22 May 2004

moral clarity, intellectual obscurity

According to Newsday:

The Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that a U.S.-funded arm of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress has been used for years by Iranian intelligence to pass disinformation to the United States and to collect highly sensitive American secrets, according to intelligence sources.

It would somewhat weaken the concept of the axis of evil if Iran was manipulating the Bush adminsitration to get rid of Saddam. Perhaps. Somewhat. Maybe.

Tip via Talking Points Memo. And to think that using Chalabi was a brilliant step in the ever more brilliant career of strategic intelligence.

The New Yorker reports :

They call themselves, self-mockingly, the Cabal -- a small cluster of policy advisers and analysts now based in the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans. In the past year, according to former and present Bush Administration officials, their operation, which was conceived by Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, has brought about a crucial change of direction in the American intelligence community. These advisers and analysts, who began their work in the days after September 11, 2001, have produced a skein of intelligence reviews that have helped to shape public opinion and American policy toward Iraq. They relied on data gathered by other intelligence agencies and also on information provided by the Iraqi National Congress, or I.N.C., the exile group headed by Ahmad Chalabi. By last fall, the operation rivalled both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon's own Defense Intelligence Agency, the D.I.A., as President Bush's main source of intelligence regarding Iraq's possible possession of weapons of mass destruction and connection with Al Qaeda. As of last week, no such weapons had been found. And although many people, within the Administration and outside it, profess confidence that something will turn up, the integrity of much of that intelligence is now in question.

Perhaps these genius intellectuals should go back to the boring art of fact-checking. Perhaps, if one member of the axis of evil could use the Cabal's intellectual prejudices to get them to attack another member of the axis of evil then the whole axis was not all that, well, axial.

New Details of Prison Abuse Emerge

"On the third day, after five o'clock, Mr. Graner came and took me to room Number 37, which is the shower room, and he started punishing me," said Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh, detainee No. 18170. "Then he brought a box of food and he made me stand on it with no clothing, except a blanket. Then a tall black soldier came and put electrical wires on my fingers and toes and on my penis, and I had a bag over my head."

Al-Sheik said he was arrested on Oct. 7, and brought to Abu Ghraib, where he was put in a tent for one night. The next day, he was transferred to the "hard site," the two-story building that held about 200 prisoners and contained Tiers 1A and 1B.

He said a bag was put over his head and he was made to strip. He said American soldiers started to taunt him.

"Do you pray to Allah?" one asked. "I said yes. They said, '[Expletive] you. And [expletive] him.' One of them said, 'You are not getting out of here health[y], you are getting out of here handicapped. And he said to me, 'Are you married?' I said, 'Yes.' They said, 'If your wife saw you like this, she will be disappointed.' One of them said, 'But if I saw her now she would not be disappointed now because I would rape her.' "

He said the soldiers told him that if he cooperated with interrogators they would release him in time for Ramadan. He said he did, but still was not released. He said one soldier continued to abuse him by striking his broken leg and ordered him to curse Islam. "Because they started to hit my broken leg, I cursed my religion," he said. "They ordered me to thank Jesus that I'm alive."

The detainee said the soldiers handcuffed him to a bed.

"Do you believe in anything?" he said the soldier asked. "I said to him, 'I believe in Allah.' So he said, "But I believe in torture and I will torture you.' "

And remember, we are allegedly fighting terror, fighting evil.

21 May 2004

Iraq Hand-over Plans 'A Shambles', Says Tory MP

A Conservative MP who has just returned from Iraq delivered a scathing broadside on US policy in the country today, saying preparations for the hand-over of sovereignty on July 1 were a 'complete shambles'.

Crispin Blunt, a former Army officer, said the Americans had failed to prepare for the aftermath of last year's war and said their approach to occupation appeared little more than a 'Ccampaign to intimidate the Iraqi people'.

'We are seeing the collapse of American policy,' he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

'The conduct of the occupation by America is almost a campaign to intimidate the Iraqi people. It is extraordinary how they have carried on and their general attitude and now we are seeing a complete shambles in the run-up to the hand-over of apparently full sovereignty on July 1.'

Mr Blunt's comments come a day after party leader Michael Howard called on Prime Minister Tony Blair to speak out publicly when he disagreed with US President George Bush's actions on Iraq.

Mr Blunt said that British forces in Iraq did not yet know what their status would be following the transfer of authority to a home-grown interim administration in less than six weeks' time.

