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On Torture And War Crimes, Part Two, Or, Dr. Addicott And I Find Common Ground May 30, 2009

When last we met, Gentle Reader, it was to work through a series of legal precedents and statute law; the goal of the exercise being to determine if we could or could not define waterboarding as torture.

We have the kind assistance of Professor Jeffrey Addicott, who has provided us with his written testimony from his recent appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee and a personal interview, where he walked me through some of his thinking on the matter.

Today we’re going to take a look at the precedent that he has used to reach the conclusion that waterboarding is not torture.

It’s also possible that the analysis may result in the discovery of a bit of common ground…but as I noted in Part One, it’s common ground that neither one of us might have seen coming.

To begin, a quick review from yesterday:

Dr. Addicott wants you to know that waterboarding is not torture.

He relies on the argument that since the “Five Techniques” (“Wall-standing”, “Hooding”, the application of excessive noise, sleep deprivation, and the withholding of food and water) used on Irish prisoners by the United Kingdom were found not to be torture by the European Court of Human Rights, and waterboarding is not worse than the five techniques, it logically follows that waterboarding is not torture.

Although waterboarding might be cruel, inhuman, and degrading, Dr. Addicott would remind you that legally, torture requires severe physical pain over an extended, but unspecified, period of time.

He also notes a lack of lack of legal precedent specifically defining waterboarding as torture in either US or international courts.

I asked Dr. Addicott why 18 USC § 2340 (which defines torture, in part, as “…an act…specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering” and defines “severe mental pain”, in part, as “the threat of imminent death…”) wouldn’t be the definition of torture that should apply.

His basic responses were that the alleged acts took place overseas to non-US citizens, therefore there is a jurisdictional issue; and that a lack of specificity in the statute males it unclear whether waterboarding would be torture.

Here’s how he expressed it to me:

“Those are words, those are descriptive words…that only find meaning when we have a court define what that means; that’s the whole problem with our Anglo-Saxon tradition, is that you have words that are put out in statute but what, you know, what does “severe” mean, what does “prolonged” mean, is it five minutes, is it 10 minutes…is it four drops to the head, is it three drops of water on your head, what does it mean?”

He also wants you to know that we do the same thing to our own military personnel who undergo “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape” (SERE) training, which indicates the procedure isn’t torture.

He also tells us in his written testimony that the “shock the conscience” standard should apply to define torture.

Additionally, he cites Blefare v United States (362 F.2d 870) and Leon v. Wainwright (734 F.2d 770) to suggest that coercive interrogation is already permitted under US law.

With the catch-up complete, let’s have a look at Dr. Addicott’s assertions.

Right off the bat, Dr Addicott does correctly assert that…

“…the five techniques, as applied in combination, undoubtedly amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, although their object was the extraction of confessions, the naming of others and/or information and although they were used systematically, they did not occasion suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture as so understood.

168. The Court concludes that recourse to the five techniques amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment, which practice was in breach of Article 3 (art. 3)”.

…in the opinion of the European Court of Human Rights.

However, there is precedent that declares waterboarding is torture, as another international tribunal saw things a bit differently.

You undoubtedly are aware of the Nuremberg Trials, which addressed the conduct of officials of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. A similar process took place to bring Japanese officials to account, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Here’s what they had to say about waterboarding:

“Torture and Other Inhumane Treatment

The practice of torturing prisoners of war and civilian internees prevailed at practically all places occupied by Japanese troops, both in the occupied territories and in Japan. The Japanese indulged in this practice during the entire period of the Pacific War. Methods of torture were employed in all areas so uniformly as to indicate policy both in training and execution. Among these tortures were the water treatment [euphemism for waterboarding], burning, electric shocks, the knee spread, [page number removed] suspension, kneeling on sharp instruments and flogging.

The Japanese Military Police, the Kempetai, was most active in inflicting these tortures. Other Army and Navy units, however, used the same methods as the Kempetai. Camp guards also employed similar methods. Local police forces organized by the Kempetai in the occupied territories also applied the same methods of torture.”

Dr. Addicott feels that 18 USC § 2340 doesn’t apply because the acts took place outside the US to non-US citizens…but the statute tells us jurisdiction applies if “the alleged offender is a national of the United States”.

Conspiracy to torture is also a crime, meaning that those who ordered this behavior would also face potential legal liability, even if the person doing the torturing is not a US citizen.

So what about the argument that SERE trainees are subjected to the same treatment?

The difference, I suggest, is that there is no threat of imminent death when a trainee is waterboarded, which is what 18 USC § 2340 requires.

Can waterboarding actually carry the threat of imminent death?

I know someone who can tell us.

Dr. Allen Keller, MD is an Associate Professor at New York University and the founder and Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, which has provided care for more than 2000 torture survivors. He’s also a member of the Advisory Council of Physicians for Human Rights.

He offered this assessment in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

“Water-boarding or mock drowning, where a prisoner is bound to an inclined board and water is poured over their face, inducing a terrifying fear of drowning clearly can result in immediate and long-term health consequences. As the prisoner gags and chokes, the terror of imminent death is pervasive, with all of the physiologic and psychological responses expected, including an intense stress response, manifested by tachycardia, rapid heart beat and gasping for breath. There is a real risk of death from actually drowning or suffering a heart attack or damage to the lungs from inhalation of water. Long term effects include panic attacks, depression and PTSD. I remind you of the patient I described earlier who would panic and gasp for breath whenever it rained even years after his abuse.”

Dr. Addicott also relies on court rulings to demonstrate that coercive methods of obtaining evidence are permissible under US law.

He points two cases for guidance. In the first, Blefare v United States (362 F.2d 870), he tells us (in written testimony) that:

“the appellants were suspected of swallowing narcotics which were lodged in their rectums or stomachs…Then, without Blefare’s consent the doctor forcefully passed a soft tube into the “nose, down the throat and into the stomach,” through which fluid flowed in order to induce vomiting. This resulted in the discovery of packets of heroin and the subsequent conviction of Blefare.

Unlike Rochin [Rochin v. California, (342 U. S. 165)], the Ninth Circuit refused to hold that the involuntary intrusion into Blefare’s stomach shocked the conscience.

While all that is true, it’s also irrelevant to the facts of the case as it appears in the record.

First, the Ninth Circuit had no reason to reach a conclusion about whether evidence was obtained from Blefare in a manner that “shocked the conscience” because the evidence that the appeal was trying to suppress did not belong to Blefare, but to his co-defendant, Donald Michel (who had voluntarily consented to the intubation that led to the recovery of the challenged evidence).

