Friday, April 30, 2004

People who complain about civil liberties problems with the Patriot Act are whining about nothing:

The American Civil Liberties Union disclosed yesterday that it filed a lawsuit three weeks ago challenging the FBI's methods of obtaining many business records, but the group was barred from revealing even the existence of the case until now.

The lawsuit was filed April 6 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, but the case was kept under seal to avoid violating secrecy rules contained in the USA Patriot Act, the ACLU said. The group was allowed to release a redacted version of the lawsuit after weeks of negotiations with the government.

Lots of folks are totally unaware of any problems with the Patriot Act... and if something was wrong, they surely would have heard...

One further note on the news from Falluja: like Juan Cole, a guy who actually knows what he's talking about, it stikes me as really good news:

Whoever made the decision to pull back and try to put an Iraqi face on the confrontation in Fallujah had more good sense than has been demonstrated by American leaders recently in Iraq. A bloody invasion of Fallujah had the potential of greatly deepening Iraqi and Arab hatred for the United States.

But it is, still and all, very strange news, in a couple of respects. The oddest of which, perhaps, is this:

It is not clear whether [the local force commander, Marine Lt. Gen. James] Conway conveyed the terms of the deal to his superiors in Baghdad and at the Pentagon, or even to leaders of the U.S. occupation authority. One person familiar with the deal said it took senior U.S. military and civilian officials in Baghdad by surprise.

Well, maybe I shouldn't be so worked up that it took me by surprise.

Beyond that, there are oddities to the deal itself. We hear that the new force will be made up of troops from the old Iraqi army, commanded by their former officers. That may make it somewhat more reliable than the notoriously fickle Iraqi police forces we've trained -- which remains, of course, to be seen. But that also was, supposedly, the background of the folks in Falluja who were fighting against us. As the WaPo seems to confirm:

A Marine officer familiar with the arrangement acknowledged that some former insurgents may be part of the force, creating the potential situation of U.S. troops having to work with people who have very recently been shooting at them.

A further oddity is that the commanding officer of the new force has not been officially named, and there are actually conflicting reports as to his identity -- one of which has him as an old staff aide to Chemical Ali. (Update: fortunately not -- it's an old Republican Guard general named Jasem Salih.) Which only further serves to emphasize the degree to which Conway has simply found a face-saving way to declare victory and withdraw. (And considering that I've been saying for some time that that might be the best way -- or at any rate, the least damaging way -- for us to get out of a very bad situation, I'm ill-positioned to complain too much about that, nor is that my intent. I'm just noting the fact).

Lastly, lest we think that the news from Iraq is generally good, the top story on the BBC web site as I write is about Americans torturing prisoners, inside what was the most notorious prison in the country under Saddam's ancien regime. We're still in a hell of a mess, with no good way out...

Further note: it turns out some of our torturers at Abu Ghraib prison were private security contractors, one of whom is alleged to have raped a male prisoner. As Atrios says, rape rooms indeed.

Edit note: "Declare victory and withdraw" remarks added late...

Thursday, April 29, 2004

In the upcoming merger of Fleet Bank and Bank of America, they've pledged to maintain employment levels in New England. Which doesn't mean that they're maintaining the same jobs:

Bank of America Corp. has quietly eliminated the majority of former FleetBoston Financial Corp. employees on the 12th floor of its Boston headquarters, including much of Fleet's treasury and global capital markets divisions. ...

One employee estimated there are about 100 people left, less than one-third of the employees who worked there just a few months ago, describing the floor as "desolate." Many of the workers remaining are scheduled to move out soon.

So, what will make up for the vacancies?

As it combines operations with Fleet, Bank of America also is stressing its commitment to maintaining the same number of New England employees overall. But to date, higher-paying jobs have been eliminated, and most jobs that have been added are lower-paying back-office jobs.

Bank of America, which outsourced some human relations work to Fidelity Investments this month, said it intends to count the 375 jobs created in that deal toward its Northeast commitment -- even though the new employees actually will work for Fidelity.

