What Else Is In Scott's Head?

The blog site for writer Scott C. Smith. Some observations on the world we live in and life in general. And maybe some politics.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Blame the Messenger

The Bush administration is hopping mad over Amnesty International's report of alleged prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“It’s absurd. It’s an absurd allegation. The United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world,” George W. Bush said at a White House news conference.

Vice President Dick Cheney was similarly offended. Interviewed by Larry King, Cheney said, "Frankly, I was offended by it...for Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don’t take them seriously.”

And now the kicker.

Bush said, of the Amnesty International report, that interviews with detainees about alleged abuse could not be trusted since the detainees "hated America" and were trained to lie.

Which kicks the Bush propaganda machine into full operation. Detainees complaining of abuse? Ignore it! They're probably lying, anyway.

And Dick Cheney's comments...perhaps Cheney does live in some underground bunker, tucked away from reality. Sorry to break it to you, Dick, but the United States has been a violator of human rights. You do remember Abu Ghraib, right? I know, right-wingers are going to counter: "That was an isolated incident! It was just some low-level enlisted guards operating independently!"

I don't think 70 confirmed cases of prisoner abuse can be classified as "isolated," as accounted in the Taguba Report and the Church Report.

The U.S. Army's Southern Command in Miami investigated allegations of prisoner abuse at Gitmo, and uncovered numerous instances of abuse, including beatings of prisoners and sexual abuse.

Perhaps Amnesty's report will put into motion increased efforts to halt prisoner abuse. The United States is supposed to be above resorting to techniques that our good friends, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for instance, use in torturing prisoners.

More importantly, I would think our government would do it all it could to prevent prisoner abuse. We know that our enemies would not give American prisoners the same protections afforded to them by the Geneva Conventions. We need to take the high road on this one.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day 2005

Today we honor all of the fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines (and, of course, the members of the Coast Guard) and the sacrifice they have given to their country in service to it. Our history is filled with heroes, mostly unknown, who have died in battle.

One hero I'd like to honor today U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith. Sgt. Smith died in battle, fighting against enemy forces in Baghdad. In sacrificing his life, he saved the lives of many, and was awarded the Medal of Honor. The following is from Sgt. Smith's citation:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to:

Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith
United States Army

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity
at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq on 4 April 2003.

On that day, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his Task Force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 fellow soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and three armored personnel carriers. As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket propelled grenade and a 60mm mortar round. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier.

In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded. His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers.

Sergeant First Class Smith's extraordinary heroism and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Third Infantry Division "Rock of the Marne," and the United States Army.

There are other heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country, and today we honor their memory.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Gold Star Mothers Press Release

I fired off an e-mail to the Gold Star Mothers and received an automated response in reply. It linked to a press release where the group attempts to explain why it denied membership to Ligaya Lagman. Lots of back-peddling and blaming everyone but themselves for what happened. Here is the press release:

American Gold Star Mothers
2128 Leroy Place, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Phone: 202-265-0991
Fax: 202-265-6963
Judith C. YoungNational Service OfficerAmerican Gold Star MothersPhone: 202-265-0991
May 27, 2005

Statement Regarding National Media Attention Concerning Ligaya Lagman And “The Denial Of A Gold Star”.

The term "gold star" is a term used to recognize the family member of a serviceman or servicewoman who has died in the line of service to their country. As protocol states, the Department of Defense presents to the family, a gold star lapel button, in accordance with each branch of the military’s protocol. The gold star lapel button is not issued by the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.

As to the accusation that Mrs. Lagman’s application was denied does not tell the complete story. The application for membership with American Gold Star Mothers was received by the Department of New York. It was not completed or signed by the applicant, nor did it have the required copy of the death certificate and the payment of the first years dues. There were several inaccuracies on the application as to the dates required. A certified letter was mailed to Mrs. Lagman requesting the application be completed in full and returned for approval. To date, we have not heard from Mrs. Lagman, nor have we received any form of communication to the status of her membership application.

To say that the application has been denied is not an accurate statement.
It is also true that the constitution and bylaws of the organization’s founder, Mrs. Grace Darling Seibold, established in 1928, along with fellow charter members, named the organization 'American Gold Star Mothers'.

In Article IV, Section 1 under Eligiblity and Membership states
“Natural Mothers, or citizens of the United States or the Territorial and Insular Possessions of the United States, at the time of their sons or daughters induction into the United States Armed Forces and died as a casualty, killed, captured, missing in action, or as a result of illness or injury received through engagement in the Armed Forces in WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam, Afganistan, and other Strategic Areas.

