Monday, January 30, 2006

Why can't the Times understand the law? 
Here's a graf from Philip Bobbitt's essay in the New York Times, "Why We Listen."

Nor was the fact that we knew the identities of two of the terrorists sufficient to thwart the attack the next day. But had we at the time cross-referenced credit card accounts, frequent-flyer programs and a cellphone number shared by those two men, data mining might easily have picked up on the 17 other men linked to them and flying on the same day at the same time on four flights. Such intelligence collection would not have been based on probable cause, and yet the presence of the hijackers in the country would have qualified them as "U.S. persons."

LINK: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/30/opinion/30bobbitt.html?ex=1296277200&en=26b1bef3fcbf1310&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss

Ok, this guy's a professor at the University of Texas Law School. What am I missing, because this guy's characterization of "U.S. persons" seems flatly false.

For one thing, agents of foreign powers and members of violent sects not substantially composed of U.S. persons do not qualify as "U.S. persons."

Secondly, even absent that association (proven beyond doubt by the events of 9/11), their mere presence does not establish them as "U.S. persons" for the purposes of the FISA law. You have to be a citizen or permanent resident.

Student visas and tourist visas and temporary work permits don't count.

Is it just me, or has the New York Times just once again demonstrated its fundamental unseriousness on this issue?

Splash, out


Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Associated Press: Smothering the voice of the victim 
There's no other way to put it.

Saddam Hussein gets the dramatic photo. He gets top billing. His brother gets fellative press in the top few graphs for being dragged out of the courtroom after calling the court "the daughter of a whore."

Even the arguments of Ramsey Clark and other members of Saddam's defense team get prominent billing.

And whose small voice is banished to the bottom quarter of the article? Those of Saddam's victims:

When testimony began, the first witness told the court she was arrested several days after the 1982 assassination attempt on Saddam. She said her interrogators removed her Islamic headscarf and gave her electric shocks to her head.

"I thought my eyes would pop out," she said. Sixteen other members of her family also were arrested, and seven of them were killed in detention - including her husband, who she said was tortured.

She said two of the defendants remaining in the courtroom - Ali Dayih Ali and Mizhar Abdullah Ruwayyid - were among those who arrested her. The two defendants denied the accusation.

A second woman gave similar testimony Sunday, saying she saw women tortured after she was detained. "I have seen things that I could not have believed. Children crying and mothers tortured. I've seen a blind girl crying while she was being tortured," she said, sobbing.


Splash, out


Update: CNN squelches the victims' voices altogether. To CNN, they are all but nonexistent. What's their excuse for not reporting the horrors of Saddam's regime this time?

"Hamas's Victory is the Best News to come out of the Middle East in a long time..." 
That's the lede from John Steele's latest column in The UK Guardian, where he goes on to admonish us that "Europe should not get hung up on the wrong issues, like armed resistance and the "war on terror"."

Right. Hamas only wants to kill Jews. And that's one thing Europeans of all stripes can get down with.

Journalistic Standards at the New York Times 
What does it take to get the New York Times to run with a story?

Apparently not much. Via Regret the Error:

An article on Wednesday about infidelity exposed by a chatty parrot described the way the parrot, owned by a man living with his girlfriend in Leeds, England, kept screeching the name of the woman's secret lover. When the parrot said "I love you, Gary," in what sounded like the woman's voice, her boyfriend (whose name is not Gary) broke up with her.

Although the article reported that the information had been obtained from reports in The Daily Telegraph and other British newspapers, The Times could not verify the former couple's accounts because the information was given to the British press by a freelance journalist who charged for the account. The Times does not pay for information. The Times should have disclosed fully to readers why we relied on other news reports. Or, perhaps it would have been prudent, given that condition, for The Times to have resisted parroting the episode at all.

The New York Times: Only a little bit worse than the British press.

Splash, out


Hamas to form Army 
Won't recognize Israel's right to exist. Won't renounce terrorism. Won't renounce violence, plans to release known terrorist leaders from prison, including one responsible for ordering the assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister.

The losing party, Fatah, won't relinquish control of the security forces. Hamas plans to form an Army that openly includes its "militant" (that is, terrorist wing), but can't impose order, because Fatah sympathisers are storming police and government buildings, demanding that Hamas members who murdered Fatah members be brought to justice.

Yes. Let's give these people a nation right away.

Prayers needed 
A familiar face has been wounded by an IED explosion in Iraq. ABC News co-anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt were seriously injured while embedded with a 4th Infantry Division near Taji, and at last report were both undergoing surgery.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

AP: Documents show U.S. detained wives of Iraqi insurgents as tactic 
Ummm, did anyone really think that wasn't an option on the table?

The U.S. Army in Iraq has at least twice seized and jailed the wives of suspected insurgents in hopes of "leveraging" their husbands into surrender, U.S. military documents show.

In one case, a secretive task force locked up the young mother of a nursing baby, a U.S. intelligence officer reported. In the case of a second detainee, one American colonel suggested to another that they catch her husband by tacking a note to the family's door telling him "to come get his wife."

Hell, I think that's an excellent idea. Does anyone think if we could nab Zarqawi or Bin Ladin by picking up their wives we wouldn't do it in a heartbeat? What about all the wives and children these men murder? Does anyone think if we could find the wives of one of Jill Carroll's kidnappers we wouldn't nab her and use her to find her scumbag husband? Or trade her back?

What the hell kind of playground "ethics" do critics of these policies have?

I don't recall any specific instances of the 1-124th picking up someone's wife, though I'm sure we'd consider it in some instances. I do know we've picked up insurgents brothers and sisters as co-conspirators. And this tactic was very effective, and caused several Ali Baba that I know of to surrender without a fight. If we promised to release the sibling in exchange, that's what we did.

In the case of women, we did not generally detain them ourselves, but dropped them off at the home of a tribal sheikh or elder, and he held them until the deal was made.

And I'm sorry - any Iraqi woman whose husband is running a bomb-making factory on the kitchen table or who makes hummus for RPG-wielding houseguests and who does not report her husband and his cohorts to coalition forces or Iraqi police is a co-conspirator, a criminal, and a part of the Iraqi insurgency's logistical infrastructure and belongs behind bars.

It would be the same in the United States. If a crook's wife conspires to conceal her husband's crimes, or aid and abet murderers seeking shelter and succor, she can be on the hook, too. Maybe she can cut a deal in exchange for her testimony, but that's a judgement call on the part of the prosecutor.

The issue of female detentions in Iraq has taken on a higher profile since kidnappers seized American journalist Jill Carroll on Jan. 7 and threatened to kill her unless all Iraqi women detainees are freed.

Yep. And the AP making a political issue of this now plays right into Al Qaeda's hands.

The U.S. military on Thursday freed five of what it said were 11 women among the 14,000 detainees currently held in the 2 1/2-year-old insurgency. All were accused of "aiding terrorists or planting explosives," but an Iraqi government commission found that evidence was lacking.

As it should be. If there is no evidence, then these women should be set free. And it should be Iraqis making that determination. This is nothing new. I was very much involved in detainee documentation and transfers in the summer of 2003, and after a few weeks of the regiment trying to create procedures that actually worked, a great deal of effort was made to create and document a case with each detainee that would pass muster with a joint U.S. - Iraqi commission that would review the records of each detainee. The pressure was on, and after about July we did not continue to detain anyone I couldn't obtain two sworn statements on from two different people - and in most cases, physical evidence, or photographs of same, with a 10-digit grid coordinate where the detainee was picked up. (I wasn't driving around truckloads of explosives where we could just take a photo of the guy with his weapons cache and forward two sworn statements saying this guy was occupying and apparently owned the house the weapons were found in).

Iraq's deputy justice minister, Busho Ibrahim Ali, dismissed such claims, saying hostage-holding was a tactic used under the ousted Saddam Hussein dictatorship, and "we are not Saddam." A U.S. command spokesman in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, said only Iraqis who pose an "imperative threat" are held in long-term U.S.-run detention facilities.

Interesting term of art. And my sense is it's narrowly true. (If we picked up a coconspirator whom we were willing to release if a bigger fish came in, this individual would remain held locally, in an Iraqi jail or in a battalion or regimental level short-term holding area.)

The first message, from a military police colonel, advised staff officers of the U.S. northern command that the Iraqi police would not take control of the jailed women without charges being brought against them.

In a second e-mail, a command staff officer asked an officer of the unit holding the women, "What are you guys doing to try to get the husband -- have you tacked a note on the door and challenged him to come get his wife?"

Two days later, the brigade's deputy commander advised the higher command, "As each day goes by, I get more input that these gals have some info and/or will result in getting the husband."

He went on, "These ladies fought back extremely hard during the original detention. They have shown indications of deceit and misinformation."

The command staff colonel wrote in reply, referring to a commanding general, "CG wants the husband."

The released e-mails stop there, and the women's eventual status could not be immediately determined.

Of this episode, Johnson said, "It is clear the unit believed the females detained had substantial knowledge of insurgent activity and warranted being held."

Then holding them and interrogating them is a no-brainer. We're not playing T-ball here, gang. This is fast-pitch baseball. This is the real deal. If you don't use every card in the deck to get the bad guys, they will murder more people. REAL innocent people. And they'll kill more U.S. troops.

