Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bush's Tortured Explanation of Torture

In this stand-off with Matt Lauer on NBC's Today Show last September, President Bush makes as good a case as he appears able to make for the various torture-related policies his administration has used against suspected members of Al-Qaeda ... and others. He repeatedly refuses to discuss "techniques," since that would allow "the enemy to adapt." And we need to take his word that all this has made us safer. Maybe it has. Maybe not. If we had the facts, we could judge. But ... that would allow the enemy to adapt. As I listened to the president, I kept wondering if "the enemy" includes anyone who questions his policies. Of the several versions of this video segment that appear on YouTube, this seems to have the best image and sound:

Hot Pursuit: Going After Rumsfeld in Court

As this week's Shadowland column implies, some present and past CIA officers may want to think twice, or three times, before traveling to Europe. That may be true for more senior Bush administration figures as well. Consider the reception Rumsfeld has been getting in Paris:

PARIS (AFP) - French, US and German rights groups said Friday they had filed suit for "torture" against ex-US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, currently in Paris, for his role in the Iraq war and the US "war on terror".

Around 20 campaigners gave Rumsfeld a rowdy welcome as he arrived for a breakfast meeting in Paris, yelling "murderer", waving a banner and trying to push into the building, according to the organisers, a political magazine. ... (more)

PARIS (Reuters) - Human rights groups have filed a lawsuit in France alleging that former U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld allowed torture at U.S.-run detention centers in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The plaintiffs, which include the French-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) and the U.S. Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), say Rumsfeld authorized interrogation techniques that led to rights abuses.

The United States says it does not torture, though it has authorized several methods widely condemned by rights groups such as exposure to extreme temperatures and 'waterboarding', or simulated drowning.

"We will only stop once the American authorities involved in the torture program are brought to justice," CCR chief Michael Ratner said in a statement posted on the FIDH Web site.... (more)

This week's column:

Shadowland: Judgment Day for the CIA?
In a real-life version of 'Rendition,' a determined Italian prosecutor is hunting down those charged as the Bush administration's contract kidnappers.

Associated Press file photo

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Road to Rendition (from 2005)

This is a very rough video about the rendition of Abu Omar and what went wrong for the CIA. I hope to be able to produce a more polished product by the end of the year, once I've updated my editing equipment.

Shadowland: The Road To Rendition, 16 March 2005
Kidnappings by terrorists are a dirty business. But what happens when the terrorists themselves are kidnapped?

By Christopher Dickey

[Note: this is undedited copy off my hard drive. During the transition to the new Newsweek Web site ( several stories were lost from the archives. They are gradually being re-loaded, but I’m posting this in the meantime for reference purposes.]

Via Guerzoni is a quiet street on the outskirts of Milan, Italy, in a former industrial neighborhood that is somewhere between decrepitude and redevelopment. High walls line both sides of the road for about 100 yards as it runs between a park and a half-abandoned plant nursery. If you’re in the business of making people disappear – call it kidnapping, or maybe counter-terrorism, or, in the Bushian jargon of the moment, “rendition” – then Via Guerzoni is a good venue. Few people are around, and many of those are Muslim immigrants who want as little to do with the police as they can.

So whoever snatched an Egyptian-born imam known as Abu Omar off Via Guerzoni in broad daylight on Feb. 17, 2003, had planned well. And if their tradecraft had been a little bit better, the incident could have been kept very quiet, and forgotten quickly. But they screwed up, and soon, possibly as early as next week, you can look for the abduction of Abu Omar to emerge as a major embarrassment to President George W. Bush and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The fiercely independent judiciary in Milan, led by investigating magistrate Armando Spataro, has prepared a case and expects to issue warrants alleging that a dozen or more foreign agents, some of them reportedly Americans, were involved in the abduction of Abu Omar. They are supposed to have driven him in the truck to the U.S. airbase at Aviano, Italy, then flown him to Cairo. In Egypt, as the saying goes, “they have ways of making you talk.”

