January 31, 2002



Every couple hours, when work's getting me down, I pop a quick peek at one of George's work tickets. And I feel much better. (Thanks to Tim Blair for finding this treasure trove... you Australians will make up for unleashing Kylie on the world, yet.)

Posted by BruceR at 01:56 PM

January 29, 2002



Steven Glover tries to defend his recent savaging by Mark Steyn for gullibly accepting the rather silly Herold "study". First off, Steyn's (and my) competing source, Human Rights Watch, denies it made an estimate of 1,000 civilian fatalities.

Was it possible, I asked — mindful of Mark’s Americo-centric view of the world and his likely suspicion that the London office is a provincial offshoot of Human Rights Watch — that the New York arm would have offered its own statistics? No, it was not possible... So far as I can see, the only person in the world who has produced a comprehensive toll of civilian dead is Marc Herold

Someone better tell Murray Campbell of the Globe and Mail, who quoted a New York-based HRW official (who he names in the piece) on Jan. 3 as giving him the 1,000 statistic. Part of that quote, again:

Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based organization, offers a rough estimate of at least 1,000 civilian deaths, while the Reuters news agency said Wednesday that perhaps 982 people have died in 14 incidents where non-military targets were hit by bombs.

I have so far seen four attempts at an estimate, including the two above, as I outlined earlier. Never letting a fact get in the way of his argument, however, Glover continues:

[Herold]...strikes me as being surprisingly lucid for an American academic, and measured and balanced in its tone.

Here's Herold's actual "measured and balanced" conclusion, offered without comment:

Afghanistan has been subjected to a barbarous air bombardment... There is no difference between the attacks upon the WTC, whose primary goal was the destruction of a symbol, and the U.S.-U.K. coalition's revenge bombing of military targets in populated urban areas. Both are criminal. Slaughter is slaughter. Killing civilians, even if unintentional, is criminal.

Glover, still babbling, also writes:

Since the Kosovo war reputable organisations have estimated that between 500 and 1,500 civilians died as a result of the bombing.

Human Rights Watch and NATO BOTH agree now the number was around 500.

Finally, he burbles:

[Steyn takes] rather inconclusive issue with a few examples among the hundreds which Mr. Herold mentions.

Sigh. Do I really need to debunk that "study's" ludicrous methodology again? No, please. Do it yourself. It's all online. Take any given day of Herold's casualty figures and try to reconcile them with reality... or even find the clippings he says that are there (many aren't, in fact). Steyn and I happened to both pick the first day of bombing (it was the laziest option)... but they're ALL like that... a melange of anonymous and biased sources, reporting in some cases hundreds or thousands of miles away from where the bombs fell about stories they heard third or fourth-hand. Either that, or Herold is quoting the Taliban itself (Al-Qaeda presumably, being unable to comment at the time). It's a joke. If it were a paper in the history classes I took, it would get an F. I don't care about women's studies... the fact this man has a Ph.D in anything is an insult to academics everywhere.

Posted by BruceR at 05:47 PM



Law professor Ron Rotunda twists himself into a legal pretzel trying to justify the Bush position that all prisoners in the Afghan conflict were unlawful combatants, and hence eligible for Geneva. Like Barbara Amiel (below), he has two main arguments for excluding the Taliban, as well as Al Qaeda, from Geneva protections. Like Amiel, the first is the now-long discredited "4 conditions" for being accepted (ie, the "they don't wear uniforms" argument). Strike one. And his second?

The Taliban soldiers, or many of them, committed war crimes, such as hiding weapons in mosques, and using their own people as human shields.

I will bet money, right now, that no one being held at Guantanamo today is being held solely because they are suspected of hiding a weapon in a mosque... or siting a defense installation in a city. And even if they were, you cannot damn an entire armed force for the actions of individuals. Otherwise we would have hanged the entire SS and been done with it. That's strike two. Got anything else to offer, Ron?

For an intelligent argument by someone who's actually thought about the issue, check this out instead.

Posted by BruceR at 05:12 PM



Noam Chomsky gives the weakest defence I've ever seen from the guy in Salon's letters today, defending his mis-quote of what Human Rights Watch believed the consequences of the Sudan pharmaceutical bombing were. It's SO weak and transparent, that putting it out (instead of just, for once, saying "oops, I'm sorry for the mistake") borders on the pathological. It's almost Stephen Ambrose territory...

The original Chomsky quote:

That one bombing [of the al-Shifa plant in Sudan], according to the estimates made by the German Embassy in Sudan and Human Rights Watch, probably led to tens of thousands of deaths. [by destroying the Sudanese pharmaceutical/fertilizer industry].

After Human Rights Watch promptly denied it had ever made such an estimate, Chomsky ruffled through his notes again, and came up with an HRW statement that the withdrawal of aid workers following the bombing, not the bombing itself, could produce a "terrible crisis."

One: an opinion is not an estimate.
Two: the quote refers to a completely different, if tangentially related issue.

As Cartman would say, "this is really weak."

UPDATE: There's a great take-down of Chomsky's ludicrous Al-Shifa/WTC comparison (which he has repeated frequently since Sept. 11) here.

Posted by BruceR at 04:09 PM



"No reading of the Geneva Conventions can possibly justify the inclusion of al-Qaeda or Taliban prisoners," writes Her Ladyship in her latest today. Her reasoning for the Taliban inclusion? Two-fold: first the now-tired attempt to apply the stipulations on what constitutes "organized resistance movements" (uniforms, etc.). As stated here before, those rules don't apply either to professional soldiers or non-professionals fighting foreign invasion: it stands to reason the Taliban are one or the other. And as pointed out here or elsewhere, if uniforms are the catch-all, then there's a lot of American and British "unlawful combatants" in Afghanistan, too (and a few in the Northern Alliance, one suspects.)

Second, she claims that soldiers fighting for unrecognized governments are not protected. Not true, either... as any Chinese PoW from the Korean War could tell you. The West has long used a de facto government standard, and the Taliban was certainly that. But blithely ignoring the lack of facts on her sides, she continues:

The very people who are now invoking those Conventions to cover combatants who clearly flout all the rules, ie. terrorists, are undermining the whole point of the Geneva Conventions. If they are successful, we will regress to primitive warfare.

Therefore the Taliban should not be covered, even though the Nazis were? Come on, Barbara.

One more time: the initial American position was that ALL prisoners they took in Afghanistan were "unlawful combatants." (They have since taken steps to moderate that view somewhat.) The moderate position (shared by Colin Powell, Human Rights Watch, the Washington Post editorial board, and this writer) is that all combatants should be presumed to be PoWs, until those who had some responsibility for supporting Al Qaeda's operations outside Afghanistan can be triaged out through some kind of military or civil judicial process, charged, ultimately convicted, and hopefully hanged. The average Taliban soldier may not be a great human being by our standards, but he's not a terrorist, or a war criminal, and is in any case by any reasonable interpretation covered by Geneva. Any accomplice in the Sept. 11 attacks (or the embassy or Cole attacks) clearly is not covered by Geneva. In between, as with all things human, there is a grey area. And George Bush on his own should not have the power to turn grey to black. Otherwise Geneva's gone, international respect for due process is gone, and the dogs of war worldwide are a little looser on the leash.

Her Ladyship is correct to observe that any system of rules of war could not long survive the inclusion of flying planes into buildings as a non-criminal act. But she overlooks the other hidden threat to that system presented by the foregoing of even a semblance of due process in this case by the world's "Cradle of Democracy."

UPDATE: Joanne Jacobs rightly calls HRW to task today for being quoted as objecting to the type of cage the prisoners are in. I'm almost certain this is a misquote: HRW has confined its concerns since Day 1 up until now exclusively to the PROCESS of PoW determination, not the conditions at Guantanamo. If they should ever depart from that line, I'd agree they would be departing from common sense, too.

Posted by BruceR at 03:59 PM



Canadian defence minister Art Eggleton admitted today that soldiers in a widely circulated Kandahar photo escorting prisoners were, in fact Canadians (from the JTF2 counter-terrorist unit). This writer is kicking himself for not noticing that himself. But it does put paid to the argument about what Canadians will do if they collect Afghan prisoners. (Crypto-nationalist Liberal MP John Godfrey wants them turned over to the Afghan government, along with anyone the UN forces in Kabul detain.) We already did. And we turned them over (as is only proper) to the Americans. Oh, well... next issue?

What's amazing is all those journalists who were up on the Canadian green uniform issue never noticed the wire photo with Canadian green uniforms in it until now, even though it was in the Jan. 22 issue of all three major Canadian papers, among others.

Posted by BruceR at 03:06 PM



Victor, Victor, Victor... didn't I tell you the explosions in NYC were most likely 0.24 kT each... not 1.0 kT? He repeats the error again, today.

Hanson makes a bigger mistake in his piece on why Geneva doesn't apply in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was a signatory to the 1949 convention. Since no successor regime repudiated them, up to and including the Taliban, they would still be presumed to apply. (Certainly the Taliban did allow at least some ICRC ministrations during the civil war, indicating they were not wholly opposed to the principles at stake.) And as outlined before, that means soldiers fighting specifically to defend Afghanistan (it might be different, say, if they were invading another country) are explicitly covered "if they obey the rules of war." That likely exempts Al Qaeda from protection, but nets the Talibs pretty soundly.

That simple fact kills off the first half of Hanson's piece, and only leaves the one Hanson objection to exempting the Taliban, along with Al Qaeda, standing:

If we remember that the Taliban sanctioned the al Qaeda bases... then de facto, all of al Qaeda and the Taliban are terrorists.

If some Afghans supported international terrorism, all supported international terrorism. If Nathan Hale was a spy and deserved to be hanged, all American rebels were spies and deserved to be hanged. Doesn't anyone else see the slippery slope here? Would it really be so wrong to confine the punishment for complicity in war crimes to individuals in the Taliban leadership, not the whole movement? Other than letting Bin Laden in the country, did the Talibs ever threaten U.S. interests on their own?

Posted by BruceR at 02:11 AM



Just think... if you've been a regular reader of Flit, you'd have seen us being gulled by the mine strike footage nearly two weeks before Glenn Reynolds! Where else on the Internet are you going to save that kind of time? Come on, Glenn... at least I had the decency to turn it into a nice animated gif...

As to the provenance, I've heard Chechnya and I've heard Afghanistan. Nothing conclusive either way, though.

Posted by BruceR at 01:34 AM



Joanne Jacobs and Mickey Kaus both make the case for amending the Geneva Conventions. Believe it or not, I agree: the 1949 conventions clearly did not (could not) anticipate the kind of transnational armed agency that Al Qaeda represents. Automatically classifying international terrorists as "unlawful combatants" could be a useful amendment, for instance. I just feel that the best way to get people to listen to your proposals (and encourage them to follow both the current conventions and the ones you're putting to paper) is NOT to take the existing conventions and publicly deride and circumvent them.

Americans may only suspect it, but there are lots of people in the world who admire the kinds of ideals that country was founded on. The American backing of the Geneva Conventions has increased their moral power until now. Every step they take to undermine them now all but guarantees a commensurate increase in the level of war-related atrocities in the world as a whole, along with an decrease in the respect shown for all established international norms. By trading long-term inhumanity for short-term expediency, America is setting an example that will be followed... and not just by the truly evil, either. That's what's being lost, for very little apparent short-term gain.

The far better tack for America to take from the get-go would have been that they would follow the Conventions as written, and use the non-life threatening sillyness that resulted to justify their immediate amendment. Saying they simply did not apply for ill-explained reasons by diktat all but guarantees the Conventions will never now be reopened for discussion by the signing powers. If the Americans are going to ignore them anyway, why even bother?

Posted by BruceR at 01:25 AM



From the current issue of Reason. The piece wanders all over the place conceptually (the title's really not representative), and I'm not sure I see what the author's solutions to the problems he poses are, but it's still worth a read.

Posted by BruceR at 01:12 AM

January 28, 2002



Secretary of State Colin Powell's contentious position, to state it exactly (as only the Globe and Mail bothers to do), is:

"The Secretary of State has requested that you reconsider that decision," Mr. Gonzales wrote to the President. "Specifically, he has asked that you conclude that GPW [Geneva Convention II on the Treatment of Prisoners of War] does apply to both al-Qaeda and the Taliban."

Mr. Gonzales added, "I understand, however, that he would agree that al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters could be determined not to be prisoners of war, but only on a case-by-case basis, following individual hearings before a military board."

I would have settled for a charge report instead of hearings... or at least some modicum of due process, even one that remained confidential than that in the short term. Other than that he's right. They're PoWs until some kind of military or civilian judicial body agrees that there's a case that they are not, either individually or even collectively in the case of Al Qaeda. Not convicts them. Agrees that there's a case. Big difference.

The other news is that this was all Bush's call from the start. And that he's continuing to fight it even now, on increasingly shaky legal grounds. From today's Washington Post:

The [anonymous] official acknowledged the administration is having a tougher time legally justifying dispensing with hearings on the Taliban members. "It's a much closer question on the Taliban," he said. The administration believes Taliban members aren't POWs because Afghanistan was a "failed state" and they allied themselves with Osama bin Laden, officials said.

No kidding... If that's the best "legal" argument they've got Ramsey Clark may have a chance on that habeas writ...

The truth didn't stop Andrew Sullivan and the attack dogs at the National Post taking a run at Powell, however. Sullivan, like a lot of other people, hasn't read the Geneva Conventions and wrongly insists soldiers must be captured in uniform for it to apply. He also hasn't read Powell's objection closely. Powell's not complaining about their treatment, or saying they should be POWs forever. He's saying they should be presumed PoWs, until their PoW protections are stripped from them in at least a quasi-judicial manner. The Post hasn't read either the Conventions or Powell either, and, missing the point of his objection entirely, seems to think Powell wants to let Al Qaeda off the hook permanently. That, I think we are all agreed, would be a Bad Thing. It's also a straw man.

In other news, Heather Mallick is still an idiot.

PS: Two letter writers wrote in this weekend (What? That discussion board not good enough for ya?) asserting that American soldiers captured out of uniform are also ineligible for POW protections. All I can say is that is NOT what the Geneva Convention of 1949 says. If they're combatants captured under arms on a field of battle, they're covered.

Posted by BruceR at 02:19 PM



In the interest of combating the disinformation, I've put together a statistical summary of the bombing efforts in America's last six wars, going back to World War Two. There's a lot of work to be done on it, but I think it's still interesting. You can find it here.

Some of the upshots:

--American tonnage of bombs dropped was equal to a World Trade Center-size attack on Afghanistan every four days, but with one-fiftieth the civilian fatalities of that attack;
--Even though the amount of precision weapons in the last three American bombing campaigns has steadily increased, the civilian fatalities per munition has been increasing, too.

Still a lot of "n/a's" on that chart to fill in. Let me know if you know of any stats that might be relevant.

Posted by BruceR at 12:18 PM



The unit's keeping me busy this week, unfortunately. I'll post when I can.

Posted by BruceR at 08:46 AM

January 25, 2002



Killer editorial in the Washington Post today on the Guantanamo situation. It acknowledges that there has been no mistreatment to date, but correctly states this whole situation is more about displaying respect for the full body of laws and conventions, not just the pleasing bits, even when Americans are involved. It clearly lays out the just course: presumptive treatment of all detainees as POWs, until a court or military tribunal actually charges them with a crime (after which, obviously, they would be treated as presumptive war criminals). The editorial also astutely notices that this entire fracas could have been avoided if Rumsfeld wasn't such a cavaliering twit sometimes.

By comparison, Charles Krauthammer is having trouble seeing through his own assumptions. He concedes that "low-level Taliban" should be treated as PoWs, even if everyone else is jailed until they rot. What he doesn't explore is how the heck that distinction is going to be made, except through some kind of judicial determination. Belief that justice comes from the laws, and not the sovereign authority's unchallenged fiat, demands one. Krauthammer says we need to interrogate them... would it be so hard to charge/indict them (and by doing so strip them of their POW rights in a just and legal manner) first?

Meanwhile, Instapundit misses the point once more, comparing Guantanamo favourably with the appalling treatment of American prisoners during the Revolution. But this is exactly backwards. The British committed atrocities against the fathers of the American country because they believed that the colonial rebels, because they "used guerrilla tactics" and "had no uniforms" and fought for an "unrecognized" government, were undeserving of the rights they would have accorded, say, French soldiers they captured. The Geneva Conventions were specifically drafted with that kind of war in mind... to say that if you take up arms in defense of your homes, even if you're not a professional soldier, even if you don't have a uniform, so long as you behave with a modicum of , non-murderous) restraint, they would cover you. Like Norwich Union, there's no medical exam, and no salesperson will visit... you're still covered. Because this gets in the way of their own operations, some Americans (and Canadians; see examples below) are now attacking the Conventions, and the Red Cross, and making all the same excuses the British did once. And they just can't see the irony.

Posted by BruceR at 08:49 PM



Instapundit admits he's taken with a paragraph in a writeup by Rich Lowry supporting discarding the Geneva Conventions yesterday. It's unfortunate the paragraph makes no sense whatsoever.

...given the Europeans' evident contempt for one of the purposes of the Geneva Convention: to deter un-uniformed soldiers from hiding among the civilian population

That's simply not true. The Geneva Conventions' sole purpose is to protect the victims of war: wounded and prisoners, and those who care for them.

In other words, the Geneva Convention seeks to protect innocent civilians by keeping soldiers in uniform

No, it doesn't. Members of an army of a nation who are subject to military discipline are implicitly allowed to wear whatever they want. The convention also explicitly protects anyone who spontaneously takes up arms in defense of their homes, uniform or not. Americans fond of their own 2nd Amendment likely wouldn't want it any other way...

and by defining those combatants who don't wear uniforms as being outside the rules of warfare and undeserving of the privileges afforded to legitimate prisoners of war.

The conventions say nothing of the sort. Yes, the conventions implicitly exclude spies and saboteurs who are hiding among the civilian population. They could not, for instance, ever apply to Al Qaeda members operating in the United States, or anywhere outside the Taliban's armed forces in Afghanistan, for that matter, or who actively supported those operations in Afghanistan. Straight Al Qaeda members, under this interpretation, are out, but the Taliban units fighting the Northern Alliance are still in.

