Saturday, November 20, 2004

One hell of a fight
War correspondent Dexter Filkins has an outstanding dispatch in Sunday's N.Y. Times on the experience of Bravo Company, 1-8 Marines, in the battle of Fallujah. In my opinion, this article is one of the finest pieces of combat journalism to come out of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It does an outstanding job of telling these Marines' stories, and relating their fight to the larger picture of the war. Here's a short excerpt:
The 150 marines with whom I traveled, Company B of the First Battalion, Eighth Marines, had it as tough as any unit in the fight. They moved through the city almost entirely on foot, into the heart of the resistance, rarely protected by tanks or troop carriers, working their way through Falluja's narrow streets with 75-pound packs on their backs.

In eight days of fighting, Company B took 36 casualties, including 6 dead, meaning that one in four of the company was either wounded or killed in little more than a week.

The sounds, sights and feel of the battle were as old as war itself, and as new as the Pentagon's latest weapons systems. The eerie pop from the cannon of the AC-130 gunship, prowling above the city, firing at guerrillas who were often only steps away from Americans on the ground. The weird buzz of the Dragon Eye pilotless airplane, hovering over the battlefield as its video cameras beamed real-time images back to the base.

The glow of the insurgents' flares, throwing daylight over a landscape to help them spot their targets: us.

The nervous shove of a marine scrambling for space along a brick wall as tracer rounds ricocheted above.

The silence between the ping of the shell leaving its mortar tube and the explosion when it strikes.

The screams of the marines when one of their comrades, Cpl. Jake Knospler, lost part of his jaw to a hand grenade.

"No, no, no!" the marines shouted as they dragged Corporal Knospler from the darkened house where the bomb went off. It was 2 a.m., the sky dark without a moon. "No, no, no!"

Nothing in the combat I saw even remotely resembled the scenes regularly flashed across movie screens, but often seemed no more real.

Mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades began raining down on Company B the moment its men began piling out of their troop carries just outside of Falluja. The shells looked like Fourth of July rockets, sailing over the ridge ahead as if fired by children, exploding in a whoosh of sparks.

Whole buildings, minarets and human beings were vaporized in barrages of exploding shells. A man dressed in a white dishdasha crawled across a desolate field, reaching behind a gnarled plant to hide, when he collapsed before a burst of fire from an American tank.

Sometimes the casualties came in volleys, like bursts of machine-gun fire. On the first morning of battle, during a ferocious struggle for the Muhammadia Mosque, about 45 marines with Company B's Third Platoon dashed across 40th Street, right into interlocking streams of fire. By the time the platoon made it to the other side, five men lay bleeding in the street.

The marines rushed out to get them, as they would days later in the minaret, but it was too late for Sgt. Lonny D. Wells, who bled to death on the side of the road. One of the men who braved gunfire to pull in Sergeant Wells was Cpl. Nathan R. Anderson, who died three days later in an ambush.

Sergeant Wells's death dealt the Third Platoon a heavy blow; as a leader of one of its squads, he had written letters to the parents of its younger members, assuring them he would look over them during the tour in Iraq.

"He loved playing cards," Cpl. Gentian Marku recalled. "He knew all the probabilities."
Read the whole thing.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Military overstretch, part XXIII
Esther Schrader reports in Thursday's L.A. Times on a hearing by the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday where the service chiefs testified they were running into dangerous manpower and materiel shortfalls. The shortages exist largely because of the global war on terrorism, and the failure so far by the services to refit themselves -- derivative of the failure by Congress and the Pentagon to shift funding into areas like resetting the pre-positioned fleets. The effects exist in other areas too, like manpower recruiting and retention, and may lead to dire results for the military down the road. According to Ms. Schrader:
In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, the service chiefs said the military would need considerably more money for Iraq over the next year. The chiefs of the Army and Marines in particular stressed the increasing difficulty of recruiting and retaining soldiers, and then equipping them for combat.

"Make no mistake, today we are at war," Gen. Michael W. Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, told lawmakers.

In the last year, as the insurgency in Iraq has grown, "the demand on the force has increased exponentially," Hagee said. "This demand is especially telling in the strain on our Marines, their families, and on our equipment and materiel stocks."

For the Army, which has 110,000 soldiers serving in Iraq — five times as many troops as the Marine Corps — the strain is particularly acute, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said. Despite racing over the last year to install heavy armor on its fleet of more than 8,000 Humvees in Iraq, it has so far manufactured the armor for only half, he said. And not all of that has been installed on the vehicles.

