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Author Tom Engelhardt explores the connections between the retired military analysts recently exposed as part of a Pentagon propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion regarding the war and occupation of Iraq (see Early 2002 and Beyond) and “America’s General,” David Petraeus. Petraeus, slated to become the commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), has long been a media darling, Engelhardt notes. For the last three years, Petraeus has been touted as virtually the only hope for an American victory in Iraq. Engelhardt writes, “Petraeus is the president’s anointed general, [President] Bush’s commander of commanders, and (not surprisingly) he exhibits certain traits much admired by the Bush administration in its better days.”
Petraeus Turns to Analysts to Promote Surge - In the New York Times article exposing the Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008, one event has as yet gotten little attention: the fact that when Petraeus was appointed the commanding general in Iraq in January 2007, one of his first acts was to meet with a group of the Pentagon’s military analysts (see January 2007). Engelhardt explains, “In other words, on becoming US commander in Iraq, he automatically turned to the military propaganda machine the Pentagon had set up to launch his initial surge—on the home front.” Petraeus was by then a willing, and a key, participant in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation, which itself dovetailed with the Bush administration’s attempt to market the escalation of US troops—the “surge” (see January 10, 2007)—as the latest attempt to turn the corner in Iraq. President Bush himself was, by that point, “a thoroughly tarnished brand,” Engelhardt writes, not the person to launch such a marketing campaign.
Petraeus Is Administration's "Face" - Bush and the Pentagon both looked to Petraeus, who quickly “became the ‘face’ of the administration (just as American military and civilian officials had long spoken of putting an ‘Iraqi face’ on the American occupation of that country).” In the following months, Bush cited Petraeus over 150 times as part of his attempts to paint the US occupation as a success. Petraeus himself quickly turned to the Pentagon’s cadre of retired military officers, now network analysts reliably providing the administration’s talking points on the news broadcasts, to help him promulgate the surge. Engelhardt notes that one of those analysts, retired Army general and ABC News analyst Jack Keane, was himself the co-author of the “surge” strategy (see January 2007). Between the president, the administration officials, the military analysts, and the enthusiastic media reporters and talking heads, establishing the surge as a putative success and Petraeus as a name brand with a positive image was achieved in relatively short order. [Asia Times, 4/29/2008]
David Westin. [Source: ABC News]ABC News president David Westin responds to a letter from Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) demanding an explanation of his network’s involvement in the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 24, 2008). Westin says that ABC employs two of the military analysts cited as being part of the Pentagon operation, retired Army General Jack Keane and retired Army Major General William Nash. Westin acknowledges that Keane was one of the architects of the Bush administration’s “surge” in Iraq (see January 2007), and says, “On several occasions when General Keane appeared in an ABC News program we specifically disclosed to our audience his position as an (unpaid) adviser on the subject.” Westin concludes, “From what I know of our reporting involving our military analysts, I am satisfied that ABC News has acted responsibly and has served its audience well.” [Westin, 4/29/2008 ]
Author Tom Engelhardt, reflecting on the recent exposure of the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign using retired military officers to promote the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), writes that this is but one of possibly many such operations. The others, if they exist, remain to be exposed. The military analysts operation is “unlikely to have been the only one,” Engelhardt writes. He has his suspicions:
Selling the 'Surge' - “We don’t yet fully know the full range of sources the Pentagon and this administration mustered in the service of its ‘surge,’” he writes, though he notes how quickly General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in Iraq, was to turn to the analysts for support in their nightly news broadcasts (see April 29, 2008).
Sunnis and Shi'ites - Engelhardt notes that it is possible that a similar propaganda campaign helped transform Iraqi Sunni insurgents into heroes—“Sons of Iraq”—if they joined the “Awakening” movement, or members of “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia” if they did not join the movement. Similarly, it may have been a propaganda campaign that encouraged the media to quickly label every Shi’ite rebel as an Iranian agent.
Iran's Influence - “We don’t know what sort of administration planning has gone into the drumbeat of well-orchestrated, ever more intense claims that Iran is the source of all the US’s ills in Iraq, and directly responsible for a striking percentage of US military deaths there,” Engelhardt writes. The New York Times recently reported that, according to “senior officers” in the US military in Baghdad’s Green Zone, 73% of attacks on US troops in the past year were caused by roadside bombs planted by so-called “special groups,” a euphemism for Iraqi Shi’ites trained by Iran.
Guided Tours - Many influential Washington insiders have been given carefully orchestrated tours of Iraq by the Pentagon, including former military figures, prominent think tank analysts, journalists, pundits, and Congressional representatives. Many of them have been granted a special audience with Petraeus and his top commanders; many have subsequently lauded the “surge” (see January 10, 2007) and praised the US policies in Iraq.
Successful Marketing Campaign - Engelhardt writes, “Put everything we do know, and enough that we suspect, together and you get our last ‘surge’ year-plus in the US as a selling/propaganda campaign par excellence. The result has been a mix of media good news about ‘surge success,’ especially in ‘lowering violence,’ and no news at all as the Iraq story grew boringly humdrum and simply fell off the front pages of our papers and out of the TV news (as well as out of the Democratic Congress). This was, of course, a public relations bonanza for an administration that might otherwise have appeared fatally wounded. Think, in the president’s terminology, of victory—not over Shi’ite or Sunni insurgents in Iraq, but, once again, over the media at home. None of this should surprise anyone. The greatest skill of the Bush administration has always been its ability to market itself on ‘the home front.’ From September 14, 2001, on, through all those early ‘mission accomplished’ years, it was on the home front, not in Afghanistan or Iraq, that administration officials worked hardest, pacifying the media, rolling out their own “products”, and establishing the rep of their leader and ‘wartime’ commander-in-chief.” [Asia Times, 4/29/2008]
Second Author Concurs - Author and Salon commentator Glenn Greenwald concurs with Engelhardt. Greenwald writes, “It should also be noted that this military analyst program is but one small sliver of the Pentagon’s overall media management effort, which, in turn, is but one small sliver of the administration’s general efforts to manipulate public opinion. We’re only seeing these documents and the elaborate wrongdoing they establish because the [New York Times] was so dogged in attempting to compel the [Pentagon] to disclose them, even while the Pentagon fought tenaciously to avoid having to do so, to the point where they were threatened with sanctions by a federal judge. But this is just one discrete, isolated program. Most of what this government has done—including, certainly, its most incriminating behavior—remains concealed by the unprecedented wall of secrecy behind which this administration operates.” [Salon, 5/12/2008]
Five retired military officers respond harshly to a recent New York Times article that revealed a systematic propaganda operation conducted by the Pentagon and carried out, in part, by retired military officers serving as military analysts for the print and broadcast media (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). All five have performed as analysts for a variety of US media outlets; some still do. The five are:
Retired Air Force general Thomas G. McInerney;
Retired Army general Paul Vallely;
Retired Navy captain Charles Nash;
Retired Marine lieutenant colonel William Cowan; and
Retired intelligence officer Wayne Simmons.
Intelligence Summit Members - All five are part of an organization called the International Intelligence Summit, which describes itself as “a non-partisan, non-profit, neutral forum that uses private charitable funds to bring together intelligence agencies of the free world and the emerging democracies.” McInerney and Vallely are executive board members, as is retired Navy commander Richard Marcinko, author of the Rogue Warrior series of pulp fiction novels.
Criticism of NYT Article - The five accuse the Times article, by reporter David Barstow, of “malign[ing] virtually all military analysts, accusing some of being tools of a Pentagon propaganda machine,” an assertion that they state “is flatly wrong.” They state: “We have never stated anything about defense or national security that we did not believe to be true. Equally important, we also have served the essential wartime function of helping civilians be better informed about our military, our enemies, and how the war is being conducted.” They note that some of them had “similar arrangement[s]” with the Clinton administration.
'Unconscionable Libel' - They accuse Barstow of reporting “old news,” and call his assertion that they “intentionally misled the American people for partisan political purposes or some quid pro quo personal gain… an unconscionable libel of our honor and long service to this nation.” They explain their participation in Pentagon public relations briefings as stemming from the Pentagon’s belief that “we had the credentials to do so as military professionals,” and argue, “When it comes to discussing needs and tactics of the US military, who is better suited to give advice and reliable commentary on war and peace issues than those who have spent so much of their lives in this profession?” They assert their belief that the US must “defeat Radical Islam which threatens our nation and the Free World,” and say that they “will continue to speak out honestly to the American people about national security threats” because it is “our duty.” [Tom McInerney, Paul Vallely, Charles Nash, Bill Cowan, and Wayne Simmons, 4/2008]
Reporter Eric Brewer asks White House spokesman Dana Perino about recent reports of the Pentagon’s systematic propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion about the war in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). After briefly summarizing the story, Brewer asks, “[D]id the White House know about and approve of this operation?” Perino stumbles through her initial response before recovering: “Look, I didn’t know—look, I think that you guys should take a step back and look at this—look, [the Defense Department] has made a decision, they’ve decided to stop this program (see April 26, 2008). But I would say that one of the things that we try to do in the administration is get information out to a variety of people so that everybody else can call them and ask their opinion about something. And I don’t think that that should be against the law. And I think that it’s absolutely appropriate to provide information to people who are seeking it and are going to be providing their opinions on it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that all of those military analysts ever agreed with the administration. I think you can go back and look and think that a lot of their analysis was pretty tough on the administration. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk to people.” [White House, 4/30/2008; Raw Story, 4/30/2008]
Bush, wearing his flight suit, before giving the ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech. [Source: MSNBC]Reporter Helen Thomas, the grande dame of Washington reporters who is not popular with the Bush administration, asks White House spokesman Dana Perino about the five-year anniversary of President Bush’s declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Thomas asks, “How does the president intend to commemorate ‘Mission Accomplished’ after five years of death and destruction?” Perino responds with the explanation that the banner was merely to acknowledge the completion of the mission of the aircraft carrier on which the ceremony was conducted. “President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said ‘mission accomplished for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission,’” Perino says. “And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year.” [CBS News, 10/29/2003; White House, 4/30/2008]
The memo from Rumsfeld to Hadley. [Source: Department of Defense] (click image to enlarge)White House Press Secretary Dana Perino denies that the White House had any prior knowledge of the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). A reporter asks, “Did the White House know about the program?” Perino answers, “I just said: no.” [Raw Story, 5/14/2008] But a memo in the Pentagon’s own “document dump” about the program (see May 9, 2008) proves otherwise. A July 12, 2005 memo from Donald Rumsfeld to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley reads, “Attached is a summary of the effects of the military analysts we took down to GTMO [Guantanamo] earlier this month.” Rumsfeld was presumably referring to the Pentagon-sponsored trip to Guantanamo (see June 24-25, 2005 that was carefully analyzed for its effects in manipulating the media (see June 24, 2005). [Rolling Stone, 5/15/2008]
Regardless of the intention of the military to “minimize” its controversial “stop-loss” program (see November 2002 and January 19, 2007), which forces US soldiers to remain deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan for months after their term of duty has expired, the number of soldiers affected by the policy has increased by 43 percent in the last year, and Army officials say the stop-loss program will remain in effect through at least the fall of 2009. Some officials say that the number of troops affected by stop-loss orders will fall as “surge” troops (see January 10, 2007) redeploy. Currently, over 12,230 soldiers are being prevented from returning home even though their commitments to the Army have expired. That number was 8,540 in May 2007. Since 2002, about 58,000 soldiers have been affected by stop-loss policies. “As the [war zone] demand comes down, we should be able to get us weaned off stop-loss,” says Lieutenant General James Thurman. Stop-loss policies forbid active-duty soldiers within 90 days of retirement or obligated service from leaving the Army if they are in units alerted for deployment. Reservists and National Guard members are barred from leaving if their units have been alerted for mobilization. Though Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered the Army and other branches of service to “minimize” their use of stop-loss, the number of soldiers affected has increased since Gates’s orders were issued in January 2007. [Army Times, 5/5/2008]
Former Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan, reflecting on the buildup to the Iraq invasion, says that President Bush “managed the [Iraq] crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option.” Between the increasingly belligerent rhetoric, the UN ultimatum (see September 12, 2002), and the “massive buildup of American arms and military forces in the region, which, for logistical reasons, couldn’t remain in the area indefinitely without being used,” war became the only viable option. McClellan blames Bush’s advisers as much as Bush, and observes: “[D]uring the buildup to war, the president’s advisers allowed his own hands to be tied, putting Bush in a position where avoiding conflict was more difficult than launching it. By creating this enormous momentum for war, the president and his advisers achieved several things. He made the job of his political opponents extraordinarily difficult, putting those who opposed the war in the position of arguing against what was almost a fait accompli. He trapped Saddam Hussein in a shrinking box, making it less and less acceptable for the dictator to continue to temporize and play games with his neighbors. He forced other countries… to make hard decisions as to whether or not they would permit a US-led invasion absent a clear imminent threat. Most important, the White House forestalled any debate about the fundamental goals and long-term plans for such an invasion. By pushing so hard on the WMD issue, reducing the larger issue of the future of the Middle East into a short-term emergency threat that must be dealt with now, the president and his advisers avoided having to discuss the big issues of what would happen after the invasion. Who would rule Iraq? How would the region respond? How long would the United States have to remain on the ground? How would tensions among the nation’s ethnic and religious groups be resolved? Few of these questions ever appeared on the national radar screen during the run-up to war. But they would come back to haunt the president, and the nation, in years to come, when it became clear that the stated rationales for war—the WMD threat and Iraq’s link to terrorism—were less than convincing. The lack of candor underlying the campaign for war would severely undermine the president’s entire second term in office.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 142-144]
Former Bush White House press secretary Scott McClellan, in his book What Happened, reflects on what he considers to be the biggest mistakes of President Bush’s presidency: the rush to war with Iraq, and the unwillingness to admit that rushing to war was an error. McClellan writes: “The first grave mistake of Bush’s presidency was rushing towards military confrontation with Iraq. It took his presidency off course and greatly damaged his standing with the public. His second grave mistake was his virtual blindness about his first mistake, and his unwillingness to sustain a bipartisan spirit during a time of war and change course when events demanded it.” McClellan writes that his own views of the Iraq war “have evolved in parallel to those of most Americans.” Before the invasion, McClellan writes that he was torn between uncertainty over launching an unprecedented pre-emptive strike on a nation that had not attacked us, and a desire to avenge the 9/11 attacks. Now, he has “been forced to conclude that we should never have rushed to war in the first place.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 210]
Former CBS News president Andrew Heyward calls the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda program for the promotion of the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) “a deliberate attempt to deceive the public,” adding, “Analysts whose real allegiance was to the Pentagon and who apparently were given at least special access for that allegiance were presented as analysts whose allegiance was to the networks and, therefore, the public.” Heywood left CBS News in 2005. Former Army Major General John Batiste calls the operation “a very deliberate attempt on the part of the administration to shape public opinion.” Batiste, who commanded an infantry division in Iraq before retiring from the military in 2005 to speak out against Bush administration policies in the Middle East, was an analyst for CBS News for a brief time. However, unlike the analysts in the propaganda operation, Batiste was never invited to any Pentagon briefings and thus not exposed to the full brunt of the Pentagon’s public relations messaging offensive. “It also sounded to me as if they were parroting administration talking points,” he says. “It sounded very much to me like I was up against an information operation. I had no idea that it was so extensive.” National Public Radio’s managing editor, Brian Duffy, says that in light of the revelations about the propaganda operation, NPR is reviewing its policies towards using retired military officers as analysts and “asking more rigorous questions about anyone that we’re paying as a consultant.” [PBS, 5/1/2008]
John Murtha. [Source: ABC News]Representative John Murtha (D-PA), a hawkish military veteran who has built a long political career on supporting the military, says that he is “disappointed” in both the US military and the news media for being part of the Pentagon’s recently revealed Iraq propaganda operation (see Early 2002 and Beyond). Murtha says that he was struck by the fact that, in the New York Times article that revealed the operation (see April 20, 2008), even some of the military analysts who most enthusiastically repeated the Pentagon’s talking points on the airwaves “didn’t even believe what they were saying.” Murtha says: “Well, the military’s held in the highest level and the highest esteem in this country. All of us appreciate their sacrifices. I’ve gotten to the point where I now distrust the military because they have been dishonored by these kind of untruths. It used to be that I could listen to the military, they would come to me, and what they said privately they were willing to say publicly. With [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld’s tenure, they distorted everything. And that’s the way they got by for four years because the public said, well, the military’s saying that. Well, the public’s no longer accepting that. The public realizes we made a mistake when we went in, much of the information was inaccurate and they continue to say these kind of things. So, I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed in the news media. I tell ya, till I spoke out, the news media was not honest—or afraid to come forward. And I think the tactic was, ‘we don’t give them access if they say anything bad about us.’”
Credits Blogs - Murtha credits the political blogs for keeping the story alive: “The blogs have been so important to bringing out the truth. I didn’t know what a blog was till a couple of years ago. Now, I not only know, I understand how important they are because people have an opportunity to hear the other side of what they’re saying.” (Notably, Murtha gives this interview to a news blog, the left-leaning ThinkProgress.)
