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January 27, 2006

Fighting Terrorism
Posted by Patrick at 11:09 PM *

From the Associated Press:

The U.S. Army in Iraq has at least twice seized and jailed the wives of suspected insurgents in hopes of “leveraging” their husbands into surrender, U.S. military documents show.

In one case, a secretive task force locked up the young mother of a nursing baby, a U.S. intelligence officer reported.

Comments on Fighting Terrorism:
#1 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:26 PM:

I think I'll go watch my DVD of The Best Years of Our Lives... Is THAT really the way we were, when we defeated a Great Evil instead of becoming it?

#2 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:37 PM:

[Thick, broken-hearted sarcasm]
Hey, these are islamofascists we're talking about!

Can we really let sentiment soften our resolve when the very next kidnapped woman might be the one who leads us to a ticking atomic time-bomb under Branson, MO?
[/Thick, broken-hearted sarcasm]

#3 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:41 PM:

Patrick, I'm sure you remember, but others might not. This news is the confirmation of earlier reports discussed here already.

I'm enraged over this, again.

#4 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:47 PM:

I remember perfectly.

We are obliged to keep bringing it up.

#5 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:57 PM:

As we damm well better, Patrick.

It was not my intention at all to criticise, just help with a link, as I had just looked up the earlier conversation for my own research. Here's a longer version of the story.

I'm hacked off enough tonight to forgo some sleep and put together in my own space a detailed discussion of just how far off the reservation this is. It's not making me calm down.

#6 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:59 PM:

And then the folks over here wonder why 'they' don't greet us with flowers and bands. I believe that tracking the chain-of-command on these types of operations might be interesting - how high up are these orders coming from?
(I'm getting a bit worn down by the politics going on. Sorry for any snark.)

#7 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 12:39 AM:

Serge, don't get too romantic about the Greatest Generation. Don't get me wrong, I honor what they did. My dad fought in the South Pacific. But they also managed to put quite a number of their fellow-citizens in detainment camps -- some of the same fear-mongering that the Bush folks use now was used to justify that travesty of justice. The temptation to extremes is always there. [Insert appropriate gloomy quote about history and poor memories HERE.] That being mentioned, whatever happened to "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself"?

I know, I'm going off topic. I don't want to deal with this topic, I want it to go away, I want to bring the troops home and give the Iraqis back their country and my country back its soul.

*Temper tantrum, lots of yelling and stomping around the room, cats hiding, dog delighted.*

#8 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 01:09 AM:

Bring back the pillory. Put Schmuck, Cheney, Rumsfield, Rove, Libby, MG Miller, etc., in it, and make sure that the surviving victims of torture and intimidation and false arrest at places like Abu Ghraib have the opporunity to go there with full bladder and urinate upon those whose orders facilitated those atrocities.

#9 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 02:21 AM:

My number 1 question right now: how come no one is calling this a war crime? Taking hostages is a strict no-no...

Oh, wait - those are those quaint conventions I'm thinking of, aren't they?

#10 ::: Gavin ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 03:36 AM:

It's great that a government that is soooooo religious keeps on forgetting the whole 'do unto others' thing.

And do the words 'Geneva Convention' sound to Bush like the name of a chocolate festival now? I sincerely hope that this kind of behaviour from troops is not the what my grandad fought in the war for.

(A concerned Briton)

#11 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 07:01 AM:

Doesn't anyone in the US have any sense of strategy at all?

It is, regrettably, good tactics when it comes to dealing with individual insurgents. And extremely poor strategy.

This isn't intentional evil, it's just plain stupidity (which is far more common).

#12 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 08:16 AM:

Sure we Allies fought against this sort of behaviot in WWII. Except, before WWII, we were all colonial powers, and were pretty much the cause of a large chunk of this mess to begin with. Afterwards, we (the US) got cozy with totalitarian thugs left and right in order to 'fight communism', and caused even *more* trouble.

I think of George Washington could see what we'd become, he's have second thoughts about not surrendering to the British, or ceding the entire fledgling nation over to the native tribes.

#13 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 08:52 AM:

This makes me so angry I feel sick to my stomach.

#14 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 09:50 AM:

I'd rather have 100 9/11s than be a country that does these things and justifies them, excuses them, or even ignores them. But I don't have a choice about that.

I'd rather die myself. That choice I do have; and it's tempting, but I think it's my duty to keep living and trying to change people's minds.

Besides, I don't suppose public seppuku would have the same impact here as in feudal Japan.

#15 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 09:50 AM:

I know, I know, Lizzie L... But the stories we built of ourselves didn't involve publicly asking whether or not it was OK to torture people. That's what supposed to be the domain of the bad guys.

