Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Iraq Debacle Week in Review

Saturday (Oct. 21): 48 Iraqis Killed, 94 Wounded

Friday (Oct. 20): 52 Iraqis Killed, 120 Injured; 1 U.S. Soldier Killed

Thursday (Oct. 19): 120 Iraqis Killed, 179 Wounded; 3 GIs Dead, 1 Marine Killed

Wednesday (Oct. 18): 78 Iraqis Killed, 46 Injured

Tuesday (Oct. 17): 77 Killed, 49 Injured Across Iraq

Monday (Oct. 16): Attacks Kill 160 Iraqis; 15 US Troops Die in Three Days

Sunday (Oct. 15): Sunday Violence Leaves 94 Iraqis Dead; 8 US Troops Dead in Weekend Attacks

Think of how the US of the first decade of this century will be remembered. My hunch is that those won't be exactly fond memories.

Quotable: Mohandas Gandhi

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?

The plausibility of the Lancet study

Echoing Eli a bit, a few thoughts are in order about the recent Johns Hopkins study published in Lancet that estimated approximately 655,000 Iraqi deaths as consequence of Bu$hCo's war. My guess is that Eli is largely correct in noting that most people who encounter a news report on the study (or a talk show opinion on the study) will not care one way or another as to the nature of peer review, probability sampling methods (and their preferability to nonprobability sampling methods), scientific methodology, the rigors involved in data collection, etc. Even though I find such information important and worth pointing out, for a vast proportion of our population it's likely to go in one ear and out the other.

We can discuss I suppose the reason why that is the case - an historical anti-intellectualism that makes up the American Zeitgeist, a fundamental hostility toward the sciences that has developed in the US over the course of my lifetime (which is starting to haunt us - but that's a story for another time), the neglect of science education at all levels of education from k-12 up through higher ed, or some combination of the above. Heck it wasn't all that long ago that expert witnesses testified in the OJ Simpson case on the DNA evidence (the consensus among my grad school colleagues at the time was that the testimony and evidence regarding the DNA samples collected was very well-done), only for that testimony to be roundly ignored by the jurors in that particular trial.

Eli points out to a creative, street level means of gauging the plausibility of the Johns Hopkins study that I'd like to pass along to y'all:
All of which is a long introduction to one more piece of evidence in that effort. With a hat tip to Cursor, this effort by a blogger to calculate the number of bullets being used by American forces in Iraq. The answer? 275,000 bullets per day. Now, as he points out, some of those are used in training, some may be stolen, and most miss their targets. But if a mere 1% of that number actually hits an Iraqi, and let's say 10% of those shots are fatal, that would be 275 people a day (100,000/year) being killed, just by bullets (that is, not including tank shells, missiles, bombs, etc.). Now of course these are no more than "back of the envelope" calculations. But they certainly provide one more piece of evidence that the Johns Hopkins result is very much in the right ballpark.
Hardly scientific, but at least gives us one more reason to consider the results from the Johns Hopkins study as plausible.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Interesting reading

via Informed Comment:
The Unconstitutionality of the Military Commissions Act: Furey

Ed Furey writes:

' Professor Cole:

You barely scratched the surface on the unconstitutionality of the so-called terror legislation. Beyond repealing habeas corpus, another grotesque violation of the Constitution is implicated in that legislation. The Constitution specifically forbids the passage of a “bill of attainder.” In the old days, when kings and others were not certain they get a judge or jury to convict someone of a crime, they would simply declare them guilty (attainted) and imprison, torture and/or execute them. When Parliaments did this they passed a “bill of attainder” declaring the person guilty of a crime. What this recent piece of legislation has done is to declare a whole class of persons, “unlawful enemy combatants,” to be criminals, subject to punishment -- imprisonment without trial and torture -- at the discretion of the president. By the way, this does not exclude American citizens.

The Constitution also prohibits “corruption of the blood” which was another old tyrant’s trick in which the families of the attainted were also declared guilty of the crimes because they were related to the criminal. This provided a sort of pseudo-legal sanction for wiping out the families of political enemies, especially those who might succeed to titles of nobility – and seek revenge. By declaring the whole bloodline criminal, you get to kill women and small children whose murders would otherwise be distasteful. It is expressly forbidden in the Constitution. Nevertheless, punishment of relatives of the accused has also become United States policy.

The ban on corruption of the blood would seem to be violated by the common U.S. practice in Iraq of taking hostages and imprisoning people suspected of nothing other than being related to the suspect (the taking of hostages is also banned under the Geneva Conventions). U.S. forces held the two sons of the head of the Iraqi air defense hostage in Abu Ghraib until he agreed to surrender. Being imprisoned is a form of punishment for the person being held, hence the corruption of the blood. Once in US custody he was killed, in what the Army investigation called a homicide.

