Archive for April, 2003

Van der Stockt’s Account of Marines Killing Civilians

Thursday, April 17th, 2003

From an article by Michel Guerrin in Le Monde, as translated by Norman Madarasz and posted in CounterPunch: Embedded photographer: ‘I saw Marines kill civilians’. It consists of the eyewitness account of Laurent Van der Stockt, an embedded photographer working for the New York Times Magazine, who travelled with US Marines into Baghdad.

On the morning of April 7, the Marines decided to cross the bridge. A shell fell onto an armored personnel carrier. Two marines were killed. The crossing took on a tragic aspect. The soldiers were stressed, febrile. They were shouting. The risk didn’t appear to be that great, so I followed their advance. They were howling, shouting orders and positions to each other. It sounded like something in-between a phantasm, mythology and conditioning. The operation was transformed into crossing the bridge over the River Kwai.

Later, there was some open terrain. The Marines were advancing and taking up position, hiding behind mounds of earth. They were still really tense. A small blue van was moving towards the convoy. Three not-very-accurate warning shots were fired. The shots were supposed to make the van stop. The van kept on driving, made a U-turn, took shelter and then returned slowly. The Marines opened fire. All hell broke loose. They were firing all over the place. You could hear ‘Stop firing’ being shouted. The silence that set in was overwhelming. Two men and a woman had just been riddled with bullets. So this was the enemy, the threat.

A second vehicle drove up. The same scenario was repeated. Its passengers were killed on the spot. A grandfather was walking slowly with a cane on the sidewalk. They killed him too (SEE PHOTO IN LE MONDE). As with the old man, the Marines fired on a SUV driving along the river bank that was getting too close to them. Riddled with bullets, the vehicle rolled over. Two women and a child got out, miraculously still alive. They sought refuge in the wreckage. A few seconds later, it flew into bits as a tank lobbed a terse shot into it.

Marines are conditioned to reach their target at any cost, by staying alive and facing any type of enemy. They abusively make use of disproportionate firepower. These hardened troops, followed by tons of equipment, supported by extraordinary artillery power, protected by fighter jets and cutting-edge helicopters, were shooting on local inhabitants who understood absolutely nothing of what was going on.

With my own eyes I saw about fifteen civilians killed in two days. I’ve gone through enough wars to know that it’s always dirty, that civilians are always the first victims. But the way it was happening here, it was insane.

At the roughest moment, the most humane of the troops was called Doug. He gave real warning shots. From 800 yards he could hit a tire and, if that wasn’t enough, then the motor. He saved ten lives in two hours by driving back civilians who were coming towards us.

Distraught soldiers were saying: ‘I ain’t prepared for this, I didn’t come here to shoot civilians.’ The colonel countered that the Iraqis were using inhabitants to kill marines, that ‘soldiers were being disguised as civilians, and that ambulances were perpetrating terrorist attacks.’

I drove away a girl who had had her humerus pierced by a bullet. Enrico was holding her in his arms. In the rear, the girl’s father was protecting his young son, wounded in the torso and losing consciousness. The man spoke in gestures to the doctor at the back of the lines, pleading: “I don’t understand, I was walking and holding my children’s hands. Why didn’t you shoot in the air? Or at least shoot me?”

You think they’ll be covering this side of the war on Fox News?

Kysia: The US Military Is Clueless

Thursday, April 17th, 2003

Here’s another really interesting piece from Ramzi Kysia of the Iraq Peace Team: Heavy-handed and hopeless, the U.S. military doesn’t know what it’s doing in Iraq. Kysia recounts being part of a meeting today between Voices in the Wilderness (the Iraq Peace Team’s parent organizing body) and the US military’s Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC) in Baghdad. Frighteningly, the CMOC comes off as not knowing its ass from its elbow.

CMOC reported that they did not yet have a plan for how to restore essential services in Baghdad, but are working on creating such a plan today. However, that information will not be publicly available for review, and will only be shared with organizations that agree to work with the U.S. military in Baghdad – cutting out any humanitarian agency that insists on maintaining neutrality.