The second reason the challenged evidence was not suppressed had to do with the fact that the searches of Blefare and Michel were held to be “border searches”.

This, from Blefare:

“No question of whether there is probable cause for a search exists when the search is incidental to the crossing of an international border, for there is reason and probable cause to search every person entering the United States from a foreign country, by reason of such entry alone. That the customs authorities do not search every person crossing the border does not mean they have waived their right to do so, when they see fit…Mere suspicion has been held enough cause for a search at the border.”

Dr. Addicott also misstates the effect of Leon v. Wainwright (734 F.2d 770).

From his written testimony:

“For instance, in Leon v. Wainwright the Eleventh Circuit brushed aside the fact that police officers had used “force and threats” on kidnap suspect Jean Leon in order to get the suspect to reveal the location of his victim. When apprehended by a group of police officers in a Florida parking lot, Leon refused to reveal the location of his kidnap victim (the victim, Louis Gachelin, had been taken by gunpoint to an apartment where he was undressed and bound). In order to get the suspect to talk, police officers then physically abused Leon by twisting his arm and choking him until he revealed where the kidnap victim was being held. In speaking to the use of brutal force to get the information needed to protect the victim, the Court deemed that the action of the officers was reasonable given the immediate concern to find the victim and save his life.”

It is inaccurate to say the Court “brushed aside” the use of force and threats.

What actually happened was that the defendant confessed twice—and it was that second confession that was being challenged.

The first confession…the one taken by force…was not admitted into evidence; therefore its admissibility–and by extension, the means by which it was obtained–was not an issue to be considered by the appeals court.

This, from the ruling in Leon v Wainwright:

“Meanwhile, Leon was taken to the police station. He was questioned there by detectives who had neither been involved in the threats and use of force at the scene of his arrest nor witnessed it. After being thoroughly informed of his rights and signing a Miranda waiver form, he gave full oral and written confessions of the crime. This entire process was concluded about five hours after his arrest…

…The totality of the circumstances in this case clearly confirms the finding that the second statement was voluntary.[4] The police, motivated by the immediate necessity of finding the victim and saving his life, used force and threats on Leon in the parking lot.[5] Hours later, Leon was questioned at the police station by a completely different group of police officers. These officers were not even participants in the surveillance team at the parking lot. Prior to questioning him the officers meticulously explained to him his constitutional rights. He specifically waived his right to have counsel present. The necessity of saving the victim’s life, the different physical setting, the different group of questioning officers, and the meticulous explanation to appellant of his constitutional rights constituted a sufficient break in the stream of events to dissipate the effects of the first coercion. The challenged confession was properly admitted into evidence.”

There is a question of what to do if it is suspected that torture has been committed. Here is a portion of Dr. Addicott’s comment on the matter, from his written testimony.

“…those who order, approve, or engage in torture must be criminally charged. If the United States determines that waterboarding as practiced by the CIA is torture, there is no option. Under the Torture Convention violators must be prosecuted. Similarly, lawyers at the Department of Justice who approved the practice must also be prosecuted… In short, in my legal opinion, the subject waterboarding technique used on the al-Qa’eda operatives did not constitute torture and requires no binding obligation to prosecute.”

With all respect to the Professor, this looks like circular logic. To “determine” that torture occurred requires a trial, as Dr. Addicott has previously noted, yet he says here there’s no need for a trial because, by his determination, no torture occurred.

It also appears that his analysis on this point is factually inaccurate, in that there is no obligation to prosecute under either the Geneva Conventions or the Torture Convention. Here are the pertinent texts:

“Article 12

Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committee [sic] in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

UN Convention Against Torture

“Article 129

The High Contracting Parties undertake to enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing, or ordering to be committed, any of the grave breaches of the present Convention defined in the following Article.

Each High Contracting Party shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts. It may also, if it prefers, and in accordance with the provisions of its own legislation, hand such persons over for trial to another High Contracting Party concerned, provided such High Contracting Party has made out a prima facie case.”

Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War

The phrase “bring such persons…before its own courts” will be a subject of controversy, so let me clear it up now. In Europe, the “court” process involves the use of “investigating magistrates” who would decide if this sort of case should or should not be brought to trial; a function that, in the US, would be handled by a Special Prosecutor or the FBI and the appropriate US Attorney, possibly through the federal grand jury process.

As you can see, there is an obligation to investigate people suspected of torture…but no mandate to prosecute every suspected offense…which means, just like in a RICO case, you can round up the lower-level “actors”, convince them to “flip” on the other co-conspirators up the chain in exchange for immunity…and then you prosecute the ringleaders.

We have spent some considerable time addressing the questions around what is and what is not torture…but now we get to an issue that makes the “torture question” irrelevant.

Remember way back in Part One when I asked you to keep that “cruel and inhuman treatment” phrase in the back of your mind?

And remember the European Court of Human Rights ruling that called the “Five Techniques” cruel and inhuman?

Well, guess what?

If a prosecutor can demonstrate that waterboarding is not torture, but merely “cruel or inhuman” (a standard that only requires “serious” mental or physical pain, not the “severe” standard required for torture)…that’s a “war crime”, as defined by the War Crimes Act of 1996 (18 USC § 2441(d)(1)(B)).

And those who commit a war crime, it turns out:

“…shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.”

And that’s where we get to the point that Dr. Addicott and I finally reach some common ground:

Maybe torture prosecutions are bad policy.

Especially when it’s easier to prove a war crime than it is to prove torture.

Once again, we have come a long way to get here, but let’s review it all before we finish:

Dr. Addicott and I differ on where we should look for a definition of torture.

Despite the language of 18 USC § 2340, he does not feel there’s jurisdiction to prosecute under the US Code.

He does not feel waterboarding is torture, but he acknowledges that the “Five Techniques” are “cruel and inhuman”.

There is precedent in international law to draw the conclusion that waterboarding is torture which Dr. Addicott did not note in his written testimony.

Because waterboarding does create the threat of imminent death and does cause severe and long-lasting mental problems, I feel it is also torture as defined by US law.

Dr. Addicott proffers legal precedent to support his position that the use of coercive techniques does not violate US law…but when you actually examine the texts of the rulings he cites, it appears that he either misunderstands the rulings or misstates their application to this question.

He also testifies inaccurately when he asserts that all cases “determined” to be torture must be prosecuted…firstly, because of the circular logic of “determined”, and secondly, because the two pertinent texts simply don’t read the way his testimony reports they read.