It is interesting that the current administration and Congress are descending into barbarities so ancient and so grotesque that most Americans have never heard of them. They reside banned in obscure corners of the Constitution because the Founding Fathers knew them well enough to forbid them. Nevertheless, they are there, and as Casey Stengel liked to say: You could look it up.

By the way, the administration is also on thin Constitutional ice in sending mercenaries to wage war in Iraq (more than 600 have been killed). Private persons waging war has a familiar name to it – piracy. And for all the sentimentality about “Pirates of the Caribbean” international law was practically invented to check piracy, and then extended to other matters. Bin Laden and gang are, among other things, pirates and subject to arrest anywhere they are identified on the planet, under international conventions.

Governments used to be able to authorize private citizens to wage war as privateers. These were usually ship owners, who fitted their vessels out with guns and went hunting for enemy shipping. To make what would otherwise be piracy legal, governments would issue letters of marque and reprisal, in effect authorizing or licensing the private person to wage war on their behalf. Privateering, however, was outlawed 150 years ago, in the Declaration of Paris, to which the United States is a party (curiously, no 150th anniversary celebrations took place back in April, when that milestone was passed – well, maybe not so curious after all). And, as it turns out, the Constitution also takes up the matter. Only Congress may issue Letters of Marque and Reprisal. It has not done so in this war. I don’t believe it has done so since the War of 1812.

This actually came up, slightly in WWII. Charles Lindbergh was working with Lockheed to extend the range of P-38s and train American pilots into efficiently flying over vast distances of water, as required by the island campaign. He went out on several combat missions and was credited with shooting down at least one Japanese plane. This was all kept pretty quiet at the time, because he was technically a civilian (FDR was still angry at his America First role and refused to reinstate him as a colonel in the Army Air Force), although I suppose if he had been captured, the U.S. might have been able to argue that he was also technically an officer.

As a matter of fact, there seems to be no legal basis whatsoever for Coalition Provisional Authority, either in American law or international law. '

Countdown: Keith Olbermann vs. King George

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Clowns vs. Minuteklan

Nothing like a little street theatre - especially the sort that gives the right message to bigots (i.e., "We will, we will mock you!").

Favorite quote:
"There's been a massive amount of illegal immigration since 1492." Even drop an appropriate enough name: Columbus.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Foley, a Bush family friend since the early 1980s

* this from the Miami Herald, 2005, is something i haven't seen reported of late:
"Hours before the House vote, President Bush called Foley, a Bush family friend since the early 1980s, and asked for his support."
* update: here's Bush, Oct 04:
"I want to thank my friend, Congressman Mark Foley, for joining us today."
FTR, this isn't boilerplate language, he's only used the phrase "I want to thank my friend, Congressman" seven times according to (and 4 times with "Senator")

* and here's Laura Bush, Oct 04 (different event, different day): "
Congressman Mark Foley, thank you very, very much. Thank you for being here with me, and thank you for your service to your constituents and for your friendship. (Applause.)"

* updating again. Palm Beach Post :

(Jeb) Bush and Foley have exchanged about 100 electronic messages since 1999, according to documents Bush's office released Wednesday evening....

The e-mails show a friendly relationship between Foley and Bush, in contrast to Bush's recent characterization of Foley's behavior as "despicable" and "disgusting."

What can I say...predators understand each other (granted, the Bushes are of a somewhat different variety of predators than Foley, but predators nonetheless).

Go figure

Apparently Monday was a very bad day to be a Republican.

The Final Arbiter of Torture

Helen, you’ve had your hand up, sorry.

Q I wanted to talk about the bill the President will sign tomorrow.

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q It makes him a final arbiter on torture.

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q Does he have any guidelines, does he have any advisory group? And how will he know?

MR. SNOW: What I’ve actually — Helen, in response to your question, I called White House legal counsel –

Q Can you repeat the question?

MR. SNOW: Yes, how will the President know when it’s torture and when it’s not, and avoid having torture.

Q And how will he approach these cases?

MR. SNOW: And how will he approach the cases.

The White House Office of Legal Counsel is actually putting together a paper so that — I knew that this would come up. What they will do is help me describe to you, as accurately as possible. It’s a very complex series of issues, but there are definitions that outline what constitutes torture, and I will be happy to share those. And I’ll get them for you tomorrow.

Q When are you going to release those?

MR. SNOW: I’m not going to release it. I’ll share it with you tomorrow. It’s not like a formal release, it’s just me trying to do my homework, and I don’t have it done yet.

Really inspires confidence, eh?

Monday, October 16, 2006

John Stauber Interview: The Best War Ever

Now this is must-see tv:

See also the book's website.

