Sunday, July 30, 2006

RIP James Donald Reid

This is not a typical posting. I'll try and make it non-partisan.

On June 22, 2006, a retired soldier died. His name was James Donald Reid, Captain, Infantry. Jim was a Silver Star and Bronze Star with Valor recipient, with two Purple Hearts, Master Parachute Badge, Combat Infantry Badge and Pathfinder Badge. Jim was a Special Forces officer in the early 70's, and he was my friend.

Jim was 100% Veteran's Administration compensable for Type II adult onset diabetes, contrected due to exposure to Agent Orange. The actions of the NVA could not kill Jim, but the defoliant...well, I promised not to be polemical.

Jim wrestled with the demons that all combat soldiers experience, and he was a fine and good man. I'll miss him, and I'm glad that he had the years that he did. As a combat soldier Jim knew that you could cheat death for awhile, but it'd catch up with you eventually.

According to his wife, Jim died peacefully, and for this I'm thankful. He justly deserves peace.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Democracy Is Messy

Democracy wasn't always messy, but since 9-11, it's become an absolute slog.

The Department of Defense (DoD) has taken the lead in this mudsling. They insist on preempting Department of State functions after invading countries and destroying regimes, embroiling themselves in activities for which they lack the necessary training and finesse. Messy, but hey, welcome to the Dr. Strangelovian era of militarized democracy.

Then we have the National Security Agency (NSA), which is an arm of DoD, collecting intelligence that should be gathered by the FBI. The FBI is a law enforcement agency, and any intelligence domestically collected should be acted upon by them. Hopefully, law enforcement is the intent of the NSA (DoD), and not the subversion of the U.S., though I believe they have already covertly done that via their illegal intrusions into our erstwhile Constutionally protected privacies.

The DoD also seeks to preempt the Department of Justice (DoJ), by trying terrorists at military tribunals instead of civilian trials. This is because Attorney General Gonzales finds the legal precedents set by the Geneva Convention quaint, and refuses to try criminal terrorist activity in its proper venue, which is courts of law.

In an additional military coopt of civilian authority--in this case, law enforcement--the National Guard now enforces civilian law on the Mexican border in what appears to be a long-term engagement for a long-term problem. Doesn't the National Guard have it's hands full with the military aspects of the War on Terror?

So now we are at the newly-messy issue of the rule of law. Before any legal proceedings can be conducted in our democratic system, jurisdiction must be established. And the only jurisdiction that our legal system has over terrorism is U.S. Code, which clearly addresses the issue. To wit: if apprehended by law enforcement and properly charged, a terrorist will be tried in open court.

Our legal system is equipped to realistically and effectively address this issue; however, this administration refuses to trust democratic court action based upon their claims of needing to secure military secrets. The resulting subversion of democracy is wrought by this Administration, and not by any terrorists or the legal system itself.

The issue of whether military tribunals apply is actually a very un-messy one: If captured on the battlefield, then the Geneva Convention applies. If apprehended by law enforcement during the planning or execution phase of a terrorist activity, then the civilian legal system will address the problem. (Terrorists are similar to politicians in this way --they assiduously avoid the battlefield.) This separation of powers is the basis of democracy. When state secrets preempt an open and fair trial, then the concept of America is finished.

Why is there such an administrative aversion to reliance upon the criminal justice system? Could it be that open trials would reveal that the Terrorists are actually an incompetant and low-level threat? That they are largely a bunch of bumblng foot soldiers, headed by a relatively small cadre of planners, a cadre that could be ferreted out via competent intelligence and police functions? That the use of the military is not the correct way to address a criminal problem? That the only reason 9-11 happened was government incompetance, which persists today? Could it also be the rats don't want to get too near the trap?

I reluctantly conclude that the administration is somehow benefitting by disallowing the court system from fulfilling its Constitutional function of dealing with accused criminals in a balanced manner.

Yellow Journalism for Yellow Actions

This is a letter I posted to the WSJ, in response to their indictment of Germany for releasing terrorism suspect Motassadeq:

"Osama in Genevaland (7/13/06)", which implies the Germans are soft on terrorists because of their recent release of convicted terrorist Motassedeq, is jingoistic yellow journalism at it's best.

The criminal justice approach combined with a vigilant police and intelligence function is the only credible response to terrorism. A justice system such as our current one, that seems more concerned with keeping military and government secrets than exercizing its judicial powers, is not democratic but dictatorial in nature. Government secrets lead to secret courts and secret police--isn't this why we opposed the Nazis and the Communists?

By declaring a War on Terrorism, this administration has conferred legitimacy upon terrorists. But terrorists are not legitimate soldiers. Terrorists are criminals--not warriors --and must be treated as such. This is why we have a Federal Code and court system. The prisoners in Gitmo, Afghanistan and Iraq were not arrested, but rather were captured by the U.S. military within the borders of their respective countries following our invasion. This is in juxtaposition to Mounir El Motassedeq, who is a terrorist, and carries out his activities off the field of battle and across international lines.

