Tuesday, December 21, 2004

25th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

As the 25th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan approaches, here’s a report by BBC by victims, soldiers & others who were part of the war: V Grigoryev Soviet interpreter: "Forgive us but soldiers everywhere know what the military oath means"; Jason Elliot British mujahid: "There would be blissful days of peace, then suddenly people got killed"; Karl Paks Soviet sapper: "We spent half the time laying mines and the other half clearing them" ; Gelalei Habib Afghan teacher: "If all the Afghan women removed their veils maybe I could find my sister?" ; N Akhadova Soviet mother: "Allah gave me a son and Allah took him away. I still grieve for him" ; SomayaAfghan refugee: "If we returned, we would have to go through everything all over again" ; S Tursunova Soviet nurse: "Even the soldiers with the most terrible injuries were happy to be alive" ; Omar Nessar Afghan editor: "I think many first reacted to the invasion positively or neutrally" .

A new FBI investigation reports “abuse” of Iraqi detainees in Guantanamo Bay – one, I don’t call it abuse, it’s torture. Secondly, if Bush says again that this is a case of a “few bad apples,” and not a systemic problem, he’s dumber than I thought. Proponents of torture or harsh tactics on detainees say that the information obtained from them is crucial to thwart other terrorist activities and save lives (“ticking bomb” theory). However, many scholars say that these techniques are counter productive because the detainee will say anything to stop the suffering providing false intelligence.

From NY Times: “B.I. memorandums portray abuse of prisoners by American military personnel in Iraq that included detainees' being beaten and choked and having lit cigarettes placed in their ears, according to newly released government documents. The documents, released Monday in connection with a lawsuit accusing the government of being complicit in torture, also include accounts by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who said they had seen detainees in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, being chained in uncomfortable positions for up to 24 hours and left to urinate and defecate on themselves. An agent wrote that in one case a detainee who was nearly unconscious had pulled out much of his hair during the night…The memorandum did not make clear whether the witness was an agent or an informant, and it said there had also been an effort to cover up the abuses. The writer of the memorandum said Mr. Mueller should be aware of what was occurring because "of potential significant public, media and Congressional interest which may generate calls to the director." The document does not provide further details of the abuse, but suggests that such treatment of prisoners in Iraq was the subject of an investigation conducted by the bureau's Sacramento office. Beyond providing new details about the nature and extent of abuses, if not the exact times or places, the newly disclosed documents are the latest to show that such activities were known to a wide circle of government officials. The documents, mostly memorandums written by agents to superiors in Washington over the past year, also include claims that some military interrogators had posed as F.B.I. officials while using harsh tactics on detainees, both in Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay.”

On the issue from the Washington Post: “At the Pentagon, Air Force Maj. Michael Shavers, a military spokesman, said the Defense Department would have no comment about the FBI records or the administration guidelines that were the subject of complaints by agents. Earlier this year, White House documents and legal memos outlined the administration's legal view that enemy combatants were not strictly prisoners of war, and that therefore the Geneva Convention might not always apply in the post-Sept. 11 war against terrorism. Iraqi detainees always have been considered POWs. Nevertheless Jameel Jaffer, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, maintained that "the methods that the Defense Department had adopted were illegal, immoral and counterproductive." He added that the ACLU, which has been obtaining detention records under a lawsuit it filed against the federal government, finds it "astonishing that these methods appear to have been adopted as a matter of policy by the highest levels of government." In many of the records released Monday, FBI officials expressed repulsion upon learning that military interrogators posed as FBI agents in their interviews with prisoners. They said they had learned the "ruse" was approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and that it had an adverse effect on obtaining "cooperation" from prisoners. In one instance, an FBI official told his superiors in a December 2003 e-mail that impersonation "tactics have produced no intelligence." The official added that these techniques actually "have destroyed any chance of prosecuting this detainee." The FBI official added: "If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, [Defense Department] interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done [by] the 'FBI' interrogators. The FBI will be left holding the bag before the public."

