27 May 2004

Cosmos at full throttle

Anyone reading their results might be excused for feeling a bit special. The team found that 4 percent of the universe is made of ordinary matter. Another 21 percent consists of so-called dark matter, inferred from its gravitational effects on matter. The remaining 75 percent consists of dark energy, which exerts a form of pressure that makes it act like gravity thrown into reverse. These figures are consistent with results reported last year from satellite measurements of the big bang's afterglow - the cosmic microwave background.

If the quantity of dark energy is constant, astronomers say, the universe will continue to expand at an increasing rate. In about 20 billion years or so, only about 100 galaxies might be visible from Earth. Think of it as the 'big lonely.' If dark energy were to change with time, it could relax to let gravity once again dominate, prompting the universe to collapse in the 'big crunch.' Or if the pace speeds up, it could lead to the 'big rip,' in which the fabric of space-time stretches so rapidly that even atoms get torn apart.

Based on the team's observations, dark energy is holding steady and 'behaves much like the cosmological constant in Einstein's theories' about the evolution of the universe, says Steve Allen, an astronomer at Cambridge University in England and the team leader.

Essentially, this means that the amount of energy per volume of space remains constant. If this observation holds up under more rigorous programs, it would substantially narrow the range of explanations for what dark energy really is.

I bet you thought I couldn't blog on dark energy without implying a causal relationship between dark energy and the rule of the Man of Steel and the Great Dubya. Well, you were wrong. So there.

Full Moon Exerts No Pull On Frequency Of Epileptic Seizures

Werewolves notwithstanding, the full moon does not influence the frequency of epileptic seizures, reports a University of South Florida study.

'Contrary to the myth, epileptic seizures are not more common during a full moon,' said Selim Benbadis, MD, associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery at the USF College of Medicine. 'In fact, we found the number of epileptic seizures was lowest during the full moon and highest in the moon's last quarter.'

The study, to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Epilepsy & Behavior, is posted in the journal's online version.

Dr. Benbadis said he decided to investigate the possible relationship between phases of the moon and the frequency of seizures after repeatedly hearing patients claim that their seizures were triggered or worsened by the full moon. 'Even some health care professionals believe this, but it's never been scientifically tested,' he said.

Every ambo (and a lot of cops) I've ever spoken with has insisted the assault and accident rates soar when the full moon rises, but strabgely enough, I'd never heard of the full moon and seizures. Perhaps I was too busy howling and growing fur and fangs.

Akbar expects three-way fight and run-off poll

But yesterday, Mr Akbar spoke positively about Mr Wiranto's chances, in a move that suggests the Golkar chief was keeping all options open, including cutting a deal with his rival that could see him being offered the post of senior presidential adviser.

Mr Akbar estimated that Golkar's presidential contender could garner about 36.5 million votes, or 32 per cent of the total, drawing on his party base as well as those of his running mate, Mr Solahuddin Wahid.

He is the younger brother of former president Abdurrahman Wahid, who still has enormous influence in the country's largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), and the affiliated Nation Awakening Party (PKB).

Mr Akbar noted that besides NU and PKB, Mr Wiranto could also get support from smaller parties such as the Indonesian Nahdlatul Ummah Party and the Nationhood Democratic Party.

But his two other rivals are running close. President Megawati, he noted, already had in hand about 21 million votes, based on her party's performance in the April parliamentary polls. Her No 2, NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi, would add votes from his supporters in East Java.

Mr Akbar said Mr Bambang, known popularly as SBY, and partner Jusuf Kalla were also doing well, attracting support in the cities as well as the heartlands.

'SBY's popularity will help him in obtaining many swing votes from other political parties,' he said.

The electoral commission has now excluded Gus Dur from the election and he's filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court. If he is unsuccessful his party, the PKB, which is particularly strong in East Java, will throw its support to Wiranto. Wiranto's running mate is Gus Solah, Gus Dur's younger brother. I suspect Mega's vote may actually fall between now and the 5 July election. Nothing suggests the performance of her government or her popularity will improve over the next month. That would make Wiranto and Yodhoyono the candidates for the September runoff.

