Tag Archive: Iraq War

Rush Holt on the destruction of detainee videorecordings by CIA

Rush Holt continues to be a sane voice for best practices in intelligence-gathering. Today, he spoke out about declassified documents showing that former CIA Director Porter Goss ordered the destruction of interrogation tapes made of of terrorism suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

For years, I’ve been trying to establish in law that detainee interrogations should be recorded and the records preserved. The benefits of recording interrogations are evident, as they help maximize intelligence collection, help prevent detainee abuses such as those that happened in Abu Ghraib, and protect interrogators as well. Had my proposed detainee interrogation videorecording provision in the pending FY 2010 intelligence bill been law at the time, there would have been no question that the destruction of the tapes would have been illegal. I urge President Obama and my Senate colleagues to recognize the necessity of passing this provision so these kinds of episodes never happen again.

What Holt’s referring to there are his efforts, in the Intelligence Authorization Bill, to require videotaping of interactions between CIA officers and detainees arrested in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Holt believes better intelligence would result – and we’d do better at avoiding abuses like those at Abu Ghraib.  Holt’s provision in the bill would require the CIA Director to develop the guidelines to prevent human rights abuses under both U.S. and international law. It’s a near match to a provision Holt included in the National Defense Authorization Act, now the legal basis for Defense Dept. videos of interrogations.

Holt chairs the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, created out of recommendations of the 9/11 Commission in its finding that “Congressional oversight for intelligence-and counterterrorism-is now dysfunctional”, and urging Congress to fix that. (Member Rep. David Obey has more). Members are drawn from both the House intelligence and appropriations committees (Holt comes from the intelligence side).  In its first 3 years, they’ve scrutinized more than $75 billion in intelligence funding yearly, conducted hearings, on-site reviews and briefings. Holt often speaks out, urging modification and best practices in our intelligence gathering. Somebody in power needs to.

Forget Victory: End Our Two Wars Now

Promoted from the diaries by Rosi

Are American political leaders so insecure that they need bombs bursting in air to give proof that our flag is still there? With two large wars in progress, and many more small to huge ones in our history, apparently the answer is “Yes.”  How little they learned from Vietnam and other past wars.  The flag remains in place, their judgment not so much.

Americans have trod heavily through the Middle East with ever-changing goals, creating new enemies with each step. In Finkel: The Good Soldiers, about the war in Iraq in 2007-8, President Bush says our actions will permit “this country to survive and thrive as a democracy.” A Colonel keeps saying, “It’s all good.” The soldiers say [extremely foul words.] The locals say, “If we talk to you, our neighbors will kill us.” So much for victory.

Al-Qaeda and their partners are terrorist hoodlums who should be treated as criminals. Fighting them in Afghanistan is like Wackamole; they run across the border to Pakistan, and they already have sites in at least three other countries to which they can move.  We have drones and Special Forces which, with local permission and local help, should be used to end these criminal activities – not a big, occupying army which is prey to hidden IED’s and which depletes our treasury.

Achieving victory through war is illusory when we “nation build” and meddle in other countries. In Afghanistan in the ’80’s we supported the Taliban against Russia, then we pushed them back and installed a corrupt, inept government, then we lost interest and turned to Iraq, and now we are back with renewed effort battling the forces of evil. We likewise fought two wars against Iraq and played a role in their earlier war with Iran. So much for our victory efforts. Ultimately, it is the Afghan and  Iraqi people who on their own initiative and in their own way will determine their future.

New Jersey recently buried Sgt. Marcos Gorra, 22, of North Bergen. He was on his first tour in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division. 95 NJ soldiers have died in the two current wars. Many, many more are returning to our state with PTSD, severe brain injury, and amputated limbs, facing an overcrowded and inadequate VA medical system and a life of despair.  We honor their efforts but we lament that their losses and suffering were so unnecessary.

These two wars undermine our domestic needs and further increase our Federal budget deficit. With certainty we can say they have created over 5,000 US soldier deaths and over 450,000 returning veterans to be treated by the VA. We have bequeathed a great deal of suffering to the Iraqi and Afghan people, perhaps as many as  800,000 deaths.  It is with NO certainty that we can trumpet any victory now nor in the future.