The Army has sent more than 400,000 sets of body armor to its forces in Iraq but needs 373,000 more this year, Schoomaker said.

It has equipped soldiers serving in the war with 180,000 sets of top-of-the-line clothing and fighting equipment under an initiative to rapidly equip the forces, but it is short 131,000.

The Army is also rushing to provide its troops with 41,600 more radios, 33,500 M-4 carbines and 25,000 machine guns, and to repair thousands of tactical wheeled vehicles, Schoomaker said.
Current operations take a heavy toll. That's not news, and it's not surprising. Gen. Hagee is right -- we're at war, and we should devote every available resource to winning the war as expeditiously and efficiently as possible -- especially in terms of lives. But we must also recognize that there is a future for the U.S. military beyond this war, and that certain actions we take now will either help or hurt tomorrow's military. Despite its size, the defense budget is finite. And when you pour your money into current operations, other things will suffer -- like maintenance, recapitalization, transformation, long-term personnel investment, and so forth. I wrote earlier this year about the problems the military faced in its pre-positioned vehicle fleet -- those problems have not been abated yet. There has been talk of the Army reprogramming funds from one area to another to fix the matter, but that hasn't happened. And some of this refitting cannot happen until the fighting in Iraq is over. Nonetheless, the military (and Congress) must start looking at the effects of today's war on tomorrow's military. If they don't, we may be vastly underprepared for the next fight, wherever and whenever it happens.
Counting contractors, and their dead, in Iraq
Bloomberg news has an interesting report this morning on the number of U.S. government contractors killed thus far in Iraq. Until now, such numbers had been very difficult to come by, even through indirect means such as Labor Department or workers' comp filings. Companies kept them quiet both as a business intelligence matter and a liability matter. Now, thanks to Tony Capaccio at Bloomberg, we have some idea of just how risky this job is:
Companies so far this year have filed claims for 157 deaths and 516 serious injuries, based on U.S. Labor Department figures given to Bloomberg News yesterday. Almost 60 percent of those civilians who died worked for Halliburton Co. and Titan Corp. In 2003, contractors claimed 23 deaths and 132 serious injuries.

* * *
Halliburton, the biggest U.S. contractor in Iraq, and Titan, the top provider of Army translators, have filed the most claims for employees killed or wounded in Iraq. Halliburton units through yesterday have filed 747 of 1,346 Iraqi-related claims, including 16 deaths, while Titan has filed 192 claims, including 77 deaths. A total of 78 companies filed insurance claims.

The 1941 Defense Base Act requires insurance coverage for workers in combat zones hired under U.S. contracts. Every U.S. company bidding on government work overseas in places such as Iraq, Kuwait, or Bosnia and Herzegovina must buy insurance for its U.S. and foreign workers, including Iraqi personnel, from private U.S. carriers.

About 60,000 U.S. civilians are working in Iraq alongside 138,000 U.S. troops. Another 85,000 Iraqis employed on U.S. projects are also eligible for benefits under the Base Act.

"Everyone knows Iraq is dangerous — something that the most recent killings tragically reminded us — but the DBA figures are important in that they provide the raw numbers policymakers and analysts need in an area of public policy that has a surprising lack of public information," [Brookings Institution expert Peter] Singer said.
Analysis: When one thinks about U.S. forces in Iraq, there is a temptation to simply think about our uniformed soldiers, because the Pentagon does a decent job of publicizing their numbers and their casualties. However, that's a mistake, because the U.S. has legions of diplomats, government civilian employees, contractors, and others in the war zone too. When we think of our presence in Iraq, we ought to look at the complete picture, and evaluate how each piece fits into the puzzle. We now have a much better idea of how large the contractor piece is, thanks to this article. I look forward to reading more about this subject in the future.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

A tragedy, not an atrocity
Owen West and I have an essay in Slate today looking at the case of the Marine who shot a wounded Iraqi insurgent while being filmed by an embedded reporter in Fallujah. Our verdict: this Marine was wrong, but his actions should be seen in context. Moreover, I think it's important to draw a line between incidents like this, which occur in the heat of battle, and the cold blooded murder of innocent civilians like Margaret Hassan.
... context is crucial when judging actions under fire. The very job of a rifleman is to close with and destroy his enemy—in essence, to kill the bad guy before he can kill you. But what separates the Marines from the rabble is their professional discipline—what a Harvard political scientist called the "management of violence" in describing the U.S. military. And so, this incident stands out for two reasons. First, it shows a breach of discipline, albeit under very stressful circumstances. But it also shows the extent to which the U.S. military will throw the book at one of its own. Already, the entire 1st Marine Division staff is involved with the case, and the top U.S. commander in Iraq said Tuesday that "[I]t's being investigated, and justice will be done."

