The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
The gray zone
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, May 15, 2004

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld's decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America's prospects in the war on terror.

According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon's operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld's long-standing desire to wrest control of America's clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.

Rumsfeld, during appearances last week before Congress to testify about Abu Ghraib, was precluded by law from explicitly mentioning highly secret matters in an unclassified session. But he conveyed the message that he was telling the public all that he knew about the story. He said, "Any suggestion that there is not a full, deep awareness of what has happened, and the damage it has done, I think, would be a misunderstanding." The senior C.I.A. official, asked about Rumsfeld's testimony and that of Stephen Cambone, his Under-Secretary for Intelligence, said, "Some people think you can bullshit anyone." [complete article]

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America adrift in Iraq
Editorial, New York Times, May 15, 2004

Six weeks of military and political reverses seem to have left the Bush administration doing little more in Iraq than grasping at ways to make it past November's presidential election without getting American troops caught in a civil war. The lowering of the administration's expectations might be therapeutic if it produced a realistic strategy for achieving a realistic set of goals. Unfortunately, there appears to be no such strategy, only odd lurches this way and that under the pressure of day-to-day events. That pattern heightens the danger of an eventual civil war or anarchy, the two main things that American forces are ostensibly remaining in Iraq to prevent.

At times, the only unifying theme for Washington's policies seems to be desperation. American field commanders have now signed over the city of Falluja to former officers of the same Baathist army they came to Iraq to fight a little more than a year ago. The original plan of having American marines storm Falluja to avenge the mob murders of four private contractors there was not a wise idea. Handing over the town to these politically ambitious soldiers looks even more shortsighted. Subcontracting security and territory out to rival Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish warlords can only increase the risks of an eventual civil war.

In the diplomatic arena, White House aides are now beseeching the same United Nations they once belittled to rescue the transition, hoping that its special emissary, Lakhdar Brahimi, can somehow produce a plan for an interim government after June 30 that will rescue the nation-building efforts American occupation authorities have badly botched. This could be a positive development. If President Bush is now prepared to yield real authority to the U.N. over transition arrangements, for example, it may create a sense of legitimacy that Washington itself is no longer in any position to bestow. But at this point it may be beyond the U.N.'s power to convince a skeptical world that Iraq will regain any meaningful sovereignty after June 30 if the real decisions on security and reconstruction are still made by Americans. [complete article]

Comment -- What the Bush administration may eventually best be remembered for is having turned the expression "American leadership" into an oxymoron. The failure results from treating a possible relationship between power and leadership as an inherent relationship. America's role in the world clearly gives it extraordinary potential to exercise leadership, yet that potential can only be realized when united with vision and insight. Arguably, the Bush administration has at times displayed vision, yet rarely if ever, any insight. Vision without insight inevitably results in distorted perception. If America is to find its way in and out of Iraq, it needs to start making full use of the most obvious resource for rebuilding Iraq: The people of Iraq. If vision and insight cannot be found there, Iraq has no future.

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Iraqi Falluja force won't disarm guerrillas for now
By Ibon Villelabeitia, Reuters, May 14, 2004

The Iraqi general leading a force that controls Falluja said he had no plans to disarm insurgents, defying demands by U.S. commanders who appointed him and raising tension with Marines encircling the restive city.

Mohammed Latif, a former intelligence officer who now heads the Falluja Brigade, also told Reuters in an interview late on Thursday that U.S. forces should go home if they wanted peace.

"Weapons are not the problem. They are easy to collect," he said. "What we need to do is rebuild our country. There is no need for American soldiers. I am sure the Americans would be happy to go to their homes." [complete article]

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A future for Iraq's insurgents?
By Tony Karon,, May 13, 2004

Even as America reels from the aftershocks of the detainee abuse scandal the nature of a post-occupation Iraq is taking shape. With less than seven weeks to go before the June 30th handoff, its becoming clear that at least some of the insurgents will have a significant role in the new Iraq. First at Fallujah, and now at negotiations with followers Moqtada Sadr in Najaf, U.S. officials appear to have recognized that it may be difficult to prevail militarily against the insurgents without inflicting casualties and damage that would turn the civilian population even more decisively against the occupation.

Even the most pro-U.S. sections of the Iraqi population had been imploring the Coalition to avoid a frontal military assault. The cost of tactical victory could be strategic defeat. Instead, U.S. commanders decided to pursue what they called "an Iraqi solution." The Marines withdrew from their forward positions around Fallujah and handed security control to a newly-minted Iraqi unit led by some of Saddam's former generals, who were given the freedom to recruit their own troops. The result is a force that directly recruited some of the very same insurgents that had battled the Marines, and was welcomed by residents as a symbol of what they saw as their "victory" over the U.S. Of course, the arrangement required the scaling down of U.S. objectives -- there's no sign of the men responsible for the killing and dismembering four U.S. defense contractors being handed over, and although the U.S. has demanded that the new force eject foreign fighters from the town, the commanders of the new unit swear there aren't any foreign fighters in Fallujah. [complete article]

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Our moral Waterloo
By Martin Jacques, The Guardian, May 15, 2004

Underpinning the argument in support of the invasion of Iraq has been the idea of the moral virtue of the west. In contrast to Saddam Hussein's brutal dictatorship, the "coalition" espouses the values of democracy and human rights. The invasion of Iraq represented the high watermark of western moral virtue. In retrospect, it is clear that the idea had been gaining momentum since two coincidental events in the 1970s: the end of the Vietnam war, which profoundly scarred the reputation of the United States, and the beginning of the modern era of globalisation. With Vietnam out of the way, and globalisation the new bearer of western and, above all, American values, the latter found an ever-expanding global audience, a process enormously boosted by the collapse of communism.

Democracy and the market became the new western mantra, applicable to every society, wherever they might be and whatever their stage of development. Following its implosion, the former communist world, at least in Europe, gratefully embraced the new philosophy, even though in Russia it was to prove a disaster, as Roman Abramovich's monstrous, ill-gotten wealth only serves to illustrate. The process of globalisation came to be seen, during the 90s, as virtually synonymous with westernisation. There was one model of modernity - the western model - and globalisation was its natural vehicle. As East Asia has modernised at breakneck speed over the past three decades, its progress has almost invariably been interpreted as a simple process of westernisation.

After the collapse of communism, the victorious US increasingly came to see itself as the saviour of the world, and the arbiter - in extremis - of each and every nation's future. If this proposition was less explicit during the Clinton era, it became the organising principle of the Bush regime. Where nations were not prepared to bend to the American will, they were classified as "rogue states" and threatened with force. Barely had the world entered the 21st century when it found itself returning to a century earlier and the exercise of naked imperialism - all in the name, as a century earlier, of western moral virtue. [complete article]

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Turning shame into outrage
By Charles Paul Freund, Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2004

It's a tough call whether Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- the Jordanian militant who is reportedly responsible for the videotaped butchery of Nicholas Berg -- is more stupid than he is brutal, or whether he is a bigger monster than he is a fool. Zarqawi's own nauseating videotape makes the case for his indescribable brutality and may have inadvertently delivered his enemy from its own demoralization.

Americans were feeling so shamed, dishonored and demoralized by the repulsive images of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib that even many prominent war supporters were reconsidering the effort.

Dispirited analysts at the conservative National Review Online began looking for an exit from the occupation; blogger Andrew Sullivan asked himself whether, if he had known in advance how the occupation would proceed, he would have supported the war; New York Times columnist David Brooks even concluded that the United States misconceived the effect of its own power, and he pronounced the occupation an intellectual failure, even if it ultimately succeeds in establishing a liberal Iraq.

So what does Zarqawi do? In "retaliation" for the Abu Ghraib abuses, he stages a singularly abominable execution of a private American citizen who had been wandering around Iraq. The probable effect is to offer many Americans an exit from their own moral horror. [complete article]

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Inspired by anger a world away
By Alan Sipress, Washington Post, May 15, 2004

Two days after the T.R. Sport soccer team won a local tournament last month, the squad members left this remote rubber tappers village on their motorcycles, telling their families they were headed for Muslim missionary work.

The next morning, shortly after daybreak, the 12 young men and seven friends from other teams launched a raid on a police post in a nearby town. Though authorities said the attackers had an assault rifle and several shotguns, most carried only knives and wooden planks in what villagers described as an act of suicidal zeal unprecedented in southern Thailand. Well-armed police were waiting and killed them all.

The strike was one of a series of coordinated attacks on the morning of April 28 against 11 police posts in three provinces that left at least 112 people dead, all but five of them assailants. The attacks took place in a region where a Muslim majority harbors long-standing grievances against the Bangkok government. But the violence also offers a case study of the spread of Islamic militancy. Officials and local villagers said the attacks were spurred on by widely broadcast images of al Qaeda and the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Those interviewed said Islamic operatives may have entered the region from outside the country, exploiting local issues and a growing sense among Muslims that they have been wronged. [complete article]

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The false premises of partition
By Adeed Dawisha, Daily Star, May 14, 2004

More people in Washington, as well as in Europe and even in the Arab world, are now talking about the possible partitioning of Iraq. This chatter has not yet reached the level of advocacy, but what six months ago would have been dismissed now seems a legitimate discussion topic.

Perhaps, the argument goes, Iraq would be better off if, like Yugoslavia, it were to be divided along its logical ethnic and sectarian fault lines. With all the trouble in the Sunni triangle, with Kurds demanding and getting veto power over a future constitution, with Shiite clerics establishing close relations with their coreligionists in Iran, maybe it is time we undo what Britain did after World War I when it created an artificial and fragmented Iraqi state.

However, nothing that has happened on the ground imposes this. There has been no bloodshed among and between Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis. Indeed, in a brief moment in April, Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr extolled the "heroic insurgents of Fallujah," and the Sunni Fallujans jubilantly hoisted Sadr's portrait for the benefit of the Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyya satellite stations. A newly formed Iraqi Army battalion, which had large contingents of Kurds and Shiites, refused to fight alongside the US early on in the battle of Fallujah; and thousands of Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis descended upon the city offering blood, food and medical supplies. [complete article]

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Israel ignores founding principles
By Daniel Barenboim, Los Angeles Times, May 14, 2004

It was in 1952, four years after the declaration of Israel's independence, that I, as a 10-year-old boy, came to Israel with my parents from Argentina.

The declaration of independence was a source of inspiration to believe in ideals that transformed us from Jews to Israelis.

This remarkable document expressed the commitment: "The state of Israel will devote itself to the development of this country for the benefit of all its people; it will be founded on the principles of freedom, justice and peace, guided by the visions of the prophets of Israel; it will grant full equal, social and political rights to all its citizens regardless of differences of religious faith, race or sex; it will ensure freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture."

The founding fathers of the state of Israel who signed the declaration also committed themselves and us "to pursue peace and good relations with all neighboring states and people."

I am asking today with deep sorrow: Can we, despite all our achievements, ignore the intolerable gap between what the declaration of independence promised and what was fulfilled; the gap between the idea and the realities of Israel? [complete article]

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U.S. to reengage in talks with Palestinians
By Tom Aspell, NBC News, May 14, 2004

At the end of an exceedingly violent week in the Gaza Strip -- even by the appalling standards of the nearly four-year-old Palestinian intifada -- the United States is taking steps toward a reengagement with the Palestinians.

After two more Israeli soldiers were killed Friday near Rafah, the toll of Israeli casualties in Gaza rose to 13 for the week, while an estimated 29 Palestinians have died in clashes.

Yet, with the U.S. reputation in the Arab world continuing on a downward spiral -- particularly with the recent disclosure of the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq -- American overtures toward the Palestinians and a seeming interest in the Middle East peace process couldn't come at better time. [complete article]

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U.S. could quit Iraq: Bremer
By Jennie Matthew, Agence France Presse (via The Age), May 14, 2004

The US overseer for Iraq Paul Bremer today aired the possibility of an American pullout from the country, saying the United States did not stay where it was "not welcome".

"If the provisional government asks us to leave we will leave," he said, referring to a post-June 30 administration after the handover of sovereignty.

"I don't think that will happen but obviously we don't stay in countries where we're not welcome," he said at a working lunch in Baghdad with Iraqi officials from Diyala province. [complete article]

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Why the troops don't trust Rummy
By Ralph Peters, New York Post, May 14, 2004

According to his handlers, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld went to Baghdad to "boost troop morale." The best way the SecDef could improve morale would be to resign.

In Operation Iraqi Freedom, Rumsfeld and his apparatchiks boldly defended Washington while our troops fought overseas. Now that the battle's shifted to Capitol Hill in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, the SecDef's in Iraq.

It's like all those press briefings in which he answers the questions when things are going well, but defers to those in uniform when things are going badly.

Should Rumsfeld resign over the prisoner abuse by rogue MPs? No. He should resign for the good of our military and our country. Those twisted photos are only one symptom of how badly the Rumsfeld era has derailed our military. [complete article]

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Iraqi tells of U.S. abuse, from ridicule to rape threat
By Ian Fisher, New York Times, May 14, 2004

The rough road to confession began with the ridicule of the naked and hooded prisoner's name: Saddam.

The now-former prisoner, Saddam Saleh Aboud, 29, said that escalated into a threat of rape by an American soldier named Ivan in the 1-A block of Abu Ghraib prison. Then, he said, he was chained in a sitting position to the bars of a cell for 23 hours in a day. Loud music thumped, he said. He urinated where he sat.

Every few days, he said, he was uncuffed for other treatments: douses of cold water, barking dogs, something called "the scorpion," in which his arms were cuffed to his legs, behind his back.

