November 28, 2002



Fortunately, they're not very good missiles, evidently. The suicide bomb, however, does remain brutally effective.

NB: Flitters has been down since last night... I'm working on getting an answer why. Apologies.

Posted by BruceR at 10:34 AM

November 27, 2002



Henry Kissinger
How I'm missing yer
You're the doctor of my dreams
With your crinkly hair and your glassy stare
And your machiavellian schemes
I know they say that you are very vain
And short and fat and pushy but at least you're not insane
Henry Kissinger
How I'm missing yer
And wishing you were here.

Henry Kissinger
How I'm missing yer
You're so chubby and so neat
With your funny clothes and your squishy nose
You're like a German parakeet
All right so people say that you don't care
But you've got nicer legs than Hitler
And bigger tits than Cher
Henry Kissinger
How I'm missing yer
And wishing you were here.

Posted by BruceR at 03:00 PM



The counsel for the defense of the 2 F-16 pilots accused of killing Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan continues to aggressively represent his clients. Good for him. Here are the latest points he raised, in a recent article by the National Post's Michael Friscolanti and Greg MacGregor.

1) Some of the small arms fire on the Kandahar weapons range that was bombed was directed skyward.

On the range that night, the Canadians were firing from a wadi (a shallow ditch, really: it looked from the TV pictures to be 5-6 feet deep). On entering the wadi, the point man, likely carrying a C-9 5.56 mm LMG, put a burst through what's called a "Figure 11" target (a full-size cardboard image of a charging soldier) on the lip of the wadi entrance. This fire would have necessarily been at a high angle, and would likely have included 2 or 3 tracer rounds.

The lawyer's point cannot be that this affects the material facts implicating his clients. It was long conceded that small arms tracer fire, from the range, either from ricochets or other means, was what attracted the pilot's attention. A passing U.S. helicopter crew said it was burning out at 500-1,000 feet. The F-16s above, however, were flying at 23,000 feet, perhaps 20,000 feet above any conceivable threat from small arms. The pilots knew the AA threat, and their own altitude. They therefore had to know self-defence didn't apply. They also knew their strict orders were not to open fire without authorization, under any circumstances short of an immediate threat to their lives. Maj. "Psycho" Schmidt disobeyed those orders, resulting in deaths. Whether the tracers that first caught his eye were ricochets, or that short burst into the Fig.11, or another burst later on (there was lots of ground-to-ground tracer that night as well) is completely irrelevant.

(In any case, it's unlikely the tracers at the Fig. 11 target drew Schmidt's attention, as they were recorded as being fired at roughly 21:15 Zulu time, and Schmidt first remarked on seeing ground fire at 21:21. In all likelihood, what he saw was the actual range exercise that immediately followed, with a much larger volume of horizontal tracer fire, not this little preliminary.)

No, the lawyer's point is that there was no mention of this fact in the U.S. inquiry (it is mentioned in the parallel Canadian one, which is how he knew about it), and that means there's some kind of coverup. Not much of a cover-up really, if the Canadian inquiry noted it, is it? It's much more probable that the U.S. inquiry, which was focussed on the American side's activities, just didn't consider it relevant, for all the reasons outlined above, and omitted it.

2) The Canadian air sentry had ordered the range to stop firing 5-10 minutes before the incident, due to a C-130 taking off from Kandahar.

Again, not much ammunition here. First off, the sentry's recollection (it's only the sentry's own testimony to the Canadian inquiry that supports it) is quite possibly off a couple minutes. After evaluating all the evidence, the Canadian inquiry put the sentry's call to "check fire" at 21:27 Zulu time... the fatal bomb explosion having taken place at 21:26. Schmidt above saw the fire and made his decision to engage it without orders between 21:21 and 21:25. (It's possible, but pretty unlikely, that the sentry was remembering an earlier checkfire he gave, which shut down the range between 20:35 and 20:51.) The likely explanation is that the procedure for shutting down the range WAS initiated five minutes or so before Kandahar tower knew of the explosion, and the word in both directions was taking a little time to filter through. Radio communications, even with continuously monitored stations, is never instantaneous. Anyway, so what? If anything, this actually confirms Schmidt's culpability... because even though the Canadians were close enough to the airport they had to shut down activity everytime a plane took off, Schmidt's own radio traffic shows he never noticed Kandahar or Kandahar airport being right below him before he dropped his bomb, and that despite the obvious visual cues out the window (the airport was brightly lit) the coordinates he gave for his location were completely wrong. It's certainly ironic, in a ghastly sense, that if Schmidt had happened by five minutes later, when the range was in checkfire, 4 Canadians would likely be alive today... but it doesn't absolve him in any way for disobeying his orders not to fire.

Posted by BruceR at 02:36 PM

November 25, 2002



Simon Blackburn takes a piece out of Steven Pinker's new book, in the New Republic, saying Pinker took no notice of the recent Surgeon-General's report on youth violence, which challenges Pinker's thesis that culture does not influence violent propensities. Blackburn more or less says that Pinker didn't mention that evidence because he found it uncomfortable; about as serious an allegation as one can make about a fellow academic:

"There is also a rather startling absence of countervailing evidence, such as the recent surgeon general's report about media violence, or the well-known meta- study of studies of violence by Haejung Paik and George Comstock, which found in 1994 that media violence affects young people's chance of being violent about as much as smoking affects people's chance of getting lung cancer... the meta-studies that Pinker cites flatly disagree with [those] meta- studies."

One small problem. The 2001 report by Surgeon-General David Satcher found next to no evidence of media playing a significant role in youth propensity towards violence. As I wrote at the time:

Just based on the limited research done to date, Satcher concluded, media violence apparently plays no role at all in the causing of late-onset violence (children whose record of violent crime begins in adolescence). It plays a minor role in early-onset cases (children who start engaging in violent behavior toward others before the age of 11). But even in those cases, exposure to media violence is only rated the tenth most significant risk factor by the report, behind poor parenting and parents who are themselves violent; and far behind poverty, substance use and natural aggressive tendencies in determining which children eventually commit crimes. If violent media has any impact, in other words, it has its effect before a child reaches puberty.

The "money quote" from the report itself was:

"Some studies suggest that long-term effects exist, and there are strong theoretical reasons that this is the case. But many questions remain."

Or as Satcher said during his press conference announcing the report (still in my notes): "Some may not be happy with that [lack of a strong connection], but that's where the science is."

So in fact, the Satcher report doesn't "flatly disagree" with Pinker. It actually dovetails with Pinker on the narrow issue of the effects of media violence, and with the other studies Pinker cites. Professor Blackburn should probably try reading his own citations before he opens his big yap about other people ignoring sources. (For the record, he also cites the Comstock study wrong: it correlated media violence and experimentally observed short-term aggression, not media violence and real-world violence... two rather different things.)

Posted by BruceR at 05:27 PM



From the National Post today:

"We cannot have equipment waiting in case it is used. Some complain that we rent [military transport planes] when we need them. But it is cheaper. What is important is to have our personnel to go from Point A to Point B."

--Prime Minister Jean Chretien. You know, a very common phrase in the Canadian Forces these days, when nearly every Canadian feels more should be spent on defence is we're "one man away from ____" (victory, buying new helicopters, making a meaningful international contribution, getting paid, etc.). Meet the One Man.

"The United States says, 'Well, you don't spend enough on defence.' Well, we could say, 'Hey, United States, what percentage of your GDP do you spend on medicare? You have 50 million people without health care... Do you know where the U.S. ranks in the world in terms of GDP they spend [on the military]? 53rd. Shame, shame, shame."

--Daniel Bon, director-general of policy planning, Department of National Defence

Okay, well, maybe two men. Silly me, I guess I always thought Canada's senior defence planner would be at least somewhat interested in defence. Evidently he's bucking for a civil service job with the health minister. Oh, well, everyone else in the CF is planning their exit these days... why not him, too?

For the record, according to the current CIA Factbook online, the U.S. is 44th in spending per capita out of 163 countries for which figures were available (Russia, Iraq and Yugoslavia were not estimated, so 47th out of 166 would probably be closer to the truth). Canada was 133rd out of the 163, tied with the Dominican Republic and Uruguay.

Posted by BruceR at 01:54 PM



(See previous entry) According to Jim of Global Howler, he has made changes to his website's information, in part to reflect the concerns brought up here and by readers in Flitters.

