Saturday, October 30, 2004

Professor of the dark arts
If you want to understand the Bush political juggernaut -- and the master strategist behind it, Karl Rove -- then you have to read this profile of Rove by Josh Green in the Atlantic Monthly. The article digs behind Rove's facade to tell the story of how he rose to prominence, and how he achieved some of his most important victories over political opponents in races tighter than this one (if you can believe that!).

Friday, October 29, 2004

Reading recomendations for wonks
The RAND Corporation has a couple of interesting new titles advertised on its website for people interested in security issues. The great thing about RAND books is that they're free online — so click on the link and download, no registration or fee required.

"Army Forces for Homeland Security", by Lynn Davis, David E. Mosher, Richard Brennan, Michael Greenberg, Scott McMahon and Charles Yost.
Abstract: Although responding to terrorist attacks and other domestic emergencies is primarily a civilian responsibility, the U.S. Army has a role in filling gaps in civilian capability. Should the Army adopt a hedging strategy to meet the risks of future terrorist attacks and other emergencies? The authors of this report lay out five possible shortfalls in Army capability and suggest five responses the Army can begin today, concluding that the nation needs to decide whether to bear the costs today in order to hedge against future risks.

"Using Military Medical Assets to Respond to Terrorist Attacks", by Gary Cecchine, Michael A. Wermuth, Roger C. Molander, K. Scott McMahon, Jesse D. Malkin, Jennifer Brower, John D. Woodward and Donna F. Barbisch.
Abstract: Even before September 11, 2001, threat assessments suggested that the United States should prepare to respond to terrorist attacks inside its borders. This monograph examines the use of military medical assets to support civil authorities in the aftermath of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or conventional high explosives attack inside the United States. The authors focus on key questions, including under what circumstances military medical assets could be requested and what assets are likely to be requested.
Reviews - "Masters of Chaos" and "Chain of Command"
The November issue of the Washington Monthly will show up in newsracks and mailboxes next week — I encourage all of my readers to grab a copy (or just subscribe -- it's definitely worth it). This month's issue will feature a couple of my review essays on books in the national security field, which I've excerpted below.

Masters of Chaos, by Linda Robinson, Public Affairs, $26.00
In America's wars against the al Qaeda terror network and Iraq, few military organizations play as central a role as the U.S. Army's Special Forces. Founded a half-century ago, these "Green Berets"—named for the distinctive headgear they have worn since the Kennedy administration, when the Pentagon dispatched them to fight insurgents in South Vietnam—serve as military trainers, political advisers, and unconventional warriors around the world. The iconic image which has emerged from the Afghan conflict remains that of a Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha—a real life "A Team"—riding into battle on horseback as if a 19th-century cavalry charge, but equipped with 21st-century weapons and satellite communications gear.

But not much is really known about these elite soldiers, who call themselves the "quiet professionals." Special operations exploits rarely make the headlines except when they succeed or fail spectacularly. Military historians, too, tend to focus on conventional forces and battles. U.S. News & World Report senior writer Linda Robinson helps to fill the resulting void with Masters of Chaos, which offers a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Green Berets and their recent adventures. The book pieces together stories from such colorful characters as Chief Warrant Officer Randall "Rawhide" Wurst, whose service record reads like a briefing on the last two decades of U.S. foreign policy, to provide a gripping, if sometimes anecdotal and incomplete, history of Special Forces.

* * *
Robinson also hints that several lessons might be drawn from the last two decades of Green Beret operations. One reason the Green Berets do so well in combat is because they do what the CIA and other agencies do not: They learn languages, work to understand and go into war zones to get the information our country needs. Similarly, they can function well either in war or peace. In that sense, they offer a model for every unit in the U.S. Armed Forces; in the best of all worlds, the military would build such special-operations capabilities into every part of the force, both to conserve the elite units' manpower and to ensure that any soldier, whether truck driver or infantryman, can perform under fire.

But the United States has also overused the special forces to the exclusion of other forms of national power, as Dana Priest observed in her brilliant book, The Mission. As the military's abilities and influence overseas have expanded, America's abilities to act through diplomacy, intelligence work, and economic policy overseas have atrophied. Though the Green Berets may indeed be "Masters of Chaos," as Robinson writes, the key to U.S. security may be to use all forms of national power—political, economic, military, and moral—to avoid international chaos by helping failed states and reinforcing collective security efforts.
* * *

Chain of Command, by Seymour Hersh, Harper Collins, $25.95
A generation from now, historians may look back to April 28, 2004, as the day the United States lost the war in Iraq. On that date, "CBS News" broadcast the first ugly photographs of abuses by American soldiers at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. There were images of a man standing hooded on a box with wires attached to his hands; of guards leering as they forced naked men to simulate sexual acts; of a man led around on a leash by a female soldier; of a dead Iraqi detainee, packed in ice; and more. The pictures had been taken the previous fall by U.S. Army military police soldiers assigned to the prison, but had made it into the hands of Army criminal investigators only months later, when a soldier named Joseph Darby anonymously passed them a CD-ROM full of prison photos. The images aroused worldwide indignation, and illustrated in graphic detail both the lengths to which the United States would go to get intelligence, and the extent to which those efforts had been corrupted by the exigencies of the difficult war in Iraq.