Fellow prisoners, he said, told him later it lasted 18 days. He said he did not know, and that it did not matter. He was ready to talk.

"They began talking to me," Mr. Aboud said. "They asked, 'Do you know the Islamic opposition?' I said, 'Yes.' " They asked, 'Do you know Zarqawi?"' referring to a Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant with ties to Al Qaeda. "I told them, `I am his driver, I swear to God.' "

"They asked me about Osama bin Laden," he said. "I said, 'I am Osama bin Laden but I am disguised.' "

He said he meant every word. "I was only afraid that they would take me back to the torture room," he said. "I would prefer to be dead." [complete article]

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Double standards
Editorial, Washington Post, May 14, 2004

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) asked two senior Pentagon officials exactly the right question yesterday about the Bush administration's interpretation of the Geneva Conventions. "If you were shown a video of a United States Marine or an American citizen in control of a foreign power, in a cell block, naked with a bag over their head, squatting with their arms uplifted for 45 minutes, would you describe that as a good interrogation technique or a violation of the Geneva Convention?" The answer is obvious, and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, honestly provided it. "I would describe it as a violation," Mr. Pace said. "What you've described to me sounds to me like a violation of the Geneva Convention," Mr. Wolfowitz said.

Case closed -- except that the practices described by Mr. Reed have been designated by the commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, as available for use on Iraqi detainees, and certified by the Pentagon as legal under the Geneva Conventions. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, they have been systematically applied to prisoners across that country. And earlier this week, the bosses of both Mr. Pace and Mr. Wolfowitz, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, defended the techniques as appropriate. [complete article]

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Fighting moves into Islam holy place in Najaf
By Scott Wilson and Fred Barbash, Washington Post, May 14, 2004

U.S. tanks rumbled Friday into the vast cemetery in the southern city of Najaf, one of Shiite Islam's most sacred places, in pursuit of anti-occupation insurgents loyal to the rebel cleric, Moqtada Sadr.

In images broadcast across the Middle East on Arabic satellite channels, two U.S Army Kiowa helicopters fluttered above the sea of ochre and tan tombs on the edge of the city. Olive-green Abrams tanks, part of the 1st Armored Division, appeared to fire into the tombs. Plumes of gray and black smoke puffed up from between the grave markers. [complete article]

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A deepening rift at the Pentagon
By Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor, May 14, 2004

The Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal is exposing a Pentagon increasingly at war with itself, leading to a crisis of leadership even as tens of thousands of US troops risk their lives battling insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For months, discord has been growing in Pentagon corridors over the Iraq war, as senior US military officers criticize what they see as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's risky war plan and the lack of a clear political end game.

Mr. Rumsfeld, in turn, has often chastised what he sees as hidebound, overly conservative military thinking.

Now, the clash between Rumsfeld's push-the-envelope approach and inherent military conservatism is again in full display over allegations that Pentagon policymakers blurred the traditional military chain of command in order to better gather intelligence. [complete article]

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Bush supporters are split on how to pursue Iraq plan
By David E. Sanger and Richard W. Stevenson, New York Times, May 14, 2004

President Bush said on Wednesday that the beheading of an American working in Iraq was part of an effort to "shake our confidence," but he insisted that the United States would "complete our mission," despite what his aides freely concede is a major loss of credibility in the Arab world.

Speaking briefly on the South Lawn of the White House, Mr. Bush appeared to try to use the beheading of Nicholas Berg, a young Pennsylvania man seeking work rebuilding Iraq, to refocus attention on the nature of the enemy the United States faces rather than on the continuing investigation into the abuses of Iraqi prisoners in American custody.

But some of Mr. Bush's aides and many of his outside advisers said in interviews that conservatives who had backed the war were now badly fractured on how the administration should pursue its Iraq strategy, and they fear that the combination of the prisoner abuse scandal and the inability of American forces to put down the insurgency are taking a toll on the Bush re-election race. [complete article]

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Rise of an 'Iraq generation' in Europe?
By Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, May 14, 2004

While America's enemies flaunt photographs of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib as evidence of US iniquity, her friends are expressing disbelief and disappointment. They are also wondering how far the images may loosen Washington's grip on its claim to global moral leadership.

In the short term, European public disgust at the pictures probably rules out any chance that America's NATO allies will offer military help securing the transition to Iraqi rule in Baghdad. In the long run, some observers worry, the photographs could perpetuate a graver transatlantic rift.

"They might help create an 'Iraq generation' in Europe like the 'Vietnam generation,'" suggests Bernhard May, an expert on European relations with the US at the influential German Foreign Policy Society in Berlin. "If a whole generation comes to think of America in terms of the Iraq war, then we are in trouble for years to come." [complete article]

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Syrian president refuses U.S. demands after sanctions
By Steven Butler, Knight Ridder, May 13, 2004

Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday rejected U.S. demands to expel Palestinian militants from Syria and withdraw Syrian forces from Lebanon, two days after the Bush administration imposed economic sanctions on Syria over these and other issues.

Assad strongly disputed the premises of the American demands while calling for common effort with the United States to pursue peace in the Middle East and fight terrorism. U.S. officials acknowledge that Syria has provided important intelligence on terrorists.

In a rare interview with visiting American editors, Assad spoke on a wide range of topics, offering insight into the thinking of a key player in the Middle East in the three years since he assumed the presidency after the death of his father, Hafez Assad. [complete article]

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Israel takes bloody revenge in Gaza for killing of soldiers
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, May 14, 2004

Israeli forces yesterday left a trail of destruction in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City, blowing up homes and streets as they retreated following an agreement to recover the body parts of six soldiers killed earlier this week.
In the Rafah refugee camp, at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, at least 12 Palestinians were killed and scores wounded as troops searched for the remains of five soldiers blown up by Palestinian fighters. The bodies were ripped apart and spread across a wide area.

Israel closed internal checkpoints, leaving thousands of Palestinians stranded and making it impossible for aid workers and journalists in Gaza to assess the effect of the Israeli incursion in Rafah. Journalists were refused permission to enter the Gaza Strip. [complete article]

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Torture scandal and the murder of Nick Berg
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, May 14, 2004

The timing of the release of the video of Nick Berg's brutal murder has inevitably resulted in some wild speculation about who killed him and why, but some of the most troubling questions relate not to his death but to his prior custody. The Washington Post reports that though Berg's family claim that after his arrest by Iraqi police in Mosul, Nick Berg was transferred into American military custody, CPA spokesman, Dan Senor said on Wednesday that, "He was at no time under the jurisdiction or within the detention of coalition forces." US authorities have acknowledged that while in custody, Berg was questioned three times by the FBI. The Telegraph reports that, "According to friends, Mr Berg said he had been in Iraqi custody for just a few hours before being transferred to a US military facility, where he was in a cell with Syrian and Iranian fighters." Moreover, Associated Press reports that Iraqi police in Mosel deny that Berg was held in their custody. If it is correct that Berg was held captive with Syrian and Iranian fighters, whether this was in a US military facility or an Iraqi police station, it is absurd to imagine that the prisoners were not being held under close supervision by US authorities.

The sensitivity of this issue would be further compounded if it turned out that Berg was being held by former members of Saddam's notorious secret police force, the Mukhabarat. There is in fact reason to believe that this may be the case. In January this year, The New York Times reported that US authorities were recruiting former members of Mukhabarat for a new Iraqi intelligence service with the express purpose of hunting down foreign fighters. As Edward Wong wrote, "The formation of an intelligence service is a very delicate matter here because of the deadly history of Mr. Hussein's secret police force, the Mukhabarat, the main instrument of domestic repression." If it turns out that, under American supervision, Saddam's torturers have once again been using their familiar methods of interrogation -- this time in support of US counterinsurgency operations -- by comparison, the events at Abu Ghraib may pale into insignificance.

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Would a pullout from Iraq be more chaotic than this?
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, May 14, 2004

Can the American occupation of Iraq be sustained any longer? In the wake of the prison horrors revealed at Abu Ghraib, has the time not come for a serious debate on the immediate withdrawal, not just of British forces, but of the 150,000 US forces as well? [...]

It was clear from the earliest days of the occupation, as the late UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello argued, that sovereignty is the key to security in Iraq, and the occupation itself is the major source of instability. Even among Iraqis who welcomed the invasion, the presence of foreign forces quickly created resentment and suspicion. As long as there was no date for the troops to leave, Iraqis feared the US only wanted long-term military bases, and their oil. Many saw no choice but to resist the US, if necessary by force.

US troops also became a magnet for every kind of radical Islamist group, Iraqi and foreign. "We thank the Americans for two things," a Wahhabi sheikh told me with a smile in Baghdad last month. "They liberated us from Saddam so we can operate freely. They also created the conditions for us to resist them in our own country instead of having to go abroad." [complete article]

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Iraq's bin Laden? Zarqawi's rise
By Peter Grier and Faye Bowers, Christian Science Monitor, May 14, 2004

A one-legged poison expert from Jordan could be the brutal new star of Islamic terrorism.

The man in question - Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - isn't yet the equal of Osama bin Laden, say experts. But he may be fast gaining influence and importance in the loosely organized world of Islamic militants by orchestrating attacks aimed at the US presence in Iraq.

Intelligence officials now say that Mr. Zarqawi was indeed the lead perpetrator of the murder of American businessman Nicholas Berg.

"After the intelligence agency conducted a technical analysis of the video posted on the Internet on May 11, we have determined - with high probability - that the speaker on the tape is that of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, and that he is the person shown decapitating American Nicholas Berg," says a CIA official.

Zarqawi has also claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on the UN headquarters in Baghdad and an Italian police station in Nasiriyah, among others.

If nothing else, his rise to prominence shows how a new generation of terrorist leaders may be stepping in to replace those eliminated by US efforts. [complete article]

Avoiding attacking suspected terrorist mastermind
By Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, March 2, 2004

...long before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out his terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself -- but never pulled the trigger.

In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide.

The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp with cruise missiles and airstrikes and sent it to the White House, where, according to U.S. government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council. [...]

Four months later, intelligence showed Zarqawi was planning to use ricin in terrorist attacks in Europe.

The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the White House again killed it. [...]

In January 2003, the threat turned real. Police in London arrested six terror suspects and discovered a ricin lab connected to the camp in Iraq.

The Pentagon drew up still another attack plan, and for the third time, the National Security Council killed it.

Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi's operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.

[The following month, Colin Powell went to the UN Security Council with the somber warning that "Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network, headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi" -- a terrorist network that, in spite of the Bush administration's policy of preemption it had declined to attack.] [complete article]

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Rumsfeld defends rules for prison
By Dana Priest and Dan Morgan, Washington Post, May 13, 2004

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday defended U.S. military interrogation guidelines in Iraq against mounting complaints that the authorized techniques violate international rules and may endanger Americans taken prisoner.

Appearing before the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, Rumsfeld said all authorized methods had been confirmed by Pentagon lawyers as complying with the Geneva Conventions on treatment of detainees. Rumsfeld's contention was backed by Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who noted at the hearing that a published version of the approved list -- which includes a number of threatening, disruptive or stressful actions -- also includes an order that U.S. soldiers treat detainees humanely.

But senators challenged the compliance claim and accused Rumsfeld and other administration officials of confusing matters by professing that the Geneva Conventions need not be applied in all cases -- notably, not when captured members of the Taliban and al Qaeda are involved. [complete article]

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Line increasingly blurred between soldiers and civilian contractors
By Ariana Eunjung Cha and Renae Merle, Washington Post, May 13, 2004

While on missions in Iraq last year, 35-year-old Todd Drobnick was attacked by small-arms fire, grenades and makeshift bombs. Yet he continued to go out day after day, until he died in a vehicle crash on his way from one U.S. military base to another. For his loyalty and dedication, he was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Thousands of Americans in Iraq have received such honors, but Drobnick's case was unusual: He wasn't a soldier. He was a private contractor working with a translation company.

"He died in the service of his country and the gratitude of his comrades is deep and lasting," U.S. Army Col. Gary L. Parrish, assistant chief of staff of intelligence, wrote in a letter to Drobnick's family after his death.

Several other contractors have received battlefield commendations in Iraq, too, but the military says it was a mistake. Only active-duty soldiers are eligible for the awards and those received by civilians are being rescinded. [complete article]

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Revoution in the mountains

Part 1: Besieged in Shawal
By Sayed Saleem Shazad, Asia Times, May 1, 2004

United States authorities are convinced that at least three important "high value targets" are holed up in the Shawal area. However, the "Shawal" the US authorities refer to is about 10 kilometers from the Pakistani Shawal area, across the border in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Shawal area comprises about 25 square kilometers, in which are jammed at least 17 mountains, separated by narrow valleys. Due to its inhospitable nature, the area is in effect a no-man's land.

It is here that US authorities believe about 500 Arab, Chechen, Uzbek and Chinese Muslim fighters have formed a base, from which they carry out attacks on US targets in the eastern Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika.

The last known video footage of Osama bin Laden and his deputy Dr Aiman al-Zawahir, shot in 2003, is thought to have been made in this Shawal area, due to the unique nature of the vegetation shown in the video. [complete article]

Part 2: The 'al-Qaeda' cleric
By Sayed Saleem Shazad, Asia Times, May 4, 2004

Maulana Salahuddin is respected as a voice of moderation and enlightenment in the valleys of Shawal in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan. He wears several hats: those of a cleric, a Sufi, an educationist (he is the most educated person in the valleys - a master of arts, Arabic) - and a social worker.