* * *
On the same day as this story, the tragic news broke that CARE International worker Margaret Hassan had been executed by her captors in Iraq. Already, there have been cries of moral equivalence. One Iraqi told the Los Angeles Times: "It goes to show that [Marines] are not any better than the so-called terrorists." Al Jazeera fanned these flames of anti-American sentiment by broadcasting the shooting incident in full while censoring Hassan's execution snuff tape. (U.S. networks refused to air actual footage of both killings.) There is a simplistic appeal to such arguments because both events involve the killing of a human being and, more specifically, the apparent execution of a noncombatant in the context of war.

Yet it is the differences between these two killings that reveal the most important truths about the Marine shooting in Fallujah. Hassan was, in every sense of the word, a noncombatant. She worked for more than 20 years to help Iraqis obtain basic necessities: food, running water, medical care, electricity, and education. The Iraqi insurgents kidnapped her and murdered her in order to terrorize the Iraqi population and the aid workers trying to help them.

By contrast, the Marines entered a building in Fallujah and found several men who, until moments before, had been enemy insurgents engaged in mortal combat. A hidden grenade would have changed everything, and the Marine would have been lauded. As it turned out, the Iraqi was entitled to mercy, but Hassan was truly innocent. There is no legitimate moral equivalence between a soldier asking for quarter and a noncombatant like Hassan.

There is another key difference that reveals a great moral divide between the Marines and insurgents they fought this week in Fallujah. The insurgents choose the killing of innocents as their modus operandi and glorify these killings with videos distributed via the Internet and Al Jazeera. They recognize no civilized norms of conduct, let alone the rules of warfare. The Marines, on the other hand, distinguish themselves by killing innocents so rarely and only by exception or mistake. Collateral damage is part of warfare, and civilians will die no matter how many control measures are in place. Yet the U.S. military devotes a staggering amount of resources to ensuring that civilian deaths do not happen, from sophisticated command systems to control precision bombs to staffs of lawyers at every level of command to vet targeting decisions. And when such breaches do occur, as they apparently did on Saturday, U.S. military commanders act swiftly to punish the offender, lest one incident of indiscipline blossom into many. (Indeed, one Army captain currently faces charges for killing a wounded Iraqi after a firefight and pursuit through the streets of Baghdad.)

War may be hell, but no honorable warrior likes to spread the hell unnecessarily. Killing Hassan, regardless of any attenuated argument the insurgent apologists may make, was both unlawful and amoral—and beneath what any warrior would do. Killing the insurgent in a split second because it was instinctual, on the other hand, was a tragedy, not an atrocity.
Update I: Eugene Volokh, a former law professor of mine, discusses this story and our article over on his weblog The Volokh Conspiracy, and includes my response to some of his points here too. I look forward to reading other thoughts on legal and moral implications of the Fallujah shooting.

Update II: NBC News and MSNBC have a thorough discussion of the issues in this story — check it out.

Related Posts:

  1. The cameraman speaks
  2. A tragedy, not an atrocity

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A return to soaring rhetoric
Prof. Eliot Cohen, author of "Supreme Command : Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime", writes in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about the principal failure of outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell — as well as the challenge and opportunity this failure presents for incoming Secretary Condi Rice. The failure was not so much one of policy, Prof. Cohen writes, as one of imagination. America needed a global statesman and global voice at Foggy Bottom, but it didn't find that in Mr. Powell.
The Bush administration has two great strengths in its foreign policy: backbone, and clarity of vision. Those qualities, indispensable in time of war, have their accompanying weaknesses. Their resulting price has been sheer stubbornness, culpable tactlessness, and more dangerously, a lack of realism. Whether in dismissing the Kyoto treaty without suggesting some kind of alternative, or indeed treating seriously the problems it was meant to address; or in failing to acknowledge the errors and mistakes that have landed us in a full-blown guerrilla war in an Iraq that did not have the weapons a hapless secretary of state insisted to the world it did have, the administration has alienated more friends than it needed to, and made itself look arrogant to the point of blindness. The world gives us opponents enough: No need to cool our friends and heat our enemies by our own words and deeds.