Since Italian reporter Carlo Bonini first broke the story of this investigation in the Rome daily La Repubblica last February, U.S. officials have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Washington is wondering how much the courts think they know? How much can they prove? Spokesmen at the U.S. consulate in Milan and the U.S. embassy in Rome said they were unable to comment on any of the substantive questions, and they believed no official requests for information have been received from the Italian government. That will change if and when the arrest warrants are issued.

Now that the second-term Bush administration is advocating democracy and the rule of law around the world, its own lawless ways during the first term are an embarrassment. What’s been called, with a bit of hyperbole, the Guantanamo Gulag has become a liability. So are ongoing revelations about the practice of “renditions”: sending suspected terrorists to countries with even fewer scruples about interrogation practices than the Bush administration. (“Outsourcing torture,” is the catch phrase used by human rights activists in Italy and elsewhere.)

The agents involved in Milan, whoever they were and wherever they came from, must be cursing their luck. At first, everything went so well. The 42-year-old Abu Omar, née Mostafa Hassan Nasr Osama, was no common immigrant, after all. His bad-guy credentials were all in order. An Islamist firebrand, he came to Italy in 1997 by way of Afghanistan and Albania. In the famously radical mosques on Via Quaranta and Viale Jenner, he was always recruiting what he called “the youth” to go blow themselves up as “martyrs” in one jihad or another.

The Italian secret service known as DIGOS (formerly “the political police”) had focused on him in the summer of 2002, when a bug they’d placed in the Via Quaranta mosque picked up a conversation he had with a visitor from Germany outlining plans to re-structure a terrorist organization that’s been connected to both Al Qaeda and the now-infamous Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. So even people who knew and sympathized with Abu Omar weren’t sure, at first, that he hadn’t decided secretly to go fight the Americans in Afghanistan – or maybe Iraq, where the war was just about to begin.

Too bad, from the kidnappers’ point of view, that a woman walking out of the park on Via Guerzoni that chilly February afternoon in 2003 saw two men spray something in Abu Omar’s face and bundle him into the back of a truck. Even worse, for those who wanted to hush up the whole affair, Abu Omar resurfaced – at least by telephone. On April 20, 2004, more than a year after he’d disappeared, the Italian cops listened in on a phone call he placed from Egypt to his wife in Milan, telling her he’d been in prison, but was now under a kind of house arrest; he would send her money, and she should be quiet. But Abu Omar didn’t take his own advice. He called another imam in Milan, and eventually recounted the tale of how he’d been abducted and where he’d been taken. Soon afterward, Abu Omar dropped out of sight again in Egypt, presumably re-imprisoned. A lawyer for the Gamaa Islamiya, an Egyptian group to which Abu Omar belonged, says he has no idea where the imam is now, whether in jail, alive, or dead.

Over the last year, I’ve collected many hundreds of pages of court documents, warrants, official transcripts, rulings and appeals related to the various terrorist cases in Italy. Abu Omar figures in almost all of them. And in bits and pieces, more or less discretely, the public documents confirm much of what Bonini first wrote last February, based on unnamed sources.

In a pleading issued last month by Judge Guido Salvini against a group of Tunisians suspected of terrorist connections, for instance, there is a concise description of Abu Omar’s case: “It is now possible to affirm with certainty that he was kidnapped by people belonging to foreign intelligence networks interested in interrogating him and neutralizing him, to then hand him over to Egyptian authorities.” Salvini writes that Italian investigators have confirmed the substance of what Abu Omar recounted in those phone calls from Egypt. In “a kidnapping that was the work of Western agents and which undoubtedly constitutes a serious violation of Italian national sovereignty,” says Salvini, Abu Omar “was taken to an American base, interrogated and beaten and the next day taken an on U.S. military plane directly, with an intermediate stop, to Egypt.”

Who were the agents involved? According to Bonini, they left a lot of evidence behind, including rental car contracts, hotel bills, and passport details. When Spataro issues his warrants, the names on those documents certainly will be included.

