Bellum Americanum
November 14, 2004

Exis Acta Probat

"The ends justify the means." As good a comment on Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General as any.
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Courtesy of Uggabugga
September 14, 2004

What's worse?

A Times of India article asks "What's Worse?", noting that more Iraqi and Afghan civilians have been killed by three years of Bush's "War on Terror" than have been killed by all terrorist acts since 1968.
September 08, 2004

Military Speak

Everone knows that military spokespeople and press releases lie, but what struck me in thisthis Associated Press Story is the sheer contempt they have for any possible audience. After discussing the latest air war against urban target with predictable claims about "command and control centers," they include this: "'Initial assessments indicate there are no noncombatant casualties,' the U.S. statement added. 'Enemy casualty figures cannot be confirmed.'" In other words, we have no idea if anyone was killed, or how many, but we can assure you that in this dense urban environment, none were civilians. Of course, a compliant American media won't bother to question such bushwah or do the simple reportorial exercise of calling up the hospitals; acts for which Al Jazeera got banned in the new free (tm) Iraq.
August 05, 2004


A definitive compilation of information sets out the case that "They Knew..." If you know anyone that still believes the malarkey about "flawed intelligence" please send them this link.
July 09, 2004
This report in the Guardian belies all the claims of "Ba'athist dead-enders," "foreign fighters," and "Islamic militants". Brighter portions of the U.S. military now believe the Iraqi "insurgency" runs as high as 22,000 and is overwhelmingly secular nationalist in character. I suspect its even larger than that and growing, despite car-bombing Prime Minister Allawi's new powers of martial law.
July 06, 2004

New York Times Still Carrying Water for the Bush Administration

In the unhallowed world of American journalism, there is a special category of story that, while hardly non-existent pre-9-11, seems to have become increasingly more prevalent as fear of terrorism (or more accurately, fear of being labeled unpatriotic) engenders a debased deference to government officials amongst members of the fourth estate, a deference that has rightfully earned them the label "stenographers to power.". The New York Times, the American "paper of record," one of the worst perpetrators of this "officials say" style of journalism, was recently so worried about the damage to its reputation done by Judith Miller and other reporters' pieces on the non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, that it issued a (back-paged and half-hearted) mea culpa admitting that there were "a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been." Yes, I'd say stovepiping WMD allegations directly from Ahmad Chalabi, once (and future?) pretender to Saddam Hussein's throne, to the front page was "not as rigorous as it should have been."

The Times' reporting following the mea culpa has unfortunately confirmed that they haven't learned much of a lesson. Case in point, Tuesday's article by James Risen titled, appropriately enough, "C.I.A. Held Back Iraqi Arms Data, Officials Say." The crux of Risen's article:

"In hindsight, the Senate [Select Committee on Intelligence] and many other intelligence officials now agree that there was little effort within the American intelligence community before the war to question the basic assumption that Mr. Hussein was still seeking to produce illicit weapons. Evidence that fit that assumption was embraced; evidence to the contrary was ignored or seen as part of a clever Iraqi disinformation campaign."

The article should be seen in the context of ongoing efforts to pin the entire blame for the WMD fiasco on the CIA and its soon-to-be-departed head George Tenet and deflect the attention from the role of Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, in a clever American disinformation campaign.

Before getting into some of the details of Risen's piece, it should first be noted that there is no reference the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, which as Seymour Hersh details in the New Yorker:

"was conceived by Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, has brought about a crucial change of direction in the American intelligence community. These advisers and analysts, who began their work in the days after September 11, 2001, have produced a skein of intelligence reviews that have helped to shape public opinion and American policy toward Iraq. They relied on data gathered by other intelligence agencies and also on information provided by the Iraqi National Congress, or I.N.C., the exile group headed by Ahmad Chalabi. By last fall, the operation rivalled both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon’s own Defense Intelligence Agency, the D.I.A., as President Bush’s main source of intelligence regarding Iraq’s possible possession of weapons of mass destruction and connection with Al Qaeda."

The glaring ommission of the Office of Special Plans aside, let's get to the substance of the Times' article. The impression given is that high officials in the Bush administration were unfortunate, passive victims of a CIA hell-bent on proving that Saddam had Weapons of Mass Destruction.