Mr. Powell knew all that, but was not successful, in part because he did not make adequate use of the chief resource at his disposal. A secretary of state does not command a large budget or a vast work force. He or she cannot, as the secretary of defense can, send thousands of soldiers into battle, build roads, or catch terrorists. What the secretary has is, chiefly, the English language. Aside from an impassioned speech at the U.N. and a stirring evocation of the American record in Europe at Davos, Secretary Powell will leave behind no memorable words, no speeches that clarify the American position abroad, explain it at home, or guide those who must implement it.

The rhetorical function of leadership has succumbed to PowerPoint, e-mail, and telephone calls; indeed, the word "rhetoric" itself now has a pejorative connotation. But now more than ever we need rhetoric in its true sense, persuasive and illuminating speech about the troubles of our times.

As Mr. Powell's successor, Condoleezza Rice should begin by casting aside the ungainly acronym GWOT, and the more obscure term for which it stands: the Global War on Terror, a term that makes as much sense as if Americans had responded to Pearl Harbor by declaring a global war on dive bombers. She must tackle head-on the question of what the threat from Salafist terrorism is, whence it came, and how it can be combated. She must tell the world and the peoples of the Middle East what the U.S. can hope to achieve in Iraq, now that the mirage of a swift creation of a liberal state is gone. She must reinvent our public diplomacy, articulating abroad the values for which the U.S. stands, using not the techniques of Madison Avenue executives (one of the failures of the first part of the administration) but speech rooted in America's history and politics. She needs to explain how the administration will manage its new strategic partnerships, such as that with India, and its uneasy relationship with the rising power of China. She must describe what Americans expect international institutions to be able to do, and what we understand they cannot. She should, in other words, make an argument about what the world is, the extent to which we think we can shape it, and the extent to which we will be shaped by it.
Interesting argument — and probably correct. At a time when America needed it desperately, Secretary Powell did not provide America with the passionate voice it needed in the world. I think he was probably hamstrung from day one by the White House. It would have been tough to strike out on his own without significantly more backing from the White House. The SecDef and VP also undercut Powell's ability to act as America's voice abroad. It will be very interesting to see how Condi Rice fills this role, or whether she simply acts as head of the State Department and chief foreign policy adviser.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Senate confirms new SecArmy
The AP reports this evening that the Senate has voted 85-12 to confirm Francis J. Harvey as the Secretary of the Army. In related news, the White House withdrew its nomination of Lawrence Di Rita to be Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), even though he's been acting in that role for some time.
Harvey, 59, replaces Thomas White, who was fired by Rumsfeld on May 9, 2003, after a series of disputes over the scope and pace of the Army's force modernization. Since then the Army's No. 2 civilian official, Les Brownlee, has served as the acting Army secretary.

The White House originally nominated James Roche, the Air Force secretary, to replace White, but his nomination was withdrawn last spring after it languished in the Senate for months. Roche has remained as Air Force secretary, although it is widely expected he will not remain for a second term.

Harvey was nominated in September and his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee was held in October, but a full Senate vote was put off until after the Nov. 2 election.

During a floor debate on the nomination Tuesday, both Democrats and Republicans praised Brownlee's stewardship during a tumultuous period for the Army, which is stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brownlee served as the stand-in secretary for more than 550 days -- longer than anyone in the history of the Army.

Brownlee, who had a 22-year career in the Army and retired at the rank of colonel in 1984, said in an Associated Press interview last week that Rumsfeld had told him he preferred to have a businessman as Army secretary. Brownlee also spent 18 years on Capitol Hill as a Senate staffer.
Congratulations to the new Secretary of the Army -- you've got a lot on your plate already. The Army is decisively engaged in two hot wars (Afghanistan and Iraq), operationally deployed in other places (the Philippines, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Sinai peninsula, and elsewhere), and in need of recapitalization, modernization and transformation. Oh, and you've got to do all this while holding the line on budget increases and personnel increases. It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Are law reviews worth the paper they're printed on?
Or are they bloated compilations of over-cited, unoriginal thinking made worse by student editing?

