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May 8, 2004

If we only had a press. Email from a friend with contacts among American troops in Iraq prompts me to wish some journalist would investigate reports that the military has ordered KBR, which provides net connectivity for US camps and bases in Iraq, to cut off all soldiers’ “inessential” access to email and the net for the next 90 days.

I understand that KBR also handles paper mail services to and from serving soldiers in Iraq, and that pickup and delivery are often little better than once a month.

I’d also like someone to investigate what our soldiers actually know about Abu Ghraib, both the events themselves and their political impact in the rest of the world.

If it’s true that the average soldier’s email is being curtailed, and if (as I suspect) many of them have only a patchy knowledge of the scandal and its impact, it would seem that many of our soldiers are about to lose a major lifeline to home without being told why.

(If somebody’s already on this story, of course, please don’t hesitate to post links in the comments.) [12:15 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on If we only had a press.:

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 12:39 PM:

Am I to presume that KBR stands for Kellog, Brown, & Root, a division of Halliburton?

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 12:41 PM:

"Kellog" should read "Kellogg."

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 12:42 PM:

This article in The New York Times may be relevant as to why email is being cut off.

If I may comment a bit else -- twenty years ago paper mail once a month while deployed overseas wasn't uncommon, and soldiers' mail has always been subject to censorship. (The real censorship -- a government official (usually a junior officer) reading it all and deleting sensitive information.)

Placing censorship in the hands of civilian contractors, of course, is wrong.

Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 12:46 PM:

Kathryn, yes, you are correct. They are tasked to handle (for the soldiers): food, mail, net connectivity, housing, showers & all water supplies, and many other things.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 12:48 PM:

KBR is indeed a no-competitive-bid pals-of-the-Veep division of Halliburton.

Dulce et decorum est pro Halliburton mori.

shinypenny ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 12:58 PM:

It's true - read this report by a soldier in Iraq:


Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 01:06 PM:

Land of the who, home of the what?

julia ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 01:11 PM:

We're outsourcing government censorship?

Just sorta makes you proud to be an american, doesn't it?

I wonder how the current party in power feels about whatever country they think they belong to.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 01:19 PM:

I wrote it up as a straight-foward brief news story, hoping that it will propagate in my form.

I suggest other bloggers do likewise.

Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 02:16 PM:

Kathryn, thank you -- I'm glad to see this getting some spread. I'd blogged it this morning after I broke the news to Patrick and he kindly blogged it (it's not as if my LJ gets read widely). I hope mainstream will pick it up if we all keep it moving.

Grant D. ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 02:16 PM:

I was just thinking this morning that the "swift corrective actions" for which the military keeps praising itself will probably include the banning of digital cameras and Internet access.

Rumsfeld and Myers made it clear in yesterday's hearings that to them one og the most troubling aspects of abu Gharib was the "unlawful" disclosure of the photos and Taguba's report.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 03:03 PM:

I was just thinking this morning that the "swift corrective actions" for which the military keeps praising itself will probably include the banning of digital cameras and Internet access

I would love to see the 3rd Army's General Orders right now.

Of course, not that morale is important to the Bastards-In-Chief or anything, but yanking email away from soliders who are already living in a highly tense enviroment, and are already having supply problems, is likely to produce a morale problem that would make the nadir of Vietnam look like the 101st Airborne.

Silicon.shaman ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 03:24 PM:

How long do you think it's going to be, before GWB&Co order net censorship in mainland America ?

I'm sure they could probably think of something to justify it.

Heck, CNN is already quietly editing their archives to reflect the "offical" version of events. Not to mention that news like this doesn't appear anywhere in the the mainstream media.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 03:38 PM:

This isn't the kind of embedded reporting they had in mind.

John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 03:38 PM:

shaman, of -course- they're correcting the archives. And I didn't see you at the Two-Minute Hate yesterday, either.

Though to credit it properly, Koestler had the idea before Orwell.

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 04:30 PM:

I tried to do some digging a week or two back, to see wha was providing the services for the British Armed Forces in Iraq. For the past century or so, it has been the NAAFI, backing up the variously-named internal logistical parts of the Army/Navy/Air Force. All I was able to find was that the NAAFI personnel on warships, and on campaign, are uniformed military, though serving under special terms, And often they're ex-military.