Last week, I passed through Milan and decided to visit the scene of the crime. As I walked the quiet roads between Abu Omar’s apartment and that lonely stretch of Via Guerzoni where he was kidnapped, I kept thinking of something he was told by the mysterious visitor from Germany in that conversation tape recorded back in the summer of 2002. They talked about reorganizing the Hizb Al Tahrir group after the post-9/11 arrests in Europe. They talked about money: where to get it (from Saudis); how to use it (to make more money). They talked about “the youth” who could be used as martyrs. And toward the end of the chat, the Unidentified Man warned Abu Omar, as if from nowhere, “You need to study the street, because war ought to be studied…” In the shadow world of terror and counter terror, even a quiet street like Via Guerzoni can be a battlefront.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

George W. Bush and "The Quiet American"

President Bush, in his speech last week comparing Vietnam and Iraq, made an awkward allusion to Graham Greene's 1955 novel "The Quiet American" and its subject, Alden Pyle. Several commentators find this puzzling, as Dan Froomkin at and Frank James at the Chicago Tribune blog, "The Swamp," have noted.

Maybe Bush was thinking of the original movie version of the film, in which Pyle is played by Audie Murphy, the World War II hero-turned-actor. It was filmed in Saigon (and, oddly, in Cinecitta) and Joseph L Manckiewicz dedicated it to dictator Ngo Dinh Diem. The last ten minutes or so a pure Cold War propaganda that turn Greene's wonderfully prescient observations upside down. (He disavowed the film completely.) If that's the "Quiet American" Bush had in mind, of course he would see it as a endorsing his Vietnam, er, Iraq policy. He would have missed completely the terrible evils inflicted by Pyle's good intentions.

As it happens, I've been dragging Pyle, and Graham Greene, into articles about George W. Bush since May 2001. Normally I would just post the links here for the purpose of illustration, but since the Newsweek archives are still in the process of catching up with its relaunched Web site, I'm posting the full texts below:

May 11, 2001, Newsweek Web Exclusive:
The Arrogant American?

Europe is growing increasingly suspicious of Washington-and the ousting of the United States from two United Nations panels may be a sign of things to come

Hollywood, with its keen sense of the emotional moment, is remaking "The Quiet American." Based on Graham Greene's 1955 novel, it's the story of a tragically naive American official in Saigon who, convinced of his own desire to do good, misunderstands completely the values and needs of other societies. Audie Murphy starred in the first version. Brendan Fraser stars in the remake. And much of Europe thinks President George W. Bush is playing the role in real life.

"He was sincere in his way," Greene wrote of his American, Alden Pyle. "It was coincidence that the sacrifices were all paid by others."

Today, the image of the United States as oblivious, arrogant and maybe downright dangerous is reinforced every morning in European headlines. The cliched notion of Uncle Sam as a gun-toting loner and geopolitical cowboy, common during the Reagan years, is back with a vengeance.

The rhetoric has real-life consequences: The vote that excluded the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Commission last week is "an alarm that ought to make Washington think," said the French daily Le Monde. The subsequent reaction of the U.S. Congress only worsens the ugly stereotype. The House--acting against the Bush administration--voted to withhold $244 million owed the United Nations as part of Washington's already long-overdue back dues. "This will teach [these] countries a lesson," said Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos of California. "Actions have consequences. If they would like to get this payment, they will vote us back on the commission. If they don't, it will cost them $244 million."

More likely, the United States is going to find itself increasingly isolated, even in forums where it traditionally leads the consensus. Another secret U.N. ballot last week cost the United States its seat on the International Narcotics Control Board. "Does President Bush want to conduct his business with no thought of the U.N.?" asks columnist Pierre Rousselin of the conservative Paris daily Le Figaro. "The countries that refused to vote for the United States wanted to teach a lesson to the new master of America."