Legal Affairs magazine presents a debate on this question between Judge Richard Posner and Harvard Law Review alum Randy Kozel on its website this week. The discussion comes in response to a much discussed article criticizing student-edited law reviews by Judge Posner in this month's Legal Affairs. This has been an issue of mine for a while -- and not just because I failed to make the cut for the UCLA Law Review as a 1L. In my opinion, having read a lot of peer-reviewed and refereed journals in other disciplines, I simply don't believe that law journals add that much value to the intellectual community of the law. That's not to say that law journals never provide any contribution -- there are many exceptions to my rule. But in general, I think it's a model whose time has passed, and that law schools should consider moving towards a more rigorous model of academic publishing like that embraced by other disciplines.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

CIA home to "hotbed of liberals and people who have been obstructing the president's agenda"
White House begins a purge of disloyal officers in the top ranks of the CIA's clandestine and intelligence directorates

Newsday carries this disturbing report today on a "purge" of the CIA that has been ordered by the White House. The purge is not aimed at making the CIA more effective or efficient, or at making the nation safer. No, according to Newsday, the purge is aimed at making the CIA more loyal, and less likely to leak damaging information about the Bush administration's conduct of the war on terrorism.
WASHINGTON — The White House has ordered the new CIA director, Porter Goss, to purge the agency of officers believed to have been disloyal to President George W. Bush or of leaking damaging information to the media about the conduct of the Iraq war and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, according to knowledgeable sources.

"The agency is being purged on instructions from the White House," said a former senior CIA official who maintains close ties to both the agency and to the White House. "Goss was given instructions ... to get rid of those soft leakers and liberal Democrats. The CIA is looked on by the White House as a hotbed of liberals and people who have been obstructing the president's agenda."

One of the first casualties appears to be Stephen R. Kappes, deputy director of clandestine services, the CIA's most powerful division. The Washington Post reported yesterday that Kappes had tendered his resignation after a confrontation with Goss' chief of staff, Patrick Murray, but at the behest of the White House had agreed to delay his decision till tomorrow.

But the former senior CIA official said that the White House "doesn't want Steve Kappes to reconsider his resignation. That might be the spin they put on it, but they want him out." He said the job had already been offered to the former chief of the European Division who retired after a spat with then-CIA Director George Tenet.
Where does this stuff come from? Has Washington turned into the latest reality show? Seriously, I feel like I'm watching an episode of MTV's Real World sometimes, because the actions of these high-ranking officials are so juvenile. Then I slap myself and remember that we're talking about the freakin' CIA here — not some group of loser 20-somethings who can't hold down a real job. The consequences for this juvenile spat are not that someone might have an emotional crisis, or look bad on TV. The consequences could very well be life or death. The CIA may not be the best organization in the world, but it does an awful lot everyday to keep us safe from terrorists who want nothing more than to unleash a dozen more 9/11's on the United States. And so, when the White House jerks the CIA's chain, it isn't just messing with a bunch of public servants... it's messing with all of us, and our safety.

For what it's worth, military history has not been kind to those nations which have seen fit to purge their military or intelligence services in wartime. The best example is Stalin and his generals. Seeking to consolidate power and eliminate the risk of a coup d'etat, Josef Stalin purged the top ranks of the Red Army several times before the start of WWII — and once the war was on, he purged a few more generals that he thought were ineffective. (Purging in Stalin's day was a euphemism for going to sleep with the fishes, not for retiring with a government pension.) Most military historians think this purge had a disastrous effect on the Red Army, for while it may have removed some disloyal generals, it also gutted the ranks of the officer corps and removed a lot of the Red Army's best and brightest. Moreover, the purge instilled a culture of fear that lasted all the way through the 1980s, where few officers in the Red Army were willing to stand up and take the initiative for anything. In the dark days of WWII, Stalin's purge almost cost the Soviets the war. It was only the Russian winter, impossibly long German supply lines, an intractable German logistics situation, and a human wave of Soviet conscripts, that beat back the Nazis.

Now, we don't know for certain that a purge is on. This report may or may not be true; I suspect the sources for this story are about to have their own rice bowls broken too, so they may be biased. But even assuming some spin in this story, it's still disturbing.

