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Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Stunning Hypocrisy Of The NY Times 

They say time heals all wounds. Now, time may be ready to wound a few heels.

At the height of L'Affaire Plame, the half-vast editorial staff painstakingly pointed out the myriad ways in which the NY Times had abandoned any claim to journalistic principles. Undeterred by the trainwreck that was Judy Miller the Times blundered on, spending the meager remains of its credibility faster than a 14th Street pimp with one day left to live.

But sooner or later, even a pimp hits rock bottom. In a "Hey! look at that shiny thing!" move straight out of the Clinton playbook, the Grey Lady resurrected a story that had been dead for over a year. A story they had tabled due to national security concerns. A story resurrected because one of their reporters, James Risen, had a book coming out and they were about to be scooped.

But not to worry. If we examine the Times' various pronouncements over the years, we find a flexible urban sensibility that rivals even John Kerry's famed Multivariate Cartesian Co-directionality. In other words, they've done an admirable job of covering themselves.

An astute observer of the NY Times can find more creative positions than are contained in my little copy of the Kama Sutra. Journalistic ethics, indeed. Let's take a time-lapse view of the Times' position throughout this kerfuffle:

1982: Congress passes a law called the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. It is passed after Richard Welch, CIA station chief in Athens, Greece, is murdered. His death is blamed on a CIA defector, Philip Agee, who, as it turned out, never did specifically name Welch in his best-selling novel Inside the Company. But nevermind. Congress is easily excited. You remember the whole Patriot Act thing don't you? Legislate in haste, repent at leisure. Christopher Hitchens elaborates:

.... it seems that Welch was easily identified by a Greek nihilist group because he insisted on occupying the same house that was known to be a CIA residence during the time of the agency-supported military dictatorship. But this in a sense was beside the point. Opponents and critics of the bill charged that it violated the First Amendment and threatened to institute a British-style "Official Secrets Act," where nobody except the KGB would know who was in charge of American intelligence.

Anyone reading the Times' impassioned calls for a special prosecutor investigator in the Plame case would logically expect the Op-Ed pages to have applauded this law at the time, right? After all, the safety of our secret squirrels was at stake, and disclosing the name of a covert operative would endanger the lives of CIA agents in the field! Right? Wrong:

...in an editorial on March 4, 1982:

...this bill dangerously exceeds its announced purpose. It was prompted by former agents who break their oaths and expose American secret agents in risky intelligence work. But Congressional anger soon spread to individuals who never worked for the Government but engage in similar exposures using publicly available information. And that, in turn, has raised concern about the possible use of the act against news organizations.[shudder!]

If there was any doubt that the act extends that far, it has now been put to rest. Senator John Chafee, a chief sponsor, has clarified the bill's threat to conventional journalism—and public discussion generally.

Asked whether a prosecutor could use the bill against reporters and news organizations for exposing crimes and abuses by agents and informants, the Senator had this reply: "I'm not sure that the New York Times or the Washington Post has the right to expose names of agents any more than Mr. Wolf or Mr. Agee," two of the bill's main targets. "They'll just have to be careful about exposing the names of agents."

Ridiculing this catchall attitude, the Times went on to say that: "In no case can the Senate responsibly follow the House's reckless example and make it a crime to identify an agent without even requiring proof of criminal intent."

Almost three weeks later, on March 22, 1982, the New York Times editorialist was back on the subject. "What happens?" the editorial demanded to know, "when Congress thus ignores the Constitution?" This question was answered with a flourish:

Courageous members will continue to fight the issue in House-Senate conference. Resourceful journalists will maintain their vigilance against official secrecy. Government can forbear and use its illegitimate power sparingly. All should hope the courts will wipe the law from the books.

So the Times' official position on the IIPA was that it should "be wiped from the books" and that it was ludicrous to prosecute someone for revealing the name of even a covert agent, absent some criminal intent. In other words, they considered the law an abomination, even though it was so narrowly-written it should never have been able to be used against them (or anyone else for that matter) absent an politically-driven investigation that veered way out of control...

Oh. Wait. That's exactly what happened, isn't it? And that investigation was instigated at the insistence of the media and the Left, who if memory serves inveighed against this very law when it was passed.

Flash forward 20 years. The Times is brandishing the IIPA like the White-hot Flame of Truth and Eternal Justice... so long as their reporters are immune from investigation. At first the Times is certain a crime has been committed.

October, 2004:

While most undercover agency officers disguise their real profession by pretending to be American embassy diplomats or other United States government employees, Ms. Plame passed herself off as a private energy expert. Intelligence experts said that Nocs have especially dangerous jobs.

"Nocs are the holiest of holies," said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former agency officer who is now director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. "This is real James Bond stuff. You're going overseas posing as a businessman, and if the other government finds out about you, they're probably going to shoot you. The United States has basically no way to protect you."

Of course the timing here is key: at the time Ms. Plame was supposedly engaging in James Bond-type derring-do she was stateside, quite happily expecting twins; a little fact the Times' account conveniently glossed over. At any rate, once Judy Miller drew the attention of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, everything changed, and the Times was forced to re-assess the facts on the ground.

February 2005:

Meanwhile, an even more basic issue has been raised in recent articles in The Washington Post and elsewhere: the real possibility that the disclosure of Ms. Plame's identity, while an abuse of power, may not have violated any law. Before any reporters are jailed, searching court review is needed to determine whether the facts indeed support a criminal prosecution under existing provisions of the law protecting the identities of covert operatives.

Well my, my, my. It seems a far higher standard of review is needed before any reporters are jailed.

This story has been rife with hypocrisy from day one. The media violated every tenet they claim to hold dear in their rapid rush to cripple the Bush administration. First it was the Holy of Holies: Thou Shalt Not Give Up A Source.... unless, if by so doing, you can damage a Republican President, in which case it's your duty to cooperate with the authorities. We like to think of it as the Novak Exception:

"Never burn a source," writes Ms. Overholser. "It's a cardinal rule of journalism: do not disclose the identity of someone who gives you information in confidence. As a staunch believer in this rule for decades, I have surprised myself lately by concluding that journalists' proud absolutism on this issue--particularly in a case involving the syndicated columnist Robert Novak--is neither as wise nor as ethical as it has seemed."

And the Times was not above using law it had condemned (remarking that Congress had "ignored the Constitution" and that "the courts should strike it down")... if, by so doing it could damage a Republican President.

In the fullness of time, the media got their investigation. But strangely enough, investigations have a way of biting the hand that feeds them, and suddenly the Times was not so sure a crime had been committed. "Can't we just call the whole thing off?", they asked in February? Christopher Hitches admirably sums up the idiocy behind this whole affair:

Now observe the operation of this law in practice. A fairly senior CIA female bureaucrat, not involved in risky activity in the field, proposes her own husband for a mission to Niger, on the very CIA-sounding grounds that he enjoys good relations with the highly venal government there, and in particular with its Ministry of Mines. This government, according to unrefuted intelligence-gathering from British and other European intelligence agencies, is covertly discussing sanctions-breaking sales of its uranium to a number of outlaw regimes, including that of Saddam Hussein. The husband, who has since falsely denied being recommended by his wife, revisits his "good contacts" in Niger for a brief trip and issues them a clean bill. The CIA in general is institutionally committed against the policy of regime change in Iraq. It has also catastrophically failed the country in respect of defense against suicidal attack. ("I wonder," Tenet told former Sen. David Boren on the very first news of 9/11, "if it has anything to do with this guy taking pilot training." Wow, what a good guess, if a touch late. The CIA had failed entirely to act after the FBI detained Zacarias Moussaoui in Minnesota in August.)

But who is endangering national security here? The man who calls attention to a covert CIA hand in the argument, or the man who blithely says that uranium deals with psychopathic regimes are not in train when they probably are? And we cannot even debate this without the risk that those who are seeking the true story will end up before a grand jury, or behind bars! The New York Times was right the first time, back in 1982. Whatever the outcome of the Plame "scandal," Congress or the courts should take an early opportunity to repeal or strike down this atrocious law.

But fortunately for them, Judy Miller was inexplicably let go, the "right" man was indicted (but notably, not for the "crime" under investigation). Suddenly the Times' objections to the investigation vanished into thin air...along, apparently with their vaunted concern for the safety of overseas spy networks.

