Tag: War/Conflict

The Torture Report

The Senate has release their report on the CIA torture program:

The CIA’s harsh interrogations of terrorist detainees during the Bush era didn’t work, were more brutal than previously revealed and delivered no “ticking time bomb” information that prevented an attack, according to an explosive Senate report released Tuesday.

The majority report issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee is a damning condemnation of the tactics — branded by critics as torture — the George W. Bush administration deployed in the fear-laden days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The techniques, according to the report, were “deeply flawed” and often resulted in “fabricated” information.

The CIA immediately hit back at the report, saying in a statement that the program was “effective” and substantially helped its understanding of Al Qaeda’s tactical operations and goals.

I am disinclined to believe the CIA on this, given their desperate attempts to cover it up, which included the destruction of video tapes of interrogations and attempts to spy on members of Congress. The report was trimmed down from more than 6000 pages to the current 480 and large parts were redacted at the behest of the CIA. And it’s still pretty damning. The initial reporting is that it included weeks of waterboarding and sleep deprivation, usually used almost immediately after capture.

I’ll post more as commentary comes in and I get a chance to read some of the report. The report itself is here.

Update: NYT:

Detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week, and were sometimes told that they would be killed while in American custody. With the approval of the C.I.A.’s medical staff, some C.I.A. prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” — a technique that the C.I.A.’s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert “total control over the detainee.” C.I.A. medical staff members described the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, as a “series of near drownings.”

The report also suggests that more prisoners were subjected to waterboarding than the three the C.I.A. has acknowledged in the past. The committee obtained a photograph of a waterboard surrounded by buckets of water at the prison in Afghanistan commonly known as the Salt Pit — a facility where the C.I.A. had claimed that waterboarding was never used. One clandestine officer described the prison as a “dungeon,” and another said that some prisoners there “literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled.”

The report also addresses the CIA’s list of terror attacks they claim were prevented by torture, noting that in most cases the torture information was either inaccurate or confirmed information they already had.

You can read the response of ex-CIA directors here.

Update: A look at claims made by the CIA that torture worked. None of them stand up to scrutiny … according to the CIA’s own documents.

Punting Power

This is pure BS:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told This Week he’d “bring the Congress back” to vote on a new resolution authorizing military force against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but only if President Barack Obama requested one. Congress has received heaps of criticism for staying out of town during the airstrikes against ISIS, with some suggesting they’re happy to avoid a contentious vote on the issue.

Boehner reprised his line that typically the president initiated the resolution, a position of faux-politesse that the Daily Show already mocked last week. This led George Sephanopoulos [sic] to wonder if Boehner was avoiding the vote because it might split his party ahead of the midterms, something he said was whispered to ABC News political reporter Jeff Zeleny.

Boehner further opines that the existing AUMF is enough for Obama to act on.

One of the reasons Barack Obama has been allowed to usurp so much power is because Congress has allowed him to. Almost all legislative powers reside with Congress, yet they stand around while he rules by executive order, rewrites the laws to his purpose and starts wars on his own. The war-making power lies with Congress. Yet, for the second time, they are allowing the President to start bombing another country. Yes, the President is supposed to ask for their authorization. But they are supposed to assert their authority on this. They should be meeting right now either to give the President the authority to attack Syria or to refuse it. And if he won’t comply, they can exercise the power of the purse to cut the funding.

Stephanopoulos sideswipes the issue by noting this would potentially split the Republican Party. There is a significant fraction that would oppose this but they are still a small minority. The real issue is that the Republicans — like everyone else — have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, ISIS is horrific: a radical Islamist regime that is imposing severe sharia over the regions they control, murdering ethnic and religious minorities and spreading terror over the region. On the other hand, do we really need another boondoggle in the Middle East? Do we really want to spend the treasure and lives needed, even assuming we can destroy ISIS?

It’s a hard debate. I can see why Congress wants to avoid it. But having hard debates is part of their fucking job description. The Civil Rights debate was hard too. So was the Vietnam War. Balancing the budget in the 90’s was hard. But those Congresses argued, debated and eventually voted. They did their job. And they were held responsible for it, a nation that terrifies our current leaders.

This is pure cowardice. It’s the same cowardice the Congress showed in 2003 when, rather than declare war on Iraq, they punted that authority to the President. They didn’t want to oppose it. But they didn’t want to take responsibility if it went wrong. And sure enough, when it went wrong, the Democrats said, “Well, we didn’t declare war on Iraq; we left that decision to Bush!”

Make a decision, guys. Have the debate. We’re dropping bombs on two countries and have over four hundred boots on the ground. If this goes wrong, it’s still on you for failing to stop it. Get your lazy asses back to Washington and do your damned job.

Toward a European War

Over the last week, Russia has been slowly dropping the pretense and invading the Ukraine with active troops, tanks and artillery pieces. Many of these soldiers, as with the earlier incursion into the crimea, are pretending to be rebels, which is technically a war crime.