The Iraq situation is bizarre, but the situation in Washington is worse than bizarre. I've now read the transcripts of appearances before various congressional committees of

With the exception of Taguba all they're saying is that everything in Iraq is wonderful except for the bad apples of Abu Ghraib. The vaunted congressional hearing seems to be restricted to 5-minute and 10-minute bursts of questioning by individual members, many of whom begin by congratulating the witness on being wonderful. The witness then avoids the questions as hard as possible until the time runs out and the next legislator goes on to tell the witness how wonderful they are.

Question time has its limitations in Canberra and London but it's better than this nonsense. Rumsfeld, the world's most notorious micromanager, managed to forget to take a copy of the chain of command and his only explanation was: 'Oh my!' Rumsfeld did not get the ICRC memo about Abu Ghraib, or the Taguba report, or the photos. That speaks for a level of bureaucratic incompetence we have not seen from him before. The Henry Ford of defence secretaries is fast morphing into Alfred E Neumann. 'What, me worry?'

The chain of command is really quite simple. Rumsfeld is in charge of what the US Army does in Iraq. He's taken 'full responsibility'. He should act on that by resigning.

Broken Engagement

What the West supplied to the people of the East was, as former Solidarity leader and Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek told me, very simple: hope. They knew there was a countervailing force to the occupying Soviet power which had repressed them and subjugated their political systems. Democracy could reemerge in Central and Eastern Europe because of a several decades-long dance between popular resistance and cautious Western leaders who moved ever so carefully to provide support and encouragement without provoking the use of repressive force by the Communist governments in reaction or generating actual armed conflict between East and West.

So, when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an 'Evil Empire,' or stood before crowds in Berlin and proclaimed 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,' he was reaching a receptive audience on the other side of the wall. The neoconservatives persist in seeing a vast difference between Reagan's policy of confronting the Soviets and previous American administrations' tack of containing it. In fact, it was precisely those decades of containment and cultural engagement that made Reagan's challenge effective.

Bush, of course, has accompanied his invasion of Iraq with similarly bold and eloquent rhetoric about the prospect of peace and democracy throughout the Arab world. But it is hard to exaggerate how differently his words and deeds have been received in the Middle East, compared to Reagan's behind the Iron Curtain. While heartening some advocates of democracy, Bush's approach has provoked perhaps the fiercest and most alarming anti-American backlash in history. To take but one example, a March poll conducted by the Pew Center found that the percentage of people in Muslim countries who think suicide bombings are justified has grown by roughly 40 percent since the American occupation of Iraq. Even the most Western-friendly, pro-democratic media outlets in countries such as Jordan and Lebanon now openly question whether the Americans are anti-Islamic crusaders bent on assisting the Israeli occupiers of Palestine. This is a long way from Prague, circa 1989.

The reaction of the Middle East to America's invasion of Iraq should hardly have been surprising. Only willful blindness could obscure the obvious fact that the political and cultural conditions in the Middle East are profoundly different than those in the states of the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. To one degree or another, the values and forms of democracy were part of the historic culture of the states of Central and Eastern Europe: There were constitutions and parliaments, in one form or another, in the Baltic States, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere before World War II. In some cases, these precedent experiences with democracy dated back into the 19th century.

This is evidently not the case in the Middle East. The Enlightenment never much penetrated the Ottoman frontiers, and so the great conflicts of faith versus reason and the value of each individual and his conscience which defined Western civilization were largely screened out there. Modern states in the Middle East emerged after the Ottoman Empire crumbled, and except in the cases of Turkey and Lebanon, there was nothing comparable to a Western democracy. Instead, 'state socialism' was eventually imposed upon tribal and colonial heritages in many Arab states--replacing the Ottoman Empire with Western-drawn boundaries, authoritarian rulers, and, at best, pseudo-democratic institutions. Through it all, Islam--with its commingling of secular and religious authorities, and the power of its mullahs and its more fundamentalist, anti-Western sects--remained a significant force. As the example of Iran shows, elections and parliaments can be subverted by other means of control.

Even the Reagan administration never tried to anoint an exile as leader of the Soviet Union or anywhere else in the Soviet bloc. You cannot impose a democracy in the absence of a civil society. You cannot create a civil society by ignoring the traditional liberties that make the West different. You cannot hold thousands of people in prison because you've decided habeas corpus is all too difficult. Abu Ghraib has around 8000 prisoners. Releasing 300 is a public relations exercise. Both the Red Cross and General Taguba say that 70 to 90% of them should not be in prison because they are only victims of random sweeps and checkpoints. There is no effective system of habeas corpus. Why? And why is that, long a matter of public record, not a controversy?