The full-bearded Salahuddin also wears the traditional Taliban-style turban, which, allied with his clerical status, has made him fair game for the authorities as, in their twisted logic, beard + Taliban turban + cleric + residence in North Waziristan = al-Qaeda. (Such simplistic characterization is perhaps one reason key al-Qaeda members remain at large, but that is another story.) [complete article]

Part 3: Through the eyes of the Taliban
By Sayed Saleem Shazad, Asia Times, May 5, 2004

The unprecedented 11 years of resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan gave birth to many legendary figures. However, in the chaotic days of the civil strife in the post-Soviet era in the early 1990s, several of these legends grew old, or changed their paths, and as a result lost their charm.

There was one exception, one man who refused to break his links with his famed mujahideen days, and who has kept his legend alive. He is a qualified cleric, and, although not a Talib (student) he has willingly joined the Taliban cause. Following the retreat of the Taliban from Afghanistan in late 2001, the United States has offered him top positions. But he chooses the difficult life of a guerrilla: meet Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani, the only real hope for the Taliban resistance movement to be successful against US-led forces in Afghanistan. [complete article]

Part 4: Return of the royalists
By Sayed Saleem Shazad, Asia Times, May 6, 2004

Over the past several decades of Afghanistan's tumultuous history, the country's warlords have operated under a simple maxim: today's enemy can be tomorrow's friend.

This was particularly true in the power vacuum created following the withdrawal of Soviet troops after their decade-long occupation in 1989. Ever-shifting alliances between mujahideen commanders and warlords of all political persuasions brought Afghanistan to a state of bloody anarchy, a situation the Taliban exploited to their full advantage by seizing power in 1996.

When the Taliban in turn threw in the towel in the face of the US-led invasion in late 2001, once again a political vacuum was created. Seemingly unmindful of the lessons of history, the US turned to these same fractious warlords to help shore up the administration of Hamid Karzai that it had placed in Kabul.

True to form, the warlords resorted to their old tricks, building up their spheres of influence in pockets across the country, and at the expense of the central government's writ in the countryside, and in many cases at the expense of the US occupation: some openly now support the resistance. [complete article]

Part 5: Jihadis pay the ultimate price
By Sayed Saleem Shazad, Asia Times, May 13, 2004

They do not belong to Afghanistan, yet they are closely identified with the country. These are the "Arab-Afghans", the jihadis who made Afghanistan their homeland during the resistance to the Soviets in the 1980s, and subsequently used it as a base for both military training and plotting terror acts, epitomized by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

The Arab-Afghans were the main engine behind the Afghan resistance movement against the Soviets and their puppet communist government in Kabul , so much so that then president Mohammad Najibullah used to say that "it is not the Afghans but the Punjabis [Pakistanis] and Arabs who are putting up all the resistance against our forces".

When the US unleashed its military might on Afghanistan in late 2001 in response to September 11, to root out bin Laden, and the Taliban government collapsed, the foreign "guests" retreated to the Pakistani tribal areas just across the eastern border.

But though they might have lost their adopted home, they soon found a new one, and their passion for resistance to occupiers in Afghanistan burned as fiercely as ever. [complete article]

Part 6: Trouble in the tribal areas
By Sayed Saleem Shazad, Asia Times, May 14, 2004

All seven Pakistani tribal agencies, especially North and South Waziristan, are extremely traditional societies, despite the arrival of modern facilities, such as electronic goods and satellite telephones. Similarly, their ethnic Pashtun cousins in the tribal areas across the border in Afghanistan have the same traditional roots, and people prefer to live life as they have done for centuries, essentially beyond the control of any interfering government.

Since September 11, however, much has changed in Pakistan's tribal regions as they have become a key frontier in the US's "war on terrorism", first as a base for operations into Afghanistan to crush the Taliban regime, and subsequently as a target themselves for the sanctuary they provide to foreign jihadis.

The presence of thousands of US-led forces just across the border in Afghanistan, and more recently the presence of thousands of Pakistani troops in the tribal areas, has changed the dynamics of the area: overnight almost, the remote and fiercely independent tribal societies have fallen into the world's spotlight, and the attention is not welcomed. [complete article]

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Emasculating Arabia
By Jonathan Raban, The Guardian, May 13, 2004

Seeing the terrible pictures of the beheading of Nicholas Berg, it's easy to miss the significance of the soundtrack that accompanies them. The taped voice - presumably that of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian associate of Osama bin Laden - rails not just against the Bush administration, but against the torpor of the Arab world. "The shameful photos are evil humiliation for Muslim men and women in the Abu Ghraib prison. Where is the sense of honour, where is the rage? Where is the anger for God's religion? Where is the sense of veneration for Muslims, and where is the sense of vengeance for the honour of Muslim men and women in the crusaders' prisons?" Professing himself to be outraged by the absence of Arab outrage at the photos from Abu Ghraib, Zarqawi proceeds with his gruesome remake of the videotaped killing of Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002.

That portion of Zarqawi's repellent message - his claim that people in the Middle East haven't been as shocked by the Abu Ghraib pictures as one might expect - is surely true. For days, there was a feeling of tentative, nervous relief in the United States that the pictures streaming out of Abu Ghraib had not - yet - provoked the wave of uncontrollable and violent popular protest across the Arab world that many Americans had feared. It was suggested that Arabs are so inured to torture in their own countries that they had lost the ability to be shocked by it, also that Iraqi Shia Muslims and Kurds were unlikely to be greatly upset by the sight of Ba'athist Sunnis getting a taste of their own medicine from their western jailers.

Both these quasi-explanations were self-serving shots in the dark. What was clear from reading the English-language Arab press over last weekend was the truth of the old saying: "American viciously humiliates Arab" is not news; only when the terms are reversed are headlines made. To most of the Arab editorial writers, and perhaps to most Arabs, the digital photos merely confirmed what they had been saying since long before the invasion of Iraq took place: America is on an orientalist rampage in which Arabs are systematically denatured, dehumanised, stripped of all human complexity, reduced to naked babyhood. [complete article]

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Dancing alone
By Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, May 13, 2004

It is time to ask this question: Do we have any chance of succeeding at regime change in Iraq without regime change here at home?

"Hey, Friedman, why are you bringing politics into this all of a sudden? You're the guy who always said that producing a decent outcome in Iraq was of such overriding importance to the country that it had to be kept above politics."

Yes, that's true. I still believe that. My mistake was thinking that the Bush team believed it, too. I thought the administration would have to do the right things in Iraq -- from prewar planning and putting in enough troops to dismissing the secretary of defense for incompetence -- because surely this was the most important thing for the president and the country. But I was wrong. There is something even more important to the Bush crowd than getting Iraq right, and that's getting re-elected and staying loyal to the conservative base to do so. It has always been more important for the Bush folks to defeat liberals at home than Baathists abroad. That's why they spent more time studying U.S. polls than Iraqi history. That is why, I'll bet, Karl Rove has had more sway over this war than Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Bill Burns. Mr. Burns knew only what would play in the Middle East. Mr. Rove knew what would play in the Middle West. [complete article]

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Failing to recognize failure
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, May 12, 2004

On Dec. 15, 1993, not quite a year into President Bill Clinton's first term, his secretary of defense, Les Aspin, announced that he would resign. Two months earlier, 18 U.S. Rangers had died, some of them brutally, in the disastrous "Black Hawk Down" raid on Mogadishu. A month before that, the Rangers' commander in Somalia had asked the Pentagon for armored vehicles. Aspin rejected the request. In the raid's aftermath, many blamed Aspin's denial for the Americans' deaths.

Some controversy remains over whether Aspin—who died a year and a half later from heart problems at age 56—deserved to be the fall guy; but it's an irrelevant debate. The key point is that Aspin lost the president's confidence. Once that happens, for whatever reason, the Cabinet officer in question needs to be replaced.

The key question about the much-discussed survival of Donald Rumsfeld, the current secretary of defense, is not so much whether he should stay or go, but rather why President George W. Bush still has confidence in his judgment. [complete article]

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Lawmakers are stunned by new images of abuse
By Charles Babington, Washington Post, May 13, 2004

Scores of lawmakers yesterday viewed unreleased photos and videos of Iraqi detainees being sexually humiliated and physically threatened. The images, which included Iraqi corpses, U.S. troops having sex with each other, and previously undisclosed videos of at least one inmate ramming his head into a wall, convinced some legislators that the number of Americans who violated military protocol is larger than previously thought.

The private screenings arranged by the Pentagon -- one for senators, one for House members -- surely ranked among Congress's more bizarre scenes. House members silently crammed into a standing-room-only committee room as hundreds of images, some described as pornographic, flashed on a screen for a few seconds each. Lawmakers emerging from that session, and from a less-crowded Senate room, seemed almost at a loss for words. [complete article]

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Chilling new evidence of the brutal regime at Iraqi prison
By Gethin Chamberlain, The Scotsman, May 13, 2004

The United States prison guard holds a snake up to the camera: "This is a sand viper," she says. "One bite will kill you in six hours. We've already had two prisoners die of it, but who cares? That's two less for me to worry about."

By her own admission, she was a fearsome guard. The prisoners were scared of her, and she had been in trouble for throwing stones at them.

"We actually shot two prisoners today," she says. "One got shot in the chest for swinging a pole against our people on the feed team. One got shot in the arm. We don't know if the one we shot in the chest is dead yet." [complete article]

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'They abused me and stole my dignity'
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, May 13, 2004

An Iraqi prisoner who was held for four months at the notorious US-run Abu Ghraib jail near Baghdad described yesterday how he spent 18 days naked alone in a cell, often with his hands and feet bound together, and was frequently beaten, urinated on and occasionally photographed hooded and naked by American troops.

Saddam Salah al-Rawi, 29, said inmates were ordered not to reveal the abuse to Red Cross officials.

For two hours yesterday Mr al-Rawi, prisoner number 200144, gave a graphic and harrowing account of his time in jail. Although he speaks no English, he named some of the soldiers already identified in the investigation into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.

His account suggests abuse at the prison was widespread and systematic and involved more than the actions of a handful of junior soldiers. His testimony is one of around a dozen being studied by the Iraqi Human Rights Organisation, which eventually hopes to bring cases against the US military. [complete article]

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'Bend the rules'
By Brian Ross and Chris Vlasto, ABC News, May 12, 2004

The U.S. military has been teaching future interrogators how to cause physical pain while questioning detainees but remain technically within limits set by the Geneva Conventions, former trainees told ABCNEWS.

The former trainees, husband and wife Rafael and Margaret Chaiken, said instructors at Fort Huachuca in Arizona taught them ways to get around the rules.

"They cite examples of ways to bend the Geneva Convention," said Margaret Chaiken, "bend the rules in order to get the information that they need."

The Chaikens trained to be interrogators at Fort Huachuca from July to October of 2003. They say the actions depicted in the pictures of U.S. soldiers humiliating Iraqi detainees are a classic technique they were taught in order "to break a prisoner, and cause them to talk." [complete article]

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Harsh CIA methods cited in top Qaeda interrogations
By James Risen, David Johnston and Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, May 13, 2004

The Central Intelligence Agency has used coercive interrogation methods against a select group of high-level leaders and operatives of Al Qaeda that have produced growing concerns inside the agency about abuses, according to current and former counterterrorism officials.

At least one agency employee has been disciplined for threatening a detainee with a gun during questioning, they said.

In the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a high-level detainee who is believed to have helped plan the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, C.I.A. interrogators used graduated levels of force, including a technique known as "water boarding," in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown.

These techniques were authorized by a set of secret rules for the interrogation of high-level Qaeda prisoners, none known to be housed in Iraq, that were endorsed by the Justice Department and the C.I.A. The rules were among the first adopted by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 attacks for handling detainees and may have helped establish a new understanding throughout the government that officials would have greater freedom to deal harshly with detainees. [complete article]

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The chain of command under fire
By Brad Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor, May 13, 2004

From the My Lai massacre in Vietnam to the now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the question of military accountability has been a difficult one. Does it end with the lieutenant leading the platoon, the lieutenant colonel in charge of a battalion, or the commander in chief in the White House?

When the nuclear attack submarine USS Greeneville crashed into the fishing trawler Ehime Maru three years ago, killing nine Japanese crewmen, teachers, and high school students, there was little doubt who was responsible: US Navy Cmdr. Scott Waddle, the boat's captain. He took responsibility and left the service in disgrace, ending a promising Naval Academy graduate's career.

Few episodes involving military mistakes, bad judgment, or wrongdoing are that clear-cut. Responsibility runs up and down the chain of command, from the lowliest private in fatigues to senior civilians at the Pentagon. It is based on two centuries of US military history and an increasingly complex notion of war. [complete article]

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In Najaf, gunfire and a peace plan
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2004

Gunfire erupted in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Najaf early today as clerics, civic authorities and tribal leaders vowed to present a peace plan to U.S.-led occupation authorities in the coming days.

Militiamen loyal to militant cleric Muqtada Sadr were seen in the streets after midnight headed toward the gold-domed shrine of Imam Ali, a revered site in the Shiite religion. Residents said U.S. troops were moving deeper into the city, which was largely in the control of Sadr's militia, known as the Al Mahdi army. Flares lighted the night.

A U.S. military spokesman could not confirm any advance into the center of Najaf. Several thousand U.S. soldiers are massed mostly on the city's outskirts; commanders have said troops will stay away from holy sites. [complete article]

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Political players to figure greatly in interim Iraqi regime
By Alissa J. Rubin and Mary Curtius, Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2004

U.S.-backed Iraqi politicians appear to have secured what they've vigorously lobbied for: a way to hold on to power at least until elections next year.