The issue of Wiranto's indictment by East Timor must be getting some traction because Wiranto is seeking a reconciliation meeting with East Timor's President Xanana Gusm�o. East Timor has delayed despatch of the warrant against Wiranto to Interpol.

Behind the Scenes, US Tightens Grip on Iraq's Future

In March, for instance, Mr. Bremer issued a lengthy edict consolidating control of all Iraqi troops and security forces under the Ministry of Defense and its head, Ali Allawi. But buried in the document is a one-paragraph 'emergency' decree ceding 'operational control' of all Iraqi forces to senior U.S. military commanders in Iraq. Iraqis will be able to organize the army, make officer appointments, set up new-officer and special-forces courses, and try to develop doctrines and policies to govern the forces. But they can't actually order their forces into, or out of, combat -- that power will rest solely with U.S. commanders.

U.S. Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, who participated in the original Iraq invasion, will soon assume responsibility for training the new forces. With American commanders retaining the power to order the forces into combat, Mr. Allawi or his successor will be left with only 'administrative control' of the forces.

Meanwhile, the media and telecom commission Mr. Bremer created will be able to collect media licensing fees, regulate television and telephone companies, shut down news agencies, extract written apologies from newspapers and seize publishing and broadcast equipment.

One of the new watchdog agencies, the Office of the Inspector General, will have appointees inside every Iraqi ministry charged with combating malfeasance and fraud. Appointed to five-year terms, the inspectors will be allowed to subpoena witnesses and documents, perform forensic audits and issue annual reports.

The other watchdog, the Board of Supreme Audit, will oversee a battery of other inspectors with wide-ranging authority to review government contracts and investigate any agency that uses public money. Mr. Bremer will appoint the board president and his two deputies. They can't be removed without a two-thirds vote of Iraq's parliament, which isn't slated to come into existence until sometime next year.

Few of the positions have been filled so far, but officials at the CPA and the Governing Council say they expect to name the new officials within weeks. The advisers inside the ministries are likely to be almost exclusively American, while the inspectors and members of the various new commissions will all be Iraqi. Individual ministers can dismiss their advisers, but many U.S. officials assume they'll be reluctant to do so for fear of antagonizing the U.S.

This is just another proof of how incomplete the transfer of complete sovereignty is going to be. These tactics are authorised by by Articles 48 and 49 of the transitional administrative diktat. It's only a guess, but I wonder how much of UN Envoy Brahimi's difficulties in constructing a government are due to the CPA making these appointments over his head. The defence minister, for instance, has a fixed 5-year term and cannot be removed by the prime minister or the presidency council.

Without basic changes, the interim constitution is simply unworkable. What for instance, is going to happen 3 or 4 years down the track when a US adviser tries to overrule a minister on a fundamental issue? Are the Iraqi government or people really going to accept a set of 5-year training wheels laid down by a subcommittee of the CPA?

Paul McGeogh's opinion piece is worth reading as well.

Tip via DailyKOS

Iraq abuses: Army knew months ago

An Australian military officer stationed in Baghdad was aware of allegations of prisoner abuse as early as last October and passed details to Australian officers in regular reports, the Herald has learnt.

The revelation undercuts repeated Federal Government and Defence Department assurances that they knew nothing of the abuses, especially because Major George O'Kane, a legal officer, liaised directly with the Red Cross from the time it first complained of abuses.

Major O'Kane worked at US military headquarters with the office of the US staff judge advocate, Colonel Marc Warren, the senior legal officer in Iraq, for six months to February.

He was in the post when the photographs of abuse in Abu Ghraib jail first circulated within US military headquarters in Baghdad, triggering the secret investigation by General Antonio Taguba and quiet suspension of the jail's chief, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski.

Major O'Kane knew of the photographs but did not see them, sources said. He had also been aware of the central thrust of General Taguba's report in February outlining 'sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses' at Abu Ghraib.

As well, Major O'Kane was involved in drafting a letter responding to the concerns of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which argued that some prisoners were not subject to the full protection of the Geneva conventions.

Ordinary Australians are going to be outraged by this extraordinary and reprehensible circumstance. The government's previous denials are consistent with the way it's behaved since the war ended.

Last October Senator Hill, the defence minister, denied that Brig Gen Meekin was more than 'peripherally' involved with the Iraq Survey Group. In April the US awarded Meekin the Legion of Merit for his contribution to the Iraq Survey Group.