Specifically, according to Jim in a nice email he sent me:

--“Hijacked” has been removed from the Pentagon drill slide;
--The $43 million said to have been given to the “Taliban regime” now says the money was given to “Afghanistan”;
--Link to has been removed.

Both Jim and his critic Bill Herbert have both been passionate but fair defenders of their respective points of view on this one, which I think reaffirms my original point that there's nothing wrong with a conspiracy theorist so long as you can still get a dialogue going. Carl Sagan called it "falsifiability:" so long as you accept that there exists a mechanism by which your views could be proven wrong, and don't mind retracting when you know yourself you're in error, you still get a seat at the table. (Although it's also fair to say I have a little more tolerance for the received wisdom on Sept. 11 than Jim does, obviously.) I've enjoyed my correspondence, both public and private, with everyone involved on this one, and hope it continues.

Posted by BruceR at 01:24 PM

November 22, 2002



In yet another... interesting move, Eric "Wormtongue" Margolis claims that Gen. Tommy Franks will make up evidence of Iraqi chemical weapons if inspectors don't find any:

Do it like we used to make moonshine back home: just mix up some ol' chemicals that stink real bad - try floor wax remover, ammonia, anchovy paste and garlic powder - let 'em marinate in the sun a few days, then call a press conference. Those dumb journalists won't know nerve gas from hair tonic.

Posted by BruceR at 03:25 PM



Bill Herbert takes a whack at me again. He's right about one thing: I unfairly maligned the UK Mirror two posts below... it didn't say that the Pentagon drill had to deal with a hijacked airliner, either. Evidently Michael Ruppert's timeline started that lie, and Global Howler repeated it. Here's the original Mirror article in question. Now that we've got a bit of a dialogue going between all three sites on Flitters, I'd hope that the Howler will correct that error, too... either that, or prove that they should be lumped into the Rivero camp once and for all.

As for Enron's pull out of Qatar, about which Bill Herbert writes:

Please note that the "event" in global howler's timeline is dated April 1999, and yet Enron pulled out (and not the other way around) of its deal with Qatar two years later. I suppose it's possible that Enron had both lost it's deal with Qatar and gained it back within that two-year period, and only the Albion Monitor caught this amazing story (there is no reference to it on Lexis-Nexis), but I think I'm going to have to call this a lie.

A story based on the original Enron announcement, in April 1999, is here. An Indian business paper's story on how this impacts Dabhol, dated May 1999, is here. In this case, it appears Global Howler is right, and Herbert's source, the L.A. Times, is not. (Probably because they're talking about two different things. The first is the collapse of an Enron gas liquefication plant project in Qatar, which forced Enron to look for alternate sources of natural gas for its India projects back in late 1998. The second is the pipeline project from the Qatar fields to plants in Oman and Abu Dhabi (codenamed Dolphin) which ultimately replaced those earlier plans for a new plant of their own, but which a troubled Enron later also had to pull out of as well. It's true some gas destined for Dabhol could some day be extracted using the Dolphin pipeline, however.)

Again, I don't think Enron's troubles getting natural gas to India are in any way significantly relevant to the events of Sept. 11. They do exemplify the continued and growing interest of Western oil producers in the subcontinental market, however, for whatever that's worth. But that just makes the entry in question irrelevant, not dishonest, as Herbert claims.

Posted by BruceR at 12:27 PM



The latest site my team here at U of T has completed was launched this morning... It's basically a university annual report at its heart (and an annual project for us), but we worked this time to take a little advantage of the blogging revolution with the site's "Great Minds Debate." Basically we've got a group of quasi-bloggers from the university, who can debate issues amongst themselves, and space for comments from everybody else as well. Anyway, it's an experiment: the team is eager to hear feedback, as always.

Posted by BruceR at 10:18 AM

November 21, 2002



(See previous post) A poster on Flitters suggests I should leave the heavy lifting on Sept. 11 issues to Bill Herbert, who has, by his own claim, definitively proved that all the Sept. 11 conspiracy theories are wrong. I've been in correspondence with Mr. Herbert through the day today, and while he makes some minor points, he also sometimes overstates his case.

My original point was that the What Really Happened website, which Herbert has repeatedly beat up on for its obvious bias and loony Big Conspiracy bent, is easily dismissable, whereas the Canadian Global Howler conspiracy site, which has a flatter, more dispassionate telling of many of the same facts, is not.

There are some real unanswered questions about Sept. 11. It is not unpatriotic to bring those questions up. Yes, you can still be written off as a loony if you just make stuff up, or link stuff in improbable chains like Jim Garrison did. But there is nothing wrong with, Sylvia Meagher style, listing the questions that remain unanswered. Meagher was derided at the time for doubting the Warren Commission, but if it hadn't been for her work, more than anyone's, there wouldn't have been a House Select Committee on Assassinations, and a closing of many of the unanswered questions from the JFK assassination. In the situation with Sept. 11, where incomprehensibly we still haven't even got to the Warren Commission stage of inquiry yet, it is entirely right and proper to bring up the holes remaining in the story... if only so that, for historical reasons, we ultimately get a clearer picture of what happened to the world that day.

Global Howler isn't perfect by any means. It clearly does base much of its work on the discredited timeline from one Michael Ruppert (featured on What Really Happened), who casts all the evidence as support for his belief of a CIA-FBI-Al Qaeda conspiracy. But it doesn't use those facts in the same way: instead, Meagher-style, it just presents them, and for the most part lets the questions themselves stand as an indictment of the American government's apparent disinterest in pursuing the truth, wherever that may lead. As I said before, that is still a valuable form of fringe dissent.

Herbert wrote in his email:

'The howlers suggest WTC owner Larry Silverstein may profit from the attacks... And take a gander at the first source cited for this item: the rabidly anti-Semitic"

What global howler actually said:

"July 24, 2001: The US Government sells the World Trade Center to Manhattan real estate mogul Larry Silverstein. This is the only time the WTC has ever been sold. Silverstein is now pursuing a $7.1 billion insurance claim, after paying $3.2 billion for a 99 year lease on the doomed property."

This is, simply a fact. The source, anti-Semitic or not, does not matter if it's true. And Global Howler, unlike Ruppert and company, is leaving the interpretation to the reader here. Herbert thought they were blaming the Jews' foreknowledge, because Silverstein is Jewish. When I first read it, I thought it was questioning the U.S. government's foreknowledge.

Another of Global Howler's factoids:

"Enron’s $3 billion investment in an electrical generating plant in Dabhol, India is jeopardized when the company loses access to fuel for the plant from the State of Qatar. [Albion Monitor, Feb. 28, 2002]"

Writes Herbert: "Not true at all. Enron had secured LNG to power the plant from both Oman and UAE. The real reason Dabhol remains dormant to this day is that Enron and the Indian government could never agree on fair usage fees, and because of India's obstinance, no other firms have viewed the plant as profitable since Enron's collapse. This is very well documented in publications a bit more respectable that "Albion Monitor.""

But it IS true. Yes, replacement gas supplies were found, and yes, Enron continued to push at getting the project off the ground right up until it collapsed. It's relevance to any Sept. 11 discussion is highly questionable, of course, but the basic facts as presented are truthful. Again, the source doesn't matter when that's the case.

Herbert continues:

"Global Howler has also repeated the lie about bin Laden relatives being flown out of the country during the commercial flight ban."

Here's what Global Howler actually said:

"The young members of the bin Laden clan... left the country on a private charter plane when airports reopened three days after the attacks."

Again, that's exactly true. Herbert's the one with his facts wrong this time.

Herbert again: "[Global Howler] repeated the claim that the Bush administration gave $43 million to "the Taliban," when in actuality, they gave the aid to NGO's in Afghanistan."

Yes, but only as the result of the Taliban living up to its previously signed agreement with the UN to end poppy cultivation. The unarguable fact is that the new Bush government was somewhat more favourably inclined to normalize relations with the Taliban than its predecessors had been. Is this germane to Sept. 11? Likely only as an ironic tangent. But Global Howler isn't wrong to mention it, although I agree their language could have been more precise. (Frankly, given the degree of looting of NGO warehouses, and the atmosphere of absolute rule, there's little doubt the Taliban DID see it as THEIR money, no matter what Colin Powell told American reporters back home. Does Herbert not remember all the reports of USAID wheat being found in Taliban military installations?)