The United Nations' special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, has quietly dropped a demand that the leaders of Iraq's soon-to-be-named interim government be drawn from outside the current political structure, senior U.S. officials confirmed Wednesday. Brahimi was widely understood to be calling for a government of technocrats who would keep the ministries running but would not use their power to promote political agendas.

The U.N. envoy, with the support of the top U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III, had recently agreed on naming a "faceless" government composed of officials who would pledge not to run in the January 2005 election. But that plan ran into a wall of opposition from various Iraqi leaders, especially from members of the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council. [complete article]

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U.S. chose bad time to impose Syria sanctions -- Arabs
By Lin Noueihed, Reuters, May 12, 2004

The United States, battling a prisoner abuse scandal and insurgency in Iraq, could not have chosen a worse time to slap new sanctions on Syria, Arabs said Wednesday.

Many warned that the sanctions, welcomed only by Syria's arch-foe Israel, would only fuel anger against America.

"If they are having such trouble in Iraq, they should at least calm down Iraq's neighbors," said Mohamed al-Sayed Said of Egypt's al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. [complete article]

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Questions surround slain American in Iraq
By Robert H. Reid, Associated Press (via Yahoo), May 12, 2004

The young American decapitated on a videotape posted by an al-Qaida-linked Web site was never in U.S. custody despite claims to the contrary by his family, U.S. authorities said Wednesday.

Statements by American officials in Iraq leave many unanswered questions, including why Iraqi police jailed Nicholas Berg for nearly two weeks and why U.S. officials repeatedly questioned him in custody. [complete article]

Some Arabs say beheading justified, others barbaric
By Amil Khan, Reuters (via Yahoo), May 12, 2004

For one Arab living on the West Bank, the beheading of an American hostage in Iraq was a justified response to the treatment meted out to Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops.

"This was a justified retaliation. The Americans had committed very ugly actions against the Iraqi people in general and Iraqi prisoners in particular," said Mohammed AlBargouti, a 24-year-old security guard in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

His view was echoed by many Arabs but others in the region, including Lebanon's Hizbollah guerrilla group, condemned the execution as a crime which flouted the teachings of Islam.

"Hizbollah condemns this horrible act that has done very great harm to Islam and Muslims by this group that claims affiliation to the religion of mercy, compassion and humane principles," the Shi'ite Muslim group said in a statement. [...]

Some Arabs said Zarqawi had failed the very people he said he was avenging by strengthening Washington's hand in Iraq.

"I want to say this action was bad because it makes Arabs look like barbarians but that's what the Americans think anyway. My fear is that now Americans will feel Iraqis deserve the torture," said Mamdouh, an Egyptian pharmacy student who did not want to give his full name. [complete article]

Berg told friends Iraqi police mistook him for an Israeli spy
By Robert Moran, Knight Ridder, May 12, 2004

Nicholas Berg, the 26-year-old American whose videotaped decapitation was posted on the Internet, told friends here that Iraqi police arrested him because he had a Jewish-sounding last name and an Israeli stamp in his passport.

"They thought he was a spy," said Hugo Infante, a Chilean who works for the United Press International news service and lives at the al Fanar Hotel in central Baghdad, where Berg stayed until he checked out April 10 to return to the United States.

Berg apparently was taken hostage and then executed sometime before Saturday, when his headless body was discovered in a western suburb of Baghdad.

Why Berg was arrested, who held him, what happened to him after his release and what role his religion might have had in his death are key questions about the final days of the former Cornell University student with a penchant for travel to Third World countries. [complete article]

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Secret U.S. jails hold 10,000
By Andrew Buncombe and Kim Sengupta, The Independent (via NZ Herald), May 13, 2004

Almost 10,000 prisoners from President George W. Bush's so-called war on terror are being held around the world in secretive American-run jails and interrogation centres similar to the notorious Abu Ghraib Prison.

Some of these detention centres are so sensitive that even the most senior members of the United States Congress have no idea where they are.

From Iraq to Afghanistan to Cuba, this American gulag is driven by the pressure to obtain "actionable" intelligence from prisoners captured by US forces.

The systematic practice of holding prisoners without access to lawyers or their families, together with a willingness to use "coercive interrogation" techniques, suggests the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib now shocking the world could be widespread. [complete article]

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How American was Abu Ghraib?
By Tony Karon,, May 11, 2004

There is certain irony in the fact that the Abu Ghraib coincided with the 50th anniversary of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, in which Vietnamese guerrillas routed the French colonial army and took its surrender. Although Cold War considerations prompted the U.S. to get involved, in the end they proved no more adept than the French -- or the Chinese hundreds of years earlier -- had been in bending Vietnam to foreign will.

General Vo Nguyen Giap, now 93, who orchestrated the victory at Dien Bien Phu and also the political-military strategy that forced the U.S. to withdraw, made a rare appearance before the media to mark the anniversary. Inevitably, the international press wanted to know his thoughts on Iraq. "Any forces that would impose their will on other nations will certainly face defeat," he answered.

America, Washington insists, has no desire to force its will on Iraq. But it's far from clear that the Iraqis see it that way -- even a poll commissioned by the Coalition Provisional Authority confirms that a majority of Iraqis now want the U.S. to leave immediately. A growing number of U.S. officers in Iraq are also stepping forward with the blunt assessment that the war can't be won. [complete article]

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U.S. military strikes mosque held by Iraqi cleric's militia
By Edward Wong, Dexter Filkins, New York Times, May 12, 2004

The American military attacked a mosque in this holy city [Karbala] on Tuesday in its largest assault yet against the forces of the rebel Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, even as the first signs emerged of a peaceful resolution to the five-week-long standoff with him.

The strike on the Mukhaiyam Mosque brought hundreds of American soldiers to within a third of a mile of two of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam, the shrines of the martyrs Hussein and Abbas. A building behind the mosque was fired on, detonating a huge weapons cache, and soldiers stormed the mosque, chasing insurgents out into a hotel and alley.

By 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, some 30 insurgents had taken up positions around the Shrine of Abbas, and they appeared to be lobbing mortars from that area at the Mukhaiyam Mosque. Special Forces soldiers began organizing groups of Iraqi forces to counterattack. Fighting was still intense five hours later. Casualties could not be immediately determined. [complete article]

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General asserts she was overruled on prison moves
By R. Jeffrey Smith and Josh White, Washington Post, May 12, 2004

The U.S. general who was in charge of running prisons in Iraq told Army investigators earlier this year that she had resisted decisions by superior officers to hand over control of the prisons to military intelligence officials and to authorize the use of lethal force as a first step in keeping order -- command decisions that have come in for heavy criticism in the Iraq prison abuse scandal.

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, head of the 800th Military Police Brigade, spoke of her resistance to the decisions in a detailed account of her tenure furnished to Army investigators. It places two of the highest-ranking Army officers now in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, at the heart of decision-making on both matters.

Karpinski has been formally admonished by the Army for her actions in Iraq. She said both men overruled her concerns about the military intelligence takeover and the use of deadly force. [complete article]

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How the images of prison abuse shape perceptions of the war
By Alexandra Marks, Christian Science Monitor, May 12, 2004

It's a cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words.

But the case of the Iraqi prisoner-abuse scandal proves the power of that truism.

Just as the images of napalmed children and slaughtered innocent civilians in Vietnam played a role in transforming American public opinion, the release of photos from the Abu Ghraib prison may also become a watershed event in the national and international debate about the war in Iraq, terrorism, and the use American power. [complete article]

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An Afghan gives his own account of U.S. abuse
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, May 12, 2004

A former Afghan police colonel gave a graphic account in an interview this week of being subjected to beating, kicking, sleep deprivation, taunts and sexual abuse during about 40 days he spent in American custody in Afghanistan last summer. He also said he had been repeatedly photographed, often while naked.

"I swear to God, those photos shown on television of the prison in Iraq -- those things happened to me as well," the former officer, Sayed Nabi Siddiqui, 47, said in the interview on Sunday at his home in the village of Sheikho, on the edge of the eastern town of Gardez.

His account could not be independently verified, but members of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission accompanied a reporter during the interview and said his story matched the one given to them last fall, shortly after his release and long before the abuse at the Abu Ghraib near Baghdad came to light. [complete article]

See also U.S. opens probe into alleged Afghanistan abuse (AP)

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The doctrine of atrocity
By Nicholas Turse, Village Voice, May 11, 2004

"Kill one man, terrorize a thousand," reads a sign on the wall of the U.S. Marines' sniper school at Camp Pendleton in California. While the marines work their mayhem with M-40A3 bolt-action sniper rifles, most recently in Fallujah, a different kind of terror has been doled out in Iraq by the U.S. Army at Abu Ghraib prison, where, according to an army probe first reported by Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker, "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" were the order of the day between October and December of 2003. One of the many questions arising from the Abu Ghraib scandal is how widespread is the brutality and inhumane treatment of Iraqis. [complete article]

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Will prison flap influence high court cases?
By Tom Curry, MSNBC, May 12, 2004

The Abu Ghraib prison abuse furor may have a significant impact on one highly select audience with power over the president’s anti-terrorism effort: the nine justices of the Supreme Court.

The court is now deliberating in the cases of al-Qaida suspects held at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba and two American citizens, Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, held in the United States as enemy combatants.

Decisions are expected in those historic cases before the court ends its term in June. At issue: whether Padilla, Hamdi, and the Guantanamo detainees should be granted hearings to challenge their detention.

Legal experts say that given the Abu Ghraib revelations, the justices may be less inclined to rule in favor of the Bush administration. [complete article]

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Blair rejects calls for independent investigation into Iraq killings
By Beth Gardiner, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), May 11, 2004

Prime Minister Tony Blair's office Tuesday rejected calls for an independent investigation of allegations that British soldiers shot and killed Iraqi civilians, including an 8-year-old girl, in situations where the troops were under no apparent threat.

Blair's official spokesman said the Royal Military Police's Special Investigations Branch already was looking into the claims by Amnesty International.

The human rights group's report said the military had failed to investigate many cases in which British soldiers killed civilians in Iraq, and that the inquiries they did undertake were too secretive. [complete article]

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A portrait of who they were
By Brad Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor, May 12, 2004

At time of writing, the number of US military personnel killed in Iraq stood at 772. This is the longest, fiercest, sustained combat Americans have seen in a generation - since Vietnam. Compared with earlier major wars, the number of military fatalities there is not yet large. Still, it took four years in Southeast Asia for the toll of US military losses to reach 500; the number reached that level over 10 months in Iraq. And while each individual loss is profoundly tragic for the families affected, the ripple effect of such losses in Iraq - the number of family, friends, and colleagues, the impact on communities and the organizations and informal groups that form the fabric of American society at the hometown level - in fact may be greater this time.

The cross section of American fighting men and women in Iraq, and especially those lost so far, hints at why. Their collective portrait shows a young man (a small fraction are women) who is 27 or 28 years old, quite likely to be married and to have children. This contrasts with Vietnam, where the typical enlisted soldier was drafted just out of high school or in his early 20s. In this way, those fighting - and dying - in Iraq are more like their grandfathers in World War II than their fathers in Vietnam. [complete article]

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9/11 panel sets sights on talking to Al Qaeda members
By Gail Russell Chaddock and David Cook, Christian Science Monitor, May 12, 2004

With just 11 weeks to complete a full account of the worst terrorist attack in American history, the leaders of the 9/11 commission say they have had unprecedented access to classified documents - and are planning to question suspected members of Al Qaeda being held by the US government.

"We have had access to documents that nobody has ever had access to before in the Congress or investigatory committees," said Thomas Kean, chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, at a Monitor breakfast Tuesday. "We have gotten in the end every document we have requested.... We have also been able to interview every single person we requested."

Commission vice chair Lee Hamilton said the panel is working out an arrangement with the White House so it can seek information from suspected members of Al Qaeda in US custody. "We have had a procedure in mind ... whereby we are able to ask questions of these detainees, and that is still being processed and worked out...." he said. "We think the result will be that we will have the information we need from these people." [complete article]

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Look to Gaza to escape from Abu Ghraib
By Rami G. Khouri, Jordan Times, May 12, 2004

If the United States wants to pull itself out of the mess in Iraq and the particularly uncomfortable stain of some of its troops' degrading treatment of Iraqi prisoners, it would do well to look to Gaza, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general. Palestine and Iraq may be two very different issues for Washington, but Arabs -- and most of the rest of the world, I think -- see these as two sides of the single problem of American policy in the Middle East. [...]

The more the US deploys its military power and uses threats and sanctions against others in this region (Iran, Syria, Hizbollah), the more determined becomes the indigenous will to resist and defy the United States. Young Palestinians have behaved similarly for the past 15 years, defying Israeli tanks and planes with the near certainty that they would die in the process. This is the paradox of power that Bush, Rumsfeld, and others in power in Washington are learning anew in Iraq, and that Israelis continue to refuse to learn in Palestine. [complete article]

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President imposes sanctions on Syria
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, May 12, 2004

Under pressure from Congress, President Bush slapped sanctions on Syria yesterday for supporting terrorism and interfering with U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq.

