Category Archives: History

NZ spy story published

I found two interesting bits to this story in the New Zealand Herald. First, the definition of “traitor” as presented by Kit Bennetts, the man who performed surveillance that ultimately led to the arrest of Dr William Sutch:

“He was a loving husband. He was a great father. He was a great family man. His role in the social development of New Zealand was great. Many would say that would outweigh this silly little dabble with the Soviets, whereas I say he was involved in a full-on intelligence operation as an asset of the KGB. To me that outweighs the good he did.

“I honestly believe he never saw himself as a traitor. I don’t think he would have done anything to consciously harm New Zealand. The fact that he did is probably a product of his arrogance … and his belief that he perhaps knew better.”

And so he was charged with doing unconscious harm to New Zealand, although his intent was purely good? That sounds a bit odd to me.

Second, this story came up because a new book is being published by Bennetts that is causing some controversy:

[Former New Zealand defence analyst Jim Rolfe] said there would be some disquiet from the SIS that a retired officer had published a book, but he doubted if the service would do anything.

“They have been burned too often trying to stop secrets once they have been let out.”

Something tells me if the content was sensitive enough, they would actually stop the secret. But since this is a story about a man who was charged and acquitted thirty years ago, what secret could possibly be worth stopping?

Diamonds from Sierra Leone: Remix

by Kanye West

Good Morning, this ain’t Vietnam still
People lose hands, legs, arms for real
Little was known of Sierra Leone
And how it connect to the diamonds we own
When I speak of diamonds in this song
I ain’t talkin bout the ones that be glowin’
I’m talkin bout Rockefelle’, my home, my chain
These ain’t conflict diamonds, is they Jacob? Don’t lie to me man
See, a part of me sayin’ keep shinin’
How? when I know of the blood diamonds
Though it’s thousands of miles away
Sierra Leone connect to what we go through today
Over here, its a drug trade, we die from drugs
Over there, they die from what we buy from drugs
The diamonds, the chains, the bracelets, the charms
I thought my Jesus piece was so harmless
’til I seen a picture of a shorty armless
And here’s the conflict
It’s in a black person’s soul to rock that gold
Spend ya whole life try’n to get that ice
On a polar rug boy it look so nice
How could somethin’ so wrong make me feel so right, right?
‘fore I beat myself up like Ike
You could still throw ya Rockefelle’ diamond tonight, ’cause…

Hip-hop as an Educational Literacy Program (HELP)

WWI poem by Robert Frost revealed

The Associated Press reports that a poem by Robert Frost, about the tragic loss of a friend (poet Edward Thomas) in World War I, has been uncovered by a student reviewing Frost’s papers archived at the University of Virginia.

“War Thoughts at Home” will now be published in the next issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review:

And one says to the rest

We must just watch our chance

And escape one by one

Though the fight is no more done

Than the war is in France.

First-hand source material is the holy grail of the Internet and information security. Rather than all the citations and quotations (like the one provided above), which diminish in quality, meaning and integrity as they become more and more removed from the source, access to original source material is golden. If primary source material were available, we could have a far more rich and rewarding source to study and learn from. Imagine hanging an exact replica of a famous painting on your wall compared to the ability to print a precise copy of Frost’s handwritten poem.

I will never forget the time I was perusing some original papers in the British Archives and stumbled upon a note from the desk of Winston Churchill. The handwriting was unmistakable. The dark, rich strokes from his fountain pen made me stop and think about the amazing treasure trove of information locked away in the rows and rows of folders that the vast majority of people will never see.

I left the archives that day imagining giant racks of spinning optical media (maybe I liked the idea of a shiny surface) serving primary source material to everyone in the world as they sat liesurely at desks hundreds or thousands of miles away. This was the summer of 1994 and I saw the Internet as a place where the source could finally bubble up. Not editorials, not analysis, not books (although those are also important) but the raw source material. As it turns out, I myself found someone had published a book misquoting original Colonial Office and War Office memos (quite badly, in fact, if I remember correctly).

I also spent an evening in the basement of an old library and found actual leaflets distributed in Ethiopia by RAF planes in the early 1940s. I mentioned the leaflets in passing to another historian and he became excited and insisted I publish them so others could someday enjoy the information I uncovered.

He was right. That library was “rennovated” and I fear it may be impossible to find the original leaflets again. Sadly, today you are most likely to find my copy of the leaflet at the end of my master’s thesis hidden away in an obscure folder in an archive or buried in some university library, and Frost’s poem looks like it will be “published” and then filed rather than posted online…

Bhambatha

I recently watched a movie about South Africa called Tsotsi. One thing in particular, out of many, that caught my attention was the music by Bonginkosi Dlamini (Zola). A quick search revealed that he has since released an album called Bhambatha. A little further research uncovered that this name is a reference to a legendary Zulu chief.

