Over 1,291 days after the first "shock-and-awe" attack on downtown Baghdad, it's not unreasonable to speak of George Bush's Iraq. The President himself likes to refer to that country as the "central front [or theater] in our fight against terrorism" and the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a small part of which was finally released by the President, confirms that Iraq is now just that -- a literal motor for the creation of terrorism.
So what exactly does George Bush's Iraq look like? A surprising amount of information has appeared in the press recently, but in scattershot form. Here are four questions that bring some of it together, offering a grim snapshot of Bush's Iraq.
How many freelance militias are there in Baghdad?
The answer is "23" according to a "senior [U.S.] military official" in Baghdad -- so write Richard A. Oppel, Jr. and Hosham Hussein in the New York Times; according to National Public Radio, the answer is "at least 23." Antonio Castaneda of the Associated Press says that there are 23 "known" militias. However you figure it, that's a staggering number of militias, mainly Shiite but some Sunni, for one large city.
How many civilians are dying in the capital?
5,106 people in July and August, according to a United Nations report. The previous figure of 3,391 offered for those months relied on body counts only from the city morgue. The UN report includes deaths at the city's overtaxed hospitals. With the Bush administration bringing thousands of extra soldiers into Baghdad in August, death tolls went down for a few weeks, but began rising again towards month's end. August figures on civilian wounded -- 4,309 -- rose 14% over July's figures and, by late September, suicide bombings were at their highest level since the invasion.
How many Iraqis are being tortured in Baghdad at present?
Large numbers of bodies are found around the capital every day. These, as Oppel of the Times describes them, commonly display such signs of torture as "gouged-out eyeballs… broken bones of legs and hands, electric and cigarette burns… missing teeth and wounds caused by power drills or nails." The UN's chief anti-torture expert, Manfred Nowak, believes torture in Iraq is now "worse" than under Saddam Hussein.
How many Iraqi civilians are being killed countrywide?
For those two months, the UN Report offers the figure of 1,493 dead outside of Baghdad. However, this is surely an undercount. Oppel points out that officials in al-Anbar Province, "one of the deadliest regions in Iraq, reported no deaths in July." Meanwhile, in Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad, deaths seem to be on the rise. The intrepid British journalist Patrick Cockburn recently visited the head of Diyala's Provincial Council (who has so far escaped two assassination attempts). He believes "on average, 100 people are being killed in Diyala every week." ("Many of those who die disappear forever, thrown into the Diyala River or buried in date palm groves and fruit orchards.") Based on the UN report, we're talking close to 40,000 Iraqi deaths a year. We have no way of knowing how much higher the real figure is.
Last week, the count of American war dead in Iraq passed 2,700. The Iraqi dead are literally uncountable. Iraq is the tragedy of our times, carnage incarnate. Every time the President mentions "victory" these days, the word "loss" should come to our minds. A few more victories like this one and the world will be an unimaginable place.
For a full 21 questions (and answers) on George Bush's Iraq visit Tomdispatch.com.
On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of 120,000 Japanese civilians, 2/3 of whom were US citizens, in military camps across the western half of the country. Effectively stripping Japanese Americans of virtually all constitutional protections (including rights to property, trial by jury and habeas corpus), 9066 is now widely decried as one of the darkest moments in US history. In 1988, Congress passed Public Law 100-383, which apologized to Japanese internees, provided reparations and created a public education fund to "inform the public about the internment of such individuals so as to prevent the recurrence of any similar event."
Congress should have enrolled in its own re-education program.
By passing the Military Commissions Act (a.k.a. the torture bill), Congress has granted the Bush administration extraordinary powers to detain, interrogate and prosecute alleged terrorists and their supporters. Anyone anywhere in the world at any time may be summarily classified an "unlawful enemy combatant" by the executive branch, seized and detained. Only aliens are subject to military trials (I've updated my original post here to more accurately describe persons subject to military commissions; see sec. 948a-c in text of legislation). As Bruce Ackerman points out in the LA Times, the definition of "unlawful enemy combatant" includes those who "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States" (by say, writing a check to a Middle East charity) and may extend to US citizens. Thanks to the Supreme Court's decision in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, US citizens at least appear to retain habeas corpus rights, a foundation of Western jurisprudence. Foreign nationals do not; the Act explicitly denies them the writ of habeas corpus (the right to be charged and tried and the right to appeal any convictions in a court of law).