Nor is the United Nations the only international organization where Washington faces mounting suspicion and resentment because of the Bush administration's perceived unilateralism. As ministers from the 30 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development prepare to meet in Paris next week, senior staffers at the OECD are concerned that Washington's approach to international trade focuses on bilateral and regional accords rather than pursuing global agreements that are more difficult to negotiate.

The same OECD staffers expressed amazement at Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's statement that Washington will no longer support the organization's attempt to crack down on tax havens. "The United States does not support efforts to dictate to any country what its own tax rates or tax system should be and will not participate in any initiative to harmonize world tax systems," O'Neill said in a statement. "The OECD never proposed any such thing," said one of its senior officials.

For Europeans, a core complaint about America is its continued use of capital punishment. Even the (now delayed) execution of confessed Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is unacceptable in many European eyes. As Le Monde pointed out Friday, McVeigh is "an authentic bad guy." But Europeans have come to see the abolition of the death penalty as a measure of a country's civilization and humanity; a standard that the United States generally, and former Texas Gov. Bush particularly, fails to meet.

In addition, Europeans have a list of perceived slights and insults so long it begins to sound like a litany. "There's the anti-missile system that's presented as take it or leave it," says Le Figaro's Rousselin, then "Washington's unceremonious withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocols, which want to limit emissions of greenhouse gasses. The United States refuses to ratify the convention on the rights of the child, the one banning anti-personnel land mines, the nuclear test ban treaty and the even one that foresees an international criminal court."

Those last rejections of widely supported U.N. initiatives date back to the Clinton administration, and there may be good reasons for the United States to withhold its support from any or all of these measures. But the impression is growing abroad that Washington is intent on imposing its own narrow, self-interested values on the world. If the trend continues, so will the disquiet about Americans.

February 11, 2002, U.S. Edition:
Fears in the 'Un-America'

Europe doesn't like what it's hearing. As Bush turns up the heat, our transatlantic allies grow uneasy with the us-vs.-them rhetoric

By Christopher Dickey

The Statue Of Liberty once looked out over the rooftops of Paris. "Liberty Enlightening the World," as the sculptor called it, was assembled in 1883 a short walk from the Champs-Elysees, then shipped to New York. It was a gift from France to the United States, from the Old World to the New, in appreciation of all the ideals that Americans seemed to represent in those days, and that Europe was inclined to forget. The United States was building democracy, free speech, equal justice, the rule of law--the "nonnegotiable" universal values President George W. Bush says he's fighting for today--while one horrific conflict after another swept the Continent in the 19th century, and the two most horrible wars, and the Holocaust, were yet to come in the 20th.

And you know what? Polls show that most Europeans still see the United States as a beacon of freedom, and by large majorities. Even the French, no longer known as America lovers, openly admire America's power, its freedoms, its wealth and its dynamism. Last December, 65 percent considered it pretty sympathique. And yet... as one influential official in Paris explained last week, "You can love the Americans and still be paranoid."

Tremors of fear (if not loathing)--of American power, American hubris and what is perceived as an American inclination to ignore its friends as it damns its enemies--are coursing through Europe these days. As Europeans listened last week to Bush proclaim his vision of a new and dangerous epoch--which, with its very own "axis of evil," sounded chillingly like world wars of the past--America's traditional allies were left wondering where they fit into his scheme of things. Bush made just one scant reference to Europe in his State of the Union speech, and yet much of what he said will directly affect European lives.

Some feel as if they're hooked to a superpower locomotive that's about to go out of control, with an engineer who sees no reason to heed their warnings. "What is worse," says former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, "is that [the Europeans] don't have a clue where it's going."

In the hallways of New York's Waldorf-Astoria, where VIPs gathered for the World Economic Forum last week, many European dignitaries and diplomats were resentful. What had become of the antiterrorist partnership Europeans thought they'd built with the United States and reinforced after September 11? The prevailing sentiment seemed to be that Europe had been taken for granted at best, and at worst forgotten. "For any coalition to last, it has to be real," French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine publicly chided Secretary of State Colin Powell. "If you are talking about a coalition for a stable world, it's not enough just to fight terrorism."