On June 12, 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed and approved a charter for the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. granted by the 98th Congress of the United States of America, which states under Powers, Section 2:
“American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. shall have only those powers granted to it though it’s bylaws and articles of incorporation filed in the state or states which is incorporated and subject to the laws of such state or states.”
As Congress has dictated above, by it’s issuance of the federal charter, by virtue of its name, shall be recognized as “American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.”.

In the article there is mention to the fact that the membership board voted and discriminated against Mrs. Lagman. It was not a vote taken for membership, nor a change in the constitution. It was only from an outside source that the discussion took place regarding an upcoming applicant situation, and at that time, the board decided not to make an exception to the rule without proper investigation.

American Gold Star Mothers is an all-volunteer 501.c.3 organization with no federal funding or benefits from any government agency. Its only means of income is from membership dues and donations. They are grateful for the outpouring of support from other Veterans Service Organizations over the years who have worked closely with the Mothers, and knows their only honorable intentions comes from the heart.

The Executive Board would like to take this opportunity to apologize for anything taken out of its context in the dissemination of information while being investigated by the media and improperly reported. They would also appreciate the time to seek a remedy to this situation and handle it internally so that the best interests of all, and to future Mothers, can be addressed.

American Gold Star Mothers have received threats, malicious accusations, and disturbing e-mails, phone calls, and faxes. This organization of moms joined to support each other and also to support the veterans who are fortunate to come home. They have spent the last 77 years devoting their time and energy in service to the Veterans Administration, volunteering in VA Hospitals and nursing homes, accruing millions of hours helping those who honorably served their country.


Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Gold Star Mothers

The Gold Star Mothers is an organization with a membership requirement that no mother would want to put on the application: the loss of a son or daughter in battle. But there is comfort in numbers, and I'm sure a grieving mother would find solace in the company of other women who also lost a son or daughter in battle.

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Anthony Lagman was not a U.S. citizen when he joined the Marine Corps. Many foreign nationals volunteer to serve this country. For their service they are granted citizenship, but often times their family members, such as parents, do not have citizenship.

Staff Sgt. Lagman was killed last year in Afghanistan, in the ongoing battle to remove Taliban forces from that country.

His mother, Ligaya Lagman, had applied to the Gold Star Mothers. Her application was rejected because Ligaya Lagman is not a U.S. Citizen. Never mind that she has been a permanent resident for over 20 years and is a taxpayer. That's not good enough for the Gold Star Mothers, who say that their rules say only American citizens can join, and they're not about to change the rules for this mother, despite the loss of her son.

The group's national president, Ann Herd, said this on Thursday:

“There’s nothing we can do because that’s what our organization says: You have to be an American citizen...we can’t go changing the rules every time the wind blows.”

Such compassion from Ann Herd.

Mrs. Lagman should be allowed to join this group. If you'd like to have your point of view heard, you can send an e-mail to the Gold Star Mothers here. Let them know what you think of their treatment of a mother who will be spending this Memorial Day remembering the life of her young son, a man who, despite not being a citizen of this country, volunteered to defend it and gave his life to it.

The Paris Hilton Non Controversy

For the life of me I do not understand the popularity of Paris Hilton. She's vapid and when you're best known for spending money and coining a catch phrase like "That's Hot," you have to wonder if the Paris Hilton fans around the world have mental illnesses.

I'll get to the non-controversy of her Carl's Jr. television advertisement that has drawn the ire of the Parent's Television Council.

Our bored press, instead of pursuing important stories, will reliably report the latest Paris Hilton gossip because, damn it, she's just SO fascinating! And, apparently, the Hilton family has no problems with that great hotel chain's name being associated with sex and stupidity. (Although, I guess if you're a lonely Republican businessman on the road, you might associate a hotel with sex but for different reasons.)

So now there's this "controversy" over a television ad for the Carl's Jr. burger chain (a regional chain, so you may have never heard of them before) that features Paris in some sort of weird bathing suit, "washing" a car with lots of water and soap (most of which end up on her, of course) and then the big lie of the commercial, Paris taking a bite out of a Carl's Jr. hamburger. Paris looks like she weighs 80 pounds, so no way she actually eats the kind of huge hamburger Carl's Jr. serves up (unless it doesn't stay in her body long...if you get what I'm saying).