This isn't a game of cricket. The stakes are real, and the price of failure, of moving too slow, of not exploiting human intelligence resources like the co-conspiring family members of Al Qaeda members and Baathist murderers is measured in piles of corpses.

The next one might belong to Jill Carroll.

Remember that.

Splash, out


UPDATE: To put this in perspective, I would point out that you can hold someone without charges as a material witness, even in the United States.

Why the dolts at CENTCOM PR and JAG couldn't get out in front of this by characterizing these people as material witnesses or the equivalent of unindicted co-conspirators from the start I'll never know.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Arrogance of the Press Corps 
is embodied by UPI correspondent and White House press room fixture Helen Thomas.

Thomas was miffed today, because the President called on a whole bunch of other people at a press conference today, but didn't call on her. Ok, that would be frustrating for any reporter. (But the President is under no obligation whatsoever to call on any reporters at all).

I can understand being frustrated and disappointed. I've been in her shoes (though I was covering the SEC chair, not the President). But listen to what she says about it:

"He came on to my turf. I'll bet the next press conference will be in Room 450 of the EEOB."

Ms. Thomas, the White House is not "your turf." Nor UPI's, nor the press corps. You are not on the public payroll (NPR and PBS excepted to some degree) and I don't recall ever electing you.

The fact that you think the White House press room is "your turf" demonstrates that you've been there too long, and your mind has become warped by your sense of entitlement. Your tenure there has become a joke.

It's quite obvious why the President wouldn't bother calling on you - you're more interested in playing gotcha games with snarkiness than in advancing the public's understanding of government. I wouldn't bother with you, either.

As for your credibility, you have become every bit the partisan hack that Jeff Gannon was. But at least the Talon News Agency was open about itself being a conservative site.

Jeff is smarter than you are, too, unfortunately.

It's time to find something else to do, and give someone else your chair.

Splash, out


An enlisted officer? 
A reader points out this howler from the Washington Post.

A Jan. 23 article about former Abu Ghraib prison guard Megan Ambuhl should have said that a noncommissioned officer gave Ambuhl her first tour of the Iraq prison. The story article said that "an enlisted officer" gave her the tour.

Yeah, it's not like there are any former military the Post could hire who settle in Northern Virginia, Norfolk, and Fairfax County or anything.

By the way, this is Josh White. White actually writes a lot of stories about the military, lately. How in God's name he got that assignment I'll never know. He's obviously incompetent to do it.

Editors, how many veterans do you have in your newsroom?

Splash, out


The Donald pushes back... 
...against the Krepinovich study, and argues that with a "total force" of more than 2 million, there shouldn't be any reason why we can't sustain a 138,000 strong force in Iraq.

My own view is closer to Rumsfeld's than Krepinovich's. But the acid test is in the spare parts budgets and ammo budgets stateside and the availability of NCOES schools that qualify NCOs for promotion. The divorce rate seems to be an important, though indirect indicator, too. I'm curious to see if it's leveled off over the past year or so. Rumsfeld doesn't seem to be addressing that.

What ticks me off is the same harebrains who are saying the Army is stretched to the breaking point now were the first people to screech about how we didn't send enough troops. The obvious question, of course is if the Army is stretched to the breaking point as it is, then where were the troops going to come from?

You can't have it both ways. You can't criticize the Administration for not committing enough troops and at the same time harp on them for committing more than our force structure will allow.

It's not possible for these people to accept that anything will ever be done right, so you just have to tune them out as unserious thinkers.

Splash, out


More on Chief Welshofer 
...Over at Blackfive's.

Uncle Jimbo over there wants to throw the book at the guy. I have to defer to the judgement of the court martial board itself, or the jury. They are the finders of fact, and I don't have any information to suggest their findings were wrong.

Splash, out


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What kind of sports car am I? 

I'm a Chevrolet Corvette!

You're a classic - powerful, athletic, and competitive. You're all about winning the race and getting the job done. While you have a practical everyday side, you get wild when anyone pushes your pedal. You hate to lose, but you hardly ever do.

Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

Countercolumn News Ticker 
Researchers unveil gun that fires 250,000 rounds per minute ...
Logisticians picket manufacturer headquarters ...

Army that didn't send enough troops creaks under OPTEMPO strain, says researcher ...

Joel Stein named editor of Proceedings ...

Infantry Magazine to assume new 'comic book' format ...

"A lieutenant's most dangerous weapon is his mind ..."

Army to shitcan the whole beret idea ...
"What the f*ck were we thinking?" says new Chief of Staff ...
Chinese manufacturers turning out hundreds of thousands of boonie caps ...
Soldiers rejoice ...

"Aviator glasses" linked to fragging ...

Developing ...

L.A. Times columnist Joel Stein doesn't support the troops 
He says exactly that in his most recent column. It's not as bad as everyone says it is, but it's still pretty bad. In fact, if I didn't know better, I would have thought it was written by a rightwinger parodying an addle-brained, muddle-headed well-meaning pinkie.


He's a pretty good sport, though, and went on the Hugh Hewitt show to be interviewed about it.

Here's the trascript: http://www.radioblogger.com/#001332

Joel's problem is, it seems to me, that he's not all that bright. I didn't listen to the audio, but read the transcript. Is it just me, or does Stein genuinely come across like a moderately dull 15 year old? He certainly seems to possess the fund of information of a high school sophomore.

Splash, out


P.S.: THIS sophomoric bit of trash writing passes muster at the New Yorker?

They've gone downhill.

The Times Responds! 
Last week I sent an email off to the NY Times chastising them for failing to know the difference between an artillery shell and a missile, and between ordinance and ordnance.

Today I got a nice email from Bill Borders, who I guess is a senior editor there, and with whom I've corresponded before:

Dear Jason -
Fortunately, that picture never made it into the newspaper. It was only on the Web site, and not for very long before AFP alerted us to the error.
You are right that we would be less likely to make such errors if we had more military veterans on staff. (There used to be more, of course, in the days when there was a draft.)
But as for ordinance and ordnance, any literate editor ought to know the difference, and usually we do.
Thanks so much for writing and for holding The Times to a high standard.

Best, Bill Borders, senior editor

We're making a dent. The question is, will the Times now take steps to improve?

After all, when military coverage improves, all of us win.

Splash, out

P.S. Bill, the draft ended more than a generation ago.


No prison sentence for Chief Welshofer 
The jury declined to sentence Chief Welshofer to prison for the death of an Iraqi detainee during an interrogation session in November of 2003.

A military jury in Colorado issued a reprimand last night to an Army interrogator who was convicted of negligent homicide for using an aggressive technique on an Iraqi general who died during questioning. Jurors decided not to impose any prison sentence for what originally was charged as a murder.

The lenient sentence for Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer Jr., 43, implies that jurors thought the interrogator should not face serious punishment in connection with the death of Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, a high-ranking Saddam Hussein loyalist who was believed to have engineered insurgent attacks in northern Iraq along the Syrian border. After Mowhoush's capture in November 2003, Welshofer shoved him into a sleeping bag, wrapped him in a cord and straddled him in a last-ditch effort to get
him to talk. The general stopped breathing during the session.

The Post reporter, Josh White, clumsily tries to draw a contrast between Lynndie England and Chief Welshofer. But the difference is huge: Welshofer was acting officially, using approved techniqes when the detainee died. The Abu Ghraib gang was a bunch of board sadists who had gone off the reservation. The contrast in intent between the two is huge.

Splash, out


Is the Army broken? 
No. Not by a long shot, though it's creaking a bit. My very anecdotal sense is more positive than Andrew Krepinovich's, though:

Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a "thin green line" that could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a study for the Pentagon.

Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who wrote the report under a Pentagon contract, concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency. He also suggested that the Pentagon's decision, announced in December, to begin reducing the force in Iraq this year was driven in part by a realization that the Army was overextended.

As evidence, Krepinevich points to the Army's 2005 recruiting slump — missing its recruiting goal for the first time since 1999 — and its decision to offer much bigger enlistment bonuses and other incentives.

"You really begin to wonder just how much stress and strain there is on the Army, how much longer it can continue," he said in an interview. He added that the Army is still a highly effective fighting force and is implementing a plan that will expand the number of combat brigades available for rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here's my take, which I also shared with a couple of radio reporters in an exchange Patrick Lasswell included me in:

Krepinovich, I think is legit, though not infallible. He's the guy who came up with the "oil spot" strategerie a while back, if you recall.

If you look at soldiers as labor--essentially, a commodity, like labor, you can see that demand has been exceeding supply simply by looking at the market price. Pay, benefits, and bonuses have been going up.

But the same was true before the Iraq war, in 1997-1999, when the Army was bleeding captains like a river. Personnel shortages were severe throughout the 1990s. So what else was going on in the 1990s? Well, a strong economy and low unemployment.

I think the Army personnel system is under some strain - particularly in the reserve components. But I wouldn't write us off by a long shot.

If I'm covering this story, here's what I'd do:

Mention the war. Of course it's relevant. The kids seem to want to come in -- they're up for anything. They always have been. My recruiters are telling me, anecdotally, that it's parents who are nixing the deals, not the kids. Parents are naturally protective people. Go figure.