Ahmed Chalabi's failed coup

Why did the Bush administration turn against its former favorite Iraqi? Almost certainly because it realized that Chalabi, maddened by the realization that he was being excluded from the post-June 30 hand-over arrangements, was putting together a sectarian Shiite faction to destabilize and destroy the new Iraqi government. 'This all started since [U.N. envoy Lakhdar] Brahimi announced that Chalabi would be kept out of the new arrangement,' says an Iraqi political observer who is not only long familiar with Chalabi himself but also in close touch with key actors, including U.S. officials at the CPA and Iraqi politicians.'

Ahmed is gathering groups to bring this new government down even before July 1. He is in a very destructive phase, mobilizing forces to make sure the U.N. initiative -- due to be announced in 10 days -- fails.' Chalabi has reportedly been inflaming his recruits with reports that veteran Algerian diplomat Brahimi is part of a Sunni conspiracy bent on undermining the rights of Iraqi Shiites to hold power in Iraq.

Much of this article is speculative, but is not an unreasonable line of speculation. Chalabi is not going to have a seat at the table after the handover of not-sovereignty so he needs to get away with what he can now. There are also reports Chalabi made a lot of money out of the shift from Saddam dinars to new dinars, and that he is too close to Iran.

In fact, if the war party had not been so carefully hearing only what they wanted to hear before the war, this behaviour could easily have been predicted from Chalabi's past. Perhaps the war party could ape their puppet by declaring themselves heroes in error.

On small question. Newphew Salem Chalabi is head of the Iraqi Special Tribunal. This is the court to try Saddam and is exempted from the TAL charter of rights. If the CPA has decided Ahmed is no longer a good Iraqi what does that say about Salem?

Corruption stench as company loses Iraq contract

Morris Corporation won the catering contract last June in partnership with a Kuwaiti company, KCPC, soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The deal was praised by the Howard Government as a signal that Australian companies would get fair treatment over postwar contracts in Iraq.

The contract was to feed 18,000 troops at three camp sites in northern Iraq. But the US company quietly cancelled the deal six weeks later, saying that Morris and its Kuwaiti partner had not met their obligations.

Now an insider involved in the deal alleges that the Australian-Kuwaiti joint venture was approached by a Halliburton employee seeking kickbacks worth up to $3 million during the contract negotiations. "We're not talking about a paper bag. This guy was after a percentage of your sales every month."

The allegations surfaced during a messy legal brawl between Halliburton and its former contractors Morris and KCPC, who are seeking a settlement over the termination of the contract.

The head of Morris Corporation, Robert McVicker, was in Washington this week for legal talks over the settlement.

Questioned at his Washington hotel, Mr McVicker told said he could not comment on the allegations surrounding the collapse of the deal because of the legal negotiations.

But he did say: "While we are disheartened about what's happened in Iraq, we stand to be accountable by whoever. At the very least we have our integrity in tact. We still believe there's an opportunity in Iraq. At this time it would be foolhardy to make comments that could prohibit us from gaining more work.

The smell of corruption in Iraq is getting hard to avoid. In other news, apparently Ahmed Chalabi is now under criminal investigation for his dealings with the CPA. These things happen when you abandon traditional checks and balances. I suppose it's understandable for the Bush administration to feel threatened by the Geneva Conventions. Only the Bush administration could see double-entry book-keeping as a threat to civilisation.

There's a lesson for the Man of Steel as well. The Bush administration is not much interested in his concerns, especially when his government eagerly abandons its citizens to the Bushlag archipelago.

20 May 2004

Australia rapped over East Timor oil

Oxfam is urging Australia to "play fair" with its smaller neighbour East Timor is at risk of becoming a failed state, just two years after winning independence, Oxfam has warned.

It claims Australia is hampering East Timor's finances by laying claim to the lion's share of Timor Sea oil fields.

While Australia has been a "generous donor" it has actually reaped 10 times more in revenues from East Timor than it has given since 1999, Oxfam added.

Australia makes £1m (AU$2.6m) a day from a temporary deal granting access to two thirds of the oil fields, Oxfam said.

But, the charity argued, if a maritime boundary were set up between the two countries according to international law it would deliver "most, if not all" of these resources to East Timor.