The gains in call center and back-office jobs will come in Marlborough and Merrimack, N.H., where Fidelity already has operations. Those jobs tend to be at the lower end of the pay scale. ...

The bank spokeswoman, Hale, would not comment on whether the bank would pack New England with low-paid employees to keep its pledge. But she said the bank intends to live up to its overall promise.

They promised jobs. Just not good ones.

Good news -- looks like I might have been wrong. The Marines are pulling out of Falluja, to be replaced with an entirely Iraqi force. Which may not work (the unreliability of Iraqi security forces has been much remarked of late), but at least has better odds.

More to the point: if the Iraqi forces fail, then Falluja will still be a problem. If, on the other hand, Americans went in with full force, and pictures of the fighting sparked widespread fighting elsewhere, the result could be a calamity. Trading a potential calamity for a problem is usually a good deal. Let's hope for improvement in the potential calamities elsewhere...

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

One further note on the debatable truce in Falluja, since I seem to be talking a bit about it: at least one reporter embedded with the Marines, observing the (relatively) soft approach, says it seems to be succeeding, which is not the line I would have expected him to take...
No news from Boston: In case anybody's waiting for my comments on Jay Severin's recent remarks, you'll be waiting a while -- I've never listened to the show, and see no reason to start. But don't blame Boston for the guy -- he does his show, on a Boston radio station, from New York...
Donald Rumsfeld has a complaint with press coverage of the current fighting in Iraq:

The photo of terrorists using a mosque in Najaf as a base for attacks against our forces is an example of what we're finding. There have been additional attacks taken from mosques in Fallujah, and I believe there have been embedded reporters who have been able to -- as well as combat camera -- able to make some of that available to the American people.

There are two ways, I suppose, one could inform readers of the Geneva Convention stipulation against using places of worship to conduct military attacks. One might be to headline saying that Terrorists Attack Coalition Forces From Mosques. That would be one way to present the information.

Another might be to say: Mosques Targeted in Fallujah. That was the Los Angeles Times headline this morning.

Which is, I suppose, valid as far as it goes, though our own adherence to the Geneva Conventions has also been, say, less than scrupulous.

But there are other things in Rumsfeld's remarks which could also be portrayed more than one way. Like this:

What's happening is that General Abizaid, General Sanchez, General Metz, General Conway, General Mattis, down that chain, Jerry Bremer and his representatives, Dick Jones, have been in near continuous discussion with these four elements that are interacting with themselves and with the people of Fallujah. If at some point the military decides that the string has run out, then they will tell us that and take appropriate action. At the present time, I think it's accurate to say that their conclusion is that they see sufficient prospects that it leads them to believe that this is a useful thing to be doing.

Most of the coverage of current action around Falluja in the Western press is along these lines -- that we've decided to give negotiations and joint patrols a chance. But a quick glance at the headlines shows that they aren't likely to have much of a chance -- the Mujahedein, or whatever they are, in Falluja don't seem to answer to anyone outside their own ranks, which don't seem to be represented in the parties that we're negotiating with directly. The question of the hour is what to do about it, and in particular, whether to stay outside and try to contain the resistance, or to try to clear the town with a full-scale assault.

Or rather, that was the question of the hour last weekend, when several articles appeared saying that Dubya was going to make that decision personally. With that in mind, let's review again what Rumsfeld said about it yesterday:

If at some point the military decides that the string has run out, then they will tell us that and take appropriate action.

Nothing about further consultation with higher national authority, which, given last weekend's headlines, would seem a strange thing to omit, since "appropriate action", in context, pretty clearly means at the very least, a significant escalation in the use of force.

Now if the situation truly is as Rumsfeld described it, there are two ways, I suppose, to inform one's readers about it. One might be to headline, as Rumsfeld has, and as much of our media have, that we are giving negotiation another chance.

Another would be to say that our commanders on the ground have been authorized to initiate a full-scale assault, as and when they see fit.

