Friday, December 31, 2004

DOJ publishes new torture memo
Jess Bravin, who first broke the 'torture memo' story back in May 2004, and who's been all over the story since, reports in Friday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) that a new Justice Department torture memo has hit the street. (The Washington Post and AP also have stories on this.) This one, authored by the Office of Legal Counsel (who acts as the executive branch's in-house Constitutional lawyer), purports to clean up some of the extraneous language and dicta that clouded the earlier memoranda from August 2002 and March 2003. In a July 2004 press conference, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales (whose confirmation hearings start in early January) repudiated those memos, and said new ones would be forthcoming. Here's what Mr. Bravin had to say about the new one in today's WSJ:
The 17-page memorandum issued by the Office of Legal Counsel, the Justice Department unit that provides definitive legal guidance for the executive branch, replaces a 50-page opinion issued in August 2002 that offered a legal framework to justify inflicting agony on prisoners and contended President Bush could set aside laws and treaties prohibiting torture.

The new document also concludes that the 2002 memo was wrong when it found that only "excruciating and agonizing pain" constituted torture, and that prosecution for committing torture was only possible if the defendant's goal was simply to inflict pain, rather than to extract information. "There is no exception under the statute permitting torture to be used for a 'good reason,' " the new memo concludes, even if the aim is "to protect national security."

Still, the memo concludes that even under its wider definition of torture, none of the interrogation methods previously approved by the Justice Department would be illegal.

The 2002 memo was incorporated into Defense Department interrogation policies approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, although administration officials say neither he nor the president actually authorized torture and say that subsequent incidents of prisoner abuse reported in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were aberrations.

But administration officials moved to revise their legal views after The Wall Street Journal published a draft of the Pentagon's interrogation policies, which were predicated on the more aggressive view of torture, in June. Subsequent disclosures of confidential legal memoranda led White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to disavow the August 2002 memo, which administration officials said would be replaced within weeks with a new memo ruling out torture. That effort stalled amid interagency disagreements, and was only completed after Deputy Attorney General James Comey, the Justice Department's No. 2 official, ordered it released by year end.

A senior Justice Department official said the memo's delay — it originally was planned for completion by August — derived from differences among agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense and State departments and the White House.

Some apparently small semantic points occupied much of the internal debate over the memo, the official said. In particular, lawyers wrestled with whether "severe physical suffering" was something apart from "severe physical pain," and whether each could independently be defined as torture.

"If you induced nausea in someone, day after day for weeks," how would it be classified, the official said, by way of example. "It's not severe pain, it's not mental as it's a sensation," the official said. But over a prolonged period it could be considered physical suffering, and the Justice Department ultimately concluded it could constitute torture.

The new document comes less than a week before Mr. Gonzales, nominated to succeed John Ashcroft as attorney general, faces a Senate confirmation hearing where Judiciary Committee members plan to grill him on his role in formulating interrogation policies. The White House declined to comment on the new memo.

* * *
John Yoo, a former Justice Department official who worked on the 2002 memo, said the revision would be of little help to agencies charged with fighting the war on terror. "This memo muddies the water because it makes it difficult to figure out how the torture statute applies to specific interrogation methods," said Mr. Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. "It removed all the clear lines but didn't change the basic analysis."
More to follow — I just wanted to post the basic story today. I highly recommend reading the original torture memos authored back in 2002 and 2003, and comparing them to this new one. The differences are striking. It's still unclear how this new memo will translate into guidance for the field. After all, all the interrogation measures officially approved under the old memo remain kosher under this new one. One has to wonder whether this new memo is just one big exercise in legal sophistry.

Update I: Neil Lewis has an article in Saturday's New York Times describing many of the authorized methods of coercive interrogation at Gitmo. Among the methods described: subjecting detainees to endless loops of the "Meow Mix" cat food jingle; forced enemas; and the use of a ruse to trick detainees into thinking they had been "rendered" to Egyptian intelligence officials. I'm all for interrogating detainees where we need to get intel to save American lives. But given the length of time most detainees have been at Gitmo, and out of the fight, and the reports that these guys are mostly low-level foot soldiers, are we sure these methods are justified?

