Saturday, October 16, 2004

Florida,Hersh,WMDs,Tonkin Desert,Comics,OP A/C

1) "In an attempt to avoid more foul-ups this year,

the state of Florida has instituted online voting. The
link below will take you to the instruction and demo
page on the Florida Election Commision's website":

2) The source here doesn't come from a link -- but
what Hersh is described as saying is perfectly
compatible with what I say Hersh say in a talk at
Chicago in June:

Investigative Journalist Seymour Hersh Spills the
Secrets of the Iraq Quagmire and the War on Terror
By Bonnie Azab Powell
Oct 12, 2004, 20:24

BERKELEY: “ The Iraq war is not winnable, a secret
U.S. military unit has been "disappearing" people
since December 2001, and America has no idea how
irreparably its torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison
has damaged its image in the Middle East. These were
just a few of the grim pronouncements made by Pulitzer
Prize–winning investigative reporter Seymour "Sy"
Hersh to KQED host Michael Krasny before a Berkeley
audience on Friday night (Oct. 8).

The past two years will "go down as one of the classic
sort of failures" in history, said the man who has
been called the "greatest muckraker of all time" and
(paradoxically) the "enfant terrible of journalism for
more than 30 years." While Hersh blamed the White
House and the Pentagon for the Iraq quagmire and
America's besmirched world image, he was stymied by
how it all happened. "How could eight or nine
neoconservatives come and take charge of this
government?" he asked. "They overran the bureaucracy,
they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and
they overran the military! So you say to yourself, How
fragile is this democracy?"

>From My Lai to Abu Ghraib

That fragility clearly unnerves him. Hersh summarizes
his mission as "to hold the people in public office to
the highest possible standard of decency and of
honesty…to tolerate anything less, even in the name
of national security, is wrong." He tries his best.
More than any other U.S. journalist alive today, he
embodies the statement that "a patriot must always be
ready to defend his country against his government," a
belief defined by the conservationist Edward Abbey.

Hersh was working the phone with sources up until the
minute the presidential debate began, which he watched
with a crowd in North Gate Hall.

His country has not always thanked him for it —
neocon Pentagon adviser Richard Perle has called Hersh
"the closest thing we have to a terrorist," while his
1998 book on John F. Kennedy's administration, "The
Dark Side of Camelot," cost him many friends on the
left. But Hersh's reputation remains more bulletproof
than most. The author of eight books, he first
received worldwide recognition (and the Pulitzer) in
1969 for exposing the My Lai massacre and its cover-up
during the Vietnam War. 1982's "The Price of Power:
Kissinger in the Nixon White House," painted Henry
Kissinger as a war criminal and won Hersh the National
Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times
book prize in biography.

Most recently, as a staff writer for the New Yorker,
Hersh has relentlessly ferreted out the
behind-the-scenes deals, trickery, and blunders
associated with the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and
Iraq. Back in May 2003, he was the first American
reporter to state unequivocally that we would not find
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. (A mea culpa from
a Slate journalist who doubted Hersh on WMDs also
inadvertently confirms his prescient track record.)
And in April of this year, he broke the story of how
U.S. soldiers had digitally documented their torture
and sexual humiliation of Iraqis at the notorious Abu
Ghraib prison in Iraq. The several articles he wrote
for the New Yorker about Abu Ghraib have been updated
and edited into his latest book, "Chain of Command:
The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib."

"Bush scares the hell of me"

Hersh came to Berkeley at the invitation of UC
Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and the
California First Amendment Coalition. His appearance
in the packed ballroom of the Martin Luther King, Jr.
Student Union was the fitting end to a week of
high-profile events in honor of the 40th anniversary
of the Free Speech Movement.

The Hersh event began only minutes after the second
debate between President George W. Bush and John Kerry
concluded. Krasny naturally asked Hersh — who had
watched the debate at North Gate Hall stone-faced in
the middle of a rowdy crowd — what he thought of the

"It doesn't matter that Bush scares the hell of me,"
Hersh answered. "What matters is that he scares the
hell out of a lot of very important people in
Washington who can't speak out, in the military, in
the intelligence community. They know in ways that
none of us know, the incredible gap between what is
and what [Bush] thinks."