It is strange that they [Europeans] should now turn around and be willing to overlook the chief cause of civilian casualties in Afghanistan: al Qaeda and Taliban troops who not only didn't wear uniforms, but actively hide [sic] among civilians.

(NRO is bound neither by the rules of war, nor the laws of grammar, apparently.) So, by extension, if the Taliban had clothed its soldiers in full dress and gold braid, then those 1,000-1,300 civilian casualties wouldn't have happened? That's almost Rall-like in its fatuousness. It's already been pretty much established the chief cause of civilian casualties in Afghanistan was using satellite-guided JDAMs instead of more precise munitions. Not to mention I seem to remember a fair number of U.S Special Forces types not wearing service dress in Afghanistan, either... are they then also undeserving of any privileges?

One might even think that the Europeans would be especially eager to define al Qaeda and the Taliban as outside the rules of civilized combat, given (again) the Europeans' understandable concern with protecting civilian populations from the depredations of war.

As opposed to the Germans or Japanese in WW2, say... who were granted Conventions protection.

But that, of course, would require following a consistent moral principle rather than simply a knee-jerk anti-Americanism: i.e., the Americans are wrong when they bomb terrorists who are hiding among civilians, and wrong when they try to follow rules to discourage terrorists from hiding among civilians.

Actually, the "Europeans" (What, the whole continent? Name your accuser, man.) are saying the Americans are wrong because they're explicitly rejecting those rules, not following them, which was sort of Lowry's whole point up until now. And the rules, as said above, have nothing to do with discouraging soldiers from hiding among civilians anyway.

Because al Qaeda and the Taliban are, in essence, armed, criminal gangs, and nothing more.

The nub of Lowry's objection. I'll say it again. The conventions explicitly protect anyone, in a uniform or not, who rises up in defense of their homeland. Whatever else you say about the average Taliban soldier, it's fair to say that is what they were trying to do. The U.S. has some Taliban members under its power. The U.S. has previously promised the world it will conform to certain standards in dealing with its military prisoners. The path of the "consistent moral principle" here has been clear since the outset...

Posted by BruceR at 09:01 AM

January 24, 2002



Looks like beating up on the Red Cross is becoming fashionable. Peter Worthington in the Sun takes another slice at the ICRC today, in defending the Guantanamo detentions. (I should add parenthetically that Mark Steyn's piece on the same topic in the Spectator today is eminently fair.)

These prisoners were fighters, maybe, but not soldiers. They had no code, no rules, little mercy. They are not PoWs as we understand the term, but supporters of terrorism.

Peter, Peter, Peter... have you forgotten the ideals you and your father fought for so quickly? Did you oppose the way we held SS POWs, then, too?

All 158 prisoners at Guantanamo are there for a reason -- they are suspected of having information that could be useful in curbing terrorism. They are not camel drivers and peasants, they are leaders and special.

It's real simple, Peter. I'll spell it out for you. In western countries, we don't imprison people just because someone suspects they might have information about a crime... at least without a court examining if there's something to the case. That's the ideal you're really beating up on here. Ignoring the latent racism of the second sentence, (Camels? In Afghanistan?), how do we KNOW that these prisoners are special, Peter? What was the process? Where's the indictment, the charge, the arrest warrant?

Anyway, the Red Cross are just a bunch of fascists anyway, right?

As for indignation from the International Red Cross, I was with Eritrean fighters against Ethiopia, when the IRC refused to visit Ethiopian PoWs held by Eritrea, and ignored Ethiopia bombing civilians -- all because the IRC didn't want to offend Ethiopia.

Worthington conveniently doesn't say when this supposedly happened. But the Red Cross did only get access to Eritrea in September, 2000, once the new state acceded to being guided by the Geneva Conventions, after over 5 years of negotiations with the Eritrean government to get them to sign. I can't find anything to back up Worthington's apparent contention that this was due to ICRC footdragging, as opposed to Eritrean: but there would be no point to them visiting Eritrean camps, even if they'd been given access, until the Eritreans signed the Conventions, obviously. (At one point since, the ICRC also expressed dismay at Eritrea for sharing confidential reports it had provided on the treatment of Eritreans in Ethiopia with the media: it apparently didn't impact their activities, but it did piss them off.) You can read the summary of activities by the Red Cross in Eritrea over the last six years here.

Posted by BruceR at 12:17 PM



The conspiracy has finally been unmasked. Former LAPD officer Michael Ruppert has unmasked it. It turns out the Sept. 11 attacks were not just about propping up U.S. oil interests... they were really about propping up the U.S. heroin industry!

[Ruppert] says the Taliban upset American officials when they burned their bumper opium crop last year... Ruppert says that burning the opium was a huge blow to the already faltering U.S. economy, estimating that it ripped millions of dollars of drug money out of the system, money the U.S. needed in order to stay out of recession... "Mark my words," says Ruppert "We're going to se an explosion of heroin use and deaths this summer."

I'm actually thinking of consuming some myself, about now. The opium connection makes it clear, Ruppert goes on, that:

"The attack on the World Trade Center was perpetrated, facilitated and criminally abetted by the United States government."

Posted by BruceR at 11:25 AM



Penny and Instapundit are wrong today about the Telegraph piece on the Iranians sending supplies to their chosen man in Afghanistan. There's nothing here much to worry about yet, as much as the Telegraph would like it so:

With more than a little help from his friends, the warlord Ismail Khan is restoring his fiefdom. There is every sign that Iran is reviving the so- called new Great Game that perpetuated Afghanistan's disastrous civil war and led to the creation of the Taliban.

First off, the idea that the Americans have already struck Khan's arsenal with a cruise missile and everyone's now denying it, is rather ludicrous, and the Telegraph has no evidence for this wild surmise. Plus, it would be incredibly stupid... as the article goes on to say, Ismail Khan (the "Lion of Herat") hasn't bought into the central government yet, but probably because he hasn't been offered a plum by them yet, either. That hardly makes him rebellious.

Look, Ismail Khan was one of the GOOD guys... at least as good as they get in Afghanistan. Arguably the second-best Afghan resistance fighter after the dead Masood, he fought the Taliban to a standstill in the early years of their rise almost singlehandedly. I remember when I heard he was back in play in Herat after Mazar fell... I knew then that the Taliban's day was over. He's a little old man now, ruling an ethnically and geographically distinct part of Afghanistan, the Herat area. Unlike, say, Dostum, he has a reputation for justice, and taking care of his people fairly. Other than the years the Taliban ran it, Herat under his rule was known for its religious tolerance, liberal attitudes towards women, and relative sophistication. Imprisoned by the Talibs for three years, he escaped in a Steve McQueen style prison break. Since he rode back into town, Herat has retained a sense of order, and food distribution has proceeded as efficiently as anywhere in the country. Thanks to Khan's rapid restoration of the old order, no one's starving in Herat this year. And Khan has never expressed any kind of ambitions that affect the rest of the country, other than just ruling over the Heratis until he dies. (The downside of that being he'll never care about anyone or anything outside of Herat, either, such as Afghan "nation-building.") Incorruptible in his amorality, if you had to find a comparison to him in movies, it would be Anthony Quinn's Audar Abu Tayi in Lawrence of Arabia:

I carry twenty-three great wounds, all got in battle. Seventy-five men have I killed with my own hands in battle. I scatter, I burn my enemies' tents. I take away their flocks and herds. The Turks pay me a golden treasure. Yet, I am poor, because I am a river to my people!

As Lawrence finds, the completely uncompromising self-interest of Audar makes him unreliable. It also makes him easily bought and controlled. But going in with cruise missiles after a stand-up guy like Ismail Khan would be proof the Americans were LOSING control over Afghanistan again, not winning it.

UPDATE: The Iran-Khan connection is also in the Post today. In the end, though, all Khan seems to be doing here is driving up the price of his fealty a little. Warlords in quasi-medieval societies tend to do that. Much more worrisome would be if Iran let slip the leash it has on Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, arguably the most psychopathic of the Afghan warlords and the person more than anyone else responsible for the destruction of much of the country after the Soviets left, following his twisted philosophy of "destroying the country in order to save it." Currently in exile in Iran, Hekmatyar is a genuine, bona fide war criminal and an Islamic zealot. If Iran helps his star to rise again, that's a whole different ball of wax.

Posted by BruceR at 11:00 AM

January 23, 2002



An arrogant-yet-vapid piece by Claudia Rosett today on the Guantanamo prisoners. She says the real scandal is that the Red Cross is doing... well, its job, apparently.

The real shame of Guantanamo Bay has nothing to do with U.S. treatment of captured Taliban and al Qaeda fighters now held there. It has everything to do with the International Committee of the Red Cross rushing to the scene, waving the Geneva Conventions as if riding to the rescue of those lovable old POWs on "Hogan's Heroes"--demanding that modern disciples of terrorism be handled simply as good old conventional prisoners of war.

(No, they're not, by the way. The ICRC itself isn't demanding anything, but those who support the application of the Conventions to America, such as Human Rights Watch, are demanding the detainees be treated as prisoners of war until someone actually charges them with terrorism.)

Rosett argues the U.S. should consider withdrawing its funding from the ICRC as a result. Now given that the ICRC's main mandate and purpose, as stated in the Geneva Conventions, is to investigate all internments of military prisoners, one wonders what else they could do but "rush to the scene, waving the Conventions" when the Americans capture people. So, what is it, specifically, that the ICRC has done that is so outrageous? Why, why, they've promised to be thorough, damn it! Even though we're Americans!

But in explaining this mission to the press, another ICRC spokesman, Kim Gordon-Bates, chose phrases that pretty much damned the U.S. by insinuation: "They will look at the premises very, very carefully."

Yeah, that's damning all right... Rosett also accuses the ICRC of violating its mandate to keep its reports on prisoner conditions confidential. Her evidence? Um, other than the quote above, she doesn't actually offer any. Which would be none, I guess.

Anyway, all these international conventions are just silly, she says:

...what leaps to light is that with the spread of terrorism, the respected old ICRC--and the conventions it tries to uphold--are woefully out of date.

It goes without saying that a Convention last ratified in 1949 could be up for an overhaul. But it's also safe to say that the kind of overhaul Rosett desires, apparently the removal of due process restraints and any residual sense of impartiality when dealing with soldiers in countries Americans currently disapprove of, would be a cure worse than the disease. It certainly deserves an argument stronger than the best she can do, which boils down to: "the Conventions are out of date because SNL made fun of them last week."

"There may well be a role" for international norms like the Geneva Convention and the ICRC, Rosett opines, but only if they can be rewritten to prevent ridicule by American comedians. Well, thanks for offering them a window back into your good graces, there, Claudia...

Instapundit's got an interesting implied accusation in its summary of this item, today, claiming the ICRC has "briefcases of unaccountable cash" and demanding reporters investigate it and other humanitarian groups. Is there any evidence behind that, Professor, or are you just shooting your mouth off, Bellesiles-style?

Posted by BruceR at 01:58 PM



With due respect to the estimable Steven Den Beste, I believe he's misreading both American law and the link to possible precedents for the Ramsey Clark habeas corpus situation, which he helpfully drew my attention to. Den Beste offers 4 reasons why the request for a writ is No Big Thing, but none of which seem to stand up to scrutiny.

First off, he argues that the captives could go to military tribunal instead of a civilian court, and so the concern Iain raises -- that the habeas corpus fight could blow up, with the courts declaring all American laws inapplicable to foreigners who have committed crimes abroad just to save the army from its habeas problem -- won't make a difference. (I actually don't believe Iain's concern is founded here: sure, the courts have raised questions about previous indictments against Bin Laden himself for crimes outside the country (ie, the embassy bombings), but Sept. 11 made all that moot, anyway, as there is now a clear criminal act on U.S. soil. One way or the other, Al Qaeda IS going to get prosecuted for that, it's safe to say.) But, getting back to Den Beste's point, the military tribunals are also assumed to follow the Bill of Rights, and so even if the government states now that it is their intent to prosecute these prisoners before tribunal, the habeas right will still need to be explicitly waived by the courts, as the enabling order for the tribunals does not appear to specifically waive it.

Second, Den Beste argues Congress may already have laws on the books allowing for war crimes prosecution that may include the waving of habeas. I've seen no such evidence... if they had, odds are it would have been brought up by now, as it would have substantially weakened the argument for these unpopular tribunals.

Third, Den Beste argues the Noriega prosecution is a precedent. Trouble is, it's not, not just because Noriega was tried for offenses (drug trafficking) that were considered domestic crimes, but because the civil courts moved hand in hand with the military occupation: when the Americans took Noriega into custody, they already had indictments pending. In this case, to my knowledge, they do not against any of the Guantanamo prisoners (they would, of course, have against Bin Laden himself and possibly other senior Al Qaeda members). Noriega's prosecution was never vulnerable to a habeas action.

Fourth, Den Beste argues that because the prisoners are de facto PoWs, they can be held indefinitely on that basis, even if the courts screw things up somehow. But prolonged PoW-type custody is also untenable, as the enabling Conventions specifically state it must end as soon as practical after wars' end. The more Afghanistan returns to some kind of normalcy, the more the charge that the Americans are imprisoning people without trial or charges will build. For both domestic and international reasons, a trial of some kind is the necessary outcome of all this: prisoner of war (or "battlefield detainee") status can buy the States time... nothing more.

Rumsfeld's verbal redactions today suggest the government now realizes this. By backing off the "everyone an unlawful combatant" pretense, and embracing as closely as possible (without raising other kinds of problems) the position that these Guantanamo prisoners are de facto PoWs ("battlefield detainees"), they are clearly trying to buy time until proper indictments or warrants can be delivered by some competent court. The trouble is, they've found out, is that just saying the prisoners are not befitting of PoW rights, without evidence or any hearing that establishes that, leads inevitably to claims of imprisonment without trial. That means sooner or later you also then have to get the courts or the government to waive habeas corpus rights over your detention system... and we all know how popular that made Lincoln, for instance. In effect, in order to immunize themselves against the requirements of America's own justice system, they are cleaving more closely to the Geneva Conventions. Iain actually makes a strong case that this Clark application for a writ will be ruled out of jurisdiction by the first judge, then overturned on appeal (because the same appeal court has ruled thusly on a similar case in the past, and they're unlikely to overturn themselves). The Clark request for a writ will then end up at the Supremes, who will likely rule in America's best interest.

Will the Guantanamo prisoners somehow spring free out of all this? Of course not. There is no doubt the courts and the government between them will find a way to keep these people from posing a risk to Americans for the foreseeable future. Rumsfeld's moves today should really be seen as an attempt to meet the courts half-way just to be sure, by bringing government practice close enough to historical precedent so that the Supreme Court doesn't need to tear too many pages out of the lawbooks to make those imprisonments stick when Clark winds up in front of them (as I fully expect he will). The question at issue is not the prisoners themselees, but how much collateral damage, in terms of dangerous legal precedents, might the U.S. legal system have to suffer in order to justify keeping them right where they are?

Of course, this all could have been avoided if the government had said flat out from the start that all Afghan prisoners were being considered PoWs/battlefield detainees until such time as the tribunals started sending out warrants for their arrest and incarceration as criminals pending trial. They could even have shipped them to Cuba, still as PoWs. It was Rumsfeld's unwise initial stance, one that implied America had already settled their guilt extrajudicially, that gave legs to the Clark motion.

Posted by BruceR at 02:21 AM

January 22, 2002



Two important things in the Washington Post article about today's presser with Rumsfeld. The defense secretary is apparently trying to back away from his earlier statements that all the Americans' prisoners are automatically "unlawful combatants" with "no rights to speak of." As of today, they're now "battlefield detainees", which is as close to "PoWs" as we're ever likely to get from the euphemistic American military, so one has to be satisfied. Second, Rumsfeld acknowledged today that the Geneva Convention does apply to Americans, too, and their prisoners, at least until a proper court can try them.

"Let there be no doubt, the treatment of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay is proper, it's humane, it's appropriate, and it is fully consistent with international conventions."

There, now, was that so hard? I, for one, am satisfied.

Posted by BruceR at 05:48 PM



I can say I totally agree with the sentiments of the New York Times editorial on the Guantanamo situation today. They've got the issue (not the canard of supposed brutalities, but the problems with believing the Geneva Convention does not apply to Americans in Afghanistan) dead on. There is, however, a factual error in the last paragraph:

Far more is at stake than legal technicalities. Any detainees who qualify for prisoner of war status cannot be brought before the military commissions proposed by the Bush administration, but must be tried under regular court-martial procedure or in American civilian courts.

This is incorrect. If a given detainee qualifies as a POW, they can still be tried for offenses committed while a POW, by court martials and civilian courts. If all they are is a POW, though, not charged with war crimes (ie, an "unlawful combatant"), then they can't be tried for ANY offenses committed before their imprisonment AT ALL, and must be summarily released (assuming they behave themselves) when hostilities are considered to be over.

It's best to think of this as two tiers of imprisonment. Anyone caught under arms on the field of battle is a POW: that's the first level. Again, the conventions are quite clear. POWs live under military custody until the war's over, and are released. The second, higher level of custody is that if a competent court (in any country, military or civil) thinks they can build up enough evidence to charge them with war crimes: they then can be ruled an "unlawful combatant" and extradited from the POW camp (if necessary), and jailed in anticipation of a trial by the court in question. As the accused in a crime, they can now be interrogated... when they were just POWs, on the other hand, they couldn't. They can also, if convicted, be held for the duration of their sentence.

Ideally, everyone agrees, any rank and file Talibs should ultimately end up on the POW level, and the terrorists identified and elevated to the war criminal level. This kind of POW triage is akin to Germany in 1945: there were lots (millions) of POWs, but a much smaller number within that prisoner pool were then indicted for war crimes and sent up to Nuremberg.

