bitter sanity

Wake up and smell the grjklbrxwg, earth beings.

Monday, April 28, 2003

[posted by jaed at 8:16 AM]
The most terrible things:
It's easy to talk about torture or, more glibly, "human rights violations", in the abstract, to debate it, to put it into a calculus of pragmatic political action, risk, "blowback", tradeoffs in regional stability. It's much harder to be cold and practical about it when you hear the testimony of a victim.

In 1985, Iraqi lawyer Lahib Nouman offered to defend a man Udai Hussein had falsely accused of a crime. For crossing him in this fashion, over the next eighteen years, he did this to her:
In prison, she endured rape, beatings and unspeakable torture. In the hospital, she was subjected to countless sessions of shock therapy and powerful sedatives. Along the way, her mind became unhinged, her memories scrambled and her face frozen in a mask of permanent terror. "They have turned me into a witch," she says, ruefully pulling at her stringy hair, which she has dyed the color of tea. "They have made me horrible."
"I said what every Iraqi was thinking," she says. "I just had nothing to lose. What could they do to me that they were not already doing?"

In Baghdad's working-class districts, Nouman gained a certain amount of fame as the crazy woman lawyer who dared to stand up to Uday. Even some of the staff at the mental hospital came to admire her tenacity. "She never stopped speaking against Uday, not even when she was getting shock treatment," says Jabar Rubbaiyeh Lefteh, an ambulance driver at the mental hospital. "She was braver than any man I know."
Lahib Nouman is brave, indomitable. A hero, in fact. Her name ought to be celebrated for that, for her example of defiance to a tyrant. But the price she has paid for her courage.... It makes me sick to think of it.

I'm a pragmatist in these matters. I've written before that I supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein for reasons of American security, not because of Iraqis; I was moved by their stories but I've never considered cruel tyranny, in itself, enough reason for war from another country. My reasons for believing that are still good. But a story like this shakes them. I read this and I ask myself where we were all this time, while this was going on. Where I was.

Go read the whole thing. Bear witness to the martyrdom of a hero of our time.

It's the very least we can do, isn't it?

(via Tim Blair)

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

[posted by jaed at 9:23 PM]
Calling a Code:
Sina Motallebi of Iran, who blogs (in Persian) at Webgard, has been arrested by Iranian authorities for his blogging and other writing. His blog is also offline at the moment.

Please go sign this petition in his support.

(via BuzzMachine, which has more)

Monday, April 21, 2003

[posted by jaed at 9:17 PM]
More stories:
Newsweek has an article telling a few Iraqis' stories:
Ulga and the reporter silently walked through the darkened cells at Haakimiya, which was surprisingly clean, except for the graffiti on the walls. GOD I ASK YOUR MERCY, scratched one prisoner who�d marked 42 days on the walls. SAVE ME, MARY, implored another, presumably a Christian. IN MEMORY OF LUAY AND ABBAS WHO WERE TORTURED, read another.
About halfway through this story, I realized my hand was hurting, because it was gripping the edge of my desk so hard I'd scored lines in the palm.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

[posted by jaed at 8:28 PM]
The world sees the UN as system damage and routes around it:
If the UN is determined to keep Iraq under punitive economic sanctions, we're obviously going to have to do something about that.

Reader Scott Draeker proposes that we might simply buy Iraqi oil ourselves, outside the control of the oil-for-food apparatus. It's a thought. If I'm reading the stats right, we can buy all they want to sell us without increasing our oil imports. But there are some problems with the idea.

First of all, of course, the sanctions don't just forbid Iraq to sell oil except through the UN. They forbid it to buy anything except through the UN too. Countries that want to stay on the UN's good side might refuse to sell anything to any Iraqi individual or business.

If a country is going to be limited to just one trading partner, having the US as that trading partner is probably the best choice... but it's not healthy for any economy to be so sharply limited. And it's poisonous for Iraq as a nation to start out being in such a position with other countries.