Predictably, the advertisement has been met with controversy, with the Parents Television Council, a right-wing advocacy group, issuing a statement (note: the PTC web site might be down as it's handling a lot of traffic. In case it is, click here to read the statement from Google's cache)that the Hilton ad was "sexually graphic" and would harm children in some way, although I think a child actually eating a Carl's Jr. hamburger would be harmed more than they would in watching the stupid commercial. Carl's Jr. specializes in huge heart-exploding hamburgers that contain roughly 10,000 calories (that's a guess).

The fake controversy is making its way to cable news. Especially on Fox News, where the right-wing hosts fake moral outrage over the commercial while airing it over and over and over again. I was just flipping through the channels and stopped for a moment on Fox News and the program Heartland with John Kasich. And guess what? They were discussing the commercial, and John Kasich said something to the effect that he worried about explaining the commercial to his children. What's with conservatives and explaining stuff to their kids? This is an argument you hear often from the right-wing pundits: they'll wring their hands and bemoan some sort of sexually charged item from the media and worry over explaining it to their kids. Do conservatives speak to their kids about anything? What the hell is so hard about explaining a stupid commercial? Why couldn't you say "The woman in the commercial is dressed like she is so that she'll get lots of people to buy that hamburger." Good lord, Kasich, how much more detail do you need to get into? And if the kid says "Why is she dressed like that?" you'd say "The people that made the commercial dressed her like that so that people would watch the commercial." You don't need to explain the whole sexual psychology of the ad, do you? That's what it really comes down to: right-wingers are scared shitless of explaining anything that has to do with sex to their kids. Repression is the key in conservative ideology.

Of course, the free publicity provided by the moralists at Fox News and the Parents Television Council is sending customers straight to Carl's Jr. So, good job, guys, for doing your part in keeping the Paris Hilton commercial on the air.

Political Short Term Memory

Conservatives are bitching that Senate Democrats used cloture (cloture - The only procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster. Under the cloture rule...the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only by vote of three-fifths of the full Senate, normally 60 votes.) to block voting on controversial ambassadorial candidate John Bolton. Senate Democrats wanted to review various memos and papers on Bolton; the White House said Democrats had all of the documents they needed.

So the Bolton vote was blocked, and now the right-wing are complaining that by using cloture, Democrats were violating the agreement they had reached earlier this week with Republicans to prevent Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist from invoking his "nuclear" option to eliminate the filibuster.

Right-wingers are saying that Democrats are "obstructionist" and have apparently forgotten the terms of the filibuster agreement. Here it is:

Under the terms, Democrats agreed to allow final confirmation votes for Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor, named to appeals court seats. There is no commitment to vote for or against filibuster against two other conservatives named to appeals courts, Henry Saad and William Myers.

The agreement said future judicial nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, with each senator, presumably the Democrats,h olding the discretion to decide when those conditions had been met. Officials said the pact was intended to cover the Supreme Court as well as other levels ojudiciarydicary.

So, the deal does not include votes on people like John Bolton, as he is not a judicial nominee. Still, conservatives bitch and moan about the Bolton cloture, acting like this is the first time in the history of the world that a political party blocked the vote on a presidential nominee. Which happened numerous times during Bill Clinton's terms as president. Here's one example: Republicans attempting to block the nomination of a Clinton nominee for surgeon general.

Bottom line, both parties have used the same Senate procedures for decades. Right-wingers need to think harder to remember the politics of the 1990s, and the games they played, which are no different than what we're seeing today. In other words, business as usual.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Quick Note: My New Column is Up

My latest column is posted at Counterbias. I know it's been a while...

The column goes into more detail about the FBI documents obtained by the ACLU and the further allegations of prisoner abuse contained in those documents.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

ACLU Document Dump

The ACLU has been steadily releasing huge amounts of documents it obtained from the federal government under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents -- declassified memorandums and other communications by agents of the FBI and from branches of the U.S. military -- paint a broad picture of continuing allegations of prisoner abuse at U.S. facilities. Right-wing pundits believe that incidents of prisoner abuse are isolated, but of course the documents obtained by the ACLU -- as well as the Taguba Report and the Church Report (the Church Report is in PDF format) -- paint a different picture, and the incidents of prisoner abuse are widespread, not isolated.