The trouble was, this time the Americans didn't have their mechanism for indicting and prosecuting the proven terrorists for their war crimes (the hated military tribunals) in place soon enough. So instead they declared ALL Taliban and al Qaeda they had in custody to be "unlawful" (ie, to be treated as if they faced war crimes charges) to keep things simple. This time, they sent everyone to Nuremberg. It's like Eisenhower saying in 1945 everyone in the Wehrmacht was a presumptive war criminal, until we're content they're not, just to keep our options open. Given the Nazis' extensive crimes, would that have been just then? Maybe. Would it have been American (what with all that presumption of innocence stuff, and roots in a revolution won by "guerrilla tactics" by an "unrecognized government")? Not a chance.

Posted by BruceR at 05:35 PM

January 21, 2002



Shooting fish in a barrel? Perhaps... but Raimondo's latest bitchslap at Damian Penny is particularly sad:

I understand that they don't have a lot up in Canada, including a sense of their own national identity – which is perhaps why a foreigner like Mr. Penny takes such an inordinate and unseemly interest in what is, after all, an internal American debate over foreign policy. Call it xenophobia, and politically incorrect to the max – Mr. Penny, it should be noted, likened me to David Duke – but this is what American unilateralism really means. When it comes to deciding whether we're going to stay a republic, or become an empire, I'd rather foreigners stayed out of it, or at least had the tact to keep their voices reasonably low and their tone civil.

What a wonderfully imperial thing to say. Yes, all us little multicoloured chillun should leave the Americans to decide what they are going to do vis a vis the rest of the world, keeping our voices low so as not to disturb them. Maybe they'll become a Galactic Empire and Lord Over Us All, maybe they won't: but they'll get back to us when they've straightened it all out. In the meantime, we should just chill; it's none of our concern either way...

(And I didn't want to mention it, but... twenty-four dead Canadians. That was the price we paid on Sept. 11. Their bodies MAKE this a Canadian issue, so you can STFU now. )

Funnier, and more revealing of Raimondo's character, is what passes for the kind of journalistic truth he wishes the media would follow up, those ludicrous Fox allegations about Israeli spying being behind 9/11. Of course, Raimondo also believes a lot of silly historical nonsense (q.v.), so this isn't surprising itself, but the paucity of actual information in this case is remarkable. In the name of Mickey Kaus, then, let's do a little series-skipping time on Raimondo's incredible revelations:

1) In December, FoxNews ran a four-segment series on Israeli spying in the U.S.
2) FoxNews has since removed mentions of that series from their website.
3) The series uncovered the following pieces of "evidence":
*Jonathan Pollard was arrested for selling secrets to Israel in 1985;
*60 Israelis were arrested, mostly for immigration violations, in the months following Sept. 11; other Israelis have been arrested before that;
*Many of the Israelis arrested recently seem to have been selling kids' toys in mall kiosks;
*An Israeli telecommunications company, Amdocs, handles directory assistance and call records for a lot of American phone calls;
*Another Israeli company, Comverse, sells wiretapping equipment to the government;
*Los Angeles police once suspected organized criminals with (unexplained) connections to Israel had tapped their phones.
4) FoxNews' conclusion, just on the facts above? Obviously, the Israeli government had to have known precise details of the Sept. 11 plot, but didn't pass them on for fear of compromising its intelligence gathering in the States!
5) A site called Newsmax got a hedgy denial from the FBI and a total denial from Comverse when he phoned them asking about the Fox story. Newsmax also quoted a Washington crackpot named David Brown for 14 paragraphs saying the FBI's refusal to lay open their entire intelligence dossier to Newsmax was suspicious. He blames the "Clintonistas," who apparently haven't really left.

There you go, fellow bloggers! All we have to do is connect the dots, and the FoxNews-Raimondo-Blogger Pulitzer awaits! Why, oh why, can't the establishment media see that this is really the most important angle in this whole Sept. 11 story? Are they stupid? Bought? Or do they JUST NOT SEE ANY TANGIBLE BLOODY CONNECTION WHATSOEVER?

Posted by BruceR at 06:13 PM



This from Friday's Globe and Mail... apparently there are Norwegian soldiers at Kandahar base! Norwegians, I tell you! It's what we've always feared... that the whole Afghan adventure was part of an intricate Norwegian plot for world domination. Sure, they laughed at us before... but now? Hey, I thought we had put a man on the inside on this stuff... goddamn it Bjorn, you could have warned us! If I know my history of Viko-Norwegian incursions, we shall soon see elite Viking ski troops descending on the American heartland... say, somewhere in the mountains of Utah... but by then it may be too late... To arms!

Posted by BruceR at 02:19 PM



From the CBC, today:

Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat reacted with rage and defiance to the attacks [on Tulkarem]. "I swear to Allah I will see the Palestinian state, as a martyr or while still alive," he said.

Posted by BruceR at 01:27 PM



Hawkish U of T prof Clifford Orwin and son-of-a-famous-general Peter Worthington take a run at the Afghan POW issue.

Worthington's piece is memorable only for the way that the last half consists entirely of disjointed paragraphs, none of which connect to each other... for someone who believes the Talibs are really POWs, maybe calling the piece "Uproar over POWs is silly" is a bit of a mistake, but never mind. I do however, defy anyone to explain what side of the issue Worthington is on, based on this paragraph alone:

Because this is a war against terrorism doesn't mean we employ terrorist ethics. We don't. The Geneva Convention was designed for "civilized" societies. In WWII the Japanese ignored it by forced labour and brutality to PoWs. In the Korean War, the Chinese tried brainwashing and torture. And look at how North Vietnam treated American prisoners -- again not reciprocated by Americans.

Come on... Peter... wrestle... that point... to the ground...

Orwin takes the wrong side on the point on which, for me, the whole matter rests:

The prisoners are terrorists, not soldiers, for their allegiance is to no government but to an illegal unrecognized regime in Afghanistan (the Taliban) or to an international outlaw conspiracy (al-Qaeda. Or both, since in fact it's hard to distinguish between the two movements, each so intertwined with the other.)

Never mind the fact this is completely contrary to anyone's reading of the Conventions. More bothersome is that by extension, anyone can forego any offering of PoW status, so long as they first "unrecognize" the government for which someone is fighting. Washington's rebels, the Confederates, the French partisans, the Warsaw uprisers... all had allegiance to "no government", too -- at least to some people's mind. That does not, cannot mean the brutalities exerted upon them because of their allegiance were just. The Convention purposely extends to anyone fighting for their government or their homeland... a straight-off, never-had-tea-with-Bin-Laden, doesn't-even-know-where-New-York-is Talib should be enfolded in its protections, or no one can ever be. (Is there anyone like that at Guantanamo? I don't know... does anyone?)

Posted by BruceR at 01:16 PM



The anti-war blogger attacks Chomsky this week. Here is the new information I gained in trade for 20 minutes of my life I'll never get back:

1) Raimondo doesn't know what words like "catalytic" mean, but doesn't mind using them anyway;
2) Raimondo still believes the by-now totally discredited Marc Herold study (q.v);
3) Raimondo also believes in the long-ago discredited Richard Stennitt allegations about Pearl Harbour being an FDR setup;
4) Based on his derogatory use of quotations, "Raimondo" believes the Indonesians were not repressive, and the East Timorese under their rule were not oppressed -- despite voluminous evidence to the contrary;

But the moral bankruptcy of Raimondo's beliefs (far worse in their way, than Chomsky's) is clear in this paragraph:

What [Chomsky's] principle, consistently applied, would have to mean is that every time some "oppressed minority" rises up and challenges the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a "repressive" government, the US should exert pressure – including, presumably, the threat of military intervention – until the bad guys submit to the dismantling of their country. But that is precisely what happened to Yugoslavia, and the pattern is being repeated in Macedonia, while real noninterventionists want to know: by what right?

Um, by the right all humans everywhere have not to live under the thumb of "bad guys?" You know, the one in the Declaration of Independence? So what IS the moral difference between that and saying, say...

"That would have to mean that... every time [the Jews] challenge the sovereignty and territorial integrity of [the Nazis], the US should exert pressure -- including, presumably, the threat of military intervention -- until the bad guys submit... By what right?"

As far as Raimondo's concerned, the Revolution for the Rights of Man ended in 1781... or maybe 1865... and World War Two was just a Stalinist Big Lie by that FDR chappie. Those of us who want to see the world become a better place than it is today, or yesterday, can find no common ground with this kind of bankrupt groundhogism. Chomsky, rightly or wrongly, wants America to live up to its stated principles (as he sees them). Raimondo wants those principles to be buried and forgotten so we can all go back to buying stuff and watching Oprah.

Posted by BruceR at 12:08 PM



Kaus makes all the objections I had to Black Hawk Down much more cogently than I ever could. I don't oppose the movie, or its message... I just think, as Kaus does, that we need to be careful to remember everything the filmmakers left out, both of the history and Bowden's print version of it, to make a cleaner story...

Posted by BruceR at 10:27 AM



In an effort to give full due to the other side (ie, you), I'm going to try something new on the Letters side, and do what we used to do at Lum the Mad... there's now a "discuss" link at the bottom of each story, with links to an EZBoard forum dedicated to Flit's content, and your replies thereto. I've already reposted the three letters I was going to post here up there: replies from Lisby and Shultz, on Guantanamo, and John K. on the Canadians' uniforms. We'll see if this works well, and can it if it doesn't. But it's silly for me to mediate these kinds of intelligent, thoughtful (lengthy) replies by retyping them myself all the time.

Posted by BruceR at 10:13 AM



A good summary of the latest news out of the Congo can be found here. It's been three days, people, and the first great African natural disaster of the new century isn't even on the WashPost's home page. This is a classic case for immediate military humanitarian intervention. Canada has its DART team, the Americans and others have something similar... those units should have been en route already. That's what you get when a volcano blows on a Friday night, I guess... gotta love those UN office hours in a crisis, don't you?..

One suspects that part of the problem, BTW, is that the only practical way to get supplies to Goma, now that the airport has been knocked out by lava flows, is going to be by road from the airport in Gisenyi, Rwanda to the east -- I did a little logistical analysis with my unit one time back when Canada was thinking of deploying peacekeepers to the Congo, so I know a little about the area. And no one's ever going to jump at the chance to get their troops entangled in RWANDA, again... the NGOs might even have to go solo this time around, as a result. Not to mention that the current Rwandan government isn't going to be wildly comfortable with opening to their borders to the refugees, which will no doubt include thousands of those Hutu exiles who've been staging incursions into Rwanda from across the border since they fled to Goma after the genocides... on the other hand, they're not going to be crazy about turning their own country upside down to send a whole lot of aid the other way, either...

NB: Gisenyi's also the only practical road OUT. Which means that all those Hutus still in exile now have a choice between the lava, and going back to the country they destroyed... and the few remaining Tutsis they didn't manage to massacre... But it gets even better... the walking to Gisenyi is uphill all the way... literally... that's probably part of the reason why you're getting stories today of a lot of people preferring to return to the piles of lava where their homes once were, rather than contemplate moving... As Rosanne would say, these people are so far past screwed the light from screwed may not reach them for several years...

Posted by BruceR at 01:27 AM

January 20, 2002



Tony Adragna beats me to it, and calls for the lynching of Kenneth Lay. And Andrew Leonard says he's this close to becoming a communist over it. Now, I'll admit I'm a bit doctrinaire on such things (I'm still waiting for the mass resignations of FAA head Jane Garvey and the CEOs of United and American Airlines over the mass death their reckless cost-cutting contributed to on Sept. 11) but it's clear that in total numbers of lives ruined, Lay and the rest of the Enron 29 have already ruined more American lives through the wiping out of their employees' pensions than Taliboy John Walker EVER will. And made out like bandits while doing so. And dodging federal tax all the time.

So I'll second Adragna's notion, and extend it. Lynch Lay for crimes against capitalism. Along with all his VPs. And their accountants. And their accountants' family pets. And take every cent not devoted to erasing all marks from their paupers' graves, and give it to those poor people who were forced to accept now-worthless stock THEY WEREN'T ALLOWED TO SELL EVEN WHILE LAY WAS MAKING TENS OF MILLIONS SELLING HIS in place of a proper retirement package. That would be the kind of American-style justice the world WOULD respect.
PS: While you're at it, can we also get a little horsewhipping of Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill just for that "genius of capitalism" remark? Bloodsucking leech...

Posted by BruceR at 10:55 PM



The Globe's having fun this weekend with the Canadians in Afghanistan being issued their rules-of-engagement cards (they always are, of course, but because this is our first-ever outing as part of an American force, as opposed to a NATO or UN one, they've needed some rewriting). It's a fair news story, but I'm sure some wag will be making fun of it on the opinion pages soon enough. To whose jokes, I'll say, by way of preemption, where do you want Canada to post its rules of war for its soldiers overseas? On the internet? On their foreheads? What? NOTE: The Globe quotes perennial Canadian military analysts David Rudd (q.v.), and Brian Macdonald, a former colonel in my own unit... and they both sound pretty intelligent.

Posted by BruceR at 09:49 PM



A truly sickening piece closing off tonight's dinner-hour newscast, on the planned state and federal tax subsidies going to California entertainment companies, to keep them from relocating to Canada. Pretty much a shameless Canada-bashing, with no comment from the Canadian side at all... only industry reps and the MPAA's Jack Valenti. More surprising, perhaps, was the utter lack of any American voice suggesting massive taxpayer subsidies to Hollywood might be a bad idea (Valenti in the past has consistently opposed government support for the movie and TV industries abroad as socialistic... guess it's different when he might get a piece, eh?). Also no mention at all of the considerable amount of money NBC stands to gain if both state and federal rebate bills go through... just a few minutes of coverage that could have been written by NBC corporate PR about how this is the most important tax cut America will EVER have... and to cap it all off, it was the piece that segued right into... the NBC Golden Globe preview show!... Wonder what other considerations NBC News had to offer so the network could get that ratings booster, hmm?

In all my career, in journalism and PR, I have never written anything that shameless. The fact that the news heads think they can slip a nakedly self-serving PR spot unnoticed into a national newscast speaks volumes for the quality of TV news... and people wonder what the attraction of blogs is. At least they don't pretend to be objective...

Posted by BruceR at 09:09 PM



Much is being made today of the lack of desert uniforms for the Canadians going to Afghanistan. The first ROTO will be wearing forest green, which is contrasted with the Americans' desert cam. This does allow us to bring up today's Idiotic Quote of the Day, from much-quoted Canadian military analyst David Rudd:

"I expect that our soldiers will be employed within the limits of their capabilities," said David Rudd, at the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies. "They might be restricted to nighttime operations."

Uh, huh. That is "analysis" so bad one can only assume Rudd was misquoted. If nothing else, one could point out that all those Brits in Kabul (left) are in forest green, too, but no one there or here seems so anxious about them coming out in the daylight... but that would require the CBC, who reported the piece, to remember something they aired a couple days previously, one supposes. Never mind... (More on this issue to come in our letters, to be posted shortly.)

Posted by BruceR at 06:34 PM



Here's an example of why a Coyote-centred recce group like Canada is sending is more useful to the Americans than Canadian writers can understand, in a specific Afghan context. Remember the Kabul-Jalalabad road, where bandits killed four foreign journalists back in November? That hundred-mile stretch of mountainous road is also, coincidentally, the march of death which swallowed up an entire British-led Indian army in the winter of 1842...

Now, with just the Canadian recce group (12 Coyotes, 750 men), and no other ground assets, and allowing for redundancy of coverage and troop rotation, you could put that ENTIRE 160 km stretch of road, from Kabul to Jalalabad, under total 24/7 surveillance for six months, with detection of any person's movement within 24 km of the road, and identification (ie, man/woman, armed/unarmed) of any person within 10 km! Night or day. Rain or shine... with soldiers left over to protect your own forces in their positions, and interdict any questionable contacts to get a face-to-face look. With American fast air or attack helicopter support, you could direct an effective, deadly fire on anything threatening you saw, long before it got anywhere near the roadway, if you thought it warranted, too, and a long, long time before they could threaten you or cars on the road. No other ground- or air-based package could do the job as cost-effectively or efficiently. (A JSTARS/Predator UAV combo could do something similar, of course, but the cost of keeping one of those aircraft on station around the clock over Afghanistan, flying from Saudi bases, would be tremendously wasteful, and you couldn't do it with Predators alone.)

I'm not saying that's what the Americans will be using them for (how the hell would I know?) but they could. Prediction: six months from now, you'll see the same Kosovo-style reports that the Americans were very glad to have the Canadians around, and a few veiled hints that they should buy some of those same vehicles for their own troops.

The real pity in all this, of course, is that the Canadians spent so much on ultramodern recce vehicles that they didn't have enough left to make the rest of their ground forces equally up to date and attractive to the Americans when they came calling...

By the way, what I expect really happened with the Canadian-American negotiations for ground troops came down to this: when the Canadians said, "um, what do you want us to do?" the Americans tried to cherrypick our best units, just like the British did (the Brits wanted our help with demining, so they asked for a company of combat engineers, whereas the Americans asked for the Coyote squadron). The Canadians said no to both, that they weren't going to fritter away our best troops deploying in less than battalion strength (and were right to do so); the Americans were the first to say, well, sure, whatever... you can bring bring a (small) battalion if you want... just don't forget those Coyotes...

The British couldn't reciprocate, of course, because of Northern Alliance-imposed limitations on the total number of troops they could bring: they offered to give the Canadians their own battalion-sized spot on the next Kabul rotation, instead, but that conflicted with Canada's "first in, first out" peacekeeping deployment policy... Those, like the Globe's Marcus Gee, who said the Canadians obviously begged to be included don't know how army logistics work. With only three battalions of his own troops on the ground, and a small logistics footprint to match, no self-respecting American commander is going to waste the heavy lift required to bring in an entire extra infantry battalion he doesn't think he can use, with cross-national logistic complications (our equipment is similar, but not that similar) to boot, just to help Canada's prime minister out of some domestic conundrum. Come on...

Posted by BruceR at 02:39 PM



Also looking at Penny, a few people wrote to join the POW debate, partly sparked by Penny reprinting something from Flit at length, offering new and different justifications why the Geneva Conventions don't apply. They're all wrong, of course, but the reasons why are interesting.