I agree, after discussion with Herbert, that Global Howler is occasionally imprecise. They've removed a lot of the bias they've inherited from Ruppert, but not all of it yet. They still make too much of the Vreeland case, which until someone comes forward to confirm at least part of Vreeland's fantastic story, is not worthy of any more attention at all (it's not preknowledge if no one remembers you saying it). And they rely too much on the UK Mirror's description of the October, 2000 emergency drills at the Pentagon, which dealt with a airliner crashing into the building, but not necessarily a hijacked airliner, as they claim. But all that just suggests to me that they haven't seen all the evidence Herbert and I have yet, not that they're building air castles out of nothing.

What is notable about Global Howler is what's NOT there... the latent or overt anti-Semitism one sees on other sites, for instance. When I see what a Justin Raimondo or a Ted Rall or a Marc Herold or a Mike Ruppert can write, I know I cannot, will not, ever have a dialogue with them on this: they've lost any rational perspective they once might have had. But when I see another person that seems, like me, to be using their website to search for truth in a state of imperfect knowledge, I hold out hopes that that dialogue might be possible, and profitable. I'm certainly not inclined to shut them down as being 'as bad as all the rest' until they show by their acts that they are.

UPDATE: In his reply on his site, Herbert says that, re my earlier comments, that John Ashcroft was likely lying about being told to stop flying commercial air in July for security reasons, just so he could fly in cushy private jets instead from then on. Perhaps. But Occam's Razor does not mean automatically dismissing all facts as soon as there's ANY kind of alternate, innocuous explanation for them. However you cut it, someone is lying to the American public here: if Ashcroft's staff want to change their story now, that's fine. But it's certainly a question one would expect any formal inquiry into Sept. 11 to pursue, and Global Howler is certainly not wrong to bring it up in the way that they did.

THURSDAY UPDATE: In Flitters, Robin Roberts reminds us that, in fact, the WTC was owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, not the U.S. government. I should have known that. I agree it invalidates that portion of the Global Howler site. Notably, none of the sources they link to says it was the U.S. government: it's apparently a Howler misreading of their own evidence. Unintentional or not, I was mistaken to defend them for it.

FRIDAY UPDATE: Herbert points out in an email that I had conflated Michael Ruppert (the guy touting the Vreeland hoax and author of the timeline) in one reference above and Michael Rivero (author of What Really Happened, which promotes Ruppert's work). My apologies and thanks for pointing it out: I've corrected it.

Posted by BruceR at 12:33 AM

November 20, 2002



We will see what we have got, what they need. We have already ships there. We have planes there. We have troops there, and they are doing very well," [Prime Minister Chretien] said yesterday after a Cabinet meeting. "So it will be the same thing."

--National Post, today

As everyone now concedes, the chance of a meaningful contribution to an Iraq campaign is nil. The army has no tanks, the navy has no personnel who haven't been over half a dozen times already, and the air force has no ordnance. So the quote above, besides being almost totally incoherent, is a total mistruth. What's remarkable about Canadians is that we all know the guy's lying to us, and he knows we know, and yet we still do this dance.

If we really wanted to help, the best thing we could do for the Americans when Iraq rolled around would be to offer to lift some of their non-essential burdens elsewhere in the world for the duration: NORAD air patrols, or Bosnian peacekeeping, things which we could still do with the equipment we have. But you know we won't do that. Whether we choose to support the American war or not, our support/non-support must needs be symbolic. So we'll send over some token force to Iraq that is more a logistical burden than anything else, one which will only slow the Americans down, and will be wisely left as far out of battle as possible.

NB: The force in Afghanistan, it should be noted, was different. There airmobile light infantry were the need of the day, and our best troops in that field were as good and as well-equipped as the Americans' best troops. As the Patricias showed, the 101st Airborne was lucky to have them along. Not the case next time. I should also add, because I never say it enough, that the Canadian Forces are really spending the moneys they have left wisely recently. The air force has just reacquired its air-to-air refueling capability, the new submarines, despite the criticism, were still a smart buy, and the new vehicles, small arms and uniforms coming down to the army are the cat's ass. Even the $65 million air training boondoggle the Auditor-General pointed out recently isn't as bad as it sounds, now that the private contractor has promised to make up the shortfall over the life of the contract. I personally have confidence that nearly every cent the Forces is spending today, that is not being influenced by political interference the way the Sea King replacement contract continues to be, is being spent extremely wisely. Tight budgets make for efficient spenders.

UPDATE: The Globe says the Americans are after a Coyote recce unit, along with the usual odds and sods. If I were the defence minister, I'd insist on nothing less than a full 2-3 squadron recce regiment, even if we had to pull together a composite unit to do it (the CF currently has five Coyote squadrons split between the three armoured regiments). That'd be a game worth the candle for the army. Not to mention much of the kit's cross-compatible with Marine LAV kit, so the logistical burden would be significantly less. We might even be able to self-transport with C-130s, although I suspect everyone involved would prefer heavier U.S. aircraft were used. Being the divisional- or corps-level recce experts for a Anglo/U.S. formation would be a totally righteous assignment, from the army's point of view, and one they know they could do well.

The Star meanwhile, features the funniest quote of the day, as usual from foreign minister Bill Graham.

Graham refused to say what Canada would consider contributing to a campaign. "You don't signal to a potential enemy," he said. "We want to be as helpful as we possibly can."

Posted by BruceR at 01:11 PM

November 19, 2002



(see previous entry) Staying on the Antonia file one post longer, young Mr. Penny has a copy up of a letter from blogger Bill Herbert to the Star's new media columnist.

Can you cite a specific valid argument you found on any of these sites? I guarantee you that I could cut it to pieces quite easily.

I'll say that while citing, and her generally uninformed article, left me unimpressed last Sunday, I don't really have as huge a problem that I can see with the other two sites Zerbisias tipped the cap to. You've got to be able to tell the loony paranoid conspiracy sites, from the thought-provoking, well-I'm-glad-there's-a-place-for-this-on-the-Internet sites. There are at least three levels of historical conspiracist. For instance, using JFK as an example, you have:
Level 1: Edward Jay Epstein, Cyril Wecht (thought-provoking objections to the accepted truth; probably nothing to it in the end, but still a valuable form of fringe dissent);
Level 2: Sylvia Meagher, Harold Weisberg, Mark Lane (hopelessly biased, but still can be a valuable primer on the nuttiness if you needed one, because there's still some rationality underlying the paranoia)
Level 3: Jim Garrison, Oliver Stone, Groden, Marrs, Livingstone, etc. (batshit loony)

This is just my opinion, but is the only Level 3 site among the sites Zerbisias named. is definitely Level 2: it fancies itself on summarizing all the questions others have raised, but doesn't discriminate between those (ie the Israeli spying art students) that are empty, and those that still have some weight. (The trouble with paranoid rationalists like Weisberg or Cooperative Research is just the volume of evidence they collect, because they don't discriminate at all, seems to posit the existence of an impossibly vast conspiracy, just to pull all that off. Occam's Razor is never a familiar implement for these folks.) But for the moment I'd rate, despite the silly name, as a Level 1 site. People should read it. There are a lot of questions it raises (such as the airline stock profiteering, or why John Ashcroft was warned to stop using commercial air) that, due to any official U.S. inquiry, have never been explained, at least to my satisfaction. It's certainly worth a look, and if Zerbisias had shown any ability to discriminate between the sane conspiracy theorists and the insane ones, I'd have a lot more respect for her.

As for Bill Herbert, I don't think he's read Because there are some questions there that I don't think he could "cut to pieces quite easily." Don't overpromise, now, Bill... it is possible to believe the Bush government's course now is just, and still wonder why some people seem to haveknown more about the threat to the WTC ahead of time than they're letting on now. The two beliefs are not mutually exclusive.

NB: Ulric Shannon had a great piece on divisions within the JFK conspiracy community.

Posted by BruceR at 10:51 PM

AW, COME ON Star media/internet


Star media/internet columnist Antonia Zerbisias claims to have received 20,000 emails just about her last Sunday Star column in one day!

The column is making the rounds on the Internet — and 99.99 per cent of readers are e-mailing me with positive feedback. Nice. But I'm more concerned with two readers who e-mailed me to express their disappointment...

You can do the math. Zerbisias can't, apparently.

The Star's choice of an innumerate to cover new media says a lot about the mainstream paper's deep disrespect for the information alternative, bloggers included. Her answer to Dale Goldhawk's needling that she had her estates mixed up is equally lame.

Posted by BruceR at 02:14 PM



Sorry to say it, but the real voices of sanity on the terrorism issue are coming less and less from the "warblogs" lately. The most important pieces on the web this week have been Christopher Hitchens' latest in Slate, and Fareed Zakaria's in Newsweek. The silence from the web-enabled peanut gallery has thus far, been deafening.