The Man of Steel is long on record for saying we had withdrawn the ADF from Iraq, until the opposition called for withdrawal when the Man of Steel exercised his tensile strength to say he had not and would not withdraw.

The government has consistently denied that we are an occupying power despite the presence of Australian personnel in the CPA and elsewhere in Iraq. Now the government has denied all knowledge of the Abu Ghraib abuses (Downer actually briefly denied the abuses themselves) and we discover an Australian officer knew of them. Shortly we will learn that the prime minister's staff forgot to inform him. Or perhaps that the report was thrown in the water.

26 May 2004

US Emphasizes Intent to Transfer Full Power to Iraqis - With Limits

A day after President Bush declared in a major speech that Iraqis would exercise authority over their own affairs, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in London that Iraq's interim government would have the right to veto specific military operations by the U.S.-led coalition, a view American officials immediately disputed. And French President Jacques Chirac told Bush in a telephone conversation that France wanted any new U.N. Security Council resolution to spell out clearly that the Iraqis would have a say over U.S.-led military operations.

The dispute over how much authority the new Iraqi government would wield came at a crucial diplomatic and political moment for the White House. While the U.S. is negotiating a Security Council resolution seen as critical for bestowing international legitimacy on the interim Iraqi administration, U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is struggling to name a government.

Why would Tony Blair make a statement if he knew the White House would contradict him? Was this an effort to try and force Bush's hand? Or is this another of this administration's flip-flops that happened to catch Blair firmly between the eyes?

In any case the confusion could (in theory) easily be resolved by including specific language in the new UN resolution. Sadly that seems not to be the way that diplomacy works. Evidently the White House wants to hold on to Article 59 no matter what.

That will destroy any legitimacy the transitional government might claim, but exemplifies the 'What, me worry?' approach the White House has taken to this entire war.

Whose edifice is this? Spain peels back the layers of its identity

Many non-Muslim Cordobans, however, support the Mezquita proposal. 'Anyone should be able to pray there,' says Jos� Raval, a high school teacher. 'The Mezquita has been named a heritage site for humanity, and aren't Arabs part of humanity?'

While fear of terrorism complicates Spain's efforts to integrate Muslims, many here still hope that a more generous public spirit - such as existed in the age of 'convivencia,' when Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived in relative harmony across the Iberian Peninsula - will prevail, and that a new, more inclusive, national identity will flourish.

Earlier this month, the bishop of Santiago de Compostela removed from that city's cathedral a 14th-century statue of Saint James 'the Moorslayer,' citing a wish to avoid 'offending the sensibilities of some visitors.'

It is a gesture that Isabel Romero, who directs the Halal Institute outside C�rdoba, can appreciate. Spaniards have a habit of thinking of Muslim Spain as something foreign, she says. 'We don't recognize that the Muslims were from here, that they were Andalusians too, that they are our roots.'

And she sees the proposal to open the Mezquita to Muslim worship as a step in the right direction. 'What remains from Al Andalus are not just the Mezquita's stones, but our culture itself,' says Ms. Romero. 'We have to reconcile ourselves with our history.'

There could be a quid pro quo at the other end of the Mediterranean where many Byzantine churches were rededicated as mosques, just as the Spanish reconquistadores rededicated mosques as churches. Allowing Christians and Muslims to pray in both sets of buildings would be a small step, but a good step.

PM handover to Costello worries voters

The leadership issue is set to hurt the Federal Government in the coming election, with a new Herald Poll finding almost half of all voters believe John Howard will not serve his full term if re-elected and have not yet warmed to Peter Costello.

The poll reveals that 47 per cent of voters believe the Prime Minister will retire during the next term and that 41 per cent would be less likely to vote for the Coalition at the election late this year if they thought that Mr Costello, as is widely expected, would be his successor.

This 'anti-Costello' effect includes more than one in five current Coalition supporters - although 36 per cent of Greens supporters say they would be more inclined to vote for the Coalition if Mr Costello was certain to take over after the election.