Germany rightly prosecuted him, but it was the U.S. that refused to provide needed evidence for prosecution of the case. This is why the Germans were forced to release him.

Unlike a Taliban rifleman--who is a POW and certainly not a threat to U.S. security--a terrorist like Motassedeq poses a grave threat to all civilized countries. Yet U.S. policy treats the rifleman as a criminal, while refusing to assist in the prosecution of a true terrorist. One is a criminal, and one is a POW. Why is this so hard for this Administration to grasp?

The Journal concludes by smugly stating, "Germany may be able to afford such legal exquisiteness (such as the release of a suspected terrorist when lacking sufficient evident to prosecute); as the main terror target, the U.S. and its citizens cannot." First, we are not the main terror target; one needs merely to scan global terrorist attacks over the past decade or so to realize that. Next, if we cannot afford "legal exquisiteness"--ours, a country based on adherence to the rule of law--then we do not deserve the title of "democracy".

The U.S. would be wise to follow the European lead in applying democratic concepts to the problem of terrorism.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Don't Get Us Mad...

A news digest story entitled, "Coalition troops kill 22 suspected Taliban," which ran in The Tallahassee Democrat today, reports: "Fighting in southern Afghanistan killed 22 suspected Taliban militants, officials said Wednesday, as NATO nations approved expanding the alliance's peacekeeping force into the region." Hmmm...just imagine what those peacekeepers might do to confirmed Taliban militants.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Strange Fruit

Since 9-11, we no longer capture enemy soldiers. We now "detain" them, bringing to mind, say, A Mexican illegal caught by immigration officials, or perhaps, a sack of smuggled fruit detained at the airlines claims counter. To borrow from a Billy Holiday song about lynching, this is strange fruit indeed.

And since we deny the "captured" status to our adversaries, we are also averse to saying that our own soldiers are captured, as well. That would be too much in keeping with the accepted terminology which has defined all wars before.

Not missing an opportunity to villainize and delegitimize the opponent, our soldiers are instead "abducted" or "kidnapped" by them, thereby implicating our opponents as rogue forces, versus legitimate combatants. But, what if U.S. forces grab an Iraqi off the street--was that person "abducted" or "kidnapped"? Ah...I think I am beginning to get the hang of this new doublespeak.

No, the Iraqi has simply been "detained", a kinder and gentler term. I suddenly feel like George Carlin explaining the difference in rules between football--the brutish sport--and baseball, the gentler one. We Americans are the sluggers, and they are the football animals.

A Wall Street Journal editorial, "After Hamdan" (7/03/06), asserts that Al Qaida personnel are "detainees", yet later in the same article bemoans, "The(Supreme)Court's intrusion...that it knows better than an elected President how to treat enemies captured on the battlefield." So there it is, the smoking gun, the admission from the conservative press that these individuals have indeed been "captured on the battlefield." Even a simple person like myself now understands what their designationmust be: they are POW's.

Yet a 7/11/06 article also in the WSJ--"Military Lawyers Prepare to Speak on Guantanamo--misses a salient point. In arguing over the fact the Gitmo prisoners are not subject to the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice, they miss the fact that the UMCJ cannot apply to them for the simple reason the code can only be applied to U.S military personnel. Further, the U.S. military has no charter to detain anyone, unless that person is a POW. Our military is not a law enforcement agency, and MP's only have jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel and Prisoners of War.

To quote Jeffery H. Smith, former general counsel for the CIA (NYT, p. A20, 7/13/06): "One of the most difficult questions to address is: under what authority do we continue to hold them and why?" I've been asking this for years and I'm just a dumb grunt. Why can't Congress and the President grasp the concept of jusrisdiction?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Devil is In the Details

The NYT International section ran an article yesterday, "Insurgent Group Posts Video of Two Mutilated U.S. Soldiers" (7/11/06) re. the grisly display of the murdered serviceman's bodies. But are we talking hypocrisy, here, or what? How can we condemn these grotesques when these very same publications are complicit with what is evidently U.S. policy in plastering pictures of dead Iraqis on the covers of their newspapers and magazines. Does this strike anyone else as a double standard?

I reckon if we show it, it's o.k. because we're being scandalized, because all we wanna do is democratize them, whereas somehow, if they do the same, they are bestial.

Perhaps our outrage is over the methodology of killing. Beheading is rather brutish say, compared to death by an M-16 round or a bomb, but the result is no less lethal, and the display of the resultant carnage no less offensive. Both sides are guilty of inhumane exploitation of mangled bodies.

The Times says, "Two American soldiers were abducted," and later states, "the two abducted soldiers...(were) kidnapped when insurgents ambushed a traffic checkpoint." This is agitprop, as soldiers in combat are neither abducted nor are they kidnapped--they are captured. Have even the finest news organizations lost their dictionaries? Soldiers on leave can be abducted or kidnapped, but not those arrayed for combat. Misusing words leads to misunderstanding actions. The perpetrators are not terrorists in this case--they are combatants. Combatants capture their opponents. But POW's so captured are not supposed to be summarily executed. So tragically, in this case, the captors did not extend the rights afforded by the Geneva Convention. Sound familiar?

