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    01 November 2007

    "Waterboarding is a torture technique – period"

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    Malcolm Nance, an adviser on terrorism to the Department of Homeland Security, Special Operations and Intelligence, was a witness and supervisor to "hundreds" of waterboarding training exercises at the US Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School. The practice of waterboarding, he concludes, "is a torture technique – period" noting that the practice does not simulate drowning but actually introduces water into the lungs.
    The practice involves strapping the person being interrogated on to a board as pints of water are forced into his lungs through a cloth covering his face while the victim's mouth is forced open. Its effect, according to Mr Nance, is a process of slow-motion suffocation.

    The practice Bush administration officials refuse to take responsibility for, despite praising its effects in the field, is thought of by Nance as "controlled death."

    Posted by Geoff

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    Senator Graham's pea-soup-colored glasses

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    Nearly two months ago South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham made the presumptuous projection that "[w]ithin the next weeks, not months, there will be a major breakthrough on the benchmarks regarding political reconciliation." Unfortunately Graham's prediction was incorrect.

    Fast-forward seven weeks to the recently released Government Accountability Office report which notes that legislation promoting political reconciliation between disparate Iraqi sects still has not been passed. Additionally, the report concludes the Iraqi government has not taken advantage of the lull in violence and that hope was dwindling "for achieving current U.S. security, political and economic goals in Iraq."

    While US politicians and pundits make wild predictions and the US military works hard to make them come reality, senior Iraqi politicians are scoffing at the very idea of political reconciliation. Iraqi press observer Marc Lynch notes that Prime Minister al-Maliki recently "mocked calls for national reconciliation and dismissed those calling for such reconciliation as conspirators."

    Posted by Geoff

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    31 October 2007

    Speaking of political reconciliation in Iraq...

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    Marc Lynch passes along this discouraging, though not surprising, snippet from the Iraqi press:
    Speaking of exposed nerves, the Iraqi newspaper al-Zaman reported yesterday that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki mocked calls for national reconciliation and dismissed those calling for such reconciliation as conspirators. Yes, I anticipate rapid progress on the national reconciliation front. What could possibly go wrong?


    Posted by Geoff

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    30 October 2007

    Death is down in Iraq but the surge is still failing

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    It's truelly painful to witness.

    Our conservative politicians, desperate for something to distract the public from the horrendous reality that is the Republican party, have recoalesced into the shortsighted idiots that caused the occupation of Iraq back in 2002-2003... and the media in large part is right there with them. We have a few months of below average violence and we're on the cusp of victory in Iraq? What planet are you people on? Truth is we've done little there since January and the Iraqis have done less.

    The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released today frames this truism nicely. We've surged and therefore there should be less violence (check!) and political reconciliation (ehhhh!). Who in their right mind would begin arguing that the surge has been a success at this point. To me, it's pretty obvious that we're stuck back in January at the latest.

    I've heard some conservatives claim that the Democrats will "change their minds" about Iraq. They may, but not because the 'we're winning' claim is correct, but because that's what most Democrats do: The majority of them are weak. A strong Democrat, a progressive Democrat, would take the argument and beat the offending conservative over the head with it. The point of the surge was to secure a portion of Iraq to allow for political reconciliation. There has been absolutely nothing on this point of reconciliation, period. Not even a hint. Therefore the surge is failing. Plenty on action condemning some of our unaccountable mercenaries (which should be our responsibilities), but none on reconciliation. That's a pretty big point.

    An appropriate reading of the mentioned GAO goes like this:
    The U.S. and Iraqi governments have failed to take advantage of a dramatic drop in violence in Iraq, ... prospects [are] waning "for achieving current U.S. security, political and economic goals in Iraq."

    Iraqi leaders have not passed legislation to foster reconciliation among Shiite Muslims, Sunnis and Kurds, and sectarian groups still retain control of ministries and divide Iraqi security forces...

    Moreover, the Bush administration's efforts to stabilize and rebuild Iraq are plagued by weak planning, a lack of coordination with the Iraqi government and among U.S. agencies, and an absence of detailed information on "the current and future costs of U.S. involvement in Iraq,"...

    "U.S. efforts lack strategies with clear purpose, scope, roles and performance measures," ...

    The findings raise questions about whether the increase of U.S. troops that began last February will ultimately achieve the goal of giving Iraqi political leaders enough of a respite from violence that that they can work to resolve Iraq's many problems.


    This is a time for serious assessment of the problems at hand, and our leaders and our media are being feed numbers to claim progress? We were told there would be legislation, words, agreements, photo ops. We haven't got much time left to hold the lid on Iraq. To claim victory is right around the corner is to assume the word victory will be redefined as "still stuck in the same place we were last year" by March '08.

    [UPDATE] Marc Lynch shows concern about the ridiculousness of all this in a recent post:
    Body counts are only one small part of a much larger puzzle. What I want to know is not the day to day casualty trends, or good news stories from some carefully selected hamlet, or the latest assassination of an Awakening shaykh. I want to know: does the devolution to the local level make strategic sense, even if it reaps short-term tactical sense? Towards what endpoint are the tactics leading? Do we want to see a unified Iraq with a sustainable political accord - the official goal of American policy, as Undersecretary of State Nick Burns reminded the DACOR audience yesterday? If so, are American political and military tactics encouraging or discouraging such an outcome? Those are questions that we could be discussing in this moment of relative American political respite, but there's really not much of it (a moment of self-criticism here: I suppose I should give credit to the Biden partition/federalism resolution effort, even though I strongly disagreed with it, for at least trying to raise such issues.)

    Maybe that's because there is no possible winning strategy anymore, just better or worse tactics leading nowhere in particular. I understand the logic of the bottom-up reconciliation strategy quite well, thanks. I just see no evidence whatsoever that it is working: whether public opinion surveys, continuing refugee flows, or sectarian and confrontational political discourse. Yes, Ammar al-Hakim went to Ramadi, which is encouraging - but his mission failed... and if you look at what he was actually trying to sell to the Sunnis, you'd be less encouraged than some people have been by the atmospherics. Yes, Tareq al-Hashemi went to Sistani with his National Compact, but the Compact has gone nowhere. And so on. The national political level remains completely deadlocked, and the politicians seem to have lost whatever sense of urgency they felt back in August and September. And all of those politicians behave according to the logic of moral hazard that the US has created - since the Bush administration can't credibly threaten to escalate and won't threaten to withdraw, it has no leverage over any of them while protecting them from the consequences of their decisions. And even if those politicians did somehow magically come to agreement, their ability to deliver on any such agreement declines by the day.

    Posted by Geoff

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    Cheney joining Colbert as president of SC?

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    The Confederate flag issue. Not a big deal to me. I understand the historical and cultural context in which it exists. I'm fine with South Carolinians looking intolerant with that flag on their trucks. I'm fine with the South in general doing the same. It's a free country. I see it as a necessary reminder of who won the Civil War rather than a historical and cultural relic. But for a man who hails from Union territory (Nebraska and Wyoming) to hunt at club in upstate New York (a union state) to that actively embraces that symbol is pretty appalling. And it's probably good politics here in the South. Maybe he's planning to be Colbert's running mate.

    Posted by Geoff

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