Even NATO, forged by the great binding treaty that spans the Atlantic, didn't seem to figure in the plans Bush described to Congress. "Will Americans fight a war through NATO ever again?" asks Bildt. "It's doubtful." Instead, the Swede bitterly imagines a different division of power: "The U.S. reserves the right to itself to wage war, and dumps on others the messy, expensive business of nation-building and peacekeeping."

Even in Britain, America's most dependable European ally in times of trouble, anxieties are bubbling up. British Member of Parliament Peter Mandelson told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that he saw a "nascent cleaving" between the United States and Europe. "In the aftermath of September 11," says Richard Norton-Taylor, security editor of The Guardian newspaper, "there was a hope that America would engage the rest of the world." Instead, there is a growing sense that Bush tailors his policies for "American consumption... and ignores the opinions of Europe and the Middle East." The photos out of Guantanamo Bay of Taliban and Qaeda prisoners shackled and blindfolded show "the complete disregard, not to say contempt, the Bush administration has for [international] public opinion," says Norton-Taylor.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has taken flak at home for seeming too chummy with Bush and other Americans.

Europeans have always found the United States ingenuous, even dangerously so, when it throws its weight around. More than a century ago, Rudyard Kipling warned Americans about the risks of waging "savage wars of peace"; in the 1950s Graham Greene wrote that American "innocence is a kind of insanity." And a certain residual anti-Americanism is probably endemic in Europe, especially among the elites. But beyond the tired jealousies of faded colonial powers, the rivalry of trading blocs and the snobbery of old cultures about new ones, several specific issues divide the United States from much of Europe. The cursory way the United States rejected the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gases, its reluctance to pursue a campaign against offshore tax havens and its willingness to toss out the antiballistic-missile treaty are just some of the issues that set European nerves on edge even before September 11.

Europe is a place where the death penalty isn't allowed and where the environment is an issue that makes or breaks governments. Taxes are higher, but then people are less wasteful of gasoline that costs $4 a gallon. The welfare of society and the community is exalted over that of the individual. Diplomacy is favored over force in almost every instance. "There exists a European art of living," says France's Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. "We have our own way of taking action, of defending freedoms, of fighting against inequality and discrimination, of thinking and of organizing labor relations, of teaching and of healing and of managing our time. Each of our countries has its own traditions and rules, but together they make up a common universe."

That universe, however, rubs right up against another. The Arab and Muslim world is on Europe's doorstep, with a long, painful, complicated history of clashing faiths--or civilizations, if you will--that Europe has internalized. The French and Germans and Britons understand that the United States feels vulnerable as never before. But so do they. And they don't have much faith that a military campaign here or there will solve their problems. In parts of Europe, Turks and North Africans provide most of the immigrant labor force. Many live in increasingly volatile communities where second- and third-generation Muslim youths are unemployed, unintegrated and angry. A few of those young men have been recruited into the ranks of Al Qaeda. Others carry out random acts of vandalism and violence. The communal wars of Kurds and Turks that seem so distant to most Americans have been transplanted to the hearts of many German cities.

The conflict between Arabs and Israelis is felt between the French Muslims and French Jews living side by side in the working-class suburbs of Paris and Marseilles. Since the new wave of violence began between Israel and the Palestinians, some surveys have shown a massive increase in vandalism of French Jewish schools and synagogues, as well as sporadic attacks on individual Jews. Among the European far right and Roman Catholic extremists, there may be residual anti-Semitism of the kind that tolerated and collaborated with the Holocaust. And
European Jews are wary as well of upper-crust condescension that walks a thin line between disapproval of Israeli policy and an uglier disdain for Israelis. But that isn't what this new violence is about, says one leading Israeli historian; "this is a new form of communal violence by a deprived Arab community that has not integrated, and will strike out at any target, under any pretext."