Because this month, they resurrected a sensitive story that had been dead for one year, all because they didn't want to be scooped by one of their own reporters. I can hardly wait to hear what the Times has to say about the impending NSA wiretapping investigation. Probably that it is completely morally and ethically different from Plame in every respect. Their prior statement about leaks is on record, however:

Far be it for us to denounce leaks. Newspapers have relied on countless government officials to divulge vital information that their bosses want to be kept secret. There is even value in the sanctioned leak, such as when the White House, say, lets out information that it wants known but does not want to announce.

I'll repeat now what I said then:

Put aside, for a moment, the errant thought that in many cases these leaks are wrong. That government employees violate the conditions of their employment (and in many cases, the law) by leaking information to the Times. That, in soliciting leaks, NY Times reporters are knowingly soliciting the commission of a crime.

This is Journalism - such trivial considerations as legality, subpoenas, and grand jury testimony are for the Little People. The Times obeys a Higher Law.

And if you can still believe that, there's a bridge I'd like to sell you.

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Valor 

Dan Riehl has rounded up the year's citations for valor in the CENTCOM region. These stories do not get nearly enough attention in the mainstream media, not like the old days.

The military should consider producing these stories into newsreels and making them available for movie theaters to show in short trailers, just as we did during World War II. Given Hollywood's persistent claims to "support the troops" notwithstanding the outsized influence of the left on its artistic product, it would be interesting to see whether movie theaters would run the stories of these soldiers. They probably would if they had decent production values.

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Friday, December 30, 2005

Declining civilian casualties in Iraq 

Gateway Pundit has drilled in on some very interesting information about civilian casualties in Iraq: they have declined dramatically this year. The same cannot be said for American military casualties, however. Does this suggest that the insurgency is moving away from indiscriminate mass casualty terrorism to more focused attacks on military targets? If so, perhaps it is because the insurgents have learned that the wanton murder of noncombatants is hardly the short path to political power. Perhaps reading too much into these numbers, they may also suggest the declining influence of jihadis -- who kill apostates because they can -- compared to dispossessed Sunnis or basically nationalist Iraqis. Either way, this is good news for Iraq insofar as it implies that most insurgents are fighting for an objective. That suggests that the government has room to make a deal.

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Journalistic Ethics, Redux 

It's like deja vu all over again. Farhad Manjoo of Salon's War Room assures us the upcoming NSA wiretap leak investigation is nothing like L'Affaire Plame. Well of course it's not:

...this leak was morally and ethically quite different from the leak of Valerie Plame's identity. In that case, someone in the Bush Administration was talking to reporters about Plame and her husband Joe Wilson in an effort to damage them; it was a scurrilous act, and the journalists who dealt with those officials weren't very easy to defend.

The eavesdropping leak, though, was just the opposite: The leakers here were disclosing something of vital interest to Americans. The journalists here were trying to get that story to the public....the real story is the Bush plan to wiretap Americans without legal oversight. As we go down the rabbit hole of another leak investigation, let's keep that in mind.

Oooooh! Let's do. Never mind the law. Focus on What The Journalists Were Trying To Do! The end justifies the means. Oversight committees, national security, need-to-know, and all that sort of thing are just so 5 minutes ago. And after all, legality is such a tired old concept, don't you think? Keeping these matters in perspective simply requires that one maintain a suitably flexible urban viewpoint.

As I recall, the concern voiced by journalists and the liberal punditocracy was that "outing" the reclusive Ms. Plame and the positively publicity-shy Joe Wilson would endanger the vast foreign spy networks she'd been running from the relative safety of Northern Virgina for the past five years. Indeed, the CIA were so alarmed when Bob Novak phoned them about the story that they pulled out all the stops to quash it...

Oh wait.

That never happened, did it? And then, strangely enough, though establishing Ms. Plame's covert status was an essential element of the crime he was hired to investigate, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald allowed the entire investigation to go by before even casually trying to ascertain whether any of Ms. Plame's friends and neighbors knew of her employment with the CIA. This despite several articles, one in the liberal New Republic, stating that 'everyone in Georgetown knew' who she worked for.

So for the folks at home who haven't been keeping score, let's review the Affair Plame scorecard:

- 1 leak investigation

- 0 indictments on the "leak" part

- 0 demonstrations that Ms. Plame was, in fact, "covert" (is this so hard?)

- 1 reporter who lied to the prosecutor, spent 85 days in jail, still has not yielded up her other source, made misleading and inaccurate statements about things which are written right in her own notebook (which she says she "forgot", though she was sitting in jail for 85 days which seems plenty of time to "remember" such a detail), yet got off scot-free

- another reporter who apparently knew far more than he was telling but didn't "feel" like testifying and got off scot free

- 1 White House staffer who made misleading and inaccurate statements, has been working full time at a very busy job all this time, also claims to have a poor recollection. He, of course, is under indictment. But not for the crime that was originally being investigated.


Perfectly understandable. Your tax dollars at work. Meanwhile back at the Ponderosa, the folks at the WaPo, some of the very same people who've been wringing their hands over the sad fate of poor Val Plame's endangered spy networks, recently met with President Bush:

Howard Kurtz reports that the administration called in Leonard Downie, the executive editor of the Washington Post, to request that they not publish Dana Priest's story about certain terror suspects being questions in prisons in secret prisons abroad. Reportedly, President Bush made a personal request.

"When senior administration officials raised national security questions about details in Dana's story during her reporting, at their request we met with them on more than one occasion," Downie says. "The meetings were off the record for the purpose of discussing national security issues in her story." At least one of the meetings involved John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, and CIA Director Porter Goss, the sources said.

Betsy Newmark, who is really no better than she should be, comments:

That really is amazing that the President, director of national intelligence, and the head of the CIA could talk to the Washington Post about the risks of running the story and that they would go ahead and do so anyway. Apparently, the editors and reporters feel that they are better able to judge what endangers national security.

What Betsy clearly fails to understand is that this was equivalent to a Cabinet meeting. I keep trying to remind you people that the press is now the fourth branch of government. Laugh it up. At any rate, Leonard courteously took time out of his busy day to hear the President out, and the next day Dana published her CIA secret prisons piece anyway. And here we see the result:

An Italian court has issued Europe-wide arrest warrants for 22 suspected CIA agents accused of helping to kidnap a Muslim cleric in Milan in 2003. The new warrants allow for the suspects' detention anywhere in the 25-nation EU, a prosecutor said.

The authorities had already issued arrest orders within Italy.


All 22 suspects are thought to have returned to the US, a formal Italian extradition request seems unlikely, our correspondent adds.

Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli has signed the warrants, a move officials described as a formality. There was no word on whether Mr Castelli would seek extradition, but he has previously accused the judge involved of being a leftist militant and anti-American.

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a close US ally and has said he can see no basis for the case.

So now, thanks to the Washington Post, we have our European allies issuing arrest warrants for CIA operatives.

Not content with that little piece of work, Ms. Priest is busily trying to give away the rest of the candy store:

The effort President Bush authorized shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, to fight al Qaeda has grown into the largest CIA covert action program since the height of the Cold War, expanding in size and ambition despite a growing outcry at home and abroad over its clandestine tactics, according to former and current intelligence officials and congressional and administration sources.

The broad-based effort, known within the agency by the initials GST, is compartmentalized into dozens of highly classified individual programs, details of which are known mainly to those directly involved.

GST includes programs allowing the CIA to capture al Qaeda suspects with help from foreign intelligence services, to maintain secret prisons abroad, to use interrogation techniques that some lawyers say violate international treaties, and to maintain a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe. Other compartments within GST give the CIA enhanced ability to mine international financial records and eavesdrop on suspects anywhere in the world.

This program is so tip-top, ultra-ultra super-dooper secret that Ms. Priest devotes four pages of online text to telling you (and anyone else who cares to know) everything she's managed to ferret out about it. But the best part, as the invaluable Cori Dauber observes, is when Priest's full-blown Bush Derangemenet Syndrome comes to the fore, as on page 3.

Tenet, according to half a dozen former intelligence officials, delegated most of the decision making on lethal action to the CIA's Counterterrorist Center. Killing an al Qaeda leader with a Hellfire missile fired from a remote-controlled drone might have been considered assassination in a prior era and therefore banned by law.