Or maybe Rumsfeld just didn't mean what he said. But who could say that about a member of the current administration?

More on this general topic: There were times, during the '90s, when the U.S. government had to deal with violent, crazed fanatics on its own soil. Sometimes that went well, as in an 81-day standoff with the Montana Freemen; sometimes very badly, as at Waco. David Neiwert is a little worried that the guys who were in charge at Waco are now directing our dealings with al-Sadr in Najaf.

Update: Dubya himself is a bit more straightforward: "Our military commanders will take whatever action is necessary to secure Falluja".

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Dan Savage got a marriage license the other day. As he is a homosexual, you might think this would be a problem. In fact, when he asked for a license to marry his committed gay partner, who he's been together with for ten years, it was a problem. But when he asked for a sham license to marry the lesbian coworker who happened to walk in with him, that was no trouble at all.

Thus do our governments defend the sanctity of marriage.

The Fortean bloggers are back. Isabella returns with three more installments, letting you know, if you were ever wondering, by chance: If you're a billionaire's daughter looking to drain your trust funds and vanish with the proceeds, how to begin the delicate dance of asking for help? The answer starts here.

Elsewhere, we find the mysterious Rance, who claims to be a name-brand Hollywood star, posting pseudonymously, and doling out Dodge Viper Points at his whim to commenters who please him with their bons mots. (The sole prize, he hastens to add, is a fire-engine red Dodge Viper -- substitutions are firmly disallowed). And yet nowhere, nowhere on his blog can I find the answer to the simple, burning question: exactly how many points do you need to win the damn car?

Monday, April 26, 2004

It seems my legal education continues apace. I would have thought that "lawyer client privilege" just means that exchanges between a lawyer and client can't be brought up as evidence in court. But no. It seems that what it really means is that lawyers and clients are entitled to total secrecy, even when the lawyer is saying that they believe the client's actions to be criminal. And at least if the client is Diebold voting systems.

Remember, their CEO is committed to "deliver ... votes" to Dubya in November...

A little news from Boston: the Red Sox again are tearing it up early in the season. And experienced fans know what that means:

Best set-up for inevitable failure and disappointment ever.

If you think my pessimism about Iraq is unwarranted, remember, I am a Red Sox fan.

But speaking of Iraq, there's a long update just added to the post immediately below. Also, on the same topic, see this article from Newsweek. Steve Gilliard thought it was worth quoting just for the harrowing opening account of our troops caught in a professional, prepared ambush in Sadr City, but that isn't even really what it's about. The real topic is how this, and many other situations, are taking a far higher toll than they needed to because Rumsfeld tried to economize by not shipping them armored vehicles:

In continuing adherence to the Army's "light is better" doctrine, even units recently rotated to Iraq have left most of their armor behind. These include the I Marine Expeditionary Force, which has paid dearly for that decision with an astonishing 30 percent-plus casualties (45 killed, more than 300 wounded) in Fallujah and Ar Ramadi. The Army's 1st Cavalry Division—which includes the unit in Sadr City—left five of every six of its tanks at home, and five of every six Bradleys.

But remember, it's the people who question administration policy who are failing to support the troops...

Sunday, April 25, 2004

The news as I write is that American troops are going to enter the Shiite holy city of Najaf. Religious leaders inside and outside Iraq have warned our commanders that any incursion of U.S. troops into Najaf could enrage the country's Shiites, but our folks are kinda hoping that they don't really mean, like, the whole city:

With the new move, the military seeks to impose a degree of control in Najaf, while hoping a foray limited to the modern parts of the ancient city would not inflame Shiites.

Of course, rather than just "hope", they could send a messenger to Najaf's most distinguished resident, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the man who could spark off a full-scale insurrection with a word, to see what he thinks. And if the Ayatollah won't entertain the question, well, that's all you need to know right there. But it seems our forces have a bit of a problem communicating with the locals.