I'm probably not saying this right.

#16 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 09:55 AM:

This was reported about three months into the invasion. It is one of the reasons I listed for saying that the US was committing war crimes -- because this activity is specifically against the Geneva Conventions. Levelling an orchard was another thing they did -- punishing a whole gillage for supposedly harboring "insurgents". Group punishments are also against the Geneva Conventions. Breaking law and dancing on the pieces are Bush administration hallmarks.

#17 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 10:21 AM:

My question: How did the people who ordered this think it would play? The people who make the decisions are supposed to be smart and educated, and they keep coming up with bad solutions to the problems created by the conquest of Iraq. How's that possible?

#18 ::: Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 12:52 PM:

Gavin: (on bad acts by the religious): "With God, all things are possible." Some religions (all, in my arrogant opinion) partially survive because they help their adherents move beyond the morality we initially evolved.

Lizzy L.: Don't forget that we disposed of a lot of Japanese holdouts with flame throwers, most not war criminals (if only for lack of opportunity), most conscripts and nearly all brainwashed. If I was otherwise done with an island, needed to move on to the next one, and didn't want some hostile soldiers at my back who could regroup and attack me, I would probably do the same...and probably not talk about it much, unless I went nuts. All war is really bad; not just because it kills the body but because it endangers the soul by placing normally decent people into situations where evil behaviour can make sense (as someone on Plastic just wrote). That's why we should only do it as a goddamn last resort.

(I'm an atheist, but I believe in the soul the way I believe in the body or Society or Good or Evil: a convenient and meaningful way to describe an aggregation whole bunch of things and processes at once that exists now and will persist for at least a little while as such, even if it almost certainly won't forever.)

Once you've burned men alive or let loose fragmentation bombs in their midsts, just holding some women and children prisoner in reasonable conditions doesn't seem like much unless you believe in the Rule of Law---and our leaders are all antinomians, and many soldiers can't give a fuck (pardon my use of a technical term) anymore.

(See the excellent song Drive On.)

N.B./Disclosure/Apology to actual vets:
Pardon my assumptions of knowing certain things and appropriating an old soldier style, but I was partially raised by a soldier desperate to keep his kids out of the military, and who loathed the terms "Good War" and "Greatest Generation", and barely ever trusted an officer, and never a general.

#19 ::: Robert Glaub ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 01:01 PM:

The taking of hostages and collective punishment is a war crime. It is in violation of the Geneva Conventions, the Law of Armed Conflict, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. We called it a war crime when I was in the Balkans and it is no different here. The people involved and their superiors up the chain-of-command should be held accountable through public courts-martial and if convicted, subject to the harshest penalties.

#20 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 01:14 PM:

protected static writes: how come no one is calling this a war crime?

It's only the latest in a long series of war crimes.

I have fond memories of the days when we used to be able to argue with some success that the phrase "war crime" is a redundancy. These days, unfortunately, we are in an environment of political discourse where "war crime" is an oxymoron. We often find the response to it is total uncomprehending denial that the phrase even has a coherent meaning, much less applicability to the situation at hand.

It's too easy to tire of attacking an edifice of stupidity like that— especially since such constructions often fail spectacularly after a long struggle, rather than gradually degrade over time. Without any visible and tangible signs of progress, it can be dreary work.

Mad props to Patrick for keeping the banner aloft.

#21 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 02:06 PM:

A war crime is a crime committed by the losing side.

Compare the sentences handed down at the Nuremberg trials with the treatment of William Calley, whose life sentence was overridden by President Nixon and whose eventual penalty was just 3½ years confined to the comfort of his quarters (not even prison).

"Men who take up arms against one another do not cease on this account to be moral human beings, responsible to one another and to God."
– Abraham Lincoln

#22 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 03:03 PM:


I was really hoping that that was going to be proven to be untrue, or that there'd be an immediate and massive crackdown that punished those who did it and those who allowed it and... well, crap.

It's like we've become the British army in a Mel Gibson movie.

"Join the armed forces, and go after the families of criminals!" That makes one hell of a recruiting slogan.

#23 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 06:38 PM:

Xopher, you've expressed my feelings exactly. I can't say it any better.

#24 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 11:16 PM:

Michael; at first I thought you had misunderstood me and then I realized no, you hadn't. I like what you said about religions helping us to move beyond the morality humans as a species appear to have evolved -- what my Church would call natural law. And yes, the horrors of war are myriad and pain of it not limited to those we often call "the victims." I don't remember who -- Lee? -- said, (I paraphrase) "It's a blessing that war is so terible, or men would grow too fond of it," but that for me is the crux of the horror -- we fall in love with killing, maiming, torturing, treating others with contempt, making them into something other than human, and we develop great theories and reasons and justifications why we should continue do all these things, and indeed, why the doing of these things is good...