But all that said, it turns out that even if waterboarding is somehow not torture…that it does not cause “severe physical or mental pain or suffering”…it appears highly likely that the technique causes “serious physical or mental pain or suffering”…which, mirabile dictu, is the legal standard for proving a war crime.

Which leads us to the one point upon which we both agree: there should be prosecutions.

Prosecute under 18 USC § 2441 or treat it like any other “organized crime” case: start inviting “parties of interest” to flip on their co-conspirators, immunize the cooperative…and if a judge and jury decides it’s the right choice, people are going to have to go to prison.

So there you go: we started out questioning how torture is defined, and we ended up at a place where, because of the War Crimes Act, that definition become less relevant, a bit of common ground might have been found, and in the search for that common ground we’ve discovered a better way to ensure that justice can be done.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I want to offer a hearty “thank you” to Dr. Addicott for taking the time to talk to me for this story. If we wish to do serious journalism, interviewing the people in the news is critical, and I very much appreciate his willingness to make himself available during the production of this pair of stories.

WARNING—Self-promotion ahead: I am competing for a Netroots Nation scholarship, and I was not selected in the first round of voting. There are two more chances to be selected, and the voting has restarted from scratch…so even if you’ve done so before, I still have to ask you to stop by the Democracy for America site and click on the “Add your support” link to offer your support for me again. Thanks for your patience, and we now return you to your regular programming.

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On Solutions, Or, Congressman Reichert, I Believe You Were Looking For This October 14, 2007

Filed under: Dave Reichert,Democrats,Iraq War,WA-08 — fakeconsultant @ 1:01 pm
Tags: , , ,

As I reported in a <a href=”http://fakeconsultant.blogspot.com/2007/10/fake-consultant-exclusive-congressman.html&#8221; mce_href=”http://fakeconsultant.blogspot.com/2007/10/fake-consultant-exclusive-congressman.html”>recent story</a>, I was fortunate enough to have a talk with my Member of Congress, Dave Reichert, regarding the “surge”.

While we disagreed with many aspects of his (and my) interpretation of events, there was one valid point he made that deserves a detailed response: that Democrats cannot articulate a path forward that could be reasonably expected to reduce the chances of “the bloodshed and chaos” that is so ominously predicted in so many quarters.

My goal today is to reach way outside the conventional thinking to offer such a path.

So let’s get right to it, shall we?

Before I can offer a set of specific proposals, I need to take a minute to frame the discussion that is to follow.

I will do this through the use of a set of hypotheses.
For example:

–I would suggest we are fundamentally wrong to view the events in Iraq since more or less the 1960s as a series of actions that are motivated solely by the desire of one religious group to dominate another

–We view the conflict that is evident today as a battle against terrorism that is directed at us…or some vague notion of Islamofascism; when in fact much of the violence in Iraq is in no way related to the struggle between extremist elements in Islamic countries and the US.

–I submit that we can get better results by viewing the troubles in Iraq as fundamentally an economic and political power struggle, where various groups are seeking to fill the vacuum left by the removal of the Al-Tikriti clan from power.

–Unemployment and corruption combined with a “failure of hope” for the future are our biggest enemies. A functioning economy and a Government perceived as honest wouldn’t fix all the problems in Iraq; but if we were perceived as the ones who helped Iraq get back to work, it might well keep things from getting worse-and when you’re in a hole, the first rule is to stop digging.

Our first hypothesis states that the events in Iraq are not solely related to the desire of one religious group to dominate another.

Is that correct?

Consider a few facts:

His name was not just Saddam. A more correct representation of his name would be Saddam Hussayn Al-Tikriti. Why does this matter? Because, as with many Iraqi names, the Al-Tikriti refers to the <a href=”http://en.allexperts.com/q/Arabic-1635/Definition-arabic-name.htm&#8221; mce_href=”http://en.allexperts.com/q/Arabic-1635/Definition-arabic-name.htm”>person’s tribe</a>.

Remember the “<a href=”http://www.defenselink.mil/dodcmsshare/briefingslide/84/030411-D-6570C-003.pdf&#8221; mce_href=”http://www.defenselink.mil/dodcmsshare/briefingslide/84/030411-D-6570C-003.pdf”>Playing Cards</a>”?
Look at the names…it’s Al-Tikriti all over the deck.

This fact alone tells us that a major portion of the Iraqi governing apparatus was tribally related-and when you combine this with the fact that the Baath Party was more or less a <a href=”http://www.beliefnet.com/story/123/story_12372_1.html&#8221; mce_href=”http://www.beliefnet.com/story/123/story_12372_1.html”>secular</a&gt; organization you can quickly see that Hussein’s was mostly a “capitalist” oppression, and not so much a religious one.

How did the Baath Party rule?
Not as a theocracy.

By Islamic standards, before 2003 Iraq was a middle of the road country. Women had more freedom of movement and options in public life than today. There was <a href=”http://abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200502/s1297054.htm&#8221; mce_href=”http://abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200502/s1297054.htm”>not</a&gt; a movement to establish a strict Sharia Law, nor an effort to “export Islam”.

Despite the claims of certain parties, there was no synergy between the Baath Party apparatus and Al Qaeda.

The economy was the real interest of Hussein’s-and the management of the “<a href=”http://www.iic-offp.org/documents.htm&#8221; mce_href=”http://www.iic-offp.org/documents.htm”>Oil for Food</a>” program is an indication of how entrenched the culture of distributing opportunity to your friends for a piece of the action had become.

Political oppression? Plenty of it, indeed-but I submit that oppression, and the attacks on the Kurds and Shi’a were motivated more by a desire to remain in absolute power, facing no opposition, then they were a product of religious animosity.

Evidence to support this proposition is found in the fact that both Kurdish communities in northern Iraq (who are predominantly <a href=”http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/iraq/religion-sunni.htm&#8221; mce_href=”http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/iraq/religion-sunni.htm”>Sunni</a&gt;) and Shi’a communities were attacked on orders from Hussein, who of course was Sunni.

If the attacks were solely intended to send a religious message, why were fellow Sunnis in the north targeted?

It is important to keep in mind, as we evaluate all of this, that the area from more or less the Tigris River west to the Syrian border (the historically Sunni Arab area, which includes Tikrit, Falluja, and Hadithah) is the one portion of Iraq with the <a href=”http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/security/esar/esar_bigpic.htm&#8221; mce_href=”http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/security/esar/esar_bigpic.htm”>least</a&gt; oil resources; and that at the time of the gassings of the Kurds and Shi’a both were considering nationalist movements-funded by the oil beneath their lands. This would leave the Al-Tikritis with no real source of income. (Do you know what Iraq’s biggest export is after oil? I don’t either…and that’s not good if you’re running what’s left after the Iraqis with all the oil have broken away.)