But if the Army's really under strain, it would show up first in spare parts budgets and NCOES and ranger school training slots and ammo budgets for training purposes stateside. To get perspective, talk to some chief warrant officers. I suspect they'd tell you that things are pretty tough. But they appear worse than they are because Congress didn't get its budget out on schedule, and there's a lot of money out there still uncommitted, but programmed against pending orders.

That's not a war issue. That's a bureaucratic and fiscal management issue.

I'd also look at how acute manpower and recruiting shortfalls were in 1996-1999, when the Army had to compete for labor with a screamingly strong job market - much like today. (I remember the New York Times ran at least one story in 2000 or so bemoaning the lack of junior officers in the army-specifically captains.)

That would give you a rough idea as to how much manpower shortage is due to the war and how much may be attributed to the economy. During good years, the economy may only be able to sustain a certain baseline enlistment rate, regardless of whether we're at war or not. In bad years, that rate's going to be higher. In good years with lower unemployment, it's going to be lower. I'd do a background interview with an economist before writing the story. First, it's a neccessary context for understanding the problem. Second, it's probably going to give you several unique angles to play with that will separate you from the pack.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Guys Get Shirts! 
This was emailed to me by an old Marine buddy. Provenance uncertain:

To: All Commands
Subject: Inappropriate T-Shirts
Ref: ComMidEastFor Inst 16134//24 K

1. The following T-shirts are no longer to be worn on or off base by
any military or civilian personnel serving in the Middle East:

"Eat Pork Or Die" [both English and Arabic versions]

"Shrine Busters" [Various. Show burning minarets or bomb/artillery shells impacting Islamic shrines. Some with unit logos.]

"Napalm Sticks Like Crazy" [Both English and Arabic versions]

"Goat - it isn't just for breakfast any more." [Both English and Arabic versions]

"The road to Paradise begins with me." [Mostly Arabic versions but some in English. Some show sniper scope cross-hairs]

"Guns don't kill people. I kill people." [Both Arabic and English versions]

"Pork. The other white meat." [Arabic version]

"Infidel" [English, Arabic and other coalition force languages.]

2. The above T-shirts are to be removed from Post Exchanges upon receipt of this directive.

3. The following signs are to be removed upon receipt of this message:
"Islamic Religious Services Will Be Held at the Firing Range At 0800 Daily."

"Do we really need 'smart bombs' to drop on these dumb bastards?"

4. All commands are instructed to implement sensitivity training upon receipt.

The commander was right to ban these shirts. But I'll bet he got someone to buy one of each for him before he did!

Splash, out


Monday, January 23, 2006

Chief Welshofer and the question of intent 
A reader, Al Maviva, who commented quite a bit around the blogosphere on the NSA story a couple of weeks ago, writes in:

you said: yet Welshofer was acquitted of assault. Is it a lesser included offense with the involuntary manslaugher?

Typically Murder 2 is a lesser included offense of Murder 1; Manslaughter 1 an included offense of Murder 2; Man 2 (negligent) a lesser included offense of Man 1; and assault a lesser included offense of Man 2. So each lower charge is a lesser included offense of each higher one.

It's not uncommon for prosecutors to look at a single incident resulting in death and charge the full range of lesser included charges, just in case there is no conviction on the more serious charges. Sometimes this makes sense as when a case is highly speculative - i.e. there is a really serious bar fight, and the dazed/concussed guy staggers out into the street and gets hit by a car. Who really killed the man there - the guy in the car, the guy who punched him causing a concussion and dazing, or the dead guy himself? So is it depraved indifference murder, manslaughter, or just assault? The choice of charging with a whole range of lesswe included offenses is fraught, because the jury may come to view the defendant as somebody the prosecutor wrongly "threw the book at," or they may settle on a lesser included offense because the defendant is sympathetic or they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the more serious charges.

The Wash Post version of Chief Welshofer's story is that he took custody of the Iraqi general after the man had been very severely beaten and put into medical distress by Iraqi paramilitaries. That calls into question causation - did Welshofer cause the Iraqi's death? In such an instance, it was probably a good choice to include lesser charges, since a jury, the finder of fact, could have found that the Iraqi paramilitaries caused the man's death, and a reasonable person wouldn't have anticipated that Welshofer's application of force would have led to death, or that the general was dying anyhow, and Welshofer (1) lacked the requisite intent for a murder or manslaughter conviction; or (2) that it was mere assault and the death was unrelated to the assault. Obviously, the jury found causation along with an intent to assault (assault not intending to cause death, but leading to death, is *usually* manslaughter) but did not find an intent to commit murder, either via depraved indifference or specific intent to kill.

That clears some things up. I hadn't seen any reporting that suggested this Iraqi had already been severely beaten when he came to Welshofer. I believe it. The police in Ramadi in the summer of 2003 were enthusiastic fan belt floggers. Indeed, my battalion command, I believe, had one senior police officer sacked for his involvement in the torture by flogging of a couple of Iraqis. These weren't terrorists, as far as we know. They were just two guys who got into a dispute in a Ramadi restaurant. Our medics took photos of the marks left by the whipping, and our battalion commander was livid.

So it's entirely plausible to me that our Iraqi hosts had already beaten the crap out of this guy before he was turned over to the tender mercies of Chief Welshofer.

Here's the Washington Post:

According to court testimony and classified accounts of his treatment obtained by The Washington Post, Mowhoush was subjected to harsh beatings by a secret group of Iraqi paramilitaries, code-named Scorpions, who worked with the CIA. One witness who testified behind a curtain during Welshofer's trial was accidentally identified as having worked with the CIA, and witnesses also described how Mowhoush was beaten so badly by the Iraqi natives that he had a hard time breathing and could not walk on his own.

I understand the frustration of everyone in Western Iraq. I felt it myself. The number and lethality of IEDs, I recall, seemed to ramp up quite a bit around Ramadi beginning in the early autumn of 2003. I thought part of it was the loss of so many aviation assets when the 3rd ACR drew another sector further north. Armored Cavalry Regiments are great at flooding the zone with helicopters, and it's hard to emplace IEDs with so many birds buzzing around.

(It also coincided with the battle handover of Ramadi from the 3rd ACR to the 1st Brigade, First Infantry Division, but those guys were total pros, and on the whole, very respectful of Iraqis as far as I could see. I doubt that command would have been guilty of carelessly alienating the local sheikhs. I think that was a factor when the USMC rolled in in February of 04, but not so much in Sept 03)

At any rate, we were all wanting very much to find the reasons behind the increase in resistance, and so the pressure on intelligence pros was keen.

I am dismayed to learn that the CIA seems to have basically hired Iraqi paramilitary thugs to beat on our prisoners for us. If they are in Iraqi custody, that's one thing. But if someone's in US custody, I don't think him not dying is too much to ask. I hope the CIA is answering some tough questions. It's fine by me if that happens behind closed doors, but it needs to happen.

That Welshofer was spared a murder conviction -- and a potential life sentence -- indicates that the jury believed Welshofer did not try kill Mowhoush,

I agree. I can't imagine Chief Welshofer doing such a thing. He played hardball, but he's not a monster, and in my conversations with him I never had any impression that he wanted anything other than to win the war and do the right thing.

I should also add that the military intelligence unit, and the MP unit that ran the holding facility (the 94th MP Company out of the Massachussetts National Guard) lived just a stone's throw away from the regimental hospital. They would see our wounded on a near daily basis. They'd sit next to them in the chow hall. Mortuary Affairs wasn't too far away, either.

You live there for a year - with limited or no contact with good Iraqi civilians the whole time, and tell me your attitude doesn't get hardened.

Splash, out


UPDATE: The Washington Post has more here:


The initials were spoken aloud only once all week, and then apparently by mistake. After this past week's testimony, any role the CIA had _ or didn't have _ in the interrogation of an Iraqi general who died in U.S. custody remains a tantalizing and mysterious backdrop to the court-martial of Army Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr.

The CIA is "the ghost at the banquet," said Eugene R. Fidell, an expert in military law who has been following the court-martial but doesn't know if the CIA was involved in the case.

"We're playing 'Hamlet' without Hamlet here," said Fidell, an attorney in private practice who teaches military law at American University in Washington. He also represented news organizations in their attempts to open pretrial hearings in Welshofer's prosecution.

Now, I didn't realize this until this morning. It seems to me like the CIA's closed ranks to protect their own, and set up an Army guy as the fall guy. This is pissing me off. Maybe Chief Welshofer's actions had a role in causing this guy's death, and maybe he didn't. I defer to the jury. But if we're going to be prosecuting an Army guy, I want to see a CIA agent prosecuted, too. Battery, or conspiracy seem to be slam-dunks.

Sauce for the goose.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Body Armor Follies, Re-Redux 
Go Jack Army weighs in on the protection/mobility trade-off.

I've seen the kevlar plates we had in 2003 can stop a direct hit with an AK-47 round - and probably quite a bit more than that. If you confine your analysis to soldiers who are wounded, that's not a complete picture of the effectiveness of the plates. You wind up ruling out a lot of fatalities that the plates prevented 100%, resulting in no more injury to the soldier than a good scare.

Splash, out


Zarqawi fails to secure key alliances 
So goes Bill Roggio's report over at ThreatsWatch

And Mohammed is reporting that Iraqi insurgency groups are now engaging in open warfare against Al Qaeda.