Propaganda Effort in Vietnam Did Decades of Damage - Murtha reflects on the tremendous damage done by military and government propaganda campaigns during Vietnam (see March 1971). “It took us 20 years to get over Vietnam,” he says. “It took us through the Ford administration, the Carter administration, it took us into the Reagan administration because we didn’t pay for the war and the public was misled. Now the public recognized it very early on in Vietnam because they casualties were so heavy. Because of the technology increases, they didn’t recognize it as quickly in Iraq. But until the end of the Clinton administration, where we had a budget with a surplus, we were paying for the Vietnam war. We’re doing the same thing now.… I mean, nobody recognized we’re paying now with inflation, we’re paying all the expenses in Iraq. We’re paying $343 million dollars a day because of Iraq. So, it’s unfortunate and it just makes it that much more difficult for us to overcome this, because people who don’t believe it now, believed it for a while and they don’t want to be misled again.” [ThinkProgress (.org), 5/1/2008]
Jim Walton. [Source: CNN]CNN president Jim Walton responds to a letter from Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) demanding an explanation of his network’s involvement in the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 24, 2008). Walton says that his network fully cooperated with the New York Times’s investigation of the operation (see April 20, 2008), but CNN was not a part of any such operation. Indeed, Walton claims, “[m]ilitary analysts, and the handful of generals on CNN, contribute only a small portion to CNN’s overall coverage.” He acknowledges that CNN was not always as alert as it should have been to its analysts’ financial connections to defense contractors, and notes that the network fired one of its analysts after discovering “the extent of his dealings” (see July 2007). Walton concludes by assuring DeLauro that the network is committed to “protecting the public trust” and holds itself to “the highest ethical standards” of journalism. [Walton, 5/2/2008 ]
John Dingell. [Source: MSNBC]Democratic representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and John Dingell (D-MI) write a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Kevin J. Martin, urging that his agency begin an immediate investigation of the Pentagon’s recently revealed propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). DeLauro has already written requests for explanations to five different networks, and has received only two responses (see May 2, 2008 and April 29, 2008). DeLauro and Dingell want to know whether the operation violated the Communications Act of 1934 and/or FCC rules, particularly the sponsorship identification requirements. “While we deem the DoD’s [Defense Department’s] policy unethical and perhaps illegal,” they write, “we also question whether the analysts and the networks are potentially equally culpable pursuant to the sponsorship identification requirements in the Communications Act of 1934… and the rules of the Federal Communications Commission.… It could appear that some of these analysts were indirectly paid for fostering the Pentagon’s views on these critical issues. Our chief concern is that as a result of the analysts’ participation in this [Defense Department] program, which included the [Defense Department]‘s paying for their commercial airfare on [Defense Department]-sponsored trips to Iraq, the analysts and the networks that hired them could have run afoul of certain laws or regulations.” DeLauro and Dingell conclude: “When seemingly objective television commentators are in fact highly motivated to promote the agenda of a government agency, a gross violation of the public trust occurs. The American people should never be subject to a covert propaganda campaign but rather should be clearly notified of who is sponsoring what they are watching.” [US House of Representatives, 5/6/2008]
The story of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation—using military analysts in media outlets to promote the administration’s policies in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond)—is going remarkably unreported in those selfsame media outlets. Political bloggers are keeping the story alive, and Democratic congressmen are beginning to call for investigations (see April 28, 2008 and May 6, 2008)), but remarkably little about the operation has appeared either in the mainstream press or on broadcast news shows. One such lawmaker, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), says that he “decided to push this issue hard because ever since the New York Times expose appeared, the silence has been deafening.” Kerry says there needs to be a “thorough investigation” into government contracts and “whether Americans’ tax dollars were being used to cultivate talking heads to sell the administration’s Iraq policy.” But unlike the pre-Internet paradigm, this story may not be so quick to disappear. Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, says, “We are in a time when stories can have a second life.” Political bloggers on the Internet, who keep chipping away at stories long after they have disappeared from the headlines, can give stories another chance, says Rosenstiel, citing the example of bloggers reviving the story of the US attorney firings in 2007 (see November 8, 2007). Rosenstiel says that his organization tracked the mainstream media for a week after the Times story was printed. Out of around 1,300 news stories, only two touched on the Pentagon analysts report, and both of those were on PBS’s Newshour (see April 24, 2008). Independent television analyst Andrew Tyndall says it would be too much to expect for any broadcast news outlets to engage in the story over the airwaves, as they almost never do what he calls “self-criticism stories,” but, he says, “this is really the sort of thing that all of the networks should have addressed online.” Virtually the only mainstream response from the broadcast news has been a short piece from NBC anchorman Brian Williams, who responded on his blog ten days after the Times story ran, and generally extolled the virtues of the analysts with whom he had worked (see April 29, 2008). Former CBS editorial director Dick Meyer, who oversaw CBS’s “Public Eye” blog before it was discontinued due to cutbacks, says that would have been the perfect place to examine the story. “This controversy about military analysts would have been right in our ballpark,” says Meyer, who now works for National Public Radio. “It’s irresponsible for a modern news organization to not have some kind of readers’ advocate, some kind of public editor function,” he says. [Politico, 5/8/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Brian Williams, Andrew Tyndall, CBS News, Project for Excellence in Journalism, Dick Meyer, New York Times, John Kerry, Tom Rosenstiel, Public Broadcasting System
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Michael J. Copps. [Source: Cable's Leaders in Learning (.org)]The Pentagon’s propaganda operation—using military analysts in media outlets to promote the administration’s policies in Iraq (see Early 2002 and Beyond), as recently revealed in the New York Times (see April 20, 2008)—draws a sharp reaction from Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Michael J. Copps. Copps, a Democrat, applauds the efforts of Democratic lawmakers and political bloggers to keep pushing for accountability (see May 8, 2008), saying: “President Eisenhower warned against the excesses of a military-industrial complex. I’d like to think that hasn’t morphed into a military-industrial-media complex, but reports of spinning the news through a program of favored insiders don’t inspire a lot of confidence.” The propaganda operation was “created in order to give military analysts access in exchange for positive coverage of the Iraq war,” Copps adds. [Politico, 5/8/2008]
The Pentagon posts the more than 8,000 pages of documents, transcripts, and audio tapes it was forced to release to the New York Times as evidence of its ongoing propaganda campaign to manipulate public opinion concerning Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The only explanation given on the Web site is, “These documents were released to the New York Times regarding the Pentagon’s Military Analyst program.” [Staff, 5/9/2008]
Salon columnist and former civil litigator Glenn Greenwald, after reviewing the more than 8,000 pages of documents and audio tapes released by the Pentagon (see May 9, 2008) concerning its ongoing Iraq propaganda campaign (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) says bluntly, “Anyone who reads through them, as I’ve now done, can only be left with one conclusion: if this wasn’t an example of an illegal, systematic ‘domestic propaganda campaign’ by the Pentagon, then nothing is.” Greenwald continues: “As corrupt as the Pentagon was here, our nation’s major media outlets were at least just as bad. Their collective Pravda-like suppression now of the entire story—behavior so blatantly corrupt that even the likes of [Howard] Kurtz (see May 9, 2008) and The Politico (see May 8, 2008) are strongly condemning them—has become the most significant and revealing aspect of the entire scandal.” [Salon, 5/9/2008]
An editorial from the St. Petersburg Times rails against the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda operation that uses retired military officers to promote the administration’s policies in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). “We were duped,” the editorial begins, and calls the Pentagon program a “spin operation.” The retired military officers serving as network analysts “are not as independent or as objective as they are portrayed,” the editorial continues. “They are feeding the public the Bush administration line just as they have been encouraged to do. The shilling then bought them plum access to the Pentagon that could be traded on later, giving them a leg up in securing large military contracts for their companies and clients.” The editorial calls the networks and cable news outlets that hired and televised these analysts “enablers in this propaganda campaign,” and lambasts them for not bothering to investigate their analysts’ connections to either the Defense Department or to defense contractors with vested interests in Iraq: “These former military officers were unlikely to give a fair reading of the war in Iraq when their corporate clients were paying huge sums for friendly Pentagon access so they could win business off the war.” [St. Petersburg Times, 5/12/2008]
Former Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita denies that the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation recently exposed in the New York Times (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) ever excluded critics of the Pentagon. Di Rita is proven wrong by the Pentagon’s own documents concerning the operation (see May 9, 2008). Moreover, one of those military analysts, Fox News’s William Cowan, was fired in 2005 for criticizing the US’s progress in Iraq (see August 3-4, 2005).
No Recollection - In an e-mail exchange with Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, Di Rita claims, “I simply don’t have any recollection of trying to restrict [Cowan] or others from exposure to what was going on.” Di Rita cites two supporting sources, fellow analyst Barry McCaffrey and McClatchy war correspondent Joseph Galloway, as examples of the Pentagon “reaching out to people who specifically disagreed with us.” Three days later, Galloway responds in his own e-mail to Greenwald, and disputes Di Rita’s veracity.
Laughter - Galloway says he “howled with laughter” when he read Di Rita’s attempt to “cite me as proof that [the Defense Department] did so reach out to military analysts who were anything but friendly to [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld & Co. I was never invited to any of those hush-hush briefings of the favored military analysts/retired generals and colonels.” Galloway recalls attending “an off-the-record lunch with Rumsfeld in the early summer of 2003,” and “was astounded by his failure to grasp the reality of the situation on the ground in Iraq; even more astounded by his flat declaration that the US was NOT going to do any ‘nation-building’ there.”
Lunch - Over two years later, Galloway declined an invitation to join Rumsfeld on a trip to the Middle East and Australia because of a previous commitment, but accepted a November 2005 invitation to have a “one-on-one” lunch with Rumsfeld. The “one-on-one” consisted of Rumsfeld and four other senior Pentagon officials, who spent an hour and a half battling Galloway on war policies (see November 1, 2005). Galloway writes, “I remain puzzled at their motives in this so-called reach out to me in fall of 2005 after they had so steadfastly ignored two and a half years of my weekly columns pointing out everything they were doing wrong. I suppose they thought [Rumsfeld] could somehow ‘handle’ me or impress me or scare me. Whatever it was it didn’t work.” [Salon, 5/15/2008]
'Horse Manure' - In his own column on the Di Rita incident, Galloway writes, “So much for the Rumsfeld/DiRita outreach to their critics. They were much too busy hand-feeding horse manure to their TV generals, who in turn were feeding the same product to the American public by the cubic yard. There’s little doubt that this program violated the laws against covert propaganda operations mounted against the American public by their own government. But in this administration, there’s no one left to enforce that law or any of the other laws the Bush operatives have been busy violating. The real crime is that the scheme worked. The television network bosses swallowed the bait, the hook, the line and the sinker, and they have yet to answer for it.” [McClatchy News, 5/15/2008]
Bush playing golf, presumably before August 19, 2003. [Source: Raw Story]President Bush says he gave up golfing almost five years ago as a way to honor America’s servicemen. Reporter Mike Allen asks: “Mr. President, you haven’t been golfing in recent years. Is that related to Iraq?” Bush replies: “Yes, it really is. I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be as—to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.” Bush says he stopped playing golf after August 19, 2003, when the UN offices in Baghdad were bombed and UN special representative Sergio Vieira de Mello was killed. “And I was playing golf—I think I was in central Texas—and they pulled me off the golf course and I said, it’s just not worth it anymore to do.” [Associated Press, 5/13/2008]
Played Golf Months after Supposedly Giving It Up - Bush’s claim of giving up golf after the UN bombing is untrue. The Associated Press reported on October 13, 2003, almost two months after the bombing, that Bush spent a “cool, breezy Columbus Day” playing “a round of golf with three long-time buddies.” On that afternoon, Bush joked with reporters: “Fine looking crew you got there. Fine looking crew. That’s what we’d hope for presidential coverage. Only the best.”
'Insipid,' 'Shallow' - The press is critical of Bush’s statement. Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin mocks Bush’s idea of giving up golf as a “personal sacrifice on account of the war.… [H]is decision to stop playing golf five years ago wasn’t just an exercise in image control or a function of his bum knee—it was an act of solidarity with the families of the dead and wounded.” Froomkin calls Bush’s claim “the latest in a series of statements by Bush, the first lady and Vice President Cheney illustrating how far removed they are from the consequences of the decision to go to war—and stay at war… a hollow, trivial sacrifice at best.” Presidential historian Robert Dallek says Bush’s claims about Iraq “speak to his shallowness.… That’s his idea of sacrifice, to give up golf?” Golf blogger William Wolfrum calls the entire interview with Bush “insipid” and notes sarcastically that for Bush to continue golfing “would just send the wrong signal to the thousands killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families. War supporters take note—put away your golf clubs. It’s just disrespectful.” Kevin Hayden writes: “Military funerals he’s attended: 0. Annual National Press Club comedy routines he’s participated in: All of them. Times he played guitar while the Gulf Coast was drowning: 1. Estimated number of returning veterans not being treated for PTSD and other disorders: tens of thousands. He’s biked, run, worked out, met with members of athletic teams, thrown out first pitches, dismissed the importance of finding Osama bin Laden, opposed expanding the GI Bill, but our troops and country can go to sleep happily assured that their commander in chief is not dissing their sweat and sacrifice, blood and tears by playing any of that dastardly golf stuff.” [Washington Post, 5/14/2008]
'Slap in the Face' - More seriously, US infantry officer Brandon Friedman, a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, calls Bush’s claim that he sacrificed golf for the war a “slap in the face” to US soldiers and their families, and an “insult to all Americans.” “Thousands of Americans have given up a lot more than golf for this war,” Friedman says. “For President Bush to imply that he somehow stands in solidarity with families of American soldiers by giving up golf is disgraceful.… It just shows he’s a guy who doesn’t understand the idea of sacrifice for your country and military service. Giving up golf is not a sacrifice. It shows how disconnected he is from everyday Americans, especially those who are serving in Iraq and their families.” [Press Association (London), 5/14/2008; Guardian, 5/15/2008]
Keith Olbermann, the host of MSNBC’s Countdown, gives over a portion of his broadcast to savage President Bush’s recent claim that he gave up golf as his personal sacrifice for the Iraq war (see May 13, 2008). After lambasting Bush for his doomsday rhetoric over the possibility that electing a Democratic president would lead to another 9/11-like attack on the US (see May 13, 2008), Olbermann calls Bush’s golf claim his “final blow to our nation’s solar plexus, his last reopening of our common wounds, his last remark that makes the rest of us question not merely his leadership or his judgment but his very suitability to remain in office.” Olbermann then asks incredulously: “Golf, sir? Golf sends the wrong signal to the grieving families of our men and women butchered in Iraq? Do you think these families, Mr. Bush, their lives blighted forever, care about you playing golf? Do you think, sir, they care about you? You, Mr. Bush, let their sons and daughters be killed. Sir, to show your solidarity with them you gave up golf? Sir, to show your solidarity with them you didn’t give up your pursuit of this insurance-scam, profiteering, morally and financially bankrupting war. Sir, to show your solidarity with them you didn’t even give up talking about Iraq, a subject about which you have incessantly proved without pause or backwards glance, that you may literally be the least informed person in the world?… Four thousand Americans give up their lives and your sacrifice was to give up golf!” [MSNBC, 5/14/2008; Raw Story, 5/15/2008]
Washington Post political reporter and columnist Dan Froomkin, in an online chat with Post readers, gets the following question: “It looks like the Pentagon may have been behind ‘planting’ retired officers as analysts for news outlets (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Do you think this can be tied to the White House? Is their any evidence of White House involvement?” Froomkin responds, “There’s no question at all that the Pentagon organized it. As for White House involvement, that’s a very good question. There’s no hard evidence thus far, but I’m not sure anyone’s really digging for it—and it’s hard to imagine they weren’t plugged in to some extent.” [Washington Post, 5/14/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Pentagon documents that include previously classified internal investigations into the abuse of detainees in US custody overseas. The documents provide new details about the deaths of detainees in Iraq, and internal dissent in the military over torture methods used at Guantanamo Bay. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says: “These documents provide further evidence that the torture of prisoners in US custody abroad was not aberrational, but was widespread and systemic. They only underscore the need for an independent investigation into high-level responsibility for prisoner abuse.” The documents provide details of four investigations into prisoner deaths conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS):
March 2003: Iraqi prisoner Hemdan El Gashame was shot to death in Nasiriyah (see March 2003);
June 2003: A 53-year-old Iraqi man, Naem Sadoon Hatab, was strangled to death at the Whitehorse detainment camp in Nasiriyah (see June 2003);
November 2003: Manadel al-Jamadi was beaten to death, apparently with a stove, at Abu Ghraib (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003 and November 5, 2003);
2004: Iraqi prisoner Farhad Mohamed died in Mosul (see 2004); later examination found contusions under his eyes and the bottom of his chin, a swollen nose, and cuts and large bumps on his forehead.
Another document shows that as far back as September 2002 Army officials were objecting to the methods used in interrogating Guantanamo prisoners (see September 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/14/2008]
President Bush, speaking to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, accuses Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and other Democrats of favoring “appeasement” of terrorists in the same way some Western leaders “appeased” Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler in the days before World War II. Bush does not name Obama or any other official specifically, but White House aides soon acknowledge Bush intended the remarks to apply to Obama. Bush tells the Knesset: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.… There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.” CNN calls the remarks “a not-so-subtle attempt to continue to raise doubts about Obama with Jewish Americans,” and a follow-up to similar remarks made by Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has charged that Obama enjoys the support of Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas. Obama called McCain’s Hamas allegation a “smear” and says of Bush’s remarks: “It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.… George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.” Obama’s campaign says Obama favors “tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe.” Obama has never said he favors talks with any radical group such as Hamas, which both he and the US State Department have labeled a terrorist organization. [CNN, 5/15/2008]
Angry Responses from Democratic Lawmakers - The response from Democratic lawmakers, Bush administration critics, and Democratic supporters is quick and angered. One of the harshest responses is from Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former presidential contender himself. Biden minces few words by saying: “This is bullsh_t, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset… and make this kind of ridiculous statement.” Of Bush, Biden says: “He is the guy who has weakened us. He has increased the number of terrorists in the world. It is his policies that have produced this vulnerability that the US has. It’s his [own] intelligence community [that] has pointed this out, not me.” He also notes that Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both suggested opening dialogues with their enemies. “If he thinks this is appeasement, is he going to come back and fire his own cabinet?” Biden asks. “Is he going to fire Condi Rice?” Biden later says he regrets the use of the profanity, but then says that Bush is engaging in “long-distance swiftboating” of Obama, referring to Bush’s 2004 campaign strategy of telling false stories about his Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Kerry’s Vietnam service. Kerry says that Bush “is still playing the disgusting and dangerous political game Karl Rove perfected, which is insulting to every American and disrespectful to our ally Israel. George Bush should be making Israel secure, not slandering Barack Obama from the Knesset.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says: “Not surprisingly, the engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation’s history has fired yet another reckless and reprehensible round. For the president to make this statement before the government of our closest ally as it celebrates a remarkable milestone demeans this historic moment with partisan politics.” For a brief time, the White House attempts to deny that Bush was referring to Obama, a denial that Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) does not believe. “There is no escaping what the president is doing,” he says. “It is an attack on Senator Obama’s position that we should not be avoiding even those we disagree with when it comes to negotiations and diplomacy.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), also a Democratic presidential contender, says: “President Bush’s comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous on the face of it, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy. This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address and certainly to use an important moment like the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel to make a political point seems terribly misplaced. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from President Bush. There is a very clear difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy and that difference will be evident once we take back the White House.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Bush’s remarks are “beneath the dignity of the office of the president and unworthy of our representation” at the celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Referring to McCain, Pelosi says, “I would hope that any serious person that aspires to lead the country, would disassociate themselves from those comments.” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) says: “The tradition has always been that when a US president is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water’s edge. President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head: for this White House, partisan politics now begins at the water’s edge, no matter the seriousness and gravity of the occasion. Does the president have no shame?” [Politico, 5/15/2008; Politico, 5/15/2008; Politico, 5/15/2008]
Other Responses - Democratic columnist and political strategist Paul Begala writes: “George W. Bush is unworthy of the presidency. He is a disgrace to himself, our nation, and the high office he holds.” Bush “dishonor[ed] himself”, Begala continues, “by using one of the world’s most important pulpits to launch a false and vicious political attack against Barack Obama.” Begala notes that he is a staunch supporter of Israel, and writes: “It is especially appalling to supporters of Israel that Mr. Bush would stand on a hilltop in Jerusalem to invoke the Holocaust in order to make a cheap and deeply dishonest political point. I am a person of faith, so it is especially galling that a man who calls himself a brother in faith would stand in the Holy Land and violate one of the Commandments God gave to Moses: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.‘… As an American I am ashamed that such a man represents me.” [Huffington Post, 5/15/2008] The Boston Globe publishes an editorial accusing Bush of breaking “an unwritten rule against partisan politicking on foreign shores. He also displayed confusion about his own policies—and about the cause of his calamitous foreign policy failures.” Like others, the Globe notes that Bush officials have engaged in talks with Iran, and says that by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has done a great deal “to enable Iran.” The Globe compares Obama’s foreign policy to the “tough and prudent statecraft in the mold of Bush’s father and his secretary of state, James Baker.” The Globe concludes: “Maybe the worst thing about Bush’s Knesset attack on Obama is that it shows how oblivious Bush still is to his own failings. His unilateral military ventures, his disdain for international treaties and organizations, his refusal to negotiate with Iran when the regime in Tehran was eager to cut a deal with the United States—these mistakes produced the disasters that Obama or another successor will have to overcome.” [Boston Globe, 5/16/2008] Columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes: “President Bush went on foreign soil today, and committed what I consider an act of political treason: Comparing the candidate of the US opposition party to appeasers of Nazi Germany—in the very nation that was carved out from the horrific calamity of the Holocaust. Bush’s bizarre and beyond-appropriate detour into American presidential politics took place in the middle of what should have been an occasion for joy.” As others observe, Bunch writes that Bush crossed a line that previous presidents have tried to avoid: criticizing members of the opposing party on foreign soil. He writes: “As a believer in free speech, I think Bush has a right to say what he wants, but as a president of the United States who swore to uphold the Constitution, his freedom also carries an awesome and solemn responsibility, and what this president said today is a serious breach of that high moral standard.… [W]hat Bush did in Israel this morning goes well beyond the accepted confines of American political debate. When the president speaks to a foreign parliament on behalf of our country, his message needs to be clear and unambiguous. Our democracy may look messy to outsiders, and we may have our disagreements with some sharp elbows thrown around, but at the end of the day we are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives. We are Americans.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/15/2008]
Republican Responses - Few Republicans speak publicly regarding Bush’s comments. One who is willing to do so is Ed Gillespie, an advisor to the White House. He attempts to deny that Bush meant the remarks to apply to Obama—a denial soon contradicted by other White House officials—then claims that Bush and the White House want to stay out of the presidential campaign. Instead, Gillespie says: “The president is stating American policy and his policy toward Iran and toward Hezbollah and toward al-Qaeda.… We are happy to allow for Senator Obama and others to express their own points of view on these things.” McCain refuses to distance himself from the remarks, and instead attacks Obama for expressing a willingness to open talks with Iran. McCain does not note that Bush administration diplomats have held three rounds of discussions with Iranian officials in the last year. [CNN, 5/16/2008]
Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Boston Globe, Hamas, Harry Reid, Condoleezza Rice, Ed Gillespie, CNN, Will Bunch, Hillary Clinton, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Joseph Biden, John McCain, John Kerry, Robert M. Gates, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, Paul Begala, Rahm Emanuel
Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections
William Odom. [Source: Brendan Smialowski / Bloomberg News]Retired Lieutenant General William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency (NSA) under Ronald Reagan, says that he is “shocked” by the revelations of a propaganda campaign mounted by the Pentagon to manipulate public opinion regarding Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Odom says: “Well, I was a little shocked by it.… My own sense of my obligations and my officer’s honor in the past would make me think that’s not a proper thing to do.… But I don’t think they’ll be able to defend that position publicly very well, particularly because of its sort of conspiratorial nature. I think it’s quite legitimate for military officers to talk to a number of people in the Pentagon, but to be part of a recurring meeting that is designed to shape the public opinion—that’s a strange thing for officers to be willing to do, in my view.” [WAMU-FM American University, 5/19/2008; Think Progress, 5/19/2008]
The House passes an amendment to the 2009 Defense Authorization Bill; the amendment, written by Representative Paul Hodes (D-NH), will, if it becomes law, prohibit the Pentagon from engaging in propaganda programs like the one revealed by the New York Times (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The amendment also requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to launch an investigation of the Pentagon’s propaganda program. Hodes says on the floor of the House: “In a free and democratic society, our government should never use the public airwaves to propagandize our citizens. Congress cannot allow an administration to manipulate the public with false propaganda on matters of war and our national security.… This amendment will ensure that no money authorized in this act will be used for a propaganda program, and require a report to Congress by both the Defense Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office on whether previous restrictions on propaganda have been violated. It’s time for the American people to finally know the truth.” [US House of Representatives, 5/22/2008]
Thirty-one Iraqi legislators write a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the entire US Congress emphasizing that their government has no intention of signing any security agreement with the US that does not include a specific timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. The US government is working to hammer out an agreement between itself and the Iraqi government that would provide for some temporary (see March 7, 2008) or permanent (see June 5, 2008) US presence in Iraq. On June 4, Representative William Delahunt (D-MA) will release the letter. The letter reads in part, “[T]he majority of Iraqi representatives strongly reject any military-security, economic, commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States that is not linked to clear mechanisms that obligate the occupying American military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq, in accordance with a declared timetable and without leaving behind any military bases, soldiers or hired fighters.” [US House of Representatives, 5/29/2008; Politico, 6/4/2008]
Tom Brokaw. [Source: David Shankbone]NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw defends the media’s performance during the run-up to the Iraq war, and says that it was too much to expect that the media be able to cut through what he calls “the fog of war,” even before the war. In an interview with his successor, Brian Williams, Brokaw says that the coverage “needs to be viewed in the context of that time. When a president says we’re going to war, that there’s a danger of the mushroom crowd. We know there had been experiments with Iraqi nuclear programs in the past. Honorable people believed he had weapons of mass destruction. But there’s always a drumbeat that happens at that time. And you can raise your hand and put on people like Brent Scowcroft, which we did, a very creditable man who said this was the wrong decision.… There was this feeling, that this was a bad man, he had weapons of mass destruction, we couldn’t make the connection that he was sponsoring terrorists or harboring them, we raised that question day after day. But this president was determined to go to war. It was more theology than it was anything else. That’s pretty hard to deal with.… [T]here is a fog of war, Brian, and also the fog in covering war.” Many Democrats, too, went along with the Bush administration’s push to war, Brokaw adds.