These are not the kinds of problems that European leaders think Washington's war on terror is likely to solve. And when they see the Bush administration taking sides in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, instead of pressuring both parties to negotiate, they can barely contain their frustration. When Washington and Israel then resist European efforts to foster a solution, there's consternation. "The Americans aren't prepared to do anything," says a senior adviser to Tony Blair, "and they don't want anyone else to do anything either." And yet by presenting itself as the superpower arbiter of the world's conflicts, Washington sometimes cannot help but be hated by one side or another.

One country where the United States is really loathed, certifiably and widely, is Greece--but by the Christians. Days after September 11, crowds in Athens were burning American flags, and polls showed that many thought the United States had gotten what it deserved at Ground Zero. Why? Because it failed to force the Muslim Turks out of northern Cyprus, and it backed the Muslim Bosnians and Kosovars against the Serbs, who are mostly Orthodox Catholics, like the Greeks.

But the disquiet in Europe is not only about differences on security issues, or the war on terror, or the shift in the Mideast peace process. There's another, deeper, perhaps existential (to use a
favorite European word) element: all this is happening as the Europeans are trying to redefine exactly who they themselves are.

When France sent the Statue of Liberty to the United States as a testimony of faith in the freedom America represented, Europe was an incubator for totalitarians, a slaughterhouse for the common people. But 57 years have passed since the end of World War II, and Europe is now in the midst of an amazing experiment, building unity through consensus instead of empire. Since January a single currency has jingled in the pockets of people in 12 countries, and the European Union is expected to admit at least 10 more members--for a total of 25--by the end of 2004. Europe will eventually be a single market of 500 million people--stretching from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean, from the west coast of Ireland to the eastern border of Poland.

Thus far, this union has been a technocratic miracle, and sometimes a bureaucratic nightmare. But Europeans are searching for a better way to define it politically and socially. For want of another vision, many describe it as the "un-America," like the "un-cola." They cherish the notion that it's kinder, gentler, safer, wiser, worldlier and (ahem) more civilized.

Of course, Europe has been able to cultivate its humanistic values because it was protected by the awesome military power of the United States. But some Europeans think those days are ending in the midst of this war on terror. They see Bush extolling his relationship with China and Russia, with India and Israel, and they wonder why they've been left off the A-list. There may even be a risk that in Bush's "with us or against us" world of policymaking, as Europe tries to assert itself more strongly, the un-America could truly become anti-America. But that fear still seems to tip toward paranoia. For now, the criticism sounds more like one of Graham Greene's weary, worldly heroes, talking about an idealistic Yank "who was as incapable of imagining pain or danger to himself as he was incapable of conceiving the pain he might cause others."

With Stryker McGuire in London, Andrew Nagorski, Michael Meyer and Michael Hirsh in New York, Stefan Theil in Berlin and Toula Vlahou in Athens

The Terrorist Temptation, 18 November 2005

The Bush administration is so accustomed to torturing the truth, it can’t face the facts when they scream out.

Over a glass of Champagne and under the eyes of raging priests on a vast Old Testament tapestry, I caught up with Paul Wolfowitz in Paris earlier this week. The now-president of the World Bank and former U.S. deputy secretary of defense, who is seen by many as the architect of the Iraq invasion, was talking mainly about development issues in Africa and bird flu. The cost of fighting the avian-borne pandemic, he said, might be as much as $1.5 billion. He made that
sound like an awful lot of money, and probably it is when he’s scrounging for funds from international donors. But since $1.5 billion is about what the United States spends each week in Iraq, I asked Wolfowitz if he didn’t feel a few regrets about that venture.

Wolfowitz has a very pleasant way about him, professorial and quietly passionate. Regrets? No. “It’s extremely important to win the fight in Iraq,” he said. At the cocktail after the conference in the ornate reception room of a grand palais, I buttonholed Wolfowitz again. We all wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, I said, but when it became obvious in 2002 that we didn’t have a decent plan for occupying Iraq, shouldn’t we have thought again? “I think there shouldn’t have
been an occupation,” said Wolfowitz. He thought we should have trained more Iraqis to take over. He didn’t elaborate – he was running out the door -- but Wolfowitz always thought that Ahmad Chalabi should run post-invasion Iraq.

