24 December 2004

Denial as a a method of war

US strategy 'based in fantasyland'
America's handling of the occupation of Iraq came in for scathing criticism yesterday, with government officials accused of living in a 'fantasyland' and failing to learn from mistakes made in Vietnam.

A report issued by the independent Centre for Strategic and International Studies charged that the occupation had been handled by 'ideologues' in the Bush administration who consistently underestimated the scale of the problems they were facing and this had contributed to a culture in which facts were wilfully misrepresented.

The report lists a litany of errors on the part of the US. 'Their strategic assessments of Iraq were wrong,' it says. 'They were fundamentally wrong about how the Iraqi people would view the United States invasion. They were wrong about the problems in establishing effective governance, and they underestimated the difficulties in creating a new government that was legitimate in Iraqi eyes.

'They greatly exaggerated the relevance and influence of Iraqi exiles, and greatly underestimated the scale of Iraq's economic, ethnic, and demographic problems.'

The report lays responsibility for these errors with the policymakers in Washington.

'The problem with dealing with the Iraqi army and security forces was handled largely by ideologues who had a totally unrealistic grand strategy for transforming Iraq and the Middle East,' the report says.

Under the heading 'Denial as a method of counter-insurgency warfare', it notes that the US 'failed to honestly assess the facts on the ground in a manner reminiscent of Vietnam'.

But there was a rare attempt at honesty in the Pentagon yesterday when the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said he was 'truly saddened' that anybody might think he did not care about US soldiers. 'Their grief,' he said, 'is something I feel to my core.'

The full report (large PDF) is, if anything, more damning than The Guardian's description. I'm still reading but I was really struck by:

To date, and at every stage, the transition process has failed to deliver anticipated results. The Interim Governing Council was not a representative body; the current government has not been in a position to exercise actual sovereignty since June 2004; and Iraq's security forces will not be capable of ensuring security by January 2005. Politically, whatever grace period Prime Minister Allawi once enjoyed seems a thing of the past. Too tough for some, insufficiently so for others, and overly dependent on the U.S. for most, he is bereft of genuine political backing, social basis or functioning institutions. Worthy as it was, the attempt to broaden political participation through a national conference was taken over by the formerly exiled opposition, depriving it of credibility and longterm relevance.

Yet, while the political timetable bears little relation to reality, it has become essentially unalterable: given the huge mistrust developed since April 2003, any significant modification, however sensible, would probably be viewed as a U.S. attempt to perpetuate the occupation.29 Given the de facto equation of a successful transition process with adherence to a formal calendar, moreover, any such alteration also would be viewed as a major setback. Delaying the transfer of sovereignty until such time as it could actually be exercised, or postponing elections until they could be truly inclusive,30 carry such high political costs because of the worsening situation -- in other words, for the precise reason that delay and postponement would make sense.

It strikes me that the real weakness in almost everything the Bush administration does is impunity. They practice impunity at every turn from authorising torture and then denying they've authorised it to defying the UN charter to misleading the American people about progress. Not one US official has everbeen dismissed or even criticised for the conduct of this quagmire. The ultimate price of that is going to be terrible for the American people, but incalculably worse for the Iraqis who have been conscripted as bit-players in a US political drama.

22 December 2004

rotting from the top

UN Convention against Torture
Article 2
Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

From President Bush's interviews with Al Arabiya and Alhurra, 5/5/04
President Bush views the Abu Ghraib prison abuses as abhorrent.

What took place at Abu Ghraib does not represent America, which is a compassionate country that believes in freedom. America sent troops into Iraq to promote freedom.

In a democracy, everything is not perfect and mistakes are made. But also in a democracy, those mistakes will be investigated and people will be brought to justice. We are an open society that is willing to fully investigate what took place in Abu Ghraib.

This stands in stark contrast to life under Saddam Hussein. His trained torturers were never brought to justice under his regime. There were no investigations about mistreatment of people.

There are investigations under way to determine how widespread abuse may be occurring.

President Bush has instructed Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to find the truth and then tell the Iraqi people and world the truth. Then, to address the problems in a forthright, up-front manner.

FBI E-Mail Refers to Presidential Order Authorizing Inhumane Interrogation Techniques
A document released for the first time today by the American Civil Liberties Union suggests that President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq. Also released by the ACLU today are a slew of other records including a December 2003 FBI e-mail that characterizes methods used by the Defense Department as 'torture' and a June 2004 'Urgent Report' to the Director of the FBI that raises concerns that abuse of detainees is being covered up.

'These documents raise grave questions about where the blame for widespread detainee abuse ultimately rests,' said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. 'Top government officials can no longer hide from public scrutiny by pointing the finger at a few low-ranking soldiers.'

The documents were obtained after the ACLU and other public interest organizations filed a lawsuit against the government for failing to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The two-page e-mail that references an Executive Order states that the President directly authorized interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation, stress positions, the use of military dogs, and 'sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc.' The ACLU is urging the White House to confirm or deny the existence of such an order and immediately to release the order if it exists. The FBI e-mail, which was sent in May 2004 from 'On Scene Commander--Baghdad' to a handful of senior FBI officials, notes that the FBI has prohibited its agents from employing the techniques that the President is said to have authorized.

The ACLU documents are available here. Perhaps the president might find it useful to investigate himself in his unstoppable drive for accountability.

19 December 2004

Golkar selects Yudhoyono ally as new leader

Yusuf Kalla, who stood as Yudhoyono's running mate in September presidential polls, was chosen to lead Golkar, the former political vehicle of former president Suharto, after he beat incumbent Akbar Tanjung.

The victory during a chaotic party conference at Nusa Dua on the resort island of Bali marks a major coup for the president, who has faced an uphill struggle to push reforms through a parliament dominated by a hostile Golkar.

Tanjung, who scored 156 votes to Kalla's 323, had pledged to strengthen the party's resolve as an opposition force if he was elected for another five years. Instead the vice president is likely to steer Golkar behind Yudhoyono.

A number of Indonesia's political hierarchies shook when Yudhoyono was elected. A struggle continues for control of the two largest Muslim organisations between the president's allies his opponents' allies. The importance of the Golkar leadership is shown by the attempt to poison Yusuf Kalla before the Golkar convention.

Winning control of Golkar gives Yudhoyono a legislative majority and is a massive step toward making his official power real.