Michael Lisby argues that the Geneva Convention thus apparently protects soldiers of a recognized army, even if those soldiers don't follow the laws of war themselves:

Does that mean that a "member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict" can, basically, commit all kinds of outrages, fight out of uniform and STILL be considered a POW, who must be protected as such?

Bingo. You got it, Michael. The SS, the Japanese, the Vietnamese, the North Koreans, the Iraqis, and Serbs, all of whom violated the Geneva Accords to some degree, were still entitled to its protections. Is the Taliban (again, note: not Bin Laden himself or his foreign operatives... the Taliban) entitled to less? As Grossman points out (see two entries down), the Geneva Accords are much more about saving our souls than theirs.

Megan McArdle writes, similarly:

The Convention isn't some sort of pledge that a nation takes to behave well; it's a treaty, and is applicable only to member nations.

This isn't true. The Conventions aren't a treaty, with some kind of international court to appeal to... they are a set of conventions nations assume unto themselves, to govern their conduct, enforceable through their own military justice systems (that's also why the Red Cross only catalogues Geneva violations confidentially... it's up to the Americans, and only the Americans, if one of their soldiers has committed one in their view, to prosecute them for it). Whether the opposing army is a signatory or not is completely irrelevant.

Angie Schultz writes:

The closest equivalent would be the action taken against pirates---this had its heyday before the GC, and in any case wasn't really thought of as a war, the pirates generally not being as well armed or organized as a state (I need to find me a history of the "war" against the Tripoli pirates).

Actually, piracy is more akin in international law to a war crime or a crime against humanity. If the U.S. wants to claim that all their detainees have committed war crimes (ie, were involved in the WTC attack somehow), that's a whole different ballgame: but they haven't done that, yet. But the question we're debating is, do soldiers in a state that allowed piracy within its border (not the pirates/terrorists themselves) get POW protections? And more importantly, do soldiers on the side of the Taliban who may or may not have also been terrorists (ie John Walker) get POW protections until their status on those more severe charges is determined? The conventions seem quite clear that they do.

But the Tripoli example (ie, the American wars against North African pirates of the early 19th century) is instructive. I have never heard a claim of American atrocities in that war, or unlawful confinements. Even though Geneva hadn't been written yet, even though the pirates were, in all likelihood, what we would think of as terrorists today, even though American prisoners in the pirates' and the Algerians' hands were often treated brutally, the Americans treated their Algerian and pirate prisoners when they took them with humanity and justice. That's part of the 200 years of history of setting a higher example that Rumsfeld has consistently seemed so complacent about throwing out when it doesn't suit his short-term objectives.

Posted by BruceR at 01:29 PM



Damian Penny rightly pointed out the oddness of normally opposing Globe columnists Marcus Gee and Rick Salutin agreeing that the Canadian army's presence in the Afghan war has been "pathetic." He also points out that, despite Gee's claim, they actually disagree, with Gee saying the Canadians won't be allowed near the action, and Salutin saying they'll be used at cannon fodder.

Which just proves neither knows what he's talking about, when it comes to the Canadian military.

The key is in the equipment. The force sending over is about 750 strong, centred on a squadron (12) of Coyote recce vehicles from the Strathconas. If you want to know what the Canadians will be doing with the 101st, that's the key. It is the Coyotes, according to press reports, that the Americans specifically wanted. The reason being that the Coyote's surveillance suite (infrared/radar/telescopic optical, etc.) makes it arguably the best underarmour surveillance vehicle ever created. It's a rolling, high-tech observation post. As a recce vehicle in the traditional sense (ie, "reconnaissance by fire"), it's not spectacularly useful, even overpriced. But put it on a hill, and give it time to camouflage itself and setup, and you can provide 24/7 surveillance of a broader area more effectively than any other land-based asset in any army in the world. The Americans know that, and also know they have nothing like it in their own inventory, at least not yet.

So why do the Americans want Coyotes? There's only one answer. They want the ability to put a large hunk of real estate (about 1,800 square km per Coyote deployed) under surveillance so tight, they'll know if a bug has gone for a walk. The Coyotes can do that for them. It may be an extended perimeter around the Kandahar airport, it may be some other Main Supply Route somewhere in southern Afghanistan, it might be somewhere else. But you don't get to command a brigade in the American airborne forces without putting your equipment where you can take best advantage of it... I can't believe the American brigadier on the ground would use them differently.

What he won't do is use the Coyote squadron (and the two companies of infantry coming along with them, probably for the mounted and dismounted recce tasks to support their surveillance net) as "cannon fodder" (Salutin) or "standing sentry on street corners" (Gee). He'll give them a map with a great big plot marked out of his tactical "flanks" (not necessarily real flanks, mind, just somewhere away from his main effort he doesn't want to worry about for awhile) and tell the Canadians that if anything out there moves, night or day, he wants to know about it. And, just as in Kosovo, where they did exactly the same thing, the Canadians are going to do that, very, very well.

BTW, Gee's whining that the Canadian's are not in a combat role is just stupid. There isn't a soldier in the world who would feel ashamed working shoulder-to-shoulder with the Marines and the Airborne... are those outfits also, because all they've done or are likely to do, is "guarding the airport" at Kandahar "not really part of the war effort?" I'd say I'd love to see Gee try and explain to a randomly selected Marine, a paratrooper, and a Patricia that they're not really warfighting soldiers in a bar some day, but in my experience both the Americans and Canadian would likely be too polite to shove Gee's teeth down his throat where they probably belong. That's the sensitive 90s army for you, I guess.

Posted by BruceR at 01:08 PM



I actually place a fair bit of stock in David Grossman in some things. He doesn't know what he's talking about with video games, mind you, but his actual psycho-historical insights into military history, as typified by his book On Killing, were definitely worth internalizing. In the quote below, he's talking specifically about the ultimate atrocity, the killing of prisoners, mind, but I would want the soldiers under my command to apply it to all Geneva Convention questions. (Note: this is the conclusion of a multi-chapter treatment of atrocities in wartime, that I can't do justice to here. Read the book, if you haven't already.)

Those who cherish liberty, justice,and truth must recognize that there is another force at large in this world. There is a twisted logic and power resident in the forces of oppression, injustice, and deceit, but those who claim this power are trapped in a spiral of destruction and denial that must ultimately destroy them and any victims they can pull with them into the abyss.

Those who value individual human life and dignity must recognize from whence they draw their strength, and if they are forced to make war they must do so with as much concern for innocent lives as humanly possible. They must not be tempted or antagonized into treading the treacherous and counterproductive path of atrocities. For, as Gray put it, "their brutality made fighting the Germans much easier, whereas ours weakened the will and confused the intellect." Unless a group is prepared to totally dedicate itself to the twisted logic of atrocity, it will not gain even the shortsighted advantages of that logic, but will instead be immediately weakened and confused by its own inconsistency and hypocrisy. There are no half measures when one sells one's soul.

If asked about Afghanistan, I imagine Grossman would say that you can't possibly rate the Taliban (not Bin Laden, not Mohammed Atta... the Taliban) as more inhuman or dangerous to the world than the SS, whose group psychology he has studied in depth. But Americans applied the Geneva Conventions in full to their SS prisoners, or faced their own military justice if they didn't, and, to Grossman's mind (and mine) they were right to do so. It's not about recognizing their humanity. It's about preserving our own.

Posted by BruceR at 12:31 PM

January 19, 2002



David Janes directed me at the study behind the today's Globe and Mail story by Murray Campbell, which should drive the final nail through the Marc Herold estimate of 4,000 Afghan civilian deaths, and the analytical reputations of all those who believed him (Herman, Fisk, the Toronto Star, et al.)

I was almost tempted to use my "reading for soldiers" headline for the study itself, which is sober, intelligent commentary about the pluses and minuses of satellite-guided munitions, a discussion of how to evaluate civilian casualties properly, and a whole lot more. It really is a vitally important study, and its conclusions almost indisputable. So here you have the "Afghan civilian casualties" story so far:

Reuters: 1,000 (a month ago)
Human Rights Watch: 1,000 (also a month ago)
Project on Defense Alternatives: 1,000-1,300
Marc Herold: 4,000+

Murray Campbell covers the study well for the Globe, even though it completely discredits his own previous story of Jan. 3, which praised Herold's ludicrous estimate for its "rigorousness." Campbell makes no mention of that now, however. "Shameless" is one word for that kind of writing... there are others...

In other Herold-related news, I'll accept it as sheer coincidence that Mark Steyn today uses the same subportion of Herold's report to discredit him that I did back on Dec. 20:

Steyn: The anonymous North Carolinian supplying that last atrocity gives no verifiable dates and a single source, a 12-year-old boy in a refugee camp cited by no other news organisation in North America, Europe or Asia.

Flit: Although there is no definite date information here, and the only info is a single 12 year-old refugee, and there's no idea who the reporter is or a second source of any kind, Herold counts this as two confirmed fatalities in Kandahar on Oct. 7

Steyn: as for the BBC, here's what it said at the time: the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan told Reuters the horrendous terrorist attacks had killed at least 20 people across the country. There was no independent confirmation of that figure.

Earlier, the Taliban said there were about 20 casualties in Kabul. Dead or wounded? Somehow Prof Herold recasts 20 deaths nationwide as 22-25 in Kabul.

Flit: The other confirmable source for Day 1 is the BBC. Herold attributes them with a claim of 22-25 fatalities in Kabul on Oct. 7. Because his footnote is undated, the exact report he claims supports that number is untraceable, but the BBC does have good archives overall online, and it's fairly easy to find what they DID say about the Oct. 7 bombings at the time:

"The Taleban said there were civilian casualties, with about 20 people killed including women, children and elderly people. The Taleban ambassador to Pakistan told Reuters the "horrendous terrorist attacks" had killed at least 20 people across the country. There was no independent confirmation of that figure... Earlier the Taleban said there were about 20 casualties in Kabul, including women, children and elderly people... [Kabul] residents said bombs fell near residential areas, destroying two houses..."

That quote, or something close to it, translates in Herold's work into 22-25 confirmed deaths in Kabul that night. Note the conflation of casualties with fatalities, and Kabul with the rest of the country.

Well, first off, Steyn writes much better than I do. And I very much doubt he has ever dropped by Flit (no Stephen Ambrose allegations here.) I'd love to say it's nice to see great minds thinking alike, but I wouldn't want to piss off that ex-editor from Suck.com... Still, I've said it before, I'll say it again... you read it here first (unless you're just linking here today from Damian Penny for the first time, in which case, where the hell have you been?)

PS: The one problem with Steyn's story is the sideswipe at Human Rights Watch. I can't speak about their other work, but HRW's estimate of civilian casualties in the Kosovo war (c. 500) has today been accepted as responsible and sound by just about everybody. They are also right in line with conventional wisdom on the Afghan casualties. I think they should probably be credited, rather than derided, in that narrow respect. They are clearly trying to get and maintain a reputation for objectivity on this issue.

Posted by BruceR at 08:41 PM

January 18, 2002



Anyway, doctrinally, prisoner collection is not a unit (ie, battalion) level responsibility, anyway. That duty belongs to the brigade MP platoon. All that a unit the size Canada's sending does to anyone who surrenders is put them in a prisoner collection point under a guard, and wait for the MPs to come by and pick them up. Since we will only have one battalion within the American brigade, it's their brigade MP units that will be doing that. Does that count as being "in custody" in any significant way? We're not caring, feeding, taking names, nothing: just making sure they don't run away before the Yanks arrive with the paddy waggon.

We should definitely be assertive about encouraging the Americans to follow the international rules of war if they want our help (and be prepared to do whatever is necessary, even up to walking away, if they don't.) But this isn't about just the "prisoners the Canadians take." It's doubtful anyone will stay in Canadian custody for even 24 hours at any point, regardless of what they have us doing over there.

Posted by BruceR at 04:29 PM



I've got to confess I've never been a fan of Donald Rumsfeld's dissembling at press conferences, and bloggers in general who are backing up on this "unlawful combatants" stuff seem to be on the wrong side of American history and legal precedent, I'm sorry to say.

There is nothing about "using guerrilla tactics," as one blogger put it, that disqualifies one for Geneva Convention protections. Reading the law for both its letter AND its intent, the key distinction in the conventions that separates a "lawful" combatant from an "unlawful" one is the act of carrying arms openly: ie, self-identifying as a soldier rather than retaining one's "deniability" and working as a spy or saboteur. The conventions specifically include all "members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict." If we accept that the Taliban formed the government of Afghanistan for a time, and that Afghanistan was the other party to this conflict, it thus doesn't matter what the soldiers acting in their name were wearing or how they fought. Even an Al Qaeda terrorist, who would have clearly been an "unlawful combatant" if he had snuck into the US and thrown a bomb as part of the war effort, would still be a "lawful" combatant once he was back with his Al Qaeda unit in Afghanistan fighting the Northern Alliance on the ground. The rules seem quite clear on this. (The other exception would be soldiers who were strictly mercenary, ie did not self-identify themselves with a particular state, but were fighting for the highest bidder in a foreign land. Neither the native Afghans nor the foreign Islamist volunteers really qualify.)

Al Qaeda members could still be subject to prosecutions for war crimes, murder, what have you, through American tribunals or otherwise, but that is separate from their internment as Taliban prisoners of war, which by definition must end when the fighting in Afghanistan has reached a mutually agreed-upon conclusion.

To interpret the law differently would be to fly in the face of the Americans' own experiences with irregular warfare: in the Revolution and the Civil War, among other occasions, where "irregulars" like the Minutemen were not given the same privileges as "regular" combatants, and Americans were outraged about it. (It's infuriating to anyone who remembers American history how Donald Rumsfeld has consistently been cavalier about these sorts of issues, since the war's start; this writer has never shared the almost universal admiration for his plain-talking ways.) Canadians are right to question those rules (even to the point of withdrawing its soldiers if the Americans are confirmed to be flouting international law) and whatever the Red Cross determines in today's meetings (this being their bailiwick and all) should be followed by all parties on the ground. Otherwise, we have met the enemy and he is us.

UPDATE: David Carr on Samizdata is one of those who's got the Geneva definitions of combatants backwards, focussing on whether they meet the intentionally narrowly construed definition of "militia or volunteer corps," ie organized resistance movements (wearing an insignia, etc.). But the Taliban is not necessarily an organized resistance movement. If you accept that they are "members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict", ie that the Taliban was the de facto (not legitimate, mind you, but de facto) government of Afghanistan on Sept. 11, then their soldiers don't have to meet all those "organized resistance movement" stipulations. Even if you don't, they would still be considered soldiers under paragraph 6 of the same Geneva article, which extends prisoner of war protections to anyone who resists the invasion of their country," provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war." It's what Law & Order calls "black-letter law." Until and unless they are identified and indicted for crimes related to terrorism, every Taliban soldier in U.S. custody is a POW under international law. Period. Any other interpretation is Rumsfeldian semantics.

Posted by BruceR at 03:53 PM

January 17, 2002



In the Nation, this week, in a letters-page debate between Chomsky's frequent collaborator and Christopher Hitchens:

Mark Herold's careful study concluded that US bombs had killed at least 3,767 civilians in eight and a half weeks, which he explained as a result of the "apparent willingness of U.S. military strategists to fire missiles into, and drop bombs upon, heavily populated areas of Afghanistan."

I've known two year-olds that were less gullible. Every time a quote like this appears, any belief I might have had that its author has any respect for factual accuracy is shaken a little bit more. Herman has written some powerful things before now, on Kosovo, and before that Southeast Asia, and Iraq, and Central America. But Herold's flaws are transparent to anyone with just a little book learning. You therefore have to conclude one of two things:

1) Herman believes everything he reads, or is at least intellectually incapable of telling truth from lies; or
2) Herman can see through Herold as well as anyone, but has no moral problem labelling it a "careful study" solely because it supports his argument.

In the same way a lot of people are looking at Stephen Ambrose askance, one can have no choice in the light of this to reevaluate everything Herman has put his name to. The only question remaining is whether, through creeping dementia or whatever, he's become useless only recently (as Hitchens has publicly suggested previously), or he's always been useless, even when he was writing books with Chomsky. Your pick.

Posted by BruceR at 01:27 PM



This current piece of footage is flitting its way around U.S. armed forces circles. (I believe the source is good, but obviously confirmation beyond that is impossible.) It is allegedly footage of an attack by one or more F-14 Tomcats on a Taliban BTR (Russian-made personnel carrier), as seen by the pilots' Special Forces ground controllers. There's the initial massive explosion, which I'm told is one or more GBU-16 laser guided bombs, followed by some kind of secondary explosion on the road among the, um, bodies. (NOTE: it's a fairly large file, so do be patient on the download. It's worth it.)

UPDATE: a serving captain writes in to say he's seen this footage before, and it's actually a mine strike (location and provenance unknown). Anyone who has any more information, write it on in, so we can get to the bottom of this 'un.

Posted by BruceR at 10:40 AM

January 16, 2002


That is, in both cases where NORAD launched fighters, a closer look suggests that it's just false that there was nothing they could have done. For one thing, they could have flown faster.

I've never been a huge fan of air force guys in general, but they're getting a big bum rap from Scott Shuger in Slate today. Shuger argues, based on the top speeds of an F-15 and F-16 he got off a website somewhere, that NORAD failed on Sept. 11, because the interceptors for the second and third airplanes to crash should have flown faster. This is, unfortunately, total BS, and you don't need more than a smattering of air combat knowledge and Shuger's own distance figures to prove it.

First off, the quoted top speeds (Mach 2.5, or 1,875 mph for the F-15) are strictly from the Guinness book: totally clean aircraft under perfect conditions. Even interceptors with a minimum combat load would lose a minimum of 20% off that figure. Second, no aircraft has ever successfully intercepted another aircraft at speeds faster than Mach 1.6 (1,200 mph). You can look it up. For all intents and purposes, that's your top interception speed, for any aircraft in the world today: 20 miles a minute, in other words. Shuger doesn't mention that, though.

