Saturday, October 16, 2004

Addicted to 9/11

October 14, 2004
Addicted to 9/11

I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I hear the president and vice president slamming John Kerry for saying that he hopes America can eventually get back to a place where "terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance." The idea that President Bush and Mr. Cheney would declare such a statement to be proof that Mr. Kerry is unfit to lead actually says more about them than Mr. Kerry. Excuse me, I don't know about you, but I dream of going back to the days when terrorism was just a nuisance in our lives.

If I have a choice, I prefer not to live the rest of my life with the difference between a good day and bad day being whether Homeland Security tells me it is "code red" or "code orange" outside. To get inside the Washington office of the International Monetary Fund the other day, I had to show my ID, wait for an escort and fill out a one-page form about myself and my visit. I told my host: "Look, I don't want a loan. I just want an interview." Somewhere along the way we've gone over the top and lost our balance.

That's why Mr. Kerry was actually touching something many Americans are worried about - that this war on terrorism is transforming us and our society, when it was supposed to be about uprooting the terrorists and transforming their societies.

The Bush team's responses to Mr. Kerry's musings are revealing because they go to the very heart of how much this administration has become addicted to 9/11. The president has exploited the terrorism issue for political ends - trying to make it into another wedge issue like abortion, guns or gay rights - to rally the Republican base and push his own political agenda. But it is precisely this exploitation of 9/11 that has gotten him and the country off-track, because it has not only created a wedge between Republicans and Democrats, it's also created a wedge between America and the rest of the world, between America and its own historical identity, and between the president and common sense.

By exploiting the emotions around 9/11, Mr. Bush took a far-right agenda on taxes, the environment and social issues - for which he had no electoral mandate - and drove it into a 9/12 world. In doing so, Mr. Bush made himself the most divisive and polarizing president in modern history.

By using 9/11 to justify launching a war in Iraq without U.N. support, Mr. Bush also created a huge wedge between America and the rest of the world. I sympathize with the president when he says he would never have gotten a U.N. consensus for a strategy of trying to get at the roots of terrorism by reshaping the Arab-Muslim regimes that foster it - starting with Iraq.

But in politicizing 9/11, Mr. Bush drove a wedge between himself and common sense when it came to implementing his Iraq strategy. After failing to find any W.M.D. in Iraq, he became so dependent on justifying the Iraq war as the response to 9/11 - a campaign to bring freedom and democracy to the Arab-Muslim world - that he refused to see reality in Iraq. The president seemed to be saying to himself, "Something so good and right as getting rid of Saddam can't possibly be going so wrong." Long after it was obvious to anyone who visited Iraq that we never had enough troops there to establish order, Mr. Bush simply ignored reality. When pressed on Iraq, he sought cover behind 9/11 and how it required "tough decisions" - as if the tough decision to go to war in Iraq, in the name of 9/11, should make him immune to criticism over how he conducted the war.

Lastly, politicizing 9/11 put a wedge between us and our history. The Bush team has turned this country into "The United States of Fighting Terrorism." "Bush only seems able to express our anger, not our hopes," said the Mideast expert Stephen P. Cohen. "His whole focus is on an America whose role in the world is to negate the negation of the terrorists. But America has always been about the affirmation of something positive. That is missing today. Beyond Afghanistan, they've been much better at destruction than construction."

I wish Mr. Kerry were better able to articulate how America is going to get its groove back. But the point he was raising about wanting to put terrorism back into perspective is correct. I want a president who can one day restore Sept. 11th to its rightful place on the calendar: as the day after Sept. 10th and before Sept. 12th. I do not want it to become a day that defines us. Because ultimately Sept. 11th is about them - the bad guys - not about us. We're about the Fourth of July.

Maureen Dowd will appear on Friday

The Least of These

By Marjorie Cohn
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Saturday 16 October 2004

You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone... Faith without deeds is dead.
- James 2:14-26
And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee? And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'
- Matthew 25:31-40

Much of the support George W. Bush enjoys stems from people of faith who identify with his religious principles. Toward the end of the third presidential debate, Bush said, "I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That's what I believe. And that's one part of my foreign policy ... And so my principles that I make decisions on are a part of me. And religion is a part of me."

