usual chorus that this technique justifies ever greater sececy in the War on Terror. The WoT is fast becoming a war on checks and balances as anything else.

12 May 2004

Great Wall Of China Seen From Space

ESA's Proba satellite here shows a winding segment of the 7240-km long Great Wall of China situated just northeast of Beijing. The Great Wall's relative visibility or otherwise from orbit has inspired much recent debate.

Well there's one urban myth that just turned into an urban fact. Now if we could just get rid of the myth that the wall predates the Ming dynasty.

11 May 2004

US Senator Patrick Leahy on Abu Ghraib

The mistreatment of prisoners by the U.S. military in Iraq was not limited to the crimes that have come to light at the Abu Ghraib prison. Rather, there was, in the words of the U.S. Army�s own inquiry, a �systemic and illegal abuse of detainees.� It is revealing, and particularly disturbing, that the U.S. personnel involved conducted themselves so openly, even posing with the victims of their sadistic acts. They obviously felt they had no reason to believe that their superiors would be upset with their conduct. The brazenness of these acts, the reported role of U.S. intelligence officers in encouraging such treatment to �soften up� detainees for interrogations, combined with earlier reports of similar abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, suggests a much larger failure.

And let�s be clear. We are not talking only about the individuals who engaged in these abusive acts. We are talking about a failure of leadership by an Administration that, well before this latest scandal, had already severely damaged this Nation�s reputation and effectiveness in a war against terrorism that is increasingly perceived by Muslims around the world as a war against Islam itself. The growing anger and hostility toward our troops has been exploited by Saddam loyalists and extremists who answer to Iran�s ayatollahs. They have committed despicable acts of violence against Americans, including the desecration of corpses.

I am working on a longish post on Rumsfeld's appearace before the two congressional committees, but frankly I'm overwhelmed by the sheer wrongness of what's reported each day.

where the bodies are buried

Reuters quotes Bush's remarks at the Pentagon:

Mr. Secretary, thank you for your hospitality, and thank you for your leadership. You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror. You're doing a superb job. You are a strong Secretary of Defense, and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude.

I have not seen anyone comment yet that one motive for Bush retaining Rumsfeld is fear of how Rumsfeld may react to being dismissed. I do not think Rumsfeld would take it kindly. Bush has been burned by one Cabinet officer, former Treasury Secretary O'Neill. Rumsfeld would certainly have access to much more damaging information and I cannot think Bush would want to face what he'd see as a second revenge memoir.

The Bush remarks also make nonsense of his apology for Abu Ghraib. You cannot claim to be sorry for a series of events and then give this warm and uncritical endorsement to the author of the events.

systemic abuse or just part of the process?

Today Reuters reports:

The Red Cross saw U.S. troops keeping Iraqi prisoners naked for days in darkness at the Abu Ghraib jail last October and was told by an intelligence officer in charge it was "part of the process," a report leaked on Monday said.

The 24-page report added to the pressure on U.S. officials by revealing that commanders were alerted to apparent abuses at Abu Ghraib months before they opened a criminal investigation.

The Red Cross, which has special access to war zone prisons under international treaties, said mistreatment of prisoners "went beyond exceptional cases and might be considered as a practice tolerated by the CF (Coalition Forces)."

Abuse was "in some cases tantamount to torture."

Although most of the Red Cross's observations concerned U.S. forces, it also piled pressure on Washington's closest ally, describing British troops forcing Iraqi detainees to kneel and stomping on their necks in an incident in which one died.

The International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva confirmed that the confidential February 4 report, initially leaked on the Web site of The Wall Street Journal, was genuine.

Calling this anything but systemic is a really tortured argument. If the Pentagon had been on notice for months why are they only now acting?

10 May 2004

Timor arrest warrant for Wiranto

A United Nations-backed tribunal in East Timor has issued an arrest warrant against Indonesia's former military chief and current presidential candidate General Wiranto.

The warrant cites human rights abuses during the territory's bloody separation from Jakarta in 1999.

'The issuance of the Wiranto warrant is an important step in our continuing efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the violence against the civilian population of East Timor in 1999,' said UN prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian in a statement.

Wiranto, resigned from the military in 2000, was Indonesia's armed forces chief when army-backed militia waged a bloody campaign against independence supporters in the then Jakarta-controlled territory of East Timor.

The actual warrant may not figure in Wiranto's quest for the Indonesian presidency, but it would make it almost impossible for him to function as president. I notice it is at least getting a mention in the Indonesian media.

bordering on dishonest

From: Australia threatening East Timor's existence

East Timor's existence is under threat because of Australia's claims over the poor nation's natural resources, President Xanana Gusmao claims.

In a Four Corners report to be aired tonight, Mr Gusmao said Australia was defying international law with its claims over oil and natural gas deposits in the Timor Sea.

Australia and East Timor are at loggerheads over the boundary that separates the two nations.

At stake are key energy deposits which, when developed, will be worth billions in tax revenues to the respective countries.

East Timor believes the border should be drawn in the middle of the 600km of sea separating the countries.

That would place 90 per cent of the oil and gas reserves on East Timor's side. Australia wants its continental shelf to be the border. In some places that is just 150km from East Timor's coastline.

Under the current agreement, East Timor gets 20 per cent of the Greater Sunrise gas field, the richest in the area. Australia takes 80 per cent.