As has been pointed out, the Ukraine is not the limit of Putin’s ambitions. He has claimed that he will rescue all ethnic Russians who are “threatened” which means the baltic states and Poland could be on their target list.

The West is finally responding. The plan is to deploy troops to the new NATO bases in Eastern Europe as well as to provide military aide to the Ukraine. I would suggest that reviving missile defense would be another good step.

This sets up the potential for a wider war. But it’s something we are obligated to do under the NATO treaty. We’ll just have to hope that the prospect of tangling with an actual military force is enough to give Putin some pause.

Israel and Hamas Again

I’ve been holding back on commentary on the latest Israel-Hamas conflict to see what was going to happen. What’s happening is a war. The latest news is that Hama militants crossed the border into Israeli territory and have fired over 150 rockets into civilian areas. Israel is responding with air strikes. And the sordid mess goes on and on.

There’s a lot of blaming both sides going on. And while I can certainly see the argument against Israel’s response, I don’t think there is anything close to a moral comparison here. This started because three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered, most likely by Hamas. Hamas has denied involvement but supports the idea of kidnappings in general. Shortly after the bodies of the Israeli teens were found, a Palestinian teen was brutally murdered in retaliation. But the Israeli authorities condemned it as an act of terrorism and have already arrested the people responsible.

That’s how you know who the good guys in this situation are. One side acknowledge the other’s right to exist, condemns brutal violence against innocents and tries to deliver justice for its minority Islamic population. The other is a terrorist organization that does not recognize its opponent’s right to exist and has no interest in delivering justice to the people who murdered three innocent young men.

We can debate Israel’s tactics, sure. But let’s not lose sight of which side we should be on.

Khattalah Capture

One of the terrorists responsible for the attack on our embassy in Benghazi has been capture:

U.S. forces working with the FBI captured a key suspect in the deadly 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

Libyan militia leader Ahmed abu Khattalah was captured over the weekend, officials said. It is the first arrest and detention by the United States in connection with the Benghazi attack.

Abu Khattalah will be brought to the United States to face charges “in the coming days,” said Edward Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

Abu Khattalah, who faces three federal criminal charges, will be tried in U.S. courts, said Attorney General Eric Holder.

Only took 21 months. During that time, he was running around openly in Libya, giving media interviews. But I’m glad we finally have him.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Russia?

Let’s not beat around the bush. Russia has invaded the Ukraine, violating their sovereignty, breaking the treaty they signed and violating international rules of warfare. The Ukraine gave up their massive arsenal of nuclear weapons on the promise that the Russians would respect their sovereignty. That agreement is now dead.

The Russian excuse — that Crimea is ethnically Russian — is flimsy at best. Crimea is self-governing and is only 60% Russian. And Putin hasn’t really cared for the sovereignty of ethnic conclaves when they aren’t Russian (see Chechnya). His motivations are pretty plain: expand Russia and/or build a buffer zone of vassal states between Russia and Europe.

Frankly, I’m getting sick of this constant look into Russia’s motive and the unceasing slew of articles claiming that we need to see this from Russia’s perspective. Every aggressor in history has had his reasons. People don’t invade other countries for fun. What matters is what Putin has done, not what his motives were.

So what do we do about it? We don’t have a lot of options, barring a war. And I don’t think the Crimea is what we want to start World War 3 over. Zakaria proposes a few things, including kicking Russia out of the G-8. But I think the primary response has to be diplomatic. Whatever the result here, Russia’s neighbors have got be nervous. Now is the time to tighten those alliances and restart missile defense. I’m not sure if we should expand NATO to the Ukraine. A NATO alliance could prevent further aggression; it could also draw us into a war (or worse, not draw us into a war and collapse the entire concept of NATO).

Whatever our response is, we have to realize that we have a large aggressive nation in Eastern Europe that is devoted to slicing off chunks of their neighbors to consolidate their power. This may not quite be a cold war, but it requires us to create a bulwark against further expansion before this really does explode into World War 3. The good news is that we have a team at the State Department that can …


… oh, crap.

Getting Real in the Ukraine

So the Ukraine’s murderous Russophile prime minster was driven out of Kyiv last week. Earlier today, the Ukraine parliament elected the opposition leader as PM. Everyone has been wondering what Russia is going to do now that they don’t have to pretend to be (sorta) nice for the Olympics.

I think we’re finding out:

Dozens of armed men seized the regional government administration building and parliament in Ukraine’s southern Crimea region Thursday and raised the Russian flag in a challenge to the Eastern European country’s new leaders.

Crimea, with its ethnic Russian majority, is the last big bastion of opposition to the new political leadership in Kiev after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster Saturday.

The incident, coming a day after Russia ordered surprise military exercises on Ukraine’s doorstep, has raised fears about the push and pull of opposing allegiances in a country sandwiched between Russia and the European Union.