In that context, the use of gas against Hussein’s own countrymen seems more logical-he did whatever he had to do to keep control of the cash register…and he was perfectly willing to send the most brutal of messages to anyone seeking to diminish that control.

We have advanced a second proposition in this discussion: that the violence in Iraq is not primarily a function of Al Qaeda exporting “Islamofascism” to a new “central front in the War on Terror”.

Sure enough, there are facts available that support this analysis. For example, we are told that “foreign fighters” are responsible for a rather <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/15/politics/15syria.html?_r=2&pagewanted=3&oref=slogin&oref=slogin&#8221; mce_href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/15/politics/15syria.html?_r=2&pagewanted=3&oref=slogin&oref=slogin”>small proportion</a> of attacks in the country. Conversely, we are told that <a href=”http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1583636,00.html&#8221; mce_href=”http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1583636,00.html”>local combatants</a> are the parties responsible for the great majority of attacks…both against US forces, and <a href=”http://www.harpers.org/archive/2006/08/0081159&#8243; mce_href=”http://www.harpers.org/archive/2006/08/0081159″>other Iraqis</a>, as well.

That’s not surprising, if you think about it.

The most basic reality that US planners should have anticipated in 2003 is that no one really appreciates being invaded…no matter how “enlightened” the motives of the invader might seem.

The US itself is no exception. There is no question that the US Constitution is under wholesale assault by this Administration to a degree never experienced outside of a period of declared war. So try to imagine Gordon Brown announcing to Parliament that the UK feels the need for “regime change” in this country because the current Administration has become controlled by extremists and possesses “weapons of mass destruction”.

Imagine Mr. Brown announcing that British troops have landed on US shores, and will be marching on Washington…and then inviting us to “greet them as liberators”.

Despite the best intentions of the UK forces, the greeting would probably look something more like the biggest hunting season you ever saw, with militia members finally getting to use those stashed antitank rockets that are probably buried in back yards all over this country.

And so it is in Iraq.

Obviously the fact that enormous quantities of munitions were left laying around and unguarded makes it even <a href=”http://www.boston.com/news/world/articles/2007/03/23/hussein_era_arms_linked_to_fatalities/&#8221; mce_href=”http://www.boston.com/news/world/articles/2007/03/23/hussein_era_arms_linked_to_fatalities/”>easier</a&gt; to not “greet us as liberators”; and facts suggest that something like the process I’ve just described is taking place.

Of course, violence in Iraq is not just directed at the “coalition of the willing”-a major portion of the violence is between the Iraqis <a href=”http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=515_1191353222&#8243; mce_href=”http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=515_1191353222″>themselves</a&gt;.

Our third proposition addresses that violence, and suggests that majority of the violence is not predicated on religious struggle, but economic.

As we previously discussed, control of a lot of oil has suddenly changed hands, and conventional thinking might lead us to believe that this asset will be divided along sectarian lines.

The fact that the Mahdi Army, led by A<a href=”http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/001513.php&#8221; mce_href=”http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/001513.php”>l-Sadr</a&gt; is fighting the government of <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nouri_al-Maliki&#8221; mce_href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nouri_al-Maliki”>Al-Maliki</a&gt;, and that both are Shi’a…and the fact that Shi’a sects have begun to violently engage with each other in the Basra region as UK troops withdraw should tell you two things…

…it’s not all about sect, and… .

…despite what Joe Biden might think about the wisdom of such a plan, dividing the country into three parts along sectarian lines will not stop the Shi’a on Shi’a struggle; which is a major component of the troubles today, and likely to be a greater portion of the troubles in the future.

The history of Iraq, for most of those alive today, is the 35 years that the Baath Party has held power-and total control of the economy…and all that oil money, and the oppression and fighting with Iran that accompanied those years….and of course, the 12 years between the Gulf Wars when the US operated the “no-fly” zones, and led the charge for the sanctions that so affected average Iraqi’s lives, and the 5 years that have followed.

And all of a sudden, the lid of the “pressure cooker” that had suppressed all other political aspirations has been removed. The internal power struggles, and the perception that Al-Sadr represents Iraq’s Shi’a poor (and that the Iraqi Government doesn’t) have come to the front, as has Iran’s interest in a more theocratic-and Shi’a dominated-Iraq.

Al-Sadr also seems to benefit from a reputation of being <a href=”http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14245376&#8243; mce_href=”http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14245376″>less corrupt</a> than Al-Maliki’s allies in Government.

All of this said, we should realize that religious considerations are to varying degrees important to the players; and that appears to be particularly <a href=”http://www.cfr.org/publication/9930/irans_goals_in_iraq.html&#8221; mce_href=”http://www.cfr.org/publication/9930/irans_goals_in_iraq.html”>true</a&gt; in the south.

Which brings us to solutions…

Of course, before we can discuss what to do, we need to define what we are trying to do.

With all respect to Congressman Reichert and those who share his perspective, there seems little probability that the surge will develop conditions that achieve the political <a href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/07/AR2007100701448.html?hpid=topnews&#8221; mce_href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/07/AR2007100701448.html?hpid=topnews”>reconciliation</a&gt; he seeks.

To put it another way, Iraq is not gonna be a “<a href=”http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/presiden/inaug/bush.htm&#8221; mce_href=”http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/presiden/inaug/bush.htm”>thousand points of light</a>” anytime soon.

My goals are much more modest:

–Success would be to stop creating conditions that engender resentment towards the US.

–Success would be finding ways to help put Iraqis to work.

–Success would be working with institutions inside and outside of Government to improve the professionalism of Government; with the goal of reducing the perception that corruption is the normal way of doing business.

–Any success we might attain in “engaging” leaders and future leaders (religious, tribal, business, and political…who are often the same people) to whom we currently have no direct connection would be a greater victory that we have today.

Bill Richardson aptly <a href=”http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5ifE6PiWrZ8TLkhoB3gO9je9g8B5g&#8221; mce_href=”http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5ifE6PiWrZ8TLkhoB3gO9je9g8B5g”>points out</a> that when it comes to engendering resentment, the presence of US troops is making things worse, not better.

So the first thing that should be done, Congressman, is to get the troops out of the business of policing a civil war.