While the American embassy today resumed its talks with the Sunni leading politicians, 6 Iraqi militant groups announced that they will unite their forces and join the rest of resident of Anbar and Salahiddin in fighting al-Qeda. The new militant groups included the Islamic army, the Anbar martyr’s brigades and the 1920 revolution brigades.

This change sounds positive and encouraging. Although I always preferred that the government deals with such issues instead of militias because if those militias succeed in their new mission, they will have demands and they will gain leverage in later bargains when they will be asked to drop their arms (that’s if they have a plan to do so in the future).

However, the facts on the ground are not the same and the theory of excluding militias can be overlooked for a while because the government already has no enough power in the areas in question while those militias know their targets and they can reach those targets; they know the battlefield very well and they have the sufficient intelligence for this kind of battle.

Although those militant groups have a bad history of violence and terrorizing the population, the positive new change s that they are expected to coordinate their work with city councils which gives a feeling that they are not very far away from the government’s sight and that they meet with the government on the need for fighting foreign terrorists. But, this service will not be for free and the battle is going to be fierce as al-Qaeda realizes that the new enemy is very well informed this time.

No doubt this figured in Bin Ladin's call for a truce in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I Knew Chief Welshofher. 
Chief Welshofher was a friend of mine.

Lynndie England, you're no Chief Welshofher.

Seriously, I did know Chief Welshofer when he was an intelligence warrant officer with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, working out of Al Asad. I was in charge of transporting two or three truckloads of detainees up to his crew every couple of days for the summer of 2003, and would get a chance to chat with him once a week or so.

On several occasions, if we captured a high profile target, we'd make a special trip up and it usually seemed to be Chief Welshofer waiting up for the guy.

Welshofer wasn't an easy interrogator. I've seen him work. But I've never seen him lay a hand on anyone, or harm anyone in any way. Of course, I was a commissioned officer, too, while he was a warrant - and I never saw him question a bigwig.

I never saw Chief Welshofer do or suggest anything that was illegal or unethical.

That said, the defense was pathetic. The chain of command is, by law, not allowed to authorize torture, or anything else illegal. If this guy had his air blocked to the point he died, I can't imagine how that wouldn't qualify as torture, by any definition (yet Welshofer was acquitted of assault. Is it a lesser included offense with the involuntary manslaugher?)

Anyway, I knew and liked and respected Chief Welshofer, so I am saddened to see that this happened and that Chief Welshofer is responsible for this man's death.

I don't question Welshofer's motives. He wanted to win the war. He wanted to save American lives and Iraqi lives. He was willing to be the bad guy to make that happen.

But your prisoners aren't supposed to wind up dead. That's not how the U.S. does business. We cannot tolerate that in any facility, from any rank.

Good for the Army for investigating. I wish it were different.

Splash, out


Mr. Peabody's Coal Truck ... 
I've defended the Bush Administration's record on mine safety before - and I don't want to draw conclusions from a small sample of data. But if the AP is correct here, this reflects poorly on Bush's team:

The Bush administration is now reviewing safety equipment in mines after previously scrapping similar initiatives started by the Clinton administration. At the time, the Republicans cited changing priorities and resource concerns, but miners' advocates said pulling those initiatives stopped potentially important safety rules from becoming reality.

I wish there was more reporting presented here: What initiatives? Which Republicans? Some basic 5W journalism would be nice, dontcha think?

Splash, out


Well, maybe it was a bad strike after all ... 
CNN is reporting that Pakistani officials, including their prime minister, are dismissing reports that last week's missile strikes in Pakistan killed senior Al Qaada personnel as "bizaare."

So first reports are almost always wrong. But so are lots of other reports.

This might have been an Al Qaeda attempt to take some heat off of certain individuals, or foment discord between the U.S. and Pakistan - an excellent strategy for them in my view. Who knows for sure?

On the other hand, it may just be Pakistan releasing one story for public consumption, for internal political reasons of their own.

We may never know who was in that house. I'd like to know where the first report of DNA evidence confirming the identity of the dead came from.

Splash, out


"100 Years Too Late ..." 
The U.S. Navy is in action against modern-day pirates.

No word on whether entertainer Jimmy Buffett was among those captured.

The fight against piracy is a big part of the war on terror, for a lot of reasons.

Splash, out


Saturday, January 21, 2006

Did I call this one or what? 
Countercolumn News Ticker, 28 December 2005: Al Qaeda offering rebates to hostages

Headline, 21 January 2006:
Report says ransom money found on Ostoff.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Press Releases, not news articles 
Look at what passes for reporting at United Press International.

No research. No background. The reporter fails to note the fact that when John Walker Lindh was asked whether he supported the attacks on 9/11, Lindh said, on national television, "Yes, I supported it."

What kind of so-called "reporters" do they have over there?

Martha Mendoza from the Associated Press does no better. Actually, the Associated Press misses the "I supported it" quip and compounds the error when she lets fly, unexamined, Lindh's father's assertion that Lindh "thought he was rescued until US forces tortured him."

Alright, reporter - I want to know PRECISELY what he means by that claim.

Neither service bothers pointing out that Osama Bin Ladin had already declared war against the United States in 1998, before Lindh departed for Afghanistan.

His father lies. And the press acts as his enabler.

These two writers are note-takers - not reporters. And they really should quit and join a PR firm and work for the Lindh family. They sure didn't work very effectively for their readers.

Splash, out


Life Imitates Satire 

Women, minorities hardest hit

Message to Bin Laden: 
To: Osama Bin Ladin
Emir, Al Qaeda, Inc.

From: George W. Bush
President, United States of America




Go fuck yourself.


George W. Bush

UCLA Profs: Just whom do they work for? 
...So some gadfly has decided to offer $100 for tapes of UCLA's most radical left-wing professors in action in the classroom.

UCLA, for its part, is doing its best to cover for and enable these professors by warning students that doing so "may violate University policy."

UCLA Chancellor Carnesale, exposing his own dimwittery, calls this act of holding these public employees accountable to their own words and writings "reprehensible."

Look, Carnesale - doing so can only be as reprehensible as the views of the professors themselves. If these professors weren't so embarrasing for the University, there wouldn't be a problem at all.

UCLA is asserting that these professors also hold the copyright to their class materials. That's sheer stupidity. All these professors are public employees. Any material generated on UCLA computers and on UCLA classroom time should be the property of the people of California. And if they are drawing public salaries, then they should be held accountable to the people for their actions, just like anyone else on a public payroll.

No one is suggesting that anyone is recreating course materials so that people can take the course without paying for it. The only downside is the embarrassment of the faculty members themselves and the bad name they'd give to UCLA.

Which seems to me to be UCLA's problem.

Just who is the UCLA chancellor to call the efforts of a group of UCLA alumni to hold these public employees accountable "reprehensible?"

Remember whom you work for, chancellor.

Splash, out


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Knock, knock 
Contrary to my earlier post that US intelligence "screwed the pooch," DNA tests are confirming that the Hellfire missile attack on Saturday was an overwhelming success

I'm getting it via Bill Roggio, but most people I talk to about it still haven't heard:

The attack killed Al Qaeda's chief bomb maker, Abu Khabab al Masri. The former terrorist training camp commandant was, apparently, the head of Al Qaeda's WMD program, "Project al-Zabadi and was very likely behind the massive, foiled chemical terror attacks on Amman, Jordan, which, according to CNN, involved "tons of chemicals."

Winds of Change has more on al Masri, including reports that he was testing nerve gas on animals at the camp he commanded. al Masri trained the shoe-bomber (not well, fortunately) and Zacharias Moussoui, the so-called "20th Hijacker" of the 9/11 plot. (Pussy!)

Price on his head: $5 million, or enough to buy more than a half-dozen good-sized Citgo gas stations along the I-40 corridor between Memphis and Knoxville.

DNA reports are also confirming that we killed Al Qaeda's operational commander in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Khaled al Harbi.

No sign of Eamonn O'Zaighrahairaigh so far.

Splash, out


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Bureaucracy of Live Music: Why the European Union will fail 
As many of you know, I'm an enthusiastic acoustic musician. Mostly what I do is traditional Irish music. It's a self-sustaining hobby. I do play on a semi-pro level, but my favorite thing to do is to get friends together, find a pub, cafe, or parlor, put the chairs in a circle, and simply play for the love of playing. No drunken idiots requesting Danny Boy, the Wild Colonial Boy, or some gawdawful rebel song. Just playing for the sheer joy of the music, and to master this challenging art form.

Courtesy of the community site for Irish traditional musicians, www.thesession.org, an Italian resident informs us of what' involved in setting up a session in Italy:

centuries ago, my country (Italy) was a civilised place where arts and music were encouraged and flourished; but not anymore.

As an ITM enthusiast, passable singer and intermediate whistler, I'd love to play and sing at sessions in osterias, the Italian equivalent of pubs. But if you go to an osteria and start playing, the landlord will ask you to stop. In fact, he risks a heavy fine.

In Italy, all musical events must be approved and/or controlled by SIAE, the Italian Society of Authors and Publishers (http://www.siae.it). Its purpose is, in theory, to protect the authors' intellectual property. In practice, it's a device that sucks money from *any* possible musical or theatrical event.