The other thing that Shuger doesn't mention is the time it takes to get to Mach 1.6 at altitude from a runway: about 6 minutes for even extremely high performance planes, by which point they're about 60-65 miles horizontally away from their airstrip. In the case of the F-15s flying to New York (183 miles away), they then would have had only 4 minutes of drag-racing before their target hit the WTC, adding another 80 miles to their distance. When the plane hit, they could not conceivably have been closer than 40 miles out from the Twin Towers. In the case of the F-16s going to D.C., even if they had been initially vectored toward Washington instead of New York, by the time they reached top speed they would have just one minute until the impact at the Pentagon... and over 75 miles to fly yet. Interception in both cases was a physical impossibility in the time allowed.

Shuger makes much of the average speeds he's calculated, taken from when the planes finally did overfly the crash scenes. These are bogus figures. It's entirely likely that after it was clear there was nothing more to be done, both pairs of interceptors dropped subsonic for the remaining distance: at supersonic speeds you waste incredible amounts of fuel, basically having to keep the engine on afterburner throughout just to keep from slowing down, and you'd want to lower your speed anyway in case ground control needed to vector you at another target in a different direction altogether. It's certainly no reason to disbelieve the air force's contention that their planes were flying at 1.5 Mach towards the jets when they crashed, as much as Shuger would like to make it one.

Finally, Shuger suggests the Air Force still hasn't learned its lesson because jets couldn't intercept that 15 year-old in Florida, either. He forgets that a helicopter did intercept the boy, and followed him to the end, trying repeatedly to get him to change course. Against a plane that slow and small, flying between the buildings of a large city, a high-speed interceptor would have been even more useless, anyway, except for a straight-off missile kill. (The outcome in this instance, one dead boy and property damage to the downtown being about the same, it's doubtful that would ever have been considered, regardless.)

There's more than enough blame to go around for Sept. 11. NORAD should be blamed, along with the FBI, CIA, the FAA, and both airlines, for failing to anticipate the whole eventuality. More people should have resigned, yes. But Shuger isn't blaming the thinkers: he's blaming the pilots, based on some lame-ass figures he made up, for showing some lack of urgency. But given when they started rolling, there is nothing those pilots could have done to change the outcome of Sept. 11, even if they'd had perfect knowledge, even if there'd been no hesitation about what to do. Nothing. They simply couldn't have got there in time. It's an incredibly cheap shot against some no doubt already guilt-ridden military personnel, from a normally half-decent writer. For shame.

Posted by BruceR at 10:02 PM



Debbie Schlussel is the perfect example of how conservative-minded men continue to be suckers for vapid blondes (Or as Dawson might put it, Ann Coulters without the brains). Her vacuous column returned once again yesterday to the subject of pop music, showing once again signs of the air leaking from around her temples:

I mean, this is of course, the same commentator who doesn't mind wearing short skirts on Bill Maher every time I've turned it on, and calling her column "Debbie Does Politics." Using sex appeal to push opinions is fine, of course... but using it to push records? That's demonic, at least according to Ms. Schlussel's previous ouevre. But now apparently it's not just that they're prostituting themselves... Britney et al are also to be condemned for their proto-feminism:

They're young, they're cute and, if you're male, they hate you. That seems to be the common theme of late for pop's top selling starlets – jihad against men. They have the sweet voices of sirens, but their words bear the screaming vitriol of Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.

Her evidence? The following lyrical passages:

"Hit Em Up Style" is [Blu] Cantrell's term for bankrupting your man when you catch him cheating...Teaching women to steal and cheat to get back at a man, to bankrupt him – what a classy message."

[From Destiny's Child] "But he's got to go, he's got to go … My man's been cheatin' on me … Yeah he did me wrong."

[In another song from Destiny's Child] "Oh silly me, why haven't I found another … a scrub like you who don't know what a man's about."

Debbie concludes from these and other similar selections:

With idols like this, it's no wonder so many kids grow up to have marriages that end in divorce.

Apparently, in Debbie's world, real women are supposed to be happy with philanderers and men who are no good for them. To leave an adulterer is now a "feminist" act, apparently. No, really, why aren't there more songs about women making their loveless marriages work, dammit? Seriously, it seems to me Deb's getting a little short on material if this is the best she can come up with... hey, and if it's okay for the Globe and Mail to say George Bush's accident proves he needs a life, I should be entitled to say Deb's latest column proves she needs to get laid...

Posted by BruceR at 02:27 AM

January 14, 2002

YOUR LETTERS Two letters from


Two letters from previous correspondents, this week: John K. from Montreal on yet another theory for Western European domination of the world (see Jan. 10 entries), which boils down to we have "Judeo-Christian...Greek...critical, analytical thinking" and everybody else has "fatalism." Suffice it to say I believe he's wrong (in many places rather deeply wrong: the idea that people from the Middle East are devoid of any sense of personal style is, to say the least, foreign to my experience, anyway). John, read Jared Diamond's book first: it's a very provocative read. Then I'll be happy to argue his thesis with you...

Also, Tom R. from Albuquerque writes in about Marc Herold. I actually see Tom popping up all over the blogs these days. (Tom, I love you, but... get your own! It's not so hard, and I'd be happy to give you a hand with it if you need it. I'd read it, anyway.)

Posted by BruceR at 10:40 PM



Writer Peter Gorrie took innumeracy to new heights this Sunday in the Toronto Star, with a front page piece leading inside to a full page of the "numbers" of the Afghan War. It starts out:

The official death toll from the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center keeps falling... the unofficial death toll among civilians in Afghanistan keeps rising.
This week, it stands at more than 4,000, as the U.S. military continues to rain bombs and missiles on suspected terrorist targets. That's not counting the hundreds of people starving or freezing to death or succumbing to disease in refugee camps in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

This of course, is a reference to the discredited Marc Herold "study." Inside, it continues:

Number of civilians killed in Afghanistan -- estimated 60 to 65 per day, or more than 4,000. (This figure was compiled by University of New Hampshire professor Marc Herold, using information from many media and government sources. It is disputed by U.S. officials as too high.)

Both Reuters and Human Rights Watch, organizations with impeccable credentials in this area, have come up independently with estimates of around 1,000 civilian fatalities so far. That is certainly an appalling enough number to make the Star's point. Yet the Star gives their front page blessing to a number from an avowed anti-war protester, based on no significant research whatever. You don't have to be a "U.S. official" to dispute the Herold study: anyone who reads it and doesn't dispute it is either an idiot, or dishonest, or both.

The piece, which is illustrated with a dated U.S. Navy photo of what appears to be the launch of a Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile as an example of the "12,000 bombs and missiles used by the U.S", also devotes a full paragraph to the Afghan mine-sniffing dogs that were "traumatized" by U.S. bombing, and claims there were 117 "backlash incidents" against Canadian Muslims, and 1609 against American Muslims, since Sept. 11. No explanation of what a "backlash incident" is, or whose figures those are, however. Maybe they're "Professor" Herold's, too...

PS: Conspicuously absent from the piece is any statistic that reflects poorly on the Taliban... such as total people killed during their reign, number of artworks destroyed, number of prisoners released when Kabul freed, amount of money made by the Taliban from heroin smuggling, etc. All wrapped up under the guise of a Harper's-style bare-facts-of-the-war statistical summary. That's Canada's largest newspaper for you, folks.

Posted by BruceR at 02:38 PM



I'm not saying I agree with Jean Tang's Salon story on Star Wars I vs. Lord of the Rings I, if only because it really seems a completely apples-oranges comparison. (One could have just as easily written a piece proving Star Wars was better than, Titanic, say, or vice versa.) The point that LOTR (FOTR? Whatever.) might have made its characters more human (hobbitish?) by acknowledging their foibles and fallibilities in a humorous fashion is valid, a la Star Wars, but it's hard to strike the balance between making your heroes both human and heroic, and I think both movies do a good job, within the limitations their creators were operating within.

However, there is one point where the joke is so obvious, so ready-made, that the fact FOTR doesn't acknowledge it almost makes for a continuity error. I am talking of course, of Gimli at the Council of Elrond. Gimli, the dwarf of the party, you'll remember starts off the meeting by trying to destroy the One Ring with his ax... wrecking the axe in the process. After a whole lot of jaw-jawing (Jar-Jaring?) the heroes declare their fealty to the cause with their weapons ("You have my bow!" "You have my sword!" "You have my Holy Three-Iron of Antioch" etc.) and Gimli of course makes his second contribution of the scene by saying... wait for it... "You have my axe!" and waving it around in a manner calculated to frighten the nearby onlookers.

Now, this leads to one of only two conclusions. Either Gimli has pledged fealty with some other dwarf's axe that he just scarfed, having broken his own, or he "borrowed" his neighbour's axe before, and crappified it trying to break an unbreakable ring, so that he didn't dent his. Considering how dwarfs are portrayed in The Hobbit (not to mention Tolkien's friend Lewis' Narnia tales) axe-thefts are perfectly acceptable Dwarf behaviour. Don't tell me either scenario couldn't have been played for laughs with only a couple seconds of film, to break up what, even with Peter Jackson's best efforts, ended up a rather overserious scene:

GIMLI to DWARF #2: Borrow this a sec? (Taking axe.)
(Gimli smashes axe, on ring, breaking it.)
DWARF #2: That was my father's axe, you son-of-an-Orc!"


DWARF #2: (standing up) And you have my... (Gimli trips him, grabs his axe.)
GIMLI: My axe! And you have my axe!
DWARF #2: Wha?.. Who hit me?

Or any other of an innumerable number of variations...

Posted by BruceR at 01:52 PM

January 12, 2002



Others have commented on idiot cartoonist Ted Rall's latest conspiracy theory piece: that the Afghan war's really about oil. That's what it is on the surface, anyway. What's underneath is a little bit of character assassination of the Bush administration's leading Afghan expert, Kabul-born Zalmay Khalilzad:

Khalilzad has an unsavory past. As a State and Defense Department official during the Reagan years, Khalilzad helped supply the anti-Soviet mujihadeen with weapons they're now using to fight Americans.

So leaving your professor's gig to join the Reagan State Department (he worked for Paul Wolfowitz) makes you unsavory now? (As a side note, Khalilzad didn't join Defence until the Bush administration.) Or does Rall now believe that helping drive the Soviets out was wrong?

During the `90s he worked as Unocal's chief consultant on its Afghan pipeline scheme. According to the French daily Libération, Khalilzad's $200 million project was originally conceived to run 830 miles from Dauletebad in southeastern Turkmenistan to Multan, Pakistan.

Khalilzad was actually one of many academics hired briefly as consultants by Unocal (so was Henry Kissinger), while he was waiting out the Clinton years over at the Rand. He started advising Unocal on Afghan politics in 1997... over a year after Turkmen president Niyazov had signed a deal for Unocal to pipe his natural gas through Afghanistan... and some months after Pakistan's foreign secretary had visited Mullah Omar in Kandahar to try and get him to sign to the deal. The fact that Khalilzad offered some advice on the local political scene after all this had happened hardly makes the pipeline his project.

Partly on Khalilzad's advice, the Clinton Administration funded the Taliban through Pakistani intelligence, going so far as to pay the salaries of high-ranking Taliban officials. The goal: a strong, stable authoritarian regime in Kabul to ensure the safety of Unocal's precious oil.

This is a lie from beginning to end. There is no evidence American funds ever paid any Taliban salaries for starters. But it's also character assassination: for it was Khalilzad, more than anyone else, who sounded the early alarm about the Taliban and called for their overthrow, back when no one was listening. To accuse him of being party to a deal to bolster the Taliban regime is completely counter to everything the man stood and stands for.

The man's ideas are clearly laid out in the now-considered seminal piece in The Washington Quarterly, which Slate's Jacob Weisberg believes formed the blueprint for the Bush administration's conduct of the Afghan War. (Khalilzad returned to Defense when the Republicans returned to the White House, shortly thereafter moving to the NSC as its chief official for the Persian Gulf and Central Asia.) He has always called for the Taliban's overthrow, not its support. And we know Rall read this article, and still lied about Khalilzad's record anyway. How do we know? Because he quotes it in this piece!

On December 31, Bush appointed his special envoy to Afghanistan: Zalmay Khalilzad. "This is a moment of opportunity for Afghanistan," the former Unocal employee commented upon arrival in Kabul January 5. You bet it is: Pakistan's Frontier Post reports that U.S. ambassador Wendy Chamberlain met in October with Pakistan's oil minister to discuss reviving the Unocal project.

The senior NSC official for the region becomes Bush's special envoy. There's a conspiracy, if I ever heard one. One year of consulting fees from Unocal (1997-98) doesn't make for an employee. And of course Pakistan wants to revive the pipeline idea as soon as possible... Asian oilgame expert Ahmed Rashid reports they only have eight years of natural gas reserves left, and no pipeline from any other country's gas fields to fall back on when it runs out (What are they going to do? Fly it in?). He outlines the Pakistan dilemma in his book Taliban, which Rall claims to have loved, so we know he read that, too.

Here's what really happened, okay? Khalilzad, a Ph.D who grew up in Kabul, became a stalwart public servant through good service to three Republican administrations. Along with just about every other Afghan expert in the country, he also once took a consulting contract with Unocal on how they could make their pipeline scheme work. He likely told them what he had been saying everywhere else: that there wouldn't be a pipeline without peace, and there'd never be peace with the Taliban. Shortly after, Unocal put the idea on the shelf. But to Rall, this means the pipeline's really Khalilzad's idea, not Unocal's, and, all facts to the contrary, he was really scheming to prop up and pay off the rulers he publicly claims to despise. So when Bush appointed Khalilzad as his special envoy, well, that means the war was really all about oil. If you follow that logic, you really need to cut your dose.

Posted by BruceR at 03:26 AM

January 11, 2002



CITY-TV, a major station in the Toronto area and elsewhere in Canada, is reporting inaccurate information about Mirabilis ICQ software, it seems. In this piece reporter David Onley quotes the anti-virus site securityfocus.com as saying ICQ users are vulnerable to hacking, whether they have a firewall or not, and whether you're logged in or not:

A leading online security is warning... hackers could take over your computer. The only option: uninstall ICQ from your computer and wait for them to issue notice of a patch.

Onley quotes Carolyn Burke of FSC Internet Corporation:

All you need to have is ICQ running on your computer. You don't even need to be logged in... They could do whatever they wanted with your computer, including getting your financial information. We're recommending that people turn off ICQ and uninstall ICQ until an upgrade comes by that allows you to run this application without vulnerability, don't use it... Corporate users... are also vulnerable, even if there's a firewall in place.

Well, being a skeptical old fart, and an ICQ user, and having difficulty understanding why uninstalling would be necessary, I checked out what securityfocus.com really said:

A buffer overflow exists in ICQs handling of specially formatted communications. A maliciously constructed packet with a TLV (type, length, value) type of 0x2711 may overwrite data on the stack, including a return address. This can easily cause the ICQ client to crash, and it may be possible to remotely execute arbitrary code.

So we're talking yet another buffer overflow problem: that's nothing new, reports of overflow-type security flaws have been popping up in all the instant messaging programs for months. Even better, according to securityfocus.com's own writeup, and also the corroborating writeup on xatrix.org, this is a security flaw specific to ICQ 2000. The current product is ICQ 2001b: so people who follow Onley's advice might be waiting for that patch a long time. Even Xatrix only recommends that ICQ 2000 users limit their non-message traffic (ie, file transfers) to people they know. Well, duh.

This kind of freakout is no doubt going to cause a whole lot of companies in the Toronto area to clamp down on ICQ use in the office. Too bad... it's still an infinitely better piece of software than AIM or MSN. A responsible reporter would have said that ICQ users should consider upgrading, and be careful who they share their files with. An irresponsible reporter would have said turn ICQ off, uninstall the program, turn the power switch off, unplug the computer, take it outside and set fire to it, to be extra, extra safe... and don't forget to wash your hands afterwards. Guess which kind David Onley is? And Ms. Burke from FSC has no excuse. She and that company should be ashamed of themselves for taking part in promulgating this kind of hysteria.

Posted by BruceR at 09:25 PM



The real problem with Salon magazine, I've concluded, is the readers. I came to this epiphany reading the letters about two of their recent film reviews, A Beautiful Mind and Black Hawk Down:

Although I appreciate Charles Taylor's well-rounded knowledge of the life of John Nash, I believe he's missed the mark of the film. If Ron Howard had decided to be more true to the details of Nash's life, the film would have become a weak whitewash of an extraordinary existence... [This is] a film, after all, not a documentary.

If the filmmaker had told the truth, that would have whitewashed the truth? What? Does that make sense to anyone?

Had the book simply been turned into a screenplay, it would have found audiences only within the realms of academicians already familiar with Dr. Nash. While not disparaging them, I think a more mainstream approach is necessary for the general public.

We want the truth? We can't handle the truth!

Last I looked, the real John Nash was still alive. Any movie that purports to by a biography of the real live person and glosses over his fundamental character in the name of art IS A LIE. If the filmmakers wanted to make a movie about a guy kind of like John Nash, a fictional, schizophrenic Nobellist but without all of Nash's less cuddly character traits, well then they could have changed their character's goddamn name. But no... they wanted to get the cachet of reality without the work involved. As Jeff Goldblum's character in Jurassic Park says about a very similar kind of malfeasance: "You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it." The idea that the real John Nash (you know, the guy who actually advanced the field of mathematics?) is the "weak whitewash" and Russell Crowe's caricature of him is the real "extraordinary existence" is unfathomable.

On Ridley Scott's blood-epic:

Mr. O'Hehir [the reviewer] would perhaps like the battle to have the clarity and purpose of the storming of Normandy. While that might have given him more enjoyment, it would have been utter fiction... The tragedy, and thus the compelling human element of the film and story, is the idea that, regardless of the political or even logical reasons, U.S. soldiers, human beings with loved ones and families, follow orders and often die gruesome deaths in faraway places...

Look, Black Hawk Down (loved the book, BTW) is a genre film, akin to Zulu or The Wild Geese. Bunch of whites go to Africa, fight off hordes of nameless black savages, and leave having learned once again how heavy the white man's burden really is. (People got turned off those movies for a time, because of that latent racism, and so the genre moved out into space where you didn't need to inject any sympathy for the Bad Guys: see also Aliens) O'Behir raised the completely valid point that a return to that view of Africans as mindless black hordes is not constructive today... especially when we're talking about a recreation of current events and a battle from only eight years ago, for pete's sake. Are only white guys entitled now to "compelling human elements" like "loved ones and families?" It's not a question of giving the events a Normandy-like significance... it's extending to the black bad guys at least as much understanding and fleshing out as we do automatically for other movie villains: even Nazis (see also Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day, A Bridge too Far).

