Monday, March 07, 2005

News for March 7th: Shooting the Messenger Edition

I apologize for not having a Sunday Evening Update this week, but I’ve been terribly sick and unable to form coherent thoughts, much less write an organized column. I expect to bring it back next week. In the meantime, we have these news items. Are you scared?

One of the big things that I would’ve been covering is the shooting of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena and the two Italians traveling with her.

Now, I’m on the fence about this one. There’s an awful lot that sounds suspicious about the shooting. First Eason Jordan, thinking he was unobserved, talks about the targeting of journalists. Then this happens, with her captors warning her that American forces would not want her released. The tinfoil side of me wants to say that she observed something or heard something that made her a target, but the realistic side of me says that this is hardly something new…innocent people have been getting shot up at roadblocks in Iraq all the time. The great thing that balanced out my own paranoia was this gem, sent to me by a conservative at my Livejournal location. Among its feverish theories:

“Furthermore, Sgrena suddenly remembered that her loving, caring Iraqi captors (otherwise known as murderous thugs) warned her that the Americans would not want her to be free, and that the US might intervene.

“These last statments (sic) demonstrate clearly that the whole release, and probably the kidnapping, was not negotiated at all, but literally staged. It is nothing more than an old style Italian drama. It was an act, from start to finish, an act created by the desperate Left.”

I actually should thank the person who sent me that link, as it showed me that retarded conspiracy theories abound on both sides. It reminded me to never attribute to malice what could just as easily be attributed to incompetence.

I think what we’re looking at is some troops who got caught in a tight spot, panicked, and did the wrong thing. They should be punished, at the very least, for fucking up protocol, as it’s obvious there was some miscommunication, as shown in the story below:

Italian Journalist Wounded in Hostage Drama Recalls Her Ordeal
The Associated Press
Sunday 06 March 2005

ROME (AP) - The freed Italian hostage wounded by American troops at a checkpoint in Baghdad shortly after her release said in an article Sunday that her Iraqi captors had warned her U.S. forces "might intervene."

Giuliana Sgrena, who writes for the communist newspaper Il Manifesto, described how she was wounded and Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari was killed as she was celebrating her freedom on the way to the airport. The shooting Friday has fueled anti-American sentiment in a country where people are deeply opposed to U.S. policy in Iraq.

"I remember only fire," she said in her article. "At that point a rain of fire and bullets came at us, forever silencing the happy voices from a few minutes earlier."

Sgrena said the driver began shouting that they were Italian, then "Nicola Calipari dove on top of me to protect me and immediately, and I mean immediately, I felt his last breath as he died on me."

Suddenly, she said, she remembered her captors' warning her "to be careful because the Americans don't want you to return."

The U.S. military said the Americans used hand and arm signals, flashing white lights and fired warning shots to get the car to stop. But in an interview Saturday with Italian La 7 TV, Sgrena said "there was no bright light, no signal." She said the car was traveling at "regular speed."

More at USA Today.

Like I said, conspiracy theories…I’m still not willing to bridge the gap that the military is deliberately targeting journalists, but here’s a view on it:

Was Sgrena Targeted?

TO writer Steve Weissman has been publishing an incredibly important investigation into the deliberate targeting of journalists by U.S. forces in Iraq.

A few days ago, another journalist was almost added to the list.

As you may have heard by now, Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena was freed after a month of captivity in Iraq. Literally moments after she was freed, her car came under fire from U.S. forces at a checkpoint near the Baghdad airport. Sgrena was shot in the shoulder, and an Italian secret service agent named Nicola Calipari was shot in the head and killed.

U.S. military representatives claim the car was speeding at the checkpoint, and that warning shots were fired before the final assault. Sgrena rejected this claim, stating their car was driving at a normal rate of speed and that no warning shots were fired.

Was Giuliana Sgrena deliberately targeted?

A few facts to consider:

1. The agent who was killed died while shielding Sgrena with his own body, according to Reuters.

2. Pier Scolari, companion to Sgrena, has stated the attack was deliberate, according to Agence France Presse.

3. The chief editor of Sgrena's newspaper Il Manifesto, Gabriele Polo, branded Calipari's death a "murder". "He was hit in the head," he said.

