"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Iraq Explosives Story Detonates Under Bush Campaign

How team Bush has bungled the al-Qaqaa controversy - with a new "60 Minutes" blockbuster coming on Sunday.
President Bush has spent his final push toward Election Day on the defensive over allegations of his mismanagement of the war in Iraq, awkwardly trying to fend off charges that the U.S. military failed to protect huge stockpiles of explosives that have disappeared and are presumed to be in the hands of anti-American insurgents. Not even the reappearance of Osama bin Laden in a new videotape has spiked the story. The controversy erupted Monday morning when the New York Times reported that 380 tons of high explosives - mainly HMX and RDX, which can be easily used by terrorists, even to detonate a nuclear device - had disappeared from the Al-Qaqaa arms dump 30 miles south of Baghdad. The Times reported that the disappearance occurred after U.S. troops arrived on the site despite the fact that the U.S. government had been urged by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency to protect it. Administration officials told the Times they were looking into the disappearance.

The Kerry campaign immediately made the news its top issue. And instantly, battle over the facts was joined. The Bush White House questioned the validity of the report and insisted the explosives were likely removed from the dump while Saddam Hussein was still in power. Along with allies in the conservative media, the Bush campaign, perhaps emboldened by its win last month over CBS's "60 Minutes II" story about Bush's National Guard service - which fell apart after questions were raised about the authenticity of the documents used as evidence - and convinced they could make any press story they challenged go away, decided to wage an all-out war on the story and the newspapers and broadcast networks that advanced it. But this time, instead of getting the press to back down, conservative media helped keep the story alive for a week - to the delight of the Kerry campaign - and ultimately ended up on the wrong side of the facts.

Republicans first attempted to knock down the Times exclusive using a Monday night report by NBC's Jim Miklaszewski, who was embedded with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division during the war, and noted that that unit had visited the Al-Qaqaa weapons site on April 10, 2003, and found no explosives. That fit in nicely with the White House and Pentagon's early spin that the weapons were likely ferreted out before the war began. "Of course Saddam would remove his precious HMX from its last known location before U.S. cruise missiles could find it," commented the Wall Street Journal's editorial page.

Writing in the Weekly Standard on Tuesday, its editor, William Kristol, wrote hopefully that the Times story about the missing explosives "may not even be true." A day later, Attorney General John Ashcroft's former press secretary Barbara Comstock went one step further, suggesting on CNN that military officials "don't know that anything was even there to start with." In other words, the explosives stockpile may have been a mirage.

But NBC anchor Tom Brokaw on Tuesday night clarified Miklaszewski's report: "We simply reported that the 101st did not find them. For its part, the Bush campaign immediately pointed to our report as conclusive proof that the weapons had been removed before the Americans arrived. That is possible, but that is not what we reported."

Two subsequent Times stories on Wednesday quickly set the administration back on its heels. The first featured an interview with Col. Joseph Anderson, the brigade commander whose unit of the 101st Airborne was at the weapons site in early April. He explained that his servicemen and -women were never ordered to search for weapons, which meant it was entirely possible the stash was still there. (The unit used Al-Qaqaa as an overnight stop on its way to Baghdad.) The Times noted Bush's aides had "moderated" their views, "saying it was a 'mystery' when the explosives disappeared and that Mr. Bush did not want to comment on the matter until the facts were known."

The second Times story on Wednesday featured four eyewitnesses recounting how local Iraqi looters had raided Al-Qaqaa, hauling things off in trucks, after U.S. troops had swept through the area. The report once again substantiated the Times' original story suggesting that the weapons disappeared on the U.S. Army's watch.

That same day, as CNN's conservative pundit Robert Novak labeled the controversy "phony," Bush broke his silence. Speaking at a campaign rally in Vienna, Ohio, he complained that Kerry "is making wild charges about missing explosives. Think about that. The senator is denigrating the actions of our troops and commanders in the field."

The next morning, on NBC's "Today" show, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani stepped on Bush's line, blaming U.S. troops for not properly searching the weapons dump. "No matter how you try to blame it on the president, the actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops that were there. Did they search carefully enough - didn't they search carefully enough?" said Giuliani.

That was the beginning of a bad message day for the Bush camp. But Bush communications director Nicolle Devenish gamely told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday the story was "an attack that's falling apart" and was playing to Bush's advantage by rallying his supporters. "We're really locked into a dogfight here," she said. But off the record, Bush aides conceded to the Associated Press that the ongoing story had "slowed their campaign."