CMOC also reported that they spent several days locating hospitals, power plants, and water & sanitation plants in order to do needs assessments. Apparently no one in the U.S. military thought to ask the United Nations, or other international organizations working in Iraq, for any of this information prior to, or even after, the fall of Baghdad. The World Health Organization and the Red Cross have been working in Iraq for years. The United Nations Development program has been working to assist Iraq in restoring electricity since 1996. Locations and assessments of civilian infrastructures are not secret information – except in the Pentagon’s world. Why didn’t anyone ask for this information? Why wasn’t a plan for rehabilitation developed prior to the war?

When told that of rumors of a cholera outbreak in Hilla, CMOC even asked Voices in the Wilderness where that neighborhood was located in Baghdad – unaware that Hilla is a major Iraqi city located approximately 1 hour south of Baghdad!

Sigh. Make room for more innocent corpses on the altar of our glorious military victory.

Missing WMDs and the 2004 Election

Thursday, April 17th, 2003

Nice piece in the Boston Globe summing up the current state of the search for those “vast stockpiles” of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction: Pressure to find weapons mounts. (Update: And don’t miss the Onion’s new infographic.)

My wife and I had a long discussion last night about the 2004 election, and the chances that Bush would be able to get away with the exceedingly lame lies he used to justify the war. She was feeling depressed, and inclined toward the view that he would succeed. But I don’t know. Bush’s approval ratings shot up after the quick victory, it’s true, but not to the 90%+ levels that his dad enjoyed after Gulf War I; currently I think he’s hovering in the 60’s or 70’s. And even with his dad, those stratospheric approval ratings proved short-lived once a compelling case was made that he was ignoring people’s pain on the economy. The current Bush is obviously way vulnerable in that area, too.

Anyway, I’m beginning to think Lincoln was right: you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but eventually a significant number of swing voters are going to call you on your bullshit. Flag-waving yellow-ribbon campaigns aside, I think most Americans have a real problem with the neocons’ plans to remake the Middle East via the US military. Bush gets to play the 9/11 fear card only so many times. Eventually, he has to be able to produce some positive results, and uniting the rest of the world (and the rest of the global economy) in opposition to US interests seems like a really poor way to achieve that.

I think dubya’s gonna be a one-termer. I hope so, at least, and I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and see what I can do to help make that prediction a reality. I think a lot of other people feel the same way, and that more will be coming around to that point of view in the months ahead.

This election is going to be interesting. For one thing, it seems like it might actually be about something. Cool.

The New Onion Is Here! The New Onion Is Here!

Thursday, April 17th, 2003

I’m not sure why; maybe it’s an indication that my midlife crisis is entering the acute stage. But the front page of the new Onion is really cracking me up this morning.

Like this story: 45 more legislators lose jobs to increased congressional automation:

WASHINGTON, DC — Continuing a trend that began in the Senate last November, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) announced Monday that 45 members of the House of Representatives would be laid off and replaced by cost-efficient heavy legislating machinery.

Or this one: Saddam proud he still killed more Iraqi civilians than US:

“I recently heard a critic of President Bush say he is a dictator,” Saddam said. “That made me laugh. George Bush, a dictator! My sons Uday and Qusay showed more viciousness at 10 years of age.”

“Bush has a long way to go before he can match me,” Saddam added. “My hands are red with the blood of the innocent. His are merely a light pink.”

There’s lot’s more great stuff there. But I think my favorite story is this one, from the News in Brief section: “Fisherman’s 4-year-old son liberates bait.”

INTERNATIONAL FALLS, MN — During a fishing trip Monday, Jason Jorgensen, the 4-year-old son of International Falls fisherman Bill Jorgensen, liberated an entire styrofoam container of nightcrawlers, throwing the bait into Rainy Lake. “Run, wormies, run!” said Jorgensen as he gave the former bait its first-ever taste of sweet freedom.


Oh, and on that note. Beck, who clued me into the existence of the new Onion, also shared with me the other day the punchline from his favorite-ever quote in’s QDB: <GrandCow> MOM?!?!?!?! MWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Okay. I think I’m done now. Back to work.

Felten Interview on Slashdot

Thursday, April 17th, 2003

I’ve made it a rule to avoid linking to stories if those stories have already been linked to by Slashdot; I guess I figure that everybody reads Slashdot already, so what would be the point?