The next rhetorical offense is the use of the term "ambush". The classic definition taught by the U.S. Army is an attack upon a halted or temporarily halted unit or enemy. A checkpoint attack would more correctly be termed a "raid" or "hasty attack". Possibly, it was a planned attack, as checkpoints are usually static. But let's use words correctly, for the devil is in the details, and if we cannot grasp the small and quotidian concepts, how can we ever hope to address the larger ones intelligently?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Lies, Lies

We are being fed a steady stream of lies from the military to keep us fat, dumb and happy. We are told there are only 125,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq. But how many Americans are functioning as privately contracted mercenaries, doing jobs that usually belonged to the theatre corps and army?

Needless to say, these mercenaries are paid considerably more than soldiers and their deaths are not counted as KIA; therefore, their actual costs are more easily hidden. Why the subterfuge? How many Americans are carrying rifles in Iraq? The public has the right to know.

The next lie is that the denial of POW status to and the indefinite incarceration of Islamic individuals accused of terrorism is helping the U.S. win the war on terror.

For a moment, let's forget if all the folks held in all the secret CIA prisons, Abu Ghraib and Camp X-Ray are terrorists, insurgents, criminals or soldiers. Forget the Geneva Convention. But DON'T forget the basic principles of the U.S. Constitution, namely, that even murderers are afforded the right to due process, to face their accusers and, if need be, the right to a fair and timely trial.

Prison sentences without any limitations are barbaric and are an aid to recruitment for anti-U.S. forces. What better recruitment poster than the ubiquitous pictures of bound, sandbagged and/or kneeling prisoners, often featured with gleaming U.S. female military personnel posing as dominatrices above their subjugated prey? Is this demonstrating U.S. respect for human dignity?

There is an increasing reliance on half-truths and falsehoods that characterizes our military efforts in Iraq, and my criticism of the military is that they peddle these fabrications-cum-reality.

It is painfully obvious that the U.S. is engaged in partisan warfare in Iraq, yet everything is done to deny this fact. Call it what you will--unconventional, guerilla or partisan, there is a reality that it goes beyond mere terrorism. It is ongoing, sustained, and factionalized. The U.S. military, the Iraq army and the Iraq police force are fighting a war against an unknown percentage of the Iraqi citizenry. In such situations, body counts and death counts are irrelevant.

The Gordian Knot

The U.S. will not leave Iraq unless the violence stops. The Iraqi resistance will not stop unless the U.S. leaves. What seems obvious is that the U.N. must intervene and promote a compromise that will end this quagmire.

If we seek a model, the Geneva accords split Vietnam into two countries, and a period was allowed for voluntary moves both North and South. Do the same in Iraq: divide the country and allow the population to shift accordingly. Then allow the three sovereign nations to work out their own destiny under the protection of external powers.

This is the current trend. Spain may partition off the Basque territory and Catalonia, and witness the division of the former Yugoslavia into five sovereign nations. And note that all will probably qualify for entry into the EU, once they have put their respective houses in order. There is no greater good in imposing union upon opposing factions. As in a feuding family, sometimes the best solution is separation.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Executing a Chimera

I'm writing after the hoopla on al Zarqawi has died down, and the president's military policy in Iraq has once again been rubber stamped by Congress. As Congress elects to continue on a course that defies logic and military reality, it becomes increasingly obvious that knowledge of military history is not a prerequisite to becoming a national level military planner.
The only reality is that military personnel are dying attempting to execute a chimera. Double entendre intended, for any "kill"--such as that of Zarqawi--will certainly not staunch the current tide of Muslim aggression. No cause for celebration there, unless you're glad another martryr has been created.
The death of al-Zarqawi is just a blip on the radar screen, yet it has become a media circus. In any military organization (or terrorist, if you wish), no individual is indispensible, and every loss will be filled with a new replacement. Hence, Zarqawi is meaningless, and the hue and cry is so much blather.
The same is true for Osama bin Laden. Killing is not the measure of success. The German army killed 20 million Russians, but the Russian's will to fight was never destroyed. Even Russian partisans accepted brutal death fighting the Germans, knowing that capture meant a sure and terrible death.
Killing peple never destroys the enemy's will to fight; in fact, history suggests the opposite. If the enemy is willing to take the casualties, then they will continue to fight, regardless. In Mogadishu, the militia fought the U.S. military to a standstill, even though their loss ratio was probably 100:1. The old-time rule was that in order to win an insurgency, a 10:1 kill ratio was required in order for the U.S. to prevail.
If this is true, then U.S. forces should have killed at least 15,600 fighters. Is there any proof that this has been accomplished? And what a hydra-headed beast is the "Iraqi fighter", he of indeterminate allegiance. Is he Al Quaida, former Iraqi military, ordinary Iraqi taking up arms, militiaman...? Without a doubt, we've killed between 30-100,000 civilians as collateral damage. Does this curtail our opponent's ability to recruit new members? Recruitment and funding are their lifeblood, and neither tide seems to be staunched.