Two days later, The New Yorker published a report on Abu Ghraib by Seymour Hersh. Hersh won a Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his reporting on the U.S. Army's atrocities in Vietnam; now he had come full circle, documenting the full extent of the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the Army's initial efforts to investigate them. Hersh's reporting—which forms the nucleus of his new book, Chain of Command—helped launch nearly a dozen different criminal investigations into what former vice president Al Gore dubbed "the American Gulag," the extraterritorial chain of prisons and detainment centers, stretching from Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan, set up by the Bush administration to hold suspected terrorists. More than 300 instances of abuse in those facilities, from November 2001 to as recently as March 2004, have been alleged since then. To date, eight out of 11 investigations have been completed. They have produced thousands of documents, witness interviews, military orders, emails, and PowerPoint briefings, with each one telling a small piece of the story of how America's vaunted all-volunteer professional military lapsed into some of the most unprofessional and despicable conduct of its history. Forty-five soldiers have been recommended for courts-martial, and 23 others for summary discharge. Nearly one year after the first sadistic acts took place, the extent of the abuses remains unknown. But by all indications, the worst revelations are yet to come. In closed-door presentations before Congress, Pentagon officials revealed evidence of crimes ranging from the rape of female detainees to the sexual abuse of minors held at Abu Ghraib.

There is no doubt that the abuses at Abu Ghraib stand as an indelible stain on the honor of the American military. What is less clear is the degree to which the resulting scandal has damaged our national security and undermined our efforts to bring peace to Iraq and win the war against radical terrorism—a war that is as much a fight for the political and moral high ground as it is a shooting war that pits American soldiers against Islamist ones. America suffered a huge defeat the moment those photographs became public. Copies of them are now sold in souks from Marrakesh to Jakarta, vivid illustrations of the worst suspicions of the Arab world: that Americans are corrupt and power-mad, eager to humiliate Muslims and mock their values. The acts they document have helped to energize the insurgency in Iraq, undermining our rule there and magnifying the risks faced by our soldiers each day. If Osama bin Laden had hired a Madison Avenue public relations firm to rally Arabs hearts and minds to his cause, it's hard to imagine that it could have devised a better propaganda campaign.

The damage done by Abu Ghraib might at least have been minimized had the administration pursued a strategy of publicly and sincerely holding accountable those responsible for it. Instead, it has done something close to the opposite. The Bush administration has condemned the abuses as the work of a "few bad apples," while working diligently to get the story off the front pages and out of the presidential campaign. In a meeting with Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth shortly after the scandal broke, reports Hersh, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice argued that the abuses resulted not from the president's policies in the war on terrorism, but from "implementation of policy" by the military. The various committees and commissions investigating the scandal have more or less abetted this line of defense. Discussing the results of the independent investigation into Abu Ghraib he chaired, former defense secretary James R. Schlesinger explained that while "institutional and personal responsibility" for the abuses went all the way to Washington, they were rooted in the sadism and brutality of a few individuals—"Animal House on the night shift," as he put it. While the military's civilian leadership was guilty of "indirect responsibility," Schlesinger told reporters, Donald Rumsfeld's resignation "would be a boon to all of America's enemies."

Go past the executive summaries and press releases, however, and a careful reading of the reports reveals a different story. The devastating scandal of Abu Ghraib wasn't a failure of implementation, as Rice and other administration defenders have admitted. It was a direct—and predictable—consequence of a policy, hatched at the highest levels of the administration, by senior White House officials and lawyers, in the weeks and months after 9/11. Yet the administration has largely managed to escape responsibility for those decisions; a month from election day, almost no one in the press or the political class is talking about what is, without question, the worst scandal to emerge from President Bush's nearly four years in office.

