Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I'm Back...Some Observations and Book Review

Sorry for the short hiatus. We had a power surge on Sunday and it knocked out the modem. Had to wait for a technician to come out this morning and replace it.

The good thing about it was that I was able to finish the book I was reading, watch some scary movies and spent some quality time looking for employment options.

A few notes on the past few days.

Scooter Libby made a big mistake. What else is there to say when it was and is probable that there was no original indictable crime, but he had to screw up during the investigation. It does remind me of the entire Clinton affair where getting a blow job in the oval office isn't a crime, but lying about it to a grand jury during the investigation of possible contribution and gift distribution that was outside of the rules (he was never indicted for that so no provable crime apparently). I am wondering, since Libby gave Miller permission to speak on their contact a year ago if his deceptions were purposeful or just a matter of being nervous and forgetful. I suppose it doesn't matter in the scheme of things. I hate to say it, though, this isn't grabbing the public's attention like the Clinton affair. It seems like this is more an issue political junkies are attached too.

The public, for it's part, seems more concerned about gas prices, heating their homes and the rising cost of living, even in this period of continued economic growth.

Miers and Alito...I haven't commented because I found the whole thing a little ludicrous starting with the federal circuit nominees. It's all about political manouvering and again, it's less of a concern for the public at large than political junkies. I know because nobody is talking about it around town. They talk about gas prices, food prices and trying to make a living. The only thing that's gotten play time in the general public (that I have come in contact with) has been border security and illegal immigrants. It's an interesting juxtoposition of socially liberal folks who are angry about Missouri cutting Medicaid, Food Stamps and Welfare benefits, but equally would prefer that immigration be better controlled to lighten the load of these programs and illegals taking jobs.

One thing that is going on in the Kansas City area that continues to get play time (because it keeps happening) is that there is a gang preying on illegal immigrants, breaking into homes, apartments and even following them to their jobs to rob them and some times kill them. Obviously, this gang thinks the illegals won't report it or will be less willing to work with authorities for fear of being deported. Of all the things that can be said about the problems of illegal immigration, preying on people who have nothing is the worse kind of cowardice.

In general, murder is up in the city and set to make a 10 year record high. That's what is on people's minds around here besides gas, heating and food. It's an interesting thing how the immediate needs of security and survival tends to greatly over shadow national politics.

I finished reading Blinded By The Sunlight by Matthew McAllester. One of the criticism's of the book was that it jumped around a bit and seemed to be put together by some sort of assistant from McAllester's personal notes. This criticism may have some validity, but I believe that the real issue here is that McAllester only spent eight days in the prison and it wasn't as eventful as it might have been, thus, to make this book work, he filled it out with other items of context and it did jump around worse than a Quentin Tarantino movie. Fortunately, I found most of it extremely interesting so the jumps were only slightly annoying.

He talks to a man who was an American Citizen (naturalized) that had been in prison for seven years of a 28 year prison sentence for "spying". As McAllester points out in the book, in Iraq, if you look suspicious you were guilty and that all interrogations and investigations started from the premise that you were guilty until proven innocent or until the government was tired of messing with you which usually meant, if you were picked up by government security, their conviction rate was "95%" according to an "investigator" that McAllester interviewed. What that meant was, if you were picked up, you had a 95% chance of going to prison, regardless of the circumstances. The American Citizen had, in the end, made a series of very bad choices that were the product of living in a police state, overt paranoia that the government had instilled and his own personal issues like home sickness and then trying to leave Iraq again because he rediscovered how bad it was and how much he would rather live in the US. At that point, he makes contact with a Kurdish underground smuggler that was planning to sneak him out, but a middle man gave him up and he was convicted of spying since it was post Gulf War I and Kurdish uprising.

He was tortured physically and psychologically. He describes one occasion when he believed that he was going to be executed (this was before he was officially found guilty). They take him to the basement, blindfolded, stand him against a wall and two men joke about killing him. Then he hears a gun being charged and a shot rings out. He felt a burning sensation on his chest and thought he had been shot, but then realized that one of the men was burning him with a cigarette. This was in the course of the "investigation".

McAllester ends up in prison for similar reasons: bad choices while living (even temporarily) in a police state where you are guilty unless otherwise notified and you are extra guilty if you are a western journalist reporting from a country that is about to be at war with a western country.