On Thursday a videotape taken on April 18, 2003, nine days after the fall of Baghdad, by an ABC television affiliate in Minneapolis, KSTP, embedded with U.S. troops, clearly showed U.S. troops at the weapons dump uncovering an entire storage bunker full of high-powered explosives that soon went missing. The video even showed soldiers breaking International Atomic Energy Agency seals on warehouse doors, seals put in place months earlier and used only to secure munitions depots.

Yet, during an interview on WPHT radio in Philadelphia, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld downplayed the weapons dump story, saying, "The idea that it was suddenly looted and moved out, all of these tons of equipment, is, I think, at least debatable."

That same day the Pentagon released satellite images that it suggested showed significant truck activity at one of Al-Qaqaa's 56 bunkers on March 17, 2003. Supposedly, the weapons were whisked away by Saddam (or the Russians, according to the conservative Washington Times) before the war. But an examination by GlobalSecurity.org uncovered that the images were not what they appeared to be: "A comparison of features in the DoD-released imagery with available commercial satellite imagery, combined with the use of an IAEA map showing the location of bunkers used to store the HMX explosives, reveals that the trucks pictured on the DoD image are not at any of the nine bunkers identified by the IAEA as containing the missing explosive stockpiles." In the end, on-the-ground, up-close video shot by KSTP showing U.S. troops unsealing a locked warehouse full of explosives in April 2003 trumped the Pentagon's wrong photographic interpretation.

All day Thursday, Fox News went to extraordinary lengths to avoid reporting the definitive KSTP video. Fred Thompson, the former Republican senator from Tennessee, went on Fox's "O'Reilly Factor" to discuss how "the [explosives] stories have been pretty much discredited" and how it was clear that "in all probability [the explosives] were not there" when the war began. He dismissively called the issue a "stupid thing." To Thompson, Bill O'Reilly and his viewers, the story was another mainstream media hoax, a "hit piece," that had been debunked by fair and balanced conservatives.

During Thursday night's "Fox Special Report With Brit Hume," reporter Carl Cameron, traveling with the Kerry campaign, continued along this line, telling viewers, "The Iraqi explosives may have disappeared before the invasion, undercutting Kerry's attack on the president." Fox's panel of pundits liked what they heard from Cameron and based their subsequent conversation on his incorrect assertion. (Earlier in the week, Fox's Tony Snow announced hopefully that the missing explosives story "looks pretty bogus" and is "an embarrassment to the New York Times.")

But one hour before O'Reilly's program, ABC News, quoting weapons inspectors, reported that the KSTP video represented "the strongest evidence to date that conventional explosives missing from Iraq's al-Qaqaa installation disappeared after the United States had taken control of Iraq."

Right after Thompson's appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor," David Kay, the former head of the Iraq Survey Group, handpicked by the Bush administration to search for WMD in Iraq, appeared on CNN and confirmed ABC's report: that the KSTP tape represented "game, set, match" in the debate about the story's timeline. Kay said, "And to put this in context, Iraq is awash with tens of thousands of tons of explosives right now in the hands of insurgents because we did not provide the security when we took over the country."

But on Friday the Pentagon, in yet another attempt to explain the story, sent out an Army major for a press conference. He said his unit had removed 250 tons of equipment, ammunition and explosives from somewhere in the Al-Qaqaa facility in early April 2003, and before the Minneapolis TV crew showed up. But so many questions surrounded his story - questions even the Pentagon cannot answer - that it was impossible to determine how his sketchy information plays into the ongoing story. However, the major's disclosure "did little to quell the controversy over the disappearance from the site of high explosives that had been sealed by UN inspectors," reported Saturday's Chicago Tribune.

Late on Friday afternoon, the only story threatening to dislodge Al-Qaqaa from the front page came when a new tape was released of Osama bin Laden, the man Bush once promised to capture "dead or alive." Bin Laden was obviously alive. And after the tape was shown, "NBC Nightly News" ran another story on the missing explosives, featuring the KSTP tape.

On Saturday, CBS News issued a press release about a "60 Minutes" story it will broadcast on Sunday night, perhaps triggering a new cycle of controversy less than 48 hours before Election Day: "In Harm's Way - Even though roadside explosive devices account for half of all the war's U.S. casualties, soldiers are still getting killed and wounded by them because the Pentagon hasn't provided enough fully-armored vehicles to protect them." The Bush campaign and the conservative media will have precious little time for denials.