Update II: Dana Priest, the Washington Post's star reporter covering the intelligence community, has an extremely important report in Sunday's Washington Post. According to Ms. Priest, the Bush administration is considering the implications of the war on terrorism's amorphous nature for the length of time we keep men imprisoned at Gitmo. In theory, a nation may detain prisoners for the duration of hostilities. If the war on terrorism lasts for 10, 20, or 30 years (or longer), then we must face the likelihood that we will be holding prisoners for the remainder of their natural lives.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Give to those in need
I'm still stunned by the scale of the disaster unfolding in Asia in the wake of the earthquake-driven tsunami. The New York Times estimates the death count at 114,000, and I believe that toll will climb considerably before the true toll of this disaster is known (if it ever can be).

Please join me in donating to the International Relief Fund of the Red Cross. Their online site allows you to make an instant donation with 100% of your money going to the Red Cross. In the coming weeks and months, international relief agencies like the Red Cross will need our support to fund preventive medicine efforts, food delivery, temporary housing, and reconstruction efforts. Please consider a small donation to this fund, or to others like it. It may seem like little, when compared to the devastation wrought by this tsunami. But if we all pull together to donate something, it will soon start to add up, and we can all make a difference.
The real story behind vehicle armor
Ross Kerber has an excellent report in the Boston Globe on the business and legal considerations which are really at the heart of the current vehicle armor imbroglio. Of all the reports I've seen, this one goes into the most depth about why the Army is having such a tough time outfitting its force --
... [Protective Armored Systems Inc. Vice President Tom] Briggs said he's been frustrated by the slow pace of Army orders.

"You watch the evening news and Rumsfeld says you can't get the people to do the work, and that's not true," Briggs said.

Such complaints have put heat on the Army to explain itself, in the wake of Rumsfeld's Dec. 8 statement that the work was going as fast as possible.

Yet Army officials say they don't need the help. Instead they have set up a $4.1 billion armor industry that's a mix of federal weapons depots and a few big privately owned factories. So far this empire has sent 15,263 armored Humvees and armor kits to Iraq and Afghanistan, or 69 percent of the total needed. By July it is scheduled to deliver armor for most transport vehicles in the region as well.

* * *
The two competing views on the Army's procurement strategy, from both the insiders and contractors like Briggs, will be at the center of congressional hearings next year. "The question, and it's a legitimate one when it comes to protecting our troops, is: Why not enlist everyone who could contribute to a solution and make it happen now?" said Jim Ludes, a defense aide to Senator John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat.

The starting point in the debate, Ludes and Motsek agree, are two key decisions Army officials made in mid-2003 and stuck with since. The first was a decision to keep orders within a network of current suppliers rather than bring new contractors into the mix.

This is known as "sole-sourcing," and led to a massive boost of orders for a few companies, notably Armor Holdings Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla.

The company's O'Gara-Hess unit produces what are known as "up-armored" Humvees, which add more than a ton of bulletproof windows and steel plating to the basic Humvee made by AM General LLC of South Bend, Ind. Before the war began, O'Gara-Hess was making 30 up-armored Humvees a month, mostly for military policing duties and scouting. As of December it had vastly expanded its factory near Cincinnati and was producing 450 of the trucks per month. In all there were 5,910 in Iraq by mid-December, approaching the total of 8,105 that commanders want.

New suppliers might have set up additional large factories to armor Humvees too, but the Army passed. For one thing, the service hasn't purchased from O'Gara-Hess the design data that would make it easier for another contractor to set up a factory. Smaller companies are left with the business of supplying components, not complete vehicles.

"For better or worse, it has made it more difficult for the Army to go to alternate sources," said Marc A. King, vice president for armor operations of Ceradyne Inc. of Costa Mesa, Calif., which supplies ceramic body armor plates and some kits for vehicles.

* * *
As roadside bombs and ambushes took a toll on US troops last year, the Army also decided it needed armor kits to add to Humvees and transport trucks already fielded.

That led to the second key decision, to send out much of this work to maintenance depots and arsenals in places like Watervliet, N.Y.

Known as the "Ground Systems Industrial Enterprise," this network had made 9,135 of the armor kits as of Dec. 13, covering 67 percent of the Humvees already in the theater. Frederick Smith, who directs the depot system from Rock Island, Ill., said the biggest constraint is tight supplies of items like bulletproof steel.

Hiring private contractors would have taken months just to sign contracts, said Smith and others, whereas the depots were cranking out some armor kits within three weeks. That was just what planners hoped when they funded the depots during the Cold War, to provide an industrial "surge" capacity in wartime.