With that, he was off and running. One could safely
say that for the next hour, Hersh proceeded to scare
the hell out of most of the audience by detailing the
gaps between what they knew and what he hears is
actually going on in Iraq.

While his writing is dense but digestible, in person
Hersh speaks with the rambling urgency of a
street-corner doomsayer, leaping from point to point
and anecdote to anecdote and frequently failing to
finish his clauses, let alone his sentences. His train
of thought can be difficult to catch a ride on. This
evening, it was a challenge for Krasny to slow him
down long enough to get a word or question in
edgewise. For example, here's a slice of raw Hersh on
the current situation in Iraq:

I've been doing an alternate history of the war, from
inside, because people, right after 9/11, because
people inside — and there are a lot of good people
inside — are scared, as scared as anybody watching
this tonight I think should be, because [Bush], if
he's re-elected, has only one thing to do, he's going
to bomb the hell out of that place. He's been bombing
the hell of that place — and here's what really
irritates me again, about the press — since he set
up this Potemkin Village government with Allawi on
June 28 — the bombing, the daily bombing rates
inside Iraq, have gone up exponentially. There's no
public accounting of how many missions are flown, how
much ordinance is dropped, we have no accounting and
no demand to know. The only sense you get is we're
basically in a full-scale air war against invisible
people that we can't find, that we have no
intelligence about, so we bomb what we can see.

And yet — despite the more than 1,000 deaths of U.S.
soldiers and the horrific number of Iraqi casualties
— Bush continues to believe we are doing the right
thing, according to Hersh. "He thinks he's wearing the
white hat," he said, adding that is what makes this
administration different from previous ones whose
hypocrisy Hersh has exposed. Bush and the neocons "are
not hypocrites."

Enter the utopians

"I think it's real simple to say [Bush] is a liar. But
that would also suggest there was a reality that he
understood," explained Hersh. "I'm serious. It is
funny in sort of a sick, black humor sort of way, but
the real serious problem is, he believes what he's
doing." In effect, Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz,
and the other neocons are "idealists, you can call
them utopians." As Hersh understands them, they really
believe that the solution to global terrorism began
with invading Baghdad and will end only with the
transformation of the last unfriendly government in
the Middle East into a democracy.

"No amount of body bags is going to dissuade [Bush],"
said Hersh, despite the fact that Hersh's sources say
the war in Iraq is "not winnable. It's over." As for
Kerry's war plans, Hersh said he wished he could tell
him to stop talking as if the senator's plan for Iraq
could somehow still eke out a victory there. "This is
a disaster that's been going on. It's a civil war, the
insurgency. There is no 'win' anymore in this war," he
argued. "As somebody said, 'We're playing chess,
they're play Go.'"

Later, Hersh shared something he had yet to write
about. Sources were suggesting that the many acts of
domestic terrorism in Iraq that U.S. officials have
been attributing to suspected Al Qaeda operative Abu
Musab al-Zarqawi are in fact a smokescreen set up by
the insurgents. "They decided to wage war against
their own population," he said. "It's a huge step,
with enormous consequences.…The insurgency has
simply deflected what they're doing onto this man. And
we fell for it."

'We operate on guilt, [Muslims] operate on shame…The
idea of photographing an Arab man naked and having him
simulate homosexual activity, and having an American
GI woman in the photographs, is the end of society in
their eyes.'

What is worse, he said impatiently, was that because
U.S. forces had "privatized" so many of Iraq's
institutions, it had decimated the job market in the
country."This is why Bush can talk about 100,000
people wanting to go work in the police or in the
army. It's because there's nothing else for them to
do. They're willing to stand in line to get bombed
because they want to take care of their family," he

Hersh has been accused many times of sympathizing with
"the enemy," and told that his publicizing of
incidents like the My Lai massacre and the Abu Ghraib
torture only fan the flames of anti-American sentiment
around the world. He related that he's been asked if
he feels guilty about the beheadings of two Americans
who were wearing uniforms like those worn at Abu
Ghraib. "As if the Iraqis needed me to tell them
what's going on in that prison!" he responded. He also
repeated a question often posed to him: "Was it
immoral to go in … [T]he idea that Saddam was a
torturer and a killer, doesn't that lend a patina of
morality to going after him?" The answer to that one,
he said unsmilingly, "is of course, Saddam tortured
and killed his people. And now we're doing it."