I suspect if we were sitting together having this conversation you would tell me that we cannot withdraw troops because of the potential for bloodshed and chaos once we leave. To which I would respond…

…we are incapable of continuing the surge past this spring. We just don’t have the troops. If the surge was required for “victory”, and we can no longer continue the surge, how are we to achieve the “more stable, self-sufficient Iraq” you were <a href=”http://www.house.gov/reichert/press06/1.10.07.2.shtml&#8221; mce_href=”http://www.house.gov/reichert/press06/1.10.07.2.shtml”>hoping for</a> in January?

…even if we had the troops to continue the surge forever, there is no political will to create the reconciliation the surge was supposed to engender. All knowledgeable observers, including <a href=”http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=2934192&#8243; mce_href=”http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=2934192″>General Petraeus</a>, agree that the only way to success of any kind is through the political process-and that, as the General says, the process needs to include our opponents as well as our friends.

…the surge does not reduce the pent up pressures that have developed between tribal and religious groups over these past 35 years, and more and more it seems evident that we are merely delaying any retribution that might occur-and losing troops to do it.

Another source of resentment: the state of the economy. As we discussed above, unemployment is the enemy, and we should more or less hire every Iraqi we can find to rebuild whatever local communities request that is reasonable.

The Defense Department has discretionary funds available for commanders, and we need to do the same thing on a much larger scale through the auspices of the State Department. Many more Provincial Reconstruction Teams resources are needed and local “Sub Teams” should be established. This will require the presence of troops for some time to come, for the purposes of security. But there’s no reason for 130,000 troops and another 150,000 or so contractors…and probably not 30,000, either.

My next idea for the Congressman will involve some looking at the neighbors for inspiration-particularly Syria and Jordan.

If we are to create a more professional governing community, we should aggressively start the process of educating those future leaders…even those who come from groups we might not today support.

Iranians and Iraqis attended US schools in the past, along with citizens from many other countries. Do these contacts matter? I would invite the Congressman to consider these words:

<blockquote>“The relationships that are formed between individuals from different countries, as part of international education programs and exchanges …foster goodwill that develops into vibrant, mutually beneficial partnerships among nations.”</blockquote>

Who said that?
Our current <a href=”http://exchanges.state.gov/education/educationusa/&#8221; mce_href=”http://exchanges.state.gov/education/educationusa/”>President</a&gt;, that’s who.

To get a sense of what impact this can have, <a href=”http://exchanges.state.gov/education/educationusa/leaders.htm&#8221; mce_href=”http://exchanges.state.gov/education/educationusa/leaders.htm”>here’s</a&gt; a list of foreign leaders who attended school in the US-and the list literally goes from Afghanistan to Zambia.

Training in the US is a good idea…but what can be accomplished locally? That’s where Jordan comes in.

The <a href=”http://www.tagcb.gju.edu.jo/Default.aspx?&lang=en&#8221; mce_href=”http://www.tagcb.gju.edu.jo/Default.aspx?&lang=en”>Talal Abu-Ghazaleh College of Business</a> in Amman, Jordan is an excellent example of what we have not yet been successful in creating in Iraq-a genuine professional school that can operate with reasonable security.

Schools like this can be created in Iraq-if we make the schools either inclusive…or we help the various groups on the ground set up schools that meet their own needs…always trying to emphasize the positive effect on Iraqi citizens from knowing how to operate and maintain the infrastructure they are building.

This needs to go both ways…until we have schools that teach Americans how to understand this part of the world, our actions are as likely to fail as they are to succeed.

The mistrust that currently exists between the US and the Iraqi communities suggests we may have to accept a limited degree of control and oversight in order to create the perception that we aren’t ramming these schools down anyone’s throats.

This is like drilling wells for African villages-you build the facilities based on what the communities and the US can arrange…but then you let the locals run the show, and you hope they like you the better for it. That process, repeated a thousand times or so, is not only cheaper than today’s combat operations…it gets better results. As a matter of fact, it’s the exact same process we are using in places as disparate as the Philippines and Angola and Somalia-and <a href=”http://www.defendamerica.mil/articles/jul2007/a071907tj3.html&#8221; mce_href=”http://www.defendamerica.mil/articles/jul2007/a071907tj3.html”>Baghram</a&gt;.

The faster the US is perceived as the country that builds things for poor people the faster we will find real National Security-because those folks will have less reason to hate us.

It sounds simplistic, but if it’s already our policy in the rest of the world…why not Iraq?

Along the same lines, we need to get credit into the local economy-and the Syrians, who are attempting to adopt a “<a href=”http://inthenameofdemocracy.org/en/node/66&#8243; mce_href=”http://inthenameofdemocracy.org/en/node/66″>social market economy</a>” model, are trying to move ahead with a brand of capitalism that both connects their economy to the larger world economy and capital flows; and does it while being empathetic with Islamic economic sensibilities.

We could learn much from an Islamist approach to economic reconstruction as we try to redevelop the economy of the next-door country.

Finally: we have to get to know the people we want to persuade them to see our point of view.

Advertisers the world over know that the first step in any communications effort is to know your target market-and if there’s one thing we don’t know enough about, it’s Iraq.

We don’t speak the language, we don’t understand the culture, and we have limited personal relationships with local leaders. To make matters worse, we transfer out our troops just as soon as they get to know the local leaders, and we replace them with a new set of troops who have to develop the relationships all over again.

This is another State Department and Intelligence Community problem, and we need to have greater Defense/State Department integration so that these relationships can be developed and nurtured over longer periods of time.

To paraphrase George Patton, why take the same real estate twice?

So Congressman Reichert, there you have it: a strategy that is far more likely to work than what the President has proposed to this point, a strategy that will stop us from digging our proverbial hole deeper, and a strategy that will, in the end, save lives-ours and theirs.

And here’s the best part-this same strategy would also go a long way towards fixing our Iran problem.

 

A Fake Consultant Exclusive: The Congressman And I Discuss “The Surge” October 9, 2007

Filed under: Dave Reichert,Iraq War,WA-08 — fakeconsultant @ 6:43 am
Tags: , ,

Every once in a while, serendipity provides a gift to those who answer its call.

But like a cat, you must be always ready; and that’s why I decided to turn around and see what was going on under the tent perched on the corner of the vacant lot this afternoon.

What was going on was that Republican Congressman Dave Reichert was giving a speech. I don’t get a chance to meet the local Congressman very often, and I said to myself: “Self…what a great chance to talk about Iraq…with a Member of Congress. You should go talk to him.”

So I did.

As it turns out, he was most gracious and more than willing to talk; and we spent about 10 minutes in a back-and-forth. As Paul Harvey would say, “the rest…of the story” is continued below.