All the central planning hasn't sat well with some who believe the private sector could do the work better, or at least provide competition to make the depots more efficient. As long as the depots can count on getting the Army's surges, companies have few incentives prepared to make armor quickly, critics fear.
The truth often looks like this. There's rarely a conscious decision to the effect of "Let's not armor our vehicles" or "Let's make sure the defense industrial base is hobbled in its efforts to help us." I have no doubt the Pentagon and the Army went into this with good intentions, i.e. to produce vehicle armor for the troops in Iraq. But in making these business and contractual decisions, the Army erred tremendously. And the result of that error is that today's units in Iraq do not have the vehicle armor they need to face the threats they face. At this point, the smart fix would be to reverse some of these decisions and open up this process to additional contractors. But that will take a while, and the results won't be apparent overnight. At some level of the Army, someone needs to take a hard look at our strategic situation and assess the requirements that actually exist for this vehicle armor. If we're going to be in Iraq for the next 2 years (or more), as current Army deployment timelines suggest, then the Army should shift procurement strategies to produce what's necessary to outfit that force. Making these procurement mistakes in mid-2003 can be chalked up to human error; making them in December 2004 is tantamount to negligence.
General, get your scalpel
Pentagon plans major budget cuts, including some to prized modernization and transformation programs

Eric Schmitt reports in today's New York Times that the Pentagon has plans to cut as much as $60 billion over the next 6 years from its major weapons systems procurement budget, in order to make ends meet for its current operations and manpower budgets. These cuts are merely proposed at this time, and they must be pushed through the process before they take place. Nonetheless, this is a big indicator that the post-9/11 deficit spending spree might be coming to a halt... soon.
The proposed reductions, the details of which are still being fine-tuned and which would require Congressional approval, result from White House orders to all federal agencies to cut their spending requests for the 2006 fiscal year budgets, which will be submitted to lawmakers early next year.

Since the November elections, the White House has been under growing pressure to offset mounting deficits and at the same time pay for the unexpectedly high costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which combined now amount to more than $5 billion a month.

The proposed Pentagon cuts, which include sharply reducing the program for the Air Force's F/A-22 fighter and delaying the purchase of a new Navy destroyer, would for the first time since the Sept. 11 attacks slow the growth in Pentagon spending, which has risen 41 percent in that period, to about $420 billion this year. Military and Congressional officials said the Pentagon was looking to trim up to $10 billion in the 2006 budget alone.

The budget-cutting is likely to foreshadow additional reductions of weapons designed in the cold war and the revamping of America's arsenal as the Pentagon prepares for its quadrennial review of military weapons and equipment to address current and long-term security threats, including the insurgency in Iraq and a possibly resurgent China.

"The services are making decisions about where to make their investments," said a Pentagon spokesman, Eric Ruff, who declined to comment on specific proposed cuts. "As we look ahead to the challenges of the 21st century, it's fair that we look at programs that began two or three decades ago."

One of the winners in this round of budget work is likely to be the Army, some military budget analysts and Pentagon officials said. While the other armed services have been forced to scale back their weapons modernization plans, the Army is spending billions of dollars a year to add as many as 15 brigades in the next several years.

"It doesn't matter if you can win a war 20 years from now if we lose the global war on terror next year," said one military official, who favors increasing spending for the Army to help battle the Iraq insurgency but spoke on condition of anonymity because the details of the budget are not complete. [emphasis added]
Analysis: I think this is a good news story. It's what I've been arguing for a long time. We are at war, and our current operations deserve to be made the priority over our future transformation. You can't do both at the same time given the fiscal constraints on the U.S. government and our commitments abroad. So you have to make tough decisions. Some of these cuts or reductions will undoubtedly hit good programs that have real potential to transform the U.S. military. But we have more urgent needs now, and I applaud the Pentagon for taking the lead here. Still... this story isn't over. Until we actually see these budget cuts carved into a National Defense Authorization Act or a defense appropriations bill, I wouldn't count my chickens before they're hatched.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Everything you wanted to know about armor
Noah Shachtman has a great compilation of stories at DefenseTech about the various kinds of armor which made the headlines in 2004. He's been all over this story from the start, when the first rumblings came home about shortages of Interceptor body armor. Among other things, Noah links to interesting articles on "peel and stick" armor, armored military working dogs, research on "liquid body armor", and reimbursement for the troops who bought armor.
Vietnam 1966 = Iraq 2004?
After controlling for advances in military medicine and troop size, the casualty appear far more similar than previously thought -- especially for discrete engagements

Owen West and I have a new article in Slate critically examinining the casualty figures from Iraq. We use some admittedly fuzzy math (derived in part from a New England Journal of Medicine article) to produce an estimated "constant killed-in-action" figure (analogous to economists' constant dollars) that can be used to compare casualties across conflicts. The result? Casualties in Iraq today mirror those suffered during 1966 in Vietnam. And when you look at discrete engagements like the fight for Hue City in 1968 and for Fallujah in 2004, the numbers indicate that Iraq is even tougher (i.e. more lethal) than Vietnam.
Generational contrasts are implicit today when casualties in Iraq are referred to as light, either on their own or in comparison to Vietnam. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, for example, last July downplayed the intensity of the Iraq war on this basis, arguing that "it would take over 73 years for US forces to incur the level of combat deaths suffered in the Vietnam war."