4. For a journalist like Sgrena to be deliberately targeted, a motive would have to exist.

More at Truthout: FYI.

Now, to me, here’s the real meat of the story: the use of checkpoints in general and the horrendous loss of life and trouble that it’s caused. We’ve already seen a deserting Army member cite the checkpoints as his reason for leaving, as he was ordered to fire a family that turned out to be innocent (thank God he didn’t!). I can understand that they’re in a situation where people will take advantage of them and try to carbomb them, but I don’t think indiscriminately firing on innocent people is the answer, either.

I know, I know, I can hear you saying to suggest an alternative. I’ll give it some thought and get back to you.

Shootings by U.S. at Iraq Checkpoints Questioned
By R. Jeffrey Smith and Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, March 7, 2005; Page A01

The deadly shooting of an Italian intelligence officer by U.S. troops at a checkpoint near Baghdad on Friday was one of many incidents in which civilians have been killed by mistake at checkpoints in Iraq, including local police officers, women and children, according to military records, U.S. officials and human rights groups.

U.S. soldiers have fired on the occupants of many cars approaching their positions over the past year and a half, only to discover that the people they killed were not suicide bombers or attackers but Iraqi civilians. They did so while operating under rules of engagement that the military has classified and under a legal doctrine that grants U.S. troops immunity from civil liability for misjudgment.

Human rights groups have complained that the military's rules of engagement for handling local citizens at checkpoints are too permissive. The groups have accused U.S. forces of making inadequate efforts to safeguard civilians and to comply with laws of war that prohibit the use of excessive or indiscriminate force and permit deadly action only when soldiers' lives are clearly threatened.

The military has responded that in a time of widespread suicide bombings, precautions that troops take to protect themselves are fully justified.

More at the Washington Post.

In other news, that whole thing I was talking about with American justice yesterday? Yeah, here’s a further sign of its erosion.

Bush backs policy on terror suspects
By Reuters | March 7, 2005

NEW YORK -- The Bush administration is defending its decision to give the CIA extensive authority to send terrorism suspects to foreign countries for interrogation.

The New York Times reported yesterday that President Bush signed a still-classified directive just days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that gave the CIA broad power to operate without case-by-case approval from the White House in the transfer of suspects -- a process known as rendition.

The CIA declined to comment on the report, and the White House would not confirm the directive.

But White House counselor Dan Bartlett defended the administration's policies, saying it was important after the Sept. 11 attacks to take a ''hard look at our entire apparatus -- militarily, intelligence, diplomatic -- to see how we were going to fight and win the war on terror."

The rendition program has been under scrutiny in recent weeks after several former detainees complained of inhumane treatment and human rights groups have complained that the operations violated American standards condemning torture.

More at

Bill Moyers has been ringing the bell about the Rapture-Ready fundamentalists for awhile now, but I have to say that it’s a bell worth ringing. This belief represents the worst of humanity, with all our failings wrapped up in a nice neat package: pessimism (it’s all going to end), elitism (we are the chosen few), apathy (there’s no point in doing anything), prejudice (us vs. them), and irrationality (the whole ball of wax). This kind of thought is what plunged us into the last Dark Age, and I fear that, if they’re allowed control of everything, that we will once again return there, if we are not extinct at the end. Humans have to work against this kind of thinking. It’s insane that something that’s not even in the Bible has taken such hold. Unfortunately, this sums it all up:

“Once upon a time I believed that people will protect the natural environment when they realize its importance to their health and to the health and lives of their children. Now I am not so sure. It's not that I don't want to believe this—it's just that as a journalist I have been trained to read the news and connect the dots.”

Welcome to Doomsday
By Bill Moyers
There are times when what we journalists see and intend to write about dispassionately sends a shiver down the spine, shaking us from our neutrality. This has been happening to me frequently of late as one story after another drives home the fact that the delusional is no longer marginal but has come in from the fringe to influence the seats of power. We are witnessing today a coupling of ideology and theology that threatens our ability to meet the growing ecological crisis. Theology asserts propositions that need not be proven true, while ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. The combination can make it impossible for a democracy to fashion real-world solutions to otherwise intractable challenges.