Also known as Bambata, or Mbata, Bhambatha was a chief of the Zondi tribe in Kwazulu-Natal. He is famous for his role in an armed rebellion in 1906 when the poll tax was raised from a tax per hut to per head (£1 tax on all native men older than 18) increasing hardship during a severe economic depression following the Anglo-Boer War. The Natal Police believed Bhambatha was going to resist the tax with force and so about 150 men were sent to subdue or arrest him. Instead the police were ambushed and four policemen killed. Thousands of colonial troops were then sent after him, including calvary and heavy artillery, leading to 3,500 dead. Bhambatha himself reportedly was killed in the Battle of Mome Gorge. Thus, today he is often credited as an inspiration to native resistance.

The greater political and economic context to the rebellion, in relation to the Anglo-Boer War, is also interesting. For example, guns and ammunition Bhambatha and other Zulu chiefs used were apparently awarded to King Dinuzulu in 1901. The British formally recognized him as a king and provided weapons in order for him to assemble a large army that would speed the demise of the Boers. In addition, 250 of his men were put directly under the command of General Bruce Hamilton. After the Boer capitulation in May, 1902, however, the Natal government banned blacks from possessing firearms. The government also prohibited them from drinking alcohol, refused to replace their lost homes, forced them to work for the Boer farmers, and then increased the poll tax to have them pay for the war.

During this transition, the Zulu king was given 100 head of cattle as a reward and “demoted” back to local government status with his travel restricted. His guns and ammunition were seized. Although he complied, local whites reported that not all the guns were returned. This could have been a rumor spread by the settlers in order to motivate colonial armies to enforce control of the area, or the Zulus may really have been planning an organized armed resistance to the Natal government. It is both hard to imagine the latter, given the harsh treatment of the Boers by the British during the war, as well as understandable given the oppressive treatment after fighting on behalf of the British. In either case, tension was already high by the time Bhambatha engaged the armed policemen who had come to arrest him and started what he called a “War with the Europeans“. Instead, it seems to me, his rebellion marked the final chapter to the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 and the beginning of the Freedom Struggle.

Portions of this were posted to Wikipedia, to help give context to the music/poetry of Zola.

Iran strengthens ties with the Comoros

I recently mentioned the influence of China in developing parts of Africa and Asia. Now Iran is said to be providing humanitarian support to countries such as the Comoros. Here is an Iran News report from August:

four agreements were concluded this week as the islands’ new president, Iranian-trained Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, known as the “ayatollah” for his Iranian education, seeks to improve ties with Islamic nations, officials said.

In the first visit to the overwhelmingly Muslim Comoros by a high-level foreign delegation since Sambi’s election in May, a senior Iranian team inked pacts in the agriculture, education, health and defense, they said.

Meanwhile, the US again threatened to invade Pakistan. I remember a similar situation in 2004 when a US diplomat made the news, but now the warnings are from President Bush himself. The latest exchange of words could have something to do with news that Al Qaeda recently signed an actual agreement with Pakistan to operate out of their northern territory. Other reports suggest that senior US officials have been playing hardball with Pakistan since 2001:

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan says the United States threatened to bomb his country back to the Stone Age after the 9/11 attacks if he did not help America’s war on terror.

[…]

Musharraf told 60 Minutes that Armitage’s message was delivered with demands that he turn over Pakistan’s border posts and bases for the U.S. military to use in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Some were “ludicrous,” such as a demand he suppress domestic expression of support for terrorism against the United States.

“If somebody is expressing views, we cannot curb the expression of views,” Musharraf said.

At first glance this suggests that Iran and China are getting news for humanitarian assistance and development of third world countries, while the US is demanding that foreign nations restrict freedoms or face military attack. At a time when the US needs the most diplomacy and support from allies to build support for its war on terror, it appears to be accomplishing the exact opposite. Colin Powell’s warning seems right on target, unfortunately.

In a letter released last week, he joined Senator John McCain and other prominent Republicans in opposing the White House demand that Congress redefine the convention. “The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,” he said.

Three fishing boats. That’s what Iran apparently gave the Comoros. It seems so incredibly minor, but the impact is undoubtedly huge compared to French or even US actions and words in the current theatre of international relations.

