Thursday, January 31, 2019

Why We Fight: Building Freedom in Iraq, Ch. 92,356

“Shortly after ten o’clock, three judges in long black robes shuffled into Courtroom 2 and sat at the bench. Suhail Abdullah Sahar, a bald, middle-aged man with a thin, jowly face, sat in the center. There were twenty-one cases on his docket that day, sixteen related to terrorism. 

. . . .

Sahar questioned the other suspects first. One, named Haidar, who wore a back brace, said that he had been mistakenly arrested for a car-bomb attack, in 2014, and that in the course of an interrogation, to make the torture stop, he had started naming random people, including Louai. Judge Sahar then called upon Louai, who rose from his chair and gripped the cage to support himself. “I went to sell my car in the market,” he said. “Then Haidar called me, and I was ambushed, arrested.” He spoke in an urgent, high-pitched tone, but he stuttered and slurred his words; during interrogations, he said, officers had beaten him so badly that he suffered a blood clot in his brain. “They also broke my back!” he shouted. “They broke my feet and hands! I can barely walk!”

“Enough evidence—I ask for a guilty verdict,” the prosecutor said. It was the only phrase she uttered in court that morning.

Haidar’s lawyer noted that there was no witness and no material evidence, and that his request for a medical examination, to prove that Haidar had been tortured, had been rejected. Louai’s lawyer explained that Louai’s confession had been coerced and made no sense: he had said that he remotely detonated the car bomb, when, in fact, the police had concluded that it was a suicide attack.

Louai had spent four years in pretrial detention, and, during the two or three minutes allotted to his defense, the judges had been talking among themselves. “I haven’t seen a judge until now!” he shouted.

“Take them out,” Sahar said. A security officer opened the cage. It took Louai nearly two minutes to limp to the door. Sahar took a lunch break, then ordered his execution.

. . . .

Not long ago, I met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official who is deeply involved in counterterrorism operations. For three hours, over tea and cigarettes, he described systematic criminality within the security forces, detailing patterns of battlefield executions, murders in detention centers, and coverups organized by the state. He spoke as a witness, but also as a participant; although he is in a position to have stopped certain abuses, by intervening he would have risked incurring accusations that he is sympathetic to the group he has sought to destroy.

He believes that the Iraqi government’s response is as much a tactical blunder as it is a moral one; it plays directly into the jihadis’ narrative—that Sunnis, who make up a minority of the Iraqi population, cannot live safely under a government dominated by Shiites. “The reaction is one of vengeance—it is not well thought out,” he told me. “We rarely abide by the law.”

Thousands of men and boys have been convicted of ISIS affiliation, and hundreds have been hanged. But, according to the senior intelligence official, these cases represent only a small fraction of the total number of detainees. “A few of the suspects are sent to court, but only to maintain the illusion that we have a justice system,” he said.

Suspects are tried under a law that makes no distinction between a person who “assists terrorists” and one who commits violent crimes on behalf of an extremist group. The conviction rate is around ninety-eight per cent. Family members of the accused rarely show up to watch the hearings, out of fear that they will be detained, too. It’s not uncommon for relatives to be rounded up by the security forces and sent to remote desert camps, where they are denied food, medical services, and access to documents. “We’re deleting thousands of families from Iraqi society,” the official told me. “This is not just revenge on ISIS. This is revenge on Sunnis.”

. . . .

The coalition concluded that the Old City could not be captured according to the rules of engagement that had governed the battle in East Mosul, so it loosened its requirements for calling in an air strike. In March, the U.S. dropped a five-hundred-pound bomb on a roof in the Old City, in an effort to kill two ISIS snipers. The explosion killed a hundred and five civilians who had been sheltering inside the building. Survivors reported that there were no ISIS fighters in the vicinity at the time of the strike.

. . . .

The troops assumed that anyone still living in the Old City sided with the Islamic State. For the rest of the month, corpses bobbed downstream, dressed in civilian clothes. “We killed them all—Daesh, men, women, and children,” an Iraqi Army officer told a Middle Eastern news site, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. As he spoke, his colleagues dragged a suspect through the streets by a rope tied around his neck. “We are doing the same thing as ISIS. People went down to the river to get water, because they were dying of thirst, and we killed them.

When the battle was over, soldiers used construction equipment to shovel rubble into the entrances of ISIS tunnels—ostensibly to suffocate any remaining jihadis, but also to mingle corpses and concrete, thereby obscuring the scale of the atrocities. As late as March of this year, journalists were still finding the bodies of women and children on the riverbanks, blindfolded, with their hands tied behind their backs and bullet holes in their skulls.