I knew there were a few problems to sort out. So I went to the local SIAE office and talked to the boss. "Dear sir, a few friends of mine and I would like to play traditional music, just for fun, in bars and osterias. It's public domain music so we don't have to worry about copyright; what else should we do?"

The answer:

0. first of all, the bar owner must get a (cheap) licence from the municipality for playing music in his venue - live music, radio, CDs, whatever.

1. players must certify to SIAE that the music is traditional and public domain, for example producing a public domain tunebook. Apparently, web sites don't count.

2. the landlord must contact the local SIAE office before the session, tell them that on day X a session will be held, and declare that musicians will not be paid.

3. here's the fun part. Each player must pay a fee for the musicians' pension fund called EMPALS, managed by SIAE. The rationale is: You play music in public? Then you're a professional musician and must pay for your pension. And no, you can't give up your pension. This fee (or extortion, as I see it) is 39.16 Euros, each time you play.

4. only religious or no-profit organisations or are exempted from the EMPALS fee, but they must be *registered* organisations - and that's a load of paperwork and other fees and so on and on and on.

5. after the session, a form must be filled containing the exact list of all tunes that were played plus some information about the players/band, and it must be returned to the SIAE office.

6. players may be asked to give SIAE a recording of the session, to prove that they played the tunes they listed in the form. Alternatively, a SIAE officer may attend the session to check it out.

7. after the session, the landlord must contact the SIAE office and tell them how much money he earned thanks to the session, which is supposed to have attracted more customers.

I'm not making anything of this up. Is everything clear?

OK, stop laughing. To sum up:

- spontaneous sessions are ILLEGAL.

- if you want to play at a session, you must fork out money and put up with a lot of hassle and paperwork.

The consequence of this state of affairs is that in Italy you hardly ever hear music played in bars, and bands are rare. But since the SIAE rules don't apply in churches, there are lots of amateur choirs around - and they regularly perform in churches. The problem is, you don't normally go play ITM or other traditional music in a church...

I'll save you what you need to do if you play *and* are going to get some money.

Needless to say, the only session in my city is illegal - and players are prepared to hit the s**t out of the SIAE officer if he turns up.

I'm not going to tell you what all Italian musicians think of SIAE, I might get sued. This SIAE thing is a windmill I'm going to fight against in the next few months.

I can't imagine Americans tolerating that nonsense.

Splash, out


The AP tips its hand 
I don't know how this got through. But when self-described liberals outnumber conservatives in the newsroom by 5 to 1, I have some ideas.

From an AP story:

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in a swipe at the Democrat, who lost the 2000 election to Bush only after the Supreme Court intervened.


Hmmm...I seem to remember that Gore losing five different vote counts in a row had something to do with it. And according to the Miami Herald's review, he was on his way to losing a sixth when the USSC finally said "enough."

Funny - the AP doesn't mention all the different counts and recounts that all - ALL - showed Bush the winner in Florida. At no time was Gore ahead. Not even for a moment.

All lost on the groupthink at the AP.

Splash, out


Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? 
CNN is now reporting that Pakistan is confirming at least four terrorists were killed in Saturday's strike in Pakistan - and Zawahari was, indeed, invited, but didn't show up.


So I guess all those blog commenters who pointed to the strike as evidence of bad intelligence and used it to illustrate arguments about how the US is a murderous regime who can now bomb anyone it wants will rush to the keyboards to retract their posts, eh?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Soldiers pimpin' out their rides 
Check out some of the Macgyver-type solutions soldiers are coming up with to trick out their hummers!

No wonder there's an insurgency. Young Iraqi men feel threatened. I mean, all the Iraqi guys do is install musical car horns and hang CDs from the insides of their trucks. But how can any Iraqi chick resist a Hummer with a six-foot boom and a chain?

Splash, out


US wounded declines by more than 25% 
USA Today is reporting a significant decline in the number of nonfatally wounded US troops in 2005, although the number of KIA remains statistically the same.

The number of wounded dropped from 7,990 in 2004 to 5,939, according to the Defense Department.

Here are my explainations:

1. The Battle of Fallujah was fought in 2004, which borrowed casualties from 2004n and front-loaded them into November of 2004 -- while also killing one or two thousand moojies who would otherwise have been causing casualties in 2005.

2. Improved offensive tactics, techniques, and procedures, including the large-scale fielding of the SMAW and those cool little robot cameras and fold-up-airplane minicams.

3. More Iraqi units are bearing more of the fight.

4. Improved IBA protection on the sides and shoulders.

5. Improved armor on vehicles.

6. New techniques are increasing the lethality of IEDs, without neccessarily increasing their frequency. Thus, an IED is more likely to cause a fatality than previously, thanks to advances in design.

6. The Army is taking gynecologists and psychiatrists and making infantry battalion surgeons out of them, while sending trauma surgeons and internists home. (Don't laugh, I've seen it happen!)

All these things, I think, add up to more than the difference in the number of wounded. But reasons #4 are purely defensive measures. No defensive measure ever decided a war. All wars are decided by the effective clobbering of the frog-faced heathen on the other side of the battlefield. And therefore, ultimately, only 1, 2, and 3 can be considered relevant.

One of my big media criticisms is that so much attention is focused on the purely defensive measures, and it crowds out attention on the offensive measures. But in the absence of effective offense, defensive measures accomplish nothing. In the absence of effective offensive measures, defensive measures do not reduce casualties - they only delay casualties until tomorrow and prolong the war.

An effective offense, in the long run, will reduce casualties. Ariel Sharon understood this. So did Patton. So did Rommel. Find the enemy, close with him, and kill him where he sleeps.

Splash, out


Incompetent bastards in the media 
Well, because Macs suck so hard, I can't post the pic. But Snapping Turtle found a picture from Agents France-Presse which shows a Pakistani tribesman standing in a ruined house, next to a piece of unexploded ordnance. The caption - which Snapping Turtle says is "on the front page of the Globe, and possibly elsewhere" says,

""A Pakistani tribesman stand by a unexploded ordinance (sic) at his house which was damaged in an alleged U.S. air strike in the Bajur tribal zone near the Afghan border Saturday."

But, as Snapping turtle points out, there are some problems with the picture, as described by the caption.

Link: http://www.snappingturtle.net/flit/archives/2006_01_14.html#005714

Go on to the page to find out what they are, and then ask yourself if a commitment to newsroom diversity - to include including veterans in the newsroom staff, could have prevented AFP and the Globe from making themselves out to look like total morons.

Splash, out


UPDATE: Here's the photo, in context: http://www.snappingturtle.net/flit/archives/2006_01_14.html#005714

The photo credit is to Thir Kahn, AFP/Getty Images.

I would wonder whether Thir is really that ignorant of ordnance basics, or if he's in on the con. Maybe someone with more time than I have today could look up some of his other images and see if a pattern emerges.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Do scoops stroke sales? Or just writers' egos? 
In the magazine world, I'm inclined to agree with Jeff Jarvis.

On the other hand, why would I buy a BusinessWeek article if its flagship story had already been discussed exhaustively in the blogs by experts whose grasp of the subject is vastly outclasses that of a generalist-by-necessity magazine writer?

Splash, out


US Intelligence screws the pooch again ... 
...And hits a house apparently full of women and children, but with no Al Qaeda.

The U.S. should diplomatically get out in front of this one, and publicly apologize to the people of Pakistan. It's the right thing to do, and to fail to do so will not serve us well. The support of the people in that particular reason of Pakistan is important to the tactical success of the fight against Al Qaeda locally. If we catch Zawahari or Bin Ladin, it will be because one of those people betray them. I can't imagine that either of them would stay in Afghanistan, where US troops have free reign, when Al Qaeda sympathizers have infested the Pakistani security forces, and AQ has a good shot at getting tipped off if a Pakistani raid is in the offing.

The United States should be cautious here, I think. If I were Al Qaeda, I would start to flood the zone with false reports of Bin Ladin and al Zawahiri, in an effort to provoke US blunders in the region, thus keeping up the political momentum they have going for themselves.

The U.S., I'm confident, is cognizant of the possibility that Al Qaeda will select this course of action, and take action to investigate the background and ties of its informants extra carefully - so that intelligence can be vetted, but also so that every time Al Qaeda does send someone to give a false report, they risk further exposing part of their network.

Publicly turning over one or two people who give false reports to the Pakistani security service as potential Al Qaeda saboteurs may go a long way towards improving the reliability of reports and lending discipline to our own network of informants.

Granted, you do decrease the chances of following up on a truthful report - and you do wind up releasing some of the pressure on the Al Qaeda leadership, which in turn makes it easier for them to coordinate a counterattack. But the US can hardly afford a string of three or four similar incidents like this one, which is Al Qaeda's best hope at severing the U.S. - Pakistan alliance.

I should be careful not to overstate the point, though: I don't think the Musharraf-U.S. alliance is nearly as shaky as it appears in the news. As long as Musharraf remains in power, James Taylor's still on center stage. That is to say, we've got a friend. He knows where his falafel is fried. He has to say some things for public consumption, of course. And so would we.

The US, I hope, is taking some steps to hedge its bets. We have an awful lot of U.S. policy depending on the actuarial chances of one man.