But after Sept. 11, four former government lawyers said, it was classified as an act of self-defense and therefore was not an assassination. "If it was an al Qaeda person, it wouldn't be an assassination," said one lawyer involved.

This month, Pakistani intelligence sources said, Hamza Rabia, a top operational planner for al Qaeda, was killed along with four others by a missile fired by U.S. operatives using an unmanned Predator drone, although there were conflicting reports on whether a missile was used. In May, another al Qaeda member, Haitham Yemeni, was reported killed by a Predator drone missile in northwest Pakistan.

Assassination? Well not quite. A little research would have gone a long way here. Cori comments:

That is patent nonsense. The laws regarding the circumstances under which someone can be killed are complex -- it's why the Air Force and Naval aviation units employ so many JAG officers to go over targeting decisions -- but they have nothing to do with questions about "assassination."

For one thing, the ban on assassination is not legislative, it's an Executive Order, so if the President wanted to do away with it, he could do so with the stroke of a pen. And for another, assassination is generally defined as the killing of a head of state, and not even Osama bin Laden meets that criteria.

There's another reason this is all nonsense. Let's take a walk through history...via the 9/11 commission report:

In 1997 CIA headquarters authorized U.S. officials to begin developing a network of agents to gather intelligence inside Afghanistan about Bin Ladin and his organization and prepare a plan to capture him. By 1998 DCI Tenet was giving considerable personal attention to the UBL threat...

Many CIA officers, including Deputy Director for Operations Pavitt, have criticized policymakers for not giving the CIA authorities to conduct effective operations against Bin Ladin. This issue manifests itself in a debate about the scope of the covert actions in Afghanistan authorized by President Clinton. NSC staff and CIA officials differ starkly here.

Senior NSC staff members told us they believed the president’s intent was clear: he wanted Bin Ladin dead. On successive occasions, President Clinton issued authorities instructing the CIA to use its proxies to capture or assault Bin Ladin and his lieutenants in operations in which they might be killed. [Yet for some inexplicable reason - note, my addition] The instructions, except in one defined contingency, were to capture Bin Ladin if possible.

Senior legal advisers in the Clinton administration agreed that, under the law of armed conflict, killing a person who posed an imminent threat to the United States was an act of self-defense, not an assassination. As former National Security Adviser Berger explained, if we wanted to kill Bin Ladin with cruise missiles, why would we not want to kill him with covert action? Clarke’s recollection is the same.

This must have been before he signed that lucrative book deal.

I must say that as a military wife, it's nice to see that the journalistic community supports covert operatives in the very same heartwarming way they support our troops. On the North wall of the original HQ building there is an interesting exhibit, should you ever visit there. There ought to be 83 stars there, but there are only 48 so far. Doubtless sooner or later Dana Priest will get ahold of the other 35 names and splash them across the pages of the WaPo.



I wonder if any of them died of a case of journalistic ethics? I hear they can be hazardous to your health.

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The non-stop wrongness of the New York Times 

We have reached the end of the year, which naturally moves us to look at how the financial markets have done. Yes, it is once again time to remind our readers how wrong the New York Times has been.

On April 2, 2005, the Grey Lady complained at length about the Bush administration's economic policies, and declared "the dollar is heading down, no matter what." Oh, really? Behold a table of the dollar's performance this year against the Euro, its only real competition as a reserve currency. The vertical red line is at the beginning of April, the date of the Times' prediction:



Oops.

On April 16, 2005, the Times ran a story declaring that "stocks plunge to lowest point since election," suggesting again that short-term changes in the financial markets were the fault of the Bush administration. What's happened since then?



Oops, again. With this kind of trading saavy, it shouldn't surprise us that the editors of the New York Times prefer writing about financial markets than investing their money in them.

If the declines in the dollar and the stock market early in the year were the fault of the Bush administration, to what shall we attribute the rallies in both since then? Obviously, it is idiotic to ascribe any one cause to any one movement in a complex system such as the financial markets. The amazing thing is that the editors of the Times do so with a straight face all the time, without the slightest concern that they predicate both their predictions and their conclusions on an absurd premise.


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Ass-backward in Sweden 

Cheap Monday jeans are a hot commodity among young Swedes thanks to their trendy tight fit and low price, even if a few buyers are turned off by the logo: a skull with a cross turned upside down on its forehead.

Logo designer Bjorn Atldax says he's not just trying for an antiestablishment vibe.

"It is an active statement against Christianity," Atldax told The Associated Press. "I'm not a Satanist myself, but I have a great dislike for organized religion."

The label's makers say it's more of a joke, but Atldax insists his graphic designs have a purpose beyond selling denim: to make young people question Christianity, a "force of evil" that he blames for sparking wars throughout history.

One is almost forced to wonder why Mr. Atldax did not design a logo with a blood-drenched crescent shaped like a scimitar. Perhaps because he knows that Muslims, unlike Christians, would hunt him down where he lives. And his little dog, too.

I have no problem with with people who want to fulminate about "organized religion," or even those who want to make money off the bashing of baby Jesus. But complaining about the war-like tendencies of Christianity in 2005 is like denouncing the Guardian Angels for being a "street gang" and failing to mention the Bloods and the Crips.

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Complex systems 

Michael Crichton's lecture on complex systems is well worth reading. The history of the management of Yellowstone alone is very interesting, especially if you have ever been there and heard the Park Service's version.

CWCID: Roger L. Simon.

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Anecdotal Defeatism? 

TigerHawk tells a compelling story below. A young and beautiful girl is savagely attacked by Uday Hussein and the doctor who treated her is haunted by the incident. But though he pities her plight, he fears Iraq is changing for the worse. Tigerhawk comments:

One of Packer's most important themes is that the United States grossly underestimated the massive psychological damage that many, if not most, Iraqis had suffered during the Ba'athist era, which damage rendered ordinary Iraqis incapable of reacting in many situations the way less traumatized people might. This psychological damage has, along with other factors, neutralized all of the Bush administration's optimistic assumptions about the speed with which Iraq would be able to function without the American crutch. This begs a question: Does the story of Dr. Shaker and Raghda strengthen, or diminish, the justice in America's intervention there?

The story begs more than one question, to my mind.

If the Iraqis were traumatized by years of Baathist rule and we "grossly misunderestimated" the time it would take for them to begin reacting normally (question for the ages: how does one react "normally" to being invaded?), then isn't it just a bit premature to grab our toys and go home? How can we, in good conscience, leave them adrift after having taken their loving Father Saddam from them?

And by what Hari Seldonesque formula was the White House to calculate the precise amount of time it would take Iraq to achieve emotional and spriritual healing? Is this time period measured in months? Years? Decades? What are the metrics? By what objective yardstick do we assess our progress towards this goal?

There's a phrase in my office for people who think like this. From time to time, someone will start squirrel-caging about some problem or another and at some point one of us will say, "You are stuck in the weeds again". It's easy enough to do: break any large, complex problem into its component parts and you'll find a million sticking points. A million excuses for doing nothing - for accepting the status quo. For turning a blind eye and leaving that man with the pistol in his lap free to rape little girls and throw them out onto the street drugged and bleeding to be beaten up by the police. This is significant, because it gives Nick Kristoff the opportunity to fulminate in the NY Times about how yet another brown-skinned Third World girl has been raped and reflect that yet another uncaring Republican administration is to blame for turning a blind eye to the madness.

Of course, we all know what happens if the administration does take action. A thousand outraged editorials will be launched, like tiny wooden ships, calling him a lying imperialist, warmonger, dictator, arrogant unilateralist Chimperor-in-Chief.

And life will go on in Baghdad and Kabul. Purple fingers will wave in the air from time to time and Joe Biden will do his best to ignore them because they contradict his gloomy predictions of electoral disaster and impending civil war. Hope will break out like a rash, but the New York Times will mysteriously fail to carry the story. And yet, things will still not be perfect for lovely young girls named Raghda, because this is not a perfect world. Mistakes will be made. People will die.

But there is a difference, and it is crucial. Iraq is moving from government at gunpoint to government at the ballot box. There will still be mistakes, because government is a human institution, but the mistakes made this time around will be self-inflicted. And they can be self-correcting. That is the beauty of representative government: choice. It is what Iraq has never had before: the power to choose, even to make mistakes. The power to correct what is wrong when they see injustice, as Dr. Shaker did the day Raghda came into his office.

The power to change for the better.