But a comparative analysis of U.S. casualty statistics from Iraq tells a different story. After factoring in medical, doctrinal, and technological improvements, infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966—and in some cases more lethal. Even discrete engagements, such as the battle of Hue City in 1968 and the battles for Fallujah in 2004, tell a similar tale: Today's grunts are patrolling a battlefield every bit as deadly as the crucible their fathers faced in Southeast Asia.

* * *
This disparity between the "lethal wound" rates has profound implications. Analogy is a powerful tool for perspective, and Vietnam still reverberates, but the numbers must reflect the actual risks. In 1966, for example, 5,008 U.S. servicemen were killed in action in Vietnam. Another 1,045 died of "non-hostile" wounds (17 percent of the total fatalities). Since Jan. 1, 2004, 754 U.S. servicemen and -women have been killed in action in Iraq, and 142 more soldiers died in "non-hostile" mishaps (16 percent of the fatalities, similar to Vietnam). Applying Vietnam's lethality rate (25 percent) to the total number of soldiers killed in action in Iraq this year, however, brings the 2004 KIA total to 1,131.

The scale can be further balanced. In 1966, U.S. troops in Vietnam numbered 385,000. In 2004, the figure in Iraq has averaged roughly 142,000. Comparing the burden shouldered by individual soldiers in both conflicts raises the 2004 "constant casualty" figure in Iraq to 3,065 KIA. Further, casualties in Iraq fall more heavily on those performing infantry missions. Riflemen -- as well as tankers and artillerymen who operate in provisional infantry units in Iraq -- bear a much higher proportion of the risk than they did in Vietnam. In Vietnam, helicopter pilots and their crews accounted for nearly 5 percent of those killed in action. In Iraq in 2004, this figure was less than 3 percent. In Vietnam, jet pilots accounted for nearly 4 percent of U.S. KIAs. In 2004, the United States did not lose a single jet to enemy action in Iraq. When pilots and aircrews are removed from the equation, 4,602 ground-based soldiers died during 1966 in Vietnam, compared to 2,975 in Iraq during 2004.
The statistics alone indicate that we are in a very tough fight for Iraq. But one issue to consider is the way these casualties are being absorbed by our all-volunteer force:
That today's fighting in Iraq, by these calculations, may actually be more lethal than the street fighting in Vietnam should not be taken lightly. Vietnam was marked by long periods of well-fought, sustained combat but little perceptible gain. Volunteers outnumbered conscripts by a 9-1 ratio in the units that saw combat during the war's early days in 1966, and at first they enjoyed the support of a country that believed in their cause. But as the burden widened and deepened, and conscripts did more of the fighting and dying, the country's faith evaporated. Today's burden is not wide, but it is deep. Communities such as Oceanside, Calif., home to Camp Pendleton and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, have suffered tremendous loss during this war—nearly one-quarter of U.S. combat dead in 2004 were stationed at Camp Pendleton. Military leaders should be mindful of this fact: To send infantrymen on their third rotations to Iraq this spring is akin to assigning a trooper three tours in Vietnam: harsh in 1966 and a total absurdity by 1968.

Critics of the war may use this analysis as one more piece of ammunition to attack the effort; some supporters may continue to refer to casualties as "light," noting that typically tens of thousands of Americans must die in war before domestic support crumbles. Both miss the point. The casualty statistics make clear that our nation is involved in a war whose intensity on the ground matches that of previous American wars.
Now, I'm familiar with the old Mark Twain quote that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. But I think these KIA statistics aren't lying, and that provide one of the best indicators of the intensity of this war. Of course, we can't gauge enemy KIA/WIA statistics with much fidelity, and we don't fully appreciate how those enemy KIA stats affect their morale and willingness to persevere. So it's difficult to assess relative success or failure on the basis of these numbers. Nonetheless, I think we can conclusively say that we are a nation at war. If we want to win, then we must commit every national resource available to the fight.