For McAllester's part of the story, there wasn't much to tell accept that he was an atheist and eight days in Abu Graihb put the fear of God in him. Literally, he began to pray saying in the book that, he still wasn't sure what to believe today, but, when you believe that your life is hanging by a thread and the only thing that might save you will be the imminent arrival of invading forces, but at the same time, their imminent arrival may mean the falling regime has no compunction about killing, that you will stack the odds in your favor by doing whatever is helpful. In this case, being in prison with limited options, he decided to pray. The ultimate "come to Jesus" moment.

In the end of the book, he finds his guards and the interrogator after the fall of the regime and tries to make sense about what it was that got them picked up. He says that he had to maintain his journalistic integrity by protecting these men that were certainly wanted by the coalition. He comments on the similar issues of "journalistic integrity" such as not writing extremely critical articles about the regime because the ministry of information, which issued press passes, kept copies of your work and you could be black balled. Which means that, not only did CNN cover up the reality of Iraq, but probably many other journalists in the name of being able to continue to get a story or in some mixed up morality that journalists must sometimes have to swill to convince themselves that getting the next story, however lame, is still an important tool of gathering information and getting the word out. A big mistake considering the views perpetrated by false anti-war groups.

Other things that will be of no surprise, but I found still interesting was that, like all fascist and totalitarian regimes they kept exact records of everything. Everything. Their were detailed and specific processes that had to be followed, even in the process of interrogating, prosecuting and executing prisoners. Most of the processes were formalities, since, as I noted, it was almost a foregone conclusion that being picked up by security forces meant long imprisonment or execution 95% of the time. Most of these processes seemed more designed to maintain the illusion of legitimate government and law. Perception, as they say, is everything, even if the illusion is largely for those who participated in government and security apparatuses. It seemed, based on the interviews of some of the people later, that this illusion helped them overcome any qualms they might have had about the jobs they were doing. They were utterly convinced of their rightness and the necessity and still are. Some were so delusionary that they complained bitterly about being out of a job and wondered why the coalition did not keep them on.

This, of course, is a matter of contention among so called experts and analysts regarding whether Paul Bremer was right to disband these security forces or if they should have been kept on and trained to help fight the insurgency. McAllester believes, even after his interviews, that this would have been the best way to have reduced the insurgency from the beginning considering the amount of reconstruction that would be necessary to fix everything that was wrong with Iraq since Saddam came to power. Personally, after reading the interviews, I believe even more strongly that there should have been many more people rounded up immediately and placed in prisoner camps for prosecution and de-Ba'athification of certain ministries as well as disbandment of certain security apparatuses was appropriate. There simply was no way that, in the short term or even several years, these men would have been "de-programmed" to operate within an open, fair and democratic society.

I believe that we are seeing these same problems today with police forces and any military that was retained. I recall the story of the Arkansas National Guard that raided a police station last year because the police were brutally beating suspects, in the open. A sniper had seen it happening and called in his Captain. There was mixed feelings from different people. One Iraqi blogger was strongly against this action saying it interfered with Iraq's sovreignty and responsibility to secure their country. I believe, today, that they made the right choice and that the ROEs that have been in place, basically "hands off" the police unless they need back up, was a caculated risk that may still have some bad side effects. Watching a program on the military channel last night, I saw the Marines standing by as over watch while the Iraq police (still in their old uniforms) beat the hell out of some suspects for looting. Several marines expressed concern about it but said their orders were to allow the Iraqis to take care of their own problems so that they would be prepared to handle their own basic policing and leave the military to the security operations for the insurgency and general protection of the country.

Eventually, in Germany's post Nazi era, Nazi party members were allowed back into their jobs, but I believe that they had much more over sight than the general police and security have had in Iraq. The only entities that are getting more oversight are the ministries and the military. The police are still likely to arrest men who are in the wrong place at the wrong time as opposed to doing real investigative detective work. Which may be why certain other Iraqi bloggers find the taped confessions that air on "Iraq's Most Wanted" to be suspect since it seems to mirror the same tactics the old regime used.

On the other hand, JAG has been very active reforming the courts so it is more likely that the 95% conviction rate will and has gone down considerably. In the US there are always complaints about the rights of criminals being so protected that too many get off for technicalities. As a social liberal (with some conservative concepts about welfare and other stipends) I don't look at it as protection of "criminal" rights, but protection of everyone's rights to due process. Considering the book I just read, I have a few less complaints about our process and the protections we receive from it regardless of the multitude of technicalities that might see a real criminal free.