As for the Iraq war, the deadlines and predictions continue to fall one by one (remember when Mark Steyn was saying they'd start the war in August? We were so young then...). I personally don't see it happening this year: maybe next if the cards fall right. Longtime readers will know I've never bought into this rope-a-dope silliness. My belief would be the strategy all along was to keep constant, and slowly increasing pressure on the Iraqi regime, everything short of war, and wait for the drastic miscalculation (which Mr. Hussein has always dependably produced in the past) that swung the world (including especially Turkey, which is key, but stillholding out for Security Council sanction) around to the American side.

At first the point of the pressure was to keep Mr. Hussein's head down while the Bush administration wrestled with the Afghanistan (successfully) and Israeli (unsuccessfully) issues, and it succeeded in that. But there's no equilibrium in these things, it seems: you've got to keep increasing the pressure over time to be credible. Hence the Congress and UNSC votes, and now Hans Blix.

I still don't believe the Bush administration as a whole has given any evidence it is keen for pre-emptive war. A still-reasonable interpretation is that they're doing what Americans have done for 150 years, in the Mexican War, in the Spanish-American War, in their own Civil War, in World Wars 1 and 2 and Vietnam: just steadily ratcheting up the pressure, until the other guy feels cornered enough that he lashes out. And then America counterpunches. The invasion plans don't depend on the tides off Kuwait, or the lunar cycle, or the "dreaded Iraqi summer" or even weapons inspections timelines. No, those plans will change as the seasons change, and when it all unfolds, it won't necessarily unfold quickly, either. The key event in all of them is the Iraqi leader doing something suicidally stupid under pressure (or, failing that, some ambitious young general dethroning him).

Even if it does come to blows, a Kosovo-style long air campaign, combined with support of a local insurgency, is more likely than an immediate invasion. And I don't believe anyone in the U.S. capital is seriously considering a Japan-style occupation/reconstruction either. It'll be the replacement with another, more pliable strongman, and home for the victory parade, like as not. The most likely outcome for Iraq, as best as I can see, is an Egyptian-style pliable autocracy (which is still far better than what they have now, which is why I must in conscience still support all this)... and another generation of Ayman al-Zuwahiris a couple decades from now, possibly. Anyway, we'll see, I guess. But if there are Americans in Iraq on Christmas Day, I'll be having crow instead of goose, for sure.

UPDATE: I'm joined today by John Keegan, also saying the show's off until after New Year's now.

And just to be clear, I do still believe the chance of Mr. Hussein still being leader of Iraq in December '03 is vanishingly small. The question is how one gets from here to there, and I do believe many of my blogging colleagues are assuming all these preliminaries have been tickboxes on a super-secret set invasion timetable that Bush keeps in his desk drawer, that (Keegan and) I really don't see any evidence for.

Posted by BruceR at 12:55 AM

November 18, 2002



This is less than reassuring.

Posted by BruceR at 01:58 PM

November 17, 2002



Bill Quick's latest fan letter, from one Walter K. I'm sorry, Bill, but that was really really funny. Looking forward to your rejoinder in kind.

It might have been less funny if Quick hadn't reclaimed today the "bloodthirstiest warblogger" title belt by calling for the nuclear obliteration of the entire Middle East the next time al Qaeda kills an American civilian. That's the post right below the one where he calls for the repeated invasion and bombing of Afghanistan until "these savages... finally understand they have lost." You know, Bill, they have these new decaffeinated coffees now...

UPDATED: Quick, disappointingly, deleted the whole thing. Too close to home, I guess... Sigh... It seems it's true what they say... you're either with Bill Quick, or you're with the terrorists.

Posted by BruceR at 06:40 PM



(See previous entry) Okay, let's take another chunk of the Herold "database." We previously excluded his reported deaths in Paktia province in the first part of this year. Let's look at how many of those have a relative believability.

You might ask at this point, what are my criteria for concurring with Herold? Herold never says much about his methodology, for increasingly obvious reasons, but here's mine, for the record. A death is confirmed in Flit's count if seven conditions are met:

1) Must take place in Afghanistan.
2) Must be a fatality that was generally agreed by witnesses to be directly caused by American/coalition fire, either by ground or air action. Acts by America's Afghan allies will not be counted.
3) Must be at least potentially verifiable (ie with reasonable specificity of time and place).
4) Must have been reported by at least two separate journalistic sources, named if possible, who were working either with first-hand information, or personal interviews with credible eyewitnesses.
5) When competing estimates of fatalities exist, the lowest reasonable estimate shall be taken.
6) Deaths solely by ground action (ie, Special Forces raids) must be tabulated separately, to facilitate comparison with other air offensives.
7) All reasonable effort to exclude enemy (or friendly) combatants from these fatality lists will be taken. For this reason, when considering solely the results of purely ground actions, deaths of any people who are under arms at the time of death shall not be counted.

Now, you may consider those criteria excessively strict, or loose. At least now you know what they are.

To Paktia, then. Herold lists a minimum of 122 fatalities in seven incidents in Paktia in Jan-March 2002. They are:

1) Bombing of Zhawar in January: 32;
2) Bombing of Zhawar in January: 12;
3) Bombing of Zhawar in January: 15;
4) Deaths of a tall man and two companions by Hellfire missile in March: 3;
5) Bombing of Gurboz, February 17: 1;
6) Operation Anaconda near Gardez in March: 45;
7) Destruction of a vehicle in Shkin, March 6: 14.

Okay, the first problem here should be obvious: the first three are all really the same incident. Herold may have troubles with transliterations, but it's obvious all these reports are talking about the same thing.
*A Jan. 5 AIP report from Islamabad claiming 32 dead in Kaskai and Khodyaki, near Zhawar (given the 2-week bombing of Zhawar, the last major Al Qaeda stronghold in Afghanistan, only began Jan. 3, this is a highly doubtful number).
*A Jan. 15 Associated Press report by Kathy Gannon in Kabul:

Abdullah Gorbaz, 52, said at least 12 civilians were killed and cattle herds were decimated [near Zhawar]

*The Guardian's Jan. 15 report by Suzanne Goldenberg in Zhawar:

Fifteen people were killed two days ago in Shudiaki village, says Noorz Ali. (Shudiaki is an obvious transliteration of Khodyaki; significantly, it's described as "on a ridge behind the Zhawar camp, and the extensive network of caves dug into the sides of the gorge below.").

This is almost certainly all the same incident, one that Herold is triple-counting. However the clincher is the follow-up report, which Herold even cites, by Middle East Report's Anthony Shadid, who visited months later, and tied the number down as 15 dead civilians, confirming the Guardian and AP stories. (The rest of Herold's sources for this area in January, in case you're wondering, are reprints of these stories in other papers, or stories that don't address the civilian casualty question at all. As usual, I was able to find almost all of them online.)

As to the rest, the Hellfire missile incident is widely accepted. The brief February bombing of Gurboz, on the other hand, only killed Afghan security forces when the Americans intervened in some local warlord dispute, possibly by mistake, according to AFP. (An AP story on the same incident said there were no fatalities.) Herold puts it down as 1 civilian fatality anyway for some reason.

It's certainly credible that Operation Anaconda, which saw such intense fighting in March, might have caused civilian casualties. The L.A. Times' David Zucchino said the recorded fatalities with the local authorities stood at 12 when he visited a month afterwards, but said others claimed much higher numbers, and conceded there would likely never be certainty. Still, the low estimate on this one is 12, and by the rules stated above, that's the one we should go with. (Herold's 45 appears to have been an unsupported guess on his part.)

Finally, the destruction of a vehicle in Shkin is completely discountable. That's because Shkin, as any detailed map of Afghanistan could have told Herold, is in Paktika province, not Paktia. That means this is the same incident (in which 14 apparently innocent Afghans in the same vehicle were killed by an airstrike, by American admission) we discussed below, and Herold's double-counting once again.

So out of 122 deaths in 7 incidents in Herold's database, 30 deaths in 3 incidents actually check out as credible. In total, we've looked now at 308 of Herold's "unrefuted" deaths, and found confirmation for 94 of them, 78 from aerial bombing, for a success rate on his part of 30.5 per cent. More alarming, out of 28 total incidents we looked at in the database with fatality records attached, only 7 (5 air and 2 ground) actually were confirmable, for a rate of 25 per cent. As well, in only 2 of those 7 did Herold's minimum number correspond with the lowest estimate given by a credible journalist. The Afghan death count drops to 2927.