These figures are terrible news for both Costello and Howard. Costello is probably not, contrary to my prediction, organising a challenge to the Man of Steel. Even if he was, these figures would be deeply unhelpful to any challenge. In the same way, these figures mean Howard will face more and more questions about whether he will (or can) serve another term that would have him turn 69 before the 2007 election.

At the same time, Paul Keating had similar negatives in 1992 and went on to win the 1993 general election.

IISS annual survey

The IISS has released its annual survey. The full document is not available. The director's introduction is disturbing.

To summarise roughly:

  • The Iraq intervention increased the terrorist threat
  • North Korea took advantage of the Iraq intervention to advance its nuclear program
  • The Libya success (achieved by British diplomacy) is a welcome success.
  • The Iraq intervention and the war on terror have 'has sapped the US of much of its diplomatic energies with the result that there has been underinvestment in the Middle East peace process'.

The director ends by saying:

Let me add this thought by way of general conclusion. The British diplomat Harold Nicolson once noted that �although you cannot acquire prestige without power, yet you cannot retain prestige without reputation.� This is why reputation is so central to power. He went on to say that �a prestige which contains a high percentage of reputation is able to withstand a loss of power - whereas even a temporary decline in power will destroy a prestige that is devoid of reputation.�

The US today is finding it difficult to balance the exercise of its power with the retention of its prestige. Achieving that balance is essential to maintaining its capacity both to do good in the world, and create international security. The present US administration is becoming acutely aware of the fact that reputation, prestige and power can easily be squandered through mismanaged interventions and peacekeeping operations. The US is realising the awful truth that the first law of peacekeeping is the same as the first law of forensics: �every contact leaves a trace.� Unfortunately, too many bad traces have been left recently, and many good ones will be needed for the US to recover its reputation, its prestige and therefore effective power.

The grimmest part of this picture is that the US seems unaware of how much reputation it is losing in the Muslim world. Yesterday's speech by George Bush does little to address Muslim concerns and indeed does nothing but repeat details of a plan that was already known without detailing whether the transition is still to be governed by the TAL. In particular there are problems with Article 59, which mandates US command over Iraq's own forces and Articles 48 and 49 which continue CPA appointments, agencies and policies until such time as the Transitional National Assembly is elected and even then any assembly action is subject to an absolute veto by any of the three members of the presidency council. It's notable the both the UN and the Shi'a hierarchy are resisting endorsing the TAL .

The Bush administration has prduced a drastic failure in security and legitimacy in Iraq. It is hard to see how more of the same will change that.

25 May 2004

Man of Steel to meet Terminator

MAN of steel John Howard is to come face to face with the Terminator in Los Angeles to lobby support for an Australian gas deal.

The prime minister today said he would meet the Governor of California, movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, as part of his trip to the United States, Britain and France.

Mr Howard will have talks with US President George W Bush at the White House, as well as meetings with key congressional leaders, to seek support for the Australia-US free trade agreement.

Mr Bush, who described the prime minister as a man of steel for his support for the war on Iraq, is set to talk to Mr Howard about the handover of power in Iraq on June 30.

Some headlines just have to be blogged.

attending to ADHD

The Daily Telegraph reports:

Medication for ADHD contains amphetamines which are on the banned list for footballers.

And today's letters page in Sydney Morning Heraldincludes:

If what is being said about Willie Mason is true and not just a poor attempt to excuse his behaviour, then as a young adult suffering from ADHD, I can sympathise.

While I can regulate my behaviour fairly well on a day-to-day basis, if alcohol is thrown into the mix, all bets are off. While an average person may do a few silly things after a few too many drinks, it is almost guaranteed that a ADHD sufferer will do something he/she regrets.

The simple answer would be to avoid alcohol, but at an age where practically all socialisation includes a few drinks, this is much easier said than done.

It's frankly insane that the guy is not on medication when he was diagnosed in February. I sympathise with the letter-writer because my experience is almost the same.

Latham winning the war

Labor would win in a landslide if an election were held now, as more Australians than ever regard the Iraq war as unjustified, a new Herald Poll has found.

A week before John Howard heads to the US for meetings with President George Bush and the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on Iraq, the poll showed a strong majority - 63 per cent - thought the war was not justified, compared with 51 per cent in September last year.

Only 31 per cent now think the war was justified, compared with 43 per cent last year.