"Among the many problems that contributed to the committee's harsh assessment of the C.I.A.'s prewar performance were instances in which analysts may have misrepresented information, writing reports that distorted evidence in order to bolster their case that Iraq did have chemical, biological and nuclear programs, according to government officials," reports Risen, later telling us "the committee has not found any evidence that the analysts changed their reports as a result of political pressure from the White House, according to officials familiar with the report." At this point Risen could have mentioned the numerous visits by Dick Cheney to Langley, labeled "unprecedented" by former CIA analyst Ray McGovern. And he could have added information regarding Cheney's founding membership in the Project for a New American Century, which has been calling for the invasion of Iraq years before Bush was selected for the presidency, including in a 1998 letter to President Clinton, signed by such Bush adminstration figures as Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, Richard Armitage, Richard Perle, John Bolton, Zalmay Khalilzad. Does political pressure have to come in the form of signed memos saying "you will lie for the President," before its possibility is admitted?

Later in the article Risen describes how Charlie Allen, the CIA's assistant director for collection, began developing contacts with relatives of Iraqi scientists thought to have been involved in WMD programs.

The relatives told the agency that the scientists had said that they were no longer working on illicit weapons, and that those programs were dead. Yet the statements from the relatives were never included in C.I.A. intelligence reports on Iraq that were distributed throughout the government. C.I.A. analysts monitoring Iraq apparently ignored the statements from the family members and continued to issue assessments that Mr. Hussein was still developing unconventional weapons, Senate investigators have found.

The clear implication here is that if only the CIA had given more credence to these reports, the hysterical cries of the "smoking gun coming in the form of a mushroom cloud" would at least have been somewhat mitigated. There's ample reason to doubt this conclusion. Risen doesn't tell us about the case of Hussein Kamal, Saddam's son-in-law, who after his defection in 1995, admitted involvement in WMD programs to the UN and the CIA, but crucially said that he had ordered the weapons destroyed in 1993. Dick Cheney, in a speech delivered August, 2002 used these interviews to claim:

But we now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Among other sources, we've gotten this from the firsthand testimony of defectors -- including Saddam's own son-in-law, who was subsequently murdered at Saddam's direction.

Now, if Cheney was willing to distort Kamal's testimony in order to hype the nonexistent threat, what makes Risen and his Committee sources think that the testimony of some scientists' relatives would have turned this administration around?

Speaking of defectors, let's consider this tidbit by Risen:

There were problems with the handling of the other defectors used to buttress the biological weapons case. Information from one was used even though the Defense Intelligence Agency had warned in the spring of 2002 that he had fabricated information. The C.I.A. took statements that another defector had given to German intelligence without knowing his identity or learning that he had ties to the Iraqi National Congress, the Iraqi exile group led by Ahmad Chalabi. Mr. Chalabi, until recently a close ally of the Pentagon, fell into disfavor with the Bush administration after it became clear that his organization had provided disinformation to the United States and had exaggerated the threat posed by Mr. Hussein.

Let's pass over the fact that Chalabi did not fall into disfavor after it became clear that he had provided disinformation, but only after the administration realized that he was playing both sides of field by chumming it up with the Iranians and examine the claims here about the defectors' reports. The first defector was apparently a primary source for charges of biological weapons. The New York Times reported in another "officials said" article, this time by Douglas Jehl, that this fellow was the subject of a "fabrication notice" delivered by the Defense Intelligence Agency to other intelligence agencies, but that this information was "repeatedly overlooked," according to our ubiquitous "senior intelligence officials." Why should the CIA take the entire blame for this? Clearly, if the DIA issued the "fabrication notice," this information was available to Donald Rumsfeld and his underlings involved in crafting the NIE and one might assume that "other intelligence agencies" would include those at Powell's State Department, Rice's National Security Agency, and possibly even Ashcroft's Federal Bureau of Investigation. Furthermore, this defector was "provided to U.S. intelligence officials by Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi" Notice how Risen glosses over this fact for our first defector, while implicitly admitting that such a source would be dubious for the second, codenamed "Curveball" whom they "took statements from...without knowing his identity or learning that he had ties to the Iraqi National Congress."

Curveball, the brother of one of Chalabi's top aides, has been reported to be the primary source for the "Winnebagos of Death" described in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate and in Colin "this-is-evidence-not-conjecture" Powell's UN presentation. In this case, Risen implies, the acceptance of Curveball's testimony is unfortunate, but not deception, because they didn't know who he was! Are we to believe that the inclusion of unknown single-sourced information is standard practice for U.S. National Intelligence Estimates? Documents, it should be noted, that are put together by senior figures from a range of intelligence agencies, not just the CIA. Additionally, according to the British nespaper The Guardian "German officials said that they had warned American colleagues well before the Iraq war that Curveball's information was not credible - but the warning was ignored." Yet, in May 2003, we have George W. Bush:

We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two.