Defenders of the administration have argued, of course, that there is no "smoking gun"—no chain of orders leading directly from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Pfc. Lynndie England and her co-conspirators. But that reasoning—now largely accepted within the Beltway—betrays a deliberate indifference to how large organizations such as the military actually work. In any war, civilian leaders set strategic aims, and it falls to commanders and planners at successively lower levels of command to refine that guidance into executable orders which can be handed down to subordinates. That process works whether the policy in question is a good one or a bad one. President Bush didn't order the April 2003 "thunder run" into Baghdad; he ordered Tommy Franks to win the war and the Third Infantry Division's leaders figured out how to make it happen. Likewise, no order was given to shove light sticks into the rectums of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Nevertheless, the road to the abuses began with flawed administration policies that exalted expediency and necessity over the rule of law, eviscerated the military's institutional constraints on the treatment of prisoners, commenced combat with insufficient planning, preparation and troop strength, and thereby set the conditions for the abuses that would later take place.

But there's a reason why most of the investigations into Abu Ghraib have punted on the essential question of executive responsibility. To judge the administration's decisions to have been wrong, after all, requires us to discern what the right decisions would have been. And to do that, we must put ourselves in their shoes. Given the particular conditions faced by the president and his deputies after 9/11—a war against terrorists, in which the need to extract intelligence via interrogations was intensely pressing, but the limits placed by international law on interrogation techniques were very constricting—did those leaders have better alternatives than the one they chose? The answer is that they did. And we will be living with the consequences of the choices they made for years to come.
Post Script: I'll have an updated list of book recommendations for the holiday season in a week or two. As always, I appreciate your purchase of books and other items through my Amazon.Com links, which return a small portion of each purchase back to this site. I use those proceeds to pay for the Intel Dump site itself, as well as my professional reading in this area. Thanks!
A soldier with a new mission
Today's New York Times carries a flattering profile of my friend Paul Rieckhoff, who started the veterans advocacy organization Operation Truth after seeing combat as an infantry officer in Iraq. Paul deserves a great deal of credit for the work he has done, both in building his organization and in raising public awareness regarding certain issues (e.g. funding of VA medical care and transition assistance for returning combat vets). OpTruth is a non-partisan organization, although it tends to criticize the incument administration more because its criticisms often target things happening right now within the Defense Department and other cabinet agencies. (For the record, should Sen. Kerry win next week, I believe that OpTruth will adjust fire to focus on Democratic policies insofar as they clash with the interest of veterans.) I think this group does a great deal of good by amplifying the voices of veterans who would not otherwise be heard in the public debate.
A drop in the bucket... or the tip of the iceberg?
Tom Ricks and Bradley Graham provide some analysis in Friday's Washington Post of the Al Qaqaa story which has taken a life of its own since Monday's initial NY Times report. Both writers take a step back to ask a crucial question: how significant is this lapse of weapons security in the larger picture of Iraq? The answer is that the missing explosives from Al Qaqaa really aren't that significant, accounting for 0.06% of the total amount of missing munitions in Iraq. On the one hand, this undercuts the importance of the Al Qaqaa story; on the other hand, this illustrates why things continue to be so explosive (sorry, bad pun) in Iraq.

Men + materiel + ideology = the insurgency triad, as I wrote earlier this week. The fact that there are hundreds of thousands of tons of missing ammo — not just 380 tons — is not a good news story. If anything, this should make us question the Pentagon and the Bush administration more about its efforts to secure conventional weapons after the Hussein regime's collapse, because it it those weapons (not WMD) that are fueling today's insurgency.

More to follow...

Update I: Also see "Far More Ordnance Lost In Iraq, Sources Say" by Jonathan S. Landay in today's Miami Herald, and "U.S. Nixes Theory On Missing Weapons" in USA Today for more on this story. The more comprehensive reports about the extent of conventional weapons proliferation in Iraq are starting to surface now, and they're all telling the same bad story. I agree with the critics of the AQQ story that it's much ado about almost nothing. But c'mon... can you really say the same thing about all these other stories?

Update II: Slate colleague Eric Umansky has some interesting reporting on his website regarding the severity of the Al Qaqaa problem. The verdict is that we shouldn't worry too much (although we should still worry) about this lapse -- because there are plenty of others around Iraq that are bigger and more deserving of concern.

Related Posts:

  1. Uh oh... we lost some more weapons in Iraq
  2. A drop in the bucket... or the tip of the iceberg?
  3. The insurgency triad: men + explosives + ideology