Sounds good. Freedom. Principles. Religion. Religious principles also guide John Kerry, who went to Catholic school and served as an altar boy. Like Bush, Kerry says "my faith affects everything that I do and choose."

But that is where the similarity ends. Kerry, quoting James, said, "Faith without works is dead." Whereas Bush stands on principle and religion, Kerry lives the word. "That's why I fight against poverty," Kerry added. "That's why I fight for equality and justice."

Equality and justice are two words that don't often appear in Bush's vocabulary - nor are they evident in his deeds. And his claim to value freedom is specious. Nowhere is this more evident than the way his administration treats the prisoners it has taken since September 11, 2001.

On Monday, Saudi American Yasser Esam Hamdi was "freed" and returned to his family after being held in solitary confinement as an "enemy combatant" for nearly three years by the U.S. government. Charges were never filed against him, and he was denied contact with an attorney for the first two years he was in custody. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that Hamdi is entitled to a hearing to contest the basis for his confinement. (See my editorial, Supreme Court: War No Blank Check for Bush.) It was only then the U.S. government began to negotiate conditions for his release. The Bush administration decided to free Hamdi rather than explain to a neutral decision maker why it was holding him. Hamdi's release amounted to a "blithe 'never mind'," according to the Washington Post.

In an interview with CNN from his parents' home in Saudi Arabia, Hamdi maintained his innocence and denied he was an "enemy combatant." He pleaded for the U.S government to release others being held without charges. "This thing drives human beings crazy," Hamdi said. When asked how it felt to be free, he replied, "It's something that I really can't describe at all. Just to be let down and to be given freedom - you really know what the meaning of freedom [is]." Hopefully, George W. Bush, champion of freedom, was watching CNN when Hamdi made that statement.

The same day the Supreme Court ruled on Yasser Hamdi's case, it also decided that hundreds of prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba have the right to challenge their imprisonment in U.S. courts. Yet three and a half months later, none of them has appeared in court. Sixty-eight have petitioned for access to federal court; yet very few have even seen an attorney. The government has given myriad excuses, while these men linger in legal limbo.

Many of them, and others in Afghanistan and Iraq, have been tortured by military and mercenary personnel working for the Bush administration. Months after the graphic photographs emerged, and numerous reports have documented abuse and torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, there still has been no meaningful investigation of those up the chain of command who might be responsible. Indeed, Donald Rumsfeld has privately told colleagues he is determined to promote Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who approved some of the harshest interrogation techniques, to four-star general.

Bush's lawyers advise him on how to avoid the requirements of the Geneva Convention, and devise creative strategies to circumvent prosecutions under the federal torture statute. Bush's Secretary of Defense calls rape, sodomy, and murder "abuse," not torture. And Bush's administration rewarded Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, overseer at Guantánamo, with a transfer to Abu Ghraib, where he transplanted his system of torture across the ocean.

Fyodor Dostoevsky once said, "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." Our compassionate-conservative commander-in-chief's favorite book is the Bible. He mouths the words but his deeds ring hollow. Sadly, Bush's Bible has no room for "the least of these."

Marjorie Cohn, a contributing editor to t r u t h o u t, is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.

Who's Using Iraq's Oil Dollars????

Auditors Can't Account for Iraq Spent Funds
By Larry Margasak
The Associated Press

Friday 15 October 2004

Washington - U.S. and Iraqi officials doled out hundreds of millions of dollars in oil proceeds and other moneys for Iraqi projects earlier this year, but there was little effort to monitor or justify the expenditures, according to an audit released Thursday.

Files that could explain many of the payments are missing or nonexistent, and contracting rules were ignored, according to auditors working for an agency created by the United Nations.

"We found one case where a payment ($2.6 million) was authorized by the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) senior adviser to the Ministry of Oil," the report said. "We were unable to obtain an underlying contract" or even "evidence of services being rendered."