The press pays little attention to these wars. Republicans, some Democrats and our President are complicit in prolonging them. President Obama “surged” our troop level in Afghanistan and created a troop reduction date which later turned out to be ephemeral. If in Iraq there is extended wrangling over forming a new government or violence increases, our president might well be under pressure from Iraqi or US military leaders to extend the stay or not reduce troop levels. That is not what he campaigned on, and it is not what he should do.  Forget Victory. NJ citizens and our Senators and Representatives should be adamant: “BRING OUR TROOPS HOME NOW.”

Sgt. Christian Bueno-Galdos, Rest in Peace


News broke a few days ago about a soldier who opened fire on his fellow troops, killing five, at a mental health facility at Camp Liberty, near the Baghdad Airport.

It is the worst such attack in the history of the now 6-year old Iraq War.

Now word comes that one of the soldiers killed is from New Jersey. He is Sgt. Christian Bueno-Galdos, just 25, and from Paterson.

Army Sgt. John M. Russell, 44, whose father says the Army “broke him”, is accused of his murder. He was nearing the end of his third tour of duty in Iraq, with previous tours starting April 2003 and November 2005. Stress arising from repeat and extended tours is considered a main contributor to mental health problems among troops on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is now facing charges of murder and aggravated assault.

This is awful in about a hundred ways. Our respect and sympathy to Sgt. Bueno-Galdos’ family, friends and comrades in arms.  

Quote of the Day

Rob Andrews defends his Iraq war vote as the right decision:

As a co-sponsor of the resolution, Andrews concedes he did talk to other Democrats to vote in favor of the resolution and defends the vote, saying the intelligence presented at the time made it a “responsible vote.”

“I think I made the right decision” at the time, said Andrews, quickly pointing out Lautenberg, out of office at the time, also supported the war in 2002 in his campaign to return to the Senate.

Mission Accomplished Quote of the Day

Today marks the five year anniversary of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” declaration that “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”

A few days earlier on April 21, 2003, Congressman Rob Andrews made his own similar claim on NPR (updated quote):

“I hear a great sense of relief that the war is winding down. I hear a renewed understanding that this war was right for the country because it was fought for the right principles at the right time.

And I also hear a renewed sense from those that have opposed the war on moral and principle grounds, that they have not changed their position, nor should they.”

Call the doctor

Because I’m diagnosing another case of afraidtoadmitamistakeitis.

Why is this so difficult?

Still, Andrews would not go as far as to call the invasion of Iraq a mistake.

“Removing Saddam Hussein from office was not a mistake,” he said. “What was a mistake was the mistake the Bush Administration made in lying about the intelligence that led up to it. It was a mistake when the Bush Administration had no conceivable plan to handle the post-Saddam era? And the biggest mistake is saying nothing to fix the problem, which is the mistake the Senator is making day in and day out.”

Yes, it was a mistake. A really freaking huge, deadly, costly mistake. Easily the biggest mistake to occur in my lifetime. The fact that dissenting information was available at the time and ignored was part of that mistake. It was there and the administration and others used fear tactics to marginalize those trying to inject reality into the discussion.

It’s really hard to want to write about this campaign because both sides are being intellectually lazy. Andrews keeps putting out lame videos and statements attacking Lautenberg for his early support of the war. It’s the Rovian strategy of attacking and neutralizing your opponents’ perceived strength, which is a good strategy I guess, except Andrews is much weaker on the war than Lautenberg is so his attacks ring hollow. On the other hand, Andrews has a very thoughtful analysis and understanding of the current situation and a reasonable proposal for resolving the mess. But Lautenberg completely dismisses it because Andrews didn’t introduce the plan as a resolution. Lautenberg has far from a clean record, though. He supported the war at the beginning and in the early days of the war he was telling the dfh’s to stfu. And he doesn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with that.

I see it like this: Andrews was an architect and helped build support for the biggest blunder in recent American history. Like Andrews, Lautenberg was scared or hoodwinked into supporting it, but he didn’t aggravate the problem much beyond his calls for an end to dissent. And though it took Andrews several years to come around, Lautenberg voted to end the war as early as 2003. Now, Andrews has a thoughtful plan for how to move forward. Overall, I think Lautenberg unquestionably has the stronger record when it comes to Iraq. I think Andrews’ understanding of the situation is admirable, but Lautenberg didn’t need to look in the rear view mirror for 3 years before figuring out the war had to be ended, and that kind of judgment is important to me.