And as late as last January, after the CIA had backed off claims that the trailers constituted "proof," Dick Cheney told NPR:

We know for example that prior to our going in that he had spent time and effort acquiring mobile biological weapons labs, and we're quite confident he did, in fact, have such a program. We've found a couple of semi trailers at this point which we believe were, in fact, part of that program.

Anyone that has followed the "intelligence failure" story outside of the narrow terms of the debate set by "official sources" knows that the CIA does indeed deserve a heap of blame for allowing Bush and his cronies to carry this country into a disastrous war based on manufactured scare tactics, but they know that the CIA's crime consisted of carrying water for the administration, a subject the New York Times should know something about.

July 05, 2004

Is that like egg on your face?

Bob Harris, a writer I greatly admire comes up with a great metaphor for the American media over at the This Modern World blog. Fittingly, it involves Christianne Amanpour, who is married to Clinton era State Department spokesman James Rubin. Now that the Bushes are in office, there's less confusion in being able to tell which one of the two is a war-promoting flack for the President.
April 29, 2004

Fallujah "Security Deal" a Solution?

The ever-stumbling and wildly-lurching behemoth that is the imperial project in Iraq seems to have has lurched once more, but there is little evidence that this lurch will be any more successful in solving the fundamental political problems that doom its disastrous occupation. The bombs continued to fall and gunfire continued to rattle Fallujah's streets hours after the the U.S. Military had announced a withdrawal deal involving the replacement of U.S. troops by an Iraqi force dubbed the Fallujah Protection Force. Reinforcing the recent re-Ba'athification policy U-turn, it appears the the new force of 1,100 men will be commanded by one Lieutenant-General Salah Abboud al-Jabbouri, Saddam's former governor of the Anbar province, home to Fallujans and many other angry Iraqis. Why does the U.S. think that these forces will be any better at quelling the resistance than the so-called Iraqi Civil Defence Forces, which had two of its five battalions mutiny rather than fight in Fallujah? While it's not entirely clear if the U.S. thinks the former Saddam crony still has some decisive political sway in Fallujah, it's even less clear that such presumptions might be true. Without such decisive political sway, it's difficult to see what this 1,100-strong force could achieve through simple military force that the U.S. Marines could not. One hint that the U.S. is indeed harboring such hopes is the confession, illusioned or not, by an anonymous officer reportedly privy to the negotiations that:
it was "very likely" that the Fallujah Protective Army, which would fall under the command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, could include some gunmen who joined the uprising in Fallujah particularly criminals who signed on for money, and former soldiers digruntled at losing their jobs when the Americans disbanded the Iraqi army.
The officer added that "hardcore" fighters and Islamic militants would not be included, but the report doesn't note how the officer believes the near-politically-blind occupation was going to determine the difference between these various categories. If these reports are accurate, it seems the U.S. believes the resistance is a primarily "disgruntled Ba'athist" phenomenon, in which case they can be brought (and bought) back under the arms, as it were, of the occupation. If only for the short-term health of the civilian population of Fallujah, killed and maimed in the hundreds this month, such a development might be welcome, but numerous reports from Fallujah by independent journalists and, until they got censored by the U.S. military, Al Jazeera suggest that the U.S. belief is fundamentally flawed. It is becoming increasingly clear that the resistance is forming into a popular and, yes, Islamically-flavored movement of anti-colonial nationalism fighting against a hated occupation. The rapidity of this process in Fallujah is due, in no small part, to the shooting by U.S. forces, early in the occupation, of unarmed protestors; continuing "accidental" civilian killings; indiscriminate and humiliating house-to-house raids, sometimes occasioned by theft; and the disappearance of hundreds of the city's residents into the legal black hole of Abu Ghraib, Saddam Hussein's most notorious prison, from which pictures have now emerged of Iraqis being mentally and physically tortured by U.S. forces. A local Fallujah sheikh, talking to British humanitarian aid worker, says:
Fallujah people like peace but after we were attacked by the US the lost all their friends here. We had a few trained officers and soldiers from the old army, but now everyone has joined the effort. Not all of the men are fighting: some left with their families, some work in the clinics or move supplies or go in the negotiating teams. We are willing to fight until the last minute, even if it takes a thousand years.
(shortly after her conversation with the sheikh, Wilding was kidnapped and then released by the armed resistance, an event she describes at the above link)
If the local Fallujah resistance can't be co-opted, it will not be long before the U.S. military will again be tempted to resort to overwhelming violence, with predictable negative political consequences globally and in Iraq.
It's literally a no-win situation, which shouldn't surprise those aware of the past hundred years of anti-colonial struggle.


