President Bush has been widely reported as referring to yesterday's shoe-throwing incident as the kind of thing that happens in a free society. It's not clear whether the President was referring to the act of the shoes being thrown, the thrower being promptly beaten to a pulp by local security, having him held without charges in the Prime Minister's residence, or the potential two-year jail term that goes along with the crime of "insulting a visiting head of state."
Archive for the 'War and Peace' category
Sometimes the only thing that separates comedy from tragedy is the involvement of an actual living human being.
That certainly seems to be the case where today's military commission verdict in the trial of Salim Hamdan. Despite having the advantages of what we must, for the lack of a better word, call a legal system that was set up to give the prosecution the edge, despite the admission of hearsay evidence, despite the use of material taken from interviews that didn't come within a light year of the Miranda guidelines, and despite the use of secret prosecution testimony, the prosecution was unable to secure a conviction on the charges that Hamdan conspired to commit terrorist attacks.
He was, however, convicted on charges of providing material support (his services) to a terrorist organization. That part of the verdict is hardly a surprise, given that Hamdan admitted to being Bin Laden's driver.
Now you might think, as the White House apparently did, that anyone capable of driving Bin Laden's car must be a criminal mastermind, capable of planning devious attacks on unsuspecting civilian targets. Or, if you are less well grounded in the ideologically driven world, you might wonder if Bin Laden really needed much more in a driver than someone capable of understanding how and when to use the pedals, gear shift, and steering wheel. The question, of course, is how to tell which possibility actually fits Hamdan.
It's easy to think of Lincoln as being a left-wing sort of guy, what with that whole emancipation thing, but it's sometimes worth remembering that he was also a wartime Republican President. With that - and current events - in mind, here's something from a letter Lincoln wrote to a friend of his while he was a Congressman. The letter details the reasons for his opposition to the Mexican-American war:
Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, -- "I see no probability of the British invading us"; but he will say to you, "Be silent: I see it, if you don't."
The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.
Terrifyingly prophetic, isn't it.
It's safe to say that 2007 wasn't the best year of US Army 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside's life. She started off the year with a bullet wound to her torso that damaged, among other things, one lung, her liver, and her spleen. She ended her year as an outpatient at Walter Reed, waiting for her superiors to decide whether or not she would have to stand court-martial for inflicting that wound upon herself. In between, she had to recover from her physical wounds, learn to deal with the inner demons that led to them, she had to deal with superior officers who believed that she would be more appropriately handled as a criminal than a patient, and cope with a system that constantly threatened soldiers with mental illness with discharge and no benefits. It's not entirely clear that 2008 is going to be a better year for her. On Tuesday, the Army announced that they were dropping all charges against her. At the time of that announcement, she was in intensive care, recovering from a second failed attempt to take her own life.
In the note that she wrote before swallowing whatever pills she had around her, she said that she was "very disappointed in the Army". It's hard to find any reason for her not to be disappointed. The Army's treatment of her has been absolutely abysmal. Unfortunately, the same can be said for many other soldiers and veterans. Although the Army has been working to improve mental health care, the system is not where it needs to be, and faces no shortage of hurdles along the way.
According to the December 2, 2007 Washington Post article that first presented Lt. Whiteside's case to the public, there were a number of things that happened in Iraq that may have contributed to her mental illness and suicide attempt. I'm not going attempt to discuss that, or, for that matter, the exact actions she took in Iraq that her commanders at Walter Reed felt were so egregious as to warrant criminal prosecution. No matter what happened in Iraq, the things that happened when she returned to Walter Reed very clearly demonstrate some of the problems that the Army is having when it comes to handling mental health issues.
The problem that Lt. Whiteside's case illustrates most clearly involves the attitude that too many career combat arms officers have toward soldiers with mental health issues: they're an excuse, not an illness.
In all of the fuss about the imminent confirmation of a man who says he can't judge whether or not strapping someone down and pouring water over them until they think they're drowning is torture, there's an important question that I think we've lost sight of: how on earth did we wind up in this position in the first place?
How is it even possible that we are having discussions about what is and is not technically torture? How is it possible that we are listening to Senators ask a nominee for Attorney General to take a position on whether or not certain "interrogation techniques" are torture in the first place, and how is it possible that anyone, much less the person who nominated him, thinks that it is OK for the nominee to dodge those questions. How the hell did we get to a spot where we find ourselves (understandably) skeptical of the President when he firmly declares that the United States does not torture?
More importantly, how do we get out of here?
President Bush announced today that he has (finally) named a nominee to replace Jim Nicholson as head of the Veterans administration. His choice, retired Lt. General James Peake, is probably one of the more qualified people that this President has ever nominated to do anything. That's the good news. The bad news is that's not a very high bar to clear.
Seriously, though, Peake certainly has the qualifications to run the VA. He's a West Pointer, he is a combat veteran who served in the infantry and was wounded twice in Vietnam, he's a medical doctor, and he was the Surgeon General of the United States Army. As a nominee for VA Secretary, he's an absolute slam dunk. Or would be, anyway, if it wasn't for one very small problem: his old address.
From 2000 until 2004, while serving as Surgeon General of the Army, LTG Peake lived in a very, very nice house - the Washington Post has a picture - located on the picturesque grounds of Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The house sits across the street from the now-infamous building 18, and it sits directly next to the quarters of the hospital commander. During his time in residence there, General Peake managed to remain blissfully ignorant of the disastrous bungling of outpatient care that was taking place under the command of his next-door neighbor and subordinate, and literally at his doorstep.