The fact that the candidates can so clearly identify every flaw in the other but can’t provide even a modicum of introspection makes both lack credibility and authenticity. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t roll my eyes upon getting either campaign’s press releases relating to Iraq. Realistically, I don’t expect that to change, so I’m kind of resigned to it, meaning I’ll probably be focusing mostly on other things besides the primary race.

Lautenberg: no regret over early war support?

Just days after the invasion of Iraq, Senator Frank Lautenberg responded to criticism of Bush by saying that “the days of dissent…are essentially over.” Today he declined to express regret for those statements.

On March 17, 2003 — three days before the invasion of Iraq — Senator Tom Daschle said “I’m saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we’re now forced to war. Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn’t create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country.”

Some considered these to be controversial words at the time. One week later, Senator Lautenberg appeared on Hannity & Colmes on Fox News to discuss Daschle’s comments and said “the days of dissent I think are essentially over” and that instead people should only be disagreeing about “the behavior of Saddam Hussein”.

COLMES: Senator, I want to ask you what the tone is in the Senate right now. You know some Democrats, it seems — you know, Sean was mentioning what Senator Daschle said. Some Americans are upset with some of the comments Democrats have made. Is there unity at the moment?

LAUTENBERG: Well, there’s unity in preference behind the war, behind the troops. We want everything to be there that protects them, that gives them the best opportunities they have to conclude this war with minimum casualties. There’s full support for the effort.

The days of dissent I think are essentially over. People have a right to disagree. But if they’re disagreeing, they ought to disagree with the behavior of Saddam Hussein. The cruelty and madness with which he held people’s lives in fragile hands. But there’s no protest there and I don’t get it.

I vividly remember the early days of the war. They were very lonely and from left to right the chorus of voices trying to silence dissent were deafening. It’s disappointing to see that Lautenberg was among those voices. Senator Lautenberg should know that nobody gives up their right to disagree with or criticize the government because of war. In fact he’s been among the war’s harshest critics — even calling Dick Cheney “the lead chickenhawk”.

More important to me than someone’s past mistakes is to know if they learned from those mistakes. Which is why I was disappointed that when Rob Andrews was asked if his support for the Iraq war was a mistake, he dodged the question.

Asked if Lautenberg regretted making those statements, spokesperson Julie Roginsky told Blue Jersey in a statement that “What the Senator regrets is trusting George Bush and Rob Andrews not to deceive Congress and the American people about the intelligence on Iraq and WMD. Once it became clear that there were no WMDs, and that the Bush Administration falsified intelligence to sell the war, no one spoke out quicker and more forcefully than Senator Lautenberg.”

The statement continued:

“In fact, by July 2003, Senator Lautenberg was raising serious questions about the war in Iraq and, by September, Senator Lautenberg declared publicly, “the American people need to be told the truth about the situation in Iraq.”

While Congressman Andrews continued – for three years – to enable Bush on the war, Frank Lautenberg was working to hold Bush and Cheney accountable, and start bringing our troops home.  

Rob Andrews was voting with Bush and the Republicans until the Summer of 2006.  As early as 2003, Frank Lautenberg was among a brave group of 12 Dems who voted against Bush’s $87 billion Iraq Supplemental in October 2003.  Lautenberg has voted for every resolution to withdraw our troops.  Andrews voted against several withdrawal resolutions before his fortuitous 2006 epiphany.

There is no comparison between their two records on Iraq.”

I’ll repeat exactly what I wrote regarding Andrews’ non-answer: Not giving a straight answer to that question suggests either an unwillingness to admit a mistake or the belief that it wasn’t a mistake to begin with. Neither possibility is inspiring.

What do you think?

Andrews won’t admit Iraq war support was a mistake

This is disappointing:

Andrews, who announced two weeks ago that he would challenge Lautenberg in a June primary, was pressed during a conference call about whether he thought his support for the war was a mistake. He wouldn’t answer directly.

“If we would have known the terrible cost in loss of life and limb, I think no one would have supported it,” Andrews said Wednesday.