So the big mistake in Mesopotamia, it would seem, was not following the grand plans of the best and the brightest who took us to war there in 2003. Others failed, not they. And maybe the armchair war-lovers of the Bush administration really believe this. Ideologues see the world through different lenses than ordinary people. From their perches in government or academe, they like to imagine themselves riding the waves of great historical forces. Faced with criticism, they point fingers at their enemies like Old Testament prophets and call down the wrath of heaven.

But there’s no reason the rest of us should delude ourselves, which is one reason, I suspect, that Congressman John Murtha (D-Pa.), a retired Marine colonel and long-time friend of the U.S. military on the Hill, spoke yesterday with such unfettered outrage. In some of the sound-bites heard on the news, he seemed to be out of control. He was not and is not. He full statement, which I’ve posted on The Shadowland Journal is as well reasoned as it is passionate. The war in Iraq, he said, “is a flawed policy wrapped in an illusion.” Unlike Wolfowitz, who once went before Congress without even bothering to check how many Americans had died at his instigation, Murtha makes frequent visits to Bethesda and Walter Reed hospitals to talk to the maimed survivors of this conflict. “What demoralizes them is going to war with not enough troops and equipment to make the transition to peace; the devastation caused by IEDs; being deployed to Iraq when their homes have been ravaged by burricanes; being on their second or third deployment and leaving their families behind without a network of support.”

Murtha makes a point that ought to be obvious, but that this administration constantly struggles to obscure: “Our military captured Saddam Hussein, and captured or killed his closest associates. But the war continues to intensify. Deaths and injuries are growing, with over 2,079 confirmed American deaths. Over 15,500 have been seriously injured and it is estimated that over 50,000 will suffer from battle fatigue. There have been reports of at least 30,000 Iraqi civilian deaths.” Meanwhile “our reconstruction efforts have been crippled by [the] security situation. Only $9 billion of the $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction has been spent. Unemployment remains at about 60 per cent. Clean water is scarce. Only $500 million of the
$2.2 million appropriated for water projects have been spent. And most importantly, insurgent incidents have increased from about 150 per week to over 700 in the last year.”

Murtha argument that only a withdrawal of American forces can improve the situation was greeted by troops I know on the ground, and also by the White House, with genuine consternation. There is a plan, they say. In President George W. Bush’s phrase, “as Iraqis stand up, Americans will stand down.” And the military keeps compiling metrics to show something like that is happening. But it’s not enough, and Murtha puts his finger on the essential problem: as long as the Americans are there to bear the burden of the fighting, the Iraqis who are supposed to stand up don’t really see any need. As Murtha put it in mil-speak: “I believe with a U.S. troop redeployment, the Iraq security forces will be incentivized to take control.”

In fact, standing down is not about pulling out. So topsy-turvy is the policy at this point that we’re not going to imagine leaving until the Iraqi government demands that we go – and
you can be sure the Iraqis who are now taking power surely will do just that. When? As soon as they and their Iranian allies have consolidated their hold on the southern three-fourths of the country and its oil.

There’s no mystery here. The mullahs in Tehran who harbored, trained and funded what are now the most powerful Shiite political parties in Iraq, have always seen American soldiers as useful idiots in this fight. Americans are welcome to die in Iraq as long as their mission is to eliminate Tehran’s old enemy Saddam Hussein and wipe out his supporters. The Iranians originally thought they would have to force the Americans out when that job was done. But the chaos of the occupation and the trend of Iraqi democracy now make the mullahs’ job even easier. All they have to do is get their clients and friends in Baghdad to demand an American departure.

Ahmad Chalabi, always close to Tehran, might do that himself if he actually manages to become prime minister. In Washington this week, he suggested the deadline the administration was unwilling to name: the end of 2006.

