Saturday, January 8, 2005

On break: 1/8 - 1/16
Intel Dump will be on hiatus while I'm out of the country on vacation for the next week. I won't have access to e-mail, my news feeds, or my laptop -- just the occasional Int'l Herald Trib at a cafe. Please come back after Jan. 16.

Friday, January 7, 2005

Signs of learning on the Potomac
The New York Times reports today that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has plans to dispatch ret. Gen. Gary Luck to Iraq on a fact-finding mission in order to bring back a classified assessment of U.S. progress there.
At a meeting Thursday with his top military and civilian aides, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld instructed that General Luck look at all areas of the operation, identify any weaknesses and report back in a few weeks with a confidential assessment, senior defense officials said.

"He will have a very wide canvas to draw on," said Lawrence Di Rita, the Pentagon spokesman. Mr. Di Rita emphasized that Mr. Rumsfeld was very satisfied with his commanders in Iraq, but wanted to give them all the help they needed in assessing "the very dynamic situation."

General Luck, who was a senior adviser to Gen. Tommy R. Franks at his war-time headquarters in Qatar during the Iraq campaign in 2003 and knows the operation in Iraq well, will lead a small team of military specialists. A principal focus will be to address one of the biggest problems facing the military in Iraq today: how to train Iraqi soldiers and police officers to replace the American troops now securing the country. Commanders have expressed disappointment in the performance of many of the Iraqi forces.
And in a related story, the AP reported a couple of days ago that the Army has decided to embed significantly more U.S. personnel in Iraqi units to help instill some backbone and professional military expertise in those military formations. The move comes at a time when efforts to train Iraqi security forces have languished, and in the wake of lackluster performance by Iraqi units in a litany of important engagements.
WASHINGTON (AP) The Pentagon is preparing to ''embed'' additional American military trainers with Iraqi security units to make them more effective in countering the persistent and violent insurgency, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith said Tuesday.

"It is a matter of taking a new look, of reassessing assumptions," Feith said in an interview in which he described the performance of Iraqi units as mixed.

* * *
Initially, after the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein's government, U.S.-led coalition forces took charge of security in Iraq.

At the same time, though, Americans trained Iraqi national guard and police officers and gradually "embedded" them in U.S. units, Feith said.

Now, he said, "in a flip side of what was done before," Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is moving to embed U.S. "mentors" in Iraqi units.

Feith said he used the term "mentors" rather than advisers because it signifies a continuation of the training of Iraqi forces. "Once they are trained the mentor goes away," he said.

"The idea is this mentoring, this embedding of U.S. people in Iraqi units, will increase the effectiveness of the Iraqi units and provide an important capstone to their training,"' Feith said.
Together, these should be seen as good news stories. They reflect a growing willingness within the Pentagon to identify problems with the Iraq mission (for there are many), develop solutions, and implement those solutions. A number of individuals have suggested for some time that we expand the U.S. advisory mission to Iraqi forces. By doctrine, the mission of "foreign internal defense" is something that we use Special Forces and some civil affairs units for. But the mission in Iraq is far bigger than our SF/CA force structure, so we've used an ad hoc system of regular units to train Iraqi security forces. Apparently, that hasn't worked either. So now it's time to Americanize the Iraqi forces, as opposed to simply Iraqifying the war effort. (The latter can be roughly analogized to the Vietnamization effort that took place late in that war.) In any event, these two developments are positive. Assuming Gen. Luck can get the "ground truth" when he's in Iraq, and he's listened to, we may see more signs of improvement in the future. Hope spring eternal.
Trial begins for alleged Abu Ghraib ringleader
On the day after the Senate Judiciary Committee attempted to hold White House counsel Alberto Gonzales responsible for his role in crafting policies that led directly and indirectly to the Abu Ghraib abuses, the Army convened its general court-martial of SPC Charles Graner at Fort Hood, Texas, today. Of all the Abu Ghraib cases, this one promises to be the most interesting, because of Graner's central role in the abuses reported to have happened in Iraq.
Graner, 36, a member of the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company, will be the first of the seven soldiers charged in the case to be tried in the USA. He could face up to 24 years in prison on charges that include assault and conspiracy to mistreat detainees. On Thursday, prosecutors dropped charges of obstruction of justice and adultery.

Graner appears most often among the soldiers featured in photographs of Iraqis posed in humiliating positions at the prison near Baghdad. He has said since his arrest last spring that he was following orders to "soften up" prisoners to prepare them for interrogation.

Three other soldiers pleaded guilty in Iraq to charges ranging from dereliction of duty to abuse. They received sentences ranging from demotion to eight years in prison. Two others are scheduled to be tried at Fort Hood.

* * *
Graner's case has drawn the most attention because of his prominent role in the treatment of the prisoners and his contention that he was following the orders of superior officers.

In one photo, Graner appears to be giving a thumbs-up signal as he stands behind a pile of naked Iraqis. In another photo, he is clenching a fist and has his arm cocked as if preparing to punch a hooded prisoner. He also is accused of jumping on prisoners and stomping on their hands and feet.

Guy Womack, Graner's lawyer, has promised to show evidence documenting Graner's claim that others ordered him to treat the Iraqis harshly.
The "superior orders" defense is going to be a tough road to walk... but it's probably the only viable defense available. Whether Mr. Womack can establish this defense will depend, in large part, on whether the trial judge allows him to introduce extrinsic evidence on collateral matters. But even then, I'm not sure he can make this argument stick. There's an old saying that if you're innocent, it's better to be tried by a military jury than a civilian jury; but if you're guilty, it's not good to be tried by a military jury. Simply put, military jury members don't fall for smoke & mirrors. SPC Graner will be tried by a jury of officers and non-commissioned officers, many of whom have combat experience, many of whom have dealt with detainees in one context or another. They will find reasonable doubt if it's there; but they won't find if it's not.