Not at all like the reported behaviour of KBR management.

Reading ginmar's descriptions, it is tempting to quote Kipling. The people doing the work (probably on very low pay) sound as if they come from Pakistan -- think "Gunga Din". There are certainly strong echoes of soldiering in India. And the KBR managers don't fit the pattern.

It may be sampling bias, but there don't seem to be the same stories coming out of the British Forces. It may be stronger controls on communication. It may be that the British Forces know what they're doing; the Staff College library is probably full of stuff about running an Empire.

It's getting difficult for me to write on the topic. My father keeps recalling the German PoWs he supervised on the farm, 60 years ago, and how badly the ones captured by the US Army had been treated. My mother remembers the USAAF in the next village, and some of the stories which she wasn't suppoed to hear, as a teenage girl.

Of course my sources are biased. I'm not sure I want to watch that DVD of "South Pacific" either. This whole business is poisoning my thinking.

Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 06:11 PM:

I'm proud to be an American,
where at least I think I'm free.

lambert strether ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 06:36 PM:

For the systemic issues ("I'd like to see"), read this manifesto by Orcinus and this response.

Bottom line: Enough is enough!

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 07:07 PM:

I don't know what to make of this.

KBR has one system, but most Bns (and all Brigades) have direct access to the Net (and I mean the open net, not just the classified, stand alone one).

Ginmar says KBR isn't letting anyone else on their net for 90 days, which seems suspect (the specific legnth of time in the pronouncement).

I am fairly certain that, as of a Monday last, she hadn't heard much by way of details, because she was asking what the big deal was... after all the troops had been found out, and charged.

Then again, what she saw wasn't more detailed than what DoD gave to the world back in Jan., so I'm not surprised she's annoyed by it being seen as a big deal.

But, lest it come to pass, I'll be bruiting it about.

Grant D. ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 07:11 PM:

Here's Rummy's assessment of the situation:

We're functioning in a -- with peacetime restraints, with legal requirements in a war-time situation, in the information age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had not even arrived in the Pentagon.

And here's an interesting take on digital technology's impact on the war:

The two biggest recent stories to emerge from the Iraq - the administration's don't-show-don't-know policy toward the photographing of military caskets and the puerile abuses by Army reservists inside Abu Ghraib prison - were based on digital photographs not made by journalists but by participants in both stories.

His conclusions are a bit overly techno-triumphalist, but he's right the most damning stories are not orgininating from the press, but from "people running around with digital cameras." I think the Pentagon was caught off-guard, focusing it's attention on corralling reporters, and is now playing catch-up.

Grant D. ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 10:47 PM:

The BBC gets in on the act (but no word on an e-mail ban).

Despite Mr Rumsfeld's concerns, the American military does not have any centrally determined policy on the use of digital cameras by soldiers. That is left to commanding officers in the field.

A spokesman for US Central Command in Iraq, Lt Cdr Nick Balice, told BBC News Online: "Certainly the use of digital cameras and the internet provides methods of communicating that did not exist prior.

"As far as I know, there is not a policy that covers theatre-wide with regards to digital cameras. It depends on what area they are in - there may be restrictions, such as along flight lines or within secure areas."

That'll change mighty quickly, I'll bet.

Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 12:33 AM:


You are probably onto this link yourself, but she says KBR is not going to allow personal machines to connect for 90 days and she may not be able to blog.


Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 01:21 AM:

Well, here's a LJ post from a Marine who's currently stationed at Abu Ghraib -- he's someone from fandom too, a member of the Bujold mailing list, which is why he's one of my LJ "friends".

Anyway, he just posted a few hours ago, or an hour from now (thanks to time zones), so this cutoff hadn't taken effect yet.

Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 01:38 AM:

As far as I know, KBR isn't in charge of the facilities of Abu Ghraib, which is possibly why that Marine was able to post to his blog. KBR isn't doling out his Internet privileges, as they are to the Army camp (no, I can't tell you where, even though I do know, because I'm not supposed to know) where the soldier is stationed who was told the soldiers there would have no "unessential" Net usage for the next 90 days. KBR is in charge of the camp facilities for the Army, but not for the "detainee" areas (and possibly other places) -- or, at least, that's my understanding.