There are a couple of reasons why I was particularly interested in talking about Iraq: one is that I have a godson now involved; but even more important is that Reichert is, in effect, the Congressman from the Stryker Brigade Combat Team, as Fort Lewis, Washington is within his district (WA-08). As you may or may not know, these troops are at “the point of the spear” as far as the “surge” is concerned, and they are taking casualties in substantial numbers.

So by now I’ve parked the car, and walked up to join the crowd of about 60. The Congressman is here today to be honored for his efforts to help the City of Snoqualmie with its redevelopment efforts; and with the requisite speechifying and handshaking of dignitaries complete, it’s time for my first question…which is basically that I don’t understand how he can continue to support the surge.

Reichert began by reminding me that he was not in office at the time of the original vote. He pointed out that members of both parties felt that there was a reason for the invasion.

Interestingly, he then commented on the fact that hindsight is 20/20…but he told me that if he knew then what he knows today, he would have still voted to invade.

He told me he had just returned from a trip to Iraq with Democratic Congressman Brian Baird, and that Baird had changed his mind as a result of the trip, and now supports remaining in the country.

Reichert recounted his trip through the market, and told me that on previous trips he could not have visited the “Red Zone”. He expressed more than once his belief that violence had been dramatically reduced, as well.

He told me that he had spoken to “hundreds” of troops on the ground, and that not a single one had expressed to him that we should get out because the war was serving no purpose.

He recalled a meeting with Jane Harmon, amongst others; and the problem with the Democratic stance on the war, as he sees it, is that the Democrats offer no alternative plan-or at least could not offer one when he confronted Harmon and the others about this issue at that meeting.

Taking a moment to offer a second question, I asked Reichert if the violence might be reduced in Baghdad these days because we are now at the end of a process of ethnic cleansing. I reminded him that Sunni and Shi’a are separated now more than ever before in the city. I pointed out that Sunni enclaves are now surrounded by blast walls, and that the Shi’a use the checkpoints as locations for targeting Sunni to be attacked if they enter Shi’a territory.

The Congressman told me I am mistaken regarding these issues. He informed me that ethnic cleansing is not an issue. In fact, he reports the local police chief he spoke with (who happens to be Shi’a-I asked), is married to a Sunni woman, and that there are no problems whatsoever. He further challenged my sources regarding this sort of information.

He also reports that Shi’a and Sunni death squads were targeting each other, but that they represent a small minority of the residents of these communities, and that this problem is nothing about which we should be concerned.

He then told me that he is the Ranking Member on the Homeland Security Committee, and as a result he has access to “Top Secret information” that flows from a source at a higher level than mine.

A most interesting moment occurred when he told me that we have to listen to the Generals to decide when to get out of Iraq. I asked him if it wasn’t actually Congress’ job to tell the Generals when to fight wars and when to end them. He said it was not. I then asked him if he believed in the concept of civilian control of the military.

He responded that he did not want me to put words in his mouth; that he was basically trying to say that we don’t want 435 more Generals micromanaging the war.

Although he spent a considerable time talking to me, at one point he looked at me and said “I can see I’m just wasting my time here…” in a reference to his inability to sway me to his point of view. Nonetheless, we continued to engage until his “handler” gently played “bad cop” and led him away.

So what did we learn?

The Congressman seeks succor in the fact that violence is reduced, he does not acknowledge that there are ethnic cleansing problems, now or in the past, and he tells us he is of the belief that we are on the right track.

What he did not like was the question of civilian control over the military. He was far more comfortable with the concept that we should not question our Generals.

What he did not mention was any element of the political situation…suggesting there is not much he wants to highlight in that regard, particularly as it relates to the problems of internal Governmental struggle and its connection to the inability to successfully “nation build”.

Ironically, on the day we were speaking, Iraq’s Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister was announcing that “there will be no reconciliation…”

The question I forgot to ask?

In an effort to improve the conditions faced by our troops back home, I have proposed that Members of Congress get their health care from VA and military facilities. I forgot to ask the Congressman how he might view such a proposal.

In any event, that’s the story for today: we meet a Member of Congress, we have a conversation, and we find that, although he was happy to spend the time, we still find ourselves very far apart on some very basic issues.

 

On Challenging Iran, Or, My Letter To Senator Murray October 3, 2007

Filed under: Iraq War,Patty Murray,Writing Congress — fakeconsultant @ 12:05 am
Tags: , ,

We are all by now aware of the Senate vote to encourage the State Department to identify a unit of the Iranian Army as a terrorist organization.

I was so amazed to discover that Washington’s Senator Patty Murray voted for the resolution that I immediately sent her an email expressing my most severe displeasure.

She was kind enogh to respond.
Today I have replied to her response.

Those two emails are the rhetorical tofu in tonight’s dinner discussion, and I invite you to pull up to the table and join us.

First, allow me to present Senator Murray’s email, which I recieved today:

Thank you for contacting me regarding U.S.-Iran relations and your concerns about possible U.S. military action in Iran . I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter.

The Iranian government’s uranium enrichment program, sponsorship of terrorism, and human rights abuse s greatly concern me. President Ahmadinejad’s statements calling for the destruction of Israel and denying the Holocaust are also alarming. Iran should play a more constructive role in the Middle East, and I support diplomatic efforts recommended by the Iraq Study Group to encourage Iran to do so.

I have recently cosponsored two bills to address Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons and support for terrorism in the Middle East. S. 970, the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, introduced in March 2007, would tighten sanctions against Iran ‘s energy sector and identify Iran ‘s Quds Force as a terrorist organization. S. 1430, the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, introduced in May 2007, would allow states and localities to divest funding from companies with more than $20 million invested in Iran ‘s energy sector. It is important to note that neither of these pieces of legislation threatens or authorizes military action against Iran .

Please know that I share your concerns about our relations with Iran and will continue to closely monitor developments in Iran and the Middle East . As the Senate addresses this and other issues, I will keep your thoughts in mind.

And below, my response, sent today:

First, thanks for taking the time to reply.

It’s much appreciated.

While I do share your concerns about the potential of future Iranian actions, the fact is those are potential actions.

Balanced against that are the realities that Mr. Ahmadinejad is relatively weak in his own country, Iran’s recent history of being potentially supportive of US interests (particularly after 9/11), our own inability to offer an effective, sustained military response, and the fact that this action makes no sense in terms of actually making the US safer.