In a program to allow U.S. military commanders to pay for small reconstruction projects, auditors questioned 128 projects totaling $31.6 million. They could find no evidence of bidding for the projects or, alternatively, explanations of why they were awarded without competition.

The report was released by Rep. Henry Waxman of California, ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee and a leading critic of reconstruction spending to rebuild Iraq.

"The Bush Administration cannot account for how billions of dollars of Iraqi oil proceeds were spent," Waxman said. "The mismanagement, lack of transparency, and potential corruption will seriously undermine our efforts in Iraq. A thorough congressional investigation is urgently needed."

The audit was performed by the accounting firm KMPG for the International Advisory and Monitoring Board, created by the United Nations to monitor the stewardship of Iraqi funds.

The report monitored spending by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-run governing agency which went out of existence in June; Iraqi ministries; the Kurdish Regional Government and Iraqi provisional governments. It covered the period from January to June this year.

In the CPA programs, "We found 37 cases where contracting files could not be located," the auditors said. The cost of the contracts: $185 million. In another 52 cases, there was no record of the goods received for $87.9 million in expenditures.

In a military commanders' program to buy back weapons, $1.4 million was spent from a fund that specifically prohibited such expenditures, auditors said.

Iraq's Ministry of Finance maintained two sets of accounting records, one manual and one computerized.

"A reconciliation between these two sets of accounting records was not prepared and the difference was significant," the report said.

Auditors questioned why checks were made payable to a U.S. official - a senior adviser to the Iraqi ministry of health - rather than to suppliers.

Other questions were raised about funds provided by the U.S.-run governing authority to Kurdish officials in northern Iraq. In one instance, auditors were given a deposit slip that showed the transfer of $1.4 billion to a Kurdish bank. Auditors said they were denied access to accounting records and were unable to verify how - or if - the money was spent.


Mutiny In Iraq

October 16, 2004
Inquiry Opens After Reservists Balk in Baghdad

he Army is investigating members of a Reserve unit in Iraq who refused to deliver a fuel shipment north of Baghdad under conditions they considered unsafe, the Pentagon and relatives of the soldiers said Friday. Several soldiers called it a "suicide mission," relatives said.

Some 18 members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company, based in Rock Hill, S.C., were detained at gunpoint for nearly two days after disobeying orders to drive trucks that they said had not been serviced and were not being escorted by armed vehicles to Taji, about 15 miles north of Baghdad, relatives said after speaking to some of the soldiers.

Jackie Butler of Jackson, Miss., the wife of Staff Sgt. Michael Butler, 44, said she was awakened about 5:30 or 6 a.m. Thursday by a call from an officer from Iraq. He told her "that my husband was being detained for disobeying a direct order," Ms. Butler said, "and he went on to tell me that it was a bogus charge that they got against him and some of those soldiers over there, because what they was doing was sending them into a suicide mission, and they refused to go."

A senior Army officer said that 19 soldiers from the unit had been assembled Wednesday morning to deliver fuel but that some had refused to go. He denied they had been held under guard.

The officer said the soldiers raised "some valid concerns."

"Unfortunately it appears that a small number of the soldiers involved chose to express their concerns in an inappropriate manner," said the officer, who discussed the preliminary findings only on the condition of anonymity. Insubordination in wartime is a grave offense, and an inquiry is under way, the officer said, to determine if the Uniform Code of Military Justice was violated and whether disciplinary measures were warranted.

It is unclear if this is the first time a group of soldiers in Iraq has refused to carry out orders, and the military is playing down the incident as an isolated event. But the small rebellion suggests that problems linger with outfitting soldiers with adequate equipment in an increasingly dangerous country.

"I know soldiers are deeply concerned and have been deeply concerned about the equipment shortages," said Paul Rieckhoff, who was an Army lieutenant in Iraq for almost a year, until February this year, and is now executive director of Operation Truth, a New York advocacy group working to draw attention to the needs of soldiers in Iraq and returning veterans.

"When you don't have proper equipment, you feel vulnerable," Mr. Rieckhoff said. "We haven't evolved quickly enough to meet the enemy threat, which is rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs."