The New Yorker, December 24, 2018

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Gleanings from The Book of Moron - The New Testament

Today's passage is taken from Republicans 53:

And so it came to pass that whilst the Prophet Wilfred lived in exile in the land of Zion that in the capital of the land there arose a fearsome orange-faced beast.

And the beast belched smoke and fire from the 10,000 Big Macs within him and the beast despoiled and rampaged throughout the land.

And the beast consorted with whores and paid them much gold to keep their traps shut, but they defied the beast.

And the beast lined his pockets with gold and silver and favorable leases and other emoluments and consorted with the evil Czar of the Russias who also had a bunch of whores who urinated for the pleasure of the beast.

And so the Prophet Wilfred surveyed the damage that the beast had done to the land, and also saw that the wizened Prophet Orrin was ready for the charnel house and said to the people of Zion:"Send me to the capital and I will support the great orange-faced beast when I agree with him but not if he goes too far."

And the people of Zion heard the words of the Prophet Wilfred and they hearkened unto him and they said: "Go forth to the Capitol and tell the orange-faced beast that he can keep his whores and his gold as long as he continues to afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable."

And the Prophet Wilfred did as the people commanded and it was good, at least for Wilfred.

And so the Prophet Wilfred came to the great marble Capitol of the land, two hundred cubits long and one hundred cubits high, and heard the orange-faced beast say "Let me place not just a stumbling block before the widow and the orphan but also a mighty wall so that the widow and the orphan may perish in the wilderness and not afflict the very fine white people of the land."

And the Prophet Wilfred heard the words of the orange-faced beast said and declared they were good, at least for Wilfred.

Then it came to pass that the people rose up against the orange-faced beast and would not set a wall to afflict the widow and the orphan.

And the orange-faced beast flew into a mighty rage.  He retreated into his white castle and belched more smoke and fire into his phone. He said to his people: "Until I get my wall, let no servant of the land eat or drink or receive wages for the work they do because I am mightily displeased that they would not give me my wall."

And the people cried and said: "How can I afford to live if you do not give me my wages?"  They wailed and gnashed their teeth but the orange-faced beast only laughed and said "Let them eat cold, soggy Whoppers."

And the Prophet Wilfred heard all that the orange-faced beast said and saw that the people were mightily vexed and beset and plagued.

And the Prophet Wilfred said in his great voice: "I will do nothing to help the people."

And the people said:  "So you will not save us from the orange-faced beast and you will not give us our wages?"

And the Prophet Wilfred said: "Both sides must compromise."

And the people said:  "We expected this from the beast but not from our Prophet."

And the Prophet Wilfred said: "Hard cheese."

And the people said:  "We looked upon you as a Prophet but now there is no doubt that you are the biggest asshole in all the land."

And the Prophet Wilfred decided it was a good time for a ski trip.  And it was good, at least for Wilfred.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Both Sides Now and Then

Editors' Note:  Consistently unreadable New York Times columnist David Brooks is known for his penchant for blaming both sides to a political conflict whilst pinning his hopes on a non-existent Third Way of wise white men who agree with him about everything.  He was at it again this week, looking to Senate Republicans for help in reopening the United States Government closed due to a corrupt bigot's temper tantrum.  He claimed both sides were at fault because Nancy Pelosi once supported a comprehensive border security bill including money to build a wall where it made sense, like next to big-city border crossings.  Of course, Senate Republicans are a bunch of spineless weasels who are either in complete agreement with Pres U Bum's hatred and bigotry, or so scared of being primaried that they retreat into their shells and pretend nothing is happening, like Elaine Chao's love muffin, Mitch McConnell.  The whole lame-o both sides trope sounded familiar so we sent our interns into the archives to see if they could find any earlier instantiations (back in the day when we ran his column for reasons now lost to history).  Sure enough, they found any number of prior examples demonstrating that whatever his weaknesses as a thinker and intellectual are, inconstancy isn't one of them.

April 14, 1861

It is time for responsible moderates in the Senate to step into to resolve this crisis which threatens to engulf the nation in a civil war that no one wants or needs.

While the intransigence of the Southern Secessionists is to be regretted, the opposition of President Lincoln to the reasonable requests for Southern dignity and sovereignty is inane. He has on numerous occasions stated that he had no quarrel with slavery where it is existed.  Why not reach out to the South by guaranteeing the continuation of slavery nationwide, including in the sparsely populated expanses of California, an uninhabitable wasteland that could well benefit from efficient Southern-style plantations?  The distinguished Virginia general, Robert E. Lee, could be a great source of national unity.