Angels weep for us.

#25 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 11:39 PM:

I vented about this when it came out (the colonel who tacked a note to the door saying the guy's wife and kids would be safe as soon as he turned himself in).

That's a war crime.

I think that was the time I got Glenn Reynolds to back down and say it was wrong.

I have a litany of reasons this is a bad idea, but the choir here has already heard me preach that sermon. I just wonder (sad wonder, but wonder enough) that this is seen as non-news, when Whitewater beat everything else off the page for years.

#26 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 09:13 AM:

Since when has this administration given a damn about the Geneva Convention????

It's quite disgusting, but not at all surprising.

#27 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 10:49 AM:

Terry --

"Jockey of Norfolk, be not bold; Dickon thy master is bought and sold."

That applies to the entire American news media. (And most of it everywhere else.)

The neocon reaction to Nixon was to make sure there wasn't an independent press. It was a successful reaction.

#28 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 12:48 PM:

I used to object to the concept "the news media is bought" because in my mind, "bought" means a direct payment of cash/kind. I finally realized the news media is bought but not directly.

The news media is supported by advertising

Advertising is placed by public opinion, often by "tv ratings" but also by letter writing campaigns and other attacks.

The loudest group of voices right now seems to be the religious/right/neocon.

News media don't care if they are picketed. That's news. Advertisers care if they are picketed because consumers stop consuming their products and they lose money. Yes, the news media is "bought" but not in a directly traceable, finger pointing, fightable fashion. Try convincing a shareholder-profit driven company to put their money in a place that will cause shareholder profits to go down. It can be done. The religious/right/neocon has been convincing them for some years now.

#29 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 01:02 PM:

Lin Daniel:
Yes, you're right, but often they are also literally bought.

e.g., The science "reporter" for Fox News has also been on the Philip Morris payroll since he started work.

#30 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 01:32 PM:

Lin -

It's not that indirect.

It officially should be that indirect, which would be bad enough -- advertising acts to create insecurity, which is not a sound public policy goal -- but in practice pretty much all news organizations are owned at some levels of remove by large conglomerates which have agendas.

The single clearest simple indicator of that agenda is the change in the language of public discourse from 'citizen' to 'consumer'. (Host-Patrick has been known to remark on how much this change annoys him.)

Of the cell, symbiont, parasite, and prey models for individuals interacting with large organizations, cell is the best choice in most situations. It's not typically how the large organizations see themselves, or see individuals.

#31 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 03:14 PM:

Lin - "Bought" assumes that the media have free will--that they could choose not to be bought. This is not the case. The media are companies, and companies are owned. They are not free agents, and they do not make their own decisions. Their autonomy is an illusion that is carefully fostered, but an illusion none the less.

Individuals working within the system can attempt to be agendaless and fair, but when agenda descends from on high it is often a choice between doing what you are told and working retail. This is rarely as hard a choice as we would hope.

#32 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 11:49 PM:

When Bush was first elected, I remember there being a doctored, red-bordered TIME magazine cover with a picture of him victorious. It read "We are so Fucked." I thought that was funny. Then, as time went on, and I started shouting "Stop Talking!" at the T.V. and shaking my fists at the ceiling every time he opened his damn mouth, it got less funny and more pissed-off-making.
Then it started to hurt, and there are some weeks when I'm afraid to log onto the internet or watch the evening news to see what we've done now, but I have to.
There was a time when I would have read an article like this and thought, "This will be proven untrue. We don't do this. U.N. Peacekeepers do this, individuals do this, but We don't do this."
Now, I read a report like this and something in the middle of me bubbles, twists, releasing a creeping horror that almost has its own smell, and I can't find that conviction anymore. Of all the myopic, irresponsible, idiotic and downright Wrong things he's done, I will never forgive him for that.

#33 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 01:32 PM:

A war crime is a crime committed by the losing side.

The US is not actually on the winning side. I'm not sure if there is a "winning side". The US may be on the side losing the least right now.

#34 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 02:12 PM:

"Do unto others..."

If Laura, Barbara, and Jenna were captured by unhappy Iraqis to put pressure on GWB, the captors would be immediately labeled "terrorists".

#35 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 11:13 PM:

Fragano: My question: How did the people who ordered this think it would play? The people who make the decisions are supposed to be smart and educated, and they keep coming up with bad solutions to the problems created by the conquest of Iraq. How's that possible?