Posted by BruceR at 02:26 PM



From USA Today, Jan. 11:

The number of U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan has grown to an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 in a widening search for terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and members of his dispersed al-Qaeda network.

From Flit, Jan. 7:

The Canadian announcement also confirms the Americans are increasing their strength on the ground, at least slightly... It still means the non-Special Forces contingent in Afghanistan proper is increasing its footprint by at least 50 per cent starting in February.

Have you had your daily dose of Flit, yet?

Posted by BruceR at 11:09 AM

January 10, 2002



Sheesh... two good essays from provocatively opposite points of view in the space of hours. First Hanson (see below), says Western superiority over the Arab world is entirely a result of culture. Now Steven den Beste, in a musing about the interrelation of science and history, comes out with his own theory, that it was just blind luck:

But it's entirely possible that Arab culture could have predominated over European Christian culture; it just didn't happen to work out that way.

Den Beste's larger point, that historians "try to derive lessons from history. They're looking for some reason why the current state of affairs was actually inevitable, due to some critical seeds of difference" is a typical scientist's misconception of historiography, and eminently challengeable, but we'll leave that for another time. I'd rather insert a third voice into the "Why did the Arab world fail?" debate, and one better qualified to have an opinion than either of the two entries thus far (or myself, for that matter): I'm talking, of course, of the previously mentioned Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel:

One can, of course, point to proximate factors behind Europe's rise: its development of a merchant class, capitalism, and patent protection for inventions, its failure to develop absolute despots and crushing taxation, and its Greco-Judeo-Christian tradition of critical empirical inquiry. Still, for all such proximate causes, one must raise the question of ultimate cause: why did these proximate factors themselves arise in Europe, rather than... the Fertile Crescent?
The major factor behind these shifts becomes obvious as soon as one compares the modern Fertile Crescent with ancient descriptions of it. Today, the expressions "Fertile Crescent" and "world leader in food production" are absurd. Large areas of the former Fertile Crescent are now desert, semidesert, steppe, or heavily eroded or salinized terrain unsuited for agriculture. Today's ephemeral wealth of some of the region's nations, based on the single nonrenewable resource of oil, conceals the region's long-standing fundamental poverty and difficulty in feeding itself."

Diamond goes on to explain how that transformation from a forested paradise to a desert has been documented as having been almost solely due to its human occupants, beginning only in the Neolithic period.

Thus, Fertile Crescent and eastern Mediterranean societies had the misfortune to arise in an ecologically fragile environment. They committed ecological suicide by destroying their own resource base... northern and western Europe has been spared this fate, not because its inhabitants have been wiser, but because they have had the good luck to live in a much more robust environment whith higher rainfall, in which vegetation regrows quickly. Much of northern and western Europe is still able to support productive intensive agriculture today, 7,000 years after the arrival of food production. In effect, Europe received its crops, livestock, technology, and writing systems from the Fertile Crescent, which then gradually eliminated itself as a major center of power and innovation.

Diamond's thesis is surpassingly compelling, and almost inarguable. Whereas Hanson blames the Arabs for a lack of ideas, and den Beste faults them for simple bad luck, Diamond says that it doesn't matter what culture inherited the Tigris and Euphrates valleys... whoever it was, it was inevitable that region was going to fall under the sway of a richer, more robust Western Europe, and the vibrant ideas emerging there, sooner or later. As individuals, we are lucky in the West to have received that birthright, but in the larger arc of the history of the human race, luck ain't got nothin' to do with it.

That doesn't mean Hanson's entirely wrong, of course. There is a failure of vision in the Arab world today: but it's not intrinsic to the religion (witness Turkey's success under Ataturk), or the people. I believe he understates the infantilizing influence of those unlimited oil revenues, that have allowed the Middle East to avoid making tough decisions about their future, and will likely do so for decades to come. But to claim that the West is triumphing now solely because of its values is, as Diamond says, at best a proximate cause, in the long view at least.

Posted by BruceR at 03:17 AM



Sullivan, who's been having the same Blogger problems as the rest of us, points tonight to a provocative piece by Victor Davis Hanson in City Journal. I agree it's a must-read: two nitpicks, however, in the spirit of that freedom of Western inquiry Hanson trumpets:

1) Hanson makes a snide and unnecessary reference to Jared Diamond, taking the title of his best-selling book essentially in vain:

Values and traditions—not guns, germs, and steel—explain why a tiny Greece of 50,000 square miles crushed a Persia 20 times larger; why Rome, not Carthage, created world government; why Cortés was in Tenochtitl`an, and Montezuma not in Barcelona; why gunpowder in its home in China was a pastime for the elite while, when stolen and brought to Europe, it became a deadly and ever evolving weapon of the masses.

Actually, the book Guns, Germs and Steel explains quite effectively and brilliantly why Cortes was in Tenochtitlan (Hanson either didn't read that chapter or didn't understand it, for it's not at all contrary to his thesis of Western cultural superiority, but complementary to it, in fact, so his attempt to set up Diamond as some kind of culturally relativist straw man fails on its face). The composite bow explains why gunpowder never took off in China much better than anyone's "values and traditions" do, and do I really need to remind anyone the high points of Greek and Roman history Hanson's so proud of only occurred AFTER their democratic and republican governments had been subverted and stamped out by their own home-grown tyrants? It was Alexander the Great, not Alexander the Egalitarian Democrat...

2) Hanson overstates the power of the WTC explosions.

A two-kiloton explosion [sic] that incinerated thousands of our citizens—planned by Middle Easterners with the indirect financial support of purportedly allied governments, the applause of millions, and the snickering and smiles of millions more—has had an effect that grows not wanes.

Scientific estimates of the power of the two 767 explosions have ranged upwards of 100 tonnes of TNT, with USA Today going with what could be called the reasonable high-end estimate of 240 tonnes (A Sept. 11 back-of-the-envelope calculation by someone of 660 tonnes each has been long since discredited). That's 0.24 kT for each plane. We can't even begin to imagine what the carnage of a two-kiloton explosion would have been... don't even try.

It's a good essay, for the most part, of course. But this site was created for factual nitpicking. A guy's got to do what he knows...

Posted by BruceR at 02:28 AM



Tom R. writes (see letters) that Canadians were frequently OPCONned to American units during NATO exercises in the Cold War (given his email addy, I'm guessing he's speaking from experience on the American side). Of course, he's right. Canadian ground troops have been OPCON to all kinds of other commanders (even the Australians, god help us, in INTERFET). They have been OPCON to American commanders, too, although it was previously always within the political framework of the NATO alliance. (Our naval and air forces have been OPCON directly to the Americans, and in wartime, too, in the Gulf, and in the last couple months in Afghanistan, and can be forgiven for wondering what the big deal is.) But, the possible exception of Canadians in the Pacific War noted, it is true this is the first wartime OPCON of Canadian ground troops to an American commander outside of the NATO rubric. Is that a milestone for our army? Yes. Is it somehow unfamiliar territory for the soldiers themselves? No, not at all. Working with Americans is easy, once you get past their whole no-drinking thing...

Posted by BruceR at 01:14 AM



Found this on the recently sadly-neglected humour site Old Man Murray, quoting a game preview on IGN:

"There's a tendency among the press to attribute the creation of a game to a single person," says Warren Spector, creator of Thief and Deus Ex.

Posted by BruceR at 12:50 AM

January 09, 2002



Richard Gwyn in the Star, Paul Knox in the Globe, Cooper and Bercuson in the Post, and Bob MacDonald in the Sun papers lead the charge in trying to understand the new Canadian military reality, with varying degrees of success.

Cooper and Bercuson, who've led the bleaters for months on what they see as the sorry state of the military, correctly identify that this is a significant change of defense policy. But they then lapse into wishful thinking that this is a sign the country has turned the page on American relations:

It is clear that strong leadership, which can come only from Ottawa, is needed to chart the course this country must take in the years ahead. Heretofore the government has been both uncertain and contradictory. Perhaps the troop commitment indicates a new decisiveness and a new realism.

As I was previously convinced that Bercuson was close to a complete meltdown, having been ignored on the military issue for so long, it's good to see the guy can still see a silver lining. He's wrong, of course... the chance that this late in his career, in the space of a week, the Prime Minister has developed a new, far-seeing strategic vision of Canada's future relations with the United States, and is acting forcefully on it, is so slim only a Calgary professor could believe it.

MacDonald, who has always written like Limbaugh without the coherence, predictably misses the historical precedent entirely, and says it's all a big PR maneuver to improve the government's standing in the polls:

With criticism from the public and defence critics rising, Chretien and Eggleton made a desperate plea to the Americans to let Canada supply troops. After all, at this stage, the U.S. forces are very well able to handle the clean-up operations there themselves. But Bush, proving to be a statesman, said "okay, you can come along and help."

This is typical MacDonald nonsense. If anything, the deployment is almost certain to hurt the federal government domestically in the long run: a lot more people are worried about loss of sovereignty than they are about military pride. Surrendering Canadian military autonomy to the Americans for essentially the first time ever is fertile ground for the sovereignists, the Trudeauists in Chretien's own party, etc., etc.

Gwyn's piece is more thoughtful. Like Bercuson and Cooper, he brings up the obvious comparison to the South African War, when Laurier pushed the British hard to get Canadians included in their war. He plays it as an understandable response to a British continental reorientation.

Other than an almost insulting request that Canada dispatch 200 engineers, Britain, which was working with a 4,500-troop ceiling for the mission, had nothing left for its former colony and intimate partner in both world wars. To cope with the sudden widening of the Atlantic, we've had to reorient our gaze from the east to the south, and from the U.N. headquarters in New York to the Pentagon in Washington.

Having apparently been abandoned by the British, the Canadians are naturally swinging to the opposite pole, and their American neighbours. Gwyn's right: if this had been 50 years ago, there would have been talk of a Commonwealth brigade to do the UN's work in Kabul, rather than what has turned into an EU one. If there was ever any doubt the Commonwealth is long dead both as a concept and reality, the way the British have cobbled together this force would have to be it.

This is what makes Gwyn's next observation so ironic, though: "In Afghanistan, the U.S. did make extensive use of British military capabilities. It also found front-line uses for small numbers of special operations soldiers from Australia, New Zealand and Canada... Thus, the real coalition that fought the war in Afghanistan was an "Anglo-Saxon" coalition. It's politically incorrect to call it this, but that's what it was. The U.S., that is to say, really only trusts those countries that share — predominantly anyway — its own ethnicity."

As did we, 50 years ago. That was the whole idea of the Commonwealth, after all. There's always been an "Anglo-Saxon" common interest in the world. It's just Britain stopped wanting to lead it, leaving the other middle-power English-speaking states to their own devices. Australia focussed on becoming a respectable regional military power (The Aussies fought alongside the Americans in Vietnam, while Canada sent only international peacekeepers there, but they seemed to have survived that with their sovereignty intact). Canada, whose need to exert force within our own region was nil, chose to ally with Western Europe (through NATO) and the UN to differentiate itself from the U.S. Gwyn is right in identifying that the Americans have gradually turned their back on those organizations, consigning them to irrelevancy. That leaves Canada the stark choice of sitting in empty rooms talking to itself, or groping for a new way to exert itself in the world.

What Gwyn doesn't mention is that, because Canada has so underspent on the military for decades (Americans spend three times as much per capita), we have NO capability for rapid power-projection that doesn't ALREADY depend on an American logistical tail. Remember how Chretien wanted to get involved in the Congo some years back, but the Americans vetoed it (they owned the planes). Even if the UN wants our ground troops somewhere other than Europe fast, we are reliant on America or some other large country to get our soldiers there and feed them in place, and have been for years. The last time something like this came up, in 1991, this limited the Canadian response in Iraq to the somewhat more independent air and naval forces we could send. At first we tried the same approach this time, as well, but the government has now decided to move beyond it, catching nearly everybody by surprise in the process.

This is why Knox is wrong when he says it threatens our international reputation:

However it came to be, the deployment is troubling. Its mission is vague. Mr. Eggleton declined to rule out extending it beyond Afghanistan. And it threatens the global perception of Canada as a multilateralist middle power. .. Isn't a century of distinguished, professional service from Canadian soldiers enough?

The simple fact is that, simply due to the logistics of the foreign deployment of a modern army, a middle power has NO power, unless it's in a coalition with others. The Commonwealth, NATO, the UN, are all either moribund or have shut us out. What Canadian soldiers did 50 years ago is irrelevant: if we want some impact on the future world, we need to pay the cost of an independent course (like Australia did), or we need to find a new partner. Right now, the Americans are the only ones offering.

I actually think the comparison to the Boer War is very apt. There was some domestic pressure to deploy troops, as there was then, but this is really much more about international politics, and keeping Canada at the table with the big boys, than any domestic concern. It's a big game of musical chairs. Canada's leaders felt they needed a seat at a table, somewhere, and this seemed to be the only one still on offer.The surprising fact is that a Chretien government took it. Gwyn is right when he says:

A transformational change in Canadian foreign policy has just been enacted without public debate or even any sign there has been any debate about it within the government, itself. It's this, rather than the shift in the geopolitical tectonic plates, that's really what's so painful. We're Americanizing ourselves without even asking whether that's what we want or whether we have any other choices.

The only other choice, though, other than accepting powerlessness, has long been simple to articulate: go our own way. Spend more on the military (like $5 billion a year more) and gain the freedom to set our own policy, like Australia does. For obvious reasons, the deficit-conscious, anti-"arms merchant" Chretien saw this as the less palatable option. And after years of wishful thinking of my own, I've come to the conclusion this autumn that if a military spending increase wasn't going to happen with skyscrapers literally falling around us, it's never going to happen.

I hate to say it, but foreign minister John Manley's is groping for the truth in today's Globe: that if America is now the world's only power capable of military projection outside its own region, then maybe the real measure of our power is at least partly dependent on how much we can influence their actions (an approach Britain has not been ashamed to use at various times, at least since Thatcher). In which case, foisting ourselves on them as a junior partner may make as much sense as when we did the same thing to Britain a century ago. The big questions now are, how do we change our military to maximize the likelihood the Americans want to keep us around, and once we do insinuate ourselves, what are the ideals we are going to use any heightened influence to promote?

But that's for later... the Gieses, Camps and Salutins still have to weigh in on Canada's getting in bed with the U.S. Here's a prediction: at least one will bring up either Somalia or the Airborne disgraces as evidence that our military leadership works against the country's interest, and that's why our soldiers can't be trusted in Afghanistan this time...

Posted by BruceR at 11:07 AM

January 08, 2002



(See story yesterday). A quick clarification to the reporting on the Kiska Operation in 1943, which is the only precedent we could find for Canadian soldiers operating in a U.S.-led force before yesterday: in fact four Canadians were killed on Kiska, and four others wounded out of some 6,300 involved (not 5,000 as reported; I forgot the Canadians in the 1st SSF). The Japanese had, of course, abandoned the island before they landed: all the casualties were in friendly fire incidents (It's not recorded fire by whom; The American friendly fire toll in the operation was much higher.) Let's hope our two armies do better this time out. For more info, read The Thousand-Mile War: World War 2 in Alaska and the Aleutians, by Brian Garfield.

NB: The Canadian commander in Kiska was First War hero Maj. Gen. George Pearkes, VC, who had been sacked as 1st Canadian Division commander in England a year before by Montgomery (Whether for age or intelligence is unclear.) Old soldiers never die, I suppose...

Posted by BruceR at 12:53 AM

January 07, 2002



Stars(From the Truly Meaningless Photo Images When You Stop to Think About It For A Minute Department): And in other news, we were all almost killed last week by a giant space arrow.

PS: My favourite part is the wishful-thinking cutline: "The space rock 2001YB5, identified by the arrow, could have wiped out France, according to a scientist in Britain." Better luck next time, eh, what?

Posted by BruceR at 10:06 PM



(See Previous Articles: 1 - 2 - 3) Okay, a reader named Josh raised some good points about my "T-Bomb" articles. You can read the full thing on the letters page, but here's my response.

Basically, Josh says there is more than just a semantic distinction between the new American T-Bombs (or "thermobaric weapons") and their old no-longer-used fuel-air explosives. Because the new generation of thermobarics (also called vacuum bombs, enhanced blast munitions, and, yes, fuel-air explosives) use powdered high explosive instead of actual fuel, they don't create the same spectacular and deadly fireballs. Because they don't, he argues, they can be seen as a more humane weapon, and hence less objectionable to peace groups: hence the recent name change when this class of weapons was brought back into the American inventory is justified.

A couple things. First, I can't speak for the first-ever fuel-air bombs, but the ones the Americans retired from their inventory used ethylene oxide, not gasoline or jet fuel. The stigmatized name for these weapons was technically incorrect even then. Second, yes, there's no doubt their new weapons, which do use what amounts to explosive dust instead, are engineered specifically with the idea of enhancing their blast effects in mind. I've never seen one of the new ones, so I don't know if there's a visible flame front, but I'd agree that these weapons are being redesigned today to increase their blast capabilities, as opposed to their fireball-creation capabilities. In fact, the effects of these new weapons are still rather unclear: Russians claim their thermobaric technology could actually be used to extinguish fires (by creating a temporary vacuum, presumably), but also classify them as incendiary weapons or flamethrowers.

But this is surely the big point. The Russians reengineered their T-bombs before the U.S. They used the new kind to crush Grozny two years ago. And those weapons do use powdered HE (PETN, to be precise, the stuff used in detcord). But it's those weapons that Human Rights Watch and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament are now criticizing as inhumane. And the stated reasons are not because they cause a lot of burns (they seem as unsure about that fact as I am), but because they are extremely destructive and hence capable of killing large numbers of civilians when used in cities. If this is true of Russian weapons, it is, by definition, true of the same technology in American hands. (Look for any mention of burns to humans in this HRW press release, here.)

