Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Bad Intentions Stay That Way

Regular readers know that I have been a strong critic of Newsweek in its recent media scandal. So there’s no love lost here when the Newsweek Baghdad Chief takes parting shot at our efforts in Iraq. Newsweek, biased? Oh no, of course not. Hard feelings? No, I’m sure this is as objective a view as could be.

In "Good Intentions Gone Bad," Rod Nordland, "NEWSWEEK's Baghdad bureau chief, departing after two years of war and American occupation, has a few final thoughts."

Error in logic right at the start.
What went wrong? A lot, but the biggest turning point was the Abu Ghraib scandal. Since April 2004 the liberation of Iraq has become a desperate exercise in damage control. The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib alienated a broad swath of the Iraqi public. On top of that, it didn't work. There is no evidence that all the mistreatment and humiliation saved a single American life or led to the capture of any major terrorist, despite claims by the military that the prison produced "actionable intelligence."
You can accurately report on the effect Abu Ghraib has had on Iraqi public opinion. You can talk about the damage it’s done. But to use it to explain absolutely that Abu Ghraib “didn’t work?” That’s just stupid, there’s no other way to put it. No small wonder Newsweek is a failing enterprise, with Bureau Chiefs like these.

Abu Ghraib is a detention facility. How on earth would Nordland know whether or to what extent Abu Ghraib has or hasn’t “worked.” No evidence that it led to any captures or saved a single American life? And note the paragraph construction, quite clever really, and how Nordland sets up an entirely senseless false comparison to emphasize his point: mistreatment and humiliation contrasted against military claims that “actionable intelligence” was produced. What on earth does one have to do with the other?

If Nordland’s point is, because these abuses cause the U.S. Military to engage in damage control (and who’s causing the damage, one might ask), and a “broad swath of the Iraqi public” is alienated, our intelligence efforts are fighting an uphill battle, that’s no doubt true, but it doesn’t answer the question he pretends to pose at all, whether Abu Ghraib is fulfilling its purpose in the interrogation and disposition of detainees. Nordland neither refers to any evidence on this point, nor would he likely have any, given its classification level.

The only other way to interpret Nordland’s non-sequiter of a contrast is if the actual purpose of AG were to use mistreatment and abuse as a means to extract intelligence. But even if this is what he implies, the result he notes still doesn’t fit with his statement, “it didn’t work.” This is another Eason Jordan, Linda Foley moment. Nordland, on his way out the door, and determined to kick at the goads on the way out, appears to allege that the actions of these Detention miscreants, despite repeated findings to the contrary, were in fact fall guys and patsies for a failed military policy. You can imagine those devious Pentagon Planners, “Gosh,” they reflect, “We really thought stripping them naked, stacking them in pyramids, and having trailer trash corrections officers snap trophy pictures of their genitals would break their will. And now Muslims are mad. Darn that Rumsfield. He told us it would work!”

As I pointed out in one of my discussions at Debate Space, we have a (much smaller) detention facility in our Area of Operations (AO), for which some of my soldiers perform interrogations and recommend further disposition, either for release or transfer to other facilities such as Abu Ghraib. In my response at Debate Space, I note:
I don't have any first hand information about incidents of the type described in Newsweek, the NY Times, and other publications. I do know that the Army has responded aggressively to any perceived abuses and deprivation of prisoners, and Interrogators complain that many of their best tools (sleep deprivation, long interviews, and other non-physical forms of prisoner handling) are ruled off limits of late. Many of the alleged incidents are exaggerated or exploited by prisoners, or have even been generated by them as a means of dynamically and actively resisting interrogation.

Our Interrogators…are very frank in saying, in the first days of Afghanistan (right after 9/11), and the initial battles in Iraq, tempers and emotions ran very high. There were Soldiers and units that sometimes used excessive force, or treated prisoners more roughly than they would today.