Brokaw Considers War Propaganda Standard Procedure - Williams notes that former press secretary Scott McClellan has said that the war was “based on propaganda.” Brokaw replies: “All wars are based on propaganda. John Kennedy launched the beginning of our war in Vietnam by talking about the domino theory and embracing the Green Berets. Lyndon Johnson kept it up and so did Richard Nixon. World War II—a lot of that was driven by propaganda, and suppressing things that people should have known at the time. So people should not be surprised by that. In this business we often bump up against what I call the opaque world. The White House has an unbelievable ability to control the flow of information at any time but especially at a time when they are planning to go to war.”
Rebutting Brokaw - Editor & Publisher’s Greg Mitchell calls Brokaw’s arguments “bankrupt,” and counters several specifics. For Brokaw to say that it was “hard to deal with” the administration’s “drumbeat” for war is specious, Mitchell says: “NBC and others chose to focus on the ‘evidence’ of WMD rather than the evidence that the administration was simply bent on going to war, WMD or not.” Neither Brokaw nor most of his colleagues spent much time focusing on the fact that UN inspectors had found no evidence whatsoever of the WMD programs being hyped by the administration. Mitchell finds Brokaw’s dismissal of the administration’s propaganda efforts disturbing, and writes: “For Brokaw, who has embraced the notion of [World War II] being the ‘good war,’ to put the Iraq invasion in the same class is outrageous. There is a huge difference between admitting that there is a propaganda element to every war—and pointing out that certain wars are mainly based on propaganda and that a country has been misled, or lied, into war. Surely, Brokaw doesn’t think FDR hyped the Japanese and German threat—or was hellbent on war.” Mitchell finds Brokaw’s note that NBC allowed war critic Brent Scowcroft on the air to be disingenuous: “Studies… have shown that such critics were vastly—hideously—outnumbered by war supporters who got face time.” As for Democratic complicity, Mitchell retorts, “What kind of journalist explains a failure to probe the real reasons for a war on others who may not be doing their own due diligence?” [Editor & Publisher, 5/31/2008]
Australian troops at Camp Terendak crowd around newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during his December 2007 visit to the camp. [Source: Australian Defense Department]The Australian government announces that its entire deployment of 550 troops is leaving Iraq immediately. Australian troops lower the national flag that had flown over their last enclave, Camp Terendak in Talil. The troops will be officially welcomed home on June 28 by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who had campaigned on a platform of bringing the nation’s troops home as soon as possible. Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon says the withdrawal “closed another chapter in a strong and proud Australian military history.” Australian soldiers had rarely engaged in combat per se, but had protected engineers carrying out reconstruction work, had helped train Iraqi soldiers and police, and had taken part in training Iraqis for counterinsurgency operations. Fitzgibbon calls the decision to withdraw overdue, noting Australian deployments in East Timor and Afghanistan. Former Prime Minister John Howard, who made the unpopular decision to deploy troops to Iraq in support of US and British forces, describes himself as “baffled” by the decision to withdraw, and says that had he been returned to office, “we would not have been bringing them home, we would have been looking at transitioning them from their soon-to-be terminated role to a training role.” Rudd counters by accusing Howard of misleading the country over the necessity of invading Iraq, saying, “Of most concern to this government was the manner in which the decision to go to war was made: the abuse of intelligence information, a failure to disclose to the Australian people the qualified nature of that intelligence.” 300 Australian soldiers will remain in Baghdad to help guard Australian diplomats, and 500 more will remain in the Middle East. [Guardian, 6/2/2008; Associated Press, 6/2/2008]
The Iraqi government will miss a July 31, 2008 target for an agreement on long-term relations between the US and Iraq (see March 7, 2008), according to an Iraqi government spokesman. The Bush administration wants the agreement—which is far more broad and permanent than previously disclosed—passed for what many believe are political purposes (see June 5, 2008). Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh says the agreement will not be made by the target date: “I don’t think that we can meet this date. There is a difference in viewpoints between Iraq and the US. I don’t think that time is enough to end this gap and to reach a joint understanding.… Therefore, we are not committed to July as a deadline.” Iraq is also considering possible alternatives to the proposed agreement, he says, but gives no details. The agreement has raised strong objections among many Iraqis, who suspect the US of trying to create a permanent occupation of their nation. [Reuters, 6/3/2008]
Two Iraqi lawmakers denounce a proposed deal that would provide for a permanent presence of US forces in Iraq (see March 7, 2008 and June 5, 2008). In a hearing of a House foreign affairs subcommittee chaired by William Delahunt (D-MA), two Iraqi legislators, Sheikh Khalaf al-Ulayyan and Professor Nadeem al-Jaberi, both lambast the deal. Al-Ulayyan is a Sunni cleric and al-Jaberi is a Shi’ite parliamentarian. Al-Jaberi says that the biggest problem with the deal is that it threatens Iraq’s sovereignty. “The Iraqi government right now does not have the full reign of its sovereignty, because of the thousands of foreign troops that are on its land,” he says. “And perhaps the Iraqi government does not have as of yet sufficient tools to run its own internal affairs. Therefore, I ask the American government not to embarrass the Iraqi government by putting it in a difficult situation with this agreement.” Since the status of the two nations is so unequal, al-Jabari says, the deal will likely “lead to more instability,” and they hope “any future agreement does not affect or impact Iraqi sovereignty, such as permanent military bases.” Any such security deal must wait until US troops have fully withdrawn from Iraq, he says. Al-Ulayyan says he wants to “salute the American people for their stand against the war, which we saw on TV in the form of demonstrations and protests.” While he warns against a precipitous withdrawal of US forces that might lead to “impotence and flaws in the security,” he notes that “protecting Iraq does not require signing long-term agreements like the one proposed, because [the US has] bases in surrounding countries like Kuwait, Jordan and so forth, and therefore, we don’t see any importance or need for military bases in Iraq.” [Washington Independent, 6/4/2008]
The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, denies that the US is trying to set up permanent military bases in Iraq. Recent reports have shown that the Bush administration is apparently trying to “strong-arm” Iraq into agreeing to a permanent military presence in the country (see June 5, 2008). While the Bush administration wants a military presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future, “It is not going to be forever,” Crocker says. “There isn’t going to be an agreement that infringes on Iraqi sovereignty.” The military agreement will have a provision for periodic review and renewal, as do similar agreements with other countries, Crocker says. Many Iraqi lawmakers and civilians are balking at some of the provisions of the proposed agreement, including the long-term placement of private security forces inside Iraq, the legal immunity enjoyed by US government and corporate personnel, the longevity of the 50 or so bases proposed in the agreement, the US control over Iraqi airspace, and, more generally, the worry that the agreement will lock in US military, economic, and political domination of the country for generations to come. “The Americans have some demands that the Iraqi government regards as infringing on its sovereignty,” says lawmaker Haider al-Abadi. “This is the main dispute, and if the dispute is not settled, I frankly tell you there will not be an agreement.” Crocker denies that the bill contains any secret provisions, and that the entire deal is “transparent” for both Iraqis and Americans. The proposed agreement was kept secret for at least a month before being leaked to the British press in April (see March 7, 2008). [Associated Press, 6/5/2008]
The British newspaper The Independent reports on a secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad that would indefinitely perpetuate the American occupation of Iraq, no matter who wins the US presidential elections in November. Under the accord, US troops and private contractors will occupy over 50 permanent military bases, conduct military operations without consulting the Iraqi government, arrest Iraqis at will, control Iraqi airspace, and be immune from Iraqi law. The agreement goes much farther than a previous draft agreement created between the two countries in March (see March 7, 2008). It is based on a so-called “Declaration of Principles” issued by both governments in November 2007 (see November 26, 2007). The US says it has no intention of entering into a permanent agreement (see June 5, 2008).
Forcing Agreement Over Iraqi Opposition - President Bush intends to force the so-called “strategic alliance” onto the Iraqi government, without modifications, by the end of July. Inside sources believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki opposes the deal, but feels that his government cannot stay in power without US backing and therefore has no power to resist. Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement that limits Iraqi sovereignty, insiders believe that their resistance is little more than bluster designed to shore up their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence; they will sign off on the agreement in the end, observers believe. The only person with the authority to block the deal is Shi’ite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But al-Sistani is said to believe that the Shi’a cannot afford to lose US support if they intend to remain in control of the government. Al-Sistani’s political rival, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has exhorted his followers to demonstrate against the agreement as a compromise of Iraqi sovereignty. As for the other two power blocs in the country, the Kurds are likely to accept the agreement, and, interestingly, so are many Sunni political leaders, who want the US in Iraq to dilute the Shi’ites’ control of the government. (Many Sunni citizens oppose any such deal.) While the Iraqi government itself is trying to delay the signing of the accord, Vice President Dick Cheney has been instrumental in pushing for its early acceptance. The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has spent weeks trying to secure the agreement.
'Explosive Political Effect' - Many Iraqis fear that the deal will have what reporter Patrick Cockburn calls “an explosive political effect in Iraq… [it may] destabilize Iraq’s position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.” Cockburn writes that the accords may provoke a political crisis in the US as well. Bush wants the accords pushed through “so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated.” The accord would also boost the candidacy of John McCain (R-AZ), who claims the US is on the brink of victory in Iraq. It would fly in the face of pledges made by McCain’s presidential opponent Barack Obama (D-IL), who has promised to withdraw US troops from Iraq if elected. McCain has said that Obama will throw away a US victory if he prematurely withdraws troops. An Iraqi politician says of the potential agreement, “It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty.” He adds that such an agreement will delegitimize the Iraqi government and prove to the world that it is nothing more than a puppet government controlled by the US. While US officials have repeatedly denied that the Bush administration wants permanent bases in Iraq, an Iraqi source retorts, “This is just a tactical subterfuge.”
Exacerbating Tensions with Iran - Iranian leader Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani says that the agreement will create “a permanent occupation.… The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans.” The deal may also inflame tensions between Iran and the US; currently the two countries are locked in an under-the-radar struggle to win influence in Iraq. [Independent, 6/5/2008]
Entity Tags: Moqtada al-Sadr, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Hashemi Rafsanjani, John McCain, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ryan C. Crocker, Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, Patrick Cockburn, Nouri al-Maliki, Independent
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
NBC News Middle East correspondent Richard Engel, discussing the proposed permanent basing of US forces in Iraq (see June 5, 2008), says that, according to US and Iraqi officials, the bases would technically belong to Iraq. Such a measure is part of what Engel calls “a face saving device.” Engel says that “US troops would reside on them as tenants.” Engel’s report meshes with a recent statement by US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who has said that “there isn’t going to be an agreement that infringes on Iraqi sovereignty” (see June 5, 2008). [American University Radio, 6/5/2008; Think Progress (.org), 6/7/2008]
Senate Democrats and Republicans spar over the just-released Senate Intelligence Committee report about the Bush administration’s use of intelligence in the run-up to war with Iraq (see June 5, 2008). However, no Democrat pushes for criminal charges against any White House officials, and administration officials dismiss the report as “old news.” Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) says of the report: “The tragic fact is, on issues of war and peace, which should require the most meticulous and the most precise adherence to the truth, the administration was too often careless with its words, including in some cases making presentations that were not substantiated by the available intelligence—or worse, directly contradicted by the available intelligence. The administration went well beyond what the intelligence community knew and what it believed.” Rockefeller says pushing for criminal charges would be pointless and would completely shut down already-strained relations between Congress and the White House. “It would mean nothing else, whether it’s clean air or FISA, would get done,” he says. “It’s like pressing for impeachment. It’s a grand act with only five or six months to go. It’s a futile act and it’s a wrong act, because we do have business to do.” Interestingly, Rockefeller acknowledges that charges should be brought, saying: “Should it be done in the wide sweep of history? Yes. Should it be done by us, now? No.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) says, “It rots the very fiber of democracy when our government is put to these uses.” White House press secretary Dana Perino says that the report actually vindicates the administration in some areas, and in others merely rehashes old claims that the administration has already acknowledged and “taken measures to fix.” Republican committee member Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO) calls the report “political theater… that makes partisan points but isn’t grounded in fact,” and adds: “I don’t know why they’re trying to run against the Bush administration. Maybe they think it’s good. But unfortunately it denigrates the process of intelligence collection, analysis and oversight and that’s why it’s a very shabby example of how partisan politics can be misused in the intelligence community.” Former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke says there must be some accountability: “I just don’t think we can let these people back into polite society and give them jobs on university boards and corporate boards and just let them pretend that nothing ever happened when there are 4,000 Americans dead and 25,000 Americans grievously wounded, and they’ll carry those wounds and suffer all the rest of their lives.” Progressive commentator Arianna Huffington calls the report “a direct rebuke to the administration’s continued claims that it was the intelligence that was faulty, and that Bush and Co. were simply presenting what the CIA had given them.… The report doesn’t use the word, but we all know what it’s called when someone presents something as fact that’s directly contradicted by the evidence. A lie. Not a mistake. A lie.” [Hill, 6/5/2008; Huffington Post, 6/9/2008]
The Senate Intelligence Committee releases its long-awaited “Phase II” report on the Bush administration’s use of intelligence in convincing the country that it was necessary to invade Iraq. According to the report, none of the claims made by the administration—particularly that Iraq had WMD and that its government had working ties with Islamist terror organizations such as al-Qaeda—were based in any intelligence reporting. The committee released “Phase I” of its report in July 2004, covering the quality of intelligence used in making the case for war; the second phase was promised “soon afterwards” by the then-Republican leadership of the committee, but nothing was done until after Democrats took over the committee in November 2006. The report is the product of what the Associated Press calls “nasty partisan fight[ing]” among Republicans and Democrats, and largely fails to reveal much information that has not earlier been reported elsewhere. [Associated Press, 6/5/2008] The report is bipartisan in that two Republican committee members, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), joined the committee’s Democrats to sign the report. [Hill, 6/5/2008]
False Linkages between Iraq, Al-Qaeda - Time magazine notes that the report “doesn’t break any new ground,” but tries “to make the case that President Bush and his advisers deliberately disregarded conflicting intel and misled Americans on the severity of the Iraqi threat.” Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) says: “It is my belief that the Bush administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al-Qaeda as a single threat.” [Time, 6/6/2008]
Examination of Five Speeches - The report looks at the statements of current and former Bush administration officials such as President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, between October 2002 and the actual invasion of Iraq in March 2003 (see January 23, 2008), largely focusing on five speeches:
Cheney’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention (see August 26, 2002);
Bush’s statement to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002);
Bush’s speech in Cincinnati (see October 7, 2002);
Bush’s State of the Union speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003);
and Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council (see February 5, 2003).
The report contrasts these speeches and statements to intelligence reports that have since then been released. The report only assesses the veracity of public comments made by Bush officials, and does not delve into any possible behind-the-scenes machinations by those officials or their surrogates. Some of the report’s conclusions:
“Statements which indicated that [Saddam] Hussein was prepared to give WMDs to terrorists were inconsistent with existing intelligence at the time, as were statements that suggested a partnership between the two.”
“Claims that airstrikes on their own would not be sufficient to destroy purported chemical and biological weapons in Iraq were unsubstantiated.”
“Most statements that supported the theory that Hussein had access to or the capacity to build chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons did not take into account the disagreements between intelligence agencies as to the credibility of the WMD allegations.”
'Statements beyond What the Intelligence Supported' - Rockefeller says the administration concealed information that contradicted their arguments that an invasion was necessary. “We might have avoided this catastrophe,” he says. The report finds that while many of the administration’s claims were supported by at least some intelligence findings, the administration routinely refused to mention dissents or uncertainties expressed by intelligence analysts about the information being presented. The committee’s five Republicans assail the report as little more than election-year partisanship, and accuse Democrats of using the report to cover for their own members, including Rockefeller and Carl Levin (D-MI), who supported the administration’s push for war at the time. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 6/5/2008 ; Associated Press, 6/5/2008; Time, 6/6/2008] Rockefeller answers the Republican charges by saying, “[T]here is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate.” Committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) writes in a note attached to the report: “Even though the intelligence before the war supported inaccurate statements, this administration distorted the intelligence in order to build its case to go to war. The executive branch released only those findings that supported the argument, did not relay uncertainties, and at times made statements beyond what the intelligence supported.” [Huffington Post, 6/5/2008]
Entity Tags: Chuck Hagel, John D. Rockefeller, Colin Powell, Dianne Feinstein, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Carl Levin, Olympia Snowe, Al-Qaeda, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The US is pressuring the Iraqi government to accept a military agreement for permanent US bases in Iraq (see March 7, 2008 and June 5, 2008) by using some $50 billion of Iraqi money being kept in the US Federal Reserve Bank as a negotiating tool. About $20 billion in outstanding court judgments exist against Iraq in the US. A presidential order currently gives that money protection from judicial attachment. But, US officials have told Iraqi lawmakers, if they do not sign the accord with the US, President Bush will lift that immunity and the $20 billion will be confiscated by the US court system. [Independent, 6/6/2008; Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 6/6/2008] Reporter Patrick Cockburn writes: “The US is able to threaten Iraq with the loss of 40 percent of its foreign exchange reserves because Iraq’s independence is still limited by the legacy of UN sanctions and restrictions imposed on Iraq since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the 1990s. This means that Iraq is still considered a threat to international security and stability under Chapter Seven of the UN charter. The US negotiators say the price of Iraq escaping Chapter Seven is to sign up to a new ‘strategic alliance’ with the United States.” Cockburn writes that regardless of the financial “blackmail,” Iraqis are resistant to the agreement because they fear it will make their nation a perpetual “client state” of the US. [Independent, 6/6/2008]
Bill Moyers, John Walcott, Jonathan Landay, and Greg Mitchell on PBS’s ‘Journal.’ [Source: PBS]In his regular “Journal” broadcast, PBS political commentator Bill Moyers focuses on the role of the media in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. “America was deceived, with the media’s help,” Moyers declares, and interviews three media figures to help explain how: John Walcott, Washington bureau chief of McClatchy News; Jonathan Landay, one of Walcott’s “ace reporters;” and Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher, “known to many of us as the watchdog’s watchdog.” Part of the discussion focuses on the failure of most media reporters and broadcasters to question the Bush administration’s assertions about the Iraq war. Landay says, “I was just I was left breathless by some of the things that I heard where you heard correspondents say, ‘Well, we did ask the tough questions. We asked them to the White House spokesmen,’ Scott McClellan and others. And you say to yourself, ‘And you expected to get real answers? You expected them to say from the White House podium—“Yeah, well, there were disagreements over the intelligence, but we ignored them”’ when the President made his speeches and the Vice President made his speeches. No, I don’t think so.” Mitchell agrees, noting that ABC reporter Charles Gibson said that we “wouldn’t ask any different questions.” Mitchell says he found Gibson’s remarks “shocking.” Mitchell continues: “[T]hat someone would say we would even with the chance to relive this experience and so much we got wrong—going to war is—which is still going on over five years later, all the lost lives, all the financial costs of that. And then to look back at this, you know, this terrible episode in history of American journalism and say that if I could do it all over again, I’m not sure we would ask any different questions.” Walcott takes a different tack, saying that reporters “may have asked all the right questions. The trouble is they asked all the wrong people.” Landay notes that “you have to take the time to find those people,” and Mitchell adds that when you do find real information, “[y]ou can’t bury it.” Landay adds that some powerful, public admission of error and self-examination might go far to counter the perception that the media is just as untrustworthy as the government.