The correct answer would have been “Yes, it was a mistake. And this is what I learned from that experience…”

Andrews is a very smart person. He knows that war inevitably involves the loss of life and he understands the historical ethnic and religious strife in Iraq, so unless he’s saying he didn’t think this particular war would be like those in the past, this answer doesn’t make much sense. But even more disappointing to me is the unwillingness to admit a mistake. People understand that politicians are human and screw up from time to time, and I think they’re quite willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But not giving a straight answer to that question suggests either an unwillingness to admit a mistake or the belief that it wasn’t a mistake to begin with. Neither possibility is inspiring.

Our War Tax Resister story covered in the Home News

It’s Bryan Nelson’s third year being a tax resister. This year he redirected his tax money to: the Iraq Direct Aid Initiative, Common Ground Health Clinic in New Orleans, and TAKAFUL, a direct aid initiative for families in Gaza, where the money goes to the woman of the household directly to use as necessary for her family.  There are about 10,000 tax resisters nationwide.


by Christine Sparta

NEW BRUNSWICK – For a lot of people, April 15 means it’s time to file their tax return. For Bryan Nelson, it’s a day to take a stand.

Nelson, 27, was stationed outside the Bayard Street post office on Tuesday, passing out fliers expressing his opposition to the war in Iraq and explaining why he diverts part of the money he owes for federal taxes to charitable causes.

“I consider what I’m doing redirecting the tax money. I don’t want to contribute to an illegal war, occupation and torture,” said Nelson, a New Brunswick resident, who is a member of the Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War….

Nelson had literature from the National Priorities Project, a research organization that studies how tax dollars are spent. The material indicated that the war in Iraq has cost more than $522 billion to date, with nearly $24 billion coming from New Jersey taxpayers.

These were the Rutgers Against the War students:

At the event, anti-war activists held signs with slogans including “Money for Jobs & Education Not for War & Occupation.”

and a quote from me:

“I feel very shocked by the size of the defense budget and the amount of money going for military purposes. I think about that when I pay my tax bill”

I didn’t realize they’d caught up with him and his wages are being garnished.

Our friend Jim Walsh got covered on their video page.

Andrews’ plan for Iraq

This week I had a chance to talk to Congressman Andrews about his thoughts on foreign policy and the use of military force. I was surprised by some of what I learned, and I think some readers might be, too. I’ll write about that in the next day or two, so check back soon.

On November 28, 2006, Congressman Andrews delivered a speech on the state of the war in Iraq and his plan for how to end the war. He summarized that plan as follows:

The status quo in Iraq must change. It must change.  I believe again that there are four steps to be taken. We should identify 75,000 Iraqi forces that are loyal and ready to go, and put them into the fight. We should withdraw an equal number of Americans from that area of the country to a place in a manner suggested by our Generals, whether it’s back to the United States or still in the region. We should quickly evaluate the results of the Iraqis taking over security operations. If it is promising, if violence is quelled, if a Sunni soldier is willing to take an order from a Shia general to go into a Sunni neighborhood and arrest people, then there will be success. If, as I suspect, this does not happen, then it is time to recognize the facts on the ground, to acknowledge that we have a civil war that is raging without end. We must convene an international conference, by which we would participate but not dominate or dictate, to resolve a negotiated solution where the people of Iraq would have a stable government and our people could come home.

His last point in more detail:

Lastly, if putting 75,000 Iraqis in total charge of a region of Iraq does not succeed, we should work together with the Arab League, the United Nations, and NATO to convene an international settlement conference to end the civil war that is now raging. If the Iraqi government and its armed forces are incapable of ending it, then clearly the government has failed, and it is necessary to negotiate a new Iraqi government. I don’t believe that we could or should impose such a government on Iraq. I don’t believe that we should impose a government on anybody. But we should facilitate these negotiations, and we should follow them wherever they lead. I believe they would lead to the division of Iraq into three strong regional governments and one weak central government. This would be a Kurdish government in the north, a largely Shiite government in the southeast, and Sunni government in the central part of the country. This is not a good alternative. But it is the best of a lot of bad alternatives. And if this is what is necessary to stop the civil war bloodshed and facilitate the withdrawal of Americans, then I say that’s what we need to do. Our objective is to leave behind a government that will not cooperate in the export of terrorists or terrorism.

His full speech is below. Regardless of how you feel about the war or Congressman Andrews, it’s a great primer on the situation in Iraq — how it got to where it is, what success means in Iraq, and why Andrews believes his plan is the best approach.