I will never forget how people literally honored Americans and talked about a great land of freedom and liberty in the 1980s and 1990s. In Eastern Europe I was always greeted with scowls and suspicion if I spoke German but as soon as I said I was American I was honored with open arms and warm smiles. One man, in a little town in rural Hungary, was so excited he started to cry as he told me he had waited forty years for me (the Americans) to arrive in his neighborhood.

All that global goodwill is now undoubtedly shifting, if not evaporating altogether, as the Bush administration appears to fail to understand how and why it existed in the first place.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

I was reading a critique of literature this morning and noticed that the author was being rather negative and critical of others for being too negative and critical. S/he seemed oblivious to the contradiction, as their writing bemoaned the lack of more positive writing.

A stark problem with the success of the 419 fraud schemes is that the perpetrators often say they do nothing more than let people give them money. The victims fall into a trap of optimism, believing that they have actually found something for nothing. Alas, a little more critical thinking might be just what the doctor ordered for the new and less familiar risks people face online or to deal with a world where common hallmarks of universal rights are being seriously challenged (i.e. the Geneva convention):

Torture may be worse now in Iraq than under former leader Saddam Hussein, the UN’s chief anti-torture expert says.

[…]

Victims come from prisons run by US-led multinational forces as well as by the ministries of interior and defence and private militias, the report said.

Writing will be positive when people feel safe and prosperous (again). On what basis would a person manufacture a positive outlook in the face of great moral, financial or even physical danger? Conversely, prosperity and positivity also brings heightened risk in the forms of threats and vulnerabilities, painfully illustrated by the tragedy of the Cathars. Should proper caution and controls lead to a more universally safe and stable foundation, positive writing may again someday flourish. Until then, attacking people for being too negative is little more than the pot calling the kettle black.

Words That Comfort and 9/11

I like the idea of poets reaching out and sharing their perspective with a wider audience, but I wonder if Cristin’s work was really was as introspective as this news blurb sounds? The Philadelphia Weekly reports:

“I don’t think a news break alert can flash on our televisions without people thinking it’ll be somehow linked to a terrorist attack,” says 28-year-old author, screenwriter and slam poet Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, who’s appeared on the HBO series Def Poetry Jam. Aptowicz will present her updated speech “Words That Comfort” at the Kelly Writers House on the fifth anniversary of the attacks. Originally presented at a symposium on terrorism at Hastings College in Nebraska in fall 2005, the speech explores the effects of 9/11 on a community of poets from the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Well, news flashes linked to terrorists or the weather… Here are some other poems of 9/11.

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
(An extract of a performance by Danny Solis can be found on Poetry Slam)

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,–
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,–
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

More tragic evidence of the Bush spoils system

The Washington Post has a blistering condemnation of the Bush administration’s reconstruction of Iraq. They point out that the long-condemned spoils system was not only favored, but taken to a new extreme:

Many of those chosen by O’Beirne’s office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq’s government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance — but had applied for a White House job — was sent to reopen Baghdad’s stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq’s $13 billion budget, even though they didn’t have a background in accounting.

[…]

Many of the basic tasks Americans struggle to accomplish today in Iraq — training the army, vetting the police, increasing electricity generation — could have been performed far more effectively in 2003 by the CPA.

But many CPA staff members were more interested in other things: in instituting a flat tax, in selling off government assets, in ending food rations and otherwise fashioning a new nation that looked a lot like the United States. Many of them spent their days cloistered in the Green Zone, a walled-off enclave in central Baghdad with towering palms, posh villas, well-stocked bars and resort-size swimming pools.

The level of arrogance and incompetance is absolutely stunning. With a vaccum of integrity in the current Republican leadership, America’s image and security is dangerously waning. Who will or can win it back?

One of the most difficult jobs in security is to stand up to executive management and tell them that things are not what they seem. In the early days of Iraq, the voice of the men and women with this position and with the most insight into the risks were drowned under a charismatic and aloof figurehead:

Kerik authorized the formation of a hundred-man Iraqi police paramilitary unit to pursue criminal syndicates that had formed since the war, and he often joined the group on nighttime raids, departing the Green Zone at midnight and returning at dawn, in time to attend Bremer’s senior staff meeting, where he would crack a few jokes, describe the night’s adventures and read off the latest crime statistics prepared by an aide. The unit did bust a few kidnapping gangs and car-theft rings, generating a stream of positive news stories that Kerik basked in and Bremer applauded. But the all-nighters meant Kerik wasn’t around to supervise the Interior Ministry during the day. He was sleeping.