Thursday, October 28, 2004

(Revised) On Thursday, I linked to a note on another weblog regarding a soldier's story, as told to a blogger on a trans-Atlantic flight. I have since received a couple of e-mails to indicate this story was false. The transcription of the conversation may be entirely accurate, but the story carries too many indicators of falsehood for me to accept it at face value. It may well represent the truth in a larger sense, or the sentiments of this particular soldier. But I can't verify any of the specific details contained in the story, so therefore I feel obligated to raise questions about its veracity. Nonetheless, I've kept the link up so you can read the story and come to your own conclusion. There's a lengthy discussion in the comments section for this post regarding its truth, and I recommend a look at that if you're interested. As the old baseball show used to say: you make the call.
Another zany Justice Department memo
Over the weekend, Dana Priest of the Washington Post reported on a rather disturbing memo out of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel regarding the legality of temporarily removing detainees from Iraq for interrogation purposes. These detainees have been euphemized as "ghost detainees" because they're generally not registered or reported to the Int'l Committee of the Red Cross, nor are they accorded any Geneva protections. Ms. Priest reported that the treatment of these detainees has been blessed at the highest levels, according to the legal memo written by OLC chief Jack Goldsmith. [CIA officials subsequently defended their actions, saying they were vetted and approved at the highest level.]
One intelligence official familiar with the operation said the CIA has used the March draft memo as legal support for secretly transporting as many as a dozen detainees out of Iraq in the last six months. The agency has concealed the detainees from the International Committee of the Red Cross and other authorities, the official said.

The draft opinion, written by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and dated March 19, 2004, refers to both Iraqi citizens and foreigners in Iraq, who the memo says are protected by the treaty. It permits the CIA to take Iraqis out of the country to be interrogated for a "brief but not indefinite period." It also says the CIA can permanently remove persons deemed to be "illegal aliens" under "local immigration law."

Some specialists in international law say the opinion amounts to a reinterpretation of one of the most basic rights of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects civilians during wartime and occupation, including insurgents who were not part of Iraq's military.

The treaty prohibits the "[i]ndividual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory . . . regardless of their motive."
Pam Hess of UPI provides some additional analysis of the memorandum in a report filed Tuesday night. Suffice to say, the OLC interpretation runs contrary to what some international law specialists think about the Geneva Conventions.
... four legal experts closely monitoring the U.S. government's legal maneuvering in the "war on terror" say the same reasoning cannot apply to Iraq, and an entirely different section of the Geneva Conventions applies to people captured in Iraq.

The Fourth Geneva Convention protects all persons who find themselves in an occupied country, provided they are not citizens of the occupying power.

The convention prohibits the forced transfer or deportation of individuals or groups from occupied territory to the occupying power or any other country, regardless of the reason. Some transfers within the country are allowed, if the security of the population or military reasons "so demand," but they may not be removed from the occupied country except "when for material reasons it is impossible to avoid such displacement," the convention states.

Anyone moved within the occupied territory must be registered immediately with the International Committee of the Red Cross, according to Harvard international law professor Detlev Vagts, a former military judge advocate general.

* * *
"These provisions are a response to Nazi atrocities," Vagt wrote in a memo to his Harvard colleagues when the Washington Post first reported the Goldsmith brief. "'Mass transfers' refers to the trains that moved from Drancy to Auschwitz. 'Individual transfers' covers a Nazi program called 'Night and Fog' (Nacht und Nebel) in which resistance fighters (unlawful combatants) from France, etc. were secretly whisked to

German camps for 'special treatment.'

"One concludes from this that the transfers of detainees from Iraq, whether or not they are Iraqis, is forbidden. A second violation arises from the failure to notify the International Committee of the Red Cross (the Protecting Power) at once."
(As an aside, Jack Goldsmith is reportedly headed to Harvard Law School soon, and these comments from Prof. Vagts may signal a bloody fight in the future between the members of the HLS faculty.)

Analysis: I've read the memo itself, and I have a couple of points to add. First, this memorandum represents a quantum leap forward from the types of work product previously produced by OLC and the White House Counsel's office to justify the nullification of the Geneva Conventions and the use of extra-legal forms of interrogation (aka torture). Unlike those previous memos, this one contains none of the sweeping executive privilege language, which has since been thoroughly discredited by the Supreme Court and disavowed by the White House Counsel himself. In addition, I found the sourcing of this memo to be quite good — it relies on many conventional sources and seminal texts from the law of armed conflict to put together its argument.

But ultimately, that last point is also this memo's greatest flaw. In the executive branch, the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel is not supposed to make arguments — it's supposed to provide counsel. That means that its job is to serve as "honest broker" for legal issues within the executive branch — to opine on what the most likely outcome would be should any particular issue arise during the course of executive action, especially in the event that it's litigated. OLC serves no one when it gives the White House the answer it wants — or an answer that's too one-sided or argumentative. I don't think this memo adequately considers all of the other sides to the argument. Specifically, I think this memo fails to adequately consider the threat of ICC prosecution, historic British and Iraqi law on the points it covers, and the application of the federal war-crimes statute and UCMJ to anyone who violates Geneva and/or AR 190-8, the Army's regulation for dealing with prisoners. So while I think this memo is less flawed than the earlier memoranda, I do still think it's flawed.