One memorandum presumably between FBI agents discusses DoD personnel impersonating FBI agents (the document is heavily redacted). It is dated Dec. 5, 2003:

"I am forwarding this EC up the CTD chain of command. MLDU requested this information be documented to protect the FBI. MLDU has a long standing and documented position against use of some of DOD's interrogation practices, however we were not aware of these latest techniques until recently...of concern, DOD interrogators impersonating Supervisory Special Agents of the FBI told a detainee (blacked out)...these tactics have produced no intelligence of a threat neutralizing nature to date at CITF believes that techniques have destroyed any chance of prosecuting this detainee. If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, DOD interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done (by) the "FBI" interrogators. The FBI will (be) left holding the bag before the public."

Which of course raises all sorts of questions, such as, what torture techniques were used? For the FBI to issue an internal CYA memo about it, it probably was pretty bad. I'm sure the Bush cheerleaders (you know, Hannity, Limbaugh, Coulter and all the others) are going to swing into offense mode to discredit the documents, because, you know, the United States isn't physically harming anyone. That's real torture!

You'd think our government would take the high road when it comes to the treatment of prisoners. That's certainly what the Bush administration wants us to believe. Which, of course, is miles away from the truth. And while a Qur'an might not have been flushed down a toilet, we've certainly flushed the Geneva Conventions down the toilet.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Slumber Party is Cancelled

It figures. Just over an hour after my last entry word comes that a deal has been made in the Senate that will preserve the filibuster and allow for votes on some of President Bush's judicial nominees.

"We have reached an agreement ... to pull the institution back from a precipice...that would have had damaging impact on the institution," Senator John McCain said at a press conference.

According to MSNBC, the agreement reached was that Democrats would not block presidential judicial nominees to appeal courts or the Supreme Court, except in "extraordinary" circumstances.

In turn, Republicans would not eliminate the filibuster.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming...

The Senate's Slumber Party

So it's come down to this: Republican senators holding an all-night session to discuss the possibility of ending the filibuster, all in an effort to confirm ten of President Bush's judicial nominees.

Ten. I guess they're the ten most important nominees ever in the history of the United States for the majority party to possibly change the rules so that the minority party cannot prevent judicial nominees they find unacceptable from being confirmed.

Republican mouth pieces like Sean Hannity claim Democrats as being "obstructionists," despite the fact that 172 district court judges have been confirmed, as well as 36 appeals court nominees.

It remains to be seen if both sides can work out some sort of deal to prevent the elimination of the filibuster.

It's funny, the right-wing pundits talk so much about Democrats wanting to grab power any way they can, yet Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is ready and willing to seize absolute power for his majority party. Without the filibuster, the minority party does not have enough votes to block any Republican legislation they might object to, which will effectively eliminate the two-party system since the minority party will have no power.

If Frist is successful in launching what he calls the "nuclear" option to eliminate the filibuster, I have to wonder what the impact will be in the coming years. There is always the possibility of another Democratic president and Democratic majority in the Senate. Which of course would render Republicans powerless. When it comes to politics, the players just don't seem to possess the insight to peer into the future and contemplate the consequences of their actions. And Bill First may find in a decade his decision to end the filibuster will come back to bite him in the ass.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Beyond Newsweek

With the dust starting to settle over the whole supposed Newsweek "controversy" over a May 9 report that interrogators at the Gitmo detention center in Cuba had desecrated a Qur'an (Newsweek has since retracted that part of its report), we now have some hindsight to look over the events of the past week and put them into some context.

Right-wingers are portraying the Newsweek report as an example of anti-Bush bias. Of course, any publication that is critical of the Bush administration is automatically accused as anti-Bush by Bush's right-wing cheerleaders (Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, primarily). Newsweek's report from May 9, which was about alleged abuse by interrogators at Gitmo, wasn't only about Qur'an desecration. There were other allegations, including instances of sexual humiliation of prisoners.

What we have happening are right-wingers, along with the Bush administration, criticizing Newsweek's reporting of events, but not the events themselves. Ever since the first pictures from Abu Ghraib emerged, the Bush supporters did all they could to play down the events at Abu Ghraib, with Rush Limbaugh famously equating the prisoner abuse to a fraternity hazing ritual.

The right-wing pundits are missing one important piece of the puzzle: Newsweek wasn't inventing an event to make Bush look bad; their source was someone in the Bush administration who supposedly had seen correspondence to confirm Qur'an desecration. That source backed off from the report.