The White House said the sanctions include banning U.S. exports to Syria except for food and medicine, prohibiting Syrian aircraft from flying to and from the United States, freezing certain Syrian assets and cutting off relations with a Syrian bank because of money laundering concerns.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has wavered about how tough its policy should be toward Syria. Some administration officials have been deeply suspicious of Damascus, believing its support of terrorism and development of weapons of mass destruction make it a potential candidate for the "axis of evil" that Bush had said consisted of North Korea, Iran and the former government of Iraq. But others have argued that Syria has been helpful in the war on terrorism, specifically in providing intelligence that helped thwart at least one potential attack. [complete article]

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Pakistan quickly deports opposition leader
Associated Press (via MSNBC), May 11, 2004

A plane carrying exiled opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif landed in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Tuesday, but the government immediately deported him amid an intense crackdown that has seen hundreds of his supporters arrested.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told The Associated Press that a Pakistan International Airlines plane carrying Sharif had taken off from the Lahore airport en route to Jiddah, Saudi Arabia.

"His plane has left," Ahmed said. The plane took off just 90 minutes after Sharif arrived after more than three years in exile.

Sharif's brother, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was toppled by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in a bloodless coup in 1999. Musharraf has consolidated control since then, winning election as president in a referendum in which he was the only candidate. [complete article]

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From a strange encounter with Iraqi police to fatal capture
By Laura Mansnerus and James Dao, New York Times, May 12, 2004

Mr. Berg was detained in March by the Iraqi police in the northern city of Mosul, American officials and his parents said. While he was in police custody, he was questioned by F.B.I. agents who were trying to determine what he was doing in Iraq and whether he was a United States citizen.

At the same time, his parents, frustrated by their inability to find out about their son's whereabouts, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Philadelphia on April 5 asserting that he was being held by the American military in violation of his civil rights. A day later, he was released.

He disappeared soon after that.

On Tuesday, people involved in the case expressed frustration about whether the American government had acted quickly enough to secure Mr. Berg's release, and whether it had done all it could to help him return safely to the United States.

"His parents contacted our office, the F.B.I., the State Department," said Representative Jim Gerlach, a Republican from Upper Uwchlan Township. Mr. Gerlach met with the Berg family on Tuesday. "They got very insufficient information,'' he said. "They felt that they were not getting full answers." [complete article]

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Nick Berg's murder
Editorial, New York Post, May 12, 2004

Some people - some Americans - have forgotten about 9/11.

That attack should have been enough to justify all-out war. But the hand-wringing over the war in Iraq - and over even the modest steps America took to defend itself, like the Patriot Act - suggests that folks truly have lost sight of what the war is about.

Yesterday they got a shocking reminder. And now they know: This war cannot be waged with half-measures.

It can end only with the total annihilation of those who practice butchery and barbarism. Those who have set as their goal the destruction of America.

There is no negotiating with such people. There can be no compromise with those who mean to destroy us.

Yesterday, the White House promised to "pursue those responsible and bring them to justice." That's the least of it.

America has to come out swinging. [complete article]

Comment -- A battle cry like this from a newspaper like the New York Post is a predictable response to Nick Berg's brutal murder. Yet yesterday's responses from more thoughtful commentators made frequent reference to "us" and "them" -- the civilized world and the barbaric terrorists. Though the perpetrator in this case is believed to be Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, the fact that he and other members of al Qaeda and its affiliates remain elusive provokes a we-have-to-come-out-swinging response that if acted upon will mean that one act of indiscriminate violence will be met by another. The impulse to crush terrorism is understandable, yet it is a reaction that is instrumental in furthering the goals of the terrorists. Terrorism thrives on our indiscriminate fear of the "other." When we talk about "them" we are glossing over the infuriating fact that by and large we don't actually know who they are.

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The Abu Ghraib spin
Editorial, New York Times, May 12, 2004

The administration and its Republican allies appear to have settled on a way to deflect attention from the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib: accuse Democrats and the news media of overreacting, then pile all of the remaining responsibility onto officers in the battlefield, far away from President Bush and his political team. That cynical approach was on display yesterday morning in the second Abu Ghraib hearing in the Senate, a body that finally seemed to be assuming its responsibility for overseeing the executive branch after a year of silently watching the bungled Iraq occupation.

The senators called one witness for the morning session, the courageous and forthright Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who ran the Army's major investigation into Abu Ghraib. But the Defense Department also sent Stephen Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, to upstage him. Mr. Cambone read an opening statement that said Donald Rumsfeld was deeply committed to the Geneva Conventions protecting the rights of prisoners, that everyone knew it and that any deviation had to come from "the command level." A few Republican senators loyally followed the script, like Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who offered the astounding comment that he was "more outraged by the outrage" than by the treatment of prisoners. After all, he said, they were probably guilty of something. [complete article]

See also Some Republicans vent 'outrage at the outrage' (Los Angeles Times)

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No flinching from the facts
By George Will, Washington Post, May 11, 2004

Americans must not flinch from absorbing the photographs of what some Americans did in that prison. And they should not flinch from this fact: That pornography is, almost inevitably, part of what empire looks like. It does not always look like that, and does not only look like that. But empire is always about domination. Domination for self-defense, perhaps. Domination for the good of the dominated, arguably. But domination.

And some people will be corrupted by dominating. That is why the leaders of empires must be watchful. [...]

Are the nation's efforts in the deepening global war -- the world is more menacing than it was a year ago -- helped or hindered by Rumsfeld's continuation as the appointed American most conspicuously identified with the conduct of the war? This is not a simple call. But being experienced, he will know how to make the call. Being honorable, he will so do. [...] Were he to resign, would discerning people say that nothing in his public life became him like the leaving of it? [complete article]

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Focus shifts to jail abuse of women
By Luke Harding, The Guardian, May 12, 2004

For Huda Shaker, the humiliation began at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Baghdad. The American soldiers demanded to search her handbag. When she refused one of the soldiers pointed his gun towards her chest.
"He pointed the laser sight directly in the middle of my chest," said Professor Shaker, a political scientist at Baghdad University. "Then he pointed to his penis. He told me, 'Come here, bitch, I'm going to fuck you.'"

The incident is one of a number in which US soldiers are alleged to have abused, intimidated or sexually humiliated Iraqi women.

According to Prof Shaker, several women held in Abu Ghraib jail were sexually abused, including one who was raped by an American military policeman and became pregnant. She has now disappeared. [complete article]

Comment -- One of the many facets of damage control -- and perhaps the most insidious -- is the practice of renaming. It is subtler and far more effective than outright denial but clearly functions to undermine the gravity of an accusation. Hence over the past few days we have heard frequent reference being made to photos and videos of "forced sexual acts." The phrase sounds clinically precise, yet its function is not to be descriptive but to provide a way to avoid bluntly saying "rape."

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Chickenhawk groupthink?
By Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, May 11, 2004

In a 1972 book, 'Victims of Groupthink: A Psychology Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes', Irving Janis identified the Vietnam War and the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba as particularly compelling examples of how very smart people can collectively make very stupid decisions.

In studying the Bay of Pigs, for example, Janis noted that the group around President John Kennedy made a series of assumptions -- that Cubans would welcome the invasion and rise up against Fidel Castro and that the U.S. could credibly deny involvement in the invasion, if necessary -- that were fundamentally deluded.

As in Iraq, many of those assumptions were based largely on the accounts of exiles and defectors, but the group dynamics involved in decision-making also played a key role in rallying the administration of the ''best and the brightest'' behind an adventure that proved disastrous, according to Janis.

A great deal more is known about group dynamics within the Bush administration foreign-policy apparatus today -- as a result of leaks, memoirs, and books, such as Bob Woodward's 'Plan of Attack' and Jim Mann's 'Rise of the Vulcans' -- than was known at the time about the Kennedy administration.

And what is known suggests the existence of two major groups -- an ''in-group'' of hawks whose captain is Vice President Dick Cheney and which has had a decisive influence on Bush himself, and an ''out-group'' of ''realists'' headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage. [complete article]

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Experts: 9/11 vengeance fed Iraq abuse
By David Crary, Associated Press (via Yahoo, May 11, 2004

As U.S. forces surged through the desert to topple Saddam Hussein, slogans and symbols referring to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made clear that a spirit of anti-terrorism vengeance infused the ranks.

"Let's Roll" was a common battle cry, evoking the defiant passengers aboard one of the planes hijacked in those attacks. Soldiers displayed flags from Ground Zero and images of the World Center's twin towers.

More than a year after Saddam's ouster, no proof of his ties to Al Qaida or Sept. 11 has materialized. Some skeptics suggest that the avenging rhetoric and imagery instead may have fostered an atmosphere conducive to the maltreatment of Iraqis who had no connection whatever to international terrorism. [complete article]

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General who made anti-Islam remark tied to POW case
By Andrea Shalal-Esa, Reuters, (via Yahoo), May 11, 2004

The U.S. Army general under investigation for anti-Islamic remarks has been linked by U.S. officials to the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, which experts warned could touch off new outrage overseas.

A Senate hearing into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners was told on Tuesday that Lt. Gen. William Boykin, an evangelical Christian under review for saying his God was superior to that of the Muslims, briefed a top Pentagon civilian official last summer on recommendations on ways military interrogators could gain more intelligence from Iraqi prisoners.

Critics have suggested those recommendations amounted to a senior-level go-ahead for the sexual and physical abuse of prisoners, possibly to "soften up" detainees before interrogation -- a charge the Pentagon denies.

Congressional aides and Arab-American and Muslim groups said any involvement by Boykin could spark new concern among Arabs and Muslims overseas the U.S. war on terrorism is in fact a war on Islam. [complete article]

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Berg family angry with American government over son's brutal death
By Jason Straziuso, Associated Press (via Newsday), May 11, 2004

Michael Berg lashed out at the U.S. military and Bush administration, saying his son might still be alive had he not been detained by U.S. officials in Iraq without being charged and without access to a lawyer.

Nick Berg, a small telecommunications business owner, spoke to his parents on March 24 and told them he would return home on March 30. But Berg was detained by Iraqi police at a checkpoint in Mosul on March 24. He was turned over to U.S. officials and detained for 13 days.

His father, Michael, said his son wasn't allowed to make phone calls or contact a lawyer.

FBI agents visited Berg's parents in West Chester on March 31 and told the family they were trying to confirm their son's identity. On April 5, the Bergs filed suit in federal court in Philadelphia, contending that their son was being held illegally by the U.S. military. The next day Berg was released. He told his parents he hadn't been mistreated.

Michael Berg said he blamed the U.S. government for creating circumstances that led to his son's death. He said if his son hadn't been detained for so long, he might have been able to leave the country before the violence worsened. [complete article]

Qaeda leader beheads U.S. civilian in Iraq - web site
By Ghaida Ghantous, Reuters, May 11, 2004

Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq beheaded an American civilian and vowed more killings in revenge for the "Satanic degradation" of Iraqi prisoners, an Islamist Web site said on Tuesday. [complete article]

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Getting out of a quagmire
By E. J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, May 11, 2004

It's not clear anymore that there is a plausible way to turn the Bush administration's disastrous policy in Iraq into anything that would look remotely like success.

That's why the conventional wisdom among policymakers has reached a tipping point over the past month. Until recently, the widely accepted view was that the United States would have to "see through" the commitment President Bush made. Now, thoughtful people -- including moderates, conservatives and foreign policy realists -- are discussing how to get the United States out of Iraq sooner rather than later, at the lowest possible cost to our own standing in the world and to Iraqis.

This view is being taken seriously because of the incoherence of the administration's approach and its arrogance in dealing with its critics. If you think that word "arrogance" is too strong, consider the statement Vice President Cheney issued through a spokesman over the weekend: that "Don Rumsfeld is the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had," and that "people ought to get off his case and let him do his job."

Let's see. A couple of congressional committees get roughly a half-day each to ask Rumsfeld about one the most appalling moral disasters in our military's history, at the Abu Ghraib prison, and now they should shut up. Cheney knows Rumsfeld is the best. That should be enough. [complete article]

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The psychology of torture
By Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post, May 11, 2004

The U.S. troops who abused Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad were most likely not pathological sadists but ordinary people who felt they were doing the dirty work needed to win the war, experts in the history and psychology of torture say.

Torturers usually believe they are carrying out the will of their societies -- and feel betrayed when the public professes outrage after the abuses come to light, said a range of historians, activists and psychologists. This mentality has played out in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, in the conflict in Northern Ireland, during the Holocaust and within the Chicago Police Department.

"When torture takes place, people believe they are on the high moral ground, that the nation is under threat and they are the front line protecting the nation, and people will be grateful for what they are doing," said John Conroy, author of "Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People," which examined torture in several settings.

What happened at Abu Ghraib, Conroy and other experts said, probably grew out of a shift in American priorities after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: the subordination of human rights to victory in the war against terrorism. [complete article]

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Just trust us
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, May 11, 2004

Didn't you know, in your gut, that something like Abu Ghraib would eventually come to light?

When the world first learned about the abuse of prisoners, President Bush said that it "does not reflect the nature of the American people." He's right, of course: a great majority of Americans are decent and good. But so are a great majority of people everywhere. If America's record is better than that of most countries -- and it is -- it's because of our system: our tradition of openness, and checks and balances.

Yet Mr. Bush, despite all his talk of good and evil, doesn't believe in that system. From the day his administration took office, its slogan has been "just trust us." No administration since Nixon has been so insistent that it has the right to operate without oversight or accountability, and no administration since Nixon has shown itself to be so little deserving of that trust. Out of a misplaced sense of patriotism, Congress has deferred to the administration's demands. Sooner or later, a moral catastrophe was inevitable. [complete article]

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Most 'arrested by mistake'
By Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times, May 11, 2004

Coalition military intelligence officials estimated that 70% to 90% of prisoners detained in Iraq since the war began last year "had been arrested by mistake," according to a confidential Red Cross report given to the Bush administration earlier this year.

