Sunday, May 16, 2004

Stranger than Fiction 

Last fall I read Ellroy's American Tabloid. It's a gripping if horrifying read. Ellroy is capable of unbelievable spitefulness about the human condition. The book has an interesting vision of the Kennedy assassination, as developing out of parallel agendas by the mafia and Cuban exiles, agendas that interpenetrate almost adventitiously and start in a rather different place than they finish. Meanwhile, the violent and foul-mouthed protaganists find themselves drawn into or managing the projects of these groups, sometimes via the agency of the agencies (CIA or FBI), usually going beyond their assignments, playing off the agencies against one another, and being there at all the key moments.

This inadequate evocation of Ellroy I offer by way of introduction to how strange the Abu Ghraib story is getting. Hersh this week quotes a "senior C.I.A. official" as confirming that Rumsfeld and his subordinate Cambone created a top-secret commando force designed to be ready to grab and interrogate Al Qaeda suspects anywhere in the world, with sovereign permission or not. In late 2003 some part of this team moved into Iraq to work on putting down the insurgency--and it was these people, putatively, that started the whole Abu Ghraib mess.

Meanwhile--it turns out that two of the top relevant people at the Pentagon for the interrogation issues were also at Waco, together, when the Branch Davidian compound was destroyed.

Some people are invoking the X-files. But it's Ellroy's immoral, violent, hellishly misanthropic world, a world in which improbable conspiracies and coincidences move history, that comes to mind for me. Feh.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Time to Get Past the Tyranny of Photography 

The Abu Ghraib photographs have provoked so much outrage, in part, because of how very obviously they tell a story. A soldier holding a naked man by a leash around his neck is pretty hard to explain away.

At least most of the victims of the Abu Ghraib abuse have survived and are able to talk about what happened.

Yet there have clearly been other, far worse crimes committed in the name of "liberating" Iraq and, earlier, Afghanistan, that have not generated such manifestly incriminating pictures. Looking at a makeshift graveyard in Fallujah, or the reburial of the dead once the fighting stopped, or even a helicopter gunning down individuals not holding weapons, one can always argue that the "rules of engagement" justified the deaths. And, at least for Americans, the pictures by themselves provide no evidence to challenge those rules of engagement, although for others their meaning is unambiguous.

What's different about Abu Ghraib is simply that it's the first report of U.S. atrocities that Americans are forced to believe (except for the completely irredeemable types like Taranto cited below). All the others could be explained away by those inclined to give the U.S. the benefit of the doubt.

The U.S. government now seems to concerned to avoid being hypocritical--delaying our usual hectoring report on everyone else's human rights problems, on the theory that “'It's important to demonstrate' that the United States is taking action in response to its own human rights abuses 'before we stand up and tell the world' they need to fix their problems." But a real response involves reaction not just to the Abu Ghraib, but other accusations as well. Fallujah would be a good place to start. As Paul Hunt, a UN special rapporteur on human rights, puts it:

Well, I've read reports that 750 people have died [in Fallujah] and 90 per cent of them are non-combatants - they appear to me, from the material that's come across my desk, at least worthy of investigation, credible, persistent. And they're of such gravity that they must be vigorously investigated.

I mean, it's absolutely right, and to the credit of the authorities in Iraq, that there have been, and there now are some additional inquiries into these allegations of torture. That's as it should be. Well, if they demand investigation, and they certainly do, then these allegations into Fallujah, for sure, demand investigation.

If the U.S. actually wants to begin the slow and painful work of gaining credibility, we need to push investigations of misdeeds even when the pictures don't tell the whole story--and even when there are no pictures at all.

More on Sleep Deprivation 

...for anyone still thinking that it's not torture, see Rivka's great post.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Stalinist Tactics in Iraq 

The Washington Post has a tremendously sad story today about our torture tactics in Iraq, which include sleep deprivation. It deals too with the problem of Iraqi's false denunciations of one another to the Americans in order to settle personal scores.

All this bears uncomfortable resemblance to Stalinism. Sleep deprivation is a horribly effective torture technique that Stalin's secret police used to get people to condemn their friends to the camps. And many people landed in the hands of torturers in the first place due to false denunciations stemming from personal motives.

Meanwhile, see the criminal rendering of this from Taranto as "bellyaching about trivia..." I'm sure that he's ready to explain that the NKVD was filled with pussycats, too.

Thursday, April 22, 2004


Here's a social-scientific generalization for you: war makes barbarians of people. Kerry knows this, or used to. For another example: ever hear about the Soviet advance to Berlin?

The young Kerry--though not today's--would have been talking about Falluja. Via Empire Notes, here's what a Marine sniper has to say:

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Taking a short breather Friday, the 21-year-old Marine corporal explained what it was like to practice his lethal skill in the battle for this city.
"It's a sniper's dream," he said in polite, matter-of-fact tones. "You can go anywhere and there are so many ways to fire at the enemy without him knowing where you are."


"Sometimes a guy will go down, and I'll let him scream a bit to destroy the morale of his buddies," said the Marine corporal. "Then I'll use a second shot."


While official policy discourages Marines from keeping a personal count of people they have killed, the custom continues. In nearly two weeks of conflict here, the corporal from a Midwestern city has emerged as the top sniper, with 24 confirmed kills. By comparison, the top Marine Corps sniper in Vietnam killed 103 people in 16 months.

"As a sniper, your goal is to completely demoralize the enemy," said the corporal, who played football and ran track in high school and dreams of becoming a high school coach. "I couldn't have asked to be in a better place. I just got lucky: to be here at the right time and with the right training."


But the sniper, with time to set up his shot, sees his victim more clearly through a powerful scope: Their faces, their eyes, the weapons in their hands. And their expression when the bullet hits "their center mass."

"You have to have a combat mind-set," said the corporal.

Unlike other infantry troops, the sniper thus has a greater confidence that his shot is not as likely to hit a civilian or a "friendly."

The corporal hopes to get back home by late fall in time to take his girlfriend to a college football game and go deer hunting with his father.

"When I go hunting for whitetail, it's for food and sport," he said. "Here, when I go hunting, it's personal, very personal."

For similar attitudes, see this riveting story of an effort to get aid to a hospital in Falluja.

When will we have "Iraq Veterans Against the War"? Are such things possible today?


Welcome to my blog, my effort to become a participant and not just an observer of the vast left-wing blogosphere conspiracy centered around sites like Atrios, Tapped, and the Center for American Progress.

A little about me. I'm an American. By profession I am unfortunate enough to be a political scientist--doubtless I'll vent about the bankruptcy of that benighted discipline here--but I'm only an amateur in the study of American politics. I do know a lot about economics and Russia. I find the lack of anyone with a coherent vision of how to improve the economic lot of the less developed countries most depressing. Everything about the Bush regime--its serial mendacity, its massive redistribution in favor of the more fortunate, its fundamental disdain for deomcracy--sickens me. Above all, the Iraq war makes me very ashamed of what's being done in the name of we Americans.

We all have to change our life. This is my small way of trying. Welcome.

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