These are large ideas. Sweeping changes. Journalists and authors are always going to find a Dr. Shakir and point to him and say, "See? This or that person is worse off than before. This person is not content. Therefore the entire experiment was a failure." It seems easy on the surface to defeat large, complex ideas in detail, but it is a hollow victory.

The real story lies in the aggregate, when millions of people go to the polls each year and vote for a better tomorrow. When thousands of Raghdas sign up for classes down at the local college, or even, simply, do not have to submit to being raped by the likes of Uday Hussein. When the worst misfortunes they suffer are self-inflicted: the consequences of a people learning to deal with freedom, rather than those of a brutal dicatator holding a gun to their heads. It is the difference between living with stagnation in a prison of fear and moving towards a better tomorrow, even with all the uncertainty that entails.

And what human being on this earth does not want to leave a better tomorrow for their children and grandchildren? Certainly not us. Why do we wish something less for them?

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

The story of Raghda and the problem of Bashir Shaker 

I'm most of the way through The Assassins' Gate, George Packer's must-read book on "America in Iraq." It is the most nuanced book on the war that I have yet read. A full review will be forthcoming, but suffice it to say that the discussion of arguments over the war would be a lot more nuanced in both directions if hawks and doves alike read this book.

The Assassins' Gate is from one perspective a study of the collision between bureaucratic imperatives and the lives of actual people, within Washington, between Washington and the various American authorities in Iraq, and most of all between American civilians and soldiers, on the one hand, and Iraqis, on the other hand. But Packer also writes about similar collisions under Saddam's government, and these horror stories obviously go a long way to informing his own relief in the destruction of the Hussein family regime (even as he evinces tremendous criticism of American planning and policy). One of the most revealing is a story about a girl named Raghda and the doctor who examined her.
Down the hall from the morgue, housed within the same Medico-Legal Institute where [Dr. Bashir] Shaker was on staff, was another examination room, with a reclining chair and stirrups. This was where virginity exams on living subjects took place. Before the war, when there was rule of law of a sort, Shaker performed five or six a day -- most of them on suspected prostitutes, but also on runaways, kidnap victims, and girls who had suffered from accident and whose parents, for the sake of marriageability, wanted a medical certificate establishing their chastity. These exams could have explosive consequences, and their results had to be carefully guarded. Women were shot dead by relatives on their way out the institute's front door; in cases when a husband killed his bride on their wedding night and the exam showed that she was one of the 40 percent of Iraqi women with a condition known as "elastic hymen" - that is, she was still a virgin - the danger of reprisal came from her family. An entire subspecialty of forensic medicine in Iraq dealt with virginity. In any criminal case involving a woman, it was the most important piece of information. "It rules our life," Shaker said. The most surprising thing about these details of his profession was their ordinariness.

In March 2003, a week before the start of the war, a sixteen-year-old girl whom the former regime's police had found wandering disoriented through the streets was brought to the Medico-Legal Institute. Upon examining her, Shaker found that her virginity had been recently and violently taken. The girl, named Raghda, was beautiful, with pale skin and large, dark eyes, and she was so miserable she could hardly speak. Raghda seemed nothing like the teenage prostitutes Shaker examined, and he gently persuaded her to tell him what had happened.

Raghda had gone to audition as a television introducer at the studio owned by Saddam's psychopathetic older son Uday. Along with the six other finalists, she was taken to a room where Uday -- crippled from a 1996 assassination attempt -- was seated in a chair, holding a pistol in his lap. He ordered the girls to undress and walk in a circle around his chair. When one girl begged to be excused, Uday raised the pistol and shot her dead. After that, the other girls, including Raghda, did as they were told. In the following days, Uday (who was committing some of his last crimes in power, while an invasion force gathered along Iraq's southern border) raped the girls one after another, then threw them out on the street, drugged, with a wad of cash, which was how Raghda was found by the police. When she told them her story, they gave her a beating and then brought her to the Medico-Legal Institute.

"If you want to help me," Raghda told the doctor, "go tell my parents their daughter was found dead."

On March 18, the day before the war started, Shaker completed Raghda's paperwork. "Notice that there is the appearance of complete hymen rupture from the top to the base. This is the result of an erect penis or a tool of the same quality. It occurred not long ago -- about two weeks or more, and cannot say exactly when. In conclusion, the hymen membrane was ruptured longer ago than two weeks and cannot say how long. End of report." Raghda was returned to the police. Shaker never learned her fate.

Over the course of his career, Shaker served in the Iraqi army and took part in the occupation of Kuwait, a period he would only describe as an existence utterly separate from the rest of his life. His testimony in trials sent homosexuals to execution. At the morgue he handles the nightly traffic of violent death. A bloody Friday that March of 2004 brought thirty-two bodies, including two German and Dutch water engineers gunned down by insurgents on a road south of Baghdad, and two Iraqi journalists shot to death by American soldiers as they drove away from a checkpoint. For Shaker, such cases were purely intellectual matters. The effect of this dispassion showed in the cold, handsome gaze of his blue eyes, in his blunt uninflected manner of speaking, in the way his smile turned almost automatically into a sneer. But he never got over Raghda. (bold emphasis added)

Commentary

As hideous as rape is, it is even more destructive in a society where medically verifiable virginity is the sine qua non of female virtue. Whatever we would think of a serial rapist in the West, think something worse of Uday Hussein.

Also consider the case of Dr. Bashir Shaker, who is probably not unusual among the Iraqi professional elite in the Ba'athist era. He committed horrible, collaborationist crimes by the standards of the West, yet he was himself in constant jeopardy for his own life if he did not cooperate. His hands are stained with blood that he can never wash away, yet now he needs to build a life in an utterly changed world. Dr. Shaker is Shiite, yet found himself trapped in the totalitarianism of the old regime, and in spite of what he has seen he does not walk away from the moral code that condemned Raghda. Packer again:
I assumed that this forward-looking man of science, with a flat-top haircut and a clean-shaven jaw, wanted a relatively secular, liberal Iraq. I kept waiting for him to catch my eye in the middle of one of his clinical descriptions and shake his head over the backwardness of a society obsessed with virginity and prostitution. It never happened...

While the morgue overflowed, the examination room down the hall, with its reclining couch and stirrups, was usually empty. Before the war it had been the other way around. These two sections of the Medico-Legal Institute didn't just occupy the same floor; they existed in a kind of fragile moral relation, as if the social control of virginity offered the last defense against the anarchy that led to murder. Shaker, a religious Shiite, wondered if the Iranian method of public whippings might be the answer to Baghdad's prostitution epidemic which, he said, was flourishing in the lawlessness of the occupation. "It's strict, it's horrible, but it has good results," he said. "Prostitution now is normal." He blamed Americans, and especially Bremer, who had threatened in February [2004] to veto any interim constitution that declared Islam to be the principal basis of law. Personal freedom ... was a moral disaster to Bashir Shaker. "When they give everybody their rights, it's causing bad things in society, it's corrupting us," he said. "If Islam is the main source of law, none of these things would happen."

It was a measure of America's inability to achieve its goals in Iraq that a man like Bashir Shaker, who had everything to gain from the overthrow of Saddam and the opportunities it opened up, now felt himself pulled toward a harsher brand of Islam in reaction to the pervasive insecurity of the occupation. The doctor said that he belonged to "the middle level of mind" in Iraqi society, between the strictly religious masses below him and the secular elite above. "There are many Iraqis like me," he said. In Iraq, there was nothing unusual about a doctor who loved Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant, advocated the public whipping of prostitutes, and believed that executed homosexuals got what they deserved. But the middle level of mind meant inner conflict. Shaker feared the effects of living outside Iraq, and of the images transmitted into his house by the satellite dish that he installed on the roof when it was still illegal and highly dangerous under Saddam. He had fallen in love with an independent-minded Iraqi who grew up in Holland and wore low-cut shirts; if she came to Baghdad, he wanted her to start covering her hair and acting like a more traditional Muslim woman. His work fascinating him, but he worried that his daily immersion in death would coursen his soul. "The doctor of forensic medicine deals only with bodies," he said. So maybe in the end I will become like you -- an existentialist."