But in fact I’ve become kind of spotty in my own visitations to Slashdot lately, so, paradoxically, I guess I’m feeling more free to duplicate their links. This would kind of be a special case, anyway, since it’s not a link they’re running that I want to point to, but their own content. Specfically, their interview with Prof. Edward Felten. Felten’s remarks on (mostly) how to deal with Washington in avoiding stupid legislation like the DMCA are actually really good, and resonate with me as I become increasingly interested in how to deal with Washington in general, not just on stupid tech laws.

Berkowitz on Afghanistan

Thursday, April 17th, 2003

An update on where things currently stand in our previous toppled regime is available from WorkingForChange’s Bill Berkowitz: Report card Afghanistan. Among the points he makes:

  • US troops are still engaged in sporadic fighting.
  • Our installed government under Hamid Karzai is essentially only in charge of Kabul.
  • The much-hailed liberation of Afghanistan’s women is being steadily rolled back to a Taliban-esque repression.
  • Opium cultivation has exploded. According to the State Department Afghanistan is now the world’s leading producer of heroin, with roughly 20 times as much land being used for opium cultivation as was used in 2001.
So, the bottom line is that the current team running things in Washington, while they’ve got this whole bombing and invading thing down cold, clearly suck ass when it comes to putting things back together afterward. Expect more of the same in Iraq.

Kos on Syria

Thursday, April 17th, 2003

Nice piece at Daily Kos: Syria countermoves, scores against US. It lists some of the advantages Syria enjoys (compared with Iraq) in the current confrontation with the US, and goes on to discuss Syria’s recent move to introduce a resolution in the UN Security Council banning all weapons of mass destruction throughout the middle east. Kos calls the move “nothing short of genius.”

If the US is truly serious about ridding the Middle East of WMDs, it should have no problem endorsing a resolution that would compell Syria to disarm. Right?

Wrong. The resolution would have the (intentional) effect of forcing Israel to surrender its nuclear arsenal — a course of action Israel would never accept. And the US, Israel’s most loyal ally, will thus be forced to veto the resolution.

So picture this — the US vetoing a resolution calling for the banning of all WMDs from the Middle East. In one fell swoop, Syria has negated the charges of WMDs against it, exposed the US’s hypocrisy on WMDs (our allies can have them, everyone else can’t), solidified its leadership of the Arab world, and forced the US to veto a seemingly common sense resolution, after blasting France and Russia for threatening vetoes on Iraq.

It’s clear that this administration has zero ability to wage a competent foreign policy. We may be able to wage war, but even that has its limits.

Tell the FCC where to stick it.

Thursday, April 17th, 2003

This is a post with two purposes. The first is to point out that the the FCC’s Policies on limiting Media Ownership (ie: limits on the number of media outlets that a corporation can own in a single market) are currently up for review, and the FCC is seeking comments from the public. This is an issue that I’ve all-ways thought was a big deal (especially when I travel and hear the exact same play-lists nation wide on Yet-Another-Clear-Channel-Station), and I’d like to encourage everyone to check out some of the press and info resources on the subject and think about it. (PBS in particular has some good coverage)

The second purpose is to draw attention to the FCCs web site, particular their “Electronic Comment File System“. To me, this is a good example of what governments should do more of — It’s a tool available to let people search, read, and post comments about issues that fall under the FCCs charter. Click around, you might find something you have an opinion on … they’re listening.

Robbins at the National Press Club

Wednesday, April 16th, 2003

Tim Robbins spoke to the National Press Club on Tuesday; here’s a transcript of his remarks.

Too bad we don’t have any actual government leaders who talk like this anymore.

Lind’s Neocon Primer

Wednesday, April 16th, 2003

Some strange radio-show host I’ve never heard of named Jeff Rense has apparently stolen and posted for public consumption an article that appeared recently in New Statesman, a progressive British publication that seems curiously non-progressive when it comes to unleashing its content on the Web, since you have to pay and log in to read that content.