To add to the chaos, Bush admitted that Iraqis Aren't Yet Able to Quell Rebels: “President Bush acknowledged Monday that the United States had achieved only "mixed" success in training Iraqi troops to secure the country, and said that it was "unacceptable" that some Iraqi units had fled as soon as they faced hostile fire. With the first elections in Iraq six weeks away, Mr. Bush's public criticism of how the Iraqis had performed reflected mounting concern, voiced from the White House, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill, that the strategy for training 125,000 Iraqi forces to secure the country is failing…Several other Republicans, and many Democrats, have been highly critical of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for his conduct of the war and how he dealt with questions from soldiers two weeks ago about the absence of effective armor to protect them from improvised explosives. But Mr. Bush used his news conference to express confidence in his secretary of defense. "I know Secretary Rumsfeld's heart," Mr. Bush said. "Beneath that rough and gruff, no-nonsense demeanor is a good human being who cares deeply about the military and deeply about the grief that war causes." …Taken together, Mr. Bush's comments amounted to his broadest acknowledgement yet that rebuilding Iraq's security forces, a central task in remaking Iraq, had run into severe difficulties - problems he resisted discussing during his re-election campaign. The numbers alone released by the administration tell a story of a training program that has slowed to a halt. The State Department's weekly assessment of Iraqi security forces shows that the number of newly trained troops has stayed level since early November at about 114,000, and that more of those troops are being channeled to the police, to try to restore order to the streets of major cities. Administration officials acknowledged that it was a measure of how bad things had become that an assassin photographed while killing three election workers on Sunday on a street in Baghdad did not even feel the need to cover his face.

Also from the BBC News: “In a statement to the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes, Mr Rumsfeld admitted that in the past he had not personally signed the letters of condolence…Several families of US soldiers killed overseas said that the machine-signed letters reflected a lack of respect for their losses…The row has led to fresh debates among lawmakers over whether Mr Rumsfeld - whose handling of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath have come under close scrutiny - should step down.” I don’t know how I feel about this one; although I’m no fan of Rummy’s, I can understand why he uses the automatic pen, but then again, I haven’t lost a loved one in war...

While the Washington Post is reporting that 56 percent of respondents in a survey say Iraq War was a mistake, with a majority saying that Rumsfeld should resign; it looks like Lynne Cheney (Dick Cheney’s wife, and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute - the author of "When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots’) is trying to counter that sentiment. From a NY Times editorial that she authored: “AS 1776 was drawing to a close, Elkanah Watson, a young man in Massachusetts, expressed what many Americans feared about their war for independence. "We looked upon the contest as near its close," he wrote, "and considered ourselves a vanquished people." …In these desperate circumstances, George Washington made a stunning decision: to go back across the Delaware and launch a surprise attack on the Hessian mercenaries occupying Trenton…Twice in 10 days Washington and his ragtag army had defeated the greatest military power in the world, and their victories lifted the spirits of patriots everywhere. True, the years ahead would be hard - Christmas 1777 would find Washington and his men at Valley Forge. But because of the 10-day campaign that began on Christmas 1776, Americans could now think of winning their war for independence. They could imagine that their great struggle would have a glorious end.”

For all you environmentalists out there, here’s a report from the Christian Science Monitor on the future of Kyoto: “Even before it officially takes effect on Feb. 16, the Kyoto agreement to curb greenhouse gases is leaking air…Last week, most of the world's nations met in Argentina to assess what the treaty might be able to achieve by its expiration in 2012. Many nations are faltering in their commitment to rein in industrial carbon-dioxide pollution since it's possible such steps will limit economic growth…If only the US, as the world's biggest CO2 polluter, had been in the treaty, the other developed nations might feel better about imposing restraints on their industries. That's why the other purpose of last week's meeting was so important. European diplomats bent over backward to find a new consensus for a post-Kyoto effort that would include the US. But not much happened. The meeting ended with a weak proposal for an international "seminar" in May for nations to "exchange information" on their ideas about the unusual weather many are experiencing. With the reelection of President Bush, the US position will probably remain the same for the next four years: It will not make economic sacrifices to limit CO2 emissions, but it's making a big technological push to do so. Many experts doubt if new cleansing technologies will make a dent soon in climate shifts. But they also doubt whether even extending Kyoto would do much.”