Packer weaves between attributing Shaker's new religiousity to the "insecurity of the occupation" and his own "inner conflict." But, whatever might be blamed on the mistakes of the occupation (elsewhere, Packer describes the deleterious consequences of the small occupation force very persuasively and in great detail), increased prostitution is not one of them. Surely many more foreign soldiers, however disciplined and however much they would have otherwise reduced crime and deterred terrorism, would have led to even more prostitution, not less. No, it is much more plausible to believe that Dr. Shaker's "inner conflict," including particularly his own guilt, or at least anguish, over his collaboration, drove him to intensify his commitment to his faith. Dr. Shaker's religion served the dual purpose of justifying his own crimes theologically and soothing the nightmares that probably still haunt his memories.

One of Packer's most important themes is that the United States grossly underestimated the massive psychological damage that many, if not most, Iraqis had suffered during the Ba'athist era, which damage rendered ordinary Iraqis incapable of reacting in many situations the way less traumatized people might. This psychological damage has, along with other factors, neutralized all of the Bush administration's optimistic assumptions about the speed with which Iraq would be able to function without the American crutch. This begs a question: Does the story of Dr. Shaker and Raghda strengthen, or diminish, the justice in America's intervention there?

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Damn. Just Damn. 

The blogosphere is full of funny people.

And smart people.

There aren't many who manage to be side-splittingly funny, so smart it scares you sometimes, and kind and decent on a personal level as well.

We just lost one.

Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep -
He hath awakened from the dream of life -
'Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance, strike with our spirit's knife
Invulnerable nothings

Notwithstanding the rather morbid source of these verses, I wish him every happiness in that great, wide world beyond blogging. And if some point he reconsiders, that will be a very happy day.

(5) Comments

Chicago loses an old friend 

Three months after Marshall Field's announced that it would become just another Macy's, the Berghoff Restaurant announced that it was closing after 107 years. Damn.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Saudi women 

Sabbah chronicles the social progress of Saudi women in the last year, and considers it a blow against Islamic terrorism. A woman won election to a seat on the "engineer's board," and another has become the first female jockey to compete internationally. Saudi women can now travel alone (as long as they have the permission of their husbands), and there are even hints that they soon may be allowed to drive.

To an American, these tiny ripples of change only remind us how far removed Saudi Arabia is from Western notions of gender justice. Circa 1920. Still, progress is progress, and Sabbah is surely right that in this respect Saudi society is moving away from the Islamic terrorists, rather than toward them. Celebrate all progress, but please, faster.

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I Love Lists.... 

And John Hawkins has a great one going:

Most Annoying Liberals for 2005

Go check out the comments section and give me your top ten in the comments here. And while you're at it, never let it be said I'm a mean-spirited poopy-head. Give me your top-ten Most Annoying Conservatives for 2005 too.

I've always maintained that DimWittery is in ample supply on both sides of the political aisle. If you're ever in doubt of this, just turn on your TV set. If you're not throwing things within 5 minutes, the volume must be broken.

To start you off, here are some of my annoying Libs:

1. Ted Kennedy

2. Harry Reid

3. Pelooooooo-si.

4. Alan Colmes.

4. (OK, 5. but Paul can't count anyway) Paul Krugman.

6. Nick Kristoff.

7. Bob Herbert.

8. Joe ("talk to me like I'm your father") Biden.

9. John Murtha.

10. John Kerry, (D, Vietnam) What does this man stand for? Does he have any principles? The answer is blowin' in the wind...

11. Nancy Hopkins, who never met an academic theory that didn't send her running for the protection of the university administration. But don't you *dare* suggest that women aren't fully equal to men in all respects.

She just might get the vapors, you sexist pig.

12. Barbara Boxer: Senator, author, horse lover. You just can't make this stuff up:

A ton of finely tuned muscle, hide glistening, the crest of his mane risen in full sexual display, and his neck curved in an exaggerated arch that reminded Greg of a horse he'd seen in an old tapestry in some castle in Europe Jane had dragged him to. The stallion approached, nostrils flared, hooves lifting with delicate precision, the wranglers hanging on grimly. ... The stallion rubbed his nose against the mare's neck and nuzzled her withers. She promptly bit him on the shoulder and, when he attempted to mount, instantly became a plunging devil of teeth and hooves. ... Greg clutched the rails with white knuckles, wondering, as these two fierce animals were coerced into the majestic coupling by at least six people, how foals ever got born in the wild.


Update:

Heh... I had not really considered news anchors as a class of people. That opens up entirely new vistas. Just to make my husband happy, I feel honor-bound to nominate [drum roll]:

13. Gwen Ifill, who is so thoroughly and snidely biased that it almost defies belief on occasion. She's a two-shoe-er (both shoes come off and are launched in the general direction of the TV screen whenever she appears).

14. Wolf Blitzer: "They're so...poor, and so...black!" Thank you Captain Obvious. Who knew there were black people in The Big Easy? We might have overlooked the whole skin color aspect without your expert guidance. This, truly, is what America relies on "professional journalists" for.

15. Bill Clinton, who, if he hadn't been so busy feeling everyone's pain, might have actually done something about it. Like perhaps passing the education and prescription drug bills Bush got through in his first term.

16. Jimmah Cartair Our first French ex-President, once voted Most Likely to Be the Next UN Secretary General. Lord save us.

17. Helen Thomas: because the woman is truly evil, and because it allows me to bring up one of my favorite exclamations, "Helen Thomas on a treadmill!", etymology here.


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Did Germany ransom Susanne Osthoff? 

Yesterday, we reported on the moral confusion of Susanne Osthoff, the German held hostage in Iraq for almost a month before her release on December 18. She thinks that hostage-taking is a perfectly reasonable means for encouraging Western governments to supply more humanitarian aid to the Sunnis of Iraq.

Now Osthoff is planning her return to Iraq, which annoys the German government to no end. The Germans are particularly angry since they seem to have paid good money to secure her return:
The German Government angrily rebuked a former hostage yesterday who is determined to return to Iraq despite being held captive for three weeks by a Sunni gang.

Susanne Osthoff, a 43-year-old archaeologist, announced this week on al-Jazeera television that she would go back to her work in northern Iraq, trying to set up a German cultural centre in Arbil.

Angela Merkel’s new Government, which regards the freeing of Frau Osthoff this month as its first foreign policy triumph, is furious. It made huge efforts to secure her release and is widely believed to have paid a ransom.

Do not miss this point: the Germans have -- in all likelihood -- given money to the insurgents in Iraq, money which will be used to buy weapons and explosives that will kill American soldiers, Iraqi police and innocent civilians who are just standing by. This is of a piece with Germany's historical practice, in fact. Two years ago the BBC reported that the German government paid ransom to an affiliate of al Qaeda to release German tourists foolish enough to holiday in the Sahara. German nationals voluntarily put themselves in harm's way by traveling to some of the most hideous places on the planet (what sort of idiot vacations in the Sahara?), and then the government of Germany buys their release by paying money to the enemies of the United States. This moronic practice not only arms our enemies, but it encourages more kidnapping. Let us not hear any more about Germany being a "friend and ally" of the United States until it vocally renounces the paying of ransom to our enemies.

In the Osthoff case, the Germans did not even get anything for helping America's enemies. Osthoff admits that she supports the efforts of the Sunnis to get money, and she believes that kidnapping is a legitimate means to that end. The Germans are nevertheless very insulted that she is going back in to Iraq:
“A self-willed woman!” exploded Hans-Ulrich Klose, the deputy leader of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee. “Incomprehensible,” agreed Ruprecht Polenz, the committee chairman. “In the event of a second kidnapping one would have to discuss who should foot the bill.”

German newspapers have been full of letters complaining about how much she has cost the taxpayer. Peter Scholl-Latour, the country’s leading Middle East expert, complained: “She is absolutely irresponsible — she is just kicking the Government on the shins.”

Mein herren, if you paid a ransom to secure Frau Osthoff's release, you have kicked American soldiers in the shins, and it is Iraq that is footing the bill.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Recognition 

TigerHawk won a year-end award, of sorts! We appreciate generous recognition wherever it may surface.

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No Greater Gift 

The flag never left Jim Cathey.

From the moment his body departed Iraq, the sturdy, heavyweight cotton flag remained nearby, following him from the desert to Dover Air Force Base, Del., where a mortuary affairs team received his body.