Also lost in all of the right-wing outrage was the fact that at a press on May 12, Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Richard Myers told reporters that the violence in Afghanistan was NOT because of the Newsweek story. Here's the quote from the press conference:

"Q: Do either one of you have anything about the demonstrations in Afghanistan, which were apparently sparked by reports that there was a lack of respect by some interrogators at Guantanamo for the Koran. Do either one of you have anything to say about that?

GEN. MYERS: It's the -- it's a judgment of our commander in Afghanistan, General Eikenberry, that in fact the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran -- and I'll get to that in just a minute -- but more tied up in the political process and the reconciliation process that President Karzai and his Cabinet is conducting in Afghanistan. So that's -- that was his judgment today in an after- action of that violence. He didn't -- he thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine.

General Craddock, our commander of Southern Command, has been in Guantanamo for the last couple of days digging into this issue to see if there was a time when the Koran was not respected. I can tell you that the version of the Koran that we provide to detainees is approved by the ICRC. So we're very careful about that. They have looked through the logs, the interrogation logs, and they cannot confirm yet that there were ever the case of the toilet incident, except for one case, a log entry, which they still have to confirm, where a detainee was reported by a guard to be ripping pages out of a Koran and putting in the toilet to stop it up as a protest. But not where the U.S. did it.

Now, there -- so it's something we're going to look at. That's still unconfirmed; it's a log entry that has to be confirmed. There are several log entries that show that the Koran may have been moved to -- and the detainees became irritated about it, but never an incident where it was thrown in the toilet."

Isn't that interesting: a report that a guard had allegedly ripped out the pages of a Qur'an. So as an interrogation tactic, it's not so far out of the realm of possibility for something to have happened. But of course Newsweek, not wanting to be on the Bush administration's bad side, have completely cowed to the administration.

I mean, what's worse? A report in a magazine that a Qur'an had been desecrated? Or when George W. Bush told insurgents in Iraq to "bring it on" as far as launching attacks against our forces in Iraq? Of course Bush's comments are worse, but the so-called liberal media does everything it can to report positively on what George W. Bush says and what his administration does.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Newsweek: The Power of The Press

In the May 9 edition of Newsweek, Michael Isikoff and John Barry reported on allegations of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba:

"Investigators probing interrogation abuses at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year. Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell NEWSWEEK: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash. An Army spokesman confirms that 10 Gitmo interrogators have already been disciplined for mistreating prisoners, including one woman who took off her top, rubbed her finger through a detainee's hair and sat on the detainee's lap. (New details of sexual abuse—including an instance in which a female interrogator allegedly wiped her red-stained hand on a detainee's face, telling him it was her menstrual blood—are also in a new book to be published this week by a former Gitmo translator.)"

Reporting that interrogators had flushed a Qur'an down a toilet provoked an immediate and violent reaction among Arabs, with protesters in Afghanistan clashing with security forces, resulting in at least 15 deaths. Protesters also burned down government buildings and ransacked the offices of relief organizations throughout Afghanistan.

One small problem: the report that interrogators had flushed a Qur'an down a toilet was false; it never happened.

How did Newsweek get it wrong?

In the May 23 edition, reporter Evan Thomas explored the circumstances that resulted in the (false) reporting that the Qur'an had been desecrated.

Thomas reports:

"Late last week Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita told NEWSWEEK that its original story was wrong. The brief PERISCOPE item ("SouthCom Showdown") had reported on the expected results of an upcoming U.S. Southern Command investigation into the abuse of prisoners at Gitmo. According to NEWSWEEK, SouthCom investigators found that Gitmo interrogators had flushed a Qur'an down a toilet in an attempt to rattle detainees. While various released detainees have made allegations about Qur'an desecration, the Pentagon has, according to DiRita, found no credible evidence to support them."

Newsweek's editor Mark Whitaker issued an apology of sorts, again from the May 23 edition of Newsweek:

"Last Friday, a top Pentagon spokesman told us that a review of the probe cited in our story showed that it was never meant to look into charges of Qur'an desecration. The spokesman also said the Pentagon had investigated other desecration charges by detainees and found them "not credible." Our original source later said he couldn't be certain about reading of the alleged Qur'an incident in the report we cited, and said it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts. Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we. But we regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst."

The apology did little to quell the firestorm unleashed from the original report of Qur'an desecration. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said it was puzzling that "while Newsweek now acknowledges that they got the facts wrong, they refuse to retract the story.”

McClellan added, “This was a report based on a single anonymous source that could not substantiate the allegation that was made...the report has had serious consequences. People have lost their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged. I just find it puzzling.”