In the just-concluded election cycle, as Mark Silk writes in Religion in the News,

the assiduous cultivation of religious constituencies by the Bush apparat, and the undisguised intrusion of evangelical leaders and some conservative Catholic hierarchs into the presidential campaign, demonstrated that the old rule of maintaining a decent respect for the nonpartisanship of religion can now be broken with impunity.
The result is what the Italian scholar Emilio Gentile, quoted in Silk's newsletter, calls "political religion"—religion as an instrument of political combat. On gay marriage and abortion— the most conspicuous of the "non-negotiable" items in a widely distributed Catholic voter's guide—no one should be surprised what this political religion portends. The agenda has been foreshadowed for years, ever since Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and other right-wing Protestants set out to turn white evangelicals into a solid Republican voting bloc and reached out to make allies of their former antagonists, conservative Catholics.

What has been less apparent is the impact of the new political religion on environmental policy. Evangelical Christians have been divided. Some were indifferent. The majority of conservative evangelicals, on the other hand, have long hooked their view to the account in the first book of the Bible:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."
There are widely varying interpretations of this text, but it is safe to say that all presume human beings have inherited the earth to be used as they see fit. For many, God's gift to Adam and Eve of "dominion" over the earth and all its creatures has been taken as the right to unlimited exploitation. But as Blaine Harden reported recently in The Washington Post, some evangelicals are beginning to "go for the green." Last October the National Association of Evangelicals adopted an "Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility," affirming that "God-given dominion is a sacred responsibility to steward the earth and not a license to abuse the creation of which we are a part." The declaration acknowledged that for the sake of clean air, clean water, and adequate resources, the government "has an obligation to protect its citizens from the effects of environmental degradation."

But even for green activists in evangelical circles, Harden wrote, "there are landmines."

Welcome to the Rapture!

More at The New York Review of Books .

And here is one of the most underrated stories in American politics today. Virtually uncovered, it is one of the most insidious methods used by those in power to stay in power. Gerrymandering has been refined to a science, and it’s one that’s being wielded against the American people every day.

Redistricting Rampage
Monday, March 7, 2005; Page A18

WHEN TEXAS Republicans embarked on their unusual effort to redraw legislative district lines in the middle of a decennial census cycle, the ugly future of one of the ugliest features of American democracy was not hard to foresee. Redistricting fights and abuses, instead of taking place only every 10 years, would become an ongoing fixture of politics. Whenever one party obtained a momentary dominance in a state, it would rearrange the legislative boundaries both to maintain its electoral advantages within the state and to bolster its representation in the House of Representatives at the expense of incumbents of the other party. Barely a year after the Texas fiasco, that future is now.

Republicans in Georgia, newly in control of the major levers of government for the first time since Reconstruction, are finishing a redistricting bill that would put two Democratic members of the House in jeopardy. Democrats are getting into the act, too. At a news conference last week, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) insisted that while he believes "on principle" that "this ought to be done every 10 years as it has been historically done," Democrats "would be foolish to sit on the sidelines and have our heads beaten in and not . . . see what we can do in response." National Democrats have reportedly been urging their parties in Louisiana, New Mexico and Illinois -- states where Democrats have gained control over government since the last redistricting -- to reconsider the political maps.

Even redistricting reformers are contributing to this problem. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California (R), whose proposal for reform in his own state represents an exciting alternative to corrupt and politicized line-drawing, would have a panel of retired judges draw district lines not after the next census but in 2006. And Florida Democrats, who are pushing reform-oriented ballot initiatives, would likewise not wait to put them into effect until the next census in 2010.

More at the Washington Post.

This story really tells itself…all I can hear is Bush saying “it’s hard work”.