Second, what happens to the rest of the world market for oil if we buy exclusively from Iraq? Not that I'd mourn if Saudi oil sales went down, for example - there are those who suggest that one result of this war is that Iraq's newly restored oil sales can be used to put pressure on Saudi Arabia, possibly curtailing its support for terrorism without requiring military action. But being required to buy all Iraq's oil production robs us of some flexibility here.

Also, the "No blood for oil" conspirators will have a positive field day with such an arrangement, but then they will anyway, so that's kind of a wash.

[posted by jaed at 8:20 PM]

Economic sanctions as a tool for economic blackmail:
A while ago, I suggested the fear that the UN, as part of its anti-US political game-playing, might actually try to continue the sanctions and embargo against Iraq. I thought at the time that I was terribly cynical for even entertaining the possibility that the UN might want to punish Iraqis for the supposed sin of America in getting their dictator off their back - but there were signs and remarks that made me worry it was so.

I don't especially like having been right about this. It's ugly, and it's shockingly cruel, and it's being done for the most venal of reasons:
  • The Russians are screaming that they expect Lukoil contracts with Saddam to be honored by Iraq, and they'll go to court to enforce them.

  • The French, naturally enough, want the extremely favorable TotalFinaElf deal continued. Six months ago, the French were eager to end sanctions so that they could take advantage of the oil contracts to their fullest. But if that's not going to happen - and I doubt it will - then France can at least take its slice of cash off the top of the oil-for-food program and profit that way.

  • Saddam's debtor nations, who sold weapons to him on credit with which he could keep his people down, now demand that the Iraqi people be left holding the bag for such debts.

  • The UN administrative apparatus, which has skimmed $1.2 billion dollars from the oil-for-food program thus far, and employed over 4000 people as of February in the program.

  • Everyone wants America slapped down, required to "remorsefully return to the [Security] Council", to quote Germany's UN ambassador.
And for such ends, they're willing to tell Iraq that they want their material misery to continue indefinitely.

One wonders when this is supposed to end. In a few years, when Iraq achieves full independence and the Americans leave, will the UNSC still have the desire to punish Iraq? Will it demand acceptance of Saddam's debts as binding, the TFE and Lukoil contracts, and so on as the price for recognizing Iraq as a fellow member nation? Or will sanctions-because-of-WMD turn into sanctions-because-of-debts?

[posted by jaed at 7:52 PM]

One problem with the mainstream media is that a story disappears if there's no new information coming out. It's very rare for the media to keep a scandal going if there are no new tidbits to hang new stories on.

This is, or was, Adnan Abdul Karim Enad:

On January 25th, he approached UN weapons inspectors, carrying a notebook. He was subsequently dragged away by Iraqi soldiers, assisted by UN security, still clutching the notebook for dear life. His last words as he was dragged away are reported to have been "Save me! Save me!"

The UNMOVIC inspection team was empowered, by the same resolution that sent them to Iraq, to interview anyone who might have information about weapons programs, any time, anywhere, without interference, and to offer transportation out of the country to such people and their families. The inspectors did not choose to interview the man, to look at his notebook, to ascertain who he was, or to exchange a word with him. They simply ordered him removed, and sat frozen until that was done.

The man disappeared into the hands of Saddam's soldiers, and so did the notebook he was carrying. If they killed him, we'll probably never find answers. If a reporter finds the man, or if there are records concerning what happened to him, or if a regime member involved with his arrest and subsequent disposition comes forward, we may hear more about him. Otherwise, there will, most likely, be nothing but silence.

We ought not to forget, however.

(Hans Blix remarked, when asked about the incident, that the man could have found "more elegant ways" to approach the inspectors. You might want to keep that ugly little joke in mind - along with this man's face, and the face of the inspector in blue beside him trying desperately to pretend he doesn't exist - when you hear Blix saying that he must head new inspections because only the United Nations carries the necessary moral authority.)