Splash, out


Saturday, January 14, 2006

Al Qaeda is being discredited on its own turf ... 
More evidence that Al Qaeda is being defeated in Iraq:

Meanwhile, there are some good news coming from Anbar.
Al-Qaeda is apparently being chased down and confronted by Iraqis in Anbar and Samarra according to a report from al-Sabah.

Mohammed al-Ubaidi is a citizen of Anbar who took part in a battle against al-Qaeda fighters said that people were enraged by the attacks that kill civilians in Anbar and other provinces and therefore have decided to form squads from the residents to rid Anbar from the foreign terrorists.

The reports mentions that several tribes’ sheikhs had a meeting in the home of a sheikh of the Dulaim tribe where they pledged to fight al-Qaeda and throw them out of the province. There are also news that some 120 al-Qaeda members have already fled outside Iraq after a series of battles between their cells and the residents of Ramadi and other towns and suburbs of Anbar.

According to the same report, similar measures are being taken by the residents in Samarra and have succeeded in forcing foreign terrorists out of their city.

Remember, this is Al Anbar. This is the ONE province in Iraq in which Al Qaeda could hope to achieve parity.

Die, motherfuckers, die!

Splash, out


"You wouldn't think it takes a lot of intelligence..." 
Slate's Kaplan - who normally is better than this - wades into unfamiliar territory and falls flat on his face:

The evidence is overwhelming. Take tank gunners. You wouldn't think intelligence would have much effect on the ability to shoot straight, but apparently it does.

See, this is where having a veteran on staff - better yet, someone with some experience in gunnery - would have kept Kaplan from making an ass of himself.

In reality, gunnery is tough. And good tank gunnery (and Bradley gunnery and .50 cal gunnery and sniper gunnery and mortar gunnery and artillery gunnery and naval gunnery) involves a hell of a lot more involved than simply keeping a little red dot on a target.

Top quality gunnery requires a tremendous mechanical aptitude, an ability to follow complex directions in the huge -10 manual for the M1-tank (so big it comes in two three-inch-thick volumes, plus updates) and a facility with a less-than-user-friendly tank gunnery computer.

The reason a tank gun can hit a speck-sized target at 2500 meters isn't because of what happens on the range. It's because of the maintenance and tank gunnery skills of the crew in the days and weeks and months before the tank even rolls up to the ready line.

Look, I've got a 4-year degree, and standardized test scores put my IQ in the top 3 percent or so of the population. Not that I'm that smart - I just do well at multiple-choice tests.

In fact, I KNOW I'm not that smart - because I've been a tank commander, and passing the Tank Crew Gunnery Skills Test - especially boresighting the main gun within the alloted time - was one of the toughest tasks I've had to do in the army.

But my gunner, SGT Edwards, didn't go to college, as far as I know. He wasn't learned, particularly, but had common sense. More than that, he worked his ass off, and he practically lived in the tank. He could boresight the main gun in his sleep.

The mechanical-spacial aptitude it takes to become a top-notch tanker is on par with any profession - and for Kaplan to even suggest that anybody can do it belies a tremendous amount of intellectual snobbery.

It's as if he thinks being a national writer involves nothing more than typing skills. "You wouldn't think it takes a lot of intelligence to type a national-quality magazine article - but apparently it does."

At any rate, I'll take a Cat III or IV soldier who follows directions, busts his ass, and shows up up on time any day over a Cat I soldier who thinks he's too good for the Army. Hell, I've even had a few Cat V's. I've let some of them go - and some of them turned out to be great soldiers. You just need to know how to use them and employ them in accordance with their capabilities. Some of them will work their hearts out for you, God bless' em.

Oh, and speaking of Cat V, who was the muddlebrain that came up with the "GI Schmo" headline? Is that REALLY the best Slate's editors can do?

What was wrong with "'Special' Forces?" "Dumb and Gunner?" "Very Basic Training?" "Welcome to the Army, Mr. Gump?"

You guys need to hire some better editors.

Maybe you could hire a vet? Jus' sayin,' dude.

Splash, out


Countercolumn News Ticker 
Democrats assail Alito's "open mind..."

Dem senator "troubled" by freedom, rule of law...

Area dobro player jailed after assaulting fiddler in intonation spat ...

98% of Americans polled find opinion surveys of foreigners on domestic politics "irrelevant" ...

Area dismounted infantry squad leader thinks "speed is our security."

Local lieutenant "not lost, dammit!" ...


Polling Afghans 
Check out these poll results from Afghanistan!

Eighty-one percent of Afghans said they think that al-Qaeda is having a negative influence in the world with just 6% saying that it is having a positive influence. An even higher percentage—90%—said they have an unfavorable view of Osama bin Laden, with 75% saying they have a very unfavorable view. Just 5% said they have a favorable view (2% very favorable). These levels were slightly lower in the country’s war zone, the eastern and south-central part of the country: three in five (60%) in those areas had a very unfavorable view of bin Laden...

Perhaps most telling, 82% said that overthrowing the Taliban government was a good thing for Afghanistan, with just 11% saying it was a bad thing. In the war zone, 71% endorsed the Taliban’s overthrow while 16% saw it as a bad thing; in the north, 18% saw it as a bad thing.

These views were held by large majorities of all ethnic groups, including the large Pashtun and Tajik groups and the smaller Uzbek and Hazara groups. The Pashtuns were less emphatic in their rejection of the Taliban, with 51% expressing a very unfavorable view of the Taliban as compared to 66-79% for the other groups.

Equally large percentages endorse the US military presence in Afghanistan. Eighty-three percent said they have a favorable view of “the US military forces in our country” (39% very favorable). Just 17% have an unfavorable view.

International agencies also get a warm endorsement. An overwhelming 93% gave the United Nations favorable ratings (57% very favorable). International agencies providing aid for reconstruction were rated as effective by 79%, with 38% saying they are very effective.

Nice. Radical and violent Islamicism is being discredited on its home turf.

The same organization finds that the majorities in 21 nations believe that Bush's reelection was a negative for world security. Even as they reap the benefits of a disrupted Al Qaeda network.

Looks like America is more popular in countries we invade than in countries we leave alone.

Splash, out


Iran is just one big shit sandwich 
...And we're all going to have to take a bite.

The Field Manual on soldiers' load management 
You can read it here.

You can also read the Center for Army Lessons Learned article on soldiers loads specifically in Afghanistan here.
(Courtesy of Castle of Arrrrrgh!)

CALL's conclusion: Soldiers are overburdened as it is.

Splash, out


Body Armor and the Soldier's Load 
Infantry officer and three-combat-tour veteran Andrew Exum weighs in on the body armor kerfuffle in the New York Times.

From 2000 until 2004, I was an infantry officer in the Army. I deployed with a light-infantry platoon to Afghanistan in 2002, then with a platoon of Army Rangers to Iraq in 2003 and back to Afghanistan in 2004. While I can testify that soldiers usually appreciate the protection body armor gives them, the load shouldered by the average infantryman often hinders his ability to fight - especially at high altitude as in Afghanistan.

But in Iraq, as well, the "soldier's load" is often unbearable. Most studies recommend that a soldier should not be burdened with more than one-third of his body weight. But if you take a 160-pound soldier and put 40 pounds of Kevlar and body armor on him and then he picks up an automatic weapon, ammunition, water and first aid equipment, it's not long before he is carrying half his body weight - and he is then expected to run, jump and fight insurgents, themselves carrying little more than a 10-pound AK-47. All of this, of course, often takes place in 120-degree heat in the cities of Iraq.

Lost among the politicians' cries for more extensive armor for the troops is the fact that most soldiers, in my experience and based on discussions with many, feel they have enough armor already - and many feel they are increasingly being burdened with too much equipment. And the new supplementary body armor unveiled this week in Washington doubles the weight of the equipment - worn over the torso and, now, the upper arms - to 32 pounds from 16 pounds (for a medium-sized soldier).

Exum is right. The military understands the soldiers' load issue. We've researched it over decades-long before the Iraq war. You don't give the dismount something else to carry every time some asshole gets a bright idea. I would say that anyone in congress pressuring the military or Administration on this issue without having taken the time to educate themselves is a dangerous moron.


Having dissected the problem of overloading and its
impact on the ability of our infantrymen to fight on the
modern battlefield, we must now solve the problem.
Thankfully, the solution will not require a single piece of
new gear, nor will it require an increase to our manpower.
Instead, it will require a commitment by leaders at all
levels to educate themselves and their men on the problems
of overloading. Acknowledgment of the problem is one part
of the remedy. To ensure that our forces possess the speed
and agility necessary to concentrate and win on tomorrow's
battlefields, the Marine Corps must educate its leaders on
the concept of "load tailoring" in order to eliminate the
dangerous overloading of our infantryman.

Yep. Hilary, you wanna tell a commander what armor his troops have to strap on? You better have some good ideas about what they don't need to carry anymore either.

One study of particular interest was conducted by the
Institute William Frederick in Germany in: the last few
years of the 19th century. The institute was particularly
interested in measuring the effect on infantrymen who were
carrying different loads under varying conditions of
temperature. The research demonstrated that a load of 48
pounds could be carried by a well-conditioned soldier in
cool weather with little difficulty. However, in warm
weather the same load produced an impairment in physical
strength, and the soldiers did not return to a normal state
until some time during the following day.