Which could be a great segue into a reflection on how a weapon system does not have morality built in... bombs don't kill people, people kill people, etc... if you wanted. Another time, though: the point is HRW and CND aren't campaigning against the inhumane use of thermobarics, or one class of thermobarics... they're campaigning against thermobaric-type weapons altogether. But because it suited them to contrast the Russian use of these bombs with the American self-imposed ban on thermobarics in the 1990s, those groups, perhaps inaccurately, have been calling them by their old, stigma-laden pre-ban name: "fuel-air weapons." On the other hand, when circumstances in Afghanistan forced the Americans in turn to reintroduce those same weapons, they had to make it clear that their weapons were different from the Russians', even though they are functionally the same. Rather than trying to explain the T-bomb for what it is, a higher-tech successor to fuel-air weaponry ("Now with less crispage!"), they and their spokesthingies deliberately avoided any connection at all between the two kinds of weapons, in an subtle but still apparent effort to shed some of the stigma attached to their use. That's classic corporate branding.

Posted by BruceR at 09:23 PM



The Canadian announcement also confirms the Americans are increasing their strength on the ground, at least slightly. The Marines initially deployed a battalion to Camp Rhino, and then a separate battalion to Kandahar... each with something over 1,000 troops. A third battalion was in reserve offshore. If the 187th BCT (the "Rakkasas") is coming in to replace them, that will give the ground commander three American battalions, plus the one Canadian one, or at least 5,000 troops. Presumably, however, one battalion will be kept in reserve to secure the logistical base, likely at the rapidly growing megabase being set up in Jacobabad, Pakistan. It still means the non-Special Forces contingent in Afghanistan proper is increasing its footprint by at least 50 per cent starting in February.

Because Jacobabad isn't a seaport, and there doesn't seem to be plans to acquire one, that suggests the Americans are pegging their force level at a brigade-size light unit for a while, small and low-maintenance enough that they can continue to rely on airlift from Jacobabad into Kandahar for their logistics. The Canadians will have to do the same. Because there was no matching announcement of an increase in the Canadian Air Force presence, one may expect that the Americans agreed to provide airlift support for the Canadians, too. Certainly the 12 Coyote recce vehicles being shipped over will be going in American planes.

NB about Jacobabad: It's the third-largest airport in Pakistan. It's also considered the "hottest place in Pakistan." All Pakistani forces have left the base, which is currently being walled in, with air-conditioned barracks being built for the thousands of American troops that will be staying or passing through here. Unlike the Marines, with Army troops come ground bases: we're going to hear a lot more about this base in the months to come, for certain.

Posted by BruceR at 05:45 PM



The DND website has caught up...

On January 4 the Government of Canada received a request from the United States for Canadian infantry soldiers to deploy to Kandahar as part of the US Army task force founded on the 187th Brigade Combat Team (BCT) from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. In response to the U.S. request for assistance, Canada agreed to deploy the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (3 PPCLI) Battle Group, which includes a reconnaissance squadron from Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) and combat service support from 1 Service Battalion. The Lord Strathcona's Horse reconnaissance squadron will be equipped with two troops of Canadian-made Coyote light armoured reconnaissance vehicles, which our U.S. allies specifically requested for this mission.

The Canadian soldiers will be involved in performing a number of tasks, ranging from securing the airfield to allow for the delivery of humanitarian supplies delivery [sic] to the Afghan population, to the conduct of combat operations...

While operational control of the 3 PPCLI Battle Group will rest with Coalition chain of command, in this case a U.S. brigade, operational command of the 3 PPCLI Battle Group will remain with the Chief of the Defence Staff and, ultimately, the Canadian Government.

Translation? First, the textbook definitions, as understood by the Canadian forces, and the UN:

Operational command: the authority granted to a commander to assign missions or tasks to subordinate commanders to deploy units, reassign forces, and to retain or delegate operational and tactical control; it is the highest level of operational authority which can be given to an appointed commander who is acting outside of his own national chain of command, and is seldom authorized by Member States

Operational control (OPCON): the authority granted to a commander to direct forces assigned so that the commander may accomplish specific missions or tasks which are usually limited by function, time or location by troop-contributing countries in the Security Council Resolution/mandate, to deploy units and retain or assign tactical control of those units; it is a more restrictive level of authority than operational command: a commander cannot change the mission of those forces or deploy them outside the area of responsibility previously agreed to by the troop-contributing country without the prior consent of this country; further he cannot separate contingents by assigning tasks to components of the units concerned.

Since the early days of World War One, the Canadian government has always insisted on retaining Operational Command over its troops, as opposed to Operational Control. Is it fair to call it "under U.S. command? Well, basically the Americans have to consult with our government only if they do the stuff in bold, above. An OPCON relationship is seen as appropriate recognition of national autonomy: it is basically the same deal as Canadians had with British commanders in Europe in both world wars and Korea, and with UN and NATO since. But other than the Aleutians, this is the only time Canadians have been part of a strictly U.S.-led force. I guess the continent IS growing smaller.

Posted by BruceR at 05:13 PM



I get all kinds of thoughtful email on what's written here, and if no one objects, I'd like to make sure I serve the interests of equal time and post the clever replies to my expostulations where people can read them, too. That's why there's a Readers' Letters link on the left now. Nothing fancy... just to prevent me typing out the good ones in full. So far, I've put up John's letter on peacekeeping, and that T-Bomb letter I really will reply to shortly.

Posted by BruceR at 04:41 PM



And it's certainly a respectable showing from the army, for a change. (Godspeed, Patricias.) Now we'll see if the Canadian government has the guts to stick through it... to say this is going to be a rough ride, politically, is at best an understatement. Wait for the New Democratic Party condemnation, later this afternoon. But the Alliance Party should say something nice... it's exactly what they've been calling for since, oh, Sept. 12. Yes, we're in the soup for real, finally. I also want to note that my old standby Gwynne Dyer (who doesn't have a website, more's the pity) continues his record for surprising accuracy from a syndicated columnist... he called this exact eventuality on or around Sept. 13 and I confess I didn't believe him.

Stories so far:

The Globe and Mail

About the coming backlash: Penny should offer a new prize for the first sighting of a complete conniption about this by one of his usual suspects. The predicted mass freakout is now only a matter of time... Ardent nationalists, multilateralists, peace-in-our-time types, those afraid we'll "bring terrorism home to Canada..." it's hard to decide who's more likely to have an aneurysm over this. Dalton Camp, who's got a foot in all those lobbies, may need a third heart...

PS: Hey, Damian, I run websites for a living. If anything, you've been on my turf all this time. When I start giving legal advice in Corner Brook, then you can bitch... Seriously, I just like picking people apart on their ignorance of publicly available facts. I leave it to you to pick apart their reason and lack of moral fibre... you're much better at that stuff than I.

PPS: No word from the American press I've seen about increasing the size of their force on the ground. It's extremely unlikely the next tour in Kandahar will comprise just the one battalion of the 101st Airborne that's replacing the Marines, and the one battalion of Canadians... the only question is how high this means they're ramping up to in that sector: brigade-sized (say, 2 battalions of Americans, and 1 of Canadians), or divisional?

Posted by BruceR at 12:48 PM



(See original story) John from Montreal writes, re the possibly first-ever combat deployment of a Canadian ground unit under American command, expected to be announced later today:

You could also include Canadian units that were involved in Aleutians operations in WWII, that were not only under US command but were equipped with US gear and weapons. The participants were "Zombies", draftees who couldn't be sent to Europe under King's conscription policy.

Point well taken, although to be fair, two of the three battalions who served in the Aleutians August 1943 to January, 1944 with the 13th Infantry Brigade were volunteer, not conscript (NRMA, or "Zombie") units. The aforementioned 1st SSF (a joint U.S-Canadian unit) also took part in the actual assault on Kiska Island in August, but the island had already been abandoned by the Japanese (not that they knew that at the time). There weren't any Canadian combat casualties. We're still not talking a whole lot of historical precedent for this, regardless. But unlike, say, Dalton Camp, Flit believes in setting the record straight. Thanks.

In other words, you newspaper writers out there, it's more accurate to say this may be (still waiting for that press conference) the second-ever combat deployment of Canadian ground troops under American command, and the first outside the continent. Still a milestone, in my books.

NB: In case anyone's curious, the 13th Brigade comprised the Winnipeg Grenadiers and Rocky Mountain Rangers (volunteer), and the Ontario-based Canadian Fusiliers (NRMA), along with the 24th Field Regt, RCA and other brigade troops. In total, over 5,000 Canadians served that six-month tour in the Aleutians. Read more about one Canadian who served on Kiska here.

Posted by BruceR at 11:31 AM



Days when research for Canada's favorite anti-war codger would have been just... too tiring?

I remember sitting in the public gallery in the House of Commons on the day Paul Martin, Sr., speaking as what we then called the minister of external affairs, informed the honourable members that Canada had agreed to send a peacekeeping force to troubled Cyprus, at the request of the United Nations. That was sometime in 1964 and I recall Martin saying he expected the Canadian force would be returned home within two years or so. Some two decades later, I was in Cyprus and so were the VanDoos; our peacekeepers were nowhere near to coming home then or a decade later. In fact, I cannot remember when it was that our forces did finally get back from Cyprus. It is even possible they are still there and I have failed to notice...

For the record, the last Canadian forces left Cyprus in 1994, 30 years after the start of that UN peacekeeping mission. So "a decade later" they were already home. Before that honorable ending, 21 Canadians were killed on duty in Cyprus, Dalton. Thanks for dishonoring their memory with your ignorance. You tool.

PS: I've never understood the reason why columnists are allowed liberties of editing and fact-checking that would be unacceptable for cub reporters on their first day. But showing a willful lack of interest in accuracy (that whole paragraph can be boiled down to "my facts may be wrong, but I don't care, and it doesn't matter if they are") should have sparked some editorial intervention, if the Star still considered itself a newspaper.

Posted by BruceR at 10:20 AM

January 05, 2002



All three major Canadian newspapers had the same story today, based on the same "anonymous" interview by the same Defence Department official. The quotes, the facts, are identical. It's a nice piece of story placement by any measure. The gist is that a Canadian infantry battalion is going to Afghanistan, and it will be formally announced Monday.

All well and good. But details of the story indicate there's something much more interesting at work. The Canadian soldiers will not be part of the UN-mandated stabilization force, the one which has been confined to Kabul and environs, and is made up of European troops, led by Brits: it will be part of a separate, American-led stabilization effort working outside Kabul. The deal to be supposedly announced Monday involves Canadian troops working for Gen. Franks and U.S. Central Command, not the peacekeeping authority.

This is significant as much for what it says about Central Command's plans as it does Canada's. If they're assembling a larger American-led ground force now, it indicates a greater commitment to a sustained presence in Afghanistan and involvement in "nation building" than we've seen spelled out thus far. Currently there's only 1,000 Marines holding an airport in Kandahar... if the Canadians alone are sending 700 to this second stabilization force, how many other forces from the U.S. and other nations are being put on the ground with them? It sounds like Franks is settling in for the long haul, and a significant ramping-up of the U.S. ground presence, as opposed to preparing for a handover to the UN and the new government any time soon.

For Canada, it means rules of engagement likely even more robust than even those that were insisted upon by the Brits in Kabul. This isn't UN, or even NATO peacekeeping, anymore. The stories as written clearly suggest the Canadian battalion becoming a unit in Uncle Sam's army for a little while, anyway. In the entire history of Canadian ground forces, this has never happened before, outside of NATO (you could count the joint U.S.-Canadian 1st SSF in WW2, maybe, or the never-saw-action Canadian commitment to the forces that were being assembled to attack Japan in 1945, but those would both be stretches.)

Assuming this story is borne out by the facts on Monday, then as soon as they read between the lines, the peace lobby and Canadian-sovereignty worriers are both going to freak.

Posted by BruceR at 11:32 AM

January 04, 2002



(See below for more.) The Ahmadullah hit by the U.S. on the 28th actually says a lot, both about the quality of the opposition, and how much they've been knocked off-course by the American response. Consider this:

First off, if this is the Taliban's intelligence chief, then it's clear the Taliban had no intelligence capability to speak of, at least as we in the West would understand it. Torturer-in-chief might be closer to the truth. There's no evidence here Ahmadullah had any intelligence skills that didn't involve a length of electrical cord. For no reason other than that he was feeling chatty, the man blabbed to a complete stranger -- and through that stranger the entire readership of the Christian Science Monitor, of all papers -- exactly where he was, the names of those in Pakistan who were protecting him, how long he'd been there, where he was going next, what he'd be doing when he got there, and where his superiors could be found. He took a crucial phone call with someone he believed to be his superior (Omar? Bin Laden? He called him "sir," whoever it was.) within earshot of that same stranger. He then took off, on exactly the same route and mission as his subordinate, who'd been easily captured by the enemy on the same path the previous week. The lowliest graduate of FBI college would do better than that. Hell, anyone who'd watched more than one James Bond movie would do better than that.

Second, given the aforementioned complete lack of intelligence skill, it's clearer how the Taliban high command got themselves in this mess. They had no independent capability for determining how a foreign power would react to their actions, even a neighboring one. The Taliban have to be seen in intelligence matters at least, as complete yokels... entirely reliant on more experienced Al Qaeda members for their understanding of the outside world, and suspect to easily manipulation by a real intelligence agency, such as Pakistan.

Third, regardless of how they're doing in other ways, the Taliban (maybe not Al Qaeda) have completely lost communications security, either because of bombing, rapid relocation, or just stupidity. Even if that phone call was an American plant, there's no doubt Ahmadullah saw nothing unusual with his organization's highest level communications being conducted, in the clear (i.e., uncoded), without any means of identity verification more sophisticated than "Hi, it's Mullah Omar," over an interceptable medium (satellite phones). In the West, that would be unacceptable insecurity for platoon-level comms. To be used at the operational level, with a sophisticated enemy in hot pursuit, smacks of desperation.

Posted by BruceR at 05:03 PM



(See Part 1) More details about the death of the Taliban security chief Ahmadullah today, with the Christian Science Monitor apparently reprinting the piece first run in a Pakistani Pashtun-language paper, which they byline to a Mashal Lutfallah.

During the interview with Ahmadullah, another bearded man rushes into the room carrying a satellite phone. "There is a call for you, sir," he says.
Ahmadullah takes the phone and goes out of the room. While we calmly sit in the room, we could hear some of Ahamadullah's part of the conversation with the person on the other end of the phone.
"No, it is impossible right now," he says. "Everywhere there are soldiers and spies. I will manage to come out before Saturday.... He called me three times and told me to stay here.... OK. Sir, if you wish, I would take the risk and come there..."

After seven minutes on the phone, Ahmadullah talks to the reporter again.

"I am personally requested by Mullah Omar and Sheikh Osama to go to Urozgan [in Afghanistan, north of Kandahar] and take the command of new guerrilla war preparations, which will start as soon as possible, and you will hear the news in papers and on BBC," he adds.

Within hours of this conversation on Dec. 28, Ahmadullah would be killed by an American bomb in or near a local Taliban leader's house just across the border in Paktia province, Afghanistan. He was right we would hear the news of Ahmadullah's return to Afghanistan... albeit for a much briefer stay than he evidently expected.

One of two possibilities, based on overhearing one side of that phone conversation, seem likely: first, after repeatedly urging Ahmadullah to stay put, Mullah Omar suddenly changed his mind and demanded his return. This suggests American intelligence has compromised the local satellite phone system (the only reason, one would think, it's been left operational in this area of the world at all). Second, that this phone call was a false message, planted by the Americans, to lure Ahmadullah back into bombing range.

Earlier on in the same interview, Ahmadullah mentions that he had recently dispatched his assistant, a Mullah Abdul Haq Wasiq, to Kandahar, but he had been picked up by the Americans en route. The interesting question now is, assuming that the Americans have completely compromised Ahmadullah's operations, which they seem to have done, why they would choose to kill Ahmadullah, but capture Wasiq? Or did Wasiq's capture put the final pieces of the puzzle in place to allow the long-distance annihilation of his boss?

(NB: Full credit to LGF for spotting the Monitor story.)

Posted by BruceR at 01:45 AM

January 03, 2002



My favorite online comic strip (and that's saying something) scored a winner this week, that resonated beautifully with all the bizarre holiday spam I've been cleaning out of the email inbox today. (Note to reader Josh: got your T-Bomb missive: as soon as I read and delete these other 3,000 messages I'll post a reply.)

Posted by BruceR at 10:01 PM



Sure, four Argentine presidents have come in two weeks, and there's 20 per cent unemployment, but is anyone calculating the most devastating side effect of the collapse of Argentina's De La Rua presidency? I'm talking, of course, about the disastrous effects this is all having on Shakira's singing career.

shakiraThe 24 year-old Lebanese-Colombian pop sensation and 26 year-old lawyer Antonio De La Rua, son of Argentina's now-disgraced ex-president, have been the talk of Latino gossip mags all year: they were even reputed to be secretly engaged. The singer's current single "Whenever, Wherever" ("Querto" in Spanish) was reportedly written about "Antonito" ("Lucky you were born that far away/So we could both make fun of distance/Lucky that I love a foreign land for/The lucky fact of your existence"), along with the rest of her current album. (The video features Shakira gyrating in front of a massive slow-motion explosion, which could be taken by some as a metaphor for her future in-laws' attitude toward their country's economy.)

Argentines, perhaps feeling flashbacks to the Evita days, never seemed to see much of a "lucky fact" in Shakira's existence... she was, after all, stealing away their equivalent of JFK Jr. But now that their First Family has fallen, amidst charges of corruption, people are getting downright ornery... seeing her and Antonito as belly-dancing while Rome burned, as it were. The marriage may even be off.

The controversy came at the worst possible time for the singer, who had hoped to have an Enrique Iglesias-style breakthru into the North American market with her new album, which came out in November... only days before President De La Rua's resignation. It's not unthinkable that her status as a bauble of the ruling family's lascivious lifestyle may even have contributed to the public antagonism that drove De La Rua from office, resulting in the current political crisis... top that, Kylie Minogue...