According to this report from the Scotsman, the right hand doesn't seem to know what the other right hand is doing on this policy. The Pentagon is reported to be unaware of the deal, while simultaneously Marines are packing up to leave. Which leads to the question: Are the Marines doing a little unilateral policy pre-empting of their own?

Update 2

AP is now reporting that the general in charge of the Fallujah Protective Army is a different General Saleh than the one reported above. Not much information on the new general, other than that he was in the Republican Guard.
April 28, 2004

The New Iraqi Flag

Here's the "New Iraqi Flag," about as rooted in the social and political realities of Iraq as the endlessly touted "New Iraq" (tm) itself, which exists in the mind of George W. Bush and the words of his dervishly spinning political and military flacks only. The crescent represents Islam, but without the usually associated star. The gold stripe is said to represent Iraq's Kurdish population, while the two blue stripes are doing double duty representing the two Arab populations, the Shia and the Sunni, and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
The Associated Press leads their story on the flag with the line, "Iraq's U.S.-picked leaders approved a new flag for the country, dropping Saddam Hussein's red-and-black standard."

"Saddam's red and black standard."

But of course "Saddam Hussein's red-and-black standard" differed from the older Iraqi flag, waving in the desert breeze since 1963, only in the 1991 addition of the words "allahu akbar" (god is great) as Saddam tried to shore up his political support in the wake of his disastrous Kuwait invasion by increasing his appeals to Islam.

Flag of the Iraqi Republic (1963-1991)

Yes, yes, some might point out, that flag, even without Saddam's additions, was still the product of the Ba'athist party's rule. But it should be noted that the flag of the "New Iraq" (tm) manages to abolish the basic color scheme of all Iraqi flags since its nominal independence in 1921, ditching the colors used by the pan-Arab movements throughout the Middle East.

Flag of the Kingdom of Iraq (1921-1958)

Flag of the first Iraqi Republic (1958-1963)

So where did the new colors come from? Well, clearly we can't look into the aesthetic mind of Rifat Chaterjee, the "winner" of the flag design "competition", but it should be no surprise that many Iraqis have noted the similarities of the color scheme with the pale blue Star of David on the white background with two blue stripes of the Israeli flag.
Iraqis reacted with predictable scorn. Was this similarity purposeful and arrogant? Or just ignorant? It's difficult to know, but either way the Iraqi resistance shows that it is more in touch with the sentiments of the Iraqi population than either the "Iraqi Governing Council" or their bosses in the West Wing. Reports Patrick Cockburn of the London Independent:"Already anti-US guerillas are adopting the old red, white and black banner as their battle flag, tying it to their trucks and sticking it in the ground where they have their positions."
Baghdad blogger Riverbend had this to say:
I also heard today that the Puppets are changing the flag. It looks nothing like the old one and at first I was angry and upset, but then I realized it wouldn't make a difference. The Puppets are illegitimate, hence their constitution is null and void and their flag is theirs alone. It is as representative of Iraq as they are-it is might as well have "Made in America" stitched along the inside seam. It can be their flag and every time we see it, we'll see Chalabi et. al. against its pale white background.
Indeed, in terms of the widespread and near immediate rejection of the legitimacy of the flag, it may ironically become the perfect symbol for the "New Iraq" (tm). That symbology is strengthened by the story of the flag's origins. The "Iraqi Governing Council" declared that the flag was a product of contest between 30 proposals. Rifat Chaterjee, the winner of the contest just happened to be, purely coincidentally I'm sure, the London-based brother of a member of the Council.
April 25, 2004


I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings.
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
-Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Bellum Americanum Returns

Well, I apologize to my readership (all three of you!) for the nearly year-long hiatus. I plead technological difficulties over laziness, although the latter has played some part in the long absence. However, due to the urgings and technological aid of a friend, Bellum Americanum now returns. The first few days are going to be mainly housekeeping, but I will be posting some thoughts on our current political realities over the course of the next week.

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