Friday, April 18, 2003

[posted by jaed at 7:45 PM]
A star is born:
Check out Puce Blog. Puce, first spotted at in the comments sections at BuzzMachine, is either a budding comic genius or a completely crazed America-hater...or maybe both...and determining which one may be the next fad to hit the blogosphere (TM Bill Quick). A recent offering:
Wear aminal costume of carton for make bone to panis damp ladypart, type trueword in disent and museum USA blame. WHAT AS YOU LISTEN?!? CLICK CLICK
I mean, this is great stuff.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

[posted by jaed at 12:02 PM]
A meme is born:
The next conspiracy theory will be that the US looted the museum. It's already starting.

Consider this quote from the Times:
The British view is that the sight of local youths dismantling the offices and barracks of a regime they used to fear shows they have confidence that Saddam Hussain's henchmen will not be returning to these towns in southern Iraq.

One senior British officer said: "We believe this sends a powerful message that the old guard is truly finished."
I can see already how this is going to be spun:
  1. British officer, nowhere near Baghdad, notes that when people see government offices being looted, they feel like Saddam really is gone. (Simple common sense, it seems to me.)

  2. This will turn into "British encouraged looting in Basra." This despite the fact that the quote says no such thing - it's an observation about the response of people to looting already going on.

  3. Almost instantaneously, this will become "Americans encouraged looting in Baghdad." This despite the fact that Baghdad and Basra are hundreds of miles apart and the quoted officer isn't American. Only stage 3 and we're already completely out of sight of the starting point, but we're just getting started.

  4. This change will be followed by "It was Bush's cynical and evil policy to encourage looting."

  5. At some point, this will shift further, to "The US decided beforehand that the museum in Baghdad should be looted." This will be mentioned casually, as undisputed fact, on innumerable blog comment sections.

  6. Finally, people will start talking about "The US looting of cultural treasures in the Baghdad Museum." At first, this will only be a loose way of referring to the previous - already tinfoil-tinged - accusation, but inevitably, some people will inadvertantly or deliberately use it literally.

  7. And finally will come the accusation that the US's deliberately looting the museum is a war crime. (This will be only one of several dubious entries in an itemized list, but it will again be stated as fact.)
The UN is already at stage 2. I figure that most of the mainstream media will reach stage 3, with some weasel words. ("Disturbing charges have surfaced that....") The NYT editorial page - possibly Krugman, judging by what he's been writing lately - will go to stage 4. The more conspiracy-minded bloggers will hit stage 5, though there will be some who suggest that this hasn't, after all, been proven - just probable. The European press, the Arab press, and the Guardian, will go to stage 6. (The Mirror will do the same, but phrase it more vociferously than I have above.) Stage 7 will, one hopes, be reserved for Ramsey Clark and Robert "My name is a verb" Fisk.

You read it here first.

And why am I so confident, you ask? John Quiggin, a blogger not known for his tinfoil hat collection, has already gone to Stage 4, and I'm already seeing his accusation linked widely in comment sections:
When we come to allocate the responsibility for the destruction of archeological treasures and so on, it will be important to recall that this was the product of deliberate policy, not mere neglect.
This is only the beginning.

Update: Reader Rich Schultz writes to point out this Pacifica radio story (scroll down to "Did US Antiquities Dealers..."):
Amy Goodman from "Democracy Now" has already reached stage five [...] insinuating that a group of American antiquarians and graverobbers have been influencing the Bush administration to make it easier for them to buy stolen goods.
Erik of Bite the Wax Tadpole spots a summary of Stage 7 thinking at The Aardvark Speaks:
The suspicion that US forces initiated the looting has in the meantime popped up in several places. The Independent has an article on artefacts stolen 'on order'. The Glasgow Herald reports on how the pressure group of antiquities collectors and arts lawyers lobbied the Bush administration, and Bryan Pfaffenberger (of the University of Virginia) has more about this rather influential group. Even CNN reports that the museum lootings were probably carried out by by art and cultural professionals of non-Iraqi origin.
(See the article for several links.)