Drowned Out - Walcott notes that even when reporters found informed sources willing to talk about the realities behind the push for war, they were drowned out by “Donald Rumsfeld at the podium or Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice saying, ‘We can’t allow the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud’” (see September 4, 2002 and September 8, 2002). “Over and over again,” Moyers notes. “Over and over again on camera,” Walcott continues. “[T]hat trumps the kind of reporting that John and [Landay’s partner] Warren Strobel did from these mid-level guys who actually know that there’s no prospect of any smoking gun let alone a mushroom cloud. And so when it gets to packaging television news, it’s picture driven, it’s celebrity driven, and that doesn’t allow much room for this kind of hard-nosed reporting under the radar.” Mitchell says, “There’s been at least six opportunities in the last two months for the media to do this long delayed and much needed self-assessment, self-criticism to the American public and it hasn’t happened.”
Liberal vs. Conservative Media - Moyers notes that many conservative media outlets “do not believe they got it wrong. I mean, Fox News was reinforcing the administration’s messages back then and still does today.” Walcott notes, “You know, if Fox News’s mission is to defend Republican administrations then they’re right, they didn’t fail.” He notes that in his book, McClellan draws a distinction between the conservative and the “liberal” media (presumably the New York Times, Washington Post, etc). “I don’t understand what liberal versus conservative has to do with this,” Walcott says. “I would have thought that conservatives would be the ones to ask questions about a march to war. How much is this gonna cost us? What’s the effect of this gonna be on our military, on our country’s strength overseas? I don’t think it’s a liberal conservative question at all. I think that’s, frankly, a canard by Scott.”
Celebrity 'Experts' - Moyers asks about the “experts” who predicted that the war would be quick, bloodless, and successful. Even though they were “terribly wrong,” Moyers notes that most of them are “still on the air today pontificating. I mean, there seems to be no price to be paid for having been wrong about so serious an issue of life and death, war and peace.” Walcott says they are not news analysts so much as they are celebrities. Big name actors can make bad movies and still draw million-dollar salaries for their next film: “It’s the same phenomenon. A name is what matters. And it’s about celebrity. It’s about conflict. It’s about—” Landay completes Walcott’s sentence: “Ratings.”
'Skunks at the Garden Party' - Perhaps the most disturbing portion of the discussion is when Walcott notes that the kind of old-fashioned investigative reporting exemplified by Landay and Strobel is “by definition… unpopular.… Because the public doesn’t wanna hear it.… Doesn’t wanna hear the President lied to them. Doesn’t wanna hear that the local police chief is on the take. You know, people don’t like necessarily to hear all that kind of stuff. And when you’re worried about, above all, your advertising revenue, you become more vulnerable to those kinds of pressures.… Well, the skunks don’t get invited to the garden party. And part of our job is to be the skunks at the garden party.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Gibson, Bush administration (43), Bill Moyers, ABC News, Fox News, Washington Post, Public Broadcasting System, Editor & Publisher, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, McClatchy News, Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay, Greg Mitchell, Scott McClellan, John Walcott, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
PBS political commentator Bill Moyers hosts a wide-ranging discussion of the media’s role in legitimizing the Bush administration’s military interventionism in the Middle East (see June 6, 2008). Joining Moyers are John Walcott, the Washington bureau chief of McClatchy News; McClatchy reporter Jonathan Landay; and Greg Mitchell, the purveyor of the media watchdog site Editor & Publisher. The four spend a good part of their time discussing the US’s attempt to “sell” a war with Iran. Moyers says the administration is having trouble pushing such a war because the American public is leery of more dire administration warnings, “given how we were misled about Iraq.” Walcott points out that Iran is a more imminent threat than Iraq, “a much tougher problem than Iraq ever was,” and notes that while Iraq never supported terrorists or had WMD, Iran supports terrorist groups “with a fair amount of enthusiasm” and has a nuclear energy program with the potential to cause grave harm. Landay notes that one big difference in the way the administration is handling Iran as opposed to how it handled Iraq is the fact that the administration is now working with the UN Security Council and even the International Atomic Energy Agency, whereas with Iraq the administration displayed a belligerent, “go it alone” attitude.
They're a Bunch of Crazy Shi'ites - Walcott notes that he finds one argument about Iran particularly disturbing: “[T]hat’s the one that says the Iranians would use nuclear weapons against us or against Israel. Well, both Israel and the United States have the capability to turn Iran into a skating rink. When you explode a nuclear weapon over sand, it turns into glass. And the counter to that from some quarters has been as crazy as anything I’ve heard, which is, well, that we can’t deter the Iranians because they’re Shi’ites and they’re all eager to commit suicide to hasten the arrival of the 12th Imam. So deterrents won’t work against Iran because they’re a bunch of crazy Shi’ites. That to me is as crazy as anything we heard about Saddam [Hussein] and his ties to al-Qaeda. That one, the fact that that one’s out there concerns me.”
Military Strike against Iran? - Walcott says he knows for a fact that there is a large and influential faction within the Bush administration that is determined to force a military strike against Iraq before Bush’s term of office ends. This faction has the support of influential Israeli government officials, even hints of support from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “[T]hat issue’s gonna be on the table until January 20th [2009, when the next US president is inaugurated] because one of the things we’ve learned is these people don’t go away,” Walcott says. “They’re still out there. They’re still advocating.” Landay notes that many of the same people who advocated for the invasion of Iraq are the ones pushing for a strike against Iran, “[a]nd yet they keep being brought on television and quoted in newspaper stories, when their, you know, now, after this horrendous track record they had in Iraq. So you wonder how it is that there are people who have been fanning the flames for going after Iran. Some of them the very same people.” Mitchell notes that the questions that should have been asked and re-asked by the media before the Iraq invasion—will military force neutralize the threats, what will be the aftereffects and ramifications of military strikes, how many will die—are not yet being asked about Iran. Walcott notes how easily Iran could retaliate for US strikes: “sink one oil tanker in the Persian Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz, just one, and the insurance rates will take care of the rest. And you’ll have $200, $250 a barrel oil. So that’s one thing to think about.”
Iran and the NIE - Moyers asks why it was so easy for President Bush to simply disavow the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons (see December 3, 2007) just by saying that, in essence, “the NIE’s conclusions don’t reflect his own views, that there is an ongoing threat.” Moyers says that Bush does not care “what the facts are, this is [his] reality.” Mitchell notes that NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw called it more of a matter of “theology” (see May 29, 2008). But Landay says that just as interesting is the fact that, if Iran indeed is building nuclear weapons, which it well may be, “the administration’s having a really hard time getting traction for its case. Why? Because it’s lost its credibility on Iraq.” Mitchell adds, “And the media has lost credibility.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]
In a panel discussion hosted by PBS’s Bill Moyers, journalist Jonathan Landay, discussing the US war in Afghanistan, notes that the vast majority of media coverage has been granted to the Iraq occupation. The war in Afghanistan is largely forgotten by the media, or merely rolled into Iraq coverage. Landay notes that Afghanistan is “a far more serious threat for US national security than Iraq is.” Similarly, the media rarely reports on the dire terrorist threats centered in the tribal areas of Pakistan. “[T]his is a black hole virtually which the United States is deeply involved in that we don’t see a lot of meaningful, I mean, in-depth coverage of,” he says. [PBS, 6/6/2008]
During a PBS broadcast of a panel discussion about US interventions in the Middle East, host Bill Moyers observes that the hidden costs of the Iraq war are staggering. He notes that the huge number of suicides among US soldiers in Iraq as well as those who have come home is “the dirty little secret of this war.” The broken Veterans Administration, and its inability to provide decent medical care for the troops, is another, he says. Not only are these underreported in the US media, he says, even the economic costs get relatively little play, despite the fact that “The war’s costing us $5,000 a second, $12 1/2 billion to $13 billion a month,” with the costs ultimately soaring into the trillions of dollars. “[T]hat would seem to hit people in the viscera,” he says. Guest Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher says that the economic issues of the war are one of the biggest reasons why President Bush’s approval ratings stay below 30 percent, even as the media touts the “surge” (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007) as such a success. “[T]he reason is the people figured out long ago, long ago that the war was a mistake and that it’s incredibly costly in the human and financial and even moral terms.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]
The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on misleading, exaggerated, and inaccurate presentations of the prewar Iraqi threat by the Bush administration (see June 5, 2008) leaves out some significant material. The report says that the panel did not review “less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the executive branch.” The committee made no attempt to obtain White House records or interview administration officials because, the report says, such steps were considered beyond the scope of the report. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus notes that “[o]ne obvious target for such an expanded inquiry would have been the records of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a group set up in August 2002 by then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.” WHIG (see August 2002) was composed of, among other senior White House officials, senior political adviser Karl Rove; the vice president’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas Calio; and a number of policy aides led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley.
WHIG Led Marketing of War - Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, recently wrote in his book What Happened that WHIG “had been set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the war to the public.… The script had been finalized with great care over the summer [for a] “campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary.” On September 6, 2002, Card hinted as much to reporters when he said, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). Two days later, the group scored its first hit with a front-page New York Times story about Iraq’s secret purchase of aluminum tubes that, the story said, could be used to produce nuclear weapons (see September 8, 2002). The information for that story came from “senior administration officials” now known to be members of WHIG. The story was the first to make the statement that “the first sign of a ‘smoking gun’ [proving the existence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program] may be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002); that same morning, the same message was repeated three times by various senior administration officials on the Sunday talk shows (see September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002). WHIG did not “deliberately mislead the public,” McClellan claimed in his book, but wrote that the “more fundamental problem was the way [Bush’s] advisers decided to pursue a political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people.… As the campaign accelerated,” caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded.”
Records Perusal Would 'Shed Light' - If indeed the White House “repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent,” as committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) has said, then an examination of WHIG’s records would, Pincus writes, “shed much light” on the question. [Washington Post, 6/9/2008]
Entity Tags: New York Times, Karen Hughes, John D. Rockefeller, James R. Wilkinson, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Karl C. Rove, Mary Matalin, Senate Intelligence Committee, Stephen J. Hadley, Walter Pincus, White House Iraq Group, Nicholas E. Calio, Scott McClellan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Cover of ‘The Obama Nation’ [Source: Threshold / FactCheck (.org)]Dr. Jerome Corsi, a conservative author and blogger who was deeply involved in the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign to besmirch presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), publishes a book, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality. The title is a play on the word ‘abomination.’ In his book, Corsi, who writes for the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily and blogs at the extremist Free Republic, attacks Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in a fashion similar to that used against Kerry—combining fact, hyperbole, speculation, and outright falsehoods in an attempt to demean and disparage Obama’s character and professional career. The publisher, Threshold (a division of Simon and Schuster devoted to publishing conservative political works), calls the book “[s]crupolously sourced” and “[m]eticulously researched and documented…” Among other allegations, Corsi accuses Obama of growing up under the influence of Communist, socialist, and radical Islamic mentors; of deep and secretive affiliations with ‘60s radicals William Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn; of espousing what he calls “black liberation theology” through his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright; connections to socialists and radical Islamists in Kenya, his father’s home country; deep and criminal ties to Chicago real-estate mogul Tony Rezko; and an intent to, if elected president, implement what Corsi calls “far-left” domestic and foreign policies. [Simon and Schuster, 8/1/2008; New York Times, 8/12/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 8/20/2008] The book debuts as number one on the New York Times bestseller list, propelled by large bulk sales (large buys by particular organizations designed to artificially elevate sales figures) and an intensive marketing campaign carried out on conservative talk radio shows. “The goal is to defeat Obama,” Corsi says. “I don’t want Obama to be in office.” [New York Times, 8/12/2008]
Allegations Roundly Debunked - Unfortunately for Corsi, his allegations do not stand up to scrutiny. FactCheck.org, a non-partisan “‘consumer advocate’ for voters” site run by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, finds that Corsi’s book “is a mishmash of unsupported conjecture, half-truths, logical fallacies and outright falsehoods.” It “is not a reliable source of facts about Obama.” FactCheck notes: “Corsi cites opinion columns and unsourced, anonymous blogs as if they were evidence of factual claims. Where he does cite legitimate news sources, he frequently distorts the facts. In some cases, Corsi simply ignores readily accessible information when it conflicts with his arguments.” The organization notes that Threshold’s chief editor, Republican operative Mary Matalin, said the book was not political, but rather “a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that.” FactCheck responds: “The prominent display of Corsi’s academic title (he holds a Ph.D. in political science) seems clearly calculated to convey academic rigor. But as a scholarly work, The Obama Nation does not measure up. We judge it to be what a hack journalist might call a ‘paste-up job,’ gluing together snippets from here and there without much regard for their truthfulness or accuracy.” [FactCheck (.org), 2008; FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] The St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact finds, “Taken as a whole, the book’s primary argument is that Obama is a likely communist sympathizer with ties to Islam who has skillfully hidden his true agenda as he ruthlessly pursues elected office,” an argument that the organization concludes is wholly unsupported by Corsi’s arguments and sources. [St. Petersburg Times, 8/1/2008] And an Associated Press article finds the book a “collect[ion of] false rumors and distortions [designed] to portray Obama as a sort of secret radical who can’t be trusted.” [Associated Press, 8/16/2008]
Unreliable Sources - As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Corsi’s sources are often unreliable: for example, his allegation that Obama’s father divorced his mother according to “Islamic sharia law” is based on a single and unverifiable post made by an anonymous blogger. [Media Matters, 8/4/2008] FactCheck notes that although Corsi points to his over 600 endnotes as proof of his “rigorous” sourcing, many of those endnotes refer to obscure, unverifiable Internet postings, blog posts, and opinion columns. Four of Corsi’s sources refer to his own work. “Where Corsi does cite news sources,” the site says, “he sometimes presents only those that are consistent with his case while ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit the picture he paints.” [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008]
Demonstrably False Claims - Some of Corsi’s claims are completely false: his statement that Obama did not dedicate his 2004 memoir, Dreams from My Father, to his parents or grandparents is easily debunked merely by reading the book’s introduction, in which Obama wrote, “It is to my family, though—my mother, my grandparents, my siblings, stretched across oceans and continents—that I owe the deepest gratitude and to whom I dedicated this book.” [Media Matters, 8/4/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 8/20/2008] Corsi also claims, falsely, that Obama holds dual citizenship in the US and Kenya, though the Kenyan Constitution specifically prohibits dual citizenship. [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] Corsi goes on to claim that Obama has long rejected his white family members from his mother’s side, including his grandparents in Hawaii who raised him for much of his childhood. This is part of Corsi’s argument about Obama’s secret embrace of the so-called “radical black rage” teachings of American activist Malcolm X. According to Corsi’s reading of Obama’s memoir: “His race, he self-determines, is African-American. In making that determination, he rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents. We do not have to speculate about this. Obama tells this to us outright; his words are direct, defying us to miss his meaning.” But PolitiFact calls this “a significant misreading of Obama’s memoir,” and notes that Corsi ignores a large amount of evidence that points to Obama’s continued close relationship with his white family members throughout his life. PolitiFact concludes, “To conclude that Obama rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents, Corsi has to significantly read against the memoir’s stated meaning. We find factual evidence also contradicts this statement, indicating that Obama maintained lifelong relations with his white relatives.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/1/2008]
Insinuations and Leading Questions - Many of Corsi’s allegations are based on little more than questions and insinuations: for example, Corsi insinuates that Obama may not have stopped using marijuana and cocaine, as he admitted to doing during his high school years. Corsi writes: “Still, Obama has yet to answer questions whether he ever dealt drugs, or if he stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended into his law school days or beyond. Did Obama ever use drugs in his days as a community organizer in Chicago, or when he was a state senator from Illinois? How about in the US Senate? If Obama quit using drugs, the public inquiry certain to occur in a general election campaign for the presidency will most certainly aim at the when, how and why…?” According to Media Matters, Obama wrote in his book Dreams from My Father that he stopped using drugs shortly after beginning college. [Media Matters, 8/4/2008] FactCheck notes: “Corsi… slyly insinuates—without offering any evidence—that Obama might have ‘dealt drugs’ in addition to using them. And he falsely claims that Obama has ‘yet to answer’ whether he continued using drugs during his law school days or afterward.… In fact, Obama has answered that question twice, including once in the autobiography that Corsi reviews in his book.”
Guilt by Association - Corsi alleges that Obama has links to Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga, and claims that Obama is somehow linked to the violence surrounding the 2007 Kenyan presidential election. He bases his claim on a single visit by Obama and his wife, Michelle, to Kenya, where they publicly took AIDS tests to demonstrate the tests’ safety. In the testing process, Obama spoke briefly to the crowd. Odinga was on stage while Obama spoke. Corsi construes the speech as an Obama endorsement of Odinga, and, as FactCheck writes, “[h]e goes on to attribute all the violence in Kenya to an elaborate Odinga plot.” Corsi ignores the fact that during that trip, Obama also met with the other Kenyan presidential candidate, Mwai Kibaki, and with opposition leader Uhuru Kenyatta. Human Rights Watch blamed the violence following the election on both Odinga and Kibaki and their followers. FactCheck notes that Corsi uses the logical fallacy of “guilt by association” to fill Chapters 3 through 7. [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008]
Misquoting Other Sources - Media Matters finds that Corsi sometimes misquotes and rewrites source material, as when he attributed a claim concerning Obama’s supposedly untoward business relationship with Rezko to articles in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Globe, and Salon (.com) that made none of the claims Corsi attributes to them. Corsi also misquoted the conservative Web site NewsMax when he used one of its articles to falsely claim that Obama had been present at Chicago’s Trinity United Church during Reverend Wright’s denunciation of America’s “white arrogance.” (Obama was actually in Miami during Wright’s sermon.) [Media Matters, 8/4/2008] Corsi uses a man he calls one of Obama’s “closest” childhood friends, Indonesian Zulfan Adi, to back his assertion that Obama was once a practicing Muslim. However, Corsi does not report that Adi later retracted his claims about Obama’s religious practices, and admitted to knowing Obama for only a few months. Corsi also ignores a Chicago Tribune story that contains interviews with “dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends [who] show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia,” and other media reports that have conclusively proven Obama was never a Muslim (see January 22-24, 2008).
Ignoring the Obvious - Corsi repeatedly claims that Obama is a master speaker who bedazzles crowds with soaring flights of rhetoric, but never actually gives any specifics of what he intends to do as president. He writes: “At the end of every rhetorically uplifting speech Obama gives about the future of hope, millions of listeners are still left pondering, ‘Now what exactly did he say?’ If the politician is the message, as [campaign manager David] Axelrod and Obama have proclaimed, they can’t forever avoid telling us what precisely that message is.” But FactCheck notes that “Obama’s Web site is packed with details of what he proposes to do if elected. He lays out descriptions of his policy proposals, including tax cuts for most families and increases for those making more than $250,000 per year; a $150 billion, 10-year program to develop alternative energy sources and more efficient vehicles; a proposal to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and another to create a public health insurance plan for those whose employers don’t offer health coverage. Whether or not one agrees with them, Obama has indeed presented detailed plans for dozens of policies. It’s hard to see how anyone writing a book on Obama could fail to acknowledge their existence.”