Here’s what I mean:

Suppose we do mount a bombing raid against Iranian nuclear facilities (many of which are underground (http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/iran/2007/iran-070205-voa01.htm), and located near populated areas (http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/iran/tehran-tnrc2.htm) -the “human shield” effect), or has been suggested, that we strike at “Revolutionary Guard” targets?

it is highly unlikely that we would successfully destroy any underground facility with any tool short of tactical nuclear weapons.

Why?

Because of the simplicity of providing relatively low-tech countermeasures: specifically shock mounting critical equipment (http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/facility/images/anmcc.jpg), and providing blast valves, as seen in this (http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/facility/images/site-r.gif) diagram of the “Site R” facility with which you may already be familiar.

The more likely result of such an attempt would be to cement the relationship between Iran and North Korea and Islamist elements in Pakistan; both countries which currently possess nuclear weapons, and who have demonstrated a willingness to offer those for export. It is also highly likely that such an attack would be perceived as further proof that Iran has “arrived” as a regional power, and that the US is expanding its “war on Islam”.

Attacking “Revolutionary Guard” targets?

Again, our own ignorance will be greatly to our disadvantage. Exactly what is a Revolutionary Guard target? If, as appears to be the case, the Revolutionary Guard functions in the same way as the Peoples’ Liberation Army in China, this would mean the Guard is an economic as well as a military organization. Do we therefore attack oil facilities, and are we prepared to accept the likely Iranian response of attacks on third-country oil facilities, or the shutoff of the Iranian oil spigot, which will cause China to apply pressure on us to back off?

Will we be looking at $150 oil the next week, coupled with the public humiliation of backing down from another pointless show of force?

Or do we instead attack troop emplacements, creating martyrs and guaranteeing the absolute support of the Iranian people in any military actions against the US that might be mounted-and absolutely guaranteeing the failure of any diplomatic efforts that might be considered or under way?

Finally, we must consider the history of our own President.

There is no doubt that he either lied or was fundamentally unaware of the most critical facts about Iraq before he chose invasion.

Further, the Downing Street memos (http://www.downingstreetmemo.com/) demonstrate that Mr. Bush never intended to find a diplomatic solution before invading-and why would you believe, based on his long history of disingenuousness on a variety of issues that he intends to seek a diplomatic solution now?

Further, the history of the action in Iraq-the lack of planning and the obvious failure to consider any long-term consequences in particular-should leave you unwilling to trust this president; and your vote to designate the Guard as a terrorist group suggests both a greater willingness to trust this President than is safe, and a failure to recall his recent history of bad decisions and lack of forethought.

If all that wasn’t enough, Mr. Bush has a history of “power-reaching” that suggests he will take this vote as all the authority he needs-or he will attack Iran based on the Commander-in-Chief’s “need to respond to all those Iranian IED attacks on our troops…”

This is an absolute disaster in the making…and let’s not forget that the USS Cole was nearly sunk by basically a Zodiac boat and two suicide bombers.

The narrow spaces in which our Navy will be forced to operate will be much to our disadvantage, the Straits of Hormuz are riddled with antiship missile emplacements, and we might well lose a ship or two in a major escalation-not to mention the effect on the world economy if the Straits close to commercial oil tanker traffic.

Will we be forced to invade and hold the Straits to keep the oil flowing?

So let’s summarize: it will be exceptionally difficult to target and destroy any facility that is of significance, we will empower Iran by doing so, we do not have the understanding of Iran that we need to pull this off, and we are not well prepared for the consequences.

And if all that doesn’t scare us, this President has a track record that, to be gentle, suggests his grasp on honesty is tenuous, at best. Trusting him to do the right thing at this point seems absurd, and that was the main source of my disappointment in your vote.

Now to be fair, I generally like Patty Murray, and I was quite appreciative that she took the time to respond; but her vote proves we, as a community, have not yet succeeded in getting the message across to everyone in the House and Senate-even those we would usually think of as likely votes for our cause.

My advice…it’s not all done on these pages. A personal note to your Senator and Representatives is another way to advance the conversation; and perhaps we, as bloggers, need to put more of our attention on this most basic aspect of representative democracy.

 

On Congressional Empathy, Or, Can You Feel The War Now? September 26, 2007

In a comment on the BlueNC site to one of my postings, Icloud aptly points out that Mr. Bush does not personally suffer the consequences of this war-that is, neither his family or personal fortune are at stake here.

The same can also be said of many of the Members of Congress. Jim Webb is an example of a Member who does feel that personal connection, and the passion he brings to this issue is clearly a result of that experience.

So how might we make the Members and the President more personally engaged in the daily lives of the military community…and more empathetic to the needs of the average military family?

The purpose of today’s discussion is to offer a suggestion that would do exactly that.

We can’t force the children of Members to serve personally in the Services, but we can bring a touch of the experience home fairly easily.

All we have to do is require Members and their families to obtain their medical care exclusively at VA and military facilities, and to encourage-by shame, if need be-those families to shop at military Exchange and Commissary stores.

For those not familiar, the Services operate two chains of official stores that provide the same kinds of things you might expect in a Target store (with a similar atmosphere, although not always as large) on bases and ships worldwide.

There are items unique to the military such as uniforms that are also available, which adds an interesting fashion atmosphere to the place, but that’s another story.

One chain is operated by the Navy (the Navy Exchange Service), the other by the Army Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES).

If Members had to see families in the grocery line trying to stretch the money they have; if they saw all the single parents who don’t have partners 15 months at a time…well, that might help to transcend the polics of why something as simple as the Webb amendment makes sense.

But for real impact, we should make it our business to insist that all Members, and their families, from now on, share the same medical care that our Servicemembers and their families receive-no better, no worse.

And to take it one step further, if there are billing disputes or customer care issues related to the health care needs of the Members and their families; send those issues to the same dispute resolution apparatus that serves the military community today.

Of course we can expect the usual objections:
“It will be inconvenient…”
“We would have to mingle with ordinary citizens…”
“Our time is too valuable to be spent waiting in lines like veterans have to…”

Guess what?
That’s the idea.

If it’s inconvenient enough to irritate the Members, it should become much more convenient for the military community in very short order.

If it’s perceived by the public as another example of how Rs disrespect the troops while Ds support them, so much the better.

Now admittedly, none of this goes to the core of Iclouds original point; but by forcing every single Member to deal with this on a most personal level, it should force Congress to deal with a whole series of issues-or face the personal consequences.

How can this be accomplished?

Through the public choice of accepting the challenge, for the good of the troops-or accepting the shame of refusing.

Force Members to publicly answer the question of whether they feel they are too important to accept the same kind of care America’s troops volunteer for.