The President's obsession with slavery is obscuring the real issues facing this nation, including how to respond to the challenges posed by new technologies such as the telegraph and the railroad and how best to foster national unity to meet these challenges and export America's manifest destiny to a waiting primitive world.

November 27, 1917

The increasing violence of the suffragette movement has threatened to undo the very real progress that has been made in recent decades to improve the status of the lovely ladies of this great nation.  Some states have already voluntarily agreed to give the gals a vote, and they have shown that they are generally ready to assume such a responsibility.

But wartime is no time to embarrass the Government of the United States by protesting outside the White House and hurling shrill epithets at President Wilson. He is to be commended for dispatching these harridans to the workhouse, where they have persisted in their obstruction.  It was therefore understandable that the authorities had no choice but to forcibly feed and restrain these wartime resisters.  These radicals had never before expressed opposition to the normal conduct of prisons.  Doing so now is inane.

Further, while a gradual increase in the franchise to responsible non-hysterical females is on the whole a good idea, it does nothing to address the real issues confronting this country, including the unresolved war in Germany and the challenges posed by dangerous new technologies such as poison gas and mechanized weapons.

The gradualist state-by-state approach offers the best path forward for ladies who want to show that they are truly worthy of the franchise.  The Senate must make clear that the Federal Government will not reward disobedience with a one-size-fits-all federally mandated solution.

December 12, 1941

So Franklin Roosevelt has finally gotten the World War he so desperately desired.  While of course one must deplore the losses of men and ships caused by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, one must also recognize President Roosevelt's responsibility for the debacle.  Had he responded more sympathetically to Japan's entirely justified requests for the resumption of oil purchases and for neutrality as it tries to the restructure the chaos that is China, it is likely that the Japanese Empire would have turned its attention elsewhere, like Indo-China or the Dutch East Indies.

Similarly, Herr Hitler's declaration of war, while rash and only likely to increase tensions in Europe, was provoked by Roosevelt's increasingly reckless policy of sending U.S. warships to confront Germany on the high seas as they conveyed increasingly powerful weaponry to Germany's adversary, Britain.

These policies, given Roosevelt's stated opposition to involving the United States in foreign wars, can only be described as inane.

It is time for responsible Senators of both parties to seek a negotiated peace with both Japan and Germany that would end the specter of a long and bloody war.  For example, ceding the Philippines and cutting off arms to Britain would go a long way toward a compromise solution that would allow America to confront its real challenges, such as rebuilding nationality unity after a fractious war-or-peace debate and confronting the promise of new technologies, such as radio-telegraphy and even so-called “television.”

May 4, 1963

After years of sanctioning lawbreaking and mass coercion, Martin Luther King, Jr. finally got the confrontation he so thirsted for in Birmingham, Alabama.  While of course siccing police dogs and high-pressure fire hoses on Negro demonstrators is unpleasant to watch, the responsibility for the breakdown in law and order in Birmingham as in so many other unfortunate Southern cities belongs to both sides.  King, known for his penchant for confrontation and his condemnation of moderate leaders, refused to abandon his campaign of lawlessness despite repeated court orders.  The Birmingham authorities had no choice but to restore law and order.  It is inane to preach the importance of the rule of law while violating it whenever one chooses simply to attract national attention.

The time has come for moderate Senators like John Stennis, Richard Russell, and Strom Thurmond to make it clear to Bobby Kennedy and other civil rights radicals that lawlessness will not be rewarded.  There can be no progress on a so-called Civil Rights Act while angry Negroes violate trespass laws with impunity at lunch counters across the South.

In any event, while there is no doubt merit to some of the grievances of Southern Negroes and the silly policy of segregation of lunch counters and buses is difficult to defend, those seeking to upend a way of life in the name of some abstract principle of “justice” are losing sight of the real issues facing our nation, including the need to restore national unity and purpose in a fast-paced world confronting massive technological change.  Some are saying that within the next decade we will see instantaneous satellite communications and picturephones in our own homes.  Isn't this more important that who sits where on a bus?

[That's enough.  We get the point.  – Ed.]

Monday, January 7, 2019

Happy New Year to hacks: the Spy does all your work in 2019!

Editors' Note:  Always eager to be of assistance to the hard-working members of the Fourth Estate, and also the usual generators of conventional wisdom and useless inside information, the Spy is pleased to present its complete list of political stories all journalists will be reporting on throughout the year.  We helped the working press get through last summer with just six easy stories.  This year, hacks can just cycle among the evergreen morsels presented below and never have to do any thinking ever again, except, if you are a male gasbag on cable news, wondering if you'll look less fat if you don't shave (the answer, by the way, is no).  You're welcome!