According to the Department of Defense, Cathey was killed in Al Karmah, Iraq, on Aug. 21. Members of his unit later told family members that Cathey was leading the search of an abandoned building when a booby-trapped door exploded. The explosion was so fierce it blew off an arm and leg of the Marine directly behind Cathey. That man, now in recovery, credits his lieutenant with saving his life.

And now Lieutenant James Cathey, USMC has another life to his credit. Enter James Cathey, Junior who reported for duty a few weeks early to comfort to a young war widow in a world suddenly grown cold and lonely:

"I've been kind of afraid that once I had him I would get even more upset about Jim having passed away, but having him has actually helped me," Katherine Cathey, a widow and mother said.

Second Lt. James Cathey, Katherine's husband, died one month after he arrived in Iraq. He was killed instantly when he entered a booby trapped building ahead of the Marines under his command. Two days later, his wife Katherine learned that their baby would be a son.

Before Jim was buried, Katherine Cathey spent the last night with her husband. When she closed his coffin, she placed an ultrasound picture of their baby over his heart.

The baby was not due until Jan. 1. Early in the week before Christmas his mother and grandmother felt something was not right so they went into the hospital.

"They got a heartbeat when they put the monitor on but they weren't sensing that he was moving at all," Katherine said. "I was very scared."

Doctors rushed Katherine into the operating room.

"They all for the most part knew I had lost my husband and I couldn't go through losing the baby too," Katherine said.

After an emergency caesarean section, James Cathey Jr. (Jimmy, for short) arrived strong and healthy. He was an answer to so many prayers.

"I just looked at his face and that's when I started crying because I thought he's so beautiful," Katherine said. "I really feel like Jim has watched over me and the baby a lot."

Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine,
His honour and the greatness of his name
Shall be, and make new nations.

- William Shakespeare, King Henry VIII.

Update: I knew I had written about Lieutenant Cathey. I just couldn't remember where, or when. There have been so many good young men.

At any rate, it was here. It seems almost prophetic, now:

...the saddest part of Lt. Cathey's story is that when he left to go to war, he, like so many young men, promised to come back to his young wife and the child she was carrying. They say love is stronger than death. It may well prove so in some larger sense, but the sad fact is that Fate had other plans for him.

The Cindy Sheehans of this world would say, "Well, he is nothing but a fool. What did he expect? War is not healthy for Lieutenants and children and other Living Things." No doubt she thinks it was his recruiter's fault for selling him on those comic-book visions of war-as-glorified-mayhem from which one emerges ten feet tall, unscathed, and covered with medals...

...but morality is not nature. The harsh laws of the world do not stand in abeyance because we foolishly insist on niceties of human conduct. And people come in all varieties; some greater and some lesser. The greater seem able, by some means, to exert some pull or force on those around them. The lesser are pulled along in their wake like flotsam. But in the modern-day world we are all urged to worship the Great God Practicality who goes by her everyday name Mediocrity: it is the worst sort of sin to try to be better or worse than another and the most arrant foolishness to take unnecessary risks. One must be Sensible. And it is this attitude, I think, that I have rebelled against all my life, to my detriment.

It never seems to occur to anyone that perhaps that is precisely the end he did expect? That perhaps he was not naive at all, or only naive at certain times, or perhaps he was simply incapable of being any other way than the way he was. That though being a Glorious Bastard was not really a conscious decision, it was something he would not have renounced, even if he could have changed his nature?


Semper Fidelis, Lieutenant Cathey. And sleep well.

May this nation never lack for such men.

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Eavesdropping 

is okay with me. At least the kind we've all been ranting about recently. Read this worthy op-ed piece from, of all the ironic sources, today's New York Times.

Perhaps they've picked up some interesting communications with Screwy:).

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Help! I'm Being Violated! 

I'm still ranting about the NSA wiretap issue, but this time it's over at Right Wing News.

My fellow Americans, we're now in Week 3 of the latest series of national nightmares brought to you courtesy of the NY Times (how else would we know we're in the midst of a national nightmare?).

And no, I'm not talking about that national nightmare. Thankfully, the horrific rampage of that Aryan-looking symbol of the Patriarchy in his annoying little manger is just about over for another year. At long last, the ACLU can get back to what it does best: removing swastikas from the LA county seal. Nope - I'm referring to the stunning revelation that, though Presidents going back to Jimmah Carter approved warrantless physical searches during peacetime, *we* have been living with a far worse danger.

That's right: the NSA may be listening in when Osama bin Laden makes those holiday Friends and Family calls.

After 9/11, you may be wondering why this should concern you. After all, Bill Clinton conducted door to door physical searches on public housing tenants without so much as a by-your-leave from the courts. That is, until he was stopped by the ACLU. Clinton then "ordered Attorney General Janet Reno and Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros to develop a search policy for public housing that was both constitutional and effective".

Kanye West was strangely silent - perhaps because he was just a gleam in his Daddy's eye back then. But who can forget that 1990's Grandmaster Flash paean to ghetto rage?

Don't push me cause I'm close to the edge
I'm trying not to lose my head
Uh huh ha ha ha

It's like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under
Bill Clinton doesn't care about black people


Those were the days... remember how the howls of "Impeach him!" rose to a deafening crescendo on both sides of Congress? I tell you, it was inspiring the way Democrats didn't let partisanship interfere with principle when the rights of The Little Man were concerned. Of course you'd never know any of this had happened, to read Reason's Julian Sanchez or the folks at Media Matters. To hear them talk, wiretapping is the worst thing that could possibly happen to a human being. Warrantless home invasions, a pair of frilly panties on the head, or being forced to listen to Christina Aguilera CDs for hours on end simply pale in comparison. Julian is outraged over the prospect of electronic eavesdropping, but most of his argument fails the common-sense test:

Continue reading...

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The moral confusion of Susanne Osthoff 

Yesterday, Little Green Footballs announced its annual list of nominees for "idiotarian of the year." Past winners ultimate winners include Michael Moore and Jimmy Carter. This year's nominees include very few people who you would want to have over for dinner.

Everybody righty has their own idea of who might qualify for this award, but the unifying trait among the nominees and the past winners is a profound moral confusion. It is possible to be left-wing and smart and righteous. The leading candidates for LGF's award are self-righteous and morally confused, often to the point of defending in others what they purport to abhor in their enemies.

In any case, yesterday's news brought a late, very dark-horse candidate for LGF's award. Like a movie released in late December to compete for that year's Academy Awards, may I present freed German hostage Susanne Osthoff:

Ostoff was captured by insurgents in Iraq's Sunni triangle, and held hostage for 24 days before her release this week. On her release, Ostoff revealed a case of Stockholm Syndrome that makes Patty Hearst look, er, unwilling:
A former German hostage who spent 24 days in the hands of unknown captors in Iraq said her kidnappers were not criminals and had demanded humanitarian aid for Sunni Arab regions.

Speaking to Doha-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera, Susanne Osthoff said her captors told her not to be afraid as her kidnapping was "politically motivated."

"Do not be afraid. We do not harm women or children and you are a Muslim," she quoted them as saying.

"I was so happy to know that I had not fallen into the hands of criminals," she said.

So, Osthoff does not believe that it is a crime to take women and children hostage, even if they are Muslim, if the motivation is "political." That point of view hasn't been common among Germans for at least sixty years, and I certainly hope that it is not enjoying a renaissance now.

But wait, there's more. Her kidnappers did not want "money":
Osthoff, a Muslim convert and fluent Arabic speaker, said her captors demanded German humanitarian aid for Iraq's Sunni Arabs and stated clearly that they did not want a ransom.

"They said we don't want money... Maybe we want from Germany ... hospitals and schools in the Sunni triangle (area northwest of Baghdad), and they would like to get money in the form of humanitarian aid," she said.

She described her captors as "poor people" and that she "cannot blame them for kidnapping her, as they cannot enter (Baghdad's heavily fortified) Green Zone to kidnap Americans."

It is, after all, completely understandable that being unable to kidnap Americans, it could not possibly be criminal to kidnap a heretofore (and I use that word advisedly) innocent German in their stead.

In transporting their propaganda, Ostoff is aiding and abetting insurgents who by their own admission would happily capture or kill innocent people (so long as they are non-Muslim male Americans, apparently). She is promoting their propaganda, which is designed to undermine support for the lawful government of Iraq. Finally, there is no glimmer of recognition in her public statements that the Sunni insurgency is the principle reason why it is has been so difficult to deliver the very humanitarian aid that she claims her captors demanded.