They also express some frustration with what they view as ambivalence or at least a lack of clarity expressed in guidance and directives (or the lack thereof) early on by senior military officials.
That’s a far cry from the story-line upon which Newsweek hangs their abuse memes.

Nordland makes another absurd point. (One that the press didn’t acknowledge during the Clinton years, apparently), in blaming all of Abu Ghraib officers as incompetent:
That's why you need competent officers, who know what the men and women under their command are capable of—and make sure it doesn't happen.
Any leader will tell you, you had best be prepared fro the possibility that your people will do wrong. But to say that good leaders always prevent wrong-doing, and if wrong-doing occurs the leaders can’t be good is an impossible standard. Again, Nordland is way out of his element. What was he responsible for, a dozen or so reporters? If they got caught drinking alcohol or visiting a brothel, would that be a failure of his leadership?

In one paragraph, he makes two contrary statements. He begins with, “The most powerful army in human history can't even protect a two-mile stretch of road.” And yet he ends with, “Now their primary mission is self-defense at any cost—which only deepens Iraqis' resentment.” Which is it? Are they carelessly not protecting traffic on the road, or is their primary mission “self-defense at any cost?”

Then Nordland reports statistics completely at odds with the most reliable data available:
Basic services like electricity, water and sewers still aren't up to prewar levels. Electricity is especially vital in a country where summer temperatures commonly reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet only 15 percent of Iraqis have reliable electrical service. In the capital, where it counts most, it's only 4 percent.
We surpassed pre-war levels in these categories at least a year ago. Any regular reader of Chrenkoff has seen the figures that refute Nordland’s assessment. There were pockets of privilege for Sunni Baathists, to be sure, and now perhaps the suffer the periodic outage that others less fortunate (read Shia or Kurd) lived with on a permanent basis.

Then, in stunning arrogance of press omnipotence despite available facts, Nordland betrays his prejudices (or ignorance) with the following:
Not that U.S. soldiers in Iraq have much to smile about. They're overworked, much ignored on the home front and widely despised in Iraq, with little to look forward to but the distant end of their tours—and in most cases, another tour soon to follow. Many are reservists who, when they get home, often face the wreckage of careers and family.
Where does he get this crap from? Ignored on the home front? Is he insane? My soldiers and I are drowning in support, encouragement, direct and indirect support from home, from family, from friends, even from strangers. Packages, letters, emails, blog posts, applause in airports, three deep on highway overpasses, free 1st class airline seats, gifts, free stuff, offers, it goes on and on. I am embarrassed and deeply humbled by the overwhelming outpouring of support we’ve received.

Wreckage of career and family? No doubt in a few cases. Many soldiers are making the best money of their lives, paying off bills, and even those of us who left very lucrative careers are finding that the New Army goes a long way towards making good on our losses.

No, this doesn’t reflect reality, at least not any semblance of an objective one, but rather represents another instance of the mental dishonesty of yet another supplicant of the Newsroom Religion. Nordland can only view this conflict through the Vietnam Template, itself part of the Watergate mythology, and all data points are somehow squished in to support that aging world view. You see, only by the unfailing heroes and heroines of the press, struggling valiantly against all the forces of government stacked up against them, would wrong-doing be brought to light, evil exposed, and rightful (progressive) order restored. No matter that the Army does all the revealing, and dozens of years of sentences imposed and careers ended, it is the credo of the Journalist to reveal the ugly truth behind what we are told by our government.

Can we please grow up now? Will the press ever acknowledge that most Soldiers are decent, law abiding men and women of integrity? They volunteered to serve their country, after all, what kind of person does that? Doesn’t Newsweek (NY Times, LA Times, Washington Post, CBS, ABC, PBS) realize that these volunteer Soldier would be as appalled or aghast at these kinds of systemic, organized crimes, if they in fact existed as reported?

UPDATE: Covered Dish at Basil's Blog, where Basil has several fine posts among his luncheon specials...

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