Terry? Am I right?

bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 02:58 AM:

'A spokesman for US Central Command in Iraq, Lt Cdr Nick Balice, told BBC News Online: "Certainly the use of digital cameras and the internet provides methods of communicating that did not exist prior.'

well the internet yeah, but digital cameras? if there weren't digital cameras, and somebody had film cameras they wouldn't have taken pictures because what, film won't capture vampires. if it were film cameras what would probably have happened is not as many pictures, brought to light when somebody returning stateside finally went to get the pictures of their hijinks developed.

Grant D. ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 01:28 PM:

I think what they're driving at is not "digital cameras" per se, but the new communications paradigm. Most of the soldiers grew up swapping electronic files, and anything as salacious as the prison photos has the potential of instantaneously spreading around the globe like wildfire.

According to the BBC story, the Pentagon was caught without a comprehensive policy. That would explain (but not justify) the 90-day Internet ban, a stopgap measure to help prevent images from leaving the theater until regulations can be drafted and promulgated.

Given the seriousness of the controversy and the paranoia of this administration, those regulations are likely to be draconian.

Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 01:41 PM:

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 01:21 AM wrote:

"Well, here's a LJ post from a Marine who's currently stationed at Abu Ghraib -- he's someone from fandom too, a member of the Bujold mailing list, which is why he's one of my LJ "friends".

"Anyway, he just posted a few hours ago, or an hour from now (thanks to time zones), so this cutoff hadn't taken effect yet."

Er. The fellow is a very staunch Bush supporter and supporter of many of Bush's policies and attitudes. I gave up trying to argue directly with him on the sff.net military newsgroup because even when I attempted to reply POLITELY to him directly disputing his points, he'd often launch gratuitous personal attack attacks at me, he does not seem to comprehend that my thought processes and analysis processes being different from his do not constitute me being depraved, or stupid, or insane, or inane, etc. He usually completely misreads what I write, and sometimes not even metaphorically misinterpre-misreads it.

I believe the fellow is dedicated, loyal, and well-meaning and hardworking, but nonetheless I view a lot of what he believes in is -wrong- and that his defense of a pack of slime and that he's got a very narrow mind... and that it's counterproductive for me to attempt to engage him directly, because I don't appreiciate emotional abuse for not being on the same wavelengths as he's on.


Regarding digital cameras -- Napoleon had artists with him in his expeditions, whose job was to create documentation --to draw a permanent graphical record. Digital cameras are merely more convenient and faster to use and less effort for the person creating the archive, to generate individual graphics documents with.

But any time someone has seen something, and can -communicate- what they've seen, the "information" can be turned into graphical images. It happens all the time with crimes, when illustrators working for police departments draw pictures of people wanted for rape, murder, armed robbery, based on descriptions and feedback from witnesses. Recreations of crimes and traffic accidents, illustration gets used--states and insurance companies have forms that have pictures on them, for the people involved in car accidents to pick a picture and add details, to show where the cars collided and in what position on what shape of road/intersection.

Banning digital cameras makes it less convenient, but doesn't prevent -images-....

Innismir ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 02:20 PM:

As stated in the LJ link they are cutting off private computers from connecting to the network.

Sadly, this has nothing to do with the conspiracy theories being bandied about and everything to do with the Sasser worm.

Nothing to see here, move along.

SMASH ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 02:56 PM:

Well, I've done some investigating, and it turns out that there is no "e-mail ban" in Iraq.

Dave Klecha ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 05:27 PM:

I'm a Marine stationed at Abu Ghraib.

I get mail every other day, and I usually get it within three weeks of its departure from a Stateside Post Office.

Our internet access is actually handled by a subsubcontractor called Segovia and things are still flowing back and forth. KBR *may* have its own internet connection that soldiers and Marines are piggy-backing for connectivity outside of the established "internet cafes," but that doesn't affect the vast majority of us on-line.