Several members of the CPA’s Interior Ministry team wanted to blow the whistle on Kerik, but they concluded any complaints would be brushed off. “Bremer’s staff thought he was the silver bullet,” a member of the Justice Department assessment mission said. “Nobody wanted to question the [man who was] police chief during 9/11.”

US secret prisons and twilight raids on immigrant homes

I just read a news story about a recent early-morning raid by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICEA), often referred to as ICE.

Apparently unmarked vehicles showed up in residential neighborhoods and people wearing “Police” or civilian clothes knocked on doors in the early hours before sunrise. The ICEA had a list of names and addresses that they based the raid upon, but once inside the home they arrested anyone who could not immediately produce papers.

In one case, a family awoke to a knock on their door at 4 a.m. The agents identified themselves as police, and the residents let them in, Keegan said. The agents asked if a certain person was home, and the residents told them that that person didn’t live there.

Then the agents asked those present to provide proof that they were here legally. Two married couples were unable to provide the necessary documents, and the agents arrested the men, Keegan said.

When the agents were asked why they didn’t take arrest the women, they said that the women could stay to take care of their children, he said.

Those arrested were then moved to Fresno and deported out of the country within 24 hours, including a vast majority with no criminal record and some who were mothers of small children:

Several people had been arrested who would have been allowed to stay had they had an opportunity to show an immigration judge that they had dependents that would be left behind, Live Oak-based immigration attorney Alisa Thomas said after the meeting.

Among those ICE had already transported out of the country were a mother whose seven children were left in the care of their father, who works two jobs, she said. The youngest of the children, a 1 1/2 year old, went into convulsions and was hospitalized while the mother was being taken to Mexico, she said.

An immigration judge would likely have granted a stay in the mother’s case, she said.

“I could have shown them this U.S. citizen, this 1 1/2-year-old child is going to die,� Thomas said.

In another case, both parents of a 13-year-old and a 20-year-old were arrested, she said. In a third case, the working husband of a U.S. citizen housewife was arrested.

“I’ve never seen cases this heart wrenching, and so many of them together,� Thomas said.

There are many issues with this case, but most notable perhaps is that this action directly contradicts the message given by President Bush in his press conference yesterday:

And, finally, we’re going to have to treat people with dignity in this country. Ours is a nation of immigrants, and when Congress gets down to a comprehensive bill, I would just remind them, it’s virtually impossible to try to find 11 million folks who have been here, working hard — and, in some cases, raising families — and kick them out. It’s just not going to work.

Not going to work…

I just heard a radio program where the commentators suggested that the new ICEA policy has a disturbing shade of history to it: “first they came for the Muslims, then they came for the Chicanos…”. A comment on the article page carries a similar tone:

Of the 107 detained people, only 19 had criminal warrants. Kids were left without their parents, wives without their husbands, husbands without their wives, and we have racist idiots saying this is a good thing? Since August, the ICE has arrested 24,000 undocumented people nationwide, yet only 6,800 have been deported. Where are the rest?

24,000 people in a little over a month’s time is quite a number, and has not been on the front page of any news I’ve seen. In this particular case only 19 had warrants so it is conceivable the rest could have kept their door closed and sent the agents away, unless of course the police determined that forced entry was allowable under the new rules of engagement. The article also provides an ICEA perspective:

[ICEA representative Lori Haley] also noted that the agency had merely carried out its duties under the law. Anyone disagreeing with the agencies actions should call on their political representatives to change the law.

This seems to be consistent with the Bush Administration. Their position has been that they can violate the Geneva convention under their law, they can violate international human rights principles under their law, they can even violate the constitution under the law. Oh, did I say “violate”? I meant interpret. Interpretation of the law is a long and expensive process that means they will act with self-inspired “clarity” until vague concepts of ethics and rights can be resolved later (after they control the courts). Mr. Bush had this to say in yesterday’s press conference:

We’re trying to clarify law. We’re trying to set high standards, not ambiguous standards.

And let me just repeat, Dave, we can debate this issue all we want, but the practical matter is, if our professionals don’t have clear standards in the law, the program is not going to go forward. You cannot ask a young intelligence officer to violate the law. And they’re not going to. They — let me finish, please — they will not violate the law. You can ask this question all you want, but the bottom line is — and the American people have got to understand this — that this program won’t go forward; if there is vague standards applied, like those in Common Article III from the Geneva Convention, it’s just not going to go forward. You can’t ask a young professional on the front line of protecting this country to violate law.

In other words, Mr. Bush would like to operate above the law, but if that is not acceptable then he will declare them ambiguous until he can re-write them. In his recent interview with Matt Lauer, Bush had this exchange in response to questions about the need for secret CIA facilities:

President Bush: So what? Why is that not within the law?