In addition to adding more details to the woeful
chronology of the Abu Ghraib scandal, in which the
military stopped the abuse only after Hersh's story
brought it crashing down onto front pages around the
world — four months after it was first reported to
the Department of Defense — Hersh speculated on why
those dehumanizing techniques had been used. He was
sure that they were not, as some have claimed, the
"stress outlet" or other spontaneous recreational
ideas of young soldiers from West Virginia. Instead,
he said, they were the outgrowth of a massive manhunt
for information, any information, about first Al
Qaida, the Taliban, and then the Iraqi insurgency:

My government has a secret unit that since December of
2001 has been disappearing people just like the
Brazilians and the Argentineans did. Rumsfeld decided
after 9/11 that he could not wait. The president
signed a secret document…There's a team of people,
they fly in unmarked planes, they fly in Gulfstreams,
they have their own choppers, they don't carry
American passports, and they just grab people. And
maybe in the beginning I can understand there was some
rationale. Right after 9/11 we were frightened, we
didn't know what to do …

The original idea behind the sexually humiliating
photos taken at Abu Ghraib, Hersh said he had heard,
was to use them as blackmail so that the newly
released prisoners — many of whom were ordinary
Iraqi thieves or even civilian bystanders rounded up
in dragnets — would act as informants. "We operate
on guilt, [Muslims] operate on shame," Hersh
explained. "The idea of photographing an Arab man
naked and having him simulate homosexual activity, and
having an American GI woman in the photographs, is the
end of society in their eyes."

And the fact that Americans had perpetrated such acts
— and refused to take responsibility for it —
ended America's role as any kind of moral leader in
the eyes of not just the Middle East, but the world,
Hersh railed. He talked about an Israeli, a longtime
veteran of the troubles between his country and the
Palestinians, who had emailed him to say, in essence,
"We've been killing them for 40 or 50 years, and
they've been killing us for 40 or 50 years, but we
know that somewhere down the line we're going to have
to live with those SOBs…If we had treated our Arabs
the way you treated them in Abu Ghraib, the sexual
stuff, the photographs, we couldn't live with them.
You guys do not begin to understand what you've done,
where you have put yourself in the Arab world."

"They just shot them one by one"

There was more — rumors of atrocities around Iraq
that to Hersh brought back memories of My Lai. In the
evening's most emotional moment, Hersh talked about a
call he had gotten from a first lieutenant in charge
of a unit stationed halfway between Baghdad and the
Syrian border. His group was bivouacking outside of
town in an agricultural area, and had hired 30 or so
Iraqis to guard a local granary. A few weeks passed.
They got to know the men they hired, and to like them.
Then orders came down from Baghdad that the village
would be "cleared." Another platoon from the soldier's
company came and executed the Iraqi granary guards.
All of them.

"He said they just shot them one by one. And his
people, and he, and the villagers of course, went
nuts," Hersh said quietly. "He was hysterical, totally
hysterical. He went to the company captain, who said,
'No, you don't understand, that's a kill. We got 36
insurgents. Don't you read those stories when the
Americans say we had a combat maneuver and 15
insurgents were killed?'

"It's shades of Vietnam again, folks: body counts,"
Hersh continued. "You know what I told him? I said,
'Fella, you blamed the captain, he knows that you
think he committed murder, your troops know that their
fellow soldiers committed murder. Shut up. Complete
your tour. Just shut up! You're going to get a bullet
in the back.' And that's where we are in this war."

The story seemed to leave Hersh sincerely, deeply
saddened. While his critics may call him a "muckraker"
and unpatriotic, on Friday night it was obvious that
Hersh takes the crumbling of America's image, very,
very personally.

"My parents were immigrants," Hersh said. "They came
here because America meant something…the Statue of
Liberty and all that stuff, because America always was
this bastion of morality and integrity and a place for
a fresh start. And it's right in front of us, not
hidden, that they've taken this away from us."