These wartime powers rival and exceed those assumed by Roosevelt during WWII. Even worse, unlike the case of Executive Order 9066, Congress has given President Bush the stamp of legislative authority. In this context, perhaps the most craven vote cast for the torture bill came from Senator Arlen Specter. Though he believes the bill to be "patently unconstitutional on its face," he voted for it anyway because he hopes "the court will clean it up." But there's no reason to believe the courts will act in such a manner.
As Ackerman points out, the Korematsu case, which validated Japanese internment, still stands as precedent. Since September 11, federal courts and the Bush administration have used Korematsu-like language to define a state of emergency and justify racial profiling. (And wing-nuts like Michelle Malkin have argued that racial profiling and detention of Japanese during WWII was justified, as is profiling and detention of Arabs in the war on terror). As Ackerman argues "congressional support of presidential power will make it much easier to extend the Korematsu decision to further mass seizures."
Moreover, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court case that temporarily jeopordized Bush's extra-judicial detentions, specifically cited lack of Congressional approval. Now Congress has given him this approval.
For those who believe that mass internment can never happen again, the US now holds 14,000 detainees in prisons in Iraq, Guantanamo, Afghanistan and other undisclosed locations. 14,000 people who can be held indefinitely, without a fair trial, by secret evidence to which they have no access or that may be obtained by what most consider torture. 14,000 and counting. Never again is now.
Mark Foley's sexuality was never much of a secret to those who served with him in the House.
The New York Times and every major newspaper in Florida had been writing articles on the congressman's agonizingly inept attempts to remain closeted for years. Indeed, it was the embarrassing manner in which he had attempted to cloak his sexuality that prevented Foley from securing his party's nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2004 and again this year.
Tragically, as a Florida Republican, Foley felt that if he wanted to remain a political player he needed to live a lie. He was probably wrong; Republicans who have come out of the closet, such as retiring Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe, have often thrived politically. Openly gay men and lesbians have been elected and reelected to the House as Democrats and Republicans, and Foley -- whose relatively moderate voting record could have appealed to both Main Street Republicans and Democrats -- might well have broken the barrier in the Senate.
But Foley didn't trust Florida Republican voters to accept him for who he was, so this otherwise personable and capable congressman engaged in an increasingly challenging and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to hide a huge part of his identity.
The pressures imposed by such secrecy appear to have been too much for Foley. Unlike the vast majority of homosexuals -- who, as a group, are less likely to be attracted to children than heterosexuals -- the congressman began to engage in activities that were inappropriate and potentially illegal. Details that have surfaced in recent day suggests that Foley had made a mess of his life – a mess that exploded on him and his party when it was revealed that the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Missing & Exploited Children had sent "Do I make you a little horny?" e-mails to teenage boys.
Foley's Republican colleagues, who are champions when it comes to shooting the wounded, immediately began trashing him. ``This type of behavior is what I try to protect my grandchildren from," snarled Clay Shaw, the GOP representative from a neighboring Florida House district. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, Mouse Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, issued a statement condemning Foley's behavior as "an obscene breach of trust."
"His immediate resignation must now be followed by the full weight of the criminal justice system," Hastert, Boehner and Blunt said of Foley.
Fair enough. But what do these Republican leaders think about those who knew about Foley's undue interest in male pages, covered the fact up for months – perhaps years -- and then lied about what they knew. Should they, too, face "the full weight of the criminal justice system"?
When the news of Foley's emails broke in the media, Hastert declared, "I was surprised."
Really? That's strange.
Congressman Tom Reynolds, who chairs the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, revealed on Saturday that he had informed Hastert months ago about concerns regarding Foley's habit of sending sexually suggestive – "strip down and get naked" -- e-mails and instant messages to male congressional pages.
