The War in Context
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Army faltered in investigating detainee abuse
By Tim Golden, New York Times, May 22, 2005

Despite autopsy findings of homicide and statements by soldiers that two prisoners died after being struck by guards at an American military detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, Army investigators initially recommended closing the case without bringing any criminal charges, documents and interviews show.

Within days after the two deaths in December 2002, military coroners determined that both had been caused by "blunt force trauma" to the legs. Soon after, soldiers and others at Bagram told the investigators that military guards had repeatedly struck both men in the thighs while they were shackled and that one had also been mistreated by military interrogators.

Nonetheless, agents of the Army's Criminal Investigation Command reported to their superiors that they could not clearly determine who was responsible for the detainees' injuries, military officials said. Military lawyers at Bagram took the same position, according to confidential documents from the investigation obtained by The New York Times. [complete article]

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In U.S. report, brutal details of 2 Afghan inmates' deaths
By Tim golden, New York Times, May 20, 2005

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time. [complete article]

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Consider the source
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, May 19, 2005

A controversial exile movement cited by President George W. Bush as a source of information on Iran's nuclear ambitions is condemned for psychologically and physically abusing its own members in a new report by Human Rights Watch.

In a document scheduled for public release this week, Human Rights Watch alleges that the Iranian exile group known as Mujahedine Khalq (MEK) has a history of cultlike practices that include forcing members to divorce their spouses and to engage in extended self-criticism sessions. [complete article]

See the full report from HRW, No exit: Human rights abuses inside the Mojahedin Khalq camps.

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Iran flexes its 'soft power' in Iraq
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, May 20, 2005

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite leader, never meets with American officials. But when Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi arrived in Iraq this week, the revered Iranian-born cleric threw open his doors.

Their meeting revealed the warmth that met the foreign minister during his three-day visit, which sometimes felt more like a family reunion than a meeting of leaders of nations that fought throughout the 1980s, at the cost of 1 million dead and wounded. The trip that ended Thursday also underscored a US policy dilemma in Iraq. [complete article]

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Can China be contained?
By Jeffrey E. Garten, YaleGlobal, May 19, 2005

For over a decade now pundits have speculated as to how the rise of China as a major power would affect the world. That future is now, and the Western powers are flailing about, wondering how to respond. Pressure is building on China on many fronts to modify its behavior without clear thought as to how all these pressures will end up affecting everyone caught in the web of globalization. [complete article]

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2 sides in Bolton debate take positions for next stage of fight
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, May 19, 2005

Republicans and Democrats drew new lines on Wednesday in the battle over John R. Bolton, issuing rival reports to stake out their positions for the next stage of the Senate debate over his nomination to become ambassador to the United Nations.

The reports reflected the deep divisions on the Foreign Relations Committee that prevented Mr. Bolton from winning its endorsement last week. The panel's Republicans, who took the unusual step of voting to send Mr. Bolton's nomination to the Senate without a recommendation, submitted only an eight-page brief that described him as "a highly qualified nominee" who had not sought to manipulate intelligence, despite the claims of his critics.

The Democrats, who were united in opposition to the nomination, used their own 64-page report to present a case against Mr. Bolton as someone whose conduct toward subordinates and intelligence analysts should disqualify him for the post. [complete article]

See Steven Clemons on how Bolton lied to Senate Foreign Relations Committee and read the complete minority report.

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Vicious circle: The dynamics of occupation and resistance in Iraq
By Carl Conetta, Project on Defense Alternatives, May 18, 2005

An examination of Iraqi public opinion data and interviews suggests that coalition military activity may be substantially contributing to Iraqi discontent and opposition. A "vicious circle" is indicated, whereby actions to curtail the insurgency feed the insurgency.

Public discontent is the water in which the insurgents swim. Polls show that a large majority of Iraqis have little faith in coalition troops and view them as occupiers, not liberators. There is significant support for attacks on foreign troops and a large majority of Iraqis want them to leave within a year. But attitudes about the occupation vary significantly among communities.

Kurds are uniquely positive about the occupation and postwar order. Sunnis express the strongest opposition. Shiites often represents a midway position. Like the Kurds, Shiites felt very positive about the 2005 election. However, regarding foreign troops: Shiite opinion is closer to Sunni, although it varies in accord with coalition military action. [complete article]

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Generals offer a sober outlook on Iraqi war
By John F. Burns and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, May 19, 2005

American military commanders in Baghdad and Washington gave a sobering new assessment on Wednesday of the war in Iraq, adding to the mood of anxiety that prompted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to come to Baghdad last weekend to consult with the new government.

In interviews and briefings this week, some of the generals pulled back from recent suggestions, some by the same officers, that positive trends in Iraq could allow a major drawdown in the 138,000 American troops late this year or early in 2006. One officer suggested Wednesday that American military involvement could last "many years." [complete article]

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The secret way to war
By Mark Danner, New York Review of Books, June 9, 2005

It was October 16, 2002, and the United States Congress had just voted to authorize the President to go to war against Iraq. When George W. Bush came before members of his Cabinet and Congress gathered in the East Room of the White House and addressed the American people, he was in a somber mood befitting a leader speaking frankly to free citizens about the gravest decision their country could make.