Hey knucklebrains! I've seen temperatures on the battlefield soar to 137 degrees!

Other German experiments focused on the effects
produced by increasingly heavier loads. The results
demonstrated that soldiers continued to show physical
distress regardless of the degree of physical conditioning.
The study, therefore, concluded that it is impossible to
condition the average soldier to march with a load once it
reaches 69 pounds no matter how much training he is given.
(8:48-49) This conclusion is in direct conflict with many
infantry and specialized unit training philosophies today.

Man, those Germans and their "experiments!"

The energy (energy cost) to perform a given task is
dependent on a number of variables. The primary variables
include the total weight of the load, rate of movement,
grade or slope of the terrain, the firmness of the ground,
and the physical condition, size, and fitness of the

Slopes in Afghanistan are often severe. Where convoys are ambushed, they are often ambushed at a choke point, where a road passes near a piece of high ground or between two rises. When US troops counterattack, they must counterattack uphill. That is why the enemy chose that ground to engage. They would not engage otherwise.

Overloading the soldier would be crippling in this environment. It would slow them down as they dismount a stationary vehicle - the most vulnerable moment in the ambush. It would slow them down as they found a flank and began their assault. Therefore, it would lengthen the amount of time they are exposed to enemy fire before overrunning his position. The additional weight could make a proper 3-to-5 second rush next to impossible. Soldiers would take shortcuts to rushing techniques, 3-to-5 second rushes would become 10-second rushes after just a few bounds, and soldiers would be vulnerable during that extra amount of time it took to haul themselves off the ground. Think it won't happen?

From the same study:

American soldiers in
Vietnam carried packs whose weight made them disinclined to
crawl when under fire. (6:120) "They walked," wrote F.J.
West in Small Unit Action in Vietnam, "because they were
tired and it was easier to move than to stand. The weight
and bulk of their equipment contributed greatly to this

The ultimate conclusions reached by the studies of several nations were very close:

About 1900, the French, British, and Germans began
experimenting with the weight and placement of the
individual soldier loads. Working separately, all three
countries reached the same conclusion: the maximum load
which soldiers carry should not exceed one-third of their
own body weight. (3:17)
In 1920, a British study discovered that armies
traditionally carried between 55 and 60 pound loads. The
commission finally reached the following conclusion:

... not in excess of forty to forty-five pounds was a
tolerable load for an average-sized man on a road
march. More specifically, ... on the march, training
purposes, the optimum load, including clothing and
personal belongings, is one-third of body weight.

At the conclusion of World War Two, S.L.A. Marshall
concluded in The Soldier's Load and the Mobility of a
Nation that the average American soldier's optimum load for
marching during a training period is slightly more than 51
pounds. Marshall further believed that the maximum combat
load for the individual should never be more than
four-fifths of optimal training load of 51 pounds.
(8:70-71) This figure accounted for the effects of fear
combined with the fatigue actually experienced in battle.
A 1954 Marine Corps Development center study concluded
that the maximum load for a rifleman should be lowered to
55 pounds for march conditions and 40 pounds for combat.
This study further revealed that the average load for a
Marine Rifle Squad was an unacceptable 71 pounds per
Marine. (13: 42)

In 1971, the Marine Advanced Recognition, Combat and
Exploitation Study (MARCES) was initiated to develop a
systems concept for a post-1980 infantry platoon and to
apply advanced technology to that concept. The study
identified minimum and maximum weights that can be carried
most economically by combat-committed Marines, while still
retaining some degree of combat effectiveness. These
weights were 30% and 40% of the individual's body weight,
respectively. (2:9)

Recognizing the ongoing nature of the problem of
overloading the"' individual infantryman, the Marine Corps
and Army have been jointly working on a project referred to
as the "Integrated Individual Fighting System." The
program includes field testing of commercial items, as well
as equipment already in the system. In addition, the
program attempts to take a systematic approach in analyzing
how much gear is being carried and in what manner it is
being carried. (7:62)

Results of this research indicated that the ideal
soldier's load was 30 percent of individual body weight, or
48 pounds, and the maximum load a soldier could carry
should not exceed 45 percent of his body weight, or 72
pounds. Research further indicated that training can only
improve load-carrying capability by 10 to 20 percent at

Military leaders should read the whole thing, as the end of the piece gets into some good techniques for soldiers' load management and some commonly made mistakes.

And finally from Exum:

The problem with this noble sentiment is that the American public and its elected representatives don't always understand what military officers and soldiers do: that the safety of individual soldiers must always be balanced against the ability to accomplish the unit mission.

I worry that this timeless lesson is now being forgotten in the interest of minimizing American casualties. "Protecting soldiers," as an Army spokesman told me the other day, "is our No. 1 priority."

Excuse me, but shouldn't winning the war be our No. 1 priority?


Eyes on the prize, people.

Splash, out


Did we kill Zawahari? 

CNN is reporting a series of CIA predator strikes on a building we believed may have contained al Zawahari, Al Qaeda's second in command - along with perhaps five other senior Al Qaeda leaders.

I've been wrong before. But this one smells good to me.

ABC and CNBC are reporting on it, too. The Counterterror blog has a roundup.

Friday, January 13, 2006

It is a federal crime to publish classified information. 
Cori Dauber is reporting, via an informed source, that the military strenuously requested that New York Times and Washington Post not publish the results of a study on body armor.

Well, here's the comparison to think about: I've been told by a senior Marine officer in Iraq that the Times ignored multiple requests to not publish the details of body armor vulnerability in order to protect the lives of US service members. (And what I quoted was just a single example: the article, for example, actually come complete with a graphic, for God's sake.)

Well, I didn't think too much about the article, because I think any close observer can see what's covered by the vest and what's not. (You know, maybe making the original vests in dark green when the rest of a soldier's uniform was tan was a stupid idea, ya think?)

But I didn't see the graphic. They included a friggin' graphic? That's just beyond the pale. That thing is going to become a training aid for Al Qaeda, you assholes.

Given just a moment's thought, it's pretty obvious to me that details about the weak spots in body armor can be readily exploited by anyone with a sniper rifle, a pistol, or a knife.

As a reminder, although the Pentagon Papers case established a very high standard for the government to impose a prior injunction against the publication of sensitive material. But publishing classified information is still against the law. Indeed, in the Pentagon Papers case itself, Justice White was very clear in saying that while he did not believe the government had the right to impose prior restraint on publishing the documents, he would be favorably disposed to the prosecution of the Times and Post on the grounds of unauthorized possession of classified documents - which is itself a crime, under Section 793(e) of Chapter 18, U.S.C.

It's time for the government to stick up for the interests of its troops and for the Republic - prosecute newspapers that compromise national security by publishing - with egregious disregard for operational security - legitimately classified information that can be used against us by a determined and resourceful enemy.

This is not to say that preventing the embarrassment of the government is grounds for legitimate classification. I do not believe the images from Abu Ghraib rise to the level of legitimately classified, except for the purposes of not compromising an investigation.

But details about our surveillance activities, force protection measures, and armor protection clearly fall within the parameters of legitimately classified information.

You've heard of the catchphrase "speak truth to power?"

It's time to speak a little power. Have some editors answer some tough questions before a judge. Maybe a soldier, or the family of a soldier shot at close quarters or by a sniper exploiting the weaknesses in body armor exposed by the times will someday have grounds for a civil action.

The press is forgetting their place. They are part and parcel of a free society. But they are themselves subject to the same laws as the rest of us. They have no special dispensation, under the law, to publish classified information that the rest of us are not even allowed to possess. (Try to explain that at Press Think, though and you get slimed as a "Press Hater.")

Splash, out


Life Imitates Life of Brian 
The more I learn about the insurgency and the internecine network of clans, tribes, and competing loyalties in Iraq, the more I am convinced of the utter satiric brilliance of the Monty Python film "Life of Brian."

Here's a terrific piece by the New York Times - already widely circulated in the blogosphere - that takes a look at the split between the home-grown insurgent groups and the knuckle-dragging troglodytes of Al Qaeda. If you haven't read it yet, give it a go:


Some salient points: Note that one of the most effective recruiting mechanisms Al Qaeda has is money. Al Qaeda simply has more money than the other groups, and apparently can outspend the Ba'athists, despite Hussein's looted millions. (I suspect the death of Ibrahim Izzat Al Douri may have hastened the process along, as he may have had a lot of financial contacts which are difficult to replace, even for the Ba'athists.

Money still seems to be flowing in from Saudi Arabia, and talent from Saudi Arabia and Syria. Interestingly, this is the first direct reference I've seen to individuals from Pakistan or Afghanistan joining Al Qaeda in Iraq. I've seen third-hand reports that Al Qaeda planned to cede defeat in Afghanistan and transfer men and resources to the fight in Iraq. I've also seen evidence that Iraqi insurgents were adopting IED techniques and tactics first refined in Afghanistan - nevermind the details - but this is the first eyewitness account I've seen of actual South Asians in Al Qaeda in Iraq. Which would seem to me to lend support to the idea. With a battlefield so close at hand to Pakistan, why else send Pakistanis all the way to Iraq, where they surely stick out like sore thumbs, and don't know the language any more than Americans do?