Posted by BruceR at 01:58 PM



The Globe's having a bad day today, with Campbell (see below) being joined by Geoffrey York, who laments the inevitable rise in heroin production under the new Afghan government:

While the Taliban banned all poppy cultivation in its regions of Afghanistan last year, Northern Alliance commanders continued to allow poppy crops and narcotics production in their regions. Analysts estimate that the Alliance controlled about 3,000 hectares of poppy crops last year in the Badakhshan and Takhar regions of northern Afghanistan.

I've heard this one from other commentators (Margolis, Walkom, et al), so maybe it's time for some truth. Going back to the far more reliable Ahmed Rashid (Even Ted Rall has heard he's seminal, so he must be good!), and his must-read book Taliban, we find the real Taliban record on drugs: that it was only in 2001 that Mullah Omar cracked down, after 5 years of financing his Islamic revolution with poppy profits. (Analysts still don't know if the last-minute burning of poppy fields by the Taliban was an attempt at gaining Western legitimacy, a newfound religious conviction, or an attempt to drive prices on the surplus heroin already in their warehouses higher.)

Between 1992 and 1995 Afghanistan had produced a steady 2,200-2,400 metric tonnes of opium every year... in 1996 [the Taliban-controlled] Kandahar province alone produced 120 metric tonnes of opium harvested from 3,160 hectares of poppy fields... Then, in 1997, as Taliban control extended to Kabul and furthur [sic] north, Afghanistan's opium production rose by a staggering 25 per cent to 2,800 metric tonnes...
...it is conservatively estimated... The Taliban were thus raking in at least US$20 million in taxes and even more on the side.

Take a look at those numbers above again, and then York's. Assuming crop yields across Afghanistan are comparable, the Northern Alliance can't be producing much more than 100 metric tonnes of opium a year at present, from their 3,000 hectares, and assuming they're no more greedy than the Taliban, probably are clearing around $750K US in profits a year for tolerating it. (This would be consistent with the UNDCP's estimate that 97 per cent of Afghan opium after 1997 came from Taliban-controlled areas.) But it's the Taliban, who made a cool hundred million in five years of increased cultivation of poppies, before shutting the trade down just this last year, who have somehow come out of this looking like the anti-drug side.

The Taliban actually signed a deal with the UN in October of 1997 to eliminate poppy farming, in return for US$ 25 million over 10 years. They then waited three years to do anything about it. Instead, up until this spring, writes Rashid: "the taxes on opium exports became the mainstay of Taliban income and their war economy. Drug money funded the weapons, ammunition, and fuel for the war. It provided food and clothes for the soldiers and paid the salaries, transport and perks that the Taliban leadership allowed its fighters."

It gets even better. The Taliban used torture to "cure" any of their own drug addicts they could catch, but were ruthless in pushing the stuff into neighboring Muslim countries. Imagine if the Americans had to deal with a Mexican government that was aggressively trying to export cocaine into Texas. That's what Iran had to deal with, reports Rashid: even though that government has made heroin possession a capital offense, "since the 1980s Iran had lost 2,500 men from its security forces in military operations to stop convoys carrying drugs from Afghanistan." This is the havoc wrought by Mullah Omar, the self-proclaimed Amir ul-Momineen, "Commander of the Faithful", ruler of all Muslims in Mohammed's name.

Posted by BruceR at 01:15 PM



A shameful piece by Murray Campbell of Canada's national newspaper today, repeating without criticism the claims of UNH economics professor Marc Herold, that to date over 4,000 Afghans have died due to American bombing. See the stories below for the problems with Herold's "methodology", if such a word can be used for such a slipshod piece of work. But the worst part of Campbell's article is he derides the much more believable and unbiased alternate estimates that contradict Herold.

Other organizations, whose monitoring has been less rigorous [than Herold], offer lower figures.

Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based organization, offers a rough estimate of at least 1,000 civilian deaths, while the Reuters news agency said Wednesday that perhaps 982 people have died in 14 incidents where non-military targets were hit by bombs.

Less rigorous? My change jar uses more rigorous accounting methods than Herold did.

Posted by BruceR at 11:59 AM

January 02, 2002



The most interesting piece at Debka this week is actually farther down, where it offers analysis of an interview given by Taliban intelligence chief Quri Ahmadullah while in Pakistan to the house newspaper of the Taliban, Shariat, on Dec. 28... the same day, apparently, that Ahmadullah was sent to meet his Maker by an American airstrike:

The Taliban intelligence chief Quri Ahmadullah came across as brash and unbowed in an interview he granted on December 28 to a reporter of the Pakistani Pashtun newspaper Shariat. He invited the reporter quite openly to the Pakistan village of Datha Khail, south of Tora Bora and eight miles from the Afghan border, where he has taken up residence since the Taliban was put to flight...
Asked how they all managed to cross over, the Taliban officer pointed to his Pakistan landlord, Malik Gulmarjan. Our Pashtun brothers in Pakistan will do anything to help us, he declared, even handing over their homes.

If the air strike story is to be believed, Ahmadullah recrossed the border into Afghanistan just as easily as he had come. For it was apparently later that day, according to the Globe and Mail, that Ahmadullah was killed:

The Afghan Islamic Press and Abdullah Tawheedi, a deputy intelligence minister for the interim Kabul government, said Mr. Ahmadullah, 40, was one of 25 people killed last week during the U.S. bombing of Naka, in Paktia province [across the border from Datha Khail --BR]. He was reportedly killed while trying to flee on a motorcycle from a house that had come under attack.

The Pentagon says if Ahmadullah is in fact dead, he died either in one of two airstrikes, on Dec. 26 (which would have made that Dec. 28 interview rather hard) or on Dec. 28, which were in the general area described. As an aside, Shariat was the name of the Taliban's own Pravda-like Kabul newspaper, which ceased publication when the city fell... it's uncertain, but likely, that this is the same paper now in new circumstances in the North West Frontier province of Pakistan.

Why would Ahmadullah, having successfully extricated himself, go back to the Tora Bora area? The most likely assumption is that within hours of the Shariah writer's interview with him, his safe lodging in Pakistan became suddenly very unhospitable. Having all but given out the street address of his point of departure, he was marked on his reentry, no doubt still "surrounded by guards brandishing Kalashnikov rifles" (Debka) and annihilated along with some colleagues as soon as the Americans could get a B-52 within range. It's a remarkable turning of the tables, similar to the Ahmadullah's own running down and killing of American-sponsored Pashtun leader Abdul Haq back in the fall (who, like Ahmadullah, was finally cut down fleeing alone, in his case on horseback).

Debka's own analysis of the interview is classic:

DEBKAfile’s analysts draw three conclusions from Ahmadullah’s statements.
1. His lack of concealment in exposing his hideout and identity to the Pakistani reporter means he is not afraid...

Guess he should have been, huh? Seems the Taliban's intelligence chief was rather lacking in... um... intelligence.

UPDATE: The Washington Post quotes a CNN interview of the same Afghan government official, as above (whose name they spell "Tahwidi") as saying Ahmadullah died at the home of a Taliban mullah named Taha. Is this, then, the Pentagon's "military compound" hit Dec. 28? Does one house make a compound now?

Posted by BruceR at 11:51 PM



I place no faith whatsoever in the fascinating pro-Israeli website Debka.com, which styles itself as a source of military analysis akin to Stratfor or John Pike's Global Security site. They're not, of course, but they're never afraid to make a prediction, on whatever evidence is lying around at the moment... even if that leaves their prediction accuracy rate on the current Afghan war somewhere between John Rall's and the National Inquirer's.

Their current theory on Al-Qaeda's whereabouts, while superficially no worse than anyone else's, however, is almost certainly wrong:

The remainder, 3,000-3,500 al Qaeda combatants, made it out of country before it fell under anti-Taliban rule via well-organized escape corridors, which US intelligence believes to have run across land, sea and air, to two destinations, South Tehran and the Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi.

While an Iran land route (despite the Taliban-Iranian animosity and the religious differences) remains a possibility, and the Pakistan border is certainly porous, the thought of a mass air or sealift from that country across the Arabian Sea has to count as the least likely exit route for our friends. With multiple carrier battle groups in the area, backed up with a fleet of land-based surveillance aircraft in Saudi Arabia and Oman, it's safe to say there are some medium-sized blocks of driftwood large enough to be under 24-hour surveillance in the open waters south of Pakistan right now, if only for force protection reasons. Al Qaeda might have gotten into Pakistan, but their own estimate of their chances of success if they pushed out in small plane or boat from the Pakistani coastline has to be considered small, indeed. Using Iran or the former Russian republics as staging areas to their new destinations would seem slightly more likely for Al-Qaeda.

But their best bet, assuming there's still waystations amenable to them in Saudi Arabia, would still seem to be melting in, sans weaponry, into the masses from across the Muslim world undertaking Hajji pilgrimages to Mecca, who are not going to be under tight scrutiny. I'll give Debka 2-1 odds that my prediction turns out closer to the truth than theirs: any takers?

Posted by BruceR at 10:42 PM

January 01, 2002



Good news seen over at Penny. Ted Rall (op. cit.) is writing a book about his Afghan experiences!

I do feel the mentally disadvantaged deserve a place in the remainder bins along with the rest of us, so I fully support this, of course. But I do have to object to his complete misquotation of a real Afghan expert in that same column, linked above:

According to Ahmed Rashid's seminal "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia," the United States provided both direct and indirect financial support to the Taliban regime through 1998, when Osama bin Laden's operatives bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Even after that faux pas, we secretly funneled cash and arms to Afghanistan's extremist rulers via Pakistan.

Rashid's book is brilliant, and his commentary on TV since Sept. 11 has also been incisive (at least what I've seen of it). It is to Rashid's stellar reporting we owe much of our current understanding of such important events in recent Afghan such as the Unocal negotiations, the tank-crushings of Gen. Dostum, and many more tidbits key to understanding the country. Read the book when you can. But in the meantime, understand that the book says absolutely nothing that could legitimately be covered by Rall's lying "paraphrase".

In fact, Rashid paints the American-Taliban relationship from 1994 to the present (as opposed to the U.S.-Mujahideen relationship during the Afghan War of Independence that preceded it) as one of neglect and missed opportunities by the Americans to influence a country away from evil, carelessly leaving the country's fate instead to the Machivellian machinations of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Compare his actual quote, below, to Rall's paraphrase, above (p. 180):

[The U.S.] was not willing to rein in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia... Although there was no CIA budget for providing arms and ammunition to the Taliban, the USA did support the Taliban [until late 1997] through its traditional allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, accepting their provision of arms and funding... it was perhaps not so much a covert policy as no policy.

Rashid says nothing at all about American "financial support... through 1998" or "secretly funnelling" cash and arms after 1998. Rall made all that up.

A couple other undeniable historical facts: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright first condemned the Taliban regime as "despicable" and illegitimate in November, 1997... over eight months before the African embassy bombings. And the Americans (along with most of the world) never recognized the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul in September, 1996. For the six months before that, while Pakistan and Saudi Arabia funnelled arms to the Taliban (and Iran, India, Russia, and several former Russian republics did the same for the Northern Alliance), America's only involvement had been trying (half-heartedly) to organize support for a complete arms embargo on the country as the best way to stop the Afghan civil war.

If Ted really had read the "seminal" Rashid who he name-dropped this week, or any other history of Afghanistan, for that matter, he'd know all that. Too bad he didn't. Go back to cartoons, Ted. As so often these last few months, you've shown yourself a liar walking in the footsteps of real writers.

EDIT: Also check out LGF on this. Charles found a link to another good Rashid piece online.

Posted by BruceR at 11:09 PM



Seen it twice now (the second time in an Imax!) and I've not grown tired of it yet. Beautiful movie. I've also reread the book during my forced absence from computing (see below) and read a lot of reviews, by diehards, big fans, and the like. I've made a list of all my quibbles, and frankly there's only one that matters. Every other decision that Peter Jackson made, I'm standing by. Some of those decisions, I believe, should actually have been made by Tolkien, too. Blasphemy? Hardly... if you've read son and heir Christopher Tolkien's fascinating desconstructions of his father's early drafts, you can see that he struggled with how many of his scenes would end, as well... many far worse than what he ended up with. Now that I look at it, Tolkien's explanation for how the fellowship breaks up at the end of the first book -- two hobbits take off in a boat, leaving the others confused and nonplussed -- doesn't actually make a lot of sense. Left alone, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli then go on in the books to what in any world would be an incredibly heroic feat... the tracking and pursuit of the Orc warparty at a dead run over the next four days, crossing 160 miles of trackless hills on foot without sleep or rest... and yet they couldn't have caught Frodo and Sam paddling off in a boat? No, the movie's telling, with Aragorn and the others complicit in Frodo's choice, is a far better tale to tell. Sorry, J.R.R.

I'm going to reserve judgment, too, on some things I was disappointed the movie didn't make more of... particularly the Legolas-Gimli rivalry, for instance, or the Lothlorien scenes, as there's still time to bring those up, in flashback or what have you, in the second and third movies. In the end, it was already over 3 hours, and a tight story at that. There's more time for exposition in the later books, anyway. But there is one problem that I don't see as redeemable, and which is slightly more than a quibble. That is the character of Saruman.

By making the wizard Saruman an unquestioning servant of Sauron, I do believe Jackson is either oversimplifying the story for greater effect with the unread audience (the one time he has ever done that), or dodging a political bullet. In the books, Saruman is a complex figure, who does all the cruelty that Jackson describes, but with a different motive... out of hopelessness at the seemingly invincible enemy and no small amount of greed, but not utter evil. He doesn't want the ring to give to Sauron, he wants the ring for himself to defeat Sauron and take his place... a point which Jackson's film does not dwell over. "And why not, Gandalf?" he whispers:

"Why not? The Ruling Ring? If we could command that, then the Power would pass to us."

Saruman, Tolkien writes, "was mustering a great force on his own account, in rivalry of Sauron and not in his service yet." Elsewhere, Saruman considers his Plan B, if Sauron finds the ring before he does -- appeasement:

As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order... there need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only our means.

Not unlike Stalin in 1939, Saruman hovers for the greater part of the Ring trilogy on the fence, declaring for either side as little as he can while keeping all options open... while the sides of both Good and Evil see no other option but total victory. The dichotomy that Gandalf stands for, amounting in other words to "you're either for the terrorists, or against the terrorists," seems simplistic to Saruman: he's always looking for the Third Option. If this were the real earth instead of Middle-Earth, Tolkien's original Saruman might even be looking for a negotiated end, with U.N. peacekeepers on the borders of Mordor.

In my view, and especially considering the current political situation in the world, Jackson could have improved his work by making Christopher Lee's Saruman as complex as the book version of the character is, instead of just the particularly powerful henchman of Sauron. The movie does not take the same stance on appeasement that Tolkien (something of a Churchillite on the subject) clearly had. Tolkien would likely have been on the Bush-Blair side in the version of this debate we saw in 2001, but it's a debate Jackson's movie version (Saruman-like!) takes no stand on. Instead, Jackson seems to be setting up a much simpler one-two-three "boss" character countdown, with Saruman's chosen orc servant dying at the end of this current movie, Saruman at the end of the second, and Sauron at the end of the third... the kind of progressive villain-death payback movie audiences are used to from movies such as Lethal Weapon and the Steven Seagal ouevre. It's a simplification of the work, but that's forgiveable: more importantly, it's an unnecessary and particularly inopportune one. (Even a subtler shading of the existing Saruman-Gandalf dialogue could have conveyed this plot point very differently.)

Did Jackson do this to avoid any allegorical reference to the current fight against terrorism, or just to increase his movie's appeal to the hack-and-slash, point-and-shoot crowd? A good question: I can't tell. It's nowhere near enough of a problem to take this from a five-star to a four-star film by any means, but it is the most notable, and telling omission in the first part of what I am still confident will be a movie trilogy for the ages.

Posted by BruceR at 10:18 PM

In case anyone was wondering,

In case anyone was wondering, a double attack of bronchitis and a shoulder injury kept me away from computers for a week. I've missed you all, too.

Posted by BruceR at 09:29 PM



I don't want to be too hard on the Toronto Star's Kathleen Kenna in Afghanistan. For the most part she's done a pretty good job of things on this assignment. But I can't resist pointing out one egregious typo in her Dec. 31 piece on the Hazarajat, "Struggling for survival in Afghan 'hunger belt'":

"Twenty-two of our trucks were bombed in November by the Americans who thought it was a (Taliban) convoy," [the World Food Program's Fayyez] Shah says.
Most of the 15,000 tonnes of wheat from the wrecked convoy was saved and no drivers were injured -- they watched the airstrike during a roadside tea break. Another 15,000 tonnes of wheat has left Pakistan and should reach the Hazarajat within days.

That works out to a staggering 681 tonnes of wheat per truck that those wicked Americans bombed... horrible, horrible. How much is that? Well, imagine a truck that's carrying five fully loaded Boeing 757 jetliners... then add another 757. Either that, or that would be a typo... think you'd have caught it?

Actually, given that the likely prime mover for these food donors was likely a Tata or Ashok Leyland commercial mover (let's just say semis aren't common on South Asian highways yet) the most grain that could possibly have been lost from 22 trucks being gunned up on the Afghan road would have been 150-200 tonnes... and as stated, most of that grain was actually recovered, as one would expect, grain trucks not normally known for blowing up real good. It was still a stupid error on the part of some U.S. air force or navy flyer, but hardly a dent in the amount of food the WFP needs to lift monthly to the Hazarajat to save lives... assuming they could replace the vehicles reasonably quickly, that is. But interdicting the movement of 15,000 tonnes of wheat (imagine a line of trucks, bumper to bumper, stretching over 10 kilometres) in one sortie would have been quite the kill sack, indeed.

Earlier on in the piece, Kenna correctly documents one of the Taliban's more atrocious crimes... the complete cut off of food and forced famine of their Shiite Hazara areas since 1998... a problem that would have only ended with Western intervention or the starvation and genocide of 4 million Afghans whose religious beliefs were incompatible with the Taliban's own. Did we really need to justify going to war against these people to anyone?

Posted by BruceR at 09:27 PM