The Bush administration no longer sets the agenda in Iraq, in fact, and hasn’t for at least two years. The watershed came in November 2003 when there was a dramatic spike in US casualties and Washington suddenly scrambled together a policy for transferring sovereignty back to Iraqis instead of pocketing it indefinitely for the Pentagon and the oil companies, as originally intended. The American invasion, which was supposed to be pro-active, has led to an occupation that is entirely reactive, and it’s clear – or ought to be – that the castles in the air constructed by Wolfowitz and his friends have been blown away by facts on the ground.

President George W. Bush showed hopeful signs of pragmatism earlier this year, but no longer. His speeches over the last week, with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld singing back-up, attack critics for re-writing the history that they have tried to invent. What’s the bottom line of what Bush is saying now? That we are now in Iraq and have to stay the course because … the terrorists want us there. As the White House transcript puts it, “Our goal is to defeat the terrorists and their allies at the heart of their power, so we will defeat the enemy in Iraq.” But – the terrorists we’re fighting now didn’t have any power in Iraq until our invasion. Ideologues like to fight ideologues, so they tend to miss details like that.

For any of us who lived through the Cold War, Bush’s attempts to equate the scatter-shot writings of Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, with the challenges posed by Marxism-Leninism and the Soviet empire are just mind-boggling. In his Veteran’s Day address to troops at Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania (Murtha’s home state), Bush started four paragraphs with the phrase “like the ideology of communism.” He longs transparently for the challenge of an Evil Empire, like the one his idol Ronald Reagan confronted, whether of not it exists.

This is nuts, but alas, not that unusual in the annals of American policy. Once again, President Bush’s lethally misguided good intentions are reminiscent of Alden Pyle in Graham Greene’s novel “The Quiet American,” about the early days of U.S. involvement in Viet Nam: “He was absorbed already in the dilemmas of Democracy and the responsibilities of the West; he was determined – I learnt that very soon – to do good, not to any individual person but to a country, a continent, a world. … When he saw a dead body he couldn’t even see the wounds. A Red menace, a soldier of democracy.”

Such naïveté is bad enough. But the transparent envy that America’s right-wing ideologues conceive for the tactics of their enemies, the enormous temptation to fight them by using their
methods, is much worse. They subscribe to some higher truth than ascertainable facts, divining the intentions of their enemies and turning them into the stuff of paranoid fantasy. My colleague Fareed Zakaria pointed out in the summer of 2003 the way Wolfowitz and his ideological allies made a habit of vastly overestimating the Soviet threat to the United States, beginning in the 1970s. Then they overestimated the Chinese menace in the 1980s. And in the 1990s they turned their hyperbolic lens on Saddam. “Threat assessments must be based not simply on the intentions of an adversary, but on his capabilities as well,” Fareed wrote. It would have helped if they’d considered the strain on American capabilities as well.

Once we had plunged into the Iraq conflict, and discovered how out of our depth we were, instead of acknowledging that truth the administration decided to wring a more satisfactory picture from thousands of prisoners. In some cases, too many cases, this meant brutalizing them to the point of outright torture. As M. Gregg Bloche and Jonathan Marks pointed out this week in an essay published by the International Herald Tribune, the interrogation practices used at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib were derived from old Red Army methods. “The Pentagon cannot point to any intelligence gains resulting from the techniques that have so tarnished America’s image,” wrote Bloche and Marks. “That’s because they were designed by Communist interrogators to control a prisoner’s will rather than to extract useful intelligence.”

As Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) points out in this week’s Newsweek, torture diminishes the very ideas that make America great – and different – from its enemies. At a practical level, Rep. Murtha notes that “since the revelations of Abu Ghraib, American casualties have doubled.”

Wolfowitz was right about one thing, I thought, as I saw him hand off his glass of bubbly and head for the door. There shouldn’t have been any occupation, and certainly not the one he left us.