Secretary of State Condolezza Rice said Newsweek's original story of abuse was "appalling."

Conservatives now have new ammunition in their arsenal to suggest that the so-called liberal media's agenda is to flame anti-American sentiment in Arab countries.

Newsweek's screw-up has had real consequences, not only in the fact that many died, but also in provoking anti-American sentiment in the Middle East, where efforts at spreading democracy might be affected due to Newsweek's reporting. American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are now at increased risk of attack due to the Newsweek piece, since tensions are already high over our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Feeding the flames of anti-American sentiment will have deadly consequences. Hopefully in the future magazines and newspapers will fully investigate claims by sources that might potentially create controversy in the Middle East before running with a story.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Time To Update

Dear reader,

My apologies for the lack of updates here. As some of you know, I'm attending college, and it eats up a lot of my time, so on occasion the blog will not be updated daily. I will update daily if possible, so please bear with me.

Newsweek: Pentagon Body Counts

Whenever the so-called liberal media reports on violence in reaction, the right-wing reaction is to wonder why no one is reporting the positive things happening in Iraq. I agree somewhat about reporting positive things in Iraq, but everything should be reported, in order to give Americans a full understanding of what is happening in Iraq, and that includes casualty figures. And we report it not to be morbid or to undermine the Bush administration, but to honor those who have given their lives in fighting this war.

That figure right now is at 1612 American casualties and 180 coalition casualties. Also underreported are the number of wounded and injured, with the estimate in the tens of thousands.

As Newsweek is reporting, the Pentagon and the Bush Administration are not telling the whole story as it relates to Iraq. An accidentally declassified document paints a different picture of the situation in Iraq than is reported in the media.

"The U.S. considers all of Iraq a combat zone...from July 2004 to late March 2005...there were 15,527 attacks against Coalition Forces throughout Iraq...from 1 November 2004 to 12 March 2005 there were 3306 attacks in the Baghdad area. Of these, 2400 were directed against Coalition Forces," says the document.

Watching Fox News -- or any of the so-called liberal media, for that matter -- it's doubtful that we'd hear specific details of the attacks against our troops. With the media not reporting the whole truth, we are presented with an inaccurate account of everything that is happening in Iraq. And with all of the money being poured into Iraq, not to mention the continuing insurgent attacks, the American people should get the whole picture of what is at stake in Iraq. Lives will continue to be lost in Iraq, and we should be honoring those lives, not pretending like their deaths never happened.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Remembering David Hackworth

Last week America lost one of its most highly decorated veterans, Col. David Hackworth, to bladder cancer on May 5. You may have seen Col. Hackworth on one of the cable news debate shows. If you ever served in the military, or are currently serving, chances are you know who Hack is. He lived a remarkable life. He's been an advocate for veterans and active-duty service members, using his syndicated column, television appearances, web site and his books to spread his message of support for the troops, and bringing light to issues affecting the troops, whether it was reporting on the shortage of body armor or the fact that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was using a machine to sign letters of condolence to family members who had lost loved ones in Iraq.

Hack was critical of the handling of the war in Iraq, and not afraid to say so. Hack certainly enraged some of the brass at the Pentagon. We live in a world of black and white thinking, a "with us or against us" attitude that conservatives have used against anyone who is critical of the Bush administration. I know as a veteran who has opposed the war that my own patriotism has been questioned. I'm sure some have questioned Hack's patriotism, but that would be an indefensible position.

Born in 1930, Hack enlisted in the Merchant Marines at the age of 14, and proceeded to spend the next 26 years in the U.S. Army, serving tours in Korea and Vietnam. He was one of the most highly decorated soldiers ever, earning 80 medals and ribbons in service to his country, including the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, and numerous Purple Hearts. At 40 he became the youngest full-bird colonel in the U.S. Army.

In 1971 Hack appeared on the ABC television program Issue and Answers and was critical of the way the war in Vietnam was being handled. The Army forced his retirement and he eventually moved to Australia and became a successful entrepreneur. After his book About Face was published, Hack returned to the United States. From 1990-1996, Hack wrote for Newsweek magazine.

At his web site, Hack brought attention to issues affecting active-duty service members, veterans and their families. He wrote a syndicated column, Defending America, advocating for service members and veterans.

Although I never met Hack, I did correspond with him occasionally via e-mail. Despite his busy schedule, Hack always had the time to write back, answering questions or offering opinions on various subjects.