Today's CIA is not the Red Army of the 1940s. But the analogy should still give us pause. We purge the CIA at our own peril. Removing some of the CIA's top officials may make it less prone to leak; less prone to disagreement with the Bush administration. But it will also make it a much poorer intelligence agency. To be effective, the CIA must tell the boss like it is — not how the boss wants it to be. If CIA officers are worried about being purged, they're not going to do their jobs very well, and they're certainly not going to take risks to get the job done.

Post Script: I've gotten some mail on this post since yesterday, and refined my thoughts a bit. To say that all purges are bad is probably an overstatement. Some are necessary, despite the risks. If the CIA really is obstructing the fight on terrorism, and acting like a bunch of hide-bound bureaucrats (there is some support for this proposition), then the White House ought to clean house with the biggest broom it can find. However, this isn't the Department of Education or Agriculture or Commerce -- this is the CIA we're talking about. It doesn't have the deepest bench to begin with in the operational directorate, and especially when you're talking about its Bin Laden unit or its Middle East unit. The White House has to be especially careful about sweeping out all of the expertise left within the CIA in these critical areas. If it goes too far, or instills the wrong command climate at Langley as the result of this purge, then it will do lasting damage to the national security of the United States.
The psychiatric cost of war
Esther Schrader has a great piece on the front page of Sunday's L.A. Times on the psychiatric cost of war being paid by as many 1/6 of America's combat vets from Afghanistan and Iraq. The high incidence of combat stress seems to trace to the intensity of the war, its unconventional nature, and the duration of the combat tours -- far in excess of the 60 days of continuous combat suggested by the literature for maximum combat effectiveness.
WASHINGTON — Matt LaBranche got the tattoos at a seedy place down the street from the Army hospital here where he was a patient in the psychiatric ward.

The pain of the needle felt good to the 40-year-old former Army sergeant, whose memories of his nine months as a machine-gunner in Iraq had left him, he said, "feeling dead inside." LaBranche's back is now covered in images, the largest the dark outline of a sword. Drawn from his neck to the small of his back, it is emblazoned with the words LaBranche says encapsulate the war's effect on him: "I've come to bring you hell."

In soldiers like LaBranche — their bodies whole but their psyches deeply wounded — a crisis is unfolding, mental health experts say. One out of six soldiers returning from Iraq is suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress — and as more come home, that number is widely expected to grow.

The Pentagon, which did not anticipate the extent of the problem, is scrambling to find resources to address it.

A study by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research found that 15.6% of Marines and 17.1% of soldiers surveyed after they returned from Iraq suffered major depression, generalized anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder — a debilitating, sometimes lifelong change in the brain's chemistry that can include flashbacks, sleep disorders, panic attacks, violent outbursts, acute anxiety and emotional numbness.

Army and Veterans Administration mental health experts say there is reason to believe the war's ultimate psychological fallout will worsen. The Army survey of 6,200 soldiers and Marines included only troops willing to report their problems. The study did not look at reservists, who tend to suffer a higher rate of psychological injury than career Marines and soldiers. And the soldiers in the study served in the early months of the war, when tours were shorter and before the Iraqi insurgency took shape.

"The bad news is that the study underestimated the prevalence of what we are going to see down the road," said Dr. Matthew J. Friedman, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Dartmouth Medical School who is executive director of the VA's National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Analysis: There is a bow wave approaching the VA, and civilian psychiatric providers generally, that will hit in about 3-5 years I think. It's not hitting right now because, for the most part, the soldiers who fought in Iraq are still on active duty, and still part of their units who provide a mental support network. But as these soldiers' units start to break up due to reassignments, promotions, schools and discharges, and these soldiers start to leave the service, I think they're going to start manifesting more problems, without the support network they currently have in the service. Everyone who sees combat feels different afterwards, save the rougly 2% of the population whom the literature suggest actually enjoy the carnage of war and suffer no psychiatric trauma as a result. But most soldiers do okay, thanks to their buddies and their leaders and their families. When you remove two of these support systems, you will start to see increasing psychological problems. So as these combat vets leave the service, we're going to see this problem get worse.

What can be done? The VA is struggling right now to develop contingency plans for what it knows is about to come. VA Secretary Anthony Principi is no one's fool; I actually think quite highly of him, both as a lawyer and public servant. He knows enough to request more resources from the White House, even though OMB downsized his funding request last year. I imagine the VA's FY2006 budget request will get even bigger.

