Friday, February 16, 2007

How American Am I?

Another one of those darn surveys. Here are the results:

You Are 71% American

Most times you are proud to be an American.
Though sometimes the good ole US of A makes you cringe
Still, you know there's no place better suited to be your home.
You love your freedom and no one's going to take it away from you!

I was a little surprised at how well this thing tagged me this time.

It's the real me.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Tortured Detainees Are Not the Only Ones Traumatized

A very disturbing column in the Washington Post today from a former interrogator who has nightmares about his complicity in brutal treatment of detainees should give us pause and make us consider the human cost, not only to detainees, but to those we place in charge of them.

Eric Fair was an interrogator at Abu Ghraib. He has nightmares featuring a man whose name he no longer recalls, but whose torment he remembers well. Mr. Fair says he was ordered to enter this man's cell every hour, to strip him of his clothes and deprive him of sleep in order to force admissions from him.

I cannot ignore the mistakes I made at the interrogation facility in Fallujah. I failed to disobey a meritless order, I failed to protect a prisoner in my custody, and I failed to uphold the standards of human decency. Instead, I intimidated, degraded and humiliated a man who could not defend himself. I compromised my values. I will never forgive myself.

American authorities continue to insist that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident in an otherwise well-run detention system. That insistence, however, stands in sharp contrast to my own experiences as an interrogator in Iraq. I watched as detainees were forced to stand naked all night, shivering in their cold cells and pleading with their captors for help. Others were subjected to long periods of isolation in pitch-black rooms. Food and sleep deprivation were common, along with a variety of physical abuse, including punching and kicking. Aggressive, and in many ways abusive, techniques were used daily in Iraq, all in the name of acquiring the intelligence necessary to bring an end to the insurgency. The violence raging there today is evidence that those tactics never worked. My memories are evidence that those tactics were terribly wrong.
It is impossible to dehumanize the helpless prisoner without dehumanizing ourselves. Mr. Fair's account is heartbreaking, and should remind us that we are all capable of bad acts and inhumanity under the right circumstances. When people of conscience allow themselves to be lured into inhumane acts they pay a terrible price, one that includes regret and recrimination. How many people return from war full of self-loathing for the things they were made to do, the compromises they made with their own values? Some bury their consciences, and others, who lack conscience, become further inured to others' pain and are likely to continue inflicting pain on others throughout their lives. It is a predictable result of a brutal process, and when our leadership promotes such inhumanity it is becomes all the more prevalent.

Mr. Fair should be congratulated for having the courage to step forward and write this searing self-indictment. I hope he achieves some redemption in the effort.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Congressional Investigation of Blackwater

Comes a report from telling of a Congressional investigation of Blackwater and other contractors. New Congress to Shine a Spotlight on Blackwater USA

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., ascended to the chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which will hold four days of hearings beginning Tuesday on waste, fraud and abuse in government contracting.

Included in the hearings will be testimony from family members of the four Blackwater contractors killed in Fallujah, who are
suing Blackwater, claiming the company broke its contractual obligation to the contractors by sending them into hostile territory with insufficient protection.

Senator Webb has made it clear, both in recent interviews, and during the confirmation hearings for General Casey that he intends to push for a Senate investigation of the approximately 100,000 contractors in Iraq and the accompanying waste, fraud, mismanagement, and most important of all, lack of accountability:

Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, whose election in November was crucial in tipping the Senate to Democratic control, raised the issue last week during confirmation hearings for Gen. George Casey, the outgoing top U.S. general in Iraq who has been nominated for Army chief of staff.

“This is a rent-an-army out there,” Webb said, noting that in nearly four years of war no civilian contractor has yet been prosecuted for misconduct in Iraq.

“Wouldn’t it be better for this country if those tasks, particularly the quasi-military gunfighting tasks, were being performed by active-duty military soldiers in terms of cost and accountability?” Webb, a Vietnam veteran and former Navy secretary, asked Casey.

“It’s important that they are used – these contractors are used for logistics-type skills and not necessarily the combat skills,” Casey replied, referring to armed security contractors like those fielded by Blackwater. “Those are the ones that we have to watch very carefully.”

Despite extensive anecdotal accounts of contractor abuses, particularly of Iraqi civilians, only four civilian contractors have been convicted of wrongdoing, all for fraud rather than abuse. It is impossible to have a mercenary army of some 100,000 spread throughout a chaotic country like Iraq without there being some demonstrable misconduct. Contractors are accountable to no one, and where there is absolute power there will inevitably follow misconduct and abuse. The military has the Uniform Code of Military Justice to regulate excesses by military members, but what is there to regulate the contractors? All thinking Americans should welcome the Congressional hearings and hope for Senate hearings to follow.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Four Ghosts of the White House

This comes courtesy of Comedy Central:

The Four Ghosts of the White House

One night, George W. Bush is tossing restlessly in his White House bed. He awakens to see George Washington standing by him Bush asks him, "George, what''s the best thing I can do to help the country?"

"Set an honest and honorable example, just as I did," Washington advises, and then fades away...

The next night, Bush is astir again, and sees the ghost of Thomas Jefferson moving through the darkened bedroom. Bush calls out, "Tom, please! What is the best thing I can do to help the country?"

"Respect the Constitution, as I did," Jefferson advises, and dims from sight...

The third night sleep still does not come for Bush. He awakens to see the ghost of FDR hovering over his bed. Bush whispers, "Franklin, What is the best thing I can do to help the country?"

"Help the less fortunate, just as I did," FDR replies and fades into the mist...

Bush isn''t sleeping well the fourth night when he sees another figure moving in the shadows. It is the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Bush pleads, "Abe, what is the best thing I can do right now to help the country?"

Lincoln replies, "Go see a play."