By A.J. Liebling
Meta-Content Generator

1.  The Democratic field: why can't women be as likable as Bernie?


Never work again with these nine great content tips!
 There are so many easy stories to write about the Democratic Presidential race, you'll never have to traipse through a cold barn in Iowa or some greasy spoon in in Stuchisville, New Hampshire (the two almost all white states that will decide which candidate most excites the multi-cultural Democratic base).

But make sure you're writing the right story.  Here's how to decide: does the candidate in question have a uterus?  If so, go with likability.  Quote unnamed (male) sources saying that the women in question is too shrill, too strident, too much like Hillary Clinton.  Quote women worrying that any woman candidate will be shafted by the media like Hillary.  (This is a meta-winner, because by so quoting you're doing the shafting!).

Let's say the candidate has a prostate (and given the age of most in this category, you can bet it's the size of a softball).  Then by definition he's a favorite with great appeal to – someone or another.  If it's Bernie, it's whatever base of malcontents supported him last time.  If it's Joe, it's those salt-of-the-earth turd miners in Pennsylvania who voted for a corrupt bigot who's been shafting them every day since Inauguration.  If it's Beto, omigod, it's Beto!  He's so dreamy!  Whether he is in fact dreamier than anyone else of any gender need not be considered because – you just told us, he's so dreamy.

At least for the first eight months of 2019 you can write about how with such a crowded field will anyone break out?  (The answer of course is that at some point early in 2020 someone will win in Iowa and/or New Hampshire.)

The story about whether the leading contenders are too liberal to appeal to those turd miners can wait until 2020.  Just kidding: it's never too early to claim that a Democrat who thinks that everyone should have access to the popular single-payer heath insurance scheme used successfully by geezers for 50 years is “too radical” to be elected.

2.  Dems in disarray!

This story worked great in 2018 until it didn't, because it turned that Dems were in broad agreement over their priorities, including ensuring health care for all, reforming a corrupt political system, and protecting women, minorities, and the environment.

Does that mean you as a hack shouldn't trot out the same tired bushwah in 2019?  If you had to ask, you're not Maureen Dowd!  It's always open season for Dems in Disarray especially now that there are a lot of them and they may not agree on everything, at least until Nancy Pelosi cracks the whip and gets bills out of the House.

Fear not: even if they aren't in disarray, you can try to create some.  Take a young progressive Democrat, preferably a woman, even better if she's from traditionally unrepresented group.  She'll probably say something pretty direct.  Republicans will whip up the fake outrage machine and then you can ask older white male Democrats if they agree with the use of swear words by someone who isn't the President (like U Bum) or Vice President (like Dick Cheney).

3.  Why won't Dems compromise?

This one was also a reliable space-filler in 2018, but it's already riding high on cable news with the Government shut down because Pres U Bum didn't want to offend a drug-addled bigot with a dying radio show.  Given the Presidential temper tantrum, the obvious question is of course why won't Democrats compromise by giving him some money for a worthless monument to bigotry.  Obvious to cable news bloviators, that is.

To Democrats everywhere, the question is idiotic.  They figure that the Tangerine-Faced Grifter will at some point either have to change his own diaper or have Uncle Mitch change it for him.  They see that Americans understand that this cheesy extortion racket is nothing more than reality TV for white hatemongers, or, as they are uniformly referred to in the media, the President's base.  They also enjoy the spectacle of Senate Republicans being slowly spit-roasted as the government grinds to a halt, including those bits of it (like the TSA) that serve the interests of rich white men.

4.  Republicans stand up to President

As the U Bum regime crumbles under the weight of current and future indictments, look for an endless series of desperate reports of Republicans who are standing up to the corrupt Russian agent in the White House.  These Profiles in Courage will highlight any glimmer of independence no matter how weak (whiny op-eds and Tweets are good exemplars) or besides the point (look at Republicans pretending to defy the President on, wait for it, Yemen).

None of it will turn out to be worth jack s*** of course as long as the mouth-breathing white Republican base continues to believe that Pres U Bum is just this close to breaking wide open a child prostitution ring hidden in James Comey's garden shed or anywhere other than the Florida mansion housing the child rapist whose parties the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief eagerly attended.

Does anyone think that any Republican legislator facing a 2020 primary will dare to enrage the vast majority of his (or as we say in Maine, her) party by pointing out that the Emperor is not only naked, but being led around on a leash by Vladimir Putin?  And if you do, why?

In particular, if you're waiting for Wilfred M. Romney to defy his President in any meaningful way, then you're probably still waiting for him to take his dog off the roof of his car.