But none of that’s important. What is important is the article, by Michael Lind: The weird men behind George W. Bush’s war. It’s great stuff on just why it is that the US is suddenly going berserk, foreign-policy wise. Lind mentions, and dismisses, explanations that focus on political economics (“it’s the oil, right?”) and the essentially warlike US nature. Neither of these explanations is correct, he says.

Both the economic-determinist theory and the clash-of-cultures theory are reassuring: they assume that the recent revolution in US foreign policy is the result of obscure but understandable forces in an orderly world. The truth is more alarming. As a result of several bizarre and unforeseeable contingencies – such as the selection rather than election of George W Bush, and 11 September – the foreign policy of the world’s only global power is being made by a small clique that is unrepresentative of either the US population or the mainstream foreign policy establishment.

Lind goes on to describe just who these people are. And boy, is it scary.

Good Politics, Bad Science

Wednesday, April 16th, 2003

From the Guardian comes this lengthy, but really informative, piece about how the Bush administration in particular, and the US religious right in general, has been making headway against those evil scientists who want to do unChristian things like teach children the theory of evolution, promote condom-use to fight AIDS, and find ways to use cloned embryonic stem cells to cure disease: The battle for American science. The latest technique, apparently, is to use stealth campaigns like the “Intelligent Design” movement, in which fringe science is portrayed as a viable contender against the more-established (but less popular with fundamentalists) theories favored by actual scientists.

Stop Affleck and J-Lo from Remaking Casablanca

Wednesday, April 16th, 2003

From Daypop comes word of this online petition, which seeks to derail the reported Casablanca remake starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez: Stop them before they film again.

Wolff: I Was the Wise-Ass of the War

Wednesday, April 16th, 2003

From The Guardian comes this really cool account by journalist Michael Wolff on how he became a temporary hero with his fellow reporters (and got into hot water with about 20 million dittoheads) for daring to question the value of those daily Centcom press briefings: I was only asking.

WWN: Saddam Starred in Gay Porn Films

Wednesday, April 16th, 2003

There’s something fairly delicious in having the Weekly World News included in the list of publications available from Yahoo! Entertainment. Because, for example, it allows me to link to stories like this: Saddam starred in gay porn films!


In the newly uncovered 86-minute prison flick, Saddam, then just 34, plays a naive young peasant who is wrongly convicted and sent to jail. He is initiated into homosexuality by a series of older and more experienced cons.

“Saddam’s acting in the picture is actually quite good,” al-Sabah notes. “One scene, in which he buries his face in a pillow and cries, is so touching you almost can forget you’re watching a low-budget sexploitation film.”

Current Thoughts, Next Steps for War Dissenters

Wednesday, April 16th, 2003

Here are a couple of interesting opinion pieces. First, from Robert Steinbeck, as published in the Miami Herald, A dissenter looks at war’s consequences. And for those who’d like a way to channel their war concerns into action, Elizabeth Ready and John Moyers at have a suggestion: Ballots can keep bullets from flying.

Review of Rove Biographies

Tuesday, April 15th, 2003

From the New York Review of Books comes this interesting review of a pair of biographies about someone I’ve never bothered to pay much attention to: Karl Rove. The review is by Elizabeth Drew: The enforcer. Fun, albeit scary, stuff. I guess the kumbaya/give peace a chance/can’t we all just get along approach isn’t necessarily going to solve this particular problem, at least not anytime soon, with someone as furiously competitive and dirty-tricks-prone as that standing behind the throne.

Oh well.

Photos of Flowers and Baby Birds

Tuesday, April 15th, 2003

For no especially good reason, except I was depressed about my indulging in that whining about polarization earlier, and wanted to send something uplifting to Adam at Words Mean Things, I took a break just now and snapped some photos in the yard. Specifically, some photos of the roses bloooming outside my bedroom/office window, and a nestful of baby house finches in the jasmine by the front door. Follow the link below, or scroll down, if you enjoy such things. Peace, y’all.

