Looking Backward in the Year 2011

by matttbastard

Der Spiegel runs down W’s “tragic legacy” in the long, long, looooong decade of U.S. decline that followed 9/11:

America was trapped in Iraq for years, where a victory was a long time coming and was never a real one. It is currently trapped in Afghanistan, where victory no longer even seems possible. And it is trapped in an embrace with his its ally Pakistan, which it does not trust and yet cannot release.

These are costly defeats for America and the rest of the world. According to a conservative estimate of Brown University, there have been almost 140,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. The massive retaliation cost more than $3 trillion (€2.2 trillion) — dollars that would have been better used in America’s schools or in the wallets of US citizens.

For a short time after the attacks, the country seemed united. Americans embraced each other. Even the cold city of New York suddenly seemed warm. But instead of cultivating public spirit, President Bush sought to find a pretext — any pretext — to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. This is his most tragic legacy, the fact that America can no longer even mourn its victims properly — because Americans have long been not just victims, but also perpetrators.

Hey, at least Chimpy managed to pull things together after 2006, making his “one of the more successful [presidencies] in U.S. history” [sic].

[Insert pregnant pause/needle scratch here.]

Ahem, yes, well, as they say, read the whole damn thing — and pray that abumuqawama only temporarily took leave of his senses (wait — he’s one of those CNAS Pollyanas who still think COIN  is somehow going to Underpants Gnome a NATO victory in Afghanistan; all hope = lost.)

(Image: smiteme, Flickr)

Nothing’s Shocking

by matttbastard

Hey, remember the Scott Beauchamp teapot tempest? Well, reality (what with its inherent liberal bias) has provided an ironic (if tragic) coda to the tedious saga of manufactured wingnut outrage:

A senior enlisted Army soldier was convicted on Wednesday of killing four handcuffed and blindfolded Iraqi men with pistol shots to the backs of their heads shortly after arresting them in Baghdad two years ago, The Associated Press reported.

A military jury in Germany, where his unit is deployed, found the soldier, Master Sgt. John E. Hatley, guilty of premeditated murder in the deaths of the men, whom he and several other members of his unit had detained after a firefight with insurgents in Baghdad in spring 2007, according to testimony in the case.

Who is Master Sgt. John E. Hatley? Attaturk has the 411:

If you cannot place the name, Master Sgt. Hatley was the direct superior of Pvt. Scott Beauchamp and the person most used to discredit (along with the gay porn star) the New Republic diary of the life of a soldier in Iraq and the ways they dealt with the pressures of Operation Clusterfuck.

Stars and Stripes gives more details of what the NCO who, in a moment of bold understatement, claimed to be “no angel” did to earn his conviction:

Capt. John Riesenberg, assistant government trial counsel, told the jury that their sentence should be aimed at stopping other first sergeants and soldiers from doing what the Company A soldiers did.

“Send a message to the world that this is an army that recognizes that it is different, that American soldiers just don’t do this. They don’t execute detainees in the middle of the night by shooting them in the back of the head when they are bound and blindfolded and dump their bodies in a canal,” he said.

The killings occurred in March or April of 2007.

It was Hatley’s idea to kill the detainees, Riesenberg said.

A first sergeant in the U.S. Army came up with the idea to commit a brutal execution-style murder of detainees and he did it with his own men. He failed them, the Army, the Iraqi people and the American war effort,” Riesenberg said.

Except some American soldiers quite obviously do “execute detainees in the middle of the night by shooting them in the back of the head when they are bound and blindfolded and dump their bodies in a canal,” along with many other casual atrocities that get swept into the dustbin of history; such uncomfortable facts may not fit with the illusory narrative of duty, honour and exceptional virtue, but they DO occur, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

Yeah, well, wevs–at least there still isn’t concrete proof that they ran over any dogs.

As John Cole acidly notes, “That isn’t SOP.”

Related: More things that soldiers “just don’t do”: Heather Benedict on how women serving on the frontlines face the threat of sexual violence–from their fellow troops.

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‘I think so.’

by matttbastard

Again with the 'Saddam = Bin Laden's BFF' bullshit, Dick? Sigh...

No, Mr. Vice-President, I think not.

Really.

(Full Newshour interview transcript here. Make sure to have a bottle of Tums and a couple of Valium’s handy–it makes for a simulateously nauseating and infuriating read.  5 more days…)

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Beltway Inertia and the Rule of Law

by matttbastard

In a must-read post today, Glenn Greenwald challenges Ruth Marcus and the establishment Washington consensus, in which the pursuit of war crimes charges against soon-to-be-former Bush officials is arbitrarily dismissed as either too polarizing, too partisan, or just too goddamn difficult to successfully prosecute, and thus should be preemptively abandoned.  Greenwald explains why this virtually ensures the perpetuation of an unlawful historical feedback loop:

Along with the desire for just retribution, one of the two principal reasons we impose penalties for violations of the criminal law is deterrence — to provide an incentive for potential lawbreakers to refrain from breaking our laws, rather than deciding that it is beneficial to do so. Though there is debate about how best to accomplish it and how effective it ultimately is, deterrence of future crimes has been, and remains, a core purpose of the criminal law. That is about as basic as it gets. From Paul Robinson, University of Pennsylvania Law Professor, and John Darley, Psychology Professor at Princeton, in “The Role of Deterrence in the Criminal Law“:

For the past several decades, the deterrence of crime has been a centerpiece of criminal law reform. Law-givers have sought to optimize the control of crime by devising a penalty-setting system that assigns criminal punishments of a magnitude sufficient to deter a thinking individual from committing a crime.