Posted by BruceR at 05:52 PM



The hate-on by the Sunday Toronto Star team for all things American continues. Today we see:

*(Above the fold on the front page): "The U.S. is a far more deadly source of biological and chemical weapons than Iraq." It's a lead-in to a second-section feature about the continuing U.S. biological and chemical warfare research programs. The front page of the second section again leads-in to the same story with "Lynda Hurst looks at the world's deadliest bioweapons... and finds the U.S. arsenal to be the scariest." Both times, it's in headline font, top of the page, with scary pictures of soldiers in NBC gear.

*Columnist William Walker interviews William Rivers Pitt, author of War With Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know. (Curiously, Walker doesn't mention that the book's coauthor is Scott Ritter.)

*Columnist Antonia Zerbisias, in "Pursue the truth about Sept. 11" says that "if the Bushies didn't cause 9/11, they did nothing to stop it," revisits the Wellstone assassination rumours, and touts the values of three conspiracy sites,, and for finding out what's really going on in the world today.

We've commented on the odd penchant for this paper before. The Star's not like this any other day of the week... it's only on Sundays it lets the crazies out, it seems. And these are off-main page columnists: the actual editorial page is relatively balanced today, with token right-winger Guy Giorno taking a strip off the prime minister for not taking recent terrorist warnings seriously. But the fact that the editorial leadership of the Sunday edition of Canada's largest newspaper steadfastly believes that the American menace is the greatest threat in the world today should speak volumes.

(PS: Again, full disclosure: this writer was once employed by TorStar.)

Posted by BruceR at 10:45 AM

November 16, 2002



There's no use denying it. In what has unfortunately become an increasingly rare occasion in their war, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad actually managed to hit a legitimate and purely military target in Hebron. Their ends still suck, but their means, just this once, were... well... civilized.

I appreciate all the links other sites have offered to the ongoing Marc Herold bunfest, but if we're going to collectively rise above his example, I'd hope other warbloggers would qualify their earlier (and unavoidably misinformed) remarks about "atrocities" and "massacres." What do you say, Charles? Gang?

Posted by BruceR at 11:41 PM

NO CONCORD HERE The situation


The situation at Montreal's Concordia University grows increasingly bizarre and pathetic. First homegrown Canadian anti-Israelis Judy Rebick and Svend Robinson, MP, were forced to speak on the front steps, because of the university diktat banning speech on the Israeli-Palestinian issue (enacted following the assault of attendees and ultimate cancellation of a Benjamin Netanyahu lecture earlier this year). Now tomorrow, the one-and-only Robert Fisk is due to show up, as part of the local pro-Palestinians' campaign to establish the students' obvious right to both hear anti-Israeli speech whenever they want, and beat up pro-Israeli speakers whenever they want.

The university has granted Fisk's right to speak, so long as he only talks about Iraq and Afghanistan, and not Palestine. This either speaks to a complete lack of knowledge on the university's part of who exactly Fisk is (a man who's never been able to string 10 words together without three of them being "Sabra and Shatilla"), or some sort of strange creeping dementia in their public relations department:

[Spokesman Dennis] Murphy warned yesterday: "If Mr. Fisk discusses this in contravention of the injunction it will be followed up with contempt of court provisions." After consulting the university's lawyer, he said the students' union, not Fisk, will face the consequences.

A pox on both their houses. The university's position is, of course, completely untenable, and deserves to be reversed immediately. A bastion of free speech cannot ban speech solely on the basis of topic. But the willingness of people like Rebick, Robinson, and now Fisk, to be used as means to a disturbing and shameful end (the quashing of the pro-Israeli voice in Canadian discourse) speaks only to their own lack of judgment.

The day after Netanyahu was turned away at Concordia, I among others showed up in Toronto to bear witness, should such an attempt be made when he spoke here. I didn't see Judy, Svend or Robert Fisk standing next to us then. It's probably for the best... these shadowy guys organizing their speeches are playing for keeps. If Fisk even tried to do something courageous, and say Netanyahu should have been allowed to speak, too, he might have another angry mob to escape from himself, tomorrow. Rebick and Robinson knew the game... they didn't even try to mouth platitudes about letting both sides speak, as far as I can determine from the press coverage... just took their paycheques and ran.

Posted by BruceR at 11:53 AM

November 15, 2002



(See previous post.) Okay, Marc Herold's stats for Afghan deaths January to March, 2002. As we go farther back in time, the numbers start going up, obviously , with 182 civilian fatalities listed for this three month period, in 11 separate incidents. Seven of those incidents, involving 122 deaths, occurred in Paktia province, site of the U.S. Operation Anaconda that March. The others were single incidents in Herat, Uruzgan, Lowgar, and Paktika.

Looking at the 4 out-of-Paktia ones first, we have:
1) 13-18 Jan, 12 killed in Herat: based solely on this quote, from a Guardian story by Ian Traynor:

An internal document from the medical charity Medécins Sans Frontières, written last week and obtained by the Guardian, says that "a large number of civilian deaths and casualties" have been caused by recent US cluster bomb attacks on the Herat region.

Note there is no reference to a number (Herold adds that), no reference to any date, and no confirmation. Discountable.

2) 24 Jan, 15 killed in Uruzgan: it has been conceded by Donald Rumsfeld himself that this was a mistake by Special Forces raiders, who killed friendly Afghans when they believed they were being fired on. Believable.

3) 29 Jan: 10 killed in Lowgar: based solely on a Reuters report (reprinted here):

Residents of Alwazak village, around 50 km south of the capital, said a US bomb or missile had obliterated a residential compound late on Wednesday night, killing 10 members of the Khaderkhal family. They said the attack had caused an old munitions dump to explode, but local commanders loyal to the Afghan interim administration said the munitions dump probably belonged to the Taliban and may have exploded as they attempted to move it.

Reuters (whose reporter later in the story does confirm seeing 10 fresh graves) cannot say conclusively that this was U.S. action, or even that those killed weren't partly or entirely Taliban soldiers. Yet Herold still says it was definitely a U.S. "missile attack." Discountable.

4) 7 March: 23 people, including 16 in the same pick-up truck (!) killed in a US airstrike in Paktika: based on two sources, a Pakistani reporter, Sailab Mahsud, posting from across the border in Wana, based solely on interviews with witnesses, and a BBC Pashto interview with one Haji Hazrat. The official U.S. investigation eventually put the number at 14... Herold, however, doesn't mention that..

So out of 60 fatalities outside of Paktia January to March, we can find sufficient confirmation for inclusion in Herold's list for 29 of them. That's a grand total of 64 successful hits out of the 186 fatalities Herold has listed that we've examined so far, or a rate of 34 per cent. His total of Afghan fatalities has fallen further, down to 3,019.

Next: those in Paktia in this period.

Posted by BruceR at 06:38 PM



Okay, if Herold's logical fallacy isn't quite clear yet, maybe this will help. Imagine a city, with 100 blocks. In each block there's a number of buildings, and one of those buildings in one block is a military target of some kind. The rest of the buildings in that block, and in all those other blocks are civilian housing. The civilian density per block varies from block to block, depending on whether the block has offices, schools, churches, parks, etc. or just houses.

Now imagine you have a bomb that can destroy 1 block, and your mission is to take out that military target. You have two choices of guidance system, an accurate one which hits the block you aim at 90 per cent of the time, and another, random block the other 10 per cent of the time, and a guidance system that's more or less completely random. Herold's point, boiled down, is that since the number of civilian fatalities you're getting over repeated tests, destroying 1 block each time, seems constant regardless of the guidance system, you must be cruelly aiming your accurate weapon randomly, instead. But that implies an unacknowledged assumption, however: that the civilian population density in the block with the legit military target is drastically lower than the average density per block for the whole city. If it's not, if the number of civilians in the military block does not approach zero in fact, then his whole argument falls apart (ie, you just can't in fact easily distinguish random inhumane bombing from targeted humane bombing using that form of measurement.)

My counter-argument is that, even if both systems were found to on a per-use basis to kill a comparable number of civilians (which does appear credible: Herold's more or less right about that) it's still more humane to use the accurate one. For the goal isn't to minimize the number of civilians killed per use, because given the conditions above you can have no effect on that. The goal is to minimize the number of civilians killed before the target is destroyed, and EVEN IF the per-use numbers were comparable, on those terms the more accurate system will still inevitably reduce the amount of damage to civilians, because after the first success that target is destroyed and no further bombing is required at all. So precision bombing must logically still be more humane, even if Herold's data is 100 per cent correct, because Herold's data is in fact showing something entirely different from what he thinks it shows.