I blogged about this a few days ago.

The Foreign Minister of Kleenexjustifies Australia's record as follows:

I think they've made a very big mistake thinking that the best way to handle this negotiation is trying to shame Australia, is mounting abuse on our country, accusing us of being bullying and rich and so on when you consider all we've done for East Timor...

We were the major contributor to Interfet. On the other hand, we were alone in recognising the Indonesian annexation and supporting Indonesia at the Un throughout the 24 year history of Indonesian rule. During that time between 100 000 and 250 000 East Timorese died out of a total population of three quarters of a million.

The Oxfam analysis of the Timor Sea Treaty has links where you can lobby federal MPs and ministers.

RSS horrors

Somewhere deep in a days-old post there lurked a curly quote. Thanks to the extremely helpful people at Blogger I found it and excised it. The Atom feed and the RSS feed immediately below it now work.

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19 May 2004

Wiranto complains of smear campaign

Wiranto also alleged action by UN-funded prosecutors in East Timor was intended to smear his reputation.

'It's true, everything is by design. I know who visited Dili before the issuance of the arrest warrant,' he said, without elaborating on which Indonesian officials allegedly made the trip.

While the arrest warrant was issued on May 10, Wiranto has been indicted in East Timor since February 2003, before he became a presidential candidate.

Indonesia has said it does not recognise the East Timor warrant which says Wiranto bears command responsibility for murder and other crimes carried out by Indonesian forces in East Timor in 1999.

At least 1,400 people were murdered before and after East Timorese voted in August of that year for independence.

Wiranto has insisted he did his best to prevent the violence.

No doubt it was just a few of TNI's bad apples...

Sadly for that theory Wiranto consistently denied that any violence was happening in East Timor at all until the UN temporary administration reported the overwhelming evidence of genocide.

Just as another military chief, in recent days, denied any evidence of prisoner abuse until certain images were published and then shifted gear to denying any command responsibility.

3 Witnesses at Iraq Abuse Hearing Refused to Testify

Three key witnesses, including a senior officer in charge of interrogations, refused to testify during a secret hearing against an alleged ringleader of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal on the grounds that they might incriminate themselves.

The witnesses appeared April 26 at a preliminary hearing behind closed doors for Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., who has been identified in court-martial documents as the leader of a band of military police guards who humiliated and abused Iraqi detainees and compiled a bizarre photographic record of their activities. The prospective witnesses' refusal to testify is described in court-martial documents obtained by The Times on Tuesday.

How lucky for them the US military courts do not employ the same interrogation techniques as Abu Ghraib.


Picture the scene. You are in the offices of Warner Brothers in Los Angeles, pitching a movie about the siege of Troy to various sharp-suited executives. Perhaps Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt are present also, representing their company, Plan B Films. 'OK,' you say, 'it's a rip-roaring sand-and-sandal, thigh-and-pectoral epic.' Approving nods all round. 'I see Brad as very much the hero, as Achilles, the glorious warrior who defeats everyone in battle. But it's not just about war; it's about love!' More nods. 'The passionate love that goes to the centre of the ancient Greek world, the love that sparks his greatest contest. The love of Achilles - for his friend Patroclus! And I've got a great casting idea: Orlando Bloom is Patroclus. He's Achilles's companion, his comrade, his brother-in-arms, and also let's face it his - acgh.' At this moment, at a discreet signal from Mr Pitt, a security guard has entered to grasp you by the throat. Cut to: Warner Brothers exterior. You are flung bodily out into the street to a shout of: 'And stay out.'

Look, I liked the movie, but I have a weakness for costume sagas. Apparently the bloodshed and savagery is just fine, but the mere suggestion that Achilles might be sinking the sausage into a guy has to be cut out ASAP.

18 May 2004

Which Homeric hero are you?

Okay, I got sucked into another quiz:

Achilles. You're a good person to have around on the rare occasions you're ready to do some work, but you have volatility issues. Your willingness to enlist the help of your mum won't win you any friends, either.

It's completely untrue and if anyone says otherwise I'll throw a huge strop and call my mum.

Florida on the Murrumbidgee

The government's put up a bill to amend the Electoral Act. It's main provisions are to close the roll the day an election is announced, exclude all prisoners serving a jail sentence, and to make enrolment itself a lot more complicated. The joint committee on electoral matters recommended unanimously against the ideas in the bill.