Hack touched many lives, as is evident by the thousands of entries in his guestbook, with civilians, active-duty military and veterans paying their respects.

Hack, fair winds and following seas.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Georgia On My Mind

Kevin Francois, a junior at Spencer High School in Columbus, has found himself suspended for ten days, following his refusal to end a phone call he had taken on his cell phone during his lunch break on May 4.

The phone call? From his mother, Sgt. 1st Class Monique Bates, serving her country in Iraq. Bates had phoned her son, and when the lunch break ended, a teacher told Kevin to hang up the phone.

You can imagine his reaction.

"This is my mom in Iraq. I'm not about to hang up on my mom," Kevin said to a teacher, according to the Knight Ridder news service.

The teacher attempted to remove the phone from his hands. Kevin, understandably, was not very happy with this. Profanities undoubtedly were exchanged, and Kevin was suspended for ten days.

Assistant Principal Alfred Parham said, "Kevin got defiant and disorderly with (Assistant Principal) Mr. Turner and another assistant principal...he got defiant with me. He refused to leave Mr. Turner's office. When a kid becomes out of control like that they can either be arrested or suspended for 10 days. Now being that his mother is in Iraq, we're not trying to cause her any undue hardship; he was suspended for 10 days."

Good grief, another example of a stupid zero-tolerance policy in action. Why would you tell a kid who is speaking to a parent in Iraq to hang up the phone? Can't they bend the rules in this case? I'd be pretty angry if I were that kid, too, and I'd probably exchange some profanities with the teacher.

When I served during Desert Shield/Desert Storm, phone calls to family and friends provided a huge boost to morale. And when I called home, I wanted to talk for as long as I could. I spent hundreds of dollars on phone calls, and being able to stay in touch helped to cope with the experience of serving far away from home.

Hopefully this school will reverse its ruling and not punish a kid who just wanted to talk to his mother.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Eye On The Right: Cal Thomas

I'm not much of a fan of Fox News. I think I've made that point pretty clear here in the past. So, I don't watch it. I do watch on Saturday, when Fox News Watch airs. It's an actual fair and balanced look at the media. I think it's the only show on Fox News that is.

Cal Thomas is one of the panelists. He's a conservative columnist with Tribune Media Services. That's about all I knew of Thomas outside of Fox News Watch. There are a handful of conservative columnists I read, and Thomas isn't one of them.

A recent column caught my eye, with Thomas criticizing the U.S. Army for modifying its guidebook on interrogations, and essentially forbids torture of the kind practiced at Abu Ghraib, such as the use of sleep deprivation or humiliation. Of course, the appropriate treatment of POWs is outlined in the Geneva Convention, and had the guards at Abu Ghraib been familiar with that document, they would have known what is and what is not torture as it relates to the Geneva Convention.

So, Cal Thomas is upset that the Army is officially prohibiting torture. He complains, "If the Army nabs a person it suspects of knowing the location of a nuclear bomb that is about to wipe out an American city, would the interrogators and their military and civilian superiors refuse to use torture to squeeze the information out of the captive?"

As has been pointed out numerous times, the idea that torture produces accurate intelligence has long been dismissed by the professional intelligence community. They know that someone being tortured might say anything to have the torture stopped.

So, what proof does Thomas offer that torture works? Why, the television show 24. Really. I'm not kidding, he does. I've never watched 24 but apparently Cal Thomas has. Here's the proof Thomas offers in his column about how great torture is:

"On Fox's 24 action-drama show Monday nights, art doesn't imitate life. Increasingly, it resembles it. Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU) leader Jack Bauer (played by Kiefer Sutherland) is ordered not to torture a man he believes has knowledge of the whereabouts of terrorist Habib Marwan. Marwan has captured the nuclear code book known as the 'football' from a shot down Air Force One carrying the president of the United States.

An ACLU-type lawyer shows up at CTU headquarters (he's been tipped off by a Marwan minion) with a court order forbidding torture of the suspect. Jack Bauer concocts a plan and gets the man released. When the lawyer leaves, Bauer grabs the suspect outside CTU and tortures him until he discloses the location of Marwan."

See? Torture works! Jack Bauer used it and saved the country from nuclear annihilation. "Agent Jack Bauer rightly chose the greater good - saving millions of lives - over the niceties imposed by those whose manual seems inspired by The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette."