Posted by BruceR at 04:19 PM



While we continue to look at the Herold database, the professor is keeping up his campaign to get his own numbers out. Once again, he claims that the exact same numbers we're looking at are unrefuted.

Herold estimates that war in Afghanistan has resulted in between 3,100 and 3,600 deaths from the impact of bombs alone, he said. Throughout his extensive research, he has compiled a 200-page report about every single civilian death during the first months of the war on terrorism. "This has not been refuted," he said.

We'll resume the refutation in a little while. More interesting as an indication of Herold's intellectual rigour is his evidence for his argument that on a per-ton basis, the Afghan war is a particularly bloody aerial war.

He said about 2 million tons of bombs were dropped during a major campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Between 1,750 and 2,500 civilians were killed for every tonnage of bomb. In Cambodia, about 540,000 tons of bombs were dropped, which he said resulted in between 926-2,700 deaths per tonnage.

This is contrasted with the 14,000 tons of bombs dropped in Afghansitan when he compiled his report several months ago. In terms of the ratio of people killed to tonnage of bombs dropped, the Afghanistan bombing is more deadly.

"The carnage that took place in Afghanistan is on par with the carnage that took place in Laos and Cambodia," he said.

This paragraph is confusing (the reporter means "per 10 kilotons" when he says "per tonnage" in most cases), so here's Herold's actual math in tabular form:

Laos: bombs dropped: 2000kT; civilan fatalities due to bombing, 350,000; deaths per 10kT: 1,750
Cambodia: 540kT; 150,000; per 10kT: 2,700
Afghanistan: 14kT; 3,600; per 10kT: 2,570.

The fatality figures for Laos and Cambodia are, predictably, fuzzy, but not off the scale of believability. (By comparison, Christopher Hitchens, in The Trial of Henry Kissinger, offers 350,000 and 600,000 respectively). Nearly every other commentator has pegged the Afghanistan fatalities at one-third or less of what Herold says they are (I'd say c.900 fatalities per 10kT myself). Herold's numbers for the other conflicts are certainly within a factor of 3 of Afghanistan's, one way or the other, which at first seems surprisingly close. Here are some other figures, also fuzzy, which are also within that same factor-of-3 range, though:

Kosovo: 17kT; 500; per 10kT: 290;
Iraq (1991): 85kT; c. 3,000; per 10kT: c. 380;
World War 2 (USAAF only): 2150kT; c.400,000; per 10kT: c. 1800.

So, if you ranked U.S. air efforts on Herold's humaneness scale, in terms of civilian deaths per 10kT (with percent of precision weapons in use in brackets, for comparison), you'd get:
1. Kosovo (30 per cent precision)
2. Iraq (9)
3. Afghanistan--other people's fatality estimates (90)
4. Laos (0)
5. World War 2 (0)
6. Afghanistan--Herold's estimate (90)
7. Cambodia (0)

Now, let's take as an assumption that Herold's estimate of the fatalities is correct. (In fact, this list itself would be strong evidence that it's not, but never mind that for now.) One can then draw one of two inferences from this. Precision weapons, we can agree, generally go where they are aimed. So either a) the Americans must have been deliberately targeting large groups of civilians in Afghanistan, because they were certainly killing them much more efficiently apparently than either waves of B-17s in 1945 or waves of B-52s in 1972 over Laos could do; or you can conclude that deaths per 10kT really isn't a particularly useful statistic, and Herold's fixated on a canard here.

I mean, think about it. There's no logical reason there needs to be a correlation. 10,000 tons of high explosive, evenly applied over an area, will cause x number of casualties. Even if one assumes that the individual weapons are better targeted at military targets (and that kill rate will go up correspondingly), those military targets aren't discrete geographically. On a national or regional or even city-wide level, it's still the same number of tons over the same area. By my own estimate, the USAF day bombing offensives over Germany and Japan killed about 0.06 civilians per weapon dropped. B-1s dropping GPS-guided bombs over Afghanistan killed about 0.07. Does that mean a B-1 is as indiscriminate a killing weapon as a B-17? By Herold's analysis it would have to be.

No, the difference is that in 1945, the vast majority of bombs dropped failed to affect the target being aimed at. In 2001, the vast majority did. That means the total amount of tonnage dropped on that target, or on the country or city as a whole by extension, to achieve the same military effect could drop dramatically. That, in turn, has a dramatic downward effect on total civilian deaths. You don't need to bomb the same target over and over again, plastering all the civilian dwellings around it, because it was killed the first night you tried.

Here's an example. In the Gulf War, where precision weapons were still relatively rare, the air campaign had to drop around 2kT a day to achieve its aims, about the same as it had to in Vietnam and WW2, as a matter of fact, and no doubt would have dropped more if it had the planes and bombs to do it. In Afghanistan the air force met all its aims with 0.1 kT a day, a significant reduction in the tons of bombs being dropped, which even if the civilian-loss-per-10kT figure remains difficult to reduce, meant that the aggregate tonnage (and hence civilian casualties) was kept down.

Carl Conetta has already explained much of the remaining discrepancies in Afghan casualty stats to most others' satisfaction (it has a lot to do with the relative circular-error stats on laser-guided vs. GPS-guided weaponry.)

In short, Herold's right, in an irrelevant kind of way. Yes, precision weapons, per ton of explosive, kill about as many civilians as unaimed ones do. The difference he pays no attention to, and the reason that recent American wars have set a new standard for humaneness, is that in the 21st century, you need fewer tons of explosive to do the same job.

Posted by BruceR at 03:06 PM

November 14, 2002



Professor Marc Herold consists his current minimum total of 3,141 Afghan civilians killed thus far to be "authoritative and unrefuted." Last post, we looked at the 76 certain fatalities he still has confidence in in the July-November, 2002 period. Only 34 stood up to even moderate scrutiny. Now let's look at the three month period just before that.

Herold's database counts exactly 50 civilian fatalities between April and June of 2002 in Afghanistan, in ten separate incidents. They are:
1) 29 April: 4 armed tribesmen "executed" by Australian SAS troops
2) 6 May: failed hit by a CIA Predator on warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar results in 10 madrassa students and/or bystanders killed by mistake
3) 8 May: a madrassa director shot by Special Forces in Pakistan
4) 12 May: 5 alleged Taliban killed by Special Forces
5) 13 May: the same 5 Taliban killed a second time (a clear example of double counting: Herold even acknowledges they're likely the same incident in his notes)
6) 17 May: 10 killed in a wedding party in Paktia after drawing aerial fire with celebrations
7) 23 May: 3 killed in a Special Forces raid... a 100 year old man, a 70 year old man (likely the same man), and a 6 year old girl who falls down a well.
8) 26 May: unexploded ordnance kills 8 in Pakistan
9) 1 Jun: 3 looters killed by Special Forces
10) 2 Jun: man who points weapon killed by Special Forces

Okay, #5 is rejectable immediately. No. 3 and no. 8 didn't take place in Afghanistan. Nos. 1, 4, 9 and 10 are immediately questionable as possibly not being "innocent" civilians. Nor, one suspects, can the U.S. be blamed for a well death, or the death of the same senior citizen twice on 23 May. So that's 29 of 50 that are rejectable on their face. What's left?

Well, it seems certain one elderly Afghan gentleman was killed in that May 23 Special Forces raid (#7). The Americans claim they were being shot at, but given the man's age it is reasonable to presume this was an unintended consequence.

There is, however, reasonable doubt about the CIA hit (#2). Herold doesn't mention it, but Newsweek covered the same incident, and rather than the 10 fatalities (children in a madrassa that was hit by mistake) he reports as his provable minimum, they came up with a rather lower number in their June 12 issue: zero, in fact.

"...managed only to injure a few local farmers who were tending crops at the scene."

Now, Newsweek's reporter on the spot could of course be wrong, and Herold's other sources, which in this case include, interestingly enough, both Ted Rall and Eric "Wormtongue" Margolis, neither of which were in country at the time, could be right. But it's fair to say that that figure of 10 is still contestable, and hence should by rights be excluded from Herold's hard minimum estimate until more data is available.