Krugman: The ‘Fiscal Dance of the Seven Veils’

Tuesday, April 15th, 2003

From the New York Times’ Paul Krugman comes yet another excellent opinion piece: Behind our backs. It describes how the Bush administration’s agenda to gut the country’s social programs and reward the rich on the backs of the middle class is becoming increasingly clear — and how the emerging War Without End may well provide sufficient political cover to let them get away with it. An excerpt:

But back to the amazing spectacle of the war’s opening, when the House voted to cut the benefits of the men and women it praised a few minutes earlier. What that scene demonstrated was the belief of the Republican leadership that if it wraps itself in the flag, and denounces critics as unpatriotic, it can get away with just about anything. And the scary thing is that this belief may be justified.

For the overwhelming political lesson of the last year is that war works — that is, it’s an excellent cover for the Republican Party’s domestic political agenda. In fact, war works in two ways. The public rallies around the flag, which means the President and his party; and the public’s attention is diverted from other issues.

As long as the nation is at war, then, it will be hard to get the public to notice what the flagwavers are doing behind our backs. And it just so happens that the “Bush doctrine,” which calls for preventive war against countries that may someday pose a threat, offers the possibility of a series of wars against nasty regimes with weak armies.

Someday the public will figure all this out. But it may be a very long wait.

Prados on the Eroding Power of the State Department

Tuesday, April 15th, 2003

An interesting analysis by John Prados is running at Affairs of State – and Pentagon. Prados describes how Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice are systematically gaining power in Washington, while Colin Powell and the State Department are steadily losing ground. From his conclusion:

This evolution is disturbing. Rumsfeld and Rice, while ambitious planners, exhibit a peculiar myopia. With Iraq collapsing into chaos and looters trashing Baghdad and other cities, Rumsfeld complained at his press conferences not of these brutal facts, but of the media’s reporting of them. In fact, the administration talked as if the chaos would disappear on its own after a day or two, as if it carried no responsibility for order in a post-Saddam Iraq it had itself created.

As we move into the reconstruction period in post-war Iraq and toward a looming conflict with Syria, the seamless transfer of powers from the State Department to the Pentagon should alarm us. Are we to understand that the Bush administration now views U.S. “diplomatic” efforts in the Middle East as a solely military effort?

Supporting the Troops in the Second America

Tuesday, April 15th, 2003

A really nice piece from Mary Sojourner is running at Support the troops: Catch phrase or cop-out. She reports her experience of going to a local city council meeting where a resolution to “support our troops” somehow slipped into being a resolution to support the war, thereby allowing right-thinking folks to more-easily identify those pink monkeys in our midst who harbor dangerously heterodox thoughts.

It’s going on all over. Even in my own laid-back neck of the woods, where the city manager gave in to a woman’s request to put up yellow ribbons all over town, and then, as she was doing so, another woman decided to follow behind on her rollerblades, cutting them all down. The subtext is that the woman putting up the ribbons is actually the wife of one of the most rabid right-wingers on the local political scene, a man who, to my way of thinking, is at least as interested in dividing the community and exposing those who don’t adhere to his “support our country, right or wrong” views as he is in sending any particular message to the troops overseas. From the LA Times: Town finds skater out of line.

It’s very reminiscent to me of the “horizontal prayer” Roger Ebert wrote about in the Chicago Sun-Times column I previously linked to (since removed, but available on the Interesting-People mailing list archive).

These yellow-ribbon campaigns are like Ebert’s horizontal prayer in the sense that they don’t merely represent a desire to communicate a feel-good sentiment to the men and women overseas. They’re also meant to put those who have the gall to oppose Fearless Leader on the defensive, to marginalize them, to exclude them. See: We all support the war. We even decorate our public spaces with symbolic speech to that effect. What’s wrong with you peaceniks, anyway? Why don’t you all go back to France?

Maybe I should stroll down Carpinteria Avenue, tying blood-red ribbons next to each of the yellow ones, to symbolize the innocent blood our bombs and bullets have been shedding. You think that would go over well? How about if I pick up some spare entrails from the local butcher, and tie those around the lampposts, to symbolize the horrific injuries one Iraqi 6-year-old sustained after an unexploded cluster bomblet went off in his Najaf schoolyard the other day?

Finally, a nice perspective on all this is the following piece from Mike Duncan at The Weekly Lowdown: The second America. Polarization, American-style, courtesy of the policies of our uniter, not a divider, in chief.