3) This article outlines why those who were truly
watching Iraq closely prior to the 2003 invasion were
so furious at what Bush did -- and knew all along that
the likelihood of Iraq possessing a genuine WMD threat
was low:

The meaning of 'no' in Washington
Michael Jansen

In January 2003, I interviewed for The Jordan Times
and Al Rai an Iraqi nuclear scientist, Dr Imad
Khadduri, who stated flatly that his country never
produced nuclear weapons and no longer possessed other
weapons of mass destruction. Khadduri, whom I
interviewed at length on the Internet, insisted that
the weapons programmes had been rolled up after the
1991 war on Iraq. He said scientists involved had been
assigned to rebuild electricity, water purification
and sewage disposal facilities and repair bridges and
roads bombed by the US and its allies. He was well
placed to know about their new jobs because he was in
charge of seeing that their seniority in the
administration was preserved.

Last December I interviewed a second scientist
reassigned from the nuclear programme, Dr Sabah Abdel
Noor, an engineer who helped reconstruct the Dora
power plant in south Baghdad. He reinforced what
Khadduri told me and described how Dora was restored.

Following the publication of Khadduri's 2003
interview, I went to Baghdad where UN inspectors were
carrying out a desperate search for banned weapons
which the US and UK wrongly accused the Iraqi
government of possessing, in violation of the Security
Council resolution which ended the 1991 conflict.

The UN inspectorate was repeatedly told by the Iraqi
spokesman on armaments, Dr Amer Al Saadi, that Iraq
had no weapons of mass destruction and that the
massive report presented by Baghdad to the UN in
December 2002 had laid out in detail what happened to
Iraq's weapons programmes. Saadi, who served as
minister of military industry before the 1991 war and
minister of industry afterwards, was precisely the man
to make the case. He had been in charge of the weapons
programmes before the war and of reconstruction
afterwards. He stated that Saddam Hussein had ordered
the destruction of the country's chemical and
biological arsenal and the dismantlement of the
nuclear programme during the summer of 1991. He did
this to comply with the conditions set by the UN for
lifting the punitive sanctions regime imposed on his

After his destruction order was carried out, however,
Saddam maintained a posture of ambiguity on the issue
of weaponry until the inspectors arrived on their
final mission. He wanted to project a false notion
that Iraq might still possess some nonconventional
weapons to deter Iran (and probably the US) from
attacking his country.

An impeccable source revealed to this correspondent
recently that Saadi told UN inspectors there were no
weapons as soon as they resumed their work in Iraq in
November 2002. The source said he took this line
without consulting Saddam who was, apparently, upset
that Saadi had told the truth. Saadi replied through
intermediaries (his last meeting with Saddam was in
1995) that it was no longer prudent or possible to
maintain the fiction that Iraq might have banned
weaponry. Saddam fumed for a while but relented and
eventually told Western visitors that this was the

It is ironic that Saadi, who risked Saddam's
displeasure to tell the truth, remains in the US
prison for high value assets at Baghdad International
Airport while those who lied about Iraq's arms remain
in office in Washington and London.

The lies they fabricated were exposed last week when
the second report of the US-run Iraq Survey Group was
formally presented by Charles Duelfer, the second head
of the mission, to the Bush administration. The
report, which runs to 1,200-1,500 pages, states flatly
that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction on the
eve of the US war on Iraq, that he had no ties with Al
Qaeda, the group which mounted the 2001 attacks on New
York and Washington, and that his armed forces did not
pose a threat to Iraq's neighbours, the US and its
interests in the region. These were the reasons the
Bush administration gave for its onslaught on Iraq.

The report also describes the mistaken perceptions
held by both sides on the issue of prohibited
weaponry. The report says that Saddam believed the US
Central Intelligence Agency knew that he had no
weapons of mass destruction after 1991. He seemed to
have thought that Washington refused to acknowledge
this fact because it was determined to maintain the
humiliating and damaging sanctions under its policy of

Duelfer argues that the CIA had no men on the ground
in Iraq and did not have adequate intelligence on its
weaponry. The CIA also listened to and believed exiles
connected with Iraqi opposition movements who claimed
that Saddam retained banned weaponry. Furthermore,
Washington — both Bush and Clinton administrations —
refused to accept the verdict of UN inspectors working
in Iraq until 1998. They reported in 1997 that the
bulk (90 per cent) of Iraq's banned weapons had been
destroyed and its programmes had been discontinued.