Ed Morrisey has more, including a now clear alliance between Ukraine’s ousted PM and Putin.

I don’t think Putin is going to do a full-on invasion of the Ukraine. A nation of 44 million people is a lot to handle, even for him. But I do think we’re going to get something like the 2008 South Ossetia War, with Russian military forces “assisting” the ethnically Russian Crimea to “independence” from the rest of the Ukraine, following by an ethnic cleansing of Ukrainians. The end result will be to give Russia effective control of the Black Sea but with the Ukraine less divided and firmly in the European sphere of influence.

There’s not a lot we can do about that, short of a massive and extremely dangerous war. I suspect we’ll protest and maybe send a carrier out there. But any real pushback would have to come from Europe and … that ain’t happening.

Totalitarians Are All The Same

Two political flashpoints have erupted in the last few days. The first is in the Ukraine, where the President launched a violent assault on protesters, resulting in at least 26 people being killed and probably over a thousand injured. A truce might be coming into place. The second, to one’s surprise, is Venezuela, where Chavez’s heirs are arresting opposition leaders, beating protesters and silencing the press. Tonight there are reports of murder in the streets.

In the Ukraine, the protests are because the President has been cozying up to Russia and distancing himself from the EU, which most of the people vehemently oppose, having long memories of brutal Russian oppression. He has also, in the last few weeks, been desperately trying to silence the protests against his policies. In Venezuela, the issues are deeper:

Inflation has rocketed to more than 55 per cent, there are widespread blackouts and the staples of life are increasingly scarce. This, despite the fact that Venezuela is the most oil-rich country in the world. Crime is so rife in the big cities that many vulnerable Venezuelans are reluctant even to venture outside anymore. The murder rate in Caracas is 122 per 100,000 residents – higher even than Baghdad (as a Cuban friend of mine quipped last year, at least proper dictators like Fidel Castro keep the streets safe).

The response by the authorities to the protests has merely highlighted once again the government’s unwillingness to tolerate dissent. Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor and one of the protest organisers, has had an arrest warrant issued against him and videos have emerged of students being pistol whipped and kicked by armed policeman. As if taking its cue straight from the Soviet playbook, the government has blamed a “fascist upsuge” for the violence and “saboteurs” for the disintegration of the economy.

(You really should read that last link, where James Bloodworth takes his fellows liberals to task for refusing to acknowledge that goatfuck that was and is Chavezism.)

The striking thing about these brutal crackdowns is that they are being implemented by democratically-elected leaders. It’s a stark reminder that democracy, by itself, is no guaranteed protection against tyranny and oppression. As I have said many times, the most important part of a democracy is what happens between the elections. We’re being reminded of that now in the Ukraine and Venezuela.

Oppressors like to paint themselves in various colors — fascism, communism, socialism, etc. Some of them even paint themselves as defenders of democracy. But in the end, no matter what hair-brained philosophy they cling to, they are the same color: blood red.

Class Dismissed

I know I shouldn’t laugh at this, but … yeah:

If there were such a thing, it would probably be rule No. 1 in the teaching manual for instructors of aspiring suicide bombers: Don’t give lessons with live explosives.

In what represented a cautionary tale for terrorist teachers, and a cause of dark humor for ordinary Iraqis, a commander at a secluded terrorist training camp north of Baghdad unwittingly used a belt packed with explosives while conducting a demonstration early Monday for a group of militants, killing himself and 21 other members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, army and police officials said.

Iraqi citizens have long been accustomed to daily attacks on public markets, mosques, funerals and even children’s soccer games, so they saw the story of the fumbling militants as a dark — and delicious — kind of poetic justice, especially coming amid a protracted surge of violence led by the terrorist group, including a rise in suicide bombings.

Let’s see. Twenty-two terrorists times 72 virgins is … 1584 virgins that terrorist heaven is going to have to come up with in a hurry. I’d maybe avoid any gaming conventions for the next month.

The more we learn about terrorists, the more Four Lions looks like a documentary. Most of these guys are idiots and incidents like this are far from isolated.

To be fair, some of the guys killed were probably delusional dickhead teenagers who joined the movement to feel big. But as far as the instructor goes — you know, the guy who tells young men how to blow themselves up while keeping himself very much alive — this is nothing but pure poetic justice.

Veterans Day 2013

It’s difficult to string together more than a few thoughts on a post these days but I was stringing some thoughts together about my uncle (or, more accurately, my dad’s uncle) who hit the beach at Normany on June 6, 1944. He was in one of the later waves. It was supposed to be easy after the first waves secured the beaches but it turned out to be anything but. He remembered very little of the battle. He mostly remembered walking in the fields behind the beach afterward and stepping over the bodies of the slain because he knew there were no more mines under them.

I was especially thinking of the message General Eisenhower gave to his troops. My uncle showed me his original yellowed copy:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

May our nation always be worthy of their service.

(Some inspiration.)