Congressman Rodney Alexander, the Louisiana Republican who brought those concerns to the attention of party leaders after learning about Foley's e-mails from the family of a former page in 2005, has confirmed that his office contacted Hastert's office regarding the matter. Additionally, Alexander personally discussed the issue with Reynolds and Boehner.
Another Republican with close ties to the House leadership, Illinois Representative John Shimkus, admits that he investigated the e-mail issue in 2005 – apparently after it was reviewed by Hastert's office and the office of the Clerk of the House – and says he warned Foley to break off contact with a particular teenager and, in a more general sense, to stop stalking male pages. Then, Shimkus dropped the matter – to the apparent satisfaction of Hastert, Boehner, Blunt, Reynolds and other House Republican leaders.
Some readers may be surprised that these top Republicans, who go on and on about the need to fend off supposed "threats" posed by loving and responsible gay and lesbian couples, would be so accepting of Foley. The truth is that the hands-off approach to this whole scandal is entirely in character for the current crop of Republican leaders, who could care less about the sexuality of members of their caucus.
They only employ "moral values" appeals to scare up votes at election time; it's never been something they believed in.
Hastert and his compatriots care only about winning elections and keeping power – even when that involves looking the other way after concerns have been raised about what a good many Americans see as the stalking of underaged pages.
Dennis Hastert and the other Republican leaders certainly were not surprised to learn last week that Mark Foley had acted inappropriately with male pages. They knew all about Foley's e-mails and all the issues raised by those communications.
Hastert and his colleagues have gotten caught in a lie. And it's a big one.
What's the proper response? Hastert, Boehner and Blunt have got the right idea. Those who knew about Foley's actions and failed to respond in any kind of serious manner are guilty of "an obscene breach of trust."
Since they control the machinery of the House Ethics Committee, it is doubtful that Hastert and his colleagues will face a serious investigation – let alone "the full weight of the criminal justice system." But this is an election year, and political campaigns can also extract a measure of justice.
Hastert and Boehner are scheduled to attend fund-raising events on behalf of embattled Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Don Sherwood in coming weeks. Sherwood's Democratic challenger, Chris Carney, a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy Reserve who served as a senior advisor on intelligence and counterterrorism issues at the Pentagon, has asked the Republican congressman to cancel the events."Holding happy hour fundraisers with people who cover-up the cyber-molestation of children should be below even the questionable morals of Don Sherwood," explained Carney campaign manager Andrew Eldredge-Martin. "Sherwood should immediately cancel his upcoming fundraisers with Hastert and Boehner. Don Sherwood has already brought Washington's values back to the district, now he wants to bring a depraved cover-up home."
Ouch! There's a new twist on the old Republican appeal to values voters.
On Capitol Hill Thursday, about 60 citizens wearing "Got Paper?" t-shirts attended a packed hearing on H.R. 550, a bill introduced by Representative Rush Holt with 218 bipartisan co-sponsors that would require all electronic voting machines to produce a voter-verified paper record. This paper trail would be utilized for mandated manual audits that would increase the reliability of our democratic process.
"The last six years have brought us example after example of the problems caused by unverifiable voting machines," Holt said in a released statement. "There is legitimate cause for the current crisis in voter confidence, yet Congress has done nothing to make election results auditable."
Dr. Edward Felten, Director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University, demonstrated the ease by which a Diebold machine could be hacked in order to change the outcome of an election.
But opponents to the bill – such as Republican Representative John "My name says it all" Doolittle – pointed to a recent recount in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which showed problems with 10 percent of the paper receipts.
Barbara Simmons of the Association for Computing Machinery countered that the Cuyahoga problem occurred because "the voting machine companies came out with… the cheapest way to do it. It's bad technology. We need to hold vendors to high standards."
Holt was dismayed that the bill didn't receive a hearing until the day before Congress was scheduled to adjourn. He called on Speaker Dennis Hastert to bring it to the House floor for an up-or-down vote immediately.
"We still have time to protect the integrity of this year's vote," Holt said. "But only if the House acts before the October recess."
In this Doolittle Congress, don't count on it.