The CIA Chief Steps Into It... Yet Again
By Mark Hosenball

Monday 14 March 2005 Issue

"The jobs that I'm being asked to do, the five hats that I wear, are too much for this mortal... I'm a little amazed at the workload."—Porter Goss
March 14 issue - Bush critics and veteran intel operatives alike were amazed when CIA Director Porter Goss, in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Library last week, apparently said he found his job overwhelming. The embarrassing report only reinforced the belief among some intel professionals that Goss's tenure has been troubled. The controversy erupted after the Associated Press quoted Goss as saying, "The jobs that I'm being asked to do, the five hats that I wear, are too much for this mortal... I'm a little amazed at the workload." Goss also reportedly said there was such "ambiguity" in the intel-reform bill that he didn't know what his official relationship was supposed to be with John Negroponte, the newly named director of National Intelligence.

Intel officials initially said the CIA chief's lecture was supposed to be closed to the media and that the emcee who introduced him told the audience that Goss's remarks should be treated accordingly. But Joanne Drake, chief of staff of the Reagan Library Foundation, told NEWSWEEK that while the media were not explicitly invited and recording equipment was banned, the speech was publicly announced. She said anyone, including journalists, who bought a $45 ticket was welcome to attend. Drake and an intel official acknowledged the emcee never explicitly declared the session off the record.

Intel officials said Goss was aware the media were not absolutely banned from the luncheon. The officials said Goss nonetheless tried to use self-deprecation and folksy anecdotes to explain to a lay audience how full his plate really is. "This was a humorous way of saying the job has grown larger than any one person," said Jennifer Millerwise, a CIA spokeswoman. Millerwise said the AP misconstrued Goss when it paraphrased him saying he was "overwhelmed" by the many roles he had to play. "The remarks were taken out of context. They were spoken in the context of championing the new structure of the intelligence community," she said. Intel officials note that until Negroponte takes over such tasks as coordinating the work of all intel agencies and briefing the president daily, these jobs are being handled by Goss. Goss also has to supervise CIA analysis and espionage operations and carry out Bush's orders to increase the CIA's corps of expert spies and analysts by 50 percent. Officials argue that this makes Goss, at least until Negroponte comes onboard, the most powerful --and busiest-- director in CIA history. Not all intel sources were convinced by Goss's explanations. Some critics said the comments only validated Washington chatter that Goss is dismayed that his CIA schedule is nothing like the one he had as a congressman, when he could go to his Florida district on Thursday night and not return to the capital until Tuesday morning. An intel official maintained that Goss is "energized daily by the challenges of his job."

More at Newsweek .

Finally, a little Virginia news for today. Illegal immigration was a huge problem in the small town that I came from, and it’s interesting to see how Virginia is moving to deal with it. I have no doubt, however, that it will work like all of Virginia’s other legislative attempts: poorly.

Virginia's Illegals
Monday, March 7, 2005; Page A18

THE FIRST and most important thing to say about the clutch of illegal-immigration bills that arose in the Virginia legislature this year is that their very existence is a reflection of federal failure on a grand scale. The federal government's inability either to enforce immigration laws or to change them to reflect the reality of this country's economic dependence upon immigrant workers has left state officials across the country floundering. Virginia is no exception. Some 175,000 undocumented workers are thought to live in the state, a number that has tripled in the last eight years. Inevitably, their presence affects local schools, hospitals and other government services.

But while the frustration of Virginia lawmakers is understandable, not all of the measures proposed made sense. A proposal to bar undocumented teenagers -- usually children of undocumented parents -- from attending Virginia's public universities was one such illogical measure. Is there much point in ensuring that they remain uneducated and therefore more likely to be a burden on the taxpayer? Fortunately, that measure was blocked by Virginia's senators, as was an equally self-defeating measure to deprive illegal workers of workers' compensation. Because workers' compensation systems were set up not as a benefit but as a way to prevent workers' claims from being settled through the unpredictable means of lawsuits, depriving undocumented immigrants of compensation could have simply encouraged the injured to make greater use of courts. Limitations on compensation for illegals might also encourage Virginia employers, particularly those offering hazardous jobs, to hire more illegals rather than fewer.

More at the Washington Post.

Finally, your quote of the day: "The only thing that I promised and I want to guarantee to her is that we must know the truth, because such exceptional people cannot die for no reason. If someone is responsible, we need to know." - Giuliana Sgrena.

Posted by crimnos @ 9:23 AM