They think that Iraqis don't understand justice, or fair play, or ...; only force. People who believe that their opponents view acting fairly and honestly as a weakness can justify any conduct.

#36 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2006, 10:24 AM:

CHip: That sounds like good, old-fashioned racism at work.

On the 'bought press': Consider the words of Humbert Wolfe:

You cannot hope to bribe or twist,
Thank God, the British journalist;
But seeing what the man will do
Unbribed, there's no occasion to.

#37 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2006, 09:26 PM:

Fragano Ledgister says: CHip: That sounds like good, old-fashioned racism at work.

It's stage 2 racism.

Stage 1 is your garden variety crossing the street because "they" are more likely to be violent criminals (or not hiring them because they're lazy, or not hiring them because they're hard working, or not buying from them because they support the neoconservative Americas, etc.)

Stage 2 is the hard core "they're not humans the same way we are." Declaring that somebody is incapable of reason* is removing them from humanity. Driving the point needlessly far, anybody who is no longer human is outside of the intial, easy to assume***, circle of empathy**.

*"Not swayed by" is parallel if not directly synonymous. A capacity for running sentential logic is only a prerequisite to rational behavior. Rational behavior being something of a gate on the topic of personhood. (See also: why people treat the mentally handicapped so terribly.)

**I don't know if there's any academic evidence to back me up here, but the "circle of empathy" seems to be a pretty stable model for informal ethical thought. (Is there any academic study on informal ethics? i.e. the ethics of the non-academian.)

***PETA, etc consistently try to expand everybody else's circle of empathy to encompass a variety of non-human animals. [snark]Their tactic of reducing the importance of being a member of that circle isn't showing much success yet.[/snark]

#38 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2006, 12:04 PM:

Scott: I wouldn't frame it in quite that way, but what you say makes sense as a means of classifying the behaviour of our rulers. The 'enemy', however he/she/it is conceived, has to be deprived of humanity in some way, and 'our side' have to be portrayed as fully human and thus entitled to the respect and dignity that humanity should command.

#39 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2006, 02:00 PM:

It always seemed to me that Bush's statement that "We have to fight them over there so we don't fight them over here" is also a form of racism. IOW -- It's ok for brown people we don't know to get blown up by terrorists just as long as we aren't. (It's also incredibly stupid, but that's another rant.)

#40 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2006, 05:44 PM:

Hmm... true. That the thing I described is utterly non-specific to racism. It's more like "enemy"ism I guess.

#41 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2006, 05:55 PM:

Lisa: It may even be all right for white people (along with black and brown people) we don't know to be blown up by terrorists. The bombings in London and Madrid don't seem to count among those who say that W has kept 'us' safe from terror since 9/11.

#42 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2006, 05:56 PM:

Scott: It is an element of racism though. Just part of something a bit broader.

#43 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2006, 06:32 PM:

It's all "other"-ism. The current members of our ruling class don't see themselves as part of the same community as the rest of us. They want all of America to be a gated community, on a number of levels.

#44 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2006, 06:51 PM:

FL -- True. I suppose in that light Bush is more anti-everything-except-Americans. Except for black people flooded out of their houses during Katrina. And poor people. And gays. And ...

#45 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2006, 07:29 PM:

Lisa G: I'd just say Bush is not for anyone who couldn't make it into his country club. An exception might be made for his domin- er, Secretary of State.

#46 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2006, 08:34 PM:

As a guide, I always take the Declaration of Independence and see if it can be used to describe our own actions now.

The history of the present King is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected;

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

When we invade Iran, they'll be able to quote this one:

For abolishing the free System of Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

#47 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2006, 12:18 AM:

Probably should have put my rewrite of a paragraph of the state of the Union here — it's more relevant to the discussion than over on the open thread.

#48 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2006, 09:24 PM:

Actually, thinking about it, I realized that I got sidetracked from my point a bit. What amazed me about the "We have to fight them there..." line is that it seemed almost too obviously racist, a little like saying, "We can't give money to black neighborhoods because we have to give money to white neighborhoods." Not that the Bush crowd isn't racist, just that they're usually more careful about what they say in public. But I haven't heard anyone object -- it seems that Bush has a very finely calibrated idea of what he can and can't say to the American people.

#49 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2006, 09:05 AM:

Lisa G: I'd say that sometimes we get to see the skull beneath the skin.

#50 ::: Andrew Wells ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2014, 01:05 PM:

Gavin @10, I am another concerned Briton. And I almost want to cry.

#51 ::: Mary Aileen sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2014, 02:29 PM:

spam currently at #50 (not Andrew)

#52 ::: Cally Soukup sees more oldish SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2014, 01:49 PM:

Spam at #50 (not Andrew)

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