5.  White House in chaos


No chaos here!  Just top people!
Here's a story that's been true since January 20, 2017, but didn't get much traction until late last year, when hacks finally noticed that the departure of all those studly generals had left the Executive Branch unable to function.  We don't know if the sudden departure of white men led to this realization, or if it was the depleted White House press operation failing to respond to reporters' urgent requests for explanation of U Bum's latest whoppers but this narrative, which unlike those above is true, has become firmly established.

This is why you have press briefings every day, idiots.  If you don't, and you don't respond to reporters' emails then they have nothing to write about other than chaos.  The story is always energized by the anonymous quotes of some consigliere to master bureaucratic assassins like John Bolton or idiotic related f***-ups like Jared and Ivanka.  You'll know who's leaking by the quarterly Sunday think pieces about how, e.g., Jared is working behind the scenes to restore order (even though this ludicrously unqualified grifter can't do something as simple as file his financial reports without 39 revisions).

6.  Volatility on Wall Street

Looked at your 401k lately?  Reporters sure have, and they're not happy.  Will the market crater?  Recover?  Both?  Neither?  No one knows, but that won't stop a torrent of bs with every market move in excess of 100 points on the Dow Jones (itself a useless indicator ignored by investment professionals).

“Volatility” is a property of investments that do not have a fixed value.  Their value goes up and down.  They always have.  They always will.  When their value increases, that is taken as the natural order of things.  When their value declines, the anguished question is why?  You can find whoever you want to blame whatever you want:  noted fake-economist Larry Kudlow will invariably blame Democrats and assure us that the market will make new highs as soon as rich people are relieved of all taxes.  More reality-based experts will point the finger at tariffs, the slowing Chinese economy, and lack of real wage growth among America's underpaid working class.  But if you have to work more than 20 minutes to generate 750 words or a six-minute D Block on the economy you're not ready for cable prime time.

7.  Inexperienced young Democrats need to listen to their elders


Young Democrats need guidance
Have you noticed there are a lot of fresh-faced young Democrats, many female and of color, in Washington?  It's hard not to, given the attention they are getting both from Republican non-news sources like Fox and even from more mainstream sources looking for pretty young women to patronize.

The assault on these new faces began even before they took the oath of office. Harvard's worthless Institute of Politics brought in debased corrupt grifters like Gary Cohn to tell them they didn't know squat about Washington, from which he was ejected in disgrace.  Now they are being told that some of their ideas are so far-out as to be unworthy of discussion.  A 70% marginal tax rate on incomes above $10,000,000?  That's unrealistic, although rates that high and higher prevailed from the Second World War to 1980 without the collapse of Western Civilization.  That's slavery say the usual pro-plutocracy shills, although that word might more meaningfully be applied to the poor bastards of the TSA and other agencies forced to work without pay.

Just last night, CBS, the network of the opened eye and the opened fly, tsk-tsked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for stating the obvious truism that President U Bum is a toxic racist.  Wait until next week, when she tells an astonished Anderson Cooper what wild bears do in the woods!

8.  Stories to avoid at all costs

Finally, as part of our effort to be of service, the Spy can recommend stories to avoid at all costs because they are so boring and trivial.  For example, the continued unremediated advance of global warming threatens catastrophe around the world, while Republicans pretend there's nothing to see here.  Bor-ing!

Income inequality continues to ravage the poorest 95% of Americans, while Republicans do all in their power to make it worse.  Blah, blah, blah.

Maggie Haberman,
responding to critics
Women and minorities continue to suffer from pervasive prejudice and discrimination, while supposedly mainstream media outlets channel white supremacist drivel about the war on those poor white men and Republicans think that's a good thing.

Thanks to the replacement of American leadership with a corrupt clueless Russian plant, the world has become a far more dangerous place, leading to the deaths of thousands (in Yemen), the loss of American leadership (worldwide), and the collapse of American strategic alliances (in Europe), all of which destabilizes the world and empowers dangerous adversaries, like Russia and China.  But no one cares about what's going on in the rest of the world because it's expensive to present foreign news and besides America First!

9.  We're doing a great job

Finally, no matter how lazy and slovenly your coverage, remember that your only response to criticism, justified or not, is with a shriek of condescending defensiveness, Maggie.

Don't they know how hard we work?  Don't they know how expensive private school tuition is in New York?

We do but we don't care.  If your coverage is lazy, slanted, or simply a conveyor belt for Republican lies, you're going to get called out for it.  And of course you're going to blame anyone but yourselves.

If you need a refresher on how to respond to well-founded criticism, just see Hillary's emails.