Conspiracy Theorist, 'Bigot,' and Veteran Liar - FactCheck notes: “Corsi is a renowned conspiracy theorist who says that [President] George Bush is attempting to create a North American Union… and that there is evidence that the World Trade Center may have collapsed [after the 9/11 attacks] because it was seeded with explosives. More recently, Corsi claimed that Obama released a fake birth certificate. We’ve debunked that twice now. [M]any of the themes in The Obama Nation are reworked versions of bogus chain e-mail smears.” [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] In August 2004, Media Matters found that Corsi routinely embraced both extremist opinions and personal invective. Corsi called Islam “a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion.” Of Catholicism, he wrote, “Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn’t reported by the liberal press.” Of Muslims themselves, he wrote, “RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters—it all goes together.” And of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), he wrote: “Anybody ask why HELLary couldn’t keep BJ Bill [former President Clinton] satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she?” [Media Matters, 8/6/2004] (Corsi posted these comments on the Free Republic under the moniker “jrlc,” and identified himself as “jrlc” on March 19, 2004.) [Free Republic, 3/18/2004; Jerome Corsi, 8/7/2004] An Obama campaign spokesman calls Corsi “a discredited, fringe bigot.” [Associated Press, 8/16/2008] FactCheck concludes, “In Corsi’s case, we judge that both his reputation and his latest book fall short when measured by the standards of good scholarship, or even of mediocre journalism.” [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] PolitiFact concludes: “A reader might think that because the book is printed by a mainstream publishing house it is well-researched and credible. On the contrary—we find The Obama Nation to be an unreliable document for factual information about Barack Obama.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/20/2008]
Entity Tags: Mwai Kibaki, NewsMax, Salon (.com), Raila Odinga, Simon and Schuster, Trinity United Church of Christ, Tony Rezko, Michelle Obama, St. Petersburg Times, Zulfan Adi, Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ayers, Media Matters, Hillary Clinton, Malcolm X, Boston Globe, Bernadette Dohrn, Barack Obama, Associated Press, Annenberg Public Policy Center, Chicago Sun-Times, Mary Matalin, Chicago Tribune, FactCheck (.org), John Kerry, Jerome Corsi, David Axelrod, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, Free Republic, WorldNetDaily, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents that detail systematic patterns of prisoner abuse in US detention facilities in Iraq. The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, also show that Army investigations of abuse allegations in Iraq were compromised by missing records, flawed interviews, and problems with witnesses. ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer says: “The Bush administration created a climate in which abuse was tolerated even when it wasn’t expressly endorsed. With a new administration entering the White House, we should remember that the tone set by senior military and intelligence officials has very real implications for what takes place in US detention facilities overseas. The new administration should make clear from the outset that it won’t turn a blind eye to torture and abuse.”
Variety of Abuses - The documents pertain to eight Army investigations into detainee abuse conducted in 2003 and 2004. The abuse allegations included food and sleep deprivation, electric shocks, sexual threats, urinating on detainees, and the use of stress positions and attack dogs. One soldier stationed at Camp Cropper testified that “soldiers would hog-tie detainees out of their own frustration, because detainees would continuously ask them for water or in some form not be compliant.” A prisoner held in a facility called “Kilometer 22” testified that he was punched and beaten by an Egyptian interrogator when he did not provide the answers his US interrogators wanted. “These documents provide more evidence that abuse of prisoners was systemic in Iraq, and not limited to any particular detention center or military unit,” Jaffer says. “There was a culture of impunity.”
Compromised Investigations - Six of the eight investigations were compromised by an inability to locate key records. Three investigations included documents where military personnel stated that their facilities were so disorganized that it would be impossible to produce records on detainees. Three investigations were constrained when interviewees claimed not to recognize the names of the relevant detention facilities or the names of the capturing units. [American Civil Liberties Union, 11/19/2008]
A former Air Force interrogator writing under the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” pens an impassioned plea against the use of torture for the Washington Post. Alexander is a former Special Operations soldier with war experience in Bosnia and Kosovo before volunteering to serve as a senior interrogator in Iraq from February 2006 through August 2006. He writes that while he served in Iraq, his team “had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war.” Yet upon his return, Alexander writes that he was less inclined to celebrate American success than “consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the US military conducts interrogations in Iraq.” Since then, Alexander has written a book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (see December 2-4, 2008). He writes that interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in Iraq both “betrays our traditions” and “just doesn’t work.”
Army Used 'Guantanamo Model' of Interrogation - When he joined the team hunting for al-Zarqawi, he was astonished to find that “[t]he Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the US Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules—and often break them.… These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.”
New and Different Methodology - Alexander refused to allow his interrogators to use such tactics, he writes, and instead taught them a new set of practices: “one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they’re listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of ‘ruses and trickery’). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.” Alexander writes that his attitude, and that of his colleagues, changed during this time. “We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shi’ite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.” When Alexander pointed this out to General George Casey, then the top US commander in Iraq, Casey ignored him. Alexander writes that Casey’s successor, General David Petraeus, used some of the same “rapport-building” techniques to help boost the “Anbar Awakening,” which saw tens of thousands of Sunnis repudiate al-Zarqawi and align themselves with the US. And, the techniques persuaded one of al-Zarqawi’s associates to tell where he was hiding, giving the US a chance to find and kill him (see June 8, 2006).
Little Overall Change - Even the success in locating and killing al-Zarqawi had little effect on US interrogation methods outside of Alexander’s unit. He left Iraq still unsettled about the methods being used; shortly after his return, he was horrified at news reports that the CIA had waterboarded detainees to coerce information from them (see Between May and Late 2006). Such hard-handed techniques are not only illegal and morally reprehensible, Alexander notes, they usually don’t work. He writes: “Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.” He remembers one jihadist who told him: “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”
Torture Breeds Terrorism - Alexander writes that while in Iraq, he learned that the primary reason foreign jihadists came to Iraq to fight Americans was because of their outrage and anger over the abuses carried out at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he writes. “The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of US soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me—unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
Writing about His Experiences - Alexander began writing about his time in Iraq after returning to the US. When he submitted his book for the Defense Department’s review (standard procedure to ensure no classified information is being released), he writes that he “got a nasty shock.” The Pentagon delayed the review past the first scheduled printing date, then redacted what Alexander says was “an extraordinary amount of unclassified material—including passages copied verbatim from the Army’s unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army’s own Web site.” Alexander was forced to file a lawsuit to get the review completed and to appeal the redactions. “Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them.”
Conclusions - How we conduct ourselves in the “war on terror” helps define who we are as Americans, Alexander writes. “Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves.” It is up to Americans, including military officers directly involved in the battle against terrorist foes, “to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them.” He continues: “We’re told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations—and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.” With the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House, Alexander describes himself as “quite optimistic” that the US will renounce torture. “But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We’re better than that. We’re smarter, too.” [Washington Post, 11/30/2008]
Cover of ‘How to Break a Terrorist.’ [Source: Military (.com)]Former Iraq interrogator “Matthew Alexander” (a pseudonym) publishes his book How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq. Alexander has just published an editorial in the Washington Post detailing his success in using non-coercive interrogation techniques to locate terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and denouncing the use of torture by US interrogators in Iraq and Guantanamo (see November 30, 2008). Time’s Gilbert Cruz writes, “Structured around a series of interrogations, [Alexander’s book] details the battle of wills between ‘gators [Alexander’s term for interrogators] and suspects as well as the internal fight between Alexander’s team and the old-school military inquisitors used to more brutal methods of questioning.” In his book, Alexander writes that these “old-school” interrogation tactics not only failed to elicit useful information, they “led down the disastrous path to the Abu Ghraib scandal.” Cruz calls the book “a claustrophobic read,” bringing the reader into the interrogation rooms with him, his partner, and the detainee during marathon questioning sessions. However, “Alexander scarcely discusses the theories behind his interrogation strategy, its derivation, or whether the US military continues to use it.” He concludes, “[A] fuller epilogue could have broadened the story beyond this single set of circumstances.” [Time, 12/2/2008]
'Times Where You Have to be Harsher' - In an interview about the book, Fox News host Sean Hannity attempts to assert that there will be times when torture is necessary to gain critical information. Alexander refuses to agree. Hannity says: “But I do think there’s going to be times where you have to be harsher. That’s an outsider’s view. Never? It never will work?” Alexander replies: “No.… I don’t say that torture doesn’t work; it does work on occasion. But what I say is that there’s better ways to do it.” [Fox News, 12/3/2008]
'Extremely Ineffective and Counter-Productive' - In another interview the same evening, Alexander tells MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that torture is “extremely ineffective and counter-productive to what we are trying to accomplish in both the short-term and the long-term.” He explains: “In the short-term, when you torture somebody, it hardens their resolve, the information that you get is unreliable. And if you do get reliable information, you’re able to stop a terrorist attack, al-Qaeda is then going to use the fact that we torture people to recruit new members, and then we’re going to have to deal with a whole new wave of terrorists.” In the MSNBC interview, Alexander calls for an outright ban on torture and the retraining of US interrogators in non-coercive methods of questioning. [MSNBC, 12/4/2008]
In a speech at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, outgoing President Bush discusses his decision to invade Iraq. “It is true, as I have said many times, that Saddam Hussein was not connected to the 9/11 attacks,” he says. “But the decision to remove Saddam from power cannot be viewed in isolation from 9/11. In a world where terrorists armed with box cutters had just killed nearly 3,000 people, America had to decide whether we could tolerate a sworn enemy that acted belligerently, that supported terror, and that intelligence agencies around the world believed had weapons of mass destruction. It was clear to me, to members of both political parties, and to many leaders around the world that after 9/11, this was a risk we could not afford to take. So we went back to the UN Security Council, which unanimously passed Resolution 1441 calling on Saddam Hussein to disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences (see November 8, 2002). With this resolution, we offered Saddam Hussein a final chance to comply with the demands of the world. When he refused to resolve the issue peacefully, we acted with a coalition of nations to protect our people and liberated 25 million Iraqis.” Amanda Terkel, a writer for the liberal website Think Progress, notes that all of Bush’s acknowledgments that Iraq had no connections to 9/11 came after the war began; in the months prior to the invasion, Bush and his top officials strove to create the impression that Hussein had close links to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 planners (see (Between 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, September 17, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 28, 2001, November 6-8, 2001, December 9, 2001, 2002-March 2003, March 19, 2002, June 21, 2002, July 25, 2002, August 2002, August 20, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 16, 2002, September 21, 2002, September 25, 2002, September 26, 2002, September 27, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 15, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, Early February 2003, February 5, 2003, (2:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m.) February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, and February 17, 2003). Terkel writes, “Bush still embraces his pre-war lies, as he admitted in his Saban address today, because without them, the public wouldn’t have supported his case for war.” [USA Today, 12/5/2008; Think Progress, 12/5/2008]
An Iraqi journalist hurls a shoe at President Bush. [Source: BBC]An Iraqi journalist throws a pair of shoes at President Bush during a press conference in Baghdad. In Arab culture, throwing shoes at a person, or showing them the sole of your shoe, is considered a grave insult—shoes are considered ritually unclean. During the conference, Muntadar al-Zaidi, a correspondent for Cairo-based al-Baghdadiya TV, stands up, shouts, “This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog!” and hurls the first shoe. He then shouts, “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq!” and hurls the second shoe. Bush ducks away from the thrown shoes, and both miss their target. Al-Zaidi is wrestled to the floor by security guards within seconds of throwing the second shoe, removed from the room and beaten, and taken into custody where he is soon arrested. Bush brushes aside the incident, telling the remaining journalists, “That’s what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves,” as al-Zaidi’s screaming can be heard from outside the conference room. Bush flew to Baghdad for a surprise visit. During the momentary chaos after the shoes are hurled, his press secretary, Dana Perino, is struck in the eye with a microphone stand; the blow is accidental. Bush, in the last weeks of his presidency, says that the war in Iraq is not yet over, and more work remains to be done. He will later joke, “If you want the facts, it’s a size 10 shoe that he threw.” Other Iraqi journalists say the attack was symbolic, and note that Iraqis threw shoes and used them to beat statues of Saddam Hussein after his overthrow. Bush says being pelted with shoes may be one of the “weirdest” moments of his presidency. He is accompanied to the press conference by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. [New York Times, 12/14/2008; BBC, 12/15/2008; BBC, 12/15/2008; USA Today, 12/15/2008] Bush later compares the incident to the disruption of an earlier White House press conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao by a Falun Gong follower, and says it would be wrong to read the feelings of an entire country into the single instance. “I don’t think you can take one guy and say this represents a broad movement in Iraq,” he says. He notes that the other Iraqi journalists in the room “were very apologetic and said this doesn’t represent the Iraqi people.” [USA Today, 12/15/2008]
Others' Reactions - A former colleague of Al-Zaidi, Haider Nassar, explains, “He had bad feelings about the coalition forces.” Of al-Zaidi’s actions, Nassar says it is a poor way to establish his points. “This is so silly; it’s just the behavior of an individual,” Nassar says. “He destroyed his future.” [New York Times, 12/14/2008] Adil Shamoo, an Iraqi analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, says of the incident: “I think we should go beyond the shoe and think about the fact that the US should respect Iraq’s sovereignty in order to regain respect of the Iraqi people and the Arab world. I think Bush has increased terrorism against the United States and instablity in the Middle East because of his policies.” [Al Jazeera, 12/15/2008]
History of Shoes Used to Insult Americans - This is not the first time Iraqis have used shoes to insult American officials. Until the 2003 invasion, a likeness of Bush’s father, former President George H. W. Bush, was prominently featured in a floor mosaic near the front door of Baghdad’s Rashid Hotel; visitors would tread on it in symbolic punishment for alleged “war crimes” committed during the 1991 Gulf War. (The likeness has since been removed.) In 2004, the corpses of four American mercenaries killed and strung up on a bridge in Fallujah (see March 31, 2004) were beaten with shoes by local citizens. Posters of the current president, adorned with shoes, are common sights in many parts of Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been given the insulting nickname of “Kundera,” meaning shoe, by many Middle Easterners. [BBC, 12/15/2008; USA Today, 12/15/2008] In late January, an Iraqi orphanage will unveil a “shoe monument” in honor of al-Zaidi’s act (see January 29, 2009). Al-Zaidi will be freed from prison in September 2009 (see September 14, 2009).
Vice President Dick Cheney continues to justify his administration’s actions in its war on terror, building on his revelation from days earlier that the White House authorized the waterboarding of suspected terrorists (see December 15, 2008). “[I]it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation,” he says. “In my mind, the foremost obligation we had from a moral or an ethical standpoint was to the oath of office we took when we were sworn in, on January 20 of 2001, to protect and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic. And that’s what we’ve done.” Asked if he would take the same steps he and his White House colleagues took after the 9/11 attacks, he says: “I feel very good about what we did. I think it was the right thing to do. If I was faced with those circumstances again I’d do exactly the same thing.” Asked if waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods constitute torture, Cheney says they do not. “I don’t believe it was torture,” he says. “We spent a great deal of time and effort getting legal advice, legal opinion out of the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel. I thought the legal opinions that were rendered were sound. I thought the techniques were reasonable in terms of what [the CIA was] asking to be able to do. And I think it produced the desired result. I think it’s directly responsible for the fact that we’ve been able to avoid or defeat further attacks against the homeland for seven and a half years.” Cheney says that 33 high-value suspects were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques to gain information about al-Qaeda, and three were waterboarded. According to Cheney, those three were alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, militsant trsining camp facilitator Abu Zubaida, and al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. “I think it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation against further attacks like what happened on 9/11,” he says. The abuse and torture of prisoners at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison was, he says, “not policy. [T]he people… that were subjected to abusive practices there, I don’t think had any special intelligence understandings, if you will, or special intelligence information that we needed.” [Washington Times, 12/18/2008]
US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, a Bush administration appointee who is preparing to depart the country in favor of a new appointee from President Obama, says he hopes Obama will not prematurely withdraw US troops from Iraq. He adds that to do so would be a potentially disastrous error. Crocker says that after discussing the matter with Obama in a four-way video conference, along with General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he is confident Obama will not do so. Obama promised repeatedly during the presidential campaign that he would withdraw US forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. Crocker says that during the video conference, Obama repeated his campaign promise to withdraw American forces from Iraq “responsibly.” “If it were to be a precipitous withdrawal,” Crocker says, “that could be very dangerous, but I think it’s clear that that’s not the direction in which this is trending.” Crocker adds: “We’re worried about a too-swift withdrawal. That’s when I think the spirit of compromise, of accommodation, of focus on institutional development, all of that could run the risk of getting set aside.” Crocker warns that the reaction to a US pullout among Iraqi citizens might be along the lines of “Uh, oh, we had better pull back, dig the trenches, build the berms and get ready for whatever comes next.… I’m not saying that that will happen, but I think these are dangers that could happen.” (Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadir Muhammed Jassim says his country is “prepared for the worst.”) Crocker says of the nation’s political and social status: “We’re at a very encouraging, hopeful point, but it is not a culminating point by any means. It’s not a point at which I at least can lay claims to legacy or make any claims resembling a definitive judgment. It is still fragile, and it is still reversible.” A US official quotes an adage he attributes to Crocker about the situation in Iraq: “Everything here is harder than you think it is, everything will take longer, and something will come along to screw it up.” [McClatchy News, 1/22/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009]
US defense officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, say they are not entirely supportive of President Obama’s promise to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months. Gates is the only Obama administration holdover from the former Bush administration. Instead of getting behind Obama’s 16-month withdrawal, which was a central promise of Obama’s campaign, defense officials say they intend to present Obama with a “full range of options.” Asked about Obama’s meeting with him and senior US military commanders to discuss withdrawal, Gates says the 16-month timetable is just “the beginning of a process of evaluating various options.” The White House has said that the plans to withdraw American forces from Iraq in 16 months are firm. “Let me just say, I think our obligation is to give the president a range of options and the risks associated with each of those options,” Gates notes. “And he will make the decision.” Iraq is still a nation in transition, says Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and this year’s series of elections in Iraq provides reason for both hope and apprehension. “There’s growing confidence, but it’s not in leaps and bounds,” Mullen says. General Ray Odierno, the senior US commander in Iraq, says, “How the provincial elections play out will, I think, be a big indicator for 2009, which is a big year.” Mullen is in favor of a “responsible drawdown,” but is not sure exactly how it should progress. Outgoing US ambassador Ryan Crocker joins Gates, Mullen, and Odierno in warning of what he calls a “precipitous” withdrawal (see January 22, 2009). “Al-Qaeda is incredibly tenacious,” Crocker says. “As long as they hang on they are looking for the opportunity to regenerate.” Obama intends to withdraw some forces from Iraq for duty in Afghanistan, which he views as the US’s central front in battling terrorism. There are currently 143,000 US troops in Iraq, and only 34,000 in Afghanistan. The US commander in Afghanistan wants another 30,000 troops; the Pentagon says those will be provided over the next 12 to 18 months. Gates agrees with Obama’s intention to refocus US military efforts on Afghanistan: “The president has been quite clear that the mission is to responsibly draw down and end our active combat role, the role that we have been playing over the last number of years. He wants to put more emphasis on Afghanistan and deal with the problems in Afghanistan there and the challenges that we face in Afghanistan.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009]
President Obama says that the US’s battle against global terrorism will be refocused away from Iraq and towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the first step in that process, Obama names veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke as the US’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan (see January 22, 2009). In his acceptance remarks, Holbrooke says: “This is a very difficult assignment as we all know. Nobody can say the war in Afghanistan has gone well.… In Pakistan the situation is infinitely complex. I will say that in putting Afghanistan and Pakistan together in the one envoy, we fully respect Pakistan has its own history and its own traditions.” Obama says that the situation remains “perilous” in Afghanistan, and any progress in combating the Taliban-led insurgency will take time. Holbrooke will lead “our effort to forge and implement a sustainable approach to this critical region,” Obama adds. [The Nation (Lahore), 1/23/2009]
Retired Major General Paul Eaton, one of the 16 retired flag officers who joined President Obama in Obama’s signing of his executive order banning torture (see January 22, 2009), says that the Abu Ghraib scandal “immediately undermined me, my moral authority” as he worked in Iraq with eight other nations to build up Iraqi security forces. “It created a far more dangerous environment for every soldier, every marine we had in Iraq,” Eaton says. Eaton places direct blame for Abu Ghraib on the Bush administration’s push for enhanced interrogation techniques. [Bloomberg, 1/23/2009]
News columnist Ann Woolner writes that with President Obama’s executive orders to close Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) and stop torture of terror suspects (see January 22, 2009), “I am beginning to recognize my country again.” Referring to the infamous picture of the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner with electric wires attached to his body (see April 29-30, 2004), “It’s time to lift the hood and let the man under it step off that box.” [Bloomberg, 1/23/2009]
President Obama and Hisham Melhem, during the interview. [Source: Al Arabiya / Time]President Obama gives his first interview after assuming the presidency to the Dubai-based satellite broadcaster Al Arabiya. He tells interviewer Hisham Melhem that Americans are not the enemy of the Muslim world, and wants Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations. [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009] Melhem, Al Arabiya’s Washington bureau chief, originally believes he was slated to interview the newly named US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell (see January 22, 2009). Melhem believed there was some discussion among White House officials on whether it was the right time for Obama to grant an interview to the Arab media. The selection of Al Arabiya is deliberate, as that channel is considered more moderate and Western-friendly than, for example, Al Jazeera. [Time, 1/28/2009]
Intent to Reopen Talks between Israel, Palestinians - Obama intends to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and says the US will open up new talks by listening to the two sides instead of immediately issuing demands. “[W]hat I told Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating—in the past on some of these issues—and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen. He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response. Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.” The larger peace plan for the Middle East recently proposed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will play an important role in the negotiations, Obama says.