Force them to publicly admit they find the care our troops get is inadequate for their families.

Congressional Democrats-want to force the Republicans back on the defensive? Walter Reed, the issues of how Republicans take care of our troops, and the inadequate case management they receive when they return left the Rs rocking on their heels.

This is a tremendous issue for us-why not run with it and force the Rs to either agree or threaten a filibuster to fight you.

Candidates-why not now challenge the R candidates by coming out with the statement that as you run for President you will make every effort you can to devote yourself to this cause-and ask them why they won’t take a stand on what should be a bi-partisan issue?

Now I know this is an unlikely, long shot proposal, but long shots do happen.
Consider that today the Seattle Mariners are playing a game in Seattle, at Safeco Field, their own stadium-and they are the visiting team.

If that can happen, why not this?
Jim Webb, Harry Reid, John Murtha, Nancy Pelosi…whaddaya think?
Want to try a different tack?
I promise the public will support you-and it will raise public approval of Democratic Members.

Helping Servicemembers, helping vets, helping raise Congressional approval…and it’ll scare the hell out of Congressional Republicans.

What’s not to love?

 

On Tidying Up, Or, The Assembly Of Disconnected Thoughts September 13, 2007

Filed under: H.L. Mencken,Iraq War,Project on Government Secrecy,Steven Aftergood — fakeconsultant @ 11:13 am

Just as you have unfinished work piling up on your desk; stories pile up on mine that deserve discussion. Each of today’s stories would not in and of itself make a complete day’s work, so instead I’ll lay out on the table a late summer buffet, if you will, of conversational morsels that together will hopefully present a more complete “meal”.

First, to my friends in the Democratic leadership: I have again and again watched Democrats snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Presidential elections by being too cautious. In the discussion this week of the “Petraeus” Report I see the start of the same process.

So let’s head it off right now.

“Now there’s another thing I want you to remember. I don’t want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We’re not holding anything. Let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly and we’re not interested in holding onto anything — except the enemy. We’re going to hold onto him by the nose, and we’re gonna kick him in the ass. We’re gonna kick the hell out of him all the time, and we’re gonna go through him like crap through a goose!”
–George C. Scott as General George S. Patton.

More than 55% of Americans, by the Wall Street Journal’s count, even after this giant “product placement” we saw this week, believe this war cannot be won. Last week, that number was 62%. If history repeats itself that number will go back up as our perceived probability of “winning” goes back down.

You will not chase off any likely D voter by beating this point to death every chance you get. Most of the “purple” voters are leaning this way as well, if the numbers are correct.

There is nothing to be gained by being cautious.
There is nothing to be gained by worrying that voters might be turned off by our aggression.
There is everything to be gained by proving to the voters we are the real patriots.

Of course, our R friends have made a huge effort to muddy the rhetorical waters of Anbar Province; and that confuses the average voter enough to provide a bit of cover.

So that means you have to present a simple message that tells simple truths to parents and other voters who are scared of what the Rs might yet do and having trouble seeing through the mud.
Here’s one:

“This Commander-in Chief lied and sent your kids to a war that can’t be won. When he did that, he broke the Army, the Marines, and Iraq. Now we have to end the war.”

Nice and simple.
Already understood by more or less 60% of the voters.
True-and becoming more so every day.

Moving on:

We are constantly guilty of being quick to criticize and slow to compliment. To break that trend, let’s begin today be presenting my First Irregularly Timed Unnoticed Hero award to Steven Aftergood, and by extension the fine folks at the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy website.

For bloggers the gold vein is found in the “Congressional Research Service Documents” link. You pay for the data, Aftergood and his team engages in a daily struggle to wrest it from a reluctant Government.

Enemy Combatant Detainees: Habeas Corpus Challenges in Federal Court”, “Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons”, and “Congress’s Contempt Power: Law, History, Practice, and Procedure” are but a few examples of the tremendous breadth of material that can be found there.

These are reports that are written for “Congressional customers”, which means you are seeing the same reports your Member of Congress sees.

Last topic for today:

H.L. Mencken was associated with the Baltimore Sun from 1906 until 1948. If he were alive today he would undoubtedly be blogging; and in fact we are constantly quoting his famous Sun article of July 1920 “Bayard vs Lionheart”:

“As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

There is however, a better quote. In the final selection from today’s buffet, allow me to offer these paragraphs from that most excellent column of so long ago-that rings as true as if it had been written for this election cycle.

To set the stage, Mencken was discussing his frustration with candidates for President that to him appeared to be on the on the one hand stupid, and on the other hand, smart, cunning, and untrustworthy:

“But it is one thing to yield to virtuous indignation against such individuals and quite another thing to devise any practicable scheme for booting them out of the synagogue. The weakness of those of us who take a gaudy satisfaction in our ideas, and battle for them violently, and face punishment for them willingly and even proudly, is that we forget the primary business of the man in politics, which is the snatching and safeguarding of his job. That business, it must be plain, concerns itself only occasionally with the defense and propagation of ideas, and even then it must confine itself to those that, to a reflective man, must usually appear to be insane. The first and last aim of the politician is to get votes, and the safest of all ways to get votes is to appear to the plain man to be a plain man like himself, which is to say, to appear to him to be happily free from any heretical treason to the body of accepted platitudes-to be filled to the brim with the flabby, banal, childish notions that challenge no prejudice and lay no burden of examination upon the mind.

It is not often, in these later days of the democratic enlightenment, that positive merit lands a man in elective office in the United States; much more often it is a negative merit that gets him there. That negative merit is simply disvulnerability. Of the two candidates, that one wins who least arouses the suspicions and distrusts of the great masses of simple men. Well, what are more likely to arouse those suspicions and distrusts than ideas, convictions, principles? The plain people are not hostile to shysterism, save it be gross and unsuccessful. They admire a Roosevelt for his bold stratagems and duplicities, his sacrifice of faith and principle to the main chance, his magnificent disdain of fairness and honor. But they shy instantly and inevitably from the man who comes before them with notions that they cannot immediately translate into terms of their everyday delusions; they fear the novel idea, and particularly the revolutionary idea, as they fear the devil. When Roosevelt, losing hold upon his cunning at last, embraced the vast hodgepodge of innovations, some idiotic but some sound enough, that went by the name of Progressivism, they jumped from under him in trembling, and he came down with a thump that left him on his back until death delivered him from all hope and caring.”

The desk being clear enough for today; and there being no way I can top Mencken, let’s call it a job done. We have a couple stories under research, and over the next few days one of those should be up in this space as well.