But fiscal largess alone won't do the trick. The VA also has to get smarter about the way it delivers mental health services. The key to this, I think, is to develop outpatient systems that can handle a greater number of vets at a lesser cost. In addition, I think the VA needs to prepare to contract out for additional psychological and psychiatric capability, so that it can rapidly respond to any increase in demand. We simply can't let these vets go without help, because we saw after Vietnam what the long-term repercussions of that negligence can be. And finally, I think the public needs to be aware of the trauma these men and women have been through, so that we can form a new support system to replace these soldiers' units and leaders once they reintegrate into society.
Another page in the torture memo saga
Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman report in Newsweek on some details about what role White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales played in the White House's debates over the laws of war and their application to detainees in the war on terrorism. Out of this debate came the decision to set aside the Geneva Conventions for Al Qaeda detainees, the decision to lock them up at Guantanamo Bay, and the now infamous torture memoranda. According to Newsweek, Gonzales played somewhat of an arbitrating and mediating role in debates between various factions within the Bush administration:
... Gonzales's precise position was often a mystery. "When everybody else in the room was arguing, he's sitting there silently," says one former colleague. But Gonzales ultimately signed off on all of the administration's most controversial legal moves—including declaring U.S. citizens "enemy combatants" without permitting them to see lawyers and authorizing unorthodox interrogation techniques that critics say set the stage for the Abu Ghraib scandal.

One legal issue that worried Gonzales from the start, sources tell NEWSWEEK, was that U.S. officials—even those inside the White House—might one day be charged with "war crimes" as a result of some of the new measures. Gonzales first raised the issue in a Jan. 25, 2002, memo to President George W. Bush arguing against granting Geneva Convention protections to Taliban and Qaeda prisoners captured in Afghanistan. He noted that a 1996 U.S. law permitted prosecution for violating Geneva Convention bans on "inhumane treatment." A determination by Bush that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the Afghan prisoners "substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act" by future "prosecutors and independent counsels" who might view administration actions in a different light, Gonzales wrote.

The same concern later prompted Gonzales—at the request of the then CIA Director George Tenet—to seek a memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel concluding the president could authorize the use of torture as a wartime interrogation technique (thereby immunizing CIA agents from being charged with violating a federal antitorture law). The disclosure of the Aug. 1, 2002, memo to Gonzales set off a firestorm, and top Justice officials demanded the White House repudiate the far-reaching legal claim. Gonzales later seemed to do that at a White House press briefing. But privately, some associates say, Gonzales was very much involved in the torture memo from the start. "The White House got exactly what it wanted," says one Justice official. Since then, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Justice Department's internal watchdog unit has quietly opened an inquiry into whether the lawyers who sent the memo to Gonzales breached their ethical obligations by seeming to condone torture. [Emphasis added]
Analysis: The last part, about a DOJ inquiry into the lawyers who wrote the torture memos, is news. Until now, critics like me have charged that the lawyering in these documents fell far short of what was acceptable for a public servant, let alone one in elite offices like the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel or White House Counsel's office. But by and large, those criticisms have gone nowhere, and I have assumed this was because the lawyers were simply giving the client what he wanted. (Interesting side question: who is the client in a public law position like OLC chief? Is it the President? The AG? The Constitution? The nation? The Justice Department? One's answer will reveal a great deal about how one does this job.)

We'll see where this inquiry goes. I'd be very surprised to see the DOJ IG conclude that any DOJ lawyer did anything improper... but you never know. Generally, lawyers have wide latitude to say and advocate what they want -- they only get in trouble when they do things that fall below the standard of competence, or that breach the ethical rules somehow (e.g. a financial conflict of interest). Regardless of how the inquiry turns out, I think its findings and results ought to become part of the record in Judge Gonzales' confirmation hearings for Attorney General. He seems to have played a key role in the decisionmaking process on this issue. The White House is sure to fight this on grounds of executive privilege and attorney-client privilege. But on balance, I think the Senate's constitutional prerogative to inquire of him before giving its advice and consent to his nomination outweighs the White House arguments for secrecy. Thus far, our best looks into the policy processes regarding detention, interrogation and the legal war on terrorism have come through the media. If I were a member of Congress, that'd be unacceptable to me. Congress has a Constitutional duty to exercise oversight over the legislative branch, and it has largely abdicated that role since Sept. 11. The confirmation process for the second Bush administration will give Congress a chance to redeem itself. We'll see if they take it.

This story ain't over — not by a long shot.