Meanwhile, her family in Germany is diving for cover:
Relatives in Germany have said Osthoff, a fluent Arabic speaker who was once married to a Jordanian national, has been out of touch with them for years.

There is another interesting tidbit in the Ostoff story. We do not know why her captors suddenly released her:
But she repeated more than once that she "was sold", without making clear what she meant, while expressing her shock at Berlin's failure to contact her captors.

"I could not believe that the Germans had not made any contact," with her kidnappers she said, describing her feelings during captivity.

Given Germany's track record of paying ransom to, and therefore arming, Muslim radicals, one can imagine Ostoff's disblief. One might also wonder how she came to be under the impression that she was "sold" out of captivity.

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Monday, December 26, 2005

No snow in Durango... 

...so we're driving to Telluride today. Since I ski only once per year, I'll be the blocky, clumsy guy tumbling down the mountain. And I'll be a ball of pain tomorrow.

Have a truly excellent Boxing Day.

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Why is Hezbollah backing away from al Qaeda? 

LGF links to this piece in Lebanon's Daily Star, which carries the dubious headline "Hizbullah is Lebanon's bulwark against Al-Qaeda." Suffice it to say that the LGFers are not buying it. The article, though, perhaps signals a deeper story than its superficial claim that Hezbollah and al Qaeda want nothing to do with each other.

The article in fact does seem like an attempt to dress up Hezbollah as non-threatening to the United States:
Hizbullah's director of media relations Mohammad Afif Naboulsi firmly denies the alleged links to the militant jihadi network, "We do not have any relation with that group, not in the present nor in the past. They are working toward tearing the Islamic Nation apart, dividing Muslims into numerous sects and mutilating the face of Islam in the world."

Amal Ghorayeb of the Lebanese American University believes any operational cooperation between the two groups is out of the question. "Hizbullah would in no way share Al-Qaeda's goals. The Americans have to understand Al-Qaeda is a threat to American security, Hizbullah is simply a threat to American interests," says Ghorayeb.

An expert and writer on Hizbullah, Ghorayeb says: "Al-Qaeda would never work with Hizbullah; their greatest enemies are the Shiites. There is a very strong cultural and religious animosity on the side of Al-Qaeda."

Last week a Shiite cleric in Lebanon received a death threat from an Al-Qaeda-type Salafi jihadist group confirming this hostility....

According to Dr. Redwan Sayyed, considered Lebanon's foremost expert on Al-Qaeda and a professor of Islamic history at the Lebanese university, Salafi Jihadi ideologues, described as the intellectual voices of Al-Qaeda, view Hizbullah with deep disdain and are threatened by the Shiite group's popularity on the Sunni Arab street.

Contributors to pro Al-Qaeda Web sites such as Global Islamic Media regularly refer to Hizbullah as Hizb al-Shaytan or "party of the devil" and in 2004, a leading scholar of jihadists in Saudi Arabia Abed al-Munim Mustafa Halimah published an article "the Lebanese Hizbullah rejectionist school" condemning Hizbullah for being nationalist, serving local interests and for their relationship with apostate Shiite Iran and the secular Assad regime in Syria....

There is a lot to argue about here -- scroll through the comments at LGF to see lots of links that at least claim ties between Hezbollah and al Qaeda. The article itself mentions -- and discounts -- news accounts that purport to show links between the two terrorist groups. The truth of the assertion, however, is less interesting than the fact that it has been made.

What conclusions can we draw -- or at least propose -- from the fact that Hezbollah has gone out of its way to claim that it wants nothing to do with al Qaeda? Since denouncing al Qaeda is bound to annoy al Qaeda, we can propose that Hezbollah does not fear al Qaeda. That suggests that al Qaeda is in no position to retaliate against Hezbollah's leadership. Also, it implies that al Qaeda is not popular among Hezbollah's core constituency, the Shiites of Lebanon. If it were, why would Hezbollah be so vehement in its rejection of al Qaeda?

Now, one might argue that this story is a shallow attempt to persuade the United States that Hezbollah has nothing to do with our wider war against al Qaeda, even as Hez conspires with the jihadis against the region's "apostate regimes," Israel and the United States. Perhaps, but how likely is it that the United States is going to change its view of Hezbollah on the basis of an op-ed piece in the Daily Star? It is far more likely that Hezbollah is backing away from whatever contacts it may have had with al Qaeda because it is good politics inside Lebanon. If so, then we might take this as a sign that al Qaeda's popularity in the "Arab street" is waning.

As I have written more than once, victory in our war against al Qaeda and its network requires that its ideology and organization be discredited. If Hezbollah believes it is good politics to deny a connection with al Qaeda, that may be a sign that its credibility is fraying around the edges. Yes, Hezbollah is no friend of the United States, but it serves our interests when it denounces al Qaeda to its constituents.

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Shark vs. Octopus 

Who ya got?

CWCID: Dean Esmay.

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The Tenth Crusade? 

For the last four years, I have laughed at the lefty claim that the war on Islamist jihad was the "tenth Crusade." Now I'm not so sure:




Stay safe, guys.


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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Peace on Earth 

Christmas and Hanukkah converge this year, the former beginning its twelve days and the latter its eight nights tomorrow. Suffice it to say that Christians and Jews everywhere wish for peace on Earth, and differ only in the means for achieving it.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, and may there be peace on Earth.

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The Fourth Branch Of Government 

In two years of writing online, I've been fascinated by the interplay between the blogosphere, a virtual free market of information, and the corporate owned mainstream media. As repeated scandals have shown, our "free press" is anything but free. Sadly, many journalists believe the First Amendment places them beyond accountability either to the public or the law, granting them absolute license to withhold and distort information at will.

In many ways, the RatherGate scandal was a watershed event for the press. It represented the first breach in the wall between pesky fact-checking bloggers and professional journalists. But try as they might to repair the damage, information (like water) finds and exploits the tiniest crack and forces it open wide.

About this time last year, I argued that blogging was revitalizing democracy. It is also revolutionizing the news cycle. The current NSA tempest in a teapot illustrates this feedback cycle perfectly. The mainstream media were determined to cast this story as the civil rights crisis of the century, inconvenient truth be damned. But a deluge of facts and case law from righty bloggers and the conservative punditocracy quickly reached critical mass, making this all but impossible. They managed what the White House was unable (or unwilling) to do: create a virtual Radio Free America to smuggle information past the Iron Curtain erected by the largely liberal-leaning media.

In the past few days, it has come out that President Clinton used warrantless domestic searches absent a foreign intelligence goal. In fact, he wanted to use them in public housing projects. Where was the Congressional outrage?

President Carter, in 1978, used warrantless searches against two men suspected of spying for the Vietnamese.

As Noel Sheppard points out, both Carter and Clinton felt strongly enough about the use of warrantless searches to issue executive orders asserting their authority to conduct them. Jamie Gorelick, Deputy Attorney General under Bill Clinton, was quite certain of the President's inherent authority in 1994 when she assured the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence:

"The Department of Justice believes -- and the case law supports -- that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes and that the president may, as he has done, delegate this authority to the attorney general,"

But this week, she, like many other Democratic partisans, seemed to be suffering a mysterious short-term memory loss:

In an interview yesterday, Miss Gorelick acknowledged her testimony before Congress but said it pertained to presidential authority prior to 1994, when Congress expanded FISA laws. Left unanswered, she said, is whether that congressional action trumped the president's "inherent authority."
"The Clinton administration did not take a position on that," she said.

Oh really? Then what was Ms. Gorelick doing testifying to the House that the President had inherent authority in 1994? And why on earth would John Schmidt, associate Attorney General under Clinton from 1994-1997, cite exhaustive case law showing that not only did Clinton administration continue to exercise that authority subsequent to 1994, but the FISA court itself upheld the President's inherent authority to conduct such searches?

Four federal courts of appeal subsequently faced the issue squarely and held that the president has inherent authority to authorize wiretapping for foreign intelligence purposes without judicial warrant.

In the most recent judicial statement on the issue, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, composed of three federal appellate court judges, said in 2002 that "All the ... courts to have decided the issue held that the president did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence ... We take for granted that the president does have that authority."