Even in the run-up to the war, the US refused to
accept the reports of UN teams that conducted 731
inspections and found nothing to indicate that Iraq
either possessed banned weapons or had any intention
of reconstituting its programmes. Instead, Washington
continued to accuse Saddam of hiding these weapons.

Having dismissed the administration's main case for
war, Duelfer, a CIA operative who served on UN teams
before heading the Iraq Survey Group, then provided
Washington with ammunition to argue that Baghdad still
constituted a threat. Duelfer said that Saddam still
had the intention of reviving his chemical and
biological weapons programmes if sanctions were
lifted, thereby justifying the harsh regime of embargo
which over more than a decade had impoverished the
Iraqi people and destroyed the infrastructure of the

However, Duelfer's detailed description of how Saddam
managed to extract millions of dollars from contracts
under the UN oil-for-food programme and to use this
money to build palaces refutes the claim that the
Iraqi leader intended to reconstitute his chemical and
biological weapons programmes. If he had such an
intention, he could have used this money to do just
this. Old fashioned chemical weapons and some simple
biological agents are not expensive to manufacture and
do not require large facilities which can be detected
by satellites or discovered by inspectors.

The Bush administration, deprived of its casus belli,
has seized upon Duelfer's illogical claims about
Saddam's “intent” or “intentions” to build a new case
for waging war on Iraq. Thus, the problem remains the
US mindset. A Pentagon official, quoted by Bob Drogin
in The Los Angeles Times (Oct. 12), summed up the
thinking in Washington — which applies to Duelfer as
well as the neoconservatives who dictate the
administration's agenda. The official stated: “I
sometimes wonder, what part of the word `no' didn't we
understand?” The `no' remains hanging in the air, but
still there is no understanding of what it means in

Thursday, October 14, 2004

4) Tonkin Desert? I've seen what this landscape looks
like -- hundreds of miles of absolute nothingness.
They could fabricate these incidents wholesale, and no
one would ever know:,1280,-4551316,00.html

Shells From Syria Fired at Troops in Iraq
Thursday October 14, 2004 9:16 PM

Associated Press Writer

QAIM, Iraq (AP) - American troops stationed along
Iraq's border with Syria are coming under increasing
mortar attack from shells fired from Syrian territory,
but it's unclear who's responsible, U.S. officers said

5) Operation Air Conditioner:

6) Israel, Europe Could Be on Collision Course:

7) Arab-American Comics:

Bitter-sweet sympathy
Every US minority knows that laughter and self-mockery
can bind people together in the face of adversity.
Matthew Wells visits the New York
Arab-American Comedy Festival and finds a curious
blend of comedy, culture and politics
Matthew Wells
Thursday October 14 2004
The Guardian

Ahmed was only half-joking when he told the audience
at this week's New York Arab-American Comedy Festival:
"I can't fly anywhere."

"It's such a bad time to be an Ahmed, and my name's
Ahmed Ahmed, so it's really fucking bad," said the
Californian-Egyptian Muslim, who returned from the
recent Edinburgh Festival with an ethnic comedy award.

Here in a packed basement club in midtown Manhattan,
the laughs were flowing from empathy and shared
experience, rather than Scottish sympathy. The largely
Arab-American crowd are learning to make fun of the
predicament they find themselves in since becoming the
country's least favoured - and perhaps least
understood - ethnic group.

Ten performers were featured during the festival's
"new faces" set, and almost every comic dwelt on how
life has changed for the worse since
the September 11 attacks. Much of the material was
based on real-life encounters with over-bearing
authority figures at airports, immigration
services and the local police precinct. It was wryly
informative and anecdotal, rather than
thigh-slappingly funny.

But as every established ethnic minority in America
knows, laughter and self-mockery is one way to bind a
people together in the face of adversity.