Footnote to " Columbia University Students Protest MinuteKlan"

A little over a week ago I posted a video (again props to The Unapologetic Mexican - the unofficial headquarters for the Manifest Destiny Graveyard Project!) and some commentary a little over a week ago on what I thought was an excellent example of students protesting attempted hatemongering on their campus. In my usual "timely" fashion I finally happened upon the statement released by the protesters themselves. Straight up from the source:
Full Statement of Those Who Occupied the Stage
Why We Confronted the Minutemen at Columbia

By CounterPunch News Service

In the aftermath of the protest on the night of October 4 against Jim Gilchrist and the racist Minutemen at Roone Arledge auditorium, we want to state clearly: We are proud to send the message to the country that racist and fascist groups are not welcome at Columbia or in New York City.

As Chicanos and Latinos, alongside African Americans and progressive people of other nationalities, we took it as our responsibility to give voice to the undocumented immigrant families who live in fear at terrorist vigilante groups like the Minutemen. Armed patrols by these groups force more and more people desperate for work to find even more hazardous ways into the United States. Over 3,000 people-including hundreds of children-have died in the desert. Their blood is on the hands of Gilchrist and his thugs.

Fascist scapegoating is not up for academic discussion. Like Hitler in pre-Nazi Germany, Gilchrist and the Minutemen attempt to demonize foreign-born poor people, blaming "illegals" for society's problems. His group doesn't present reasoned debate. It spouts racism and hatred, aiming to divide people against one another.

Regardless of how Gilchrist tries to sanitize his message for national audiences, more candid moments tell the real story. Gilchrist is a member of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, which is now notorious for referring to Mexicans as "savages." Speaking about Mexicans and Central American immigrants, Minuteman co-founder Chris Simcox once said, "They have no problem slitting your throat and taking your money or selling drugs to your kids or raping your daughter and they are evil people."

This vile racism translates directly into violence on the ground. "It should be legal to kill illegals," said one Minutemen volunteer. "Just shoot 'em on sight. That's my immigration policy recommendation." It is no wonder that neo-Nazi organizations like the National Alliance praise the Minuteman Project in their publications, and have members signing up for Minutemen militias.

We are sure that if the Nazi party held a public meeting on campus, Jewish groups would be there to challenge them-so would we. We are sure that if the Ku Klux Klan held a public meeting on campus, African American groups would be there to challenge them-so would we. The Minutemen are no different.

We are pleased that an overwhelming number of people answered our call to demonstrate against the racist, fascist Minutemen the night of October 4. The hundreds of people outside Roone Arledge chanting, "Minutemen, Nazis, KKK, racists, fascists, go away!" represented students and community people from all walks of life. Inside the auditorium, perhaps as much as 80 percent of the crowd was repelled by the Minutemen's message of hate.

When we walked on stage last night with anti-racist banners for immigrant rights, we were met with violent attack by Gilchrist's goons. We were the ones who were punched and kicked. We are proud that despite these attacks, we held our ground. When Gilchrist walked off stage, it was because he and his Minutemen outfit were isolated.

This is not an issue of free speech. The Minutemen were able to reserve a hall at our university and had the protection of campus security and the NYPD-all to espouse their hate speech. We along with hundreds of others expressed our right to speak and protest.

Over the last 50 years, throughout the Civil Rights movement and the women's rights movement, ultra-right wing groups have routinely used violence, lynchings, armed assaults and bombings against oppressed people. Yet when we organize to oppose them to express our contempt for their violence, we are criticized for inhibiting the free speech of the ones who perpetrate violence.

We thank everyone who joined our protest last night, inside and outside of the auditorium.

Shame on the Columbia University administration for launching an investigation of peaceful protesters, and failing to condemn the perpetrators of violence. Shame on the College Republicans for inviting this fascist thug and provoking such outrage on our campus.

From tha mail bag

Check it out:
We are thrilled that “My Name is Rachel Corrie” OFFICIALLY opens in New York City today, October 15, at the Minetta Lane Theatre.

Please visit the website to keep up with recent media articles and important events surrounding the play and Rachel's Words.

As you know, Rachel’s Words began in February, 2006 as a response to the ‘indefinite postponement’ of the one-woman show “My Name is Rachel Corrie” by the New York Theatre Workshop.

Preview audiences have been extremely moved by the production and the theatre is already talking about the possibility of extending the run. Rachel’s voice is being heard loudly and clearly, with power, passion and sensitivity.

As expected, a new wave of debate about Rachel has been stimulated by the opening of the play. Though discourse and discussion are important, much of what is written/discussed about Rachel unfortunately serves to perpetuate myths and un-truths. We have put together a “myths and truths” fact sheet to help address some of the most egregious of the un-truths that circulate around Rachel’s memory. The sheet is below as well as on our website.