Yet the report described a wide range of prisoner mistreatment -- including many new details of abusive techniques -- that it said U.S. officials had failed to halt, despite repeated complaints from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

ICRC monitors saw some improvements by early this year, but the continued abuses "went beyond exceptional cases and might be considered as a practice tolerated" by coalition forces, the report concluded. [complete article]

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Mistreatment of detainees went beyond guards' abuse
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Scott Wilson, Washington Post, May 11, 2004

Problems in the U.S.-run detention system in Iraq extended beyond physical mistreatment in prison cellblocks, involving thousands of arrests without evidence of wrongdoing and abuse of suspects starting from the moment of detention, according to former prisoners, Iraqi lawyers, human rights advocates and the International Committee for the Red Cross.

U.S.-led forces routinely rounded up Iraqis and then denied or restricted their rights under the Geneva Conventions during months of confinement, including rights to legal representation and family visits, the sources said.

In a report in February, the Red Cross stated that some military intelligence officers estimated that 70 percent to 90 percent of "the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake." Of the 43,000 Iraqis who have been imprisoned at some point during the occupation, only about 600 have been referred to Iraqi authorities for prosecution, according to U.S. officials. [complete article]

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Secret world of U.S. interrogation
By Dana Priest and Joe Stephens, Washington Post, May 11, 2004

In Afghanistan, the CIA's secret U.S. interrogation center in Kabul is known as "The Pit," named for its despairing conditions. In Iraq, the most important prisoners are kept in a huge hangar near the runway at Baghdad International Airport, say U.S. government officials, counterterrorism experts and others. In Qatar, U.S. forces have been ferrying some Iraqi prisoners to a remote jail on the gigantic U.S. air base in the desert.

The Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where a unit of U.S. soldiers abused prisoners, is just the largest and suddenly most notorious in a worldwide constellation of detention centers -- many of them secret and all off-limits to public scrutiny -- that the U.S. military and CIA have operated in the name of counterterrorism or counterinsurgency operations since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. [complete article]

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Amnesty report lists 37 'disputed' killings by UK forces
By Kim Sengupta and Cahal Milmo, The Independent, May 11, 2004

Hanan Matrud was playing with three friends when a British Army Warrior armoured vehicle pulled up near her home in a village in southern Iraq. As they ran forward to see what was going on, a shot rang out.

The girl, eight years old, was hit in the stomach with a rifle round. She was taken to the hospital, and had emergency surgery. She died the next day.

There is little dispute that a British soldier was responsible. To her family and neighbours, it was cold-blooded murder. The Army says she was probably hit when a warning shot was fired to disperse a stone-throwing mob. An inquiry has proved, the Army says, that the soldiers were not at fault. Hanan was a "very unfortunate casualty of war". That conclusion is contradicted by a witness, Mizher Yassin, who claims the troops were under no threat. He says Hanan was standing in an alley about 60 to 70 metres from the armoured car when a soldier aimed and fired a shot.

A report issued today by Amnesty International claims the shooting of Hanan, on 21 August 2003 at Karmat Ali, was one of 37 deaths of civilians in incidents involving British forces. It says those who died posed no apparent threat. [complete article]

See Amnesty's report, Killings of civilians in Basra and al-'Amara

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Gaza raids 'leave 1,000 homeless'
BBC News, May 11, 2004

Israeli military raids in Gaza this month have left 1,100 Palestinians homeless, a United Nations agency says.

About 130 homes have been razed in what the UN agency for Palestinian refugees says is one of the most intense periods of destruction for years.

The group says Israel is meting out illegal collective punishment after the killing of a settler and her four daughters in Gaza a week ago. [complete article]

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"I don't care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass." President George W. Bush, September 11, 2001 (quoted by Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies)

Bush circles wagons, but cavalry has joined the Indians
By Jim Lobe,, May 11, 2004

In the old Hollywood westerns, the white settlers circle the wagons to defend themselves against attacks by the Indians until the U.S. Cavalry can arrive to rescue them and chase off their assailants. But in Washington over the last few days it seems that the Cavalry has joined the Indians.

US President George W. Bush, backed by his vice president and national security adviser, have been circling the wagons around Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld since the White House told reporters that the president had given him a mild rebuke over the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.

But the embattled Pentagon chief may have made too many enemies – particularly within his armed forces – to be saved. [complete article]

A failure of leadership at the highest levels
Editorial, Army Times, May 17, 2004

Around the halls of the Pentagon, a term of caustic derision has emerged for the enlisted soldiers at the heart of the furor over the Abu Ghraib prison scandal: the six morons who lost the war.
Indeed, the damage done to the U.S. military and the nation as a whole by the horrifying photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees at the notorious prison is incalculable.

But the folks in the Pentagon are talking about the wrong morons.

There is no excuse for the behavior displayed by soldiers in the now-infamous pictures and an even more damning report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba. Every soldier involved should be ashamed.

But while responsibility begins with the six soldiers facing criminal charges, it extends all the way up the chain of command to the highest reaches of the military hierarchy and its civilian leadership.

The entire affair is a failure of leadership from start to finish. From the moment they are captured, prisoners are hooded, shackled and isolated. The message to the troops: Anything goes. [complete article]

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Human remains in mass graves were photographed by Physicians for Human Rights. A European Union envoy described the prison as being like Auschwitz. A documentary, Massacre At Mazar, provided compelling evidence of American complicity in the torture and murder of 3000 Taliban prisoners. But in 2002 the US media had no interest in the story. Isn't it time to find out what really happened?

America's Srebrenica
By Adam Jones, Counterpunch, May 8, 2004

Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio commentator, has likened the abusive and humiliating treatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers, contractors, and CIA personnel to "a college fraternity prank" (New York Times, 6 May 2004). Anyone with a grain of empathy who has seen images of the degradation inflicted on hapless Iraqi men can only be appalled by the comment. In a sense, however, Limbaugh has a point. The brutal mistreatment at Abu Ghraib prison is small potatoes, compared to what appears to have been a U.S.-sponsored atrocity -- the mass murder of thousands of prisoners of war -- in Afghanistan less than three years ago. [complete article]

U.S. turns away as prisoners face death
By Andrew Buncombe and Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, February 10, 2002

The US has been accused of openly flouting the Geneva Conventions at an Afghan jail where scores of prisoners are at risk of dying from disease and malnutrition, just days after President Bush said Taliban fighters should be protected under international law.

The Independent on Sunday has learnt that the Pentagon has "washed its hands" of Shebarghan jail in northern Afghanistan, which it helped to operate and where it interrogated many of its prisoners. It is now hoping that humanitarian groups and charities will step in and improve the conditions at the jail, where 3,300 prisoners are squeezed together in grossly overcrowded, unsanitary cells, and where many have already died from disease.

An inspection team from the Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) visited the prison recently and declared it "a quiet atrocity". Their report portrayed an institution where there was no running water and little food or medicine. Up to 110 men were being held in cells designed for no more than 15.

Until the middle of last month, the US helped to operate the prison along with General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the warlord who is now deputy defence minister in the interim Afghan administration. A number of the prisoners – most of whom were captured after the fall of the northern city of Kunduz – were taken to Kandahar or Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for further questioning.

But despite the appalling conditions at the prison, the US says it is no longer having anything to do with it, even though it claims the right to return to interview other prisoners. Leonard Rubenstein, executive director of PHR, said: "The information is that the Pentagon is doing nothing for the conditions at the prison. That is a decision that has been taken at four-star general level. They are not taking responsibility for that prison." The group has argued that under the Geneva Conditions the US still has responsibility for conditions at the jail. "This obligation exists irrespective [of] whether the US physically captured the prisoners, whether it currently has custody of them, or whether the detained individuals are considered prisoners of war of the US," it says in its report. [complete article]

Did the U.S. massacre Taliban?
By Neil Mackay, Sunday Herald, June 16, 2002

The tape begins with a mound of earth and bones. By the end of the 20-minute reel it seems established, almost beyond doubt, that US soldiers oversaw and took part in horrific crimes against humanity during the war in Afghanistan -- including the torture and murder of an estimated 3000 Taliban prisoners.
The film, by Scottish documentary maker Jamie Doran, has already been shown to the German Parliament, the Bundestag, and the European Parliament in Strasbourg. This week it will be viewed by members of Congress and military top brass at the Pentagon in Washington. It won't be easy viewing in the USA.

The war crimes are alleged to have taken place after the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan at the end of November last year. The city, which was in the hands of the Taliban, was taken by General Abdul Rashid Dostum, then fighting with the Northern Alliance. Dostum went on to accept the surrender of some 8000 Taliban fighters in the nearby town of Konduz. These Taliban fighters included al-Qaeda, Chechens, Uzbeks and Pakistanis.

After the surrender of Konduz, the Taliban prisoners were then taken to a fort at Qaala Zeini, almost halfway between Mazar-i-Sharif and Sheberghan Prison. This is where the story of the massacre begins. [complete article]

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They've apologized. Now what?
By Roger Cohen, New York Times, May 9, 2004

A military defeat is a damaging thing, and Iraq remains a tense battleground. But a moral one may be more devastating and more enduring for a power like the United States that has long held that its actions are driven, at least in part, by the desire to be a force for good with a liberating mission for all humanity.

It is precisely such a rout of the American idea that now confronts the United States in Iraq. The world is asking what sort of liberation is represented by an American woman holding a prone, naked Iraqi man on a leash in Saddam Hussein's Abu Ghraib prison, of all places. No matter that the offenders represent a tiny minority of the American military or that torture may be common in Arab jails. Such images will be held aloft for many years whenever America declares itself determined to right a wrong.

"This is the most serious setback for the American military since Vietnam," said Richard Holbrooke, a former United States ambassador to the United Nations in the Clinton administration. "We now have to admit that the American position is untenable." In Europe, some people are saying that if America were a country of 10 million people, its leaders would be hauled before an international criminal court.

So, a little more than a year after American tanks swept into Baghdad, the central question has become how to salvage the American credibility on which peace in places from Kosovo to the Korean peninsula depends. [complete article]

Comment -- While politicians and commentators alike struggle over the question of how America's credibility can be restored, most fail to recognize the fundamental change in perception that needs to take place is not in the way that the rest of the world now perceives America. What needs to be understood is that the rest of the world has never viewed America the way America views itself. Come the day that America learns how to see itself the way it is seen by others, a true community of nations might be able to evolve.

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Shiite cleric's militia seizes control of Baghdad slum
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, May 10, 2004

Gunmen and commanders loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr took over the giant Sadr City slum in Baghdad on Sunday, seizing control of police forces, municipal administration and schools and blocking freedom of movement in an area just five miles east of U.S. administration headquarters.

Teenagers wielding rocket-propelled grenade launchers commanded entrances to the slum, home to about a third of Baghdad's 5 million residents. The youths waved commands to visitors with one hand and slung rifles around with the other.

With the quick takeover, which was completed at dawn, Sadr City joined two southern towns, Najaf and Kufa, now under the control of Sadr's militia. [complete article]

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Majority of Iraqis want U.S. to withdraw
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, May 9, 2004

Sadoun Dulame read the results of his latest poll again and again. He added up percentages, highlighted sections and scribbled notes in the margins.

No matter how he crunched the numbers, however, he found himself in the uncomfortable position last week of having to tell occupation authorities that the report they commissioned paints the bleakest picture yet of the U.S.-led coalition's reputation in Iraq. For the first time, according to Dulame's poll, a majority of Iraqis said they'd feel safer if the U.S. military withdrew immediately.

A year ago, just 17 percent of Iraqis wanted the troops gone, according to Dulame's respected research center in Baghdad. Now, the disturbing new results mirror what most Iraqis and many international observers have said for months: Give it up. Go home. This just isn't working. [complete article]

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Poll shows majority want U.K. troops to pull out
By Nigel Morris, The Independent, May 10, 2004

Should British troops pull out of Iraq by 30th June?
55 per cent: YES
28 per cent: NO
17 per cent: DON'T KNOW

Voters support the withdrawal of all British troops from Iraq by the end of next month by a majority of two to one, a poll for The Independent reveals today.

With ministers considering sending more soldiers to Iraq to quell the insurrection against Allied forces, the survey reflects growing public discontent about government policy on the war and occupation. [complete article]

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As insurgency grew, so did prison abuse
By Scott Wilson and Sewell Chan, Washington Post, May 10, 2004

In the fall of 2003, U.S. officials watched anxiously as a potent guerrilla resistance rose across broad swaths of northern and central Iraq. Insurgents assassinated diplomats, detonated car bombs and mounted daily hit-and-run strikes on U.S. soldiers. Fearful of reprisals, Iraqis shrank from collaborating with an occupation authority that appeared powerless to reverse the tide of violence and lawlessness.

Less than two weeks after 1,000 pounds of explosives demolished U.N. headquarters here on Aug. 19, driving the organization from Iraq, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller arrived in Baghdad from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was warden of the U.S. detention facility for suspected terrorists. Miller's mission in Iraq signaled new zeal to organize an intelligence network that could hit back at the insurgents, but through unorthodox means.

"He came up there and told me he was going to 'Gitmoize' the detention operation," turning it into a hub of interrogation, said Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, then commander of the military prison system in Iraq. "But the difference is, in Guantanamo Bay there isn't a war going on outside the wall." [complete article]

See also Abu Ghraib and beyond (Newsweek).

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Official U.S. reaction compounds the rage
By Abbas Kadhim, Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2004

From the first moment of the Iraq war, President Bush and his advisors have failed to recognize that there are two Iraqs -- one imagined in his postwar plan, the other real. The former was shaped by flawed intelligence, hollow Orientalists, cunning Iraqi exiles and wishful thinking. The latter remains a mystery to the U.S. occupiers.