'A Language of Respect' - Language matters, Obama notes. “[M]y job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world that the language we use has to be a language of respect,” he says. “[T]he language we use matters. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.”
Restoring Relations with the Muslim World - Melhem asks Obama about tensions between the US and the Islamic world, inflamed by demagogues and extremists on both sides. Obama says: “Well, I think that when you look at the rhetoric that they [extremists]‘ve been using against me before I even took office… what that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt. There’s no actions that they’ve taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them.” Obama reminds Melhem, and the viewers, that he lived for a time in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, during his childhood. He learned through his experiences in Indonesia and other Muslim countries that everyone, regardless of differences in culture or faith, has similar hopes and aspirations. “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” he says. “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.”
Dealing with Iran - Wrapping up the interview, Melhem asks if the US is prepared to “live with a nuclear Iran.” Obama responds: “I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of US power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.… Iran has acted in ways that’s not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past—none of these things have been helpful. But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress.” [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009]
Responses - In Pakistan, Obama’s interview is widely viewed, and receives what CNN calls “a generally positive response from analysts there.” Islamabad author and journalist Imtiaz Gul says, “It’s a good sign of an attempt to reconcile with the Muslim world, to say America wants to reach out to them and not to consider them as an enemy.” [CNN, 1/27/2009] Egyptian student Omar Youssef, who has joined in protests against the Israeli war in Gaza, says of Obama: “He’s a man of diplomacy and speaks well. Bush, Arab people hate him. But the world needs a man like Obama.” Another student, Ahmed Mahmoud, adds, “Maybe if he can solve the problem between white and black people in America, he can also solve the problem between Arab and Jewish people here.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Melhem, who has long criticized US policies towards the Middle East, later says he was touched by Obama’s conciliatory tone and references to his Muslim roots. “You can feel the authenticity about him,” he says. “The interview was his way of saying, ‘There is a new wind coming from Washington.’ Barack Obama definitely sees the world differently from a man named George W. Bush.” [Time, 1/29/2009] Al Arabiya General Manager Abdul Rahman al-Rashed says: “What he did campaigning in the US he is trying to do in the Middle East, convincing people that he is on their side. He is telling Muslims that he is proud of his Muslim roots. This is being received positively.” And Jordanian news columnist Jamil Nimri writes, “The language of force, conceit, and threat has totally disappeared.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer disputes Obama’s implication that the Bush administration treated Islam with any disrespect, saying: “[S]omehow he is implying that somehow the Obama era is a break with the American past. Somehow it is undoing a disrespect of Islam that had somehow occurred under the previous administration.… We have no need to apologize. Extend a hand, yes, but to imply that there was a disrespect of Islam in the last administration, I think is unfair and fictional.” [Fox News, 1/28/2009]
The Iraqi government informs the US Embassy in Baghdad that it will not issue a new operating license to Blackwater Worldwide, the embassy’s main security company. In effect, the decision forces Blackwater to cease operations within Iraq. Many Blackwater employees are accused of using excessive force while protecting US diplomats and State Department personnel. Those Blackwater employees not accused of improper conduct may continue working as private security contractors in Iraq, as long as they quit Blackwater and begin working for other firms. Blackwater must leave Iraq as soon as a joint US-Iraqi committee finalizes guidelines for the conduct and liability of private contractors under the new security agreement between the two countries. Under earlier agreements, Blackwater and other US contractors have been entirely immune from prosecution under Iraqi law. Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says, “When the work of this committee ends,” private security companies “will be under the authority of the Iraqi government, and those companies that don’t have licenses, such as Blackwater, should leave Iraq immediately.” US State Department spokesman Noel Clay says the department’s contractors will obey Iraqi law: “We will work with the government of Iraq and our contractors to address the implications of this decision in a way that minimizes any impact on safety and security of embassy Baghdad personnel.” A Blackwater spokeswoman says her firm is unaware of the Iraqi government’s decision. The Interior Ministry revoked Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq in September 2007 and threatened to expel the firm’s employees, but US officials ignored the order and renewed the company’s contract. Blackwater contractors have been involved in around 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005, many involving Iraqi civilians. Five Blackwater contractors face manslaughter charges for killing 17 Iraqi civilians in September 2007, the incident that prompted the Interior Ministry to try to expel the firm from the country. The widow of one of the 17 civilians, Umm Tahsin, says of Blackwater: “Those people are a group of criminals. What they did was a massacre. Pushing them out is the best solution. They destroyed our family.” [Washington Post, 1/28/2009]
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he has constantly questioned his decision to join former US President George W. Bush in the 2003 invasion of Iraq since stepping down as prime minister. Blair, now an international envoy to the Middle East, says he constantly examines his “sense of responsibility” over the deaths of soldiers and civilians since the invasion. Asked if he suffers doubt over the decision to invade, Blair says: “Of course you ask that question the whole time. You’d be weird if you didn’t ask that question.” He adds: “The most difficult thing in any set of circumstances is the sense of responsibility for people who have given their lives and fallen—the soldiers and the civilians. If I did not feel that, there really would be something wrong with me, and there is not a single day of my life when I do not reflect upon it… many times. And that’s as it should be.” Nevertheless, Blair stands by his decision. “On the other hand you have to take the decision,” he says, “and I look at the Middle East now and I think, well, if Saddam and his two sons were still running Iraq how many other people would have died and would the region be more stable?” [Daily Telegraph, 1/30/2009]
Reflecting on the Bush administration’s prewar insistence that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program (see September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002, among others), Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s former ambassador to the UN and its former special representative in Iraq, says: “When I arrived in New York, in July 1998, it was quite clear to me that all the members of the Security Council, including the United States, knew well that there was no current work being done on any kind of nuclear weapons capability in Iraq. It was, therefore, extraordinary to me that later on in this saga there should have been any kind of hint that Iraq had a current capability. Of course, there were worries that Iraq might try, if the opportunity presented itself, to reconstitute that capability. And therefore we kept a very close eye, as governments do in their various ways, on Iraq trying to get hold of nuclear base materials, such as uranium or uranium yellowcake, or trying to get the machinery that was necessary to develop nuclear-weapons-grade material. We were watching this the whole time. There was never any proof, never any hard intelligence, that they had succeeded in doing that. And the American system was entirely aware of this.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Alberto Mora, the former general counsel for the Navy and a harsh critic of the Bush administration’s torture policies (see January 23-Late January, 2003), says: “I will tell you this: I will tell you that General Anthony [Antonio] Taguba, who investigated Abu Ghraib, feels now that the proximate cause of Abu Ghraib were the OLC memoranda that authorized abusive treatment (see November 6-10, 2001 and August 1, 2002). And I will also tell you that there are general-rank officers who’ve had senior responsibility within the Joint Staff or counterterrorism operations who believe that the number one and number two leading causes of US combat deaths in Iraq have been, number one, Abu Ghraib, number two, Guantanamo, because of the effectiveness of these symbols in helping recruit jihadists into the field and combat against American soldiers.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Reflecting on the failure of the Bush administration to make its case on Iraq and the detrimental effect it had on the Bush presidency’s popularity with the American people, former Bush communications director Dan Bartlett says: “At the end of the day I think the divisiveness of this presidency will fundamentally come down to one issue: Iraq. And Iraq only because, in my opinion, there weren’t weapons of mass destruction. I think the public’s tolerance for the difficulties we face would’ve been far different had it felt like the original threat had been proved true. That’s the fulcrum. Fundamentally, when the president gets to an approval rating of 27 percent, it’s this issue.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Anthony Cordesman. [Source: Voice of America]The Bush administration touted its “surge” of additional forces in Iraq (see January 10, 2007) as “a game-changer,” bringing what it described as “peace and stability” to the beleagured nation. In retrospect, national security expert Anthony Cordesman agrees to a point. “We can all argue over the semantics of the word ‘surge,’ and it is fair to say that some goals were not met,” he tells a reporter. “We didn’t come close to providing additional civilian-aid workers that were called for in the original plan. And often it took much longer to achieve the effects than people had planned. But the fact was that this was a broad political, military, and economic strategy, which was executed on many different levels. And credit has to go to General [David] Petraeus, General [Raymond] Odierno, and Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker for taking what often were ideas, very loosely defined, and policies which were very broadly stated, and transforming them into a remarkably effective real-world effort. It’s important to note that we made even more mistakes in Afghanistan than we did in Iraq. We were far slower to react, but in both cases we were unprepared for stability operations; we had totally unrealistic goals for nation building; at a political level we were in a state of denial about the seriousness of popular anger and resistance, about the rise of the insurgency, about the need for host-country support and forces; and we had a singularly unfortunate combination of a Secretary of Defense [Donald Rumsfeld] and a Vice President [Dick Cheney] who tried to win through ideology rather than realism and a Secretary of State [Condoleezza Rice] who essentially stood aside from many of the issues involved. And in fairness, rather than blame subordinates, you had a president who basically took until late 2006 to understand how much trouble he was in in Iraq and seems to have taken till late 2008 to understand how much trouble he was in in Afghanistan.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases previously classified documents that contain excerpts from a government report on harsh interrogation tactics used by US personnel against detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. The excerpts document repeated instances of abusive behavior, sometimes resulting in the deaths of prisoners. The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), contain a report by Vice Admiral Albert Church, who compiled a comprehensive report on the Defense Department’s interrogation operations. Church terms the interrogations at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan as “clearly abusive, and clearly not in keeping with any approved interrogation policy or guidance.” Only two pages from the Church report were released without redactions.
Deaths at Bagram - A portion of the document reports on the deaths of two prisoners at Bagram (see December 5-9, 2002 and November 30-December 3, 2002), who were, the document states, “handcuffed to fixed objects above their heads in order to keep them awake.” The report continues: “Additionally, interrogations in both incidents involved the use of physical violence, including kicking, beating, and the use of ‘compliance blows,’ which involved striking the [prisoners] legs with the [interrogators] knees. In both cases, blunt force trauma to the legs was implicated in the deaths. In one case, a pulmonary embolism developed as a consequence of the blunt force trauma, and in the other case pre-existing coronary artery disease was complicated by the blunt force trauma.” Both detainees died from pulmonary embolisms caused by, the ACLU writes, “standing chained in place, sleep deprivation, and dozens of beatings by guards and possibly interrogators.”
Deaths at Other Facilities - The documents also report on torture conducted at Guantanamo and several US-Afghan prisons in Kabul; the death of prisoner Dilar Dababa in Iraq in 2003 at the hands of US forces; the torture and beating of an Iraqi prisoner at “The Disco,” a detention facility located in the Special Operations Force Compound at Mosul Airfield in Iraq; an investigation into torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad; and the murder of prisoner Abed Mowhoush.
Process Flowed Through Undersecretary Cambone - Columnist Scott Horton writes: “A large portion of the torture, maiming, and murder of detainees occurred under authority issued under secret rules of engagement in the Pentagon. Much of this flowed through Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, a figure who has so far evaded scrutiny in the torture scandal.… Even the Senate Armed Services Committee review fails to get to the bottom of Dr. Cambone, his interrogations ROEs for special operations units he controlled, and the death, disfigurement, and torture of prisoners they handled. This is one of many reasons why a comprehensive investigation with subpoena power is urgently needed. But full airing of the internal investigations already conducted by the Department of Defense is an essential next step.” [Raw Story, 2/12/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 2/12/2009]
In a speech at the Nixon Center, neoconservative guru Richard Perle (see 1965 and Early 1970s) attempts to drastically rewrite the history of the Bush administration and his role in the invasion of Iraq. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes that listening to Perle gave him “a sense of falling down the rabbit hole.” Milbank notes: “In real life, Perle was the ideological architect of the Iraq war and of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack (see 1987-2004, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, March, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 15, 2001, September 19-20, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 18-19, 2001, May 2002, August 16, 2002, November 20, 2002, January 9, 2003, February 25, 2003, and March 27, 2003). But at yesterday’s forum of foreign policy intellectuals, he created a fantastic world in which:
Perle is not a neoconservative.
Neoconservatives do not exist.
Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn’t be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years.” [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
Perle had previously advanced his arguments in an article for National Interest magazine. [National Interest, 1/21/2009]
'No Such Thing as a Neoconservative Foreign Policy' - Perle tells the gathering, hosted by National Interest: “There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy. It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy.” Perle has shaped the nation’s foreign policy since 1974 (see August 15, 1974, Early 1976, 1976, and Early 1981). He was a key player in the Reagan administration’s early attempts to foment a nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union (see Early 1981 and After, 1981 and Beyond, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and October 11-12, 1986). Perle denies any real involvement with the 1996 “Clean Break” document, which Milbank notes “is widely seen as the cornerstone of neoconservative foreign policy” (see July 8, 1996 and March 2007). Perle explains: “My name was on it because I signed up for the study group. I didn’t approve it. I didn’t read it.” In reality, Perle wrote the bulk of the “Clean Break” report. Perle sidesteps questions about the letters he wrote (or helped write) to Presidents Clinton and Bush demanding the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (see January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, and September 20, 2001), saying, “I don’t have the letters in front of me.” He denies having any influence on President Bush’s National Security Strategy, which, as Milbank notes, “enshrin[ed] the neoconservative themes of preemptive war and using American power to spread freedom” (see May 1, 2001), saying: “I don’t know whether President Bush ever read any of those statements [he wrote]. My guess is he didn’t.” Instead, as Perle tells the audience: “I see a number of people here who believe and have expressed themselves abundantly that there is a neoconservative foreign policy and it was the policy that dominated the Bush administration, and they ascribe to it responsibility for the deplorable state of the world. None of that is true, of course.” Bush’s foreign policy had “no philosophical underpinnings and certainly nothing like the demonic influence of neoconservatives that is alleged.” And Perle claims that no neoconservative ever insisted that the US military should be used to spread democratic values (see 1965, Early 1970s, Summer 1972 and After, August 15, 1974, 1976, November 1976, Late November, 1976, 1977-1981, 1981 and Beyond, 1984, Late March 1989 and After, 1991-1997, March 8, 1992, July 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997, November 12, 1997, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, May 29, 1998, July 1998, February 1999, 2000, September 2000, November 1, 2000, January 2001, January 22, 2001 and After, March 12, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 24, 2001, September 25-26, 2001, October 29, 2001, October 29, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 20, 2001, November 29-30, 2001, December 7, 2001, February 2002, April 2002, April 23, 2002, August 6, 2002, September 4, 2002, November 2002-December 2002, November 12, 2002, February 2003, February 13, 2003, March 19, 2003, December 19, 2003, March 2007, September 24, 2007, and October 28, 2007), saying, “I can’t find a single example of a neoconservative supposed to have influence over the Bush administration arguing that we should impose democracy by force.” His strident calls for forcible regime change in Iran were not what they seemed, he says: “I’ve never advocated attacking Iran. Regime change does not imply military force, at least not when I use the term” (see July 8-10, 1996, Late Summer 1996, November 14, 2001, and January 24, 2004).
Challenged by Skeptics - Former Reagan administration official Richard Burt (see Early 1981 and After and May 1982 and After), who challenged Perle during his time in Washington, takes issue with what he calls the “argument that neoconservatism maybe actually doesn’t exist.” He reminds Perle of the longtime rift between foreign policy realists and neoconservative interventionists, and argues, “You’ve got to kind of acknowledge there is a neoconservative school of thought.” Perle replies, “I don’t accept the approach, not at all.” National Interest’s Jacob Heilbrunn asks Perle to justify his current position with the title of his 2003 book An End to Evil. Perle claims: “We had a publisher who chose the title. There’s hardly an ideology in that book.” (Milbank provides an excerpt from the book that reads: “There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust. This book is a manual for victory.”) Perle blames the news media for “propagat[ing] this myth of neoconservative influence,” and says the term “neoconservative” itself is sometimes little more than an anti-Semitic slur. After the session, the moderator asks Perle how successful he has been in making his points. “I don’t know that I persuaded anyone,” he concedes. [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
'Richard Perle Is a Liar' - Harvard professor Stephen Walt, a regular columnist for Foreign Policy magazine, writes flatly, “Richard Perle is a liar.” He continues: “[K]ey neoconservatives like Douglas Feith, I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and others [were] openly calling for regime change in Iraq since the late 1990s and… used their positions in the Bush administration to make the case for war after 9/11, aided by a chorus of sympathetic pundits at places like the American Enterprise Institute, and the Weekly Standard. The neocons were hardly some secret cabal or conspiracy, as they were making their case loudly and in public, and no serious scholar claims that they ‘bamboozled’ Bush and Cheney into a war. Rather, numerous accounts have documented that they had been openly pushing for war since 1998 and they continued to do so after 9/11.… The bottom line is simple: Richard Perle is lying. What is disturbing about this case is is not that a former official is trying to falsify the record in such a brazen fashion; Perle is hardly the first policymaker to kick up dust about his record and he certainly won’t be the last. The real cause for concern is that there are hardly any consequences for the critical role that Perle and the neoconservatives played for their pivotal role in causing one of the great foreign policy disasters in American history. If somebody can help engineer a foolish war and remain a respected Washington insider—as is the case with Perle—what harm is likely to befall them if they lie about it later?” [Foreign Policy, 2/23/2009]
Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Jacob Heilbrunn, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, George W. Bush, Douglas Feith, Dana Milbank, Bush administration (43), Stephen Walt, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Burt
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence
An Iraqi war widow. [Source: Johan Spanner / New York Times]Iraqi women, particularly war widows, have an extremely difficult time surviving in their country, according to a profile by the New York Times. Of Iraqi women between 15 and 80 years of age, 740,000, or around one in 11, are estimated to be widows; only about 120,000 of those widows receive any governmental aid.
Depressed Living Conditions - Many of the widows profiled by the Times live, either alone or with the remnants of their families, in a trailer park for war widows in a poor section of Baghgad. Many other widows are not so fortunate; the trailer park, which houses 750 people, is among the very few aid programs available for the widows. Many of those widows and their children live in public parks or inside gas station restrooms. The sight of war widows begging on the street—or available as potential recruits for insurgents—is an everyday occurrence.
Potential Insurgency Recruits - Times reporter Timothy Williams writes: “As the number of widows has swelled during six years of war, their presence on city streets begging for food or as potential recruits by insurgents has become a vexing symbol of the breakdown of Iraqi self-sufficiency. Women who lost their husbands had once been looked after by an extended support system of family, neighbors, and mosques. But as the war has ground on, government and social service organizations say the women’s needs have come to exceed available help, posing a threat to the stability of the country’s tenuous social structures.”
'Too Many' Widows to Help - Leila Kadim, a managing director in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, acknowledges that the situation will not change soon. “We can’t help everybody,” she says. “There are too many.”
Alternatives - Some engage in “temporary marriages,” Shi’ite-sanctioned unions lasting anywhere from an hour to a year and usually based on sex, to become eligible for government, religious, or tribal leaders. Others have become prostitutes. Others have joined the insurgency in return for steady pay. The Iraqi military says dozens of women have become suicide bombers, and that number is expected to increase.
Minimal Government Assistance - The government’s current stipend for widows is an ungenerous $50/month and an additional $12/month for each child; efforts to increase that stipend have not made progress. And only about one in six widows receive that small amount of money. Widows and their advocates say that to receive benefits they must either have political connections or agree to temporary marriages with the powerful men who control the distribution of government funds. Samira al-Mosawi, chair of the women’s affairs committee in Parliament, says: “It is blackmail. We have no law to treat this point. Widows don’t need temporary support, but a permanent solution.”