Matt Lauer: The head of Amnesty International says secret sites are against international law.

President Bush: Well, we just disagree with him.

Does he have a hard time understanding what it means when Article III of the Geneva Convnetion says “Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely”? No seriously, Bush appeared to suggest in his press conference that the best and brightest working under him could not be expected to understand Article III:

THE PRESIDENT: This debate is occurring because of the Supreme Court’s ruling that said that we must conduct ourselves under the Common Article III of the Geneva Convention. And that Common Article III says that there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It’s very vague. What does that mean, “outrages upon human dignity”? That’s a statement that is wide open to interpretation. And what I’m proposing is that there be clarity in the law so that our professionals will have no doubt that that which they are doing is legal. You know, it’s — and so the piece of legislation I sent up there provides our professionals that which is needed to go forward.

[…]

Now, the Court said that you’ve got to live under Article III of the Geneva Convention, and the standards are so vague that our professionals won’t be able to carry forward the program, because they don’t want to be tried as war criminals. They don’t want to break the law.

I feel I must point out that Mr. Bush did not mention that the phrase is actually written:

outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment

Does the rest of the phrase clarify? Surely he left it out for a reason, such as “humiliating and degrading treatment” is something he disagrees with, or that Albert “I refuse to answer clearly” Gonzales told him to disagree with? Perhaps he believe it ties the hands of the “professionals” he is ultimately responsible for, such as those caught humiliating detainees in Abu Ghraib?

As a matter of fact, the key findings by the Army investigation of the Abu Ghraib abuse actually contradict Bush’s statements to the press:

Soldiers knew they were violating approved techniques and procedures.

[…]

Abuse would not have occured if Army doctrine had been followed and mission training conducted.

[…]

Factors contributing to abuses include:

  • Individual criminal propensities
  • Safety and security conditions
  • Multiple agencies and organizations involved in interrogation
  • Failure to screen and integrate contractor interrogators
  • Lack of understanding of military police and military intelligence roles
  • Dysfunctional relationships among commanders

Hmmm. I do not see “ambiguity of Geneva convention” on that list.

As you can see, Mr. Bush clearly suggested that it is the fault of the terms of the Geneva convention that limits the ability of the interrogators, but the Army disagrees. While they say existing “detention doctrine needs to be updated and refined” the key points really suggest leadership and management are the most flawed and in need of improvement in order to enable law-abiding interrogation.

The plan of the Bush Administration thus appears to be: First ignore reports, fire dissenters and misquote international law, declaring it an ambiguous and thus uninforceable standard. Cherry-pick terms and show how they have no meaning when isolated. Use phrases like “our hands are tied and we are in danger”. Then propose a new domestic law heavily biased in favor of a particular view (as opposed to blind justice for everyone) and paint anyone who objects with that view as a sympathizer with the enemy. Say something like “We are righteous in our cause, unlike those who are soft” and “We can and will only do good with our powers, they can only do evil”. Then declare the new law as a “more enforceable” standard that will be righteous and good, more relevant than international treaties. Again threaten anyone who objects as a weakling or an obstructionist to justice. Finally, show a short tempered approach to negotiation and that everyone else in the world should adopt their new unilateral interpretation of law or prepare to succumb to your righteousness.

Let me be clear about this. Mr. Bush was asked whether other countries should be able to write laws that the US finds objectionable. Mr. Bush’s answer, which was not really an answer but more of a threat, was that other countries should adopt his law:

Q Sir, with respect, if other countries interpret the Geneva Conventions as they see fit — as they see fit — you’re saying that you’d be okay with that?

THE PRESIDENT: I am saying that I would hope that they would adopt the same standards we adopt; and that by clarifying Article III, we make it stronger, we make it clearer, we make it definite.

Strong, clear, definite. No room for interpretation by someone else. I don’t think Joseph Stalin could have said it any better. Actually, Stalin said:

Ideas are far more powerful than guns. We don’t allow our enemies to have guns, why should we allow them to have ideas?

Scary parallels, no? For a true contrast, consider what Jack Straw, then Foreign Secretary, said in March 2006 as he launched the new UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office strategy:

At the heart of any foreign policy must lie a set of fundamental values. For this Government, the values that we promote abroad are those that guide our actions at home. We seek a world in which freedom, justice and opportunity thrive, in which governments are accountable to the people, protect their rights and guarantee their security and basic needs. We do so because these are the values we believe to be right. And because such a world is the best guarantee of the security and prosperity of the people of the United Kingdom.