Australia has a clear choice between fairness and unfairness. There are competing rules of international law for drawing a maritime boundary. The mid-line between Australia and East Timor gives the Timorese a much greater share of the oil and natural gas. The line of the continental shelf gives Australia the lion's share.

Article 15 of the International Convention on the Law of the Sea provides:

Where the coasts of two States are opposite or adjacent to each other, neither of the two States is entitled, failing agreement between them to the contrary, to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial seas of each of the two States is measured. The above provision does not apply, however, where it is necessary by reason of historic title or other special circumstances to delimit the territorial seas of the two States in a way which is at variance therewith.

The Howard government's belief in its own position cannot be all that strong, because they excised maritime border disputes from the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Law of the Sea Tribunal. I am not sure 'It's ours because we wants it, don't we, precious' is all that ringing a claim to sound in the halls of justice.

Australia's only contested maritime boundary is with East Timor.

The chances of East Timor becoming a failed state, or a client state entirely dependent on Australian help. are greatly increased by claiming the continental shelf line. Excising the dispute from the ICJ's jurisdiction is just rigging the rules in favour of the government. The article also contains the usual bluster from the Foreign Minister of Kleenex.

A little longterm thought is in order.

9 May 2004

the judicial activist in the closet

Some stories just have to blogged. According to Richard Ackland Australia's premier judicial activist, His Eminence David Flint likes doing it in the dark:

One story doing the rounds is of him conducting a hearing in Bathurst, NSW, to do with a licence. The only available place that could suitably be used as a quasi-judicial venue was a space in one of the local motels. Flint wanted just the right touch of authority and, like a judge, to emerge into the hearing room from behind a door after three knocks, bow and take his seat at a bench at the front of the room. Unfortunately, the only door from which he could enter with the appropriate flourish was the door of a small cupboard and so it was that he stayed in the cupboard until the moment to emerge in all his splendour arrived.

There are just too many puns available. Nothing I can say could possibly make this any funnier.

telling the world

Fred Kaplan quotes the entire text of the Baghdad press conference where the US armed forces 'told the world' about Abu Ghraib:


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- An investigation has been initiated into reported incidents of detainee abuse at a Coalition Forces detention facility. The release of specific information concerning the incidents could hinder the investigation, which is in its early stages. The investigation will be conducted in a thorough and professional manner. The Coalition is committed to treating all persons under its control with dignity, respect and humanity. Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the Commanding General, has reiterated this requirement to all members of CJTF-7.

This is what Rumsfeld calls 'telling the world'...

That cursed word again

Powell was a peripheral party to the My Lai concealment, although more by omission than intent. Asked to make a preliminary investigation into rumours that civilians had been murdered, he wrote a report for his army superiors conceding there had been 'isolated instances' of abuse but added that 'relations between Americal soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent'.

This time around, older and presumably wiser, he appeared entirely genuine in his revulsion for the horrors of the Abu Ghraib prison and its US military police guards. His chief of staff hinted strongly that Powell will not stick around if George Bush is re-elected in November.

It's worth making the point Abu Ghraib is not an isolated instance of the isolated instance line.

Iraqi abuse 'known in February'

Downing Street has confirmed it received a Red Cross report on alleged abuses by UK troops on Iraqi prisoners in February.

I'm waiting with bated breath for the speech where Tony Blair flashes his eyes and purses his lips about this one.

slippery slopes and Abu Ghraib

The Toronto Globe abd Mail today editorialises thatAbu Ghraib's abuses require a wider focus:

From the 'extraordinary rendition' of foreigners in foreign lands to stealing out at midnight with a prisoner in New York proved not to be a large step. Similarly, it seems a natural progression to move from the degradations visited by Syrians on Mr. Arar to the depravities endured by Iraqi prisoners at the hands of Americans.

The Vince Lombardi approach to the war against terrorism -- winning is the only thing that matters -- is a legitimate one. But democracies do not win by allowing the rule of law to become corrupted. That road leads straight to the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

Perhaps Attorney-General John Ashcroft should have been answering questions beside Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday. On his watch, the U.S. government has created a legal black hole at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for 'enemy combatants.' It has created a similar legal void on U.S. soil for two of its citizens, Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla; they have been held without charge and virtually without counsel for two years. For an Iraqi prison to be treated as a pit in which the basest behaviour became possible seems one more natural progression.

It may be that the wanton cruelty at Abu Ghraib was actively promoted by military intelligence to extract information, a possibility raised yesterday by Democratic Senator Carl Levin. Or it may have arisen because of the military command's failure to maintain discipline in the lower ranks. Either way, Abu Ghraib was fostered by a climate in which anything goes.

The war on terrorism and the liberation of Iraq are just causes. When just causes sink to atrocities, and in doing so head down self-destructive paths, the only answer is to return to first principles: the rule of law, and unflinching openness. A full, honest and public examination of Abu Ghraib is only just beginning.

Sadly, no-one has a picture of what Arar endured at the hands of Syrian interrogators.

The further poetry of Donald Rumsfeld

Noted US poet Donald Rumsfeld recited some of his oeuvre before the US Senate yesterday.

And you say you don't like surprises.

My Lord, who likes surprises?

Nobody in the world likes surprises.�

But the world's not perfect.

Facts change on the ground.

And when facts change on the ground, commanders tell us.

And when commanders tell us, they get the troops they need.

Just extraordinary lyric insights...