John Quiggin also writes to suggest:
If you'll read the full text of the report I linked, you'll find that it supports all of the steps from 1 to 4.
However, I disagree. A careful reading of the article does not show that the British encouraged looting, only that unnamed "UN officials" (who presumably are not on site, and have no personal knowledge of it) have made the accusation. This is why I assigned the UN to Stage 2; it's not evidence that the British encouraged looting, unless you take the word of an unnamed UN official on background, as filtered through a reporter, as gospel. As for Stages 3 and 4, the article does not support them: it doesn't mention Baghdad (as John notes, this was published before US troops were in Baghdad) nor make any claims about policy.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

[posted by jaed at 12:44 PM]
In the WSJ, Michael Gonzales takes a look at how Europe reached a fever pitch of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism - and he doesn't blame the Arab population, the media elite, or homesick-for-Che socialists. No, he blames the political leadership:
"How did we get here?" asked a former French minister in a newspaper column recently. "Here" is a situation in which French Jews are being beaten up in the streets of Paris and in which President Jacques Chirac has to write to Queen Elizabeth to apologize for the desecration of British tombs in France, and in which one-third of the French have been pulling for Saddam Hussein to win.

An even better question is who brought us here. The former environment minister, Corinne Lepage, lays the blame on the government and an obeisant media for "having wanted to stigmatize American policy in excessive fashion." But it's time to name names.

Mr. Chirac brought us here, as did his foreign minister Dominique de Villepin. In Belgium the foreign, defense and prime ministers--Louis Michel, Andr� Flahaut and Guy Verhofstadt--have brought their country to shame too.
The political leaders of France, Germany, and Belgium have stirred up hate. And now they find they have to deal with the results.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

[posted by jaed at 2:08 PM]
Not in your name:

There's a spate of anti-war protests scheduled today. And so at this point, I have a number of things to say to some of my fellow Americans, to those who have so often insisted that this war would not be fought in their names - No, no, not in my name!

His hair is cropped short. Half his teeth have been knocked out, his face is battered and the eyes sunken and haunted-looking. His chest is covered with 50 separate cuts from a knife, his back has even more marks, which he says are cigarette burns. Two of his fingers were broken and deliberately bent into a permanent, contorted position and there's a hole in the middle of his palm where his torturers stabbed him and twisted the blade.

Today, though, Adnan was a happy man, so happy that he could barely restrain his excitement. He was finally freed from a prison in downtown Basra, after British troops entered the city and drove the remaining defenders away.

This man was not freed in your name.

English-speaking Iraqis came up to reporters to express their own delight. Among them was Saad Ahmed, a 54-year-old retired English teacher. "We have been waiting for you for a long time," he said. "We are now happier than you.

"You are victorious as far as the war is concerned, but we are victorious in life. We have been living, not as human beings, for more than 30 years."

His son Emad, a 23-year-old student, added: "It's a great day for us and for all Iraqi people. Every family in Iraq have one, two, three deaths because of Saddam, either from wars or in his prisons. I am very happy." One of those joining in the celebrations, Qusay Rawah, said the downfall of Saddam's regime in Basra was a day "we had prayed for".

Their prayers were not answered in your name.

More than 100 children held in a prison celebrated their freedom as US marines rolled into northeast Baghdad amid chaotic scenes which saw civilians loot weapons from an army compound, a US officer said.

These children were not rescued in your name.

"I am very happy today, like I have been reborn," Karim Kadem, a 27-year-old man who returned on Thursday to see the place where he was imprisoned for two years. "I thought I would die here."

Kadem said he was accused of opposing Saddam and the party. Five other friends arrested with him were either killed or blinded. He has permanent injuries to his arms; he can no longer lift them fully. Kadem said he returned to the prison to exorcise his fears.

"I wanted to see the place. I wanted to relieve my heart of the bad memories," he said.

His heart has not been relieved of fear in your name.