On average, American soldiers were attacked 87 times a day in August, the latest figures available, a sharp increase from a year earlier. In September, 41 soldiers died from rocket attacks and gunfire, up from 11 a year earlier.

The incident, which was first reported in The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., where several of the soldiers live, apparently began after the company tried to deliver a shipment of fuel to a base, but was turned away because the fuel was unusable, according to family members.

According to relatives and the Army officer, they returned to their base in Tallil, where they were told to deliver the fuel to Taji. The group refused, citing the poor condition of their vehicles and the lack of an armed escort, family members said. American convoys, which are usually accompanied by armored cars and sometimes by aircraft, are often attacked by insurgents.

"Yesterday we refused to go on a convoy to Taji," Specialist Amber McClenny, 21, said in a message she left on the answering machine of her mother, Teresa Hill, in Dothan, Ala. "We had broken-down trucks, nonarmored vehicles. We were carrying contaminated fuel."

After the soldiers were released, Specialist McClenny called her mother again and explained that the jet fuel the convoy had to carry had been contaminated with diesel, and that because it had been rejected by one base, it would likely be rejected by the Taji base.

Taji is in the volatile Sunni-dominated swath of Iraq, and Ms. Hill said her daughter felt "that if you go there, it's a 99 percent chance you will be ambushed or fired upon."

"They had not slept, the trucks had not been maintained, they were going without armed guards, it was just a bad deal," Ms. Hill said. "And that's when the whole unit said no." She said their defense is "cease action on an unsafe order."

Relatives said that prior to the incident, soldiers had complained to them that their equipment was shoddy and put them in greater danger. The relatives said they did not know if such complaints were made to the unit's command.

Patricia McCook of Jackson, Miss., said her husband, Sgt. Larry O. McCook, 41, had told her "that these vehicles were unsafe."

"He said, we go out on these missions, you know, he was afraid they were going to break down, that they were no good, they were just piecemealing something together, and set up for people to come ambushing you," she added.

The senior Army officer said the military was investigating the issue of vehicle maintenance.

Phillip Carter, a former Army captain and expert on legal and military affairs, said the kind of insubordination the unit showed had been more common during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, when the draft was still in place and the average conscript's goal was survival. The formation of an all-volunteer Army was supposed to address these problems, Mr. Carter said.

But the continually shifting war in Iraq is testing the preparation of the military, especially the Reserve and the National Guard, military experts said. Since last year, Reserve and National Guard units have complained about lack of proper equipment and training. Those in rear service units, like cooks and truck drivers, often had minimal combat training. The Army has moved to change that, but experts like Mr. Carter call the effort inadequate.

"The paradigm shift that's happening is that a truck driver is just as likely to see combat as soldiers in infantry unit," he said. "There's better training now of support units now as they go out. They've gotten better about equipping support units, but those moves have still been incremental moves. There hasn't been a wholesale push to change the Army to face the kind of the threat it faces in Iraq today. There are no rear units in Iraq any more."

The Army officer who discussed the case said service records of the 343rd indicated that it has performed well for the nearly nine months it has served in Iraq.

Though the soldiers have been released from detention, they could face anything from reprimands to courts-martial.

Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington for this article, and Norimitsu Onishi from Baghdad.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Platoon Defies Orders in Iraq
By Jeremy Hudson
The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson MS

Friday 15 October 2004

Miss. soldier calls home, cites safety concerns.
A 17-member Army Reserve platoon with troops from Jackson, Miss., and around the Southeast deployed to Iraq is under arrest for refusing a “suicide mission” to deliver fuel, the troops’ relatives said Thursday.

The soldiers refused an order on Wednesday to go to Taji, Iraq — north of Baghdad — because their vehicles were considered “deadlined” or extremely unsafe, said Patricia McCook of Jackson, wife of Sgt. Larry O. McCook.

Sgt. McCook, a deputy at the Hinds County, Miss., Detention Center, and the 16 other members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company from Rock Hill, S.C., were read their rights and moved from the military barracks into tents, Patricia McCook said her husband told her during a panicked phone call about 5 a.m. Thursday.