Eric Boehlert
Saturday 30 October 2004

Al-Qaqaa: 'Benign' Neglect by a Malign Power

The latest 'revelations' to emerge from the annals of the US occupation of Iraq concerns the 'loss' of over 350 tons of high explosives that the US was meant to be guarding at the military base of al-Qaqaa. According to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), the stockpile went 'missing' some time after January 2004. So either, the US didn't bother to check that it was still there over the past nine months (complete with its IAEA seals that had been intact since being installed in 2002) or, they knew it was missing and didn't tell anybody. It was left for the IAEA to discover that dozens of truckloads of highly explosive matériel had gone missing.
Under international law, the US as the occupying force is legally liable for the consequences (or lack thereof) of its actions, which includes its obligation to protect the civilian population. And this after having already destroyed most of the country's civil infrastructure, and stood by and watched what remained get demolished, leaving the populace completely defenceless even from common or garden thieves. The actions of the occupying forces in not protecting the civilian population is a war crime of the gravest kind, yet where was the headline? Instead it's all just a 'blunder', 'incompetence' or an 'embarrassment'.

Press coverage of the al-Qaqaa fiasco is disingenuous to say the least, firstly by emphasising the 'nuclear' aspect of the missing explosives although the source of this speculation is not identified except by the association with the IAEA. The front page story by the Independent on 26/10/04 tells us that the explosives could be used to “trigger nuclear weapons” but falls short of explaining where exactly the nuclear weapons will come from. This is nothing less than sleazy innuendo that has no connection in reality to the issue of why or how the explosives went missing but plants in the mind of the reading public the 'threat' of nuclear annihilation simply by association. Moreover, it diverts attention away from the central issue namely, why was this stockpile not guarded if it's so dangerous?

At least the story on page 6 of the same edition of the Independent is titled ''Secure' arms dump that may have armed enemy'' (my emph) but then blows it by telling us that the missing explosives make the

“…car bombs, the deadly daily diet for the people of Iraq”

Without comparing it to the 'deadly daily diet' of US and UK explosives that rain down on the unfortunate inhabitants of the cities and towns of Iraq, a 'rain' whose death toll outstrips by several orders of magnitude deaths from car bombs. And, as far as the Independent is concerned, who is the 'enemy' it refers to in its headlline, the Independent? [1]

The same piece also plays semantics with the lies about al-Qaqaa being used for the production of WMD when it says

“We now know…that this [the production of WMD at al-Qaqaa] was false [my emph. WB]”

But we knew this back as far as September 2002, yet the piece leaves us with the impression that this is new information. Indeed the author of the piece was taken around the facility in September 2002 after the publication of the September 'dossier' and knew all too well what the facility was used for.

As to why it wasn't guarded we are told that

“Astonishingly, after the invasion, US forces did not bother to guard al-Qaqaa” [2]

Though we are not told why this is 'astonishing” as 'astonishingly' it didn't bother to guard Iraq's nuclear facility either. In fact, aside from the ministry of oil and the oil fields, 'astonishingly' it didn't bother to guard anything.

Secondly, press coverage tells us that the missing explosives is merely an “embarrassment” for the occupation forces and bases this on the statement by John Kerry who calls it “one of the greatest blunders of the war” yet by any measure, the greatest blunder was the invasion and its consequences. Two other 'astonishing blunders' come to mind.

One, the complete disregard for the health and safety of the Iraqi people over the even more disastrous 'blunder' that occurred when Iraq's nuclear facility was left unprotected and subsequently looted, exposing the local population to disastrous health hazards from the ensuing radiation, yet where are the headlines on this real nuclear disaster?

And two, the same goes for the relative lack of press coverage of the hundreds of tons of depleted uranium that have poisoned great swathes of the country, in yet another nuclear disaster as a result of the malign neglect by the colonisers.

Taken collectively, this latest 'loss' is clear proof of the utter disdain and total disregard the occupation forces have for the lives of the Iraqi people. Moreover, given that this specific munitions site figured highly in Blair's September 2002 'dossier' on WMD, with allegations (shown to be a complete fabrication) that the al-Qaqaa site was being used to manufacture phosgene just reinforces the view that every aspect of the 'threat' we were allegedly under, was not taken seriously by the USUK in spite of all its protestations to the contrary.

The occupation forces were repeatedly warned by the IAEA of the need to protect the al-Qaqaa site yet failed to do so. Why? Given the hysteria that has been whipped up over 'rogue' this and 'rogue' that getting hold of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons following the occupation of Iraq and the subsequent breakdown of order, one would think that some kind of 'watch list' of sites would have been compiled? But then remember what happened to the nuclear facility supposedly guarded by the US occupation forces.

Is this all just incompetence on the part of the occupation forces and if not, what does it tell us about how seriously the USUK takes the idea of a 'global terrorist network'? Much of the rationale for the removal of our civil and legal rights is predicated on combating this alleged global network of terror. Much has been made of the threat of the spread of WMD yet every action of the occupation forces and their respective governments gives the lie to this. One would be forgiven for thinking that if anything, the occupiers would like to see such lethal matériel distributed globally thus giving them the rationale for the 'war on terror' and it wouldn't be the first time such 'benign collusion' between terrorists and the imperium has occurred.

We have been blitzed with hysterical tales of 'bomb factories' for the past three years, yet when the opportunity presents itself to cut off an obvious supply of lethal matériel, no action is taken.

But just as importantly, we need to return to the role of media is spreading this mountain of malicious disinformation about the 'threat'. So the al-Qaqaa story appears for one day then conveniently disappears (nothing in Wednesday's or Thursday's edition of the Independent in the way of a follow-up). Why? For surely the nuclear threat posed by the missing mountain of explosives, whether real or imagined, warrants further investigation from our sure-footed 'investigative' reporters? Yet one searches in vain for any kind of follow-up even on the lies put out by the US government over the circumstances surrounding its 'disappearance' (some US officials have suggested that the explosives disappeared before the invasion, an allegation that has been categorically refuted by the IAEA).

As with virtually every other story that has emerged from the ruins of Iraq, we get half-truths and supposition in the corporate press about the real causes of events of which the coverage of the 350-380 tons of 'missing' explosives is typical firstly through hyping the nuclear 'connection' and then 'disappearing' story entirely.

In every important respect, the way the events of al-Qaqaa have been 'reported' by the corporate and state media represents an approach that downplays causes and history, leaving the reader or the viewer with a disjointed and decontextualized version of events, whereby catastrophes are not made, they merely 'happen' through individual actions or 'blunders'. Any suggestion that such things might actually be policy are completely ignored for do so would call into the question the legitimacy not only of our governments' actions but their right to act in the way they do.

Jay Shaft/CFTM

Telling Police What They Want to Hear, Even if It's False

In his second day of questioning by Los Angeles police detectives, David Allen Jones sealed his fate.

Although never admitting to murder, he repeatedly incriminated himself in the deaths of three prostitutes. By the time he got to describing what happened with the third woman, Mary Edwards, the story came easily.

He paid her for oral sex, he said, then she asked for more money and they got into a fight.

"Another knock down, drag out," Jones said, according to a transcript of the interrogation. "[I] kind of grabbed her, you know. Well, I just choke her. I kind of choke her out."

On the strength of the incriminating statements, a jury convicted Jones of the three killings. But there was a problem: Jones did not kill them.

Eleven years later, DNA and other evidence exonerated Jones and a judge voided his conviction in the killings. He was freed in March.

Police now believe at least two of the slayings were committed by accused serial killer Chester Dewayne Turner.

The fact that Jones has an IQ of between 60 and 73 — giving him the mental capacity of an 8-year-old — made him particularly vulnerable to making false, incriminating admissions, according to legal scholars, sociologists and criminologists.

Studies and surveys have found that both minors and the mentally impaired are more likely to make false confessions, in part because they are more vulnerable to suggestion.

Together they made up more than half of suspects who falsely confessed in a study published this year by Northwestern University law professor Steven Drizin and UC Irvine criminologist Richard Leo.

The scholars reviewed 125 cases in which individuals were exonerated after giving false confessions, and found that 40 of them, or about 32%, were minors and 28, about 22%, were mentally retarded.

"They are more likely to go along, agree and comply with authority figures — to say what the police want them to say — than the general population," said Emory University law professor Morgan Cloud.

Cloud co-wrote a study that found the mentally impaired, even those deemed to be only mildly retarded, are largely incapable of understanding police admonitions of their right to remain silent and to have a lawyer.

The LAPD, like most police departments, does not have a special protocol for dealing with mentally retarded suspects during interviews, according to a spokeswoman. But both age and mental capacity can be used by jurists to determine whether suspects intelligently waived their rights and whether their statements are admissible in court.

Cloud said police officers sometimes do "not really recognize" that suspects are mentally retarded.

"Lots of police become very non-noticing, if it's left up to them to decide who's normal and who's not," said Richard Ofshe, a UC Berkeley sociologist who has reviewed 700 to 1,000 confessions.

But experts stressed that false confessions are not the sole province of children and the mentally retarded. Even the able-minded can succumb to psychological pressure and make erroneous admissions during intense police interrogations, research has found.

"False confessions are not an anomaly," said Leo, who has done dozens of studies of interrogations and confessions, including the one with Drizin. "They happen with regularity."

Once a suspect makes self-incriminating statements that are admitted at trial, the chance of a conviction multiplies, Drizin said.

"Jurors simply can't get over their reluctance to believe that anybody would confess to a crime they didn't commit, especially murder," he explained.

Of the first 128 people nationwide exonerated by DNA evidence discovered after their convictions, 28% had made false confessions or admissions, according to New York's Innocence Project.

Coercive police interrogations are the single biggest reason innocent people confess to crimes, Ofshe said.

John Reid & Associates, an Illinois-based firm that says it has trained more than 100,000 investigators in interrogation techniques, insists that police can spot an innocent suspect because he or she would get angry at false accusations. Still, the firm advises "extreme caution" in dealing with the mentally impaired.

Caution is also supposed to be used when interrogating juveniles, who make more false confessions than adults.

Michael Crowe of San Diego County was only 14 in 1998 when he told police he had killed his 12-year-old sister in Escondido.

Police had decided Michael was suspicious because he played video games after his sister's death — "inappropriate grieving," the police called it. A friend of Michael's also eventually confessed, and a third teenager gave enough incriminating evidence that he too was charged with the crime.

Charges were dropped on the eve of trial when police found the girl's blood on the filthy sweatshirt of a mentally unstable drug user and petty criminal who had been prowling the victim's neighborhood on the night she was killed.

Michael Crowe later explained why he had lied about the murder. "Well, they basically showed me I had no other choice," he told NBC two years ago. "The police took me in a room, separated me from everything I knew … and basically put me in a place where I believed they were my only friends, and the only way I was going to avoid prison was by telling them what they wanted to hear."

Drizin and others say that common police interrogation techniques can backfire, leading to false confessions.

"Once the Miranda warnings are given, [detectives] make an immediate accusation that the suspect is guilty," said Drizin, who reviewed dozens of false confessions. "They are allowed to lie at this point."

If the crime was well-investigated, police may cite the actual evidence they have accumulated against the suspect. If there is little real evidence, a detective may pretend that police have fingerprints, DNA or witnesses who have implicated the suspect, experts said. Often the detective will interrupt when the suspect protests his innocence.

After overstating the case against the suspect, the detective may try to convince him that it is to his benefit to confess. Although officers are not permitted to offer leniency in exchange for a confession, veiled promises and veiled threats are often made, experts said.

In Jones' case, a detective showed him photographs of the crime scenes during his first interview, which was not taped. Drizin said that such preliminary interviews can provide innocent suspects with details of the crimes that may end up in the final confession.

During a second interview, which was taped, the detective repeatedly reminded Jones of admissions he had made during the earlier interview.

"That is not uncommon," said Drizin. "In the first interview, police will use a gamut of techniques to get him to make certain admissions. They don't tape it because the kinds of techniques they use are not likely to be understood by juries, who view them as over the top."

The detective in Jones' case testified in court that the first session wasn't taped because the Los Angeles County Jail prohibits tape recorders.

LAPD officials said the department plans to review the Jones case but currently has too little information to comment on the interrogation.

Jones never confessed to killing the three women, but he admitted under detectives' prodding to having had sex and smoking crack cocaine with the victims at the places where their bodies were found. He said he fought with them, putting each in a police-style chokehold. He insisted they were alive when he left them.

In many cases of reported false confessions described by Leo and Ofshe, innocent people were convicted because, like Jones, they made incriminating statements that linked them to the crime, even though they stopped short of a confession.

Legal experts and social scientists say the best way to ensure that confessions or admissions are truthful is to require detectives to tape them from the Miranda warning in the first interview until the end of all subsequent interviews. Some states, including Alaska and Minnesota, already require that.

Thomas P. Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney who served as co-chairman of an Illinois commission on capital punishment, found in a national survey that most police agencies leave the decision on whether to record an interview to the officer in charge. Still, he found, detectives customarily taped their interrogations in serious crimes because the confessions would then be more likely to be admitted at trial.

"I am a fan of the police," Sullivan said. "The policemen I know do not coerce confessions and they don't perjure themselves. I believe that in 10 years, virtually all police will be recording [interrogations with suspects in custody] for their own good."

A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Police Department said detectives are required to tape interrogations only in officer-involved shootings or use-of-force investigations that are covered by a consent decree. Yet video or voice recordings of confessions would reduce false admissions by as much as 90%, Ofshe said, because it would stop coercive tactics.

The UC Berkeley sociologist said: "Tape recording will prevent police from doing the extraordinary things that need to be done to cause an innocent person to falsely confess."



Misunderstanding Miranda

Researchers surveyed mentally retarded subjects to determine whether they would be able to understand the warnings against self-incrimination immortalized in the U.S. Supreme Court's Miranda decision and used by police everywhere.

Percent who correctly understood that...

Confession can be used against suspect

Disabled subjects: 27%

Nondisabled subjects: 91%

Police cannot threaten suspect

Disabled subjects: 8%

Nondisabled subjects: 82%

Police cannot force suspect to talk

Disabled subjects: 12%

Nondisabled subjects: 77%

There is no penalty for refusing to talk

Disabled subjects: 2%

Nondisabled subjects: 73%

Judge cannot force suspect to testify

Disabled subjects: 18%

Nondisabled subjects: 41%

Source: University of Chicago Law Review

Maura Dolan and Evelyn Larrubia, Times Staff Writers

Man Charged in Killings City Didn't Know About

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 29 - When the police announced last week that they had tracked down the worst serial killer in the city's history, the news was met here with detached astonishment.

Serial killer? What serial killer? For the better part of a decade, the police say, a man was raping and strangling women and almost nobody knew.

Chester D. Turner, 37, a convicted rapist and former pizza deliveryman, is charged with killing 10 women between 1987 and 1998. With the special circumstances of rape, he will be eligible for the death penalty. Detectives say Mr. Turner may have murdered a half dozen others, though they lack physical evidence to connect him to some of those crimes.

As it happened, Mr. Turner was already behind bars for an unrelated rape when detectives pieced together his secret with DNA evidence.

Moreover, another man - a janitor with the mind of an 8-year-old - spent nine years in prison for two of the murders now attributed to Mr. Turner. The man, David A. Jones, was released in March after he was cleared by DNA specimens.

While the women were being raped and killed, there were no handouts by the police to warn that the City of Angels had a devil in its midst. There was no dragnet; no shocking nickname like the Hillside Strangler, the Night Stalker or the Freeway Killer, all infamous Southern California predators. There was nothing to capture or focus the public's imagination. Women were raped, strangled and dumped in vacant lots and stairwells like so much worn-out furniture.

The women, for the most part, were black, drug-hobbled prostitutes who worked the street corners and hot-sheet motels in the notorious south side, the black part of town known for misery, gangs and spectacular violence.

Jeanette Moore, a prostitute, said she was close to some of the victims. She said the women who work along Figueroa Street, where the police say Mr. Turner did his killings, knew there was a serial killer at work.

"There had to be, but the police never asked nothing," she said while standing on the corner of Figueroa and 84th Streets, her place of business for the past 22 years. The rain tinged her knee-high boots. She nervously lighted a cigarette.

"They never investigated nothing," she said. "I knew half those girls. I know the man's face. If it was in the better neighborhoods, you could be sure somebody would be asking questions. But it was here, so nobody cared."

The editorial page of The Los Angeles Times agreed, calling the general attitude indifferent. "It was simply one more example of how the rest of the city had grown inured to the slaughter in South Los Angeles," one editorial read.

It is difficult to know that a serial killer is at work without telltale signs, said Capt. Al Michelena, commanding officer of the robbery and homicide division of the Los Angeles Police Department. There was no strange positioning of the bodies or mocking notes to the police, as some of the more notorious killers preferred.