The poll also revealed a big gap in electoral support opening up between the Government and Labor, which now leads the Coalition by 56 per cent (up three points) to 44 per cent (down three) in two party preferred terms.

This suggests that Labor would have won an election held last Saturday with a swing of about 7 per cent.

The poll shows that although voters were impressed by the budget they are deserting the Coalition, with Mr Howard's approval rating falling to its lowest level since August 2001, immediately before the Tampa crisis.

By contrast, the Opposition Leader, Mark Latham, is enjoying record support, according to the poll, conducted last weekend by ACNielsen.

The Man of Steel may be starting to rust. 7 August must be off the table as an election date, but I suspect Howard intends to go to the country before the presidential election on 2 November. He will not want to fight a difficult election on the back of a possible Bush defeat because his foreign policy is essentially built on his personal relationship with the Great and Powerful Dubya. I'd say some time towards the end of the period between 7 August and 30 October.

Howard has a history of putting off the unpalatable and this election is not going to be easy at all. National security is now the only issue he controls, so we can expect a lot of antiterrorist legislation designed to be as difficult as possible for the opposition to accept. The collapse in support for the Iraq war must be very, very bad news, almost as bad as the budget going phut.

It's going to be an interesting 5 months, especially if Latham follows Whitlam in 1972 and starts to make the date an issue in itself.

23 May 2004

The Defense of 'Command Influence'

Secretary Rumsfeld has hinted that some form of compensation may be paid to those who suffered the abuses. But money will not redeem either the ethical lapses or the systemic failures that precluded appreciation of the seriousness of what had occurred among the most senior elected and appointed officials and uniformed officers.

In his 1963 encyclical �Pacem in Terris� (Peace on Earth), Pope John XIII sic wrote that �every fundamental human right draws its indestructible moral force from the natural law, which in granting it imposes a corresponding obligation. Those, therefore, who claim their own rights, yet altogether forget or neglect to carry out their respective duties, are people who build with one hand and destroy with the other.�

That this is how countries in the Muslim world and beyond regard the U.S. is not surprising. One can only hope that the White House and the Pentagon have taken the message to heart.

If the White House and the Pentagon understood Pacem in terris they would not have invaded Iraq.

NB Pacem in terris was issued by John XXIII not John XIII. Just for the record there was an antipope who reigned as John XXIII in the fifteenth century and the name was not used again until Cardinal Roncalli's election in 1958.

From Friend to Foe

Asked by Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan whether the U.S. was 'duped by a con man' into going to war, Air Force General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded, 'I think that remains to be seen. Probably. But I just don't know.'

Some things run beyond comment. I might argue about who the conman was, though.

Chalabi Said to Deceive the West

Ahmad Chalabi, the onetime White House favorite who has been implicated in an alleged Iranian spy operation, sent Iraqi defectors to at least eight Western spy services before the war in an apparent effort to dupe them about Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's illicit weapons programs, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said.

U.S. investigators are seeking to determine whether the effort -- which one U.S. official likened to an attempt to 'game the system' -- was secretly supported by Iran's intelligence service to help persuade the Bush administration to oust the regime in Baghdad, Tehran's longtime enemy.

Officials said other evidence indicated that Chalabi's intelligence chief had furnished Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security with highly classified information on U.S. troop movements, top-secret communications, plans of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority and other closely guarded material on U.S. operations in Iraq.

The U.S. investigation into the suspected spy operation was a key reason behind Thursday's raids on Chalabi's Baghdad house and the offices of his Iraqi National Congress. Several INC members were accused of kidnapping, robbery and corruption.

It's an open question if Chalabi really was acting on behalf of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security. It's not an open question that the Chalabi material has proved grossly inadequate. Shopping untrue stuff to agency after agency until you found a set of bozos stupid enough, or ingenuous enough, to take you on face value must have been frustrating. That the said bozos sat in the Pentagon and the White House with an intelligence doctrine making uninformed preconception equal to factual data must have felt like a fairy tale.

How to hand over sovereignty without handing over sovereignty

The Observer is reporting that Iraqis lose right to sue troops over war crimes:

British and American troops are to be granted immunity from prosecution in Iraq after the crucial 30 June handover, undermining claims that the new Iraqi government will have 'full sovereignty' over the state.