After every dreadful event in Iraq, the administration's reaction reveals its dangerous attitude: It's all about the United States. Already, we have a pile of news articles and commentary on the effects the prisoner abuse scandal will have on the future of the occupation, U.S. credibility, Bush's chances for reelection and the reputation of the Army. What's missing is anything about the scandal's effect on the hearts and souls of the Iraqis. They are the ones who will carry the scars of this sad episode for generations to come.

The U.S.' self-absorbed angst plays well at home. But where it matters, in Iraq and in the Middle East, it only adds fuel to the raging fire. Arabs have a favorite expression for such behavior: "He slapped me and cried." The U.S. reaction to the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib has reinforced the prevailing view among Arabs that the life and dignity of an Iraqi -- or any Arab, for that matter -- is beside the point. [complete article]

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First trial set to begin May 19 in abuse in Iraq
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, May 10, 2004

A 24-year-old military policeman from Pennsylvania will be court-martialed here on May 19, the first American soldier to face trial in the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, military officials said Sunday. In an extraordinary gesture to address outrage over the abuse scandal, the military is permitting broad public access to the trial and will invite the Arab news media.

The policeman, Specialist Jeremy Sivits, who American officials contend took some of the photographs of Iraqi prisoners that captured the abuse as it unfolded, is one of seven American soldiers to face criminal charges and the first to receive a trial date. There were indications that Specialist Sivits had reached a plea agreement with prosecutors in exchange for leniency at sentencing.

The decision to allow a wide level of public access to Specialist Sivits's court-martial appears to reflect a conclusion by American commanders that the abuse and the photographs have severely damaged the credibility of the United States enterprise in Iraq and the country's reputation in the Middle East. While American courts-martial are not usually conducted in secret, it is unusual for the military justice authorities to make them easily accessible to the public.

"It is our endeavor and it is our desire to make the upcoming courts-martial as available as possible," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the deputy chief of operations, said at a briefing here. "We try to make these types of proceedings as transparent as possible. It is not our intention to hide anything." [complete article]

Comment -- What Kimmitt is calling "transparency" sounds more like a show trial. Ever since the evidence of abuse started to emerge, the Pentagon's overriding concern has been damage control and as is so often the case the effort to limit the damage ends up compounding the problem.

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The price of arrogance
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, May 17, 2004

"America is ushering in a new responsibility era," says President Bush as part of his standard stump speech, "where each of us understands we're responsible for the decisions we make in life." When speaking about bad CEOs he's even clearer as to what it entails: "You're beginning to see the consequences of people making irresponsible decisions. They need to pay a price for their irresponsibility."

"I take full responsibility," said Donald Rumsfeld in his congressional testimony last week. But what does this mean? Secretary Rumsfeld hastened to add that he did not plan to resign and was not going to ask anyone else who might have been "responsible" to resign. As far as I can tell, taking responsibility these days means nothing more than saying the magic words "I take responsibility."

After the greatest terrorist attack against America, no one was asked to resign, and the White House didn't even want to launch a serious investigation into it. The 9/11 Commission was created after months of refusals because some of the victims' families pursued it aggressively and simply didn't give up. After the fiasco over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, not one person was even reassigned. The only people who have been fired or cashiered in this administration are men like Gen. Eric Shinseki, Paul O'Neill and Larry Lindsey, who spoke inconvenient truths.

Rumsfeld went on in his testimony to explain that "these terrible acts were perpetrated by a small number." That's correct, except the small number who are truly responsible are not the handful of uniformed personnel currently being charged for the prison abuse scandal. The events at Abu Ghraib are part of a larger breakdown in American policy over the past two years. And it has been perpetrated by a small number of people at the highest levels of government. [complete article]

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Like the Wehrmacht, we've descended into barbarity
By Richard Overy, The Guardian, May 10, 2004

Since the 1940s, all instances of asymmetrical warfare - where local populations have sustained irregular campaigns against an occupying army - have occasioned a brutal, sometimes atrocious, response. This was true of British forces fighting the Mau Mau in Kenya, US troops in Vietnam, Russian armies in Chechnya and, it now turns out, of coalition forces in occupied Iraq. The term used to describe the terrible behaviour of German forces in the Soviet Union, the "barbarisation of warfare", can be transferred to many other contexts, though none as grim or murderous.

How does it happen? Some historians of the eastern front see the degeneration of military behaviour as something provoked by the fearful and dangerous reality of guerrilla warfare. When military forces are attacked by resistance movements using ambushes, bomb attacks and hostage-taking, they inevitably respond with accentuated violence.

Others have argued that what matters is the set of assumptions - about race, about the occupied society, about what is permitted when troops are fighting irregular warfare - which soldiers bring with them. The predisposition to see the enemy as inferior, bestial, or outside the law, so the argument goes, produces a rapid descent into casual brutality and mistreatment. The dialectic of terror between the two sides - heavily armed soldiers on one side, and poorly resourced but desperate resistance on the other - has always proved hard to reverse.

In Iraq, both elements are at work. Coalition soldiers and security men are the subject of random, repeated attacks which have resulted in many deaths. The arbitrary nature of those casualties, and the impossibility of seeing the enemy clearly, encourage armed forces to respond in ways that would be intolerable in conventional warfare.

Many of the Iraqis who have been killed have been bystanders, rather than insurgents. Attacks against resistance targets have resulted in further destruction and the death of more civilians. The mistreatment of prisoners, common in Iraq as in occupied Russia or Vietnam, has horrified world opinion. But it is the standard behaviour of troops under pressure, fighting a war whose purpose is hard for them to understand. [complete article]

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Chain of command
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, May 9, 2004

Within the Pentagon, there was a spate of fingerpointing last week. One top general complained to a colleague that the commanders in Iraq should have taken C4, a powerful explosive, and blown up Abu Ghraib last spring, with all of its "emotional baggage" -- the prison was known for its brutality under Saddam Hussein -- instead of turning it into an American facility. "This is beyond the pale in terms of lack of command attention," a retired major general told me, speaking of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. "Where were the flag officers? And I'm not just talking about a one-star," he added, referring to Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commander at Abu Ghraib who was relieved of duty. "This was a huge leadership failure."

The Pentagon official told me that many senior generals believe that, along with the civilians in Rumsfeld's office, General Sanchez and General John Abizaid, who is in charge of the Central Command, in Tampa, Florida, had done their best to keep the issue quiet in the first months of the year. The official chain of command flows from General Sanchez, in Iraq, to Abizaid, and on to Rumsfeld and President Bush. "You've got to match action, or nonaction, with interests," the Pentagon official said. "What is the motive for not being forthcoming? They foresaw major diplomatic problems." [...]

In his news conference last Tuesday, Rumsfeld, when asked whether he thought the photographs and stories from Abu Ghraib were a setback for American policy in Iraq, still seemed to be in denial. "Oh, I’m not one for instant history," he responded. By Friday, however, with some members of Congress and with editorials calling for his resignation, Rumsfeld testified at length before House and Senate committees and apologized for what he said was "fundamentally un-American" wrongdoing at Abu Ghraib. He also warned that more, and even uglier, disclosures were to come. Rumsfeld said that he had not actually looked at any of the Abu Ghraib photographs until some of them appeared in press accounts, and hadn't reviewed the Army's copies until the day before. When he did, they were "hard to believe," he said. "There are other photos that depict . . . acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel, and inhuman." Later, he said, "It's going to get still more terrible, I'm afraid." Rumsfeld added, "I failed to recognize how important it was."

NBC News later quoted U.S. military officials as saying that the unreleased photographs showed American soldiers "severely beating an Iraqi prisoner nearly to death, having sex with a female Iraqi prisoner, and 'acting inappropriately with a dead body.' The officials said there also was a videotape, apparently shot by U.S. personnel, showing Iraqi guards raping young boys." [complete article]

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Dissension grows in senior ranks on war strategy
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, May 9, 2004

Deep divisions are emerging at the top of the U.S. military over the course of the occupation of Iraq, with some senior officers beginning to say that the United States faces the prospect of casualties for years without achieving its goal of establishing a free and democratic Iraq.

Their major worry is that the United States is prevailing militarily but failing to win the support of the Iraqi people. That view is far from universal, but it is spreading and being voiced publicly for the first time.

Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, "I think strategically, we are." [complete article]

To win the peace, we must 'lose' the war
By John Brady Kiesling, Washington Post, May 9, 2004

The uprising of radical Shiite Moqtada Sadr and his militia, an uprising that briefly unified Sunni and Shiite insurgencies in opposition to the United States, points the way forward. Our goal is a legitimate Iraqi state. Resistance to the United States turned Sadr from a scruffy mediocrity into a national figure. The struggle against foreign occupation can generate the legitimacy needed to hold Iraq together. A leader who drives the Americans out can claim the loyalty of enough of the Iraqi people to govern Iraq by methods more acceptable than Saddam Hussein's.

To achieve its vital war aims, in other words, America must abandon its dream of victory and accept the appearance of defeat. What does this mean in practice? Quite simply, the United States must take a cold, analytical look at the forces arrayed against us in Iraq and decide which leader should be allowed the glorious destiny of redeeming his country from foreign occupation. Once the United States has fixed on a credible resistance leader, our goal should be to cede him tactical, positional victories while denying them to his competitors. The U.S. military might be able to find and disable any resistance large enough to be a military threat, but this leader's movement we should allow to grow. We should open a communications channel, and enforce a set of rules to limit the battlefield and minimize casualties. [complete article]

Anti-occupation Iraqi group forms
Aljazeera, May 9, 2004

A pan-Iraqi group has been formed to oppose the occupation of Iraq and has immediately called for a meeting with UN envoy al-Akhdar al-Ibrahimi in a direct challenge to the country's US-appointed leadership.

About 500 Iraqis met in Baghdad on Saturday to set up a national political force free of US influence to push for a handover of sovereignty under the auspices of the United Nations.

The United Iraqi Scholars Group - which appointed a 16-strong leadership panel - has vowed to boycott any political group set up by the US and called for a stronger army than the small force envisioned by the US-led coalition.

After a five-hour conference, the group said its agenda was based on "legitimate resistance to end the occupation" and keep Iraq united.

The group of moderate Shia and Sunni Muslims as well as Kurds also demanded the US-appointed Governing Council should be sidelined. [complete article]

Comment -- Since at this point few people inside or outside Iraq believe that the Bush administration has a coherent strategy for creating a free, democratic, sovereign Iraq, the debate about whether America should or shouldn't "stay the course" has no meaning. Nevertheless, advocates of a rapid troop withdrawal must either concede that they are in effect saying, to hell with Iraq; it's not our problem. Or, they need to present a plausible political strategy that either President Bush, or a President Kerry, could follow. The failure in most of the proposals thus far put forward (and the one above by John Brady Kiesling is no exception) is that they raise principle above pragmatism to a point where though they might be rational they are also worthless because there is not the faintest hope that either the political leaders we have, or those who might replace them, would implement any of these proposals. Is any commander in chief going to select his opponent of choice (as Kiesling suggests) and send American troops into battles that they are meant to lose? In The Nation, Naom Chomsky writes that "the orders issued by proconsul Bremer are illegitimate and should be rescinded." I agree -- but it's not going to happen (at least, not while Iraq remains under occupation).

The underlying problem is as old as politics: Realists regard political visions as utopian pipe-dreams, while idealists give more attention to the way things should be than the practical mechanisms that are capable of leading from here to there.

If there is a way forward in Iraq that does not lead deeper into the abyss, there is a glimmer of hope in the formation of the new United Iraqi Scholars Group. The United States cannot extricate itself from Iraq unless it can transfer authority to a body whose legitimacy is recognized by most Iraqis. While the United Iraqi Scholars Group has not been elected, the simple fact that it appears to be a truly pan-Iraqi, native-born organization gives it much greater potential to be regarded as legitimate than any body whose members have been selected by the CPA or the UN. A politically palatable exit strategy for the American president (whoever that is) will need the face-saving element that it can be presented to Americans as a desirable outcome to the war. George Bush's concern right now is not whether he can help fulfill the dreams of any of his neoconservative advisors; it is how to avoid a humiliating defeat and a failure that would not only dog his second term but subsequently consign the Republicans to political oblivion. Those of us who hope for his electoral defeat this year should take no comfort in watching Iraq spiral out of control. The difference between "success" or "failure" in Iraq may hinge on grasping an opportunity to transfer power to a political group rather than concede defeat by an armed insurgency. If this opportunity currently exists, it probably won't last long. A body that could offer the US a somewhat graceful way out of Iraq could just as easily provide the insurgency with a political leadership it now lacks.

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British troops shot Iraqi civilians dead in cold blood, new dossier claims
By Severin Carrell and Andrew Johnson, The Independent, May 9, 2004

Eight new cases of Iraqi civilians allegedly being shot dead in cold blood by British troops are detailed in documents seen by The Independent on Sunday.

The deaths will be added to a dossier of more than a dozen such cases being presented to the High Court in London on Tuesday.

Lawyers acting for the dead men's families will urge the court to ask Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, to hold an independent judicial inquiry into the deaths - a demand backed by senior MPs [Members of Parliament]. [complete article]

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By Peter Beaumont, Paul Harris, and Jason Burke, The Observer, May 9, 2004

There are two versions of what Specialist Sabrina Harman, a US military police officer, was doing with a camera in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. According to her mother, the former assistant manager of Papa John's pizza restaurant in north Virginia was collecting evidence of improper treatment in the jail.