Actually, and I'll admit this might be something of a stretch, but the Army's interrogation manual seems more inspired by the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War than the Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette. Also, I've not read the Vanderbilt book, so I don't know what it has to say about the treatment of POWS. I'll add it to my reading list.

Thomas ends his column with this:

"Are we not paying attention to the beheading videos? The barbarians are at the gate. In fact, they have broken down the gate. Why are we letting them in and treating them only a little more harshly than unwelcome holiday relatives?"

I take it Thomas has not read the Church Report or the Taguba Report on Abu Ghraib. If he had, he'd know we went a little beyond treating those prisoners "more harshly than unwelcome holiday relatives," unless Cal Thomas is the type of guy who would sodomize an unwelcome relative with a glow stick, as one guard did to a prisoner at Abu Ghraib.

I suppose it's no coincidence that Joel Sunrow, one of the creators of 24, is a conservative. What better way is there to play up right-wing torture fantasies than to put them on prime time television?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Sunday Round Up

Remember the "axis of evil" as defined by George W. Bush? Here's what he said in his Jan 29, 2002 State of the Union address:

"Our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September the 11th. But we know their true nature. North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.

Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens -- leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections -- then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world."

And so it was, a little over a year after Bush delivered his speech, that we invaded Iraq, presumably to round up the huge stockpiles of weapons we thought they had, only to discover there were none.

North Korea, on the other hand, not only has made public its many weapons programs, but within the last few days, may have actually fired a test missile.

What are we going to do about it? After all, George W. Bush didn't want to wait around for Iraq to develop its weapons programs to the point that they would be a threat to us, as he said in a speech in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002:

"Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud. As President Kennedy said in October of 1962, 'Neither the United States of America, nor the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small. We no longer live in a world,' he said, 'where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nations security to constitute maximum peril.'"

So, we have the clear evidence of peril (North Korea's weapons programs) and we know they have the capability to fire long-range missiles.

Why did we go after Saddam Hussein instead? North Korea presents a much danger threat than Iraq ever did, and are we waiting for that mushroom cloud? I don't know, but as usual, the Bush administration acts in a way to completely befuddle the minds of the masses, to the point that no one wants to bring the issue up to Bush.

Detainees Mistreated at Gitmo

Another report confirms that some prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba were mistreated or humiliated.

If you've ever discussed the issue of prisoner abuse with your favorite right-winger, they're likely to say that the events at Abu Ghraib were "isolated." Which just isn't true, as the Church Report revealed, the U.S. had confirmed dozens of abuse cases. Yet even with confirmation that abuse did occur, senior NCOs and commanders so far have not been held accountable for what happened at Abu Ghraib. So far, the soldiers prosecuted were low-level enlisted personnel, most recently Private First Class Lynndie England (you may recall her from the Abu Ghraib photographs, grinning and pointing at the genitals of a prisoner with a cigarette dangling from her mouth).

For reasons that remain unexplained, the Pentagon is not holding higher-level Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) or commanders in the field responsible for what happened at Abu Ghraib. Let me quickly talk about rank structures in the military to illustrate this point. Enlisted personnel are the folks that sign up for military duty (usually without a college degree). The enlisted ranks start at the bottom with "E-1" and go up to "E-9." Anyone E-3 and below is at the bottom level of the chain of command ladder. In other words, the fresh recruits out of boot camp or other soldiers who have only been in the service a year or so.

Non-Commissioned Officers generally run from the rank of E-5 to E-9; these soldiers would be the ones in charge of the lower-ranking soldiers. From there you move into the officer ranks -- those soldiers with college educations who have attended ROTC, officer candidate school, or graduated from a military academy. These officers are generally leaders of larger groups of soldiers.

In the Abu Ghraib case, only one high-level officer has been "punished," Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinsky, the former commander of the of the 800th Police Brigade at Abu Ghraib, received an administrative reprimand.

Otherwise, the higher-level NCOs and officers have not been held accountable for the actions of the troops in their command. And the thing about the military is that these folks are supposed to be held accountable. An E-6 with 12 years of service knows what actions are acceptable and what are not. An E-3 with a year of service may not necessarily know the rules and regulations the E-6 would.

Donald Rumsfeld even offered his resignation twice to George W. Bush, after taking full responsibility for what happened at Abu Ghraib, and Bush did not let him resign. Throughout the Abu Ghraib investigation, there has been no accountability for those senior officers and enlisted folks at Abu Ghraib. And Congress doesn't seem all that interested in holding those people accountable.