We hope many of you will be able to see “My Name is Rachel Corrie” in the upcoming weeks or months, either now in New York, in Seattle in March, or in Olympia in April. Also, do not forget that as supporters of Rachel's Words, the Minetta Lane Theater has offered you a discount on tickets.

Please join us in celebrating the triumph of her words over efforts to silence them.
If you're in NYC this fall, or in the Pacific Northwest next spring, this would be worth your while.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

This column puts it into perspective

Check out this column by NBC reporter Jane Arraf:
Some readers and viewers think we journalists are exaggerating about the situation in Iraq. I can almost understand that because who would want to believe that things are this bad? Particularly when so many people here started out with such good intentions.

I'm more puzzled by comments that the violence isn't any worse than any American city. Really? In which American city do 60 bullet-riddled bodies turn up on a given day? In which city do the headless bodies of ordinary citizens turn up every single day? In which city would it not be news if neighborhood school children were blown up? In which neighborhood would you look the other way if gunmen came into restaurants and shot dead the customers?

Day-to-day life here for Iraqis is so far removed from the comfortable existence we live in the United States that it is almost literally unimaginable.

It's almost impossible to describe what it feels like being stalled in traffic, your heart pounding, wondering if the vehicle in front of you is one of the three or four car bombs that will go off that day. Or seeing your husband show up at the door covered in blood after he was kidnapped and beaten.

I don't know a single family here that hasn't had a relative, neighbor or friend die violently. In places where there's been all-out fighting going on, I've interviewed parents who buried their dead child in the yard because it was too dangerous to go to the morgue.

Imagine the worst day you've ever had in your life, add a regular dose of terror and you'll begin to get an idea of what it's like every day for a lot of people here.
Props to Left I.

I recall the peak of the gangsta rap era where locations such as Compton and South Central were immortalized as murder central. Ever been there? I have. The reality doesn't match the hype, needless to say. Yeah there are problems - much of it doing with grinding poverty - but compared to Baghdad, South Central is a gated community in Anaheim Hills or Laguna Niguel. The worst 'hoods in the nation have nothing on what's going down in the streets of Baghdad.

Congress & the culture of corruption

Q: Is the current Congress demonstrably more partisan than those in the past? Why does it matter?

MANN: Partisanship particularly increased after the 1994 elections and then the appearance of the first unified Republican government since the 1950s. Now it is tribal warfare. The consequences are deadly serious. Party and ideology routinely trump institutional interests and responsibilities. Regular order -- the set of rules, norms and traditions designed to ensure a fair and transparent process -- was the first casualty. The results: No serious deliberation. No meaningful oversight of the executive. A culture of corruption. And grievously flawed policy formulation and implementation.

Congress has been rocked by the Foley scandal. Was the House GOP leadership's response an example of reflexive partisanship? Are there larger lessons to learn from it?

ORNSTEIN: Part of the response to Foley was undoubtedly human nature -- lawmakers wanting to take Foley at his word that he wouldn't write any more improper e-mails. But it is hard to look at the responses of the collective majority leadership, including Speaker Dennis Hastert, GOP campaign chair Tom Reynolds and Page Board chair John Shimkus, without putting them into a context that makes it more damning.

The entire leadership team made sure that there was no significant ethics or lobbying reform in this Congress. They knew their majority was hanging in the balance, that the Duke Cunningham-Jack Abramoff-Tom DeLay scandal problem had not coalesced into an electoral catastrophe. The last thing they wanted was another embarrassing scandal. There is a lot to suggest that there was a systematic state of denial here, and an indifference to the possibility of a bigger problem that Foley might represent.
Nerdified link. My emphasis added.

Will Terry Lloyd's Killers Get Away With Murder?

Bet on it:
It is highly unlikely that the US soldiers who killed the ITN correspondent Terry Lloyd and two members of his team during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 will be brought to justice.

Lloyd was injured in crossfire between Iraqi troops and American tanks outside Basra. He was picked up by a makeshift ambulance. As it drove away, the Americans fired on it and Lloyd was killed. His translator, Hussein Osman, and his cameraman, Fred Nerac, whose body has never been found, were also killed.

At last week's inquest on Lloyd's death, there was a verdict of unlawful killing. His daughter, Chelsey, said his death amounted to murder; his widow, Lynn, called it a war crime. The coroner will ask the Attorney-General to press charges.

Yet even if the British government were prepared to put pressure on the Bush administration, it would almost certainly come to nothing. American soldiers who kill civilians through carelessness or brutality in battle receive a remarkable degree of protection from the US authorities. There is little investigation, and a soldier can usually clear himself by saying he opened fire because he believed his life was in danger.
Make sure to read the whole thing.