As to the other burning question in everyone's mind - why didn't Bush go to Congress - that seems to have been answered too:

"It's been briefed to the Congress over a dozen times, and, in fact, it is a program that is, by every effort we've been able to make, consistent with the statutes and with the law," Vice President Cheney said yesterday in an interview with ABC News "Nightline" to be broadcast tonight.

Bush and other administration officials have said congressional leaders have been briefed regularly on the program. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said there were no objections raised by lawmakers told about it. [Senate Minority Leader Harry] Reid acknowledged he had been briefed on the four-year-old domestic spy program "a couple months ago" but insisted the administration bears full responsibility.

But 'tis the season for hindsight, and 'most every Democrat in Congress is there with bells on:
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts says he's "puzzled" by that letter the committee's senior Democrat sent the vice president in 2003, expressing concerns over the NSA's domestic surveillance program — since he never heard those concerns at the time.

West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller released the letter this week and in it, complained that security restrictions kept him from consulting with experts on the program, while arguing that it raised "profound oversight issues." But Roberts says he recalls that Rockefeller voiced his support to the vice president at the time and as recently as two weeks ago. He adds that Rockefeller is releasing the letter at a "politically advantageous" time... and says he finds the move "a bit disingenuous."

It begins to seems the only ones still in doubt about the legality of the NSA wiretaps are the folks at the NY Times (whose timing, it turns out, is highly convenient...for them). But then scratch any high-profile NY Times story and you're likely to find a lot of high-falutin' journalistic principles a lucrative book deal:

In a recent oval office meeting, President Bush pleaded with both the executive editor and the publisher of The New York Times not to run the story on NSA wiretaps. Nine days later, the Times published the story anyway. But the paper had decided not to run the same story more than a year ago and a Times source tells The New York Observer that the piece was regarded as dead. So why publish it now?

Turns out, the story's author, Times reporter James Risen, was set to release a book detailing the NSA program next month, leaving the Times with the choice of publishing the story or being scooped by their own reporter. The Times' Bill Keller tells the Los Angeles Times the book had nothing to do with it, saying, "We published the story when we did because after much hard work it was fully reported, checked and ready and because we were convinced there was no good reason not to publish it."

No good reason not to publish it.

I suppose having the President of the United States argue the welfare of your country demands restraint doesn't fall under the national security "good reason" exception. This statement is simply stunning in its arrogance. Can this be the same newspaper that called for an investigation into the "outing" of Val Plame? Where's the outrage over the leakage of important national secrets? Where the shrieking to punish those who whispered that which never should have been revealed? More importantly, where are those vaunted "journalistic principles" we keep hearing so much about? You know, the ones Judy Miller went to jail for 85 days for, before "suddenly remembering" that first meeting with Scooter Libby that had been in her notebook all along, cutting a deal with Pat Fitzgerald, and oh-by-the-way, signing that lucrative book deal? Book deals crop up in so many conversations concerning reporters and journalistic principles these days. Too bad poor Scooter wasn't working on a tell-all expose of the White House. Seeing as the First Amendment seems to serve as a Get Out Of Jail Free Card these days, it might have saved him a good bit of trouble.

The press has long been referred to as the Fifth Estate. In America, they seem to be trying to levy the First Amendment as a shield that makes them into, in effect, an unacknowedged and unaccountable but nonetheless potent Fourth branch of government. It leaves them free to meddle in foreign policy, national security, and military affairs with impugnity. They leak our intelligence and military secrets and no one can touch them: the First Amendment makes them fireproof. They shield whistleblowers (and even people who aren't whistleblowers but who are, in fact, shielding lawbreakers) and they can't be touched. There is something seriously wrong with this state of affairs.

We have seen the media wield an increasing amount of power as television, radio, and the Internet have brought instant and often compelling mass communication into the homes of every American. With the power of the First Amendment behind them, however, the media are accountable to no one. They can print or say whatever they like: true or not, about public figures. Given the plethora of media outlets, it is virtually impossible to track down and scotch every falsehood. But unfortunately, media knavery is not always as benign as simply printing falsehoods. It often stretches into actively blowing federal investigations, as special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald found out during his first encounter with the often-forgetful Judy Miller:

This isn't the first time Plame prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has tangled with Judy Miller while investigating a leak out of the Bush White House.
A little more than a year ago, I reported on TPM how Fitzgerald had quite aggressively investigated another Bush White House leak in late 2001 and early 2002. Fitzgerald had been investigating three Islamic charities accused of supporting terrorism -- the Holy Land Foundation, the Global Relief Foundation, and the Benevolence International Foundation. But just before his investigators could swoop in with warrants, two of the charities in question got wind of what was coming and, apparently, were able to destroy a good deal of evidence.

What tipped them off were calls from two reporters at the New York Times who'd been leaked information about the investigation by folks at the White House.

One of those two reporters was Judy Miller.

No wonder the NY Times is crusading in favor of shield laws. Their reporters seem to get in an inordinate number of scrapes with the law, to say nothing of forgetting to read their own notebooks, having really lousy memories, and making multiple misleading statements to federal prosecutors... something that seems to result in charges if you're a White House staffer, but for some reason lets you get off scot-free if you are a professional journalist.

Several months ago people were killed when Newsweek ran an unauthenticated story about Koran flushing. The periodical was unapolagetic.

Now USA Today has recklessly revealed another damaging secret:

U.S. officials have secretly monitored radiation levels at Muslim sites, including mosques and private homes, since September 11, 2001 as part of a top secret program searching for nuclear bombs, U.S. News and World Report said on Friday.

The news magazine said in its online edition that the far-reaching program covered more than a hundred sites in the Washington, D.C., area and at least five other cities.

"In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program," the magazine said.

An FBI spokesman declined to confirm or deny the U.S. News and World Report article and said, "We can't talk about a classified program."

But apparently what the FBI can't talk about, because it is top-secret, the press can. Because the press feels no duty to think of anything other than getting the story out. They have no independent way to check on whether the allegations are true - they simply published this story, knowing it was classified and might harm national security. Most of you have probably already seen Emily Francona's excellent commentary on the proper channels for dealing with intelligence oversight issues. There is an appropriate venue for handling matters like this, and a concerned news agency could even use blackmail (i.e., deal with this, or we'll go public) as a means gaining the needed assurances or bringing the matter to light. The problem with the press is that they have appointed themselves as another branch of government.

It is not their place to conduct intelligence oversight, nor to expose classified operations that they think may possibly not be conducted properly. They simply don't have enough knowledge to judge. Taking a tip from some insider who may or may not be giving them correct information and blasting it out to US News and World Report is not a responsible course of action.

Blowing two federal investigations, as Judy Miller did by tipping off the suspects, is illegal behavior and she should have been prosecuted.

And in the age of the Internet, bloggers, and citizen-journalists, perhaps someone can explain to me why we have, in effect, created special class of citizens who are exempt from their duty to cooperate with the justice system? If a private citizen witnesses a crime, it is his or her civic duty to report it. That this duty is sometimes difficult and/or dangerous does not excuse the exercise of it. It is not the place of a journalist to "shield" a private citizen, should he or she choose to shirk that duty or exercise it inappropriately or in the wrong venue. And the behavior of journalists has not been of such a high caliber that it entitles them to ignore their legal duties as citizens.

Professional journalists like Judy Miller are backed by giant corporations like the NY Times which are, even though they don't like us to remember it, profit-seeking ventures. They are hardly without resources, nor without a soapbox should the heavy hand of government come down upon them. Journalists do not check their citizenship at the door, or at least they should not do so.

That they have been allowed to do so all too often is one of the great tragedies of modern life. The First Amendment is important, but it should not be a trump card that outweighs all other considerations, creating, for instance, a professional class of persons who are for all intents and purposes above the law.

This is what is beginning to happen with the press. We have seen it happen with the Joseph Wilson affair, where a disaffected minor CIA functionary and her former ambassador husband took it on themselves to undermine the administration's foreign policy and weaken our credibility abroad. The press has become a conduit, through which anyone with a grievance can attack our own government with impugnity, be it a foreign power or disaffected persons within our own government. We need to take a long, hard look at the role of the media within this country, especially during wartime. Freedom of speech is a cherished right and I would not see it abridged.

But as Justice Robert H. Jackson famously remarked, our Constitution was never meant to be a suicide pact, and there is nothing wrong with placing some sensible limits on those in the media who are determined to behave as the enemy within.

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