Robin Harman told yesterday's Washington Post that when her daughter told her what she was doing during her two weeks' leave at home last November, she told her to stop. 'We got into an argument about it at 4 am. Sabrina said she had to prove this. I told her to bring the pictures home, hide them and stay out of it.' It is not an explanation accepted by military investigators probing Harman's role in the abuse at Abu Ghraib.

Neither is it an explanation seemingly borne out by the digital photographs seized from Harman's laptop. Among the hundreds of pictures found is one taken before her unit got to Abu Ghraib last October - a gruesome trophy photograph showing Harman crouching by a decaying corpse giving the camera a thumbs-up and a grin. [complete article]

Image by image, confession by confession, the horror emerges
By Raymond Whitaker and Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, May 9, 004

As the Abu Ghraib scandal engulfed Washington last week, with the media full of pictures of grinning US military police next to naked Iraqi detainees, Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News called a contact in the Pentagon with a query about the six soldiers facing charges for the abuse. "You mean the six morons who lost the war?" the official said. From this side of the Atlantic the official's response might seem a little blinkered. What about all the questions and doubts that already existed - about the exaggerations and lies which took us into war, about the bungled aftermath of a supremely successful military campaign, and about the cost in money and lives of suppressing a growing insurgency against the supposed liberators of the country? He spoke, however, for many Americans, almost certainly including President George Bush and his Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. [complete article]

Pentagon approved tougher interrogations
By Dana Priest and Joe Stephens, Washington Post, May 9, 2004

In April 2003, the Defense Department approved interrogation techniques for use at the Guantanamo Bay prison that permit reversing the normal sleep patterns of detainees and exposing them to heat, cold and "sensory assault," including loud music and bright lights, according to defense officials.

The classified list of about 20 techniques was approved at the highest levels of the Pentagon and the Justice Department, and represents the first publicly known documentation of an official policy permitting interrogators to use physically and psychologically stressful methods during questioning.

The use of any of these techniques requires the approval of senior Pentagon officials -- and in some cases, of the defense secretary. Interrogators must justify that the harshest treatment is "militarily necessary," according to the document, as cited by one official. Once approved, the harsher treatment must be accompanied by "appropriate medical monitoring." [...]

Defense officials said yesterday that the techniques on the list are consistent with international law and contain appropriate safeguards such as legal and medical monitoring. "The high-level approval is done with forethought by people in responsibility, and layers removed from the people actually doing these things, so you can have an objective approach," said one senior defense official familiar with the guidelines.

But Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said the tactics outlined in the U.S. document amount to cruel and inhumane treatment. "The courts have ruled most of these techniques illegal," he said. "If it's illegal here under the U.S. Constitution, it's illegal abroad. . . . This isn't even close."

According to two defense officials, prisoners could be made to disrobe for interrogation if they were are alone in their cells. But Col. David McWilliams, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command, said stripping prisoners was not part of the permitted interrogation techniques. "We have no protocol that allows us to disrobe a detainee whatsoever," he said. Prisoners may be disrobed in order to clean them and administer medical treatment, he said.
[complete article]

A prison on the brink
By Scott Higham, Josh White and Christian Davenport, Washington Post, May 9, 2004

For U.S. military police officers in Baghdad, the Abu Ghraib prison was particularly hellish. Insurgents were firing mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades over the walls. The prisoners were prone to riot. There was no PX, no mess hall, no recreation facilities to escape the heat and dust. About 450 MPs were supervising close to 7,000 inmates, many of them crowded into cells, many more kept in tents hastily arranged on dirt fields within the razor-wired walls of the compound. Around the perimeter, GIs kept wary eyes on Iraqi guards of questionable loyalty.

Precisely how many prisoners were being held at Abu Ghraib was anyone's guess. Roll calls were spotty. Escapes were commonplace. Prison logs were replete with flippant and unprofessional remarks. MPs were occasionally out of uniform, and some were out of control. Discipline was breaking down. So was the chain of command. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Act now or a civil war may hit Iraq
By Anthony H. Cordesman, Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2004
A year into the "war after the war," far too many U.S. officials are still in a state of denial. They ignore the ABC poll conducted in February that found roughly two-thirds of Sunnis and one-third of Shiites to be opposed to the U.S. and British invasion and "humiliated" by it. They ignore the fact that roughly one-third of Sunnis and two-thirds of Shiites support violence against the coalition and want coalition forces to leave Iraq immediately. They talk about the insurgents as a "small minority" because only a small minority so far have been violent -- a reality in virtually every insurgent campaign and one that in no way is a measure of support for violence. They do not see just how much the perceived U.S. tilt toward Israel and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon alienates Iraqis and Arabs in general. They do not admit the near total failure of U.S. information operations, and the fact that Iraqis watch hostile Arab satellite TV stations and rely on newspapers filled with misinformation and conspiracy theories. They measure success in aid programs in terms of contracts signed, fiscal obligations and gross measures of performance like megawatts, not in terms of progress on the ground, the kind that can really win hearts and minds. They fail to understand that U.S. calls for liberty, democracy and reform have become coupled with images of American interference in Arab regimes, the broad resentment of careless negative U.S. references to Islam and Arab culture, and conspiracy theories about control of Iraqi oil, neoimperialism and serving "Zionist" interests. These were among my observations during a recent trip to the region. I returned to the United States last week after finding the situation more disturbing than ever.

A wretched new picture of America
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, May 5, 2004
Among the corrosive lies a nation at war tells itself is that the glory -- the lofty goals announced beforehand, the victories, the liberation of the oppressed -- belongs to the country as a whole; but the failure -- the accidents, the uncounted civilian dead, the crimes and atrocities -- is always exceptional. Noble goals flow naturally from a noble people; the occasional act of barbarity is always the work of individuals, unaccountable, confusing and indigestible to the national conscience. This kind of thinking was widely in evidence among military and political leaders after the emergence of pictures documenting American abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. These photographs do not capture the soul of America, they argued. They are aberrant. This belief, that the photographs are distortions, despite their authenticity, is indistinguishable from propaganda. Tyrants censor; democracies self-censor. Tyrants concoct propaganda in ministries of information; democracies produce it through habits of thought so ingrained that a basic lie of war -- only the good is our doing -- becomes self-propagating.

How Ahmed Chalabi conned the neocons
By John Dizard, Salon, May 4, 2004
When the definitive history of the current Iraq war is finally written, wealthy exile Ahmed Chalabi will be among those judged most responsible for the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. More than a decade ago Chalabi teamed up with American neoconservatives to sell the war as the cornerstone of an energetic new policy to bring democracy to the Middle East -- and after 9/11, as the crucial antidote to global terrorism. It was Chalabi who provided crucial intelligence on Iraqi weaponry to justify the invasion, almost all of which turned out to be false, and laid out a rosy scenario about the country's readiness for an American strike against Saddam that led the nation's leaders to predict -- and apparently even believe -- that they would be greeted as liberators. Chalabi also promised his neoconservative patrons that as leader of Iraq he would make peace with Israel, an issue of vital importance to them. A year ago, Chalabi was riding high, after Saddam Hussein fell with even less trouble than expected. Now his power is slipping away, and some of his old neoconservative allies -- whose own political survival is looking increasingly shaky as the U.S. occupation turns nightmarish -- are beginning to turn on him. The U.S. reversed its policy of excluding former Baathists from the Iraqi army -- a policy devised by Chalabi -- and Marine commanders even empowered former Republican Guard officers to run the pacification of Fallujah. Last week United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi delivered a devastating blow to Chalabi's future leadership hopes, recommending that the Iraqi Governing Council, of which he is finance chair, be accorded no governance role after the June 30 transition to sovereignty. Meanwhile, administration neoconservatives, once united behind Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress he founded, are now split, as new doubts about his long-stated commitment to a secular Iraqi democracy with ties to Israel, and fears that he is cozying up to his Shiite co-religionists in Iran, begin to emerge. At least one key Pentagon neocon is said to be on his way out, a casualty of the battle over Chalabi and the increasing chaos in Iraq, and others could follow.

As long as the plan contains the magic term 'withdrawal', it is seen as a good thing
By Ilan Pappe, London Review of Books, May 6, 2004
The day after the assassination in Gaza of the Hamas leader, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, Yuval Steinitz was interviewed on Israeli radio. Steinitz is the Likud chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee in the Knesset. Before that he taught Western philosophy at the University of Haifa, where his epistemological world-view was shaped by romantic nationalists such as Gobineau and Fichte, who stressed purity of race as a precondition for national excellence. The translation of these European notions of racial superiority to Israel became evident as soon as the interviewer asked him about the government's plans for the remaining Palestinian leaders. Interviewer and interviewee giggled and agreed that the policy will be, as it should be, the assassination or expulsion of the entire current leadership: namely, all the members of the Palestinian Authority - about forty thousand people. 'I am so happy,' Steinitz said, 'that the Americans have finally come to their senses and are fully supporting our policies.' On television, Benny Morris of Ben Gurion University repeated his support for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, claiming this as the best means of solving the conflict in Palestine. The New York Times and the New Republic were among the many stages on which Morris was invited to rehearse his views. Opinions that used to be considered at best marginal, at worst lunatic, are now at the heart of the Israeli Jewish consensus, and disseminated by establishment academics on prime-time television as the only truth. Israel in 2004 is a paranoid society led by a fanatical political elite, determined to bring the conflict to an end by force and destruction, whatever the price to its society or its potential victims. Often this elite is supported only by the American administration, while the rest of the world watches helpless and bewildered.

What about the other secret U.S. prisons?
By Reed Brody, International Herald Tribune, May 3, 2004
We must all, like President George W. Bush, share a "deep disgust" at the pictures of U.S. military personnel subjecting Iraqi detainees to humiliating treatment. The problem, however, is that this does not appear to be an isolated incident. Across the world, the United States is holding detainees in offshore and foreign prisons where allegations of mistreatment cannot be monitored. It has also been accused of sending terror suspects to countries where information has been beaten out of them. The classic case, of course, has been Guantanamo, Cuba, which the Bush administration deliberately chose as a detention facility for more than 700 detainees from 44 countries in an attempt to put them beyond the reach of the U.S. courts - and of any courts, for that matter. The U.S. government has argued that U.S. courts would not have jurisdiction over these detainees even if it they were being tortured or summarily executed. But Guantanamo may not be the worst problem; indeed, it may even be a diversion from more extreme situations. Perhaps out of concern that Guantanamo will eventually be monitored by the U.S. courts, the Bush administration does not hold its most sensitive and high-profile detainees there. Terrorism suspects like Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed are detained instead in undisclosed locations outside the United States, with no access to Red Cross or other visits.

Heroin boom in Afghanistan overwhelms border nations
By Mark McDonald, Knight Ridder, May 3, 2004
Heroin producers in Afghanistan, some of the principal financiers of al-Qaida and other terrorists, have never before been so brazen or so wealthy. With a bumper crop of opium poppies under cultivation, Afghan narco-barons have begun stamping their brand names on the 2.2-pound bags of heroin they smuggle out of Central Asia to buyers in Moscow, Amsterdam, London and New York. Sacks of high-quality Afghan heroin seized last week in Tajikistan carried the trademarks "Super Power" and "555." Some of the sacks, which were hidden inside foil-lined containers of instant cappuccino mix, even included the addresses of the labs in Afghanistan where the heroin had been refined. A Western-led campaign against opium-growing and heroin laboratories has been a wholesale failure, and drug-control experts say the number of processing facilities in Afghanistan has exploded over the last year. The trade and huge sums of money involved threaten to undermine vulnerable bordering states such as Tajikistan. "There's absolutely no threat to the labs inside Afghanistan," said Maj. Avaz Yuldashov of the Tajikistan Drug Control Agency. "Our intelligence shows there are 400 labs making heroin there, and 80 of them are situated right along our border. Some of them even work outside, in the open air." Some 200,000 acres of opium poppies have been planted in Afghanistan - opium serves as the raw material of heroin - and the country's late-summer harvest will produce three-fourths of the world's heroin. That will mean further billions for growers, smugglers, corrupt officials and Afghan warlords.

The price for peace that Israel is unwilling to pay
By Max Hastings, The Guardian, May 3, 2004
God has been misappropriated for many purposes in many lands over the centuries, but seldom in such a bad cause as that of the Jewish settlers of occupied Gaza and the West Bank. Yesterday, they enjoyed a political triumph. It was their ferocious lobbying that persuaded the ruling Israeli Likud party to reject, in its referendum, Ariel Sharon's proposal to "disengage" from Gaza. Sharon intends to take his plan to the Knesset anyway. But the Likud vote makes it plain that the Israeli right - including the likely next prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu - remain opposed to any significant retreat from Israel's empire on Palestinian lands, which the settlers claim as theirs by biblical right. Sharon, the arch-hawk, intends to withdraw from Gaza. Why? Because even the most ardent Israeli conservatives recognise the demographic problem their country faces. In a few years, Jews in Israel and the occupied lands will be outnumbered by Arabs. The response of many Likud members to this problem is to create an apartheid state, in which Palestinians have no political rights. Even the Bush administration could not swallow that. Sharon's answer, instead, is to saw off the branch supporting the 1.2 million Palestinians of Gaza. Israel will then be in a position to maintain its grip on much of the West Bank and its 2 million Palestinians, and to maintain the settlement programmes there, which already provide homes for 230,000 Jews. Likud members have now rejected this proposal, because it is not tough enough. They have bowed to the urgings of fanatics in the settlement movement, who will envision no significant withdrawal whatever from occupied territory. They have a mandate, they say, from God.

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