"I read a statistic that said hate crimes against
Arabs and Muslims went up over 1000%, right after
September 11, which still put us in fourth-place
behind blacks, gays and Jews," said Ahmed. "So what
the fuck do we have to do? We can't even win in

There is nothing coincidental about the existence and
timing of the festival. This is its second year, and
the four-day event has drawn on Arab actors, comics,
playwrights and filmmakers from all around the
country. It was scheduled deliberately for
mid-October, to draw attention to the looming
presidential elections.

"Everybody's defining us, but we need to define
ourselves," said Elias El-Hage, founding co-producer
and general manager of the festival. "This is our
opportunity to do so...Even if they feel they won't be
open to the subject matter, when you get people to
laugh, they open up. They see the other side." It is a
non-profit venture, but El-Hage is happy to
concede that it is also about career building and
fuelling the "community of Arab-American artists that
are out there".

Before the mike was even turned on, it was clear from
the two T-shirts taped to the back wall of the stage,
that politics and protest against the Bush
administration would underpin the laughter. With voter
registration now complete, the shirts read simply:
"Yalla - Vote."

The Arab-American vote has never been hotly
sought-after by any presidential candidate in the
past, but there are significant communities in many of
the swing states. Florida and New Jersey have a
quarter of a million each, while Ohio and Pennsylvania
have around 150,000 each.

In 2000, George Bush secured just over 45% of the
Arab-American vote, compared with 38% for Gore. Ralph
Nader scored a remarkable 13%. Some 90% of
Arab-Americans registered for the last election, and
political consciousness is bound to be even higher
this year, given the security backlash.

There was no cheerleading for Kerry on the comedy
stage, but anger towards Bush and despair at the
ignorance of Middle America, was profound.
Compere Dean Obeidallah's bitter-sweet gag was typical
of the mood:

"Every other ethnic group gets months which identify
with their culture. There's Black History Month,
Hispanic Awareness month ... What do we
get? Orange Alert."

Many of the anti-establishment barbs were not
Arab-specific, but the funniest ones were. Several
performers laid into the futility of suicide
bombing, while at the same time supporting the wider
political argument. "We're all Arab and it's only my
opinion, but for the time being, we're all Palestinian
too," said one as an aside.

Withering jokes about the lack of democratic freedom
and women's rights in the Middle East, together with
gently mocking anecdotes about parental
misunderstanding, painted a picture of a hugely
diverse community that includes Muslim, Christian and

One female performer described her horror at finding
that a girlfriend's Arabic name meant exactly the same
thing as her own: "big black eyes like a cow". Another
gave sarcastic thanks to his parents for giving him
the name Shahed. "How do you come up with a name like
that for a kid you know is growing up in the US
...'This is our son, Shit-Head'."

The warm reception for this curious blend of comedy,
culture and politics was to be expected in the bosom
of liberal New York, but I asked Elias El-Hage whether
he felt it would work in the Bush heartlands. Would an
Anglo-Saxon audience be laughing there?

"Palestine, Arkansas, wouldn't get it. Somebody did
research there and they just don't realise what
Palestine means to an Arab-American. So not now, but
in five or 10 years, I believe we'll be able to go
anywhere in this country," he said.

As for the Arab-American audience at the Improv Comedy
Club, there were definite signs of a very different
mood going into this 2004 contest,
compared with four years ago. Mohannad Aama, who works
for a capital management company on Wall Street, said
his parents had voted for Bush,
but things were different now.

"I am still undecided myself. What is going for Bush
is that you know where he stands, whereas I still
don't trust what Kerry is saying. My real concerns
though are with the crew Bush brought in - the

A young Arab-American New Yorker, Nora Farid, was
beaming as she headed towards the exit. "It really hit
home. It really touched the heart," she said,
admitting that this was her first trip to a comedy

"Since 9-11, a lot of us have been coming together
whereas before, we didn't seek each other out," she
said. "A lot of new groups are popping up everywhere.
I don't think Bush is going to be getting many votes
from us this time round."

A Muslim American audience member, Imran Khan, told me
that disquiet among Arab-Americans was even more
pronounced within the Islamic community in general.

"I didn't much care about it then, but this time I
really want Kerry to win because I think Bush is not
doing the right job," he said. "Kerry is all over the
place on Iraq right now too, but he knows how to
negotiate. That's what it requires. People hate Bush
outside the US, that's a fact."

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

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