Bob McMullan told the House:

One wonders why the government would bother proposing such measures as raising the threshold for disclosure of donations or closing the electoral roll when the election is called. On their face, both measures are patently undemocratic and serve no real purpose other than perhaps to throw a few bones to the minister's very small conservative cheer squad. Disappointingly, the federal government's only substantive response to the small number of electoral fraud cases in 2000 and 2001 has been to establish a complex and discriminatory enrolment witnessing regime and to reintroduce its longstanding proposals for early closure of the rolls. There can be no doubt that closure of the roll as soon as an election is called would be to the detriment of the franchise. In fact, it is my view that that is exactly what it is intended to do. When Malcolm Fraser closed the roll without notice in 1983, it was estimated that over 150,000 people were disenfranchised or had to vote in the wrong electorate.

The bill will not pass the Senate and really only reflects the level of silliness and fatigue that marks the Man of Steel and his government.

17 May 2004

life imitating art

From A Few Good Men

I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it. I'd prefer you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you're entitled to.

Did you order the code red?

I did the job you sent me to do.

Did you order the code red?

You're goddamn right I did.

From Rumsfeld�s appearance before the House Armed Services Committee

I don't believe that it would be right for me to run around looking for scapegoats, so you can toss someone over the side.�And I'll be damned if I'm going to look at that list and pretend that I think it was badly done.�I don't.�I think they did a darn good job. Perfect?�No.�But a good job.

�not badly done' evidently has a whole new meaning not yet shared with the rest of us. It is perhaps, a known unknown.

From today�s Reuters:

Iraqis held by U.S. forces have been subjected to systematic degrading treatment, sometimes close to torture, that may have been officially condoned, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday.

Breaking with its usual vow of silence, the Geneva-based humanitarian agency (ICRC) said visits to detention centers in Iraq between March and November 2003 had turned up violations of international treaties on prisoners of war.

"What we have observed are situations from a human point of view that are degrading in treatment and in some incidents tantamount to torture," Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of ICRC operations, told journalists.

"Our findings do not allow us to conclude that what we were dealing with ... were isolated acts of individual members of coalition forces. What we have described is a pattern and a broad system," he said.

The ICRC, whose reports on prison visits are confidential, went public with some of its findings after parts of the 24-page document were carried by the Wall Street Journal.

The scandal over detainee abuse broke last week with the release of photographs showing the sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib, a U.S.-run jail outside Baghdad.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Friday took responsibility for the incidents, which have caused outrage in the Middle East, and apologized to the victims, the Iraqi people and Americans.

Creating a culture has consequences, and those consequences are not unknowns, known, denied or otherwise. The consequences were best defined by Article 6 of the Nuremberg Charter:

Leaders, organizers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan.

Yudhoyono Still In Front In Indonesia

Golkar claimed victory in last month's parliamentary election, winning at least 117 seats in the House of People's Representatives, followed by the PDIP with 104 lawmakers.

All three candidates have picked running mates for the election. Yudhoyono chose welfare minister Jusuf Kalla, while Sukarnoputri will run alongside Hasyim Muzadi of moderate Muslim group Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). Wiranto settled on deputy chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights Solahuddin Wahid as his vice-presidential nominee.

If no candidate gets more than 50 per cent of all cast ballots in the Jul. 5 presidential contest, a run-off will take place on Sept. 20.

Polling Data
What candidate would you vote for in the presidential election?

  • Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (PDI) 40.6%
  • Megawati Sukarnoputri (PDIP) 14.7%
  • Wiranto (Golkar) 5.9%

The full list of candidates for president and vice-president is now finalised. The only remaining surprise is whether Gus Dur will beat the medical requirements. His brother, Gus Solah, is already Wiranto's runningmate. Gus Dur's announced the PKB will back Wiranto if Gus Dur is excuded.

On these figures Yudhoyono has extended his lead and is only 9.4% short of winning on the first round. The Golkar legislative vote is not flowing through to Wiranto.

A Wiranto victory would have to be seen as a victory for impunity. Although Yudhoyono is also a former general he's moved a lot further and faster than Wiranto in separating himself from the Shuharto era.

As chief security minister Yudhoyono supervised Polri (Polis Republik Indonesia), the newly independent national police. Polri was only separated from the armed forces, TNI, after the fall of Suharto. Polri/TNI tensions go back a long way.

Yudhoyono had to deal with the aftermath of the Bali bombing and probably has a better grasp of human rights than Wiranto, who continues to deny any role in the massacres after the East Timor independence vote.