Actually, no, let's look at what they said, while we're at it. Wormtongue, interestingly, says of the incident only that a "number of [Hekmatyar's] companions" were killed, not 10 schoolchildren... it's uncertain which source Herold is drawing his figure from. Rall, who calls Hekmatyar "evil... sort of an Afghan John McCain" says "the missile hit a group of cars that had nothing to do with Hekmatyar," again not madrassa schoolchildren. Schoolchildren, farmers, companions, people in cars... it's fair to say there's enough doubt about this incident to take this number right off the chart. (It should be remembered also that Hekmatyar, despite Wormtongue's fondness for him, is by all impartial accounts a psychotic mass murderer and the biggest non-Taliban threat to Afghan stability... if it had been successful, his assassination would have undoubtedly saved far more lives than were lost, if any in fact were.)

Okay, so that just leaves the 10 killed at the wedding (#6). How reliable is that? Well, here's the quote by the N.Y. Times' David Rohde that Herold cites, as one of five sources for this one.

An Australian reconnaissance team managed to insert itself between two warring Afghan tribes here without either one noticing. But when the team was discovered, a firefight erupted with suspected Taliban and Qaeda fighters that led to an American air attack that killed nine Afghans. Officials in Khost, the province capital, said the strike focused on the wrong gunmen, killing pro-American fighters. Other Afghan officials said the plane attacked after villagers fired in the air during a wedding celebration.

So, again, there seems to be reasonable doubt about the circumstances on this one. It could be wedding guests... or it could be "pro-American fighters" killed by mistake. The first would fit in Herold's list. The second would not. Based on this quote alone, there's no conclusive evidence one way or the other. That's reasonable doubt... and another 10 stricken off Herold's absolute minimum number of the civilian Afghan fatalities due to U.S. military action.

So out of 50 listed fatalities in this period, judged by Herold to be absolutely certain on the evidence, it is possible to independently confirm... one. The old guy in the village. Personally, I don't doubt the number is higher than that. But Herold's evidence only even comes close to meeting a reasonable standard of proof in that one, singular case.

To date, we have looked at 126 of Herold's alleged deaths. We have established that there is considerably more than reasonable doubt about all but 35 of them... a 28 per cent success rate for the New Hampshire women's studies professor. The number of confirmed civilian dead in Afghanistan continues to drop, from 3,141 to 3,050, and as will be demonstrated shortly, has a lot farther to fall yet. Next time: we look at the January-March period.

UPDATE: I'm trying to focus on the bigger numbers here. If you think for a minute I'm being too dismissive of Herold's other smaller claims, here, for instance, is the entire evidence he has for another one in that list, that the Australian SAS "executed" (Herold's word) 4 Afghan civilians on April 29... a story by the London Times' Anthony Loyd (also referred to here):

A special forces source involved in the shooting described a small number of armed men, probably Afghans, stumbling across a six-man team of Australian SAS. Surprised, the men raised their weapons and were shot in the chest by the SAS.

Loyd does not use the word "executed." Herold adds that. (The Australian defence ministry has claimed the Afghans fired on the SAS first.) Regardless, lacking any more evidence about the Afghans' intent, it does not seem the incident warrants automatic inclusion in any list of "innocent casualties." The others I'm glossing over are all pretty much like that, too.

Posted by BruceR at 05:49 PM



"However regardless of that answer, my data stands as authoritative and un-refuted."

--Marc Herold, Nov.1

Time to go back to Marc Herold's methodology, it seems. His current minimum civilian death number in Afghanistan, from Sept. 7 to today stands at 3,141, down from his original estimate last Dec.10 of 3,767 for just the first three months. Herold says that's due to his culling of earlier bad data, suggesting he has a high level of confidence in the remainder. So let's look at this another way... how many of those remaining 3,141 alleged deaths are still easily questionable?

Part 1: July-November, 2002

Taking the latest period first, Herold's total of 3,141 currently still includes a hard minimum of 76 in the period July 1, 2002 to present. Of these, exactly 60 are from the much-publicized July 1 "wedding party" incident involving an AC-130. Herold nowhere mentions the official inquiry, which conclusively established the actual death toll at 34. Other causes of death in this period include the assassination of a Taliban leader by an unknown party (1 dead), Pakistani border guards firing on an Al Qaeda party (4), the death by bomb of a brother of a former Taliban leader in a raid (1), a July 27 firefight between Special Forces and Al Qaeda remnants in Paktia province (5), another death of a local warlord that America denies all responsibility for (1), and the victims of another Special Forces ambush in August (4). None of these deaths would seem to fit most people's traditional understanding of accidental civilian deaths (only one is apparently by aerial bombing).

Conclusion: For the period above, the safe conclusion is that, barring further investigation into the culpability of the participants, nearly all of the non-AC130 deaths are only questionably "civilian." Prof. Herold certainly does not possess enough information to authoritatively categorize any of them as definitely non-combatant fatalities.(The same may apply to some of the 34 proven killed by AC-130 as well, but there is a stronger case for them being innocents than in any of his other cases in this period.) The upshot: Herold's minimum death count exceeds the provable minimum civilian death count in this period by 42. Evaluation of the evidence for this period alone drops Herold's provable minimum to-date from 3,141 to 3,099.

Tomorrow: we look at the reliability of Prof. Herold's estimates for spring and summer, 2002.

Posted by BruceR at 02:21 AM

November 13, 2002



The two best-known Canadian generals are having a very public and significant debate in the pages of Canada's newspapers today.

In one corner we have Romeo Dallaire, arguing for a reinvention of traditional peacekeeping, in an almost neo-Pearsonian conception. In the other, you have Lewis Mackenzie, arguing for a return to the politics of force.

As I've written before, in today's army a soldier can't help but define themselves on a continuum somewhere between the two pillars these men represent, and this would be the first time I can recall them openly disagreeing with each other. This is the equivalent of the Lincoln-Douglas debates for the Canadian military today... and certainly worth watching.

Speaking of people actually trying to engage in a real debate about Canada's military, there are two excellent pieces in the latest Canadian Military Journal (summer, '02): "The Search for an Efficient, Effective Land Force Reserve," by Jack Granatstein; and "Whose Army Is It Anyway?" by Marc Milner. Both are must-reads for any serving army officer.

Posted by BruceR at 02:34 PM



Mr. Suzuki, the Japanese voice expert, said that analysis of the voice on the tape suggested that the speaker was suffering from health problems in the lower body, possibly the liver or bladder. The voice also appeared tired and lacking the zeal that has marked earlier messages from Mr. bin Laden.

Globe and Mail, today.

Aw, come on. You had everyone hooked until you started into this palmistry schtick, Suzuki. All you had to say was you could prove it was Bin Laden, and you're world famous... why on earth's name wouldn't you just leave it at that? Even if you can identify bladder disease from a voice print, you just destroyed any credibility your first extraordinary claim might have had by making an even more extraordinary one at the same time. This is the kind of overclaiming error a real trained scientist almost never makes... hence, one can safely conclude Mr. Suzuki is likely not a real trained scientist... hence his analysis is discountable.

That said, other believable experts are saying this is probably Bin Laden, too, and he doesn't like Canadians. Predictably Eric Margolis, apologist for dictators, friend of OBL, and a major Canadian columnist, was on the CBC last night saying... wait for it... that if only we'd listened to him and stayed out of Afghanistan, we wouldn't have gotten Osama's notice.

Eric, from thenceforth I christen thee "Wormtongue."

Posted by BruceR at 01:42 PM

November 11, 2002

UM, HITCH? During the defense


During the defense of Washington, Lincoln became the first and last president to hear shots fired in anger.

--Christopher Hitchens, in Slate today.

*cough cough* James Madison *cough*

I should say I have exactly zero problem with civilians making any judgment they want over foreign military involvements. If anything, what we have seen in my generation is the opposite... I refusal by civilians to accept that they held any responsibility for the acts committed by their nation's militaries in their name. Back in 1991, I had too many arguments with North Americans who said they felt no personal blame or discomfort whatever, regardless of what soldiers under their flags did overseas. It was all just televised entertainment to them. But the lesson I took from that was not the anti-democratic concept that only those who served should speak thenceforth, but the idea that all civilians should be encouraged to come into the process and take ownership of their nation's actions.

Two other things: the so-called "chickenhawk" argument is particularly galling because, in most Western countries, serving soldiers are in some measure constrained from speaking out, and rightly so. The separation of the military and the government is one of the great unwritten constitutional principles, and while this website probably compromises the principle to some degree, I, like most soldiers, still believe as a general rule when in a service setting we should do our jobs and shut up. The reasons should be obvious; obvious enough to be certain that when the anti-war advocates say only serving soldiers can debate on even terms with them, they know as well as I do that such a debate could never actually occur.