Being at Abu Ghraib, I know plenty about what happened here, though it happened at least three months before I arrived in March. More importantly, I know that it isn't happening any more, and I know that all the relevant steps to keep it from happening were put into effect long before the public flap occurred. I understand the political impact, though I confess I feel the heralds of doom are over-stating the case a bit. My LiveJournal speaks to this issue, here and there.

Lance Boyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 06:47 PM:

Dave Klecha is talking about a prison complex that holds over 10,000 prisoners. And yet he's confident he can assert that "what happened" there "isn't happening any more".
Dave Klecha must be in a very important position in Abu Gharib to make that assertion so confidently. To know that all 10,000 of those prisoners are now being treated according to the Geneva Accords. Because you'd have to have unlimited access and authority, to know that, wouldn't you?
The problem then of course is that everyone in a position of authority connected with the invasion and ooccupation of Iraq has been thoroughly discredited. Everyone.
Thoroughly discredited.
As far as the pictures themselves go:
There's an almost boasting quality to the images flying around the world. A "take that" aspect.
Choosing a woman/girl to carry the perpetrator's role, the perfect touch.
To Muslim men these images of sexual degradation performed by a woman are unspeakably vile.
And they're being shown around the world.
The only difference between those images being shown publicly as evidence and condemnation, and their being shown in boasting, crowing triumph, is the perceived intent behind the display.
But then the perceived intent of the US presence in Iraq has been bogus from the get, hasn't it?
WMD's, liberation...
And the media has walked obediently alongside those bogus actors from the get, as well. Haven't they?
Does anyone really think they've turned suddenly into human beings?
Isn't it maybe time to start asking about deeper, more complex motives? Even when they seem unspeakably deranged?
And John Kerry.
He's repeatedly condemned these inhuman crimes hasn't he?
Because he's not in the pocket is he?
He's fighting mad, and preaching truth, right?
Loudly, forcefully, like the true leader he is.
Isn't he?
If these questions are too unsettling you can always go back to believing that it's only in Abu Gharib, and that it's all Bush's fault.
That will give you at least the rest of the year to live out your fantasies, before it becomes impossible to hide from the truth anymore.

Dave Klecha ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 06:59 PM:

Well, let's see. First, I'm pretty sure it's not 10,000, but we'll go with that number, that's fine.

Next, a significant portion of that number, let's say around 1/10th, actually belong to the ordinary class of criminals that this facility also houses. They're overseen by Iraqi nationals working as corrections officers, etc. Geneva doesn't apply to them, and soldiers don't work with them on a regular basis.

Now, let's say about 75% of the remainder are visible, directly visible, from my room and, alternately, the rooftop sensor suite that I maintain. At any given moment, I can look out over a solid 60-70% of the prison population and see what's up with them. On top of that, friends of mine work escort maintenance details within the entire prison population, minus those under Iraqi supervision. They see pretty much everything that goes on within those holding areas. And they're just as disgusted as I am over what happened, so I don't think they're likely to keep mum.

You don't have to be important to have your eyes open.

And I'm pretty sure 10,000 is capacity, not population.

Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 08:10 PM:

I'm inclined to believe that Dave really does know of what he speaks.

And as for Lt. Smash's "investigation," I'm afraid he's missing some very central pieces of the puzzle and doesn't know why the KBR connection for ginmar's unit (he doesn't know what the unit is) was cut for now. It isn't what he inferred at all. I can't speak to it further, and I'm sorry for that.

I do like Lt. Smash's blog, otherwise, and I do recommend it as reading for other information.

Dave's LiveJournal, likewise, is great reading.

Lance Boyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 08:11 PM:

Dave Klecha-
Well let's see.
Somebody needs to cop to the facts on the ground. Is scepticism out of line?
It's good you're disgusted, though I'd be real wary about what it is that's caused that disgust. There's a strong desire, in everyone, to make this containable, an aberration, fixable.
How deep does it go, how far up the chain of command? Is it that irresponsible to withold trust? Now? After being cluster-bombed with b.s. for months?
How many lies got told on the way to where we are now?
That won't be as easy to calculate as the number of prisoners you can see.
10,000 was the lowest estimate I found.
There's no way for me to know, from California, how many prisoners are in Abu Ghraib now, or even if it exists at all. The very limited credibility of the news sources I still bother with leads me to believe Abu Ghraib does exist, that the atrocities Seymour Hersh reports did happen, and in numbers far greater than the photographs we all see.
My own experience with American military justice, with American justice generally, and with the consistent eye-witness accounts of credentialed impartial journalists and living victims of atrocities that were sanctioned by, and ordered by, and done with the compicity of, American military, and American politicians, from El Mozote to East Timor, from Chile to Puerto Rico, says that worse was done, and is still being done.
I'd like to think it's not happening on your watch, because of the presence of you and people like you.
But that trust is long gone.
And all the confident tones in the world won't bring it back.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 08:54 PM:

For what it's worth, Dave Klecha's personal honesty is vouched for by actual friends of mine.

That said, I also completely understand the "trust is long gone" reaction.

One of the long-term consequences of constant lying from the top down is that eventually everybody goes crazy.

Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 10:13 PM:

No -teacher- ever saw me being assaulted by other students, the attacks all took place when teachers weren't in the room/in the hallway/etc. That didn't mean there wasn't abuse, it meant that the teachers didn't see it, and didn't really I suspect particularly -care- if it occurred or not, what they didn't see....


There are reports that the pictures showing abuse, were taken between 2 and 4 AM local, when others weren't around to see it, and when those involved in committing the abuse were sure that they wouldn't be caught.

I would expect that it's not going on -now-, if nothing else, because of all the attention that's been directed at it since the public notification hit. There's the deterrent factor that the public and the Upper Management is -watching- at present.

Lance Boyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2004, 12:05 AM:

Let me say, if it wasn't clear before, that I'm with anyone who's in position and finding out that what they thought was a moral and necessary fight was not that at all. Anyone who's doing a hard job in a thankless hour. I know how that feels.
It's exactly how a lot of us feel.
Are we fighting for America?
Or against it?
I got trimmed back a little when someone with experience said that all the carnage and body counts were nothing compared to forced sodomy and degradation.
That many Muslim men would prefer death rather than that degree of humiliation, even the deaths of their children.
Because to me, the hundreds of civilian casualties in Fallujah were it. It shouldn't have taken that long but it did.
Enough watching from the sidelines.
Hundreds of women and children. Hundreds of women and children, in broad daylight. To me it's worse; but it's all unspeakably bad.
The difference is Lynddie England at Abu Ghraib is porn, and actionable, but Fallujah is success, and commendable.

bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2004, 06:19 AM:

No, according to the freepers, we were defeated at Fallujah and the Marines betrayed by the White House because they weren't sent in to do urban warfare house to house as they undoubtedly were rarin' to do, to go "finish the job" and avenge their fallen comrades.

In fact, (courtesy of comments at rogersimon.com) the release of the pictures was a deliberate ploy to distract us from the *real* scandal which is that we gave Falluja back to one of Saddam's old buddies. (Or two, depending on how you look at it, since when Washington said, Oh no, we can't have *Saleh*, they found the new guy - who apparently put Saleh on his staff at once. Right hand not knowing what the left hand, wink wink, etc.)

Failing that, we should have nuked the city.

This shows me that freepers have gleaned all their strategic/tactical knowledge from video games and movies, and that includes the freeper GIs on the SFTT boards, where it is however starting to hit the mental fans.

anonymous coward ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2004, 05:39 PM:

It's made it to MetaFilter. If I can get confirmation, I can get it into the "real" press.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2004, 05:42 PM:

Has everyone except us forgotten that the Abu Ghraib outrages occurred prior to the Fallujah incident? Has the idea that the latter were a response to the former been discredited?

I still say all American flags on all government buildings and military installations, including overseas embassies, should be furled until the investigation is complete.

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 03:39 AM:

A side-thought on the email ban...

If it's just for the military, how much is still going to leak out from KBR and the other civilian contractors?

Just one civilian in a base, with access to email, could pass on a lot of trivial stuff, which would mean a lot more to an informed intel type.

In the past, it's been assumed that terrorists have poor intel, and it's worth hiding even obvious stuff. Just knowing a bit about an army make a lot of difference to pictures in the news. We know what can happen when we connect isolated facts.

Can we still assume the other side are dumb? Should KBR and their like get a free pass around any security checks?