Rep. Mark Foley co-chaired the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children.
So it's particularly sickening that Foley suddenly resigned from the House today after details emerged that he'd kept up a highly questionable e-mail correspondence with a 16-year-old male page in his office, who dubbed the exchanges, "sick sick sick sick sick sick."
Talk about the height of hypocrisy.
Here are the emails.
And ABC News just released excerpts of instant messenges exchanged between Foley and another underage male page.
Foley asked the teen, "Do I make you a little horny?" When the kid responded, "a little," Foley wrote, "Cool."
Foley has been a leading proponent of cracking down on pedophiles. He should start with himself.
You remember the Lincoln Group? The guys the Pentagon paid tens of millions of dollars to pay-off Iraqi media and plant stories favorable to the U.S.?
The same guys The New York Times revealed to have lied about "partnerships with major media and advertising companies, former government officials with extensive Middle East experience, and ex-military officers with background in intelligence and psychological warfare" in order to receive those hefty contracts?
In short, just the kind of guys Bush, Cheney & Co. enjoys working with.
So it's hardly surprising – though completely outrageous – to read Walter Pincus' story in yesterday's Washington Post that the Lincoln Group has been handed a new "two-year, $12.4 million contract to handle strategic communications management…." Lincoln competed against seven other groups and was the lowest bidder "to help military commanders in Baghdad get what they consider the positive side of their operations in the news…."
At least one competitor might challenge the contract decision based on Lincoln's record. But when one considers Halliburton, Kellogg Brown and Root, Blackwater, Custer Battles, Bechtel and others… one can't be too terribly optimistic about the outcome of any appeal.
Pincus also notes that one day after the State Department poll revealed that the Iraqi people want U.S. forces to withdraw immediately and would feel safer if they did, the military now aims "to hire a private firm to conduct polling and focus groups in Iraq ‘to assess the effectiveness of operations as they relate to gaining and maintaining popular support.'"
Once again, the modus operandi of this administration is perfectly clear: if you don't like the news delivered (in this case, by the State Department), contract out to a hired gun (or Rummy). And if you don't like the news reported by Iraqis, hire the Lincoln Group.
And if you don't like the twisted thinking of this sick bunch, vote Democrat in November. It's the only way we will achieve any oversight of this continuing debacle in Iraq.
Just how bad was the legislation on military detainees, aka the torture bill, that passed the House on Wednesday and the Senate last night?
Read what the Washington Post had to say about it, under the headline "Many Rights in US Legal System Absent in New Bill":
"Included in the bill...are unique rules that bar terrorism suspects from challenging their detention or treatment through traditional habeas corpus petitions. They allow prosecutors, under certain conditions, to use evidence collected through hearsay or coercion to seek criminal convictions.
The bill rejects the right to a speedy trial and limits the traditional right to self-representation by requiring that defendants accept military defense attorneys. Panels of military officers need not reach unanimous agreement to win convictions, except in death penalty cases, and appeals must go through a second military panel before reaching a federal civilian court.
By writing into law for the first time the definition of an 'unlawful enemy combatant,' the bill empowers the executive branch to detain indefinitely anyone it determines to have 'purposefully and materially' supported anti-U.S. hostilities. Only foreign nationals among those detainees can be tried by the military commissions, as they are known, and sentenced to decades in jail or put to death.
At the same time, the bill immunizes U.S. officials from prosecution for cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees who the military and the CIA captured before the end of last year. It gives the president a dominant but not exclusive role in setting the rules for future interrogations of terrorism suspects."
The legislation contains so many possibly unconstitutional provisions that one human rights expert called it "a full-employment act for lawyers."
At a gathering I attended in the remote mountains of eastern Washington state this week -- a breathtakingly beautiful region of the country -- people were discussing actions they could take to promote a "Fair Share for Health Care" law. Someone had a wonderful idea: a job fair in the Wal-Mart parking lot, urging Wal-Mart workers to quit and become unionized home health care workers instead. If more unions representing health care workers did this, everyone would benefit. The former Wal-Mart workers would end up with better benefits, the unions would gain more members, and Wal-Mart would finally face a problem that could inspire change: a workforce with better options. When workers have no exit strategy, a company has no reason to improve their conditions; if they start leaving in large numbers for better jobs, that's another story. (Given the nursing shortage, nurses' unions and nursing schools should be doing the same thing.)