When news got out that Al-Emeri was back, crowds of men flooded into the streets and pressed around him, cheering and clapping and pushing up against Marines in defensive positions. One man rushed up to an American with a wreath of plastic flowers to hug him, rifle and all, despite the Marine's best efforts to maintain his distance.

His family were among those who rushed out to greet him - including his 15-year-old son, Ali, whom he hadn't seen since he left Iraq. When they first saw each other, they embraced tightly and wept.

Ali Al-Emeri said he was afraid to ever let his father go away again, but Al-Emeri assured him: "Stay home. You are safe. I am here, the U.S. forces are here."

This father did not at last come home to his son in your name.

Enjoy your protest today. Try to forget that you used your own freedom to try to keep freedom from others.

And may posterity forget you were our countrymen.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

[posted by jaed at 8:58 PM]
The dangers of inaction:
Or, we don't want to have to do this again in twenty years

Stanley Kurtz comments (in the midst of an article on Josh Marshall's turnaround on Iraq):

I am not anxious to overturn any more governments in the Middle East than we absolutely have to. It may be that the invasion of Iraq will set off a chain reaction that forces us to sponsor more regime change in the Middle East, but I would far prefer for things to evolve slowly.
All other things being equal, I would be sympathetic to this point of view. Not completely won over - among other things, there are the lives that will be spent under tyrannical governments during this slow evolution (would a slow evolution toward the abolition of slavery have been acceptable?) - but it's true that fast change is unpredictable, and when we're talking about these kinds of social forces, speed and unpredictability are dangerous. They might bring about something worse than the Arabs (and we) have to deal with now.

However: all other things aren't equal.

What I fear is that if we leave our action incomplete - if the Arab world remains dominated by tyrannies, by failed polities, and by what I can only describe as a habit of passionately spiteful self-deception on the part of its people - our action will solve nothing. We have taken half measures before - notably in 1991 with Iraq. They haven't protected us, nor have they ultimately spared Arabs the pain of transformation.

If we back off now from the task we've started and stop in Iraq, out of fear for the possibilities implicit in rapid change, and if the Arabs do not magically transform themselves into a peaceful and successful people, we will need to pick up the task again - not this year, maybe not this decade, but soon. The root causes of the 9/11 attacks - the sense of Arab failure leading to Arab shame, the poverty of dignity of the Arab middle class - have not been addressed yet. As long as those root causes remain unhealed, the attacks on the West will continue.

And there's worse. There is a pattern in jihadist attacks on America: they have become more audacious, more direct, and more destructive over time. Individual kidnappings morph into minor attacks on overseas military personnel, into larger attacks on American civilians overseas, into unsuccessful attacks on American soil, into the attack of 9/11/2001.

If we project this sequence into the future, what are we looking at? Perhaps in 2006, a dirty bomb explodes in Chicago. Perhaps in 2010, a more effective biological attack than the 2001 anthrax incidents. Perhaps in 2015, a nuclear explosion off Manhattan.

This is not a progression that can continue indefinitely. Sooner or later, it will go beyond our ability to tolerate. Sooner or later, if the sequence isn't stopped, there will be an attack so terrible that someone will push the panic button on these people and solve the problem that way.

It would not be wise of us to wait until then.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

[posted by jaed at 10:39 AM]
Soldiers of the Great War
Ideofact proposes that dividing the large conflicts of the past century into WWI, WWII, the Cold War, and whatever we end up calling this one may be a conceptual mistake. Each of these wars grew out of unresolved stresses from the previous one, and they all have roots in 1914:
But perhaps we are not in a new era, but in the midst of an old one, heirs of the fallout of the assassination of the heir to the throne of an empire which no longer exists in a provincial capital in a region of no particular strategic significance. We have cast off the scarlet trousers and climbed out of the trenches, but are still fighting because of issues unresolved in the Great War.
It's only a sketch at present, though he promises more later. But even as a sketch, it's one of those iceberg-ideas: the tenth above water is common knowledge, but the idea gives us a hint of the submerged nine-tenths we haven't yet seen.

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