Here's another communications problem. According to this morning's New York Times, plans for an possible upcoming attack on Falluja are going to target only the insurgents, and try to minimize casualties on others:

While administration officials say they would like to carry out a precise attack on an estimated 2,000 hard-core Sunni Muslim insurgents, military officials say there is no way guided missiles or pinpoint bombing can do this job.

Instead, the military is planning swift raids by Marine riflemen -- backed by helicopters and gunships -- aimed at the insurgents' leaders and their gunmen, while encouraging others in the city to evacuate or stay under cover.

They've evidently been talking like this for a while, because Iraqi blogger Riverbend had a response up more than a week ago:

When [General] Mark Kimmett stutters through a press conference babbling about "precision weapons" and "military targets" in Falloojeh, who is he kidding? Falloojeh is a small city made up of low, simple houses, little shops and mosques. Is he implying that the 600 civilians who died during the bombing and the thousands injured and maimed were all "insurgents"? Are houses, shops and mosques now military targets?

You might also ask how the American military command is so sure that they're facing just a few thousand "hard-core insurgents", when as Steve Gilliard points out, they could easily be backed by ten times as many sympathetic locals. (With experienced leadership too -- the "hard core" types may be very hard core -- most likely including veterans of the human wave attacks in the Iran/Iraq war). In fact, with many people flooding out of the city, and just about everyone in town knowing that an attack may be coming very soon, you've got to wonder why anyone would want to stay unless they'd want to be part of the fighting.

But the military commanders don't seem quite so worried about irregulars swelling the ranks of the resistance. Why? Sad to say, some of that may come down, once again, to failures to communicate. A coalition chaplain explains his command's view to Andrew Sullivan:

... in Faluja, the supposed hotbed of dissent in Iraq, countless Iraqis tell our psyopers they want to cooperate with us but are afraid the thugs will slit their throats or kill their kids. A bad gang can do that to a neighborhood and a town. That's what is happening here.

Ah. So, if they were telling "our psyopers", say,

Why no, I do not wish to cooperate with you. If it is the will of Allah that I should see you soon through my gunsights, infidel dogs, I will cast you into hell with joy in my heart. But right now, my old unit commander is setting up an ambush three blocks to the west of here, and needs all hands to rig the booby traps. Please don't delay me any further -- we're kind of in a rush.

then we might have a problem. But instead, they're telling us that they want to cooperate, and can't because they're afraid of "the thugs". Well, all righty then!

Meanwhile, The New York Times claims that Dubya is deciding whether to initiate a full-scale assault. How are things tending? On the one hand,

Mr. Bush is described by many officials as convinced that if the insurgents hold off American forces there, they will try to do the same in other Iraqi cities.

On the other, while U.S. officials are described as aware of the possibility that an assault on Falluja might provoke uprisings elsewhere,

... officials still describe the fear of uprisings in Iraq as a theory, one they say may be overblown.

That sounds kinda good for fans of armed assault.

Meanwhile, what about the ongoing negotiations with Falluja civic leaders, and members of the IGC? Here's an interesting bit, from very near the bottom of the Times report:

Senior American commanders in the Middle East, in a parallel to officials in Washington, seemed to be exceedingly concerned about possible casualties in Falluja -- and how the operation to quell the insurgency would be played throughout the Arab world, as well.

And so military and civilian officials in Iraq began an "information operation," according to senior officials in Washington, to prepare the battlefield of public opinion.

Of course, American rhetoric has whipsawed between accomodation and confrontation at a dizzying pace for at least a week. The very latest, as I write, is that Iraqi negotiators in Falluja believe that they will start joint patrols with the Americans come next Tuesday -- which, if true, may buy a little time to try to ramp tension down a bit. But only a little. One of the negotiators acknowledges that "if [U.S.] soldiers are attacked, they will respond and this will lead to problems". And with the civic leaders not even claiming control of large neighborhoods, some attacks are almost inevitable.