The platoon could be charged with the willful disobeying of orders, punishable by dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and up to five years confinement, said military law expert Mark Stevens, an associate professor of justice studies at Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount, N.C.

On Friday, the Army confirmed that the unit’s actions were under scrutiny.

“The commanding general of the 13th Corps Support Command has appointed the Deputy Commander to lead an investigation into allegations that members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company refused to participate in their assigned convoy mission October 13,” said Lt. Col Steven A. Boylan, a spokesman for U.S. Army and multinational forces in Iraq.

“The investigating team is currently in Tallil taking statements and interviewing those involved. This is an isolated incident and it is far too early in the investigation to speculate as to what happened, why it happened or any action that might be taken,” Boylan said.

“It is important to note that the mission in question was carried out using other soldiers from the unit,” Boylan said.

Boylan also confirmed that the unit is stationed in Tallil, a logistical support air base south of Nasiriyah.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said he plans to submit a congressional inquiry today on behalf of the Mississippi soldiers to launch an investigation into whether they are being treated improperly.

“I would not want any member of the military to be put in a dangerous situation ill-equipped,” said Thompson, who was contacted by families. “I have had similar complaints from military families about vehicles that weren’t armor-plated, or bullet-proof vests that are outdated. It concerns me because we made over $150 billion in funds available to equip our forces in Iraq.

“President Bush takes the position that the troops are well-armed, but if this situation is true, it calls into question how honest he has been with the country,” Thompson said.

The 343rd is a supply unit whose general mission is to deliver fuel and water. The unit includes three women and 14 men and those with ranking up to sergeant first class.

“I got a call from an officer in another unit early (Thursday) morning who told me that my husband and his platoon had been arrested on a bogus charge because they refused to go on a suicide mission,” said Jackie Butler of Jackson, wife of Sgt. Michael Butler, a 24-year reservist. “When my husband refuses to follow an order, it has to be something major.”

The platoon being held has troops from Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Mississippi and South Carolina, said Teresa Hill of Dothan, Ala., whose daughter Amber McClenny is among those being detained.

McClenny, 21, pleaded for help in a message left on her mother’s answering machine early Thursday morning.

“They are holding us against our will,” McClenny said. “We are now prisoners.”

McClenny told her mother her unit tried to deliver fuel to another base in Iraq Wednesday, but was sent back because the fuel had been contaminated with water. The platoon returned to its base, where it was told to take the fuel to another base, McClenny told her mother.

The platoon is normally escorted by armed Humvees and helicopters, but did not have that support Wednesday, McClenny told her mother.

The convoy trucks the platoon was driving had experienced problems in the past and were not being properly maintained, Hill said her daughter told her.

The situation mirrors other tales of troops being sent on missions without proper equipment.

Aviation regiments have complained of being forced to fly dangerous missions over Iraq with outdated night-vision goggles and old missile-avoidance systems. Stories of troops’ families purchasing body armor because the military didn’t provide them with adequate equipment have been included in recent presidential debates.

Patricia McCook said her husband, a staff sergeant, understands well the severity of disobeying orders. But he did not feel comfortable taking his soldiers on another trip.

“He told me that three of the vehicles they were to use were deadlines ... not safe to go in a hotbed like that,” Patricia McCook said.

Hill said the trucks her daughter’s unit was driving could not top 40 mph.

“They knew there was a 99 percent chance they were going to get ambushed or fired at,” Hill said her daughter told her. “They would have had no way to fight back.”

Kathy Harris of Vicksburg, Miss., is the mother of Aaron Gordon, 20, who is among those being detained. Her primary concern is that she has been told the soldiers have not been provided access to a judge advocate general.

Stevens said if the soldiers are being confined, law requires them to have a hearing before a magistrate within seven days.

Harris said conditions for the platoon have been difficult of late. Her son e-mailed her earlier this week to ask what the penalty would be if he became physical with a commanding officer, she said.

But Nadine Stratford of Rock Hill, S.C., said her godson Colin Durham, 20, has been happy with his time in Iraq. She has not heard from him since the platoon was detained.

“When I talked to him about a month ago, he was fine,” Stratford said. “He said it was like being at home.”


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