It's certainly not fair to lay all - or most - of the blame for the problems at Walter Reed at General Peake's feet. The problems at that hospital did not take place under his direct command, and they certainly didn't end when he left. It certainly is fair to wonder whether that one factor should outweigh the balance of his outstanding career.
But it's also fair to wonder this: if he could not spot poor medical care being given to wounded veterans when it was happening in his front yard, how good a job can we expect him to do when it comes to spotting the same thing from farther away?
I am certainly no fan of the Iraq war, but I found it difficult to read the media reports about retired Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez's recent comments on the war without getting angry. Reading the full text of his remarks took me from anger to outrage. As good as it is to hear an unvarnished, blunt assessment of the situation from someone who, as a former commander of the forces in Iraq, is very familiar with what happens there, I'm left wondering where the hell he was before he gave his little talk.
Let's look at some of what the little pissant had to say:
Since 2003, the politics of war have been characterized by partisanship as the Republican and Democratic parties struggled for power in Washington. National efforts to date have been corrupted by partisan politics that have prevented us from devising effective, executable, supportable solutions. At times, these partisan struggles have led to political decisions that endangered the lives of our sons and daughters on the battlefield. The unmistakable message was that political power had greater priority than our national security objectives. Overcoming this strategic failure is the first step toward achieving victory in Iraq - without bipartisan cooperation we are doomed to fail. There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope.
Partisan politics, according to Sanchez, have been endangering the lives of the troops since 2003. It's 2007. Why the hell didn't the man speak up before now? Where the hell has he been for the last several years? I'll tell you where: from the time he left Iraq in 2004 until he retired late last year, he was in Germany, sitting on his worthless ass behind the desk of V Corps - rear, sulking about Abu Ghraib having denied him the opportunity to get that fourth star that he believed was rightfully his. He sat on his ass in a dead-end job for two whole years, hoping that Abu Ghraib would go away and he would get that fourth shiny star, remaining silent about problems in Washington that he now says were endangering the lives of troops on the battlefield.
It's doubtful, of course, that one more voice of reason - even a voice as authoritative as his - would have kept the White House from pursuing the war. But at least he could have tried, instead of sitting there selfishly waiting for the promotion that never came.
A little after 7 am on 27 November, 2004, Lt. Colonel Michael McMahon and Chief Warrant Officer Travis Grogan boarded a small twin-engine airplane in Bagram, Afghanistan. The plane, which also had a cargo of 400 pounds of mortar illumination rounds, was operated by Presidential Airways, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Blackwater USA. Grogan was an experienced pilot assigned to the 3rd Squadron of the 4th Cavalry Regiment (the 3/4 Cav). McMahon was the 3/4ths commanding officer. At around 7:30, the plane stopped on the taxiway and a third passenger, 21-year old Specialist Harley Miller (also assigned to the 3/4 Cav), boarded the flight. The plane then departed Bagram for Farah, where the 3/4th was based.
Prior to takeoff, the crew informed the tower that they'd be taking off and heading to the south, flying at an altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level. Immediately after takeoff, however, the plane turned to the northwest. The flight left radar coverage shortly thereafter, still traveling on a heading other than the one that they had announced. The flight never arrived in Farah. Approximately 45 minutes into the flight, the airplane hit the side of a mountain at an altitude of approximately 14,650 feet above sea level. Five of the six people on board apparently died on impact. The sixth passenger, SPC Miller, survived the impact. He stepped outside the wreckage at least twice, unrolled a sleeping bag, and smoked a last cigarette or two before finally dying, alone on the mountainside in the wreckage while search parties scoured the wrong valley, at least ten hours after the crash as a result of a combination of his injuries, hypoxia, and hypothermia.
The transcript taken from the voice recorder gives some indication of why this crash might have happened.
According to the LA Times, the family of an Iraqi guard killed by a Blackwater employee on Christmas Eve has not yet received any compensation for the man's death. The reason? The office of Iraq's Vice President, which employed the dead guard, doesn't think that Blackwater is offering enough compensation. They're right.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the incident, here's a quick review: off-duty and apparently intoxicated Blackwater employee gets into "confrontation" with on-duty security guard for Iraq's vice president. Blackwater employee shoots guard 3 times, killing him. Blackwater employee then flees to a security post manned by another "contractor." He tells them that he's being chased by Iraqis who were shooting at him, but is so obviously drunk that the other guards confiscate his weapon. He's fired for being drunk and in possession of a firearm, and is on his way home within 36 hours. Within 8 weeks, he's been hired by another "contractor" and is working for the US government in Kuwait.
Every time I read articles (like this one, this one, this one or this one) that talk about how the Democrats are having problems getting the 60 votes in the Senate that they need to move Iraq legislation forward, or how they won't be able to get the 2/3rds of both houses that they need to beat a veto, I get angrier. And not with the Republicans who are standing in the way.
The Democrats don't need more than a majority. The President can't spend money unless Congress lets him spend money. If Congress passes a spending bill and he vetoes it, he can't spend money. If Congress fails to pass a spending bill at all, he can't spend money. All the Democrats need to do is stand their ground and refuse to pass any spending bill that doesn't require a firm timetable. That's all that they need to do.
The problem that we've got isn't overcoming Republican resistance. It's the spine of the Democratic leadership. They don't have one. They don't even have shells. I'd call them jellyfish, but even jellyfish can inflict a painful sting. No, we're talking sea cucumbers here - they've got no hard support, and if you stress one too much it reacts by expelling its internal organs all over you.
We've got to stop letting them slide. They're in the majority now, and that means that they shouldn't be able to get off the hook by claiming to be impotent in the face of the big bad Republicans. They've got the support of the public. They need to act like it if they want to retain it.