Finally, I should say that while I remain partial to Robert Heinlein, I'm of the belief that the political moral of Starship Troopers was not simply that all citizens should be soldiers, but that citizenship need not be a right simply endowed at birth, but could instead be a privilege earned in a quid pro quo for good works on behalf of one's fellow humans (civilian or military).

Posted by BruceR at 05:33 PM

November 08, 2002



The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots.

--Bart and Lisa's military school graduation address

Posted by BruceR at 02:57 PM



Apparently getting nowhere with claims that American higher-ups are lynching his clients, the lawyer for the American pilots accused of killing 4 Canadians in Afghanistan is apparently switching to a "Blame Canada" strategy, according to this piece by the Ottawa Citizen's Glen McGregor:

The Canadian army brigade [sic] bombed in a friendly fire accident in Afghanistan did not provide the region's command headquarters with a liaison who could have given advance warning about the Canadian troops' location. Although it was standard procedure for other coalition members to place a liaison officer in the Coalition Air Operations Center (CAOC), there was no Canadian representative on duty when U.S. F16s bombed soldiers from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry on the night of April 17, killing four and injuring eight. Instead, the Canadians relied on a representative from the U.S.-led battle group [sic], to which they were assigned, to notify air controllers of their night-time training exercise near the Kandahar airport.

Okay, first off, we know McGregor doesn't know anything about the military. It was a Canadian battle group, attached to an American brigade. Big difference, if you're a soldier. Second I simply don't believe that "other coalition members" in Afghanistan had battalion-level liaison officers at the undisclosed location of the Air Operations Centre back in Saudi Arabia. I'd like to see some evidence of that, please.

According to the American lawyer, the 800-strong Canadian battalion in Kandahar should have detached a team to Saudi Arabia, so they were there to intervene if the Canadians wanted to engage in nighttime training on the base perimeter. It's nuts, of course: why just the Canadians? What about the two battalions of the 101st Airborne that were colocated? Shouldn't they each have sent some soldiers to Saudi, too? Heck, if we distrust brigade-level and higher headquarters that much, shouldn't we have a detachment in Saudi for each individual company? It was only one company of Canadians involved in the friendly-fire incident... how could that company commander have trusted his battalion headquarters to know where they were?

The implication was that if there had been a member of that battalion hanging around in Saudi Arabia (who presumably had some kind of independent communications with the battalion three countries to the west, although the means to do that with split second responsiveness is conveniently left unspecified) then he could have been woken up and grilled about their training exercises, thereby cutting down the amount of anxious seconds Psycho Schmidt had in the air to make his reckless decision. Only one problem... assuming that was the case, how would the Air staff have known to kick awake the Canadian, in this room of battalion-level liaison officers from dozens of different branches and armed forces? Psycho didn't report Canadian muzzle flashes, he just saw muzzle flashes. If the USAF air staff knew enough to know those were probably Canadian muzzle flashes, then they could have just said "ceasefire, Psycho." If they didn't, there's nothing having a couple Patricias holidaying in Saudi could possibly have done to make a difference in the 90 quick seconds Schmidt gave them to figure it all out, that scant minute-and-a-half between his reporting the muzzle flashes, and his moving to neutralize them. Not one blessed thing.

The facts of the question are as simple as they've always been. Schmidt was under no threat, and had all the time in the world to act. He gave his controllers exactly 90 seconds (and a bad set of map coordinates) to figure out whether some innocuous muzzle flashes he saw could be a legitimate target. Then he killed them himself, anyway. (Sixty-eight seconds later, the controllers had gathered enough of a picture to tell him to veer off, but it was too late.) Blaming Canada will likely play better with the American public as lawyer Charles Gittins builds up his legal defence fund, but it's got nothing to do with the truth of what happened that night.

Posted by BruceR at 02:51 PM



Andrew Coyne has always had one of the most unique and fascinating worldviews among Canadian newspaper columnists (his recent piece on Riel, a vicious attack on the pet project of his own newspaper, the Post, was fearless and on the mark), but he's got to cut back on that crack he's smoking.

Rather, the odds have just considerably shortened that [Prime Minister] Chrétien might try something rather nervy -- if not to save himself, then at least to destroy Mr. Martin. He has few weapons left -- Mr. Martin's control of the party is near total -- but he still holds the bomb: an early election call. Ministers have begun to talk of the "difficult decisions" Canada would face if war broke out in Iraq. Would the PM declare he needed a mandate from the people before committing Canadian troops to the fight?

A Canadian federal election? To ratify Canadian soldiers' deployment to Iraq? That's... that's... that's delusional, basically.

Coyne doesn't get it. No one who doesn't have a connection with members of the Canadian military does. It's now all but over, people. Afghanistan was the army's last bolt... it has nothing left, neither money nor people. The air force has no munitions. The navy is bringing its ships back into harbour, because it can't afford to keep them at sea any more. Higher headquarters is shutting down every long-range program and exercise, and anything else that can be jettisoned without actually firing people. And the cuts are JUST STARTING. Soon they'll be looking at shutting down bases, regiments, possibly even whole services (the combat wing of the air force, the deepwater navy, the army reserve, perhaps) and laying off soldiers. The shortfall between just the operating costs of a defunct military, and what we're actually being given now, is staggering. An extra billion a year at this point (which is what the defence minister is calling for, defying his own government) won't even make a noticeable dent.

The idea that we could contribute ANYTHING of consequence to an Iraq show was off the table a decade ago. Canada may not rearm in my lifetime, now: it could certainly take two generations to rebuild what has been lost at this point. We are going to sit on the sidelines over Iraq, period.

The idea that Coyne has that there is any national debate worth having at this point on Iraq within Canada is... hallucinogenic, plain and simple. And the idea that an overseas military adventure that we could never conceivably mount anymore could somehow become the central issue of a national election is simply insane.

Posted by BruceR at 01:25 AM

APOLOGIES Sorry about the slow


Sorry about the slow posting rate. My sister's getting married Saturday.

Posted by BruceR at 01:06 AM

November 06, 2002



My friend Patrick points out an interesting think piece in the current Washington Monthly.

Posted by BruceR at 01:08 PM

November 01, 2002



"We are not, as it is said, TV Material. Forced to describe myself physically, I'd say I resembled a pumpkin wearing a bib, and the bib itself is smeared with gravy. I stutter a lot. I'm terrified of mirrors, let alone video cameras, which are like super devil mirrors with black brains that remember."

--Tycho, Penny Arcade

Posted by BruceR at 10:11 PM



Reading Nick Denton tonight leaves me to wonder about a recent post of my own. Denton lumps in Tom Coates, Ted Rall and the New York Times as voices who are disguising their honest views with hedgy writing. Valid point... but would a reader in Denton's frame of mind take my recent post on the possibility of a Reichstag fire incident in Moscow and, say in the same vein that I was hedging my own ardent beliefs similarly? Probably... but I know personally I wasn't, that I honestly didn't know what to think at the time. I guess I was thinking while I blogged, which is never a good idea. Or if you did believe I wasn't doing a Ted, that I was sincerely trying to raise a question that was nagging at me, how could you tell the difference? Yes, I do believe Rall was being manifestly insincere about his own beliefs... but what was it specifically about that loathsome piece that led me to that conclusion?

(I suppose one obvious difference is that Rall used the old hack's technique of saying "other people are saying this outrageous thing... I'm just reporting what they said." I don't think I've ever done anything that weaselly, yet. My beliefs, right or wrong, doubts and all, are my own.)

By the way, increasing evidence that the Moscow hostage taking was planned at the highest levels of the Chechen movement almost certainly answers any question I might have had about whether the Russians were playing it straight on this one. Personally, I'm a little relieved: it's always nice when the world proves to be not quite as evil as I'm evidently capable of imagining.

UPDATE: We have these people in computer game writing, too. Quoting Gabe from Penny Arcade again, beating up on hapless reviewer Cory Lewis: "He cannot write a single bad thing about the Goddamned game without the next sentence starting with "but" or "however". Jesus man, grow a pair and tell me what you really think of the game. This wishy washy crap is totally worthless."

Posted by BruceR at 09:56 PM



This sounds familiar. The difference is, in America this is happening because the country's at war. In Canada, it's because the country apparently doesn't care.

Posted by BruceR at 08:37 PM