The 107th Congress, the President said, had just become "one of the few called by history to authorize military action to defend our country and the cause of peace." But, he hastened to add, no one should assume that war was inevitable. Though "Congress has now authorized the use of force," the President said emphatically, "I have not ordered the use of force. I hope the use of force will not become necessary." The President went on:
"Our goal is to fully and finally remove a real threat to world peace and to America. Hopefully this can be done peacefully. Hopefully we can do this without any military action. Yet, if Iraq is to avoid military action by the international community, it has the obligation to prove compliance with all the world's demands. It's the obligation of Iraq."
Iraq, the President said, still had the power to prevent war by "declaring and destroying all its weapons of mass destruction" -- but if Iraq did not declare and destroy those weapons, the President warned, the United States would "go into battle, as a last resort."

It is safe to say that, at the time, it surprised almost no one when the Iraqis answered the President's demand by repeating their claim that in fact there were no weapons of mass destruction. As we now know, the Iraqis had in fact destroyed these weapons, probably years before George W. Bush's ultimatum: "the Iraqis" -- in the words of chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kaye -- "were telling the truth."

As Americans watch their young men and women fighting in the third year of a bloody counterinsurgency war in Iraq -- a war that has now killed more than 1,600 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis -- they are left to ponder "the unanswered question" of what would have happened if the United Nations weapons inspectors had been allowed -- as all the major powers except the United Kingdom had urged they should be -- to complete their work. What would have happened if the UN weapons inspectors had been allowed to prove, before the U.S. went "into battle," what David Kaye and his colleagues finally proved afterward?

Thanks to a formerly secret memorandum published by the London Sunday Times on May 1, during the run-up to the British elections, we now have a partial answer to that question. The memo, which records the minutes of a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair's senior foreign policy and security officials, shows that even as President Bush told Americans in October 2002 that he "hope[d] the use of force will not become necessary" -- that such a decision depended on whether or not the Iraqis complied with his demands to rid themselves of their weapons of mass destruction -- the President had in fact already definitively decided, at least three months before, to choose this "last resort" of going "into battle" with Iraq. Whatever the Iraqis chose to do or not do, the President's decision to go to war had long since been made. [complete article]

Comment -- If you read the Downing Street "secret memo" before anyone in the US press (mainstream or progressive) was paying attention to it, you might have seen it at The War in Context on May 1.

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Earthly empires
Business Week, May 23, 2005

[Pastor Joel] Osteen's flourishing Lakewood enterprise brought in $55 million in contributions last year, four times the 1999 amount, church officials say. Flush with success, Osteen is laying out $90 million to transform the massive Compaq Center in downtown Houston -- former home of the NBA's Houston Rockets -- into a church that will seat 16,000, complete with a high-tech stage for his TV shows and Sunday School for 5,000 children. After it opens in July, he predicts weekend attendance will rocket to 100,000. Says Osteen: "Other churches have not kept up, and they lose people by not changing with the times."

Pastor Joel is one of a new generation of evangelical entrepreneurs transforming their branch of Protestantism into one of the fastest-growing and most influential religious groups in America. Their runaway success is modeled unabashedly on business. They borrow tools ranging from niche marketing to MBA hiring to lift their share of U.S. churchgoers. Like Osteen, many evangelical pastors focus intently on a huge potential market -- the millions of Americans who have drifted away from mainline Protestant denominations or simply never joined a church in the first place.

To reach these untapped masses, savvy leaders are creating Sunday Schools that look like Disney World and church caf├ęs with the appeal of Starbucks. Although most hold strict religious views, they scrap staid hymns in favor of multimedia worship and tailor a panoply of services to meet all kinds of consumer needs, from divorce counseling to help for parents of autistic kids. Like Osteen, many offer an upbeat message intertwined with a religious one. To make newcomers feel at home, some do away with standard religious symbolism -- even basics like crosses and pews -- and design churches to look more like modern entertainment halls than traditional places of worship. [complete article]

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'Martyrs' in Iraq mostly Saudis
By Susan B. Glasser, Washington Post, May 15, 2005

Who are the suicide bombers of Iraq? By the radicals' account, they are an internationalist brigade of Arabs, with the largest share in the online lists from Saudi Arabia and a significant minority from other countries on Iraq's borders, such as Syria and Kuwait. The roster of the dead on just one extremist Web site reviewed by The Washington Post runs to nearly 250 names, ranging from a 13-year-old Syrian boy said to have died fighting the Americans in Fallujah to the reigning kung fu champion of Jordan, who sneaked off to wage war by telling his family he was going to a tournament.

Among the dead are students of engineering and English, the son of a Moroccan restaurateur and a smattering of Europeanized Arabs. There are also long lists of names about whom nothing more is recorded than a country of origin and the word "martyr."

Some counterterrorism officials are skeptical about relying on information from publicly available Web sites, which they say may be used for disinformation. But other observers of the jihadist Web sites view the lists of the dead "for internal purposes" more than for propaganda, as British researcher Paul Eedle put it. "These are efforts on the part of jihadis to collate deaths. It's like footballers on the Net getting a buzz out of knowing somebody's transferred from Chelsea to Liverpool." Or, as Col. Thomas X. Hammes, an expert on insurgency with the National Defense University, said, "they are targeted marketing. They are not aimed at the West." [complete article]

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