The other important factor is that, aside from old regime and Islamists that still arbitrarily execute people, I believe that the new government is much more circumspect in their handing down of sentences and, of course, does not order executions based on a wide and arbitrary concept of criminal punishment. Not to mention the Coalition is not filling mass graves with ordinary citizens.

Which, by the way, the book covers two instances that served to strengthen my opinion, regardless of claims by She Who Will Not Be Named and other groups protesting the cause or effect of the war, that this war was right and honorable. McAllester recounts the massacre of men, women and children from Muhawail, a largely Shi'ite village that Saddam retaliated against in 1991 after the uprising. Security forces arbitrarily rounded up people from this village, took them to a field, used back hoes to dig trenches and slaughtered 2700 people from this one village and in these trenches. There are actual pictures published in the book of the actual massacre taking place. Like the momentos that the Nazis kept of their many massacres, the Saddam security forces did the same. Why Saddam is not on trial for this massacre already, I don't know since there are witnesses, pictures and televised videos of Saddam taking credit for the action as necessary for the security of Iraq.

I am not doing justice to the story since McAllester has interviews with family members of the dead and witnessed the disinternment of the bodies as people tried to identify their family members. Fourteen years later, one man identifies the body of his brother who was massacred in the trenches by reading his own name sown into the tag of a pair of jeans he had handed down to his younger brother. The boy was eleven at the time.

I think the worst thing about the debate of the war regarding blood for oil or WMD or terrorism or whether the reconstruction post major combat and battling the insurgency was effective or whatever else people want to debate about the war, is that it took away from this story. The real story of Iraq and the real suffering of people. Suffering that no one in this country, whatever side of the war they are on, would ever accept for themselves.

One statement from the book that stayed with me was from a taxi driver who, prior to the invasion, told McAllester that there were two Iraq's, one above ground and one below. He meant that as a double statement. There was the appearance of Iraq to the outside world and then there was the Iraq of the torture chambers and secret holding cells. He also meant that there were the "living" who were dead above ground and those that were already dead and buried in mass graves below ground. This statement makes you understand that Moore's moronic and fallacious kite flying scenes in F911 were all the more egregious for the propaganda he tried to foist on the public.

A few things that make you understand that all those who say that the 290,000 murdered by Saddam's regime was false because they haven't found all the mass graves are idiots is that the regime killed people within the process of the law and buried them in individual graves, possibly hundreds a day, through the "legal" apparatuses of the government, issuing death certificates to the families and even allowing them to sometimes claim the bodies for burial by the family. It just depended on the day, the official in charge and whether it was individual punitive actions or mass punishment of entire villages.

On April 8, 2003, McAllester and his four journalist companions were released and sent to Syria. On the same day, 13 men in the same cell block were taken out and executed on the grounds of Abu Graihb. On April 9, 2003, the regime fell.

I will say again, the real story of Iraq was buried beneath the bullshit we hear every day and the political rhetoric that not only tried to (and may have) discredited the war effort, but probably allowed other totalitarian regimes to breath a sigh of relief, to feel that they received a reprieve and allows them to operate in a similar manner without fear of receiving justice even today. It is the one failure of this effort that I will and have always felt comfortable pointing out. It is not just a failure that harmed the Iraqi people (because I believe that this would have served a counter propaganda purpose and possibly reduced the number of wannabe jihadists and insurgents), but may have harmed all those that still live in totalitarian countries.

Of course, we have limitations to our finances and our military and there are "realpolitic" issues of destabilization, but there are no limitations on information, how often we say it or how much we stress it. Doing otherwise is a failure of humanity.

If ever you question the right or wrong of this war, stick this in your heart and do not forget the real story of Iraq and the story of every totalitarian regime that exists on this earth. We used a sledgehammer to break Iraq's chains. We cannot allow them to be taken back to those days by those "old regime" elements they call "insurgents" and neither can we allow them to be cast under the wheels of a new, equally repressive and murderous regime of Islamists with their equally delusional idea of a utopian Caliphate.

Saudi Arabia


riceburner147 said...

Kat: your comments re: "Criminal Rights" are right on target. Many, even on the right, cannot seem to grasp this concept. Those who do not know (and understand) history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. (attrib?). Iraq (I have read) spent 2 billion $$$ on trying to acquire Nuclear weapons. The fact that we either havent found them, or they were moved, doesn't mean they were not headed that way. Have you also heard about the 2 bil figure ?

riceburner147 said...


Kat said...

Sorry, Rice..I hadn't heard that rumor, but I'm sure it could be found and attributed.