Punishment for lawbreaking is precisely how we try to ensure that crimes “never happen again.” If instead — as Marcus and so many other urge — we hold political leaders harmless when they break the law, if we exempt them from punishment under the criminal law, then what possible reason would they have from refraining from breaking the law in the future? A principal reason for imposing punishment on lawbreakers is exactly what Marcus says she wants to achieve: “ensuring that these mistakes are not repeated.” By telling political leaders that they will not be punished when they break the law, the exact opposite outcome is achieved: ensuring that this conduct will be repeated.

[...]

Every time we immunize political leaders from the consequences of their crimes, it’s manipulatively justified in the name of “ensuring that it never happens again.”  And every time, we do exactly the opposite:  we make sure it will happen again.  And it does:  Richard Nixon is pardoned.  J. Edgar Hoover’s lawbreakers are protected.  The Iran-contra criminals are set free and put back into government.  Lewis Libby is spared having to serve even a single day in prison despite multiple felony convictions.  And now it’s time to immunize even those who tortured detainees and spied on Americans in violation of numerous treaties, domestic laws, and the most basic precepts of civilized Western justice.

One would hope to see those individuals who have been granted a national platform that allows them to have a measurable impact on the tone of discourse in Washington be responsible and advocate on behalf of the rule of law. Instead, they collectively sigh, texturally furrow their brows over how hard it is to do the right thing, before finally settling for the cold, easy comfort of doing nothing (shades of grey, children. Shades. Of. Grey.) In an article published yesterday by McClatchy Newspapers, Marisa Taylor starkly lays out the logical consequence of elite apathy towards defending the rule of law:

Without wider support, the campaign to haul top administration officials before an American court is likely to stall.

What this says to the nation, and the world, about the US and its lack of commitment to justice, human rights, and the rule of law is nothing short of staggering.  As Loyola war law expert David Glazier put it,

It is mind boggling to say eight years later that there is not going to be some sort of criminal accountability for what happened… . It certainly undermines our moral authority and our ability to criticize other countries for doing exactly the same thing. But given the legal issues and the political reality, I am hard pressed to see any other outcome.

And because our gatekeepers of ‘reasonable’, ‘serious’ discourse can’t begin to envision any viable course of action other than forgive and (try our goddamndest to) forget, all of this–state-sanctioned torture and rendition, unlawful domestic surveillance, an unnecessary war in Iraq that, thus far, has killed well over a million people–has, in effect, been green-lighted twice.  First, by Bush, Cheney and the rest of those who felt that burning the Constitution was the only way to save it. Then, retroactively, by those in the Beltway press corps, elite Washington society and–most egregiously–the incoming Democratic administration, all of whom would apparently rather practice their statesman-like ostrich pose than risk disrupting the inertial ebb and flow of their delicate political ecosystem.

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A Size Ten Farewell Kiss to Dubya–Love, Iraq

by matttbastard

Maybe next time 43 will grant follow up questions to members of the local press.

Oh, wait…

(h/t Liza Sabater via Tweet)

Update: More from McClatchy on the man who hurled teh shoes at teh (outgoing) prez, Muthathar al Zaidi:

Zaidi works for an Iraqi satellite television station based in Cairo. Friends said he covered the U.S. bombing of Baghdad’s Sadr City area earlier this year and had been “emotionally influenced” by the destruction he’d seen. They also said he’d been kidnapped in 2007 and held for three days by Shiite Muslim gunmen.

h/t Think Progress

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Got Somethin’ Stickin’ In My Eye

by matttbastard

The Washington Post reports today that (forcedly) retired General Eric Shinseki has been tapped by President-elect Obama to lead Veterans Affairs:

Shinseki, a 38-year veteran, is best known for his four years as Army chief of staff, and in particular his response to congressional questioning in February 2003 about troop levels necessary to protect a presumed military victory in Iraq.

Shinseki told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” could be necessary, an assessment that was at odds with the announced determination of Pentagon leaders.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reacted by telling reporters that Shinseki’s estimate “will prove to be high,” and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz called the assessment “way off the mark.”

Three years later, Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command and the chief architect of U.S. military strategy in Iraq, told the same Senate committee, “General Shinseki was right.”

James Fallows calls the pick “karmic justice”, while Booman says that after frustrating Democratic partisans with his conciliatory gestures to the outgoing presidency, “Obama has finally delivered a finger-in-the-eye moment to the Bush administration.”  Regardless, Shinseki is an excellent choice.  As Jonathan Singer puts it:

If Shinseki brings the type of focus and willingness to speak truth to power to the Veterans Affairs that he did to the military, he is going to make a real positive difference in the lives of those who greatly deserve better treatment from our government and be a very solid addition to Barack Obama’s cabinet.

Indeed.  Plus, it’s nice to finally see someone in Washington getting rewarded for being, um, right about something–especially after getting forced out of his position as Army chief of staff for choosing integrity over short-term self interest.  And, as Fallows (who wrote about Shinseki extensively for both the article and subsequent book Blind into Baghdad) reveals, “[d]espite being unfairly treated, despite being 100% vindicated by subsequent events, Shinseki kept his grievances entirely to himself.”

A finger in the eye?

Maybe.

Karmic justice?

You betcha.

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