Next, it was interesting to see accounts of the tribes dispensing rough justice on their own. The sheikhs could have handed the fighters over to the U.S., or to the government. They didn't. They conducted their own arrest, then their own interrogation, then their own trial and execution. This reflects the power and influence that Iraqi sheikhs have over the population - a power that far exceeds anything an American could associate with a city councilman or mayor.

This is why the "Strategic Corporal" concept is vital. The war in Iraq is not won or lost in Baghdad conference rooms. The war in Iraq will be won or lost by grassroots contacts between American platoon leaders, company commanders, and battalion commanders out in the provinces, where Al Qaeda is based. This is also why a broad liberal education is vital for our officer corps-and why the exclusion of ROTC programs at several elite universities harms our National Interest.

It is not enough for today's junior officer corps to be made up of C students from State, with Phys Ed degrees and Varsity letters who can smoke their platoons on a road march. Every junior officer who leaves the gate must now be a mini Laurence of Arabia - a tactical innovator, a flexible thinker with genuine appreciation for culture, facility with language, and a keen understanding not just of his commanders mission and the mission of the unit two echelons above, but all the way up to CENTCOM.

Next, it's also clear that we're not the only team with some hearts and minds to win - and in that respect, it's clear that Al Qaeda has made some terrible errors in judgement - errors largly borne of their fanaticism and adversity to education outside of the Madrases. They will suffer from their intellectual inbreeding, and it's clear they are suffering from their lack of intellectual access to many of the historical lessons and doctrine on warfare absorbed by both the East and the west. Al Qaeda must reinvent the wheel - and they will be no more successful in Iraq than the Pathet Lao or Sendero Luminoso. Even the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia for several terrible years, cut its own legs out from under itself, and is utterly defeated and humiliated.

We can only see the Iraq insurgency through a glass, darkly, and only by means of trailing indicators. The Times piece tells us little about the state of affairs as it is now, but as it existed before the interview suspects were arrested. It will be extraordinarily difficult to meaningfully exploit the rift until we have better information coming in real time. And perhaps we do in some areas. Al Qaeda must recruit - and any organization that must recruit can be infiltrated.

But what we're only finding out now, Zarqawi was able to sense back in the first months of 2004, when he wrote to Bin Ladin expressing frustration at his lack of traction in Iraq, saying "By God, this is suffocation!"

Yes, Zarqawi. It is. And you shall soon be reaping its fruits.

The Ba'athist insurgency - as opposed to Iraqi nationalist fighters - has been, on the whole, defeated. Al Qaeda can be and will be defeated. As the article points out, the fact that a tribe stood up to them, took down their houses, tried and killed their assassins, AND HAS GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT cannot be a long-held secret. Other tribes, jealous of Al Qaeda challenges to their authority, and outraged at their atrocities, will follow suit. Al Qaeda has already been muscled over during the elections. Their fighters bleed red blood through their black track suits. They can be killed. When Iraqis figure that out - and they are - then the manufacture of martyrdom will accelerate.

I wrote in the early days of this blog, in November 2003, that Al Qaeda will not be defeated by miliary force alone, but that victory would only come when its radical, murderous, nihilist ideology is thoroughly discredited on its own turf.

We are watching that happen.

Patience, my brothers.

Splash, out


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Best. Headline. Ever. 
Jenin: Bomber Explodes Near Troops. No Casualties.


Missing Headline Alert 
All units, all units. Be on the lookout for a headline reported missing from today's U.S. media.

According to South African news outlet News24, Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisan has announced the following:

Three Algerians arrested in an anti-terrorist operation in Salerno are suspected of being linked to a planned new series of attacks in the United States. The attacks would have targeted ships, stadiums, or railway stations, with the intent of causing more destruction than the attacks of September 11th, said Pisanu.

Voice of America is also reporting the following detail:

Police wiretaps picked up a conversation following the July terror bombings in London in which Mr Bouhrama and an unidentified person talked about finding a ship like the Titanic, packing it with explosives and killing 10,000 people in Italy.

In a separate conversation after July terror attack in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Mr Bouhrama was recorded as saying that soon there'll be an even bigger celebration.

It is clear from the above reports that the terror cell was broken up as a result of electronic surveillance. The interception may well have saved thousands of Italian and American lives.

A search on the ringleader's name, Yamine Bouhrama, on Google News reveals that not a single mainstream US media outlet has covered the story, although it was front page news in the London Times and in Italy.

Google news searches on the terms "Pisanu" and "plot" yielded similar results.

The Associated Press ran a story - picked up in a very few papers, that failed to mention that the plot was foiled thanks to phone intercepts, and also failed to mention details concerning the intention to sink a "ship like the Titanic," and take as many as 10,000 lives.


A search on the New York Times' website for mentions of Pisanu yielded nothing on the story whatsoever.

Splash, out


Good news for Reserve Component Troops 
The new Defense Authorization Act, signed by the president on 6 January, includes a number of benefits for reserve component soldiers:

*Full housing allowance payments for reserve members called to active duty for more than 30 days, versus the previous 140-day requirement.

*Income replacement benefits to help offset the pay loss some reservists and guardsmen experience when called to active duty, based on specific guidelines to be established within the next six months.

* Accession and affiliation bonuses of up to $20,000 for enlistment in the Selected Reserve,

* An increase for officers for service in the Selected Reserve, from $6,000 to $10,000;

* A bonus of up to $100,000 for members with a designated critical skill or who volunteer to serve in a designated high-priority unit;

* Extension of eligibility for a prior-service enlistment bonus to include Selected Reserve members who previously received one.

The extention of full housing benefits to reserve members after 30 days removes a major sore spot for me. Active Duty members receive 400 dollars a month and more in basic housing allowances (depending on the cost of living in their area). Previously, a reserve component soldier could be mobilized for up to 139 days before receiving the same compensation that an active duty soldier routinely expects.

As an officer currently on the "month-to-month" plan (I have no contractual reserve obligation and can quit on request), I wasn't interested in the $6,000 bonus for an additional six year obligation. It represented a pay increase of less than 10 percent, amortized over six years, and when you take into consideration that another deployment is almost certain, the $6,000 really doesn't make a difference to me.

The $10,000 bonus for six years is a little better, but it still doesn't make me want to run out and sign up for another six years, because it doesn't really compensate me for the civilian career disruption. Nor does it really recognize the value of three command tours, a combat tour, and 14 years of reserve component commissioned experience in two combat arms branches, nor does it compensate me for the disruption to civilian schooling plans caused by 4-5 mobilizations per year to chase hurricanes around. To put it in perspective, soldiers are recieving $10,000 bonuses to go to basic training as buck privates on a six-year reserve hitch. E-5s with five and a half years in are getting $15,000 (soon to increase to $20,000).

I don't stay in for the money. I stay in for the troops, and because every time I try to quit, I get bored. I may stay in beyond my current command hitch - I'm not sure. I may take a year off for civilian schooling and come back to it. But for me, personally, the $10,000 doesn't do it for me.

Now watch - They're going to hand me a $10,000 dollar change-of-command inventory bill this summer with one hand and an extension contract in the other.

Splash, out


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Kidnapping and the ethics of blackouts 
As if we need more evidence that the journo class has uncoupled itself from reality, here's an incongrous pairing of statements from Sig Christenson, president of Military Reporters and Editors.

From Editor and Publisher:

President of Military Reporters Group Hits Blackout on Abduction

The president of Military Reporters and Editors (MRE), Sig Christenson, criticized U.S. media outlets late Tuesday for engaging in a two-day blackout to hide news that an American journalist, Jill Carroll, had been abducted in Iraq.

Christenson, military affairs reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and a three-time Iraq embed, said the effort to keep news about a reporter's kidnapping from readers gives the wrong impression.

"Why isn't somebody asking about the ethics of this?" Christenson said in a phone interview late Tuesday. "I question whether it was ethical of them to do what they did - the (abducted reporter's) newspaper and the others that were involved in this..."

...Christenson contends that such an act of self-censorship hurts their credibility. "You've got to ask yourself who else we would have singled out for this special treatment?" he said. "If this happened to anyone else, they would rush it out on the wires and they should."

Who says they should? What kind of "ethics" values some asshole's trivial little page 3 scoop over the life of a 28 year-old woman? Is Carroll a public figure in any way? Did she do anything to deserve getting sold down the river?

Go out into America, Mr. Christenson. Ask around. Ask if the American people can handle waiting a few days or a week to learn the identity of a kidnap victim, if keeping the information secret would help us recover her alive and nail the bastards who took her - and who, not incidentally, already murdered her translator - and stop them from ever terrorizing or killing anyone else again.

Hell, ask any crime reporter. A lot of them keep their mouths shut all the time, if they have information concerning details of the crime that, if revealed publicly could compromise the investigation.

Your priorities, Mr. Christenson, are ass-backwards. I'm sure you've seen dead bodies before, as a reporter in Baghdad. Have you ever seen one you could bring back to life?

If waiting another week or two weeks or a month before learning this reporter's identity would increase the chance of a good news story about her return home to her family, I'd do that in a heartbeat.

No, Mr. Christenson. You have been hanging out with the press corps too long. Someone should really be questioning YOUR ethics.

Splash, out


Hat tip: Cori Dauber

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