Despite widespread ill-feeling about the abuse of prisoners by American forces and allegations of mistreatment by British troops, coalition forces will be protected from any legal action.

They will only be subject to the domestic law of their home countries. Military sources have told The Observer that the question of immunity was central to obtaining military agreement on a new United Nations resolution on Iraq to be published by the middle of next month.

The new resolution will lift the arms embargo against Iraq, allowing the country to rearm its 80,000-strong army in readiness for taking over the nation's security once coalition forces finally leave.

'The legal situation in Iraq will be very difficult after 30 June, with some confusion over where jurisdiction lies,' said one Whitehall official. 'We wanted to ensure that British troops maintained the immunity they already have under Order 17.'

Human Rights Watch has a good analysis of this legal legerdemain. The Bush administration has always been a staunch advocate of tort reform. Who knew tort reform includes torture reform?

One of the more pathetic sights of recent times has been US senators asking if the ITG will command coalition forces. Don't they read anything anymore? The Transitional Administrative Law's Article 59 makes quite clear they do not.

The not-sovereignty the Iraqi transitional government will exercise does not include military command, finances or apparently the civil rights of Iraqis. The bill of rights Bush makes such a song and dance about will not apply to forces under Bush's command and control. After all, we can hardly have Iraqi judges ordering the release of prisoners from Abu Ghraib can we?

the Man of Steel and the Great Chain of Being

The Great Chain of Being is an ancient myth that survived well into the renaissance. In these rational and scientific times, it is of course long abandoned. No-one now believes that the ritual actions of a king have any effect in the real world.

Except the Man of Steel:

If we lose heart, if we abandon our friends, if we choose to give the wrong signal to the terrorists, that will not only make the world a less safe place but also damage the reputation of this country around the world.

We must remember it is in times of adversity that the value of friendship is most keenly felt and it is in times of adversity and challenge that that friendship is tested.

Our presence in Iraq is read as an important and valued demonstration of Australia�s support for her allies � and in this regard not only the United States and the United Kingdom, who continue to carry the major share of the burden. It is often forgotten that close friends and partners of Australia in the Asia Pacific region, such as Japan, Korea and the Philippines, are valued members of the coalition.

Our alliance with the United States was, unapologetically, a factor in the decision to join the coalition. And it should be a factor in any consideration of our continued participation in the coalition.

For Australia, there is nothing comparable to be found in any other relationship � nothing more relevant indeed to the challenges of the contemporary world.

The issue in Iraq is not whether we lose heart. It is whether the war and the occupation have been so badly managed that neither can now be rescued. We do not need to send signals in Iraq. We need to start addressing reality. No amount of keeping heart or sending signals is going to create security or legitimacy in Iraq. At least Britain is slowly beginning to think about what is happening on the ground in Iraq instead of what music the courtiers are playing in Washington.

The Scotsman reports:

The first cracks in Britain's coalition with the United States over the occupation of Iraq were exposed last night by a leaked government memo which revealed deep misgivings about America's 'heavy-handed' tactics in the war-torn country.

The damning document, produced by a team working for Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, disclosed private reservations within Tony Blair's administration about Washington's approach to the post-war occupation.

The detailed memo, sent to senior ministers and top officials last week as a 'progress report' on the occupation, stressed the need for the UK government to press the Americans to soften their approach and avoid aggressive responses 'which would jeopardise our objectives'.

It also talked of 'the need to redouble our efforts to ensure a sensitive and sensible US approach to military operations'.

The revelations shatter the government's long-held insistence that there are no differences between Downing Street and the White House over Iraq.

The six-page memo suggests that the US tactics have particularly damaged support among ordinary Iraqis and stirred up much of the unrest which has exploded into violence in recent months.

And, in a startling admission, it also declares that the 'scandal' over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Coalition-run jails has damaged the 'moral authority' of Britain and the US as they struggle to justify their decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime.

'We should not underestimate the present difficulties,' the document states, in a section headed 'Problems'. 'Heavy-handed US military tactics in Fallujah and Najaf some weeks ago have fuelled both Sunni and Shi'ite opposition to the Coalition and lost us much public support inside Iraq.'