Paying Men to Marry Widows - One solution has been proposed by Mazin al-Shihan, director of the Baghdad Displacement Committee. Al-Shihan has introduced a proposal to pay men to marry widows. When asked why money shouldn’t go directly to the widows, al-Shihan laughs. “If we give the money to the widows, they will spend it unwisely because they are uneducated and they don’t know about budgeting,” he says. “But if we find her a husband, there will be a person in charge of her and her children for the rest of their lives. This is according to our tradition and our laws.” [New York Times, 2/22/2009]
The National Museum of Iraq, which was extensively looted and vandalized in the weeks after the US invasion (see April 13, 2003 and June 13, 2003), reopens, though the public cannot yet visit. Many of the stolen items have been returned, the vandalism has been repaired, and the museum refurbished and updated. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other dignitaries receive a private tour before the museum is opened to the public. The opening generated some controversy, with the Ministry of Tourism pushing for a gala reopening celebration and the Ministry of Culture arguing that security remains too tenuous for such a high-profile event. The state minister for tourism and antiquities, Qahtan Juboori, says that of about 15,000 pieces stolen from the museum, 6,000 have been returned. They include 2,466 items brought back from Jordan, 1,046 from the United States, and 701 from Syria. It is unclear when the public will be allowed back into the premises. [Los Angeles Times, 2/23/2009]
Coffins of US war dead are shipped through Dover Air Force Base. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Obama administration announces that the media can now photograph the flag-draped coffins of US soldiers killed in combat as they return through Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Under a ban begun by the first Bush administration in 1991, news photographers were prohibited from taking pictures, journalists were prevented from interviewing families of the war dead, and, as the Los Angeles Times notes, “no public record was made about the personal toll exacted by Washington’s policies on individual soldiers and their families.” President George W. Bush claimed the policy was to protect the privacy of military families; critics said that the policy was a public relations ploy to avoid bad publicity by personalizing the cost of war. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that if military families object, the coffins of their loved ones will not be photographed. [Los Angeles Times, 2/26/2009; Associated Press, 2/26/2009]
Many Iraqi officials and citizens hail the decision by US President Obama to withdraw most American forces from Iraq by August 2010 (see February 27, 2009). Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki endorses the plan; an Iraqi government spokesman says: “We welcome such a decision and support it. We consider this as a good-faith sign from the American administration toward Iraq and Iraqis.” Some Iraqi political factions want the Americans to leave sooner, particularly the powerful Mahdi Army led by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But some factions, mostly made up of minority Sunnis, are nervous that a US drawdown will leave them vulnerable to a resurgence of sectarian violence against them. And the commanders of Iraq’s security forces worry that US logistical support will fade as the soldiers leave. “It’s really necessary for the American troops to remain now,” says Yousef Aboud Ahmed, a Sunni volunteer fighter with a militia supported by US forces in Baghdad. “If we had a nonsectarian government in power, then yes, it would be a good idea for the American forces to go. They should go one day. But not in this situation.” “All Iraqis want the Americans to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible,” says Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi. “We’re just afraid of the vacuum that this withdrawal may cause.” Mohammed Faris, a car salesman in Mosul, says: “I wish it [the withdrawal] could happen more quickly, but it is the beginning of the end of the US occupation. I think Iraq is getting stronger by the day.” Interior Ministry spokesman General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says: “We will be ready to take over when the Americans leave. There is no doubting the improved performance of Iraq’s security forces. We are even now taking on and beating al-Qaeda and the militias.” Former Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafez calls the withdrawal timetable “wise,” and says the US must continue using its diplomatic influence to solve thorny issues such as the debate over the control of the northern city of Kirkuk. Of the plan, al-Hafez says: “It is a realistic and responsible plan. It represents a recognition that Iraq must take matters into their own hands and deal with those huge challenges as an independent country.” American soldiers are more than ready to leave. Army Captain Matt van Stavern, whose unit is stationed in Mosul, says: “My boys are ready to go home. And the Iraqi people will be ready.” [Time, 2/27/2009; Guardian, 2/27/2009]
Entity Tags: Mohammed Faris, Al-Qaeda, Adnan al-Dulaimi, Abdul-Karim Khalaf, Barack Obama, Matt van Stavern, Mahdi Army, Mahdi al-Hafez, Moqtada al-Sadr, Nouri al-Maliki, Yousef Aboud Ahmed
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
President Obama greets Marines at Camp Lejeune. [Source: White House]President Obama says that the target date for a substantial withdrawal of US troops from Iraq is August 31, 2010. “Let me say this as plainly as I can,” he tells the gathered Marines: “by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.” Around 100,000 troops will be withdrawn by that date. However, major withdrawals will not begin until after December 2009, to ensure that national elections go smoothly. Obama promised that US troops would be out of Iraq 16 months after he took office in January; the new deadline extends the withdrawal by some three months. Obama tells the Marines: “I want to be very clear. We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime—and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government—and you got the job done. And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life—that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.” Some 35,000 to 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq under a new mission of training, civilian protection, and counterterrorism operations. According to the latest Status of Forces (SOF) agreement between Iraq and the US, all US troops must withdraw from Iraq by December 31, 2011. White House officials say that Obama has no interest in keeping troops in Iraq after that date. The August 2010 date was decided after input from all the key principals, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The date was chosen to best manage security risks without jeopardizing the gains of recent months. Obama has refused to set specific withdrawal schedules, preferring to give his commanders in Iraq some flexibility. One White House official says, “They’ll either speed it up or slow it down, depending on what they need.” [Associated Press, 2/27/2009; White House, 2/27/2009]
Positive Response - Many Iraqi citizens and lawmakers hail the decision to pull out (see February 27, 2009). And so do many of the Marines at Camp Lejeune. Petty Officer Ryan Junkin says he has an “all around pretty good feeling. It’s good that he gave some direction.” Sergeant Aldwin Del Rosario says, “My biggest take away is that he had dates, and he plans to meet those goals and those dates.” And Lance Corporal Codell Campbell says: “Iraq got all our full attention for the past years. A lot of fellow Marines have died trying to make the country better.… Afghanistan is where the real fight is.” [Think Progress, 2/17/2009]
Republicans Credit Bush Strategy - Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Obama’s challenger in the 2008 presidential race, says he is “cautiously optimistic” that the withdrawal will work. Both McCain and former Bush national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe credit the 2007 “surge” (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007) for making the withdrawal possible. [New York Times, 2/27/2009]
The US military announces that 12,000 troops will withdraw from Iraq by September 2009. “Two brigade combat teams who were scheduled to redeploy in the next six months, along with enabling forces such as logistics, engineers, and intelligence, will not be replaced,” says a Pentagon spokesman. US forces will also turn over a number of facilities to Iraqi control. Additionally, the remaining 4,000 British soldiers, stationed in southern Iraq, will also depart by that time. The US withdrawal is the first step in President Obama’s announced “drawdown” of troops from Iraq by August 2010 (see February 27, 2009). Major withdrawals will not happen until after Iraq’s national parliamentary elections in December 2009. The “Status of Forces” agreement between the US and Iraq requires all American forces to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011; it also requires US forces out of all major Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009. Even in the face of increasing troop withdrawals, Major General David Perkins, a spokesman for the US command structure in Iraq, says the military is “by no means complacent.” Perkins adds: “We know that al-Qaeda, although greatly reduced in capability and numbers, still is desperate to maintain relevance here.… When al-Qaeda senses that it is under extreme pressure and it is losing momentum, it works very hard to gain relevance and to regain momentum.” The remaining US forces will be redeployed around the country, most likely in areas such as the city of Mosul and Diyala province, both of which contain a still-fierce insurgency. “We will not leave any seams in regards to security,” Perkins says. “We know how to do this. This is not the first time we’ve reduced our forces.” [China Daily, 3/8/2009; Washington Post, 3/9/2009; Daily Telegraph, 3/9/2009]
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that the Obama administration’s policies endanger America, and defends his administration’s actions, including warrantless wiretapping, torture of suspected terrorists, and its economic policies. Using torture against suspected terrorists and wiretapping Americans without court orders were both “absolutely essential” to get information needed to prevent terrorist attacks similar to that of 9/11, Cheney tells a CNN audience, though he does not use the word “torture.” But Obama’s new policies are putting America at risk, he says: “President Obama campaigned against it all across the country, and now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”
'Pre-9/11 Mindset' - Cheney says to return to a pre-9/11 mindset of treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue, rather than a military problem, is a mistake: “When you go back to the law enforcement mode, which I sense is what they’re doing, closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) and so forth… they are very much giving up that center of attention and focus that’s required, that concept of military threat that is essential if you’re going to successfully defend the nation against further attacks.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), appearing after Cheney, counters Cheney’s arguments, saying that the Bush/Cheney policies undercut “what is actually the source of America’s greatness—our principles.” Sestak asks, “How can we say that keeping a man in a black hole forever—perpetually in a black hole—and saying, ‘Let’s torture when we decide to,’ is what America stands for?” Sestak is a retired admiral who led the Navy’s anti-terrorism efforts.
Iraq a Success - As for Iraq, Cheney says that while his administration had to spend more money than it had anticipated, and although over 4,200 US soldiers have lost their lives fighting in that country, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is an almost-unvarnished success. The US has “accomplished nearly everything we set out to do” in Iraq, including establishing a democratic government in the Middle East, Cheney says. Cheney answers questions about the threat of supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction by saying, “We’ve eliminated that possibility.” Sestak disagrees, saying the problems the Bush/Cheney policies in Iraq created have overshadowed the “whole fabric” of US national security: “The cost of this war is something that I strongly believe has far, far hurt us. We’re going to recover, because we’re Americans. But Iraq was just one piece of our security, and this administration failed to realize that.”
Opposition to Hill as Iraqi Ambassador - Cheney says he does not support the Obama administration’s choice of Christopher Hill as the ambassador to Iraq (see March 18, 2009). Hill successfully concluded negotiations with North Korea during the last years of the Bush administration, but Cheney repudiates his accomplishments. “I did not support the work that Chris Hill did with respect to North Korea,” he says, and adds that Hill lacks the Middle East experience necessary for him to represent the US in Baghdad. “I think it’s a choice that I wouldn’t have made,” he says. [CNN, 3/15/2009]
Many top US military commanders in the Middle East are distressed at Senate Republicans’ efforts to block Christopher Hill’s attempt to become the next US ambassador to Iraq. Hill, who was largely successful in crafting a nuclear non-proliferation agreement with North Korea (see Spring and Summer 2005 and February 8, 2007 and After), is being blocked by the efforts of Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Republican Opprobrium - Brownback calls Hill’s past dealings with Congress over North Korea “evasive and unprofessional”; McCain and Graham have said that Hill has a “controversial legacy” on North Korea, and added: “The next ambassador should have experience in the Middle East and in working closely with the US military in counterinsurgency or counterterrorism operations. Mr. Hill has neither.”
Military Wants Hill Confirmed - But CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus, top Iraq commander General Raymond Odierno, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates want Hill in the slot as soon as possible. Odierno says he has served as de facto ambassador since the previous ambassador, Ryan Crocker, left the position on February 13. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says: “Generals Odierno and Petraeus have come out very publicly and very forcefully in support of Ambassador Hill’s nomination. I know they support it. They know him from previous assignments, they like him, they believe he is well suited to the job, and are anxiously awaiting his confirmation because they do need help, frankly.… Everybody involved with Iraq wants to find a way to replicate that arrangement,” referring to the effective interaction between Generals Odierno and Petraeus and former Ambassador Crocker. “So that you have an even yoke that on the civilian/diplomatic side and on the military side which share the burden and are working together to get the job done. It’s what’s in the best interest of the Iraqi people and the American people. With regards to [Senate] members who have issue with him, I would say this. We appreciate their steadfast support of the Iraq mission. But you can’t be bullish in support of that mission and not send an ambassador in a timely fashion.”
Difficult, Myriad Tasks in New Position - Hill faces a difficult job: political stabilization and economic development have taken precedence over military missions in Iraq; tensions between Arabs and Kurds are heightening; sectarian groups are struggling for political dominance; and national elections are approaching. A Washington official says that keeping a lid on such political tensions is “crucial to consolidating the security gains from the surge, yet the advocates of the surge want to slow down the process of getting an ambassador to Iraq.” Retired General William Nash, who commanded US troops in Bosnia, says: “I would not at all be surprised if military commanders in Iraq are frustrated that they don’t have a new ambassador in position. The issues are far more political and economic than they are military and US efforts need to move forward on those fronts. That’s particularly critical in the execution of the withdrawal plan.”
Political Retribution? - Asked why McCain, Brownback, and Graham are blocking Hill’s appointment, Nash says the three are “being difficult to be difficult. I have known Chris Hill for 14 years. He is a wonderful diplomat and exactly the kind of guy we need in Iraq.” Crocker has spoken out in favor of Hill, as has Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So have former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and former US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, who join in writing a letter that reads in part: “We need his experience during this crucial time in Iraq. His previous experiences will serve him greatly when addressing extreme challenges in Iraq.” A Democratic Senate staffer says, “This is all about retribution.” Conservatives blame Hill for nudging Bush’s second term North Korea policy towards multi-party talks, and thusly, “[t]hey want to give Hill a black eye.” Noting that these same Republican senators have argued that Iraq is a central element in America’s national security, the staffer asks, “Why are they d_cking around and not putting an ambassador in there if Iraq is so important?” [Foreign Policy, 3/18/2009]
Entity Tags: Raymond Odierno, John McCain, Geoff Morrell, David Petraeus, Lindsey Graham, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, US Central Command, Robert M. Gates, Ryan C. Crocker, William Nash, Samuel Brownback, John Negroponte, Richard Lugar
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Condoleezza Rice on the Charlie Rose show. [Source: PBS]Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tells PBS’s Charlie Rose that “no one” in the White House ever asserted that Saddam Hussein had any connections to 9/11. Rose says, “But you didn’t believe [the Hussein regime] had anything to do with 9/11.” Rice replies: “No. No one was arguing that Saddam Hussein somehow had something to do with 9/11.… I was certainly not. The president was certainly not.… That’s right. We were not arguing that.” Rice refuses to answer Rose’s question asking if former Vice President Dick Cheney ever tried to make the connection. In reality, former President Bush and his top officials, including Cheney and Rice, worked diligently to reinforce a connection between Iraq and 9/11 in the public mind before the March 2003 invasion (see (Between 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, September 17, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 28, 2001, November 6-8, 2001, December 9, 2001, 2002-March 2003, March 19, 2002, June 21, 2002, July 25, 2002, August 2002, August 20, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 16, 2002, September 21, 2002, September 25, 2002, September 26, 2002, September 27, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 15, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, Early February 2003, February 5, 2003, (2:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m.) February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, and February 17, 2003). [Think Progress, 3/19/2009]
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) releases a report that says the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 (see February 27, 2009) will be a “massive and expensive effort” that is likely to increase, rather than lower, Iraq-related spending for several years. The GAO report finds, “Although reducing troops would appear to lower costs,” withdrawals from previous conflicts have shown that costs often rise in the short term. The price of equipment repairs and replacements, along with closing or turning over 283 US military installations in Iraq, “will likely be significant,” the report finds. Even smaller bases will take up to two months to close, and the largest facilities, such as Balad Air Base, with 24,000 soldiers and support personnel, may take up to 18 months to shut down. The report also notes uncertainties surrounding civilian security, issues surrounding the US Embassy in Baghdad, and the Iraqi government’s ability to sustain basic services and infrastructure. Currently, the US Army plans on withdrawing eight of the 14 brigades deployed in Iraq by August 2010. All US forces are to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. [Washington Post, 3/25/2009]
Rachel Maddow and Ron Suskind during their MSNBC interview. [Source: Huffington Post]MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews author Ron Suskind, who has written several books documenting the clandestine activities of the Bush administration. Maddow is most interested in the recent release of the Senate Armed Services Committee report documenting the use of torture against prisoners in US custody (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009). Suskind notes that there were two separate but parallel tracks being followed in the administration, authorizing both the military and the CIA to torture prisoners. He believes the administration’s underlying motive was to find, or create through false confessions, a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that would justify the invasion of Iraq. Suskind tells Maddow: “What’s fascinating here is that if you run the timelines side by side, you see for the first time… that the key thing being sent down by the policymakers, by the White House, is ‘Find a link between Saddam [Hussein] and al-Qaeda, so that we can essentially link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks and then march into Iraq with the anger of 9/11 behind us.’ That was the goal and was being passed down as the directive.… It’s often called ‘the requirement’ inside the CIA, for both agents with their sources and interrogators with their captives: ‘Here’s what we’re interested in, here’s what we, the duly elected leaders want to hear about. Tell us what you can find.’ What’s fascinating, is in the Senate report, is finally, clear confirmation that that specific thing was driving many of the activities, and, mind you, the frustration inside of the White House… as frustration built inside of the White House that there was no link that was established, because the CIA told the White House from the very start that there is no Saddam to al-Qaeda link—‘We checked it out, we did it every which way, sorry’—the White House simply wouldn’t take no for an answer, and it went with another method: torture was the method. ‘Get me a confession, I don’t care how you do it.’ And that bled all the way through the government, both on the CIA side and the Army side.” Suskind notes that the “impetus was not to foil potential al-Qaeda attacks. The impetus here was largely political and diplomatic. The White House had a political/diplomatic problem. It wanted it solved in the run up to the war.” [Huffington Post, 4/22/2009; MSNBC, 4/22/2009]
Journalist Steve Benen notes that former President Bush promised that any American who performed torture on prisoners would be prosecuted (see May 5, 2004). In light of Bush’s statement, Benen writes: “‘Full investigation.’ We want to know ‘the truth.’ We believe in ‘justice.’ ‘We act’ in response to allegations of torture. We’re transparent and discuss developments ‘with the media.’ To fail to answer questions is to act like a ‘dictatorship.’ It seems to me if Democrats are looking for an excuse to do the right thing, they don’t have to say much more than, ‘We’re doing what Bush told us to do.’” [Washington Monthly, 4/27/2009]
The former deputy head of British intelligence, MI6, says that Britain was “dragged into a war in Iraq which was always against our better judgment.” Nigel Inkster served as deputy director of MI6 at the time Britain entered the war in Iraq. Inkster says there were always deep reservations about the war among the senior officials of MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. MI6 has taken the brunt of the blame for the failed intelligence that helped lead Britain to join the US in the war, including the “sexed-up” or “dodgy” dossier that led then-Prime Minister Tony Blair to claim that Iraq had the capability to launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. Inkster, during a speech at the Institute for Public Policy Research, says weakness at the Foreign Office allowed Britain to become involved in a war that few felt comfortable joining. “The Foreign Office no longer does foreign policy,” Inkster says. “It acts as a platform for a multiplicity of UK departments and the lack of a clearly articulated sense of our strategic location in the world explains how we got dragged into a war with Iraq which was always against our better judgment.” Inkster also criticizes Britain’s role in Afghanistan, saying Britain has been attempting to implement an agenda that is “ludicrously at variants with the resources allocated to that task.” Inkster says the world is moving from “being policed by America to be policed by nobody,” and the dangers of an increasingly unstable world mean populations are likely to fall back on the “snake oil and voodoo” of religious and nationalistic movements. [Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2009]
Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal. [Source: DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel/Released, via Reuters]Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen announce the nomination of controversial former special/black operations commander Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal to replace the top US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan. At the Pentagon, Gates explains that “new leadership and fresh eyes” are needed to reverse the course of the seven-year-old war. “We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed,” he says. The White House confirms that President Obama has signed off on the nomination. McChrystal is the former commander of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which during his tenure was tied to prisoner abuse and covert assassinations in Iraq, as well as controversy in the military’s handling of the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. McKiernan will remain in place until the Senate confirms the appointments of McChrystal and his designated deputy, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, also a veteran of elite US forces. Both officers have experience in Afghanistan and have more familiarity with counterinsurgency operations than McKiernan. Gates says that McChrystal and Rodriguez will “bring a unique skill set in counterinsurgency to these issues, and I think that they will provide the kind of new leadership and fresh thinking that [Admiral Mike Mullen] and I have been talking about.” [CNN, 5/11/2009; Army Times, 5/11/2009]
Prisoner Abuse, Geneva Convention Violations - Under McChrystal’s command, the Joint Special Operations Command supplied elite troops to a secret unit known variously as Task Force 626 and Task Force 121, based at Camp Nama (an acronym for “nasty ass military area”) near Baghdad. A Human Rights Watch report found evidence that the task force engaged in prisoner torture and abuse, and that the JSOC command likely violated the Geneva Conventions (see November 2004). According to the report, which was based on soldier testimony, inmates at the camp were subjected to beatings, exposure to extreme cold, threats of death, humiliation, and various forms of psychological abuse or torture. The report’s sources claimed that written authorizations were required for abusive techniques—indicating that the use of these tactics was approved up the chain of command—and that McChrystal denied the Red Cross and other investigators access to Camp Nama, a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [New York Times, 3/19/2006; Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Secret Assassinations - During McChrystal’s tenure as head of JSOC, he led campaigns to track down, capture, or kill enemies. To this end, McChrystal built a sophisticated network of soldiers and intelligence operatives to assassinate Sunni insurgent leaders and decapitate al-Qaeda in Iraq. He is also understood to have led the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, a Human Rights Watch report on the secret units under JSOC command states that although targets included Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the operations also swept up “hundreds of anonymous, and often innocent, detainees.” One senior Pentagon officer, quoted by the Washington Post, warns, “People will ask, what message are we sending when our high-value-target hunter is sent to lead in Afghanistan?” [Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Washington Post, 5/13/2009] Newsweek has noted that JSOC is likely part of what then-Vice President Dick Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006] Furthermore, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has reported that JSOC ran what he called an “executive assassination wing” that reported directly to Cheney’s office, which then cleared lists of people to be targeted for assassination by secret JSOC units (see March 10, 2009 and March 31, 2009).