The public would win, too, because home health care workers are badly needed. A report released this week by the Caregiving Project for Older Americans warns of a coming "caregiver crisis" ; as baby boomers age, the nation is expected to face a "severe and worsening" shortage of professional caregivers to look after them ( and because of demographics, the pool of family members able to provide care will also shrink). Japan, Austria and Germany have all adapted to their aging populations by adopting universal long-term care systems; the United States, by contrast, has no system in place, no plan to provide care that most families can afford, and not enough workers. Baby boomers should use their numbers and political savvy to advocate for solutions to this problem -- before they get too old and sick for political activism. And the labor movement should take notice of this situation's potential; a worker shortage always provides opportunities for greater justice.
Over the next week, pro-choice activists across the United States will hold potluck fundraisers to fight South Dakota's draconian abortion bill. The legislation, HB-1215, was signed into law last March by Governor Mike Rounds to the delight of the anti-choice movement, and calls for a near-complete ban on abortions with no exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or for the health of the mother.
The law is not designed to minimize abortions (there are fewer than 1,000 abortions per year in South Dakota). Rather, the real aim is to ignite a nationwide effort to challenge Roe v Wade and advance an ideological agenda that includes limiting access to emergency contraception and abstinence-only sex education in public schools.
Fortunately, this heavy-handed approach has set off a backlash, and on May 30, some 38,416 signatures from South Dakota voters were delivered to the State Legislature asking for a vote on the matter. Now verified, these signatures put the future of the abortion ban up for grabs on November 8 when a statewide referendum ("Referred Law 6") will determine whether the law goes into effect.
A flood of rightwing money is flowing into the state for anti-choice advertising in support of Referred Law 6. That's where the potlucks come in. StandUpSD.com, a nationwide campaign to repeal South Dakota's abortion ban sponsored by Planned Parenthood (which operates the only two clinics in the state performing abortions), is using the dinners to raise counter-funds. There are currently more than 300 potluck events planned in 38 states -- from Belfast, ME, to Davenport, IA, to Arcata, CA. The dinner themes range from turkey fries to luaus to pizza parties, with events being held in churches and synagogues, backyards, parks, homes and sororities.
Click here to see if there's a potluck near you, sign on to StandupSD's petition to Governor Rounds, volunteer to go to South Dakota to work with PP before the election, learn about and support South Dakota's progressive women candidates, and click here to tell everyone you know that you're joining the fight now before anti-choice extremists advance their cause to your state. According to a new Zogby report released on September 28, polls show the referendum in a statistical heat with opponents of the ban leading by a slim margin of 47 to 44 percent. So in this fight every little bit really does help.
It's do or die time for California Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides -- but he's mostly dying. With just a handful of weeks to go in the re-election race of Governor Schwarzenegger, new polls show Angelides trailing by as much as 17%.
Next week is the only televised debate of the campaign and most observers believe that if Angelides doesn't land some sort of knock-out punch he will be doomed for defeat in November. The new polls show that while Arnold has sewn up Republican support, Angelides is attracting only about 3 out of 5 California Democrats. Independents, meanwhile, are tilting toward the incumbent.
Some California unions, including the prison guards, teachers, and service employees have just rolled out a multi-million TV ad campaign slamming the Governator as too conservative to govern one of the bluest states in the union. And Angelides has come up with a new campaign tack of calling for the withdrawal of California National Guard troops from the conflict in Iraq.
But nothing seems to be slowing Arnold's momentum. He has made recent deals with the Democratic legislature on raising the minimum wage, lowering prescription drug prices and has just signed the most advanced anti-Global Warming legislation in the country.
Angelides' slumping campaign is now beginning to worry other California Democrats. Could his stall-out depress Democratic turn-out and in November and erode the chances of other down-ballot candidates? Worried Democrats want to know.