You can understand why the Iraqis would have agreed to this, if the alternative was an immediate full-scale assault. But some level of resistance is just about inevitable under the present circumstances -- the civic leaders don't even claim to control several large neighborhoods -- and there's nothing in the reports about limited, proportional response. It's almost as if the patrols are designed to provoke a response which would yield a pretext for further escalation. And, as (according to the Times)

All across Iraq, American and allied forces were repositioning and preparing for bombings, mortar attacks, ambushes and even popular uprisings in case an attack on Falluja prompted violence elsewhere, according to Pentagon and military officials.

you really have to wonder -- is the joint patrol scheme for real, or is it just an aspect of an "information operation" designed to provide a pretext for an attack that has already been ordered? One doesn't like to think so, but it would fit the same pattern as Dubya's use of bogus WMD evidence, and his tendentious attempts to discredit the UNMOVIC inspectors, to justify his initial assault on the entire country.

But as I've said before, my record as a prognosticator is hardly spotless. I'd really like, once again, to be pleasantly surprised.

Update: Well, sad to say, if that is the plan, then the plan may be working. Clashes in Falluja are happening already, even before the patrols, and residents are being quoted in news reports saying stuff like this:

"I expect the U.S. and Iraqi forces to be exposed targets for the resistance. No one can control the feelings of the sons of Falluja because they are very angry," said one local man, Abdul Hakim Shaker, shortly before Monday's fighting broke out.

And the refugees from Falluja are already piling up in Baghdad, with the construction of a formal camp for them (I changed a link up above to point to this article).

Meanwhile, the New York Times, reporting on the administration's decision-making process, says that they ...

... saw little risk in agreeing to [extending the cease fire and the joint patrols], because if an invasion of the city proved necessary in coming days or weeks, the extension would allow President Bush and other officials to say that they gave negotiation every chance.

But these subtleties are going to be lost on Iraqis who think, not wholly without reason, that if we're involved in this sort of trouble, it's because we brought it. Like the folks reacting to explosions in a market (not even our bomb!) in Sadr City, a Shiite quarter of Baghdad:

Angry residents held up bloodied human remains to television cameras filming the scene, accusing U.S. helicopters of firing missiles at the market. A dead donkey lay on the road, its guts spilled. Local residents put a sign on its back saying: 'This is Bush.' ...

At the Shaheed al-Sadr hospital nearby, relatives of the dead and wounded sat on the ground weeping.

'This Bush, we don't want him,' one woman cried. 'It wasn't like this under Saddam Hussein.'

This is, again, from a Shiite neighborhood. (Remember when they were supposed to like us?) And it's not like Saddam set a very high standard...

That chaplain's letter to Sullivan via Diana Moon, who gives that particular remark no more attention than it deserves... though there's plenty more nonsense in it; she refers me in email to commentary on more of that.

Late edit: added the "whipsawed" sentence in a late paragraph... and then there was the large update ...

Former Arizona Cardinals football player Pat Tillman died a few days ago in combat in Iraq. A sad event for many reasons, one of which is that it's likely the first time many Americans had heard in months that there is still an ongoing, deadly conflict in Afghanistan. It's not as if there's anything preventing Dubya's crew from reminding people, if they wanted to. It seems they don't.

Another respect in which this is unusual is that it's a combat death which, due to the guy's former career, is getting press coverage. The military has been trying to avoid that -- by, among other things, banning photos of returning dead, explaining that policy by saying:

"Quite frankly, we don't want the remains of our service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice to be the subject of any kind of attention that is unwarranted or undignified, said John Molino, a deputy undersecretary of defense.

Some forms of attention are warranted. It's called respect. You might even say that trying to sweep respectful acknowledgment of the sacrifice of the troops -- like trying to sweep solemn, dignified photos of their remains under the rug -- is itself unwarranted and undignified. But accusations of disrespect are more often aimed at folks calling for the early return of some of those same troops, alive and healthy on transports.

More: in reading over this, it may come off as a slap at Tillman, which I didn't intend. What I do mean to say is that our other dead troops deserve the same attention and respect...