Pat Tillman Silver Star Controversy - The Pentagon’s inspector general found McChrystal responsible for promulgating false and misleading information in the aftermath of the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman in 2004. In the controversy, McChrystal had approved paperwork recommending Tillman for a silver star, which stated that he died from “devastating enemy fire,” despite knowledge of internal investigations pointing to friendly fire as the cause of death (see April 29, 2004) and April 23-Late June, 2004). McChrystal then backtracked only when he learned that then-President Bush was about to quote from the misleading silver star citation in a speech. The US Army later overruled the Pentagon inspector general’s recommendation that McChrystal be held accountable for his actions. [Washington Post, 8/4/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Task Force 121, Robert M. Gates, Task Force 626, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Rodriguez, Obama administration, Camp Nama, David D. McKiernan, Human Rights Watch, Joint Special Operations Command, Michael Mullen, Pat Tillman, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Mary Patrice Brown. [Source: Allgov (.com)]The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) recommends reversing a Bush-era policy and reopening nearly a dozen prisoner abuse investigations, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan. The decision could potentially expose CIA employees and contractors to prosecution for crimes involving brutalizing and torturing prisoners in US custody, particularly as some detainees died in custody and others were physically and mentally abused. The OPR makes the recommendation in early August, but the information is not reported in the media until later in the month. The decision comes as the Justice Department is ready to disclose new information on prisoner abuse from a 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general that has never before been released (see May 7, 2004). The Bush-era Justice Department chose not to pursue investigations into any of the allegations, deciding that none of them warranted further inquiry. However, Attorney General Eric Holder reconsidered that decision after he saw the allegations and the accompanying evidence, much of which is contained in the 2004 CIA report. The OPR gives Holder additional leverage to reopen the investigations. The OPR report is primarily authored by the office’s new chief, Mary Patrice Brown, a federal prosecutor picked to replace the office’s former head, H. Marshall Jarrett, who is working elsewhere in the Justice Department. One case under review is that of Iraqi citizen Manadel al-Jamadi, who died in 2003 at Abu Ghraib prison (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003) after being captured by a team of Navy SEALs. Prosecutors believe he received his fatal injuries from his captors, but lawyers for the SEALs deny the charge. During President Bush’s tenure, the Justice Department responded to inquiries about the incidents from Democratic lawmakers with little more than summaries of the numbers of cases under scrutiny, and provided virtually no details about individual cases or explanations as to why the department chose not to prosecute. [New York Times, 8/24/2009]
US Brigadier General Walter Givhan says that the US military is looking to eventually equip Afghanistan’s air corps with unmanned aircraft, otherwise known as “drones,” for surveillance missions. Givhan, who is working to train and arm Afghanistan’s air force, says that although the US military is not presently seeking to arm the corps with drones, they are likely to be supplied in the future. “I think it fits into that category of things that, as we continue to develop and we get the basics down, that we look at adding to their portfolio,” Givhan says. [Agence France-Presse, 8/12/2009] Givhan explains to Agence France-Presse that the US military wants to give Afghanistan’s air force the capability to carry out reconnaissance and surveillance missions, which would initially be carried out with manned aircraft, but because Afghanistan also needs to deploy manned aircraft for moving troops and supplies, the Afghan military will eventually need to have the unmanned (drone) option. The plan to revive the country’s air force is part of a wider US-led effort to train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces. The Afghan Army’s air corps currently has 36 aircraft and 2,700 airmen, but Washington’s goal is to increase the fleet to 139 aircraft with 7,250 airmen by 2016, according to Givhan. [Agence France-Presse, 8/12/2009]
Extrajudicial Killing and High Civilian Casualties - The US has used drones extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, not only for surveillance, but also for targeted missile attacks that have killed civilians and militant leaders alike, earning the widely unpopular weapon strong criticism as a legally dubious instrument of extrajudicial killing. [CBS News, 7/21/2009] A Brookings report, citing analysis by journalists Peter Bergen, Katherine Tiedemann, and Pakistani terrorism expert Amir Mir, estimates that drones may have killed 10 civilians for every militant killed in Pakistan. [New Republic, 6/3/2009; Brookings, 7/14/2009] Counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen has cited even more alarming statistics. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, he said that 98 civilians are killed for every two targeted individuals. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1/6/2009]
Tom Ridge and Rachel Maddow. [Source: Armchair Generalist]Former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge is interviewed by progressive television host Rachel Maddow. Ridge has authored a book, The Test of Our Times, a memoir of his tenure in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from October 2001 through the end of President Bush’s first term. Maddow notes that 22 federal agencies were incorporated under the leadership of DHS, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Border Patrol to the Coast Guard and the Secret Service, “the biggest change in what we pay federal tax dollars for since we got a unified Defense Department in 1947.” She goes on to note that one of the new agency’s biggest failures was its lackadaisical and incompetent response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, though the Coast Guard, one of DHS’s daughter agencies, did eventually deliver what she calls “belated but frankly relatively competent aid,” and Ridge was not DHS secretary when Katrina struck.
Raising the Threat Level - Maddow’s primary focus during much of the interview is the Bush administration’s raising of the so-called “threat level” during 2004, as the presidential elections heated up (see July 8, 2004, for example). In his book, Ridge noted that he wasn’t sure events justified the raising of the threat level.
October 2004 Threat Level Escalation 'Not Political,' Ridge Says - In his book, Ridge wrote that the administration tried to raise the threat level to “orange” just days before the presidential election, on October 29, 2004 (see October 29, 2004). However, when pressed on the subject, Ridge backs away from the implications he raised in his book that politics, not national security, prompted the escalation. “Well, that’s not quite the argument that I put in here,” he tells Maddow. “That passage has generated a lot of heat, so I would like to generate a little light on it.… Further in the book, I remind everybody that the system we designed to raise the threat level could not be manipulated, could not be orchestrated, directed, or pressured by any single individual. Regardless of what anybody says, the system was designed by the president to include the homeland security cabinet group sitting around from time to time when the intelligence warranted that group discussion. If you had a YouTube video of it, you would see the secretary of defense, the attorney general, the secretary of state, and others, having a conversation as to whether the intelligence generates enough concern that we want to raise the threat level. That happened many, many times. This is a particularly dramatic moment, because it is the weekend before the election.… We don’t see anything in the department that generates it, and certainly other people agreed with us. But Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft, very strong in their opinions, as everybody had expressed opinions on any other occasions that you never heard about because we never—we never raised the threat level. At the end of the day, I am using in the book, is there more intelligence, is there something—that is new.… [A]t no time—at no time—at no time did politics enter in my judgment, anybody’s equation. These are tough judgment calls. We made them on a series of occasions throughout two years. Rarely did we make those decisions to go up. Politics was not involved.” Ridge says flatly, “I was not pressured” to raise the threat level. Maddow reads from the fly leaf of Ridge’s book, “He recounts episodes such as the pressure that the DHS received to raise the security alert on the eve of the ‘04 presidential election,” to which Ridge retorts: “Those aren’t my words.… It’s the dust jacket.”
Raising the Threat Level for Political Reasons - Maddow reminds Ridge that both in interviews and his book, he has frequently asked the question of whether the decision to raise the threat level during his tenure was made for political reasons, and notes: “I think that I am persuaded by the argument that I think you make in the book, and you may not have intended it from what you said earlier, that it is a pernicious thing for the American people to perceive that the parts of our government responsible for ensuring our security are actually making decisions that aren’t about our security at all. They’re telling us it’s about security and it’s not.” In 2005, she notes, “you said at a forum about the terror alert level, you said there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, ‘for that?’ (see May 10, 2005) Were there times—were there times when you felt like people were wanting to raise it for reasons that weren’t about the country’s safety?” Ridge denies ever raising the question, and explains: “I do admit, there were some times when we took a look at the intelligence. Some of my colleagues said, ‘Yes, I think we better go up.’ But none of those colleagues had the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of taking the country to a higher level. And so we were always very modest.… I don’t doubt for a moment that any of my colleagues who were involved in those discussions felt the reason we should either go up or not go up, add more security or reduce the security, was based on what they thought was in the best interest of the security of the country, period.… When I said, ‘for what?’ I must tell you, a couple of times I would come back to the office and say, ‘I don’t get it.‘… I don’t think that’s enough to go up. And part of that is yours truly saying to his leadership team who has responsibilities to oversee what’s going to go on, there’s not enough here to tell the governors and the mayors and the security professionals, you have got to raise another level, you have got to increase expenses, you have got to call in personnel. In my judgment, it wasn’t enough. And by the way, at the time we made the right decision, I believe.” Maddow reminds Ridge that in his book he wrote: “[I]t seemed possible to me that something could be afoot. I wondered, is this about security or politics?” She asks, “You’re saying now that you wondered that and you shouldn’t have?” Ridge replies: “No. I mused at the time, ‘Is there something else here?’ I said, ‘Is it politics? Is it security?‘… But there wasn’t anything there.”
Praising the President in 2004 - After a brief discussion of DHS’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Maddow asks about an incident in August 2004, when Ridge praised President Bush’s leadership in the Middle East. As Maddow describes it, Ridge was asked to praise Bush’s leadership. During a subsequent press conference, Ridge said that Bush’s leadership “was causing us to better target our defensive measures here and away from home. And the implication was that going to war in Iraq was a defensive measure like homeland security stuff that we do here at home.” She asks if he regrets making that statement. Ridge says he agrees with his 2004 assessment, and says he merely “threw the sentence into the press conference.” He says his comment became a “sideshow” that “marginalized the process” and caused people to question his objectivity. Ridge tries to deny that he was specifically talking about the war effort in Iraq, though, as Maddow notes, “[W]hen you said ‘targeting our defensive measures away from home,’ this is August ‘04, so we are more than a year into the war in Iraq with the implication there was that you were talking about Iraq.” Ridge now says that he meant the general war against terrorism. “I should have never mentioned the president’s name,” he says, “because it, again, created a perception—we talked about this earlier—that somehow politics were involved, but and politics was not involved in that decision. It was driven by intelligence.”
Making the Case for War with Iraq - Maddow segues into a statement Ridge made in February 2003, when he said on ABC: “I agree that as the president has said, the world community has said this is a rogue regime that has chemical biological weapons, trying to develop nuclear weapons, has means of delivery. That’s the reason this individual needs to be disarmed. The point in fact is that the world community has known for 12 years he’s got chemical biological weapons, means of delivery, and that’s precisely the reason of the United States and its partners are trying to disarm Saddam Hussein. He’s a threat to his region, he’s a threat to our allies. He’s a threat to us.” Maddow notes: “You were a crucial authoritative part of making what turned out to be a false case to the American people about Iraq being a threat, and us needing to attack them.… You made that case on national television a month before we started invading. Do you regret that?” Ridge replies: “No.… At the time, I think [sic] it’s true, and subsequent to that, the president’s leadership and the things we have done have kept America safe.” Ridge goes on to note that “everyone” believed the intelligence showed Iraq was an imminent threat to the US at the time the invasion was being considered. “You believed it at the time,” Maddow confirms, and then asks, “You don’t still believe it, do you?” Ridge replies: “Well, it’s pretty clear that the intelligence communities of several countries who had assessed his—who claimed that he had weapons of mass destruction, we haven’t found them.… But there were other reasons to go in. That was the one that was—that everybody focused on, and everyone who has been critical of the president for going into Iraq said we never found them. But I think the president made the decisions based on the facts and the intelligence as he knew it at the time, and I think it was the right decision at the time.” He denies that anyone in the administration did anything to “skew” or politicize the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD programs. “There’s no way that anybody in that group—I just—they would commit our blood and our treasure to a cause if they didn’t think it was necessary to commit our blood and treasure to a cause to keep America safe. The intelligence may have proven to be false, but there was no doubt in my mind that they were motivated to keep America safe. In retrospect, we can say that the intelligence was faulty.”
Maddow: No Credibility on National Security until GOP Admits Fault - Maddow tells Ridge: “I think you making that argument right now is why Republicans after the Bush and Cheney administration are not going to get back the country’s trust on national security. To look back at that decision and say, we got it wrong but it was in good faith and not acknowledge the foregone conclusion that we are going to invade Iraq that pervaded every decision that was made about intelligence—looking back at that decision-making process, it sounds like you’re making the argument you would have made the same decision again. Americans need to believe that our government would not make that wrong a decision, that would not make such a foregone conclusion—take such a foregone conclusion to such an important issue, that the intelligence that proved the opposite point was all discounted, that the intelligence was combed through for any bit that would support the foregone conclusion of the policy makers. The system was broken. And if you don’t see that the system was broken and you think it was just that the intel was wrong, I think that you’re one of the most trusted voices on national security for the Republican Party, and I think that’s the elephant in the room. I don’t think you guys get back your credibility on national security until you realize that was a wrong decision made by policy makers. It wasn’t the spies’ fault.” Ridge says any suggestion that anyone would have deliberately skewed or misinterpreted the intelligence on Iraq is “radical.… Later on, it may have proven that some of the information was inaccurate, but there were plenty of reasons to go into Iraq at the time; the foremost was weapons of mass destruction. That obviously proven [sic] to be faulty. But the fact of the matter is, at that time, given what they knew—and they knew more than you and I did—it seemed to be the right thing to do, and the decision was made in what they considered to be the best interests of our country.” When democracy in Iraq is finally established, Ridge says, “the notion that we went in improperly will be obviously reversed, and the history has yet to be written.” Maddow replies: “If you can go back in time and sell the American people on the idea that 4,000 Americans ought to lose their lives and we ought to lose those trillions of dollars for democracy in Iraq, you have a wilder imagination than I do. We were sold that war because of 9/11. We were sold that war because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction from this guy who didn’t have them, and our government should have known it. And, frankly, a lot of people believe that our government did know it, and that it was a cynical decision. And maybe everybody wasn’t in on it, maybe that is a radical thing to conclude, but I think that…” Ridge interjects: “I don’t share that point of view. You do.” [MSNBC, 9/2/2009]
Reactions - Reactions to the interview are predictably split, with progressives noting how much Ridge backpedals on questions he himself raised, and conservatives declaring victory for Ridge. Talking Points Memo notes the irony in Ridge’s claim that while his words should be trusted, the words on the dust jacket of his book should not be. [TPM LiveWire, 9/2/2009] Posters on the conservative blog Free Republic write that Ridge “pwned” Maddow, video game slang for dominating or “owning” someone. [Free Republic, 9/1/2009]
Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Free Republic, Talking Points Memo, George W. Bush, US Secret Service, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Republican Party, Tom Ridge, Rachel Maddow, US Border Patrol, US Department of Homeland Security, US Coast Guard
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad orders that his country’s foreign exchange reserves be moved from the dollar to the euro, setting the stage for the Iranian Central Bank to cut its foreign currency reserve interests rates from 12 percent to 5 percent. The estimated rate cut makes it cheaper for the bank to acquire foreign currency. “They have been talking about switching their foreign currency reserve from the dollar to the euro for a while now, but it makes them more dependent on the euro and the European Union,” says Dr. Ali Ansari, director of Scotland’s St. Andrews University Iranian Studies Centre.
Followed Call Addressed to OPEC - Ahmadinejad’s decision comes shortly after he called for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to discard the dollar as the currency standard for oil-related deals. Despite recent declines in dollar value and the fact that most major oil producing countries are outside the US, the dollar remains the prevailing currency for pricing a barrel of oil. The dollar also remains the most frequently used international trade currency.
Possible Motivation - Some analysts believe that exchanging the dollar for the euro may be Iran’s attempt to lessen the effects of US economic sanctions in force since the 1979 Islamic revolution when the US backed the overthrown Shah of Iran, who was replaced by an Islamic republic. US sanctions include prohibiting US involvement with Iran’s petroleum development, as well as prohibiting all trade and investment activities by US citizens around the globe. Sanctions were softened somewhat in 2000, when the US Treasury amended its prohibition edict by allowing US citizens to buy and import carpets and food products like dried fruits, nuts, and caviar produced in Iran. Recent media reports suggest, however, that President Obama is considering an increase in sanctions if Iran persists in its alleged development of nuclear weapons. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is solely for power production. [Media Line, 9/22/2009]
A former British military police officer alleges that British soldiers in Iraq were involved in hundreds of incidents where civilians died or were seriously injured, but those incidents were covered up or inadequately investigated. The former MP, who remains anonymous, says, “If you were to look back at all the serious allegations arising out of operations in Iraq, there’s a catalogue of blunders, mistakes, ineptitude, and the course of investigations being bent to serve the real or perceived interests of the chain of command of the army.” He says he has “absolutely no trust and confidence in anyone in the army who is saying that the number of incidents are low,” and adds, “The documentary evidence that I have seen suggests that there were hundreds of incidents over the last six or seven years and that it’s of great concern that among those hundreds there will have been undoubtedly some very suspicious deaths and serious injuries that were never properly investigated.” The former MP is interviewed on BBC Radio 5’s Donal MacIntyre program. The Ministry of Defense denies the allegations. [Guardian, 10/11/2009]
According to a poll just released by Dartmouth professor Benjamin Valentino, 63 percent of self-identified Republicans still believe that Iraq under Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction when the US invaded in March 2003 (see March 19, 2003). Twenty-seven percent of self-identified independents and 15 percent of self-identified Democrats hold that view. The question was: “Do you believe that the following statement is true or not true? ‘Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003.’” Reporter Dan Froomkin, commenting on the poll results, writes: “The Bush administration’s insistence that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction and might give them to terrorists was a key selling point in its campaign to take the country to war (see September 30, 2001, 2002-2003, July 30, 2002, August 26, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 12, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 2003, January 9, 2003, 9:01 pm January 28, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 8, 2003, March 16-19, 2003, March 21, 2003, March 22, 2003, March 22, 2003, March 23, 2003, March 24, 2003, March 30, 2003, Late March 2003 and After, April 10, 2003, April 20, 2003, Between April 20, 2003 and April 30, 2003, May 28, 2003, May 29, 2003, June 2003, June 1, 2003, June 3, 2003, June 9, 2003, June 11, 2003, July 31, 2003, September 14, 2003, January 22, 2004, and March 24, 2004). It turned out to be untrue.… There is no reality-based argument that Iraq actually had WMD, after extensive searches found none (see 2002-March 2003, 2002, Mid-January 2002, March 22, 2002, May 2002-September 2002, September 2002, Late September 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, Before October 7, 2002, December 2002, End of December 2002, December 3, 2002, January 9, 2003, January 28-29, 2003, February 20, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, May 4, 2003, May 25, 2003, May 30, 2003, June 2003, Early June 2003-Mid-June 2003, Between June 3, 2003 and June 17, 2003, Mid-June 2003, Early July 2003, July 11, 2003, July 20, 2003, July 29, 2003, July 30, 2003, August 16, 2003, October 2, 2003, October 2003, November 2, 2003, December 2003, December 2003, December 17, 2003, Mid-January 2004, January 20, 2004, January 23, 2004, January 27, 2004, January 28, 2004, February 8, 2004, and July 9, 2004), but this is hardly the first time many Americans have been certain of something that simply wasn’t true” (see May 14, 2003-May 18, 2003). The 65-question poll was conducted by YouGov from April 26 through May 2, 2012, and surveyed 1,056 respondents. It has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.18 percent. [Valentino, 6/20/2012 ; Jim Lobe, 6/20/2012; Huffington Post, 6/21/2012]
An artist’s rendition of Adel Abdel Bary tearing up in court. [Source: Reuters]Adel Abdel Bary is sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to several terror-related counts, including making bomb threats and conspiring to kill American citizens overseas. Bary is the father of Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, a suspected Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS) militant, originally one of three people thought to be the infamous “Jihadi John” who beheaded journalist James Foley in August 2014. (Authorities will later determine “Jihadi John” to be Briton Mohammed Emwazi.) Adel Abdel Bary admits to being an al-Qaeda spokesman following the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Anas al-Liby and Khalid al-Fawwaz, also accused of being al-Qaeda operatives, were set to appear alongside Adel Abdel Bary in New York in two months’ time. Al-Liby and Fawwaz have pleaded not guilty to their terror charges. [Independent, 9/20/2014; US Department of Justice, 2/6/2015; Washington Post, 2/26/2015]
The Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, along with Physicians for Social Responsibility and Physicians for Global Survival, releases a report, which concludes that the “war on terrorism” has resulted in around 1.3 million deaths. The study examined direct and indirect deaths caused by more than a decade of US-led war in three countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but did not include deaths in other countries attacked by American and allied military forces, including Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria. To estimate the casualty figures, the investigators did a literature review of all the major studies that had been published on this topic before. The report estimates that “the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around 1 million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan, and 80,000 in Pakistan… this is only a conservative estimate. The total number of deaths… could also be in excess of 2 million, whereas a figure below 1 million is extremely unlikely.” [IPPNW, PSR, and PGS, 3/19/2015, pp. 15 ]
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