The memo, reported in the Sunday Times, adds: 'The scandal of the treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib [prison] has sapped the moral authority of the Coalition, inside Iraq and internationally.'

The Bush administration is getting beyond the usual criticisms of government. It is getting silly. No matter what happens we get told that everything in Iraq is wonderful except for some minor problems and that as time passes it gets even more wonderful. We are told that everything in the Bushlag archipelago is wonderful except for a few bad apples.

The worst recent example was the bizarre speech by the Man of Steel. There are others. General Sanchez signed a memo on 12 October 2003 authorising something like the same abuses at Abu Ghraib that have destroyed any shreds of legitimacy left to coalition rule in Iraq. According to the Washington Post:

The Oct. 12, 2003, memorandum signed by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez called for intelligence officials at the prison to work more closely with the military police guarding the detainees to "manipulate an internee's emotions and weaknesses."

This memo and the deliberations that preceded it were completely shrouded from public view at the time, but now lie at the heart of the scandal that erupted last month over the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Under congressional prodding, the administration has provided a fuller chronology of the events leading up to its approval.

Congressional critics have alleged that language in the memo helped set the stage for the abuses and were part of a Washington-inspired effort to squeeze more information from Iraqis rounded up by the U.S. military and sent to interrogation sessions at the high-security wing of the Abu Ghraib prison, using methods that some consider illegal.

The actual text has not surfaced yet, but it surely will. Two things we need to know. Was the memo restricted to Abu Ghraib? If it wasn't then why should we believe that Abu Ghraib is the only place these absues ahve happened. Was the memo approved by the Pentagon itself? If it was then Rumsfeld's testimony before Congress becomes (I think the phrase was Nixon's) inoperative. Sanchez has already testified that he did no authorise the abuses. He told Congress on 19 May 2004.

SANCHEZ:�In this regard, I must be very circumspect in what I say.�We must let our military justice process work.�It is a process in which the American people can and should have confidence, and one in which I take great pride.

I cannot say anything that might compromise the fairness or integrity of the process or in any way suggest a result in a particular case.�I have taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and that includes ensuring that all persons receive a fair trial and, if found guilty, appropriate punishment.

This respect for the rule of law has been a guiding principle for my command.�There is no doubt that the law of war, including the Geneva Conventions, apply to our operations in Iraq.�This includes interrogations.�

I have reinforced this point by way of orders and command policies.�In September and October of 2003, and in May of 2004, I issued interrogation policies that reiterated the application of the Geneva Conventions and required that all interrogations be conducted in a lawful and humane manner, with command oversight.

In October 2003, I issued a memorandum for all coalition forces personnel that was entitled "Proper Treatment of Iraqi People During Combat Operations."�I reissued this memorandum on the 16th of January after learning about the events that had taken place at Abu Ghraib.�

On the 4th of March of 2004, I issued my policy memorandum number 18, entitled "Proper Conduct During Combat Operations."�This document, which I also reissued in April, emphasized the need to treat all Iraqis with dignity and respect.�This policy memorandum also contained a summary for distribution down to the individual soldier level that provided clear guidance and mandated training on the following points.

Follow the law of war and the rules of engagement.

Treat all persons with humanity, dignity and respect.

Use judgment and discretion in detaining civilians.

Respect private property.

And treat journalists with dignity and respect.

With regards to Abu Ghraib, as soon as I learned of the reported abuses, I ensured that a criminal investigation had been initiated and requested my superior appoint an investigating officer to conduct a separate administration investigation under Army Regulation 15-6 into this matter.

I guess that's 'inoperative' testimony as well. All we're really seeing is a mountain of bullshit about language. We have generals arguing that they did not issue orders that they issued, or that orders they issued did not mean what they mean. We have defence secretaries arguing that rape, stress positions, nudity, threats, dogs are only abuse and not torture as if that made everything all right. We have presidents and prime ministers muttering idiocy about sending signals and losing hearts when they should actually be dealing with what's happening on the ground rather than with that they'd like to believe.

Has a single empirical proposition advanced by the war party proved accurate from the cakewalk to the few bad apples? When are they going to join the rest of us in the real world?

'None of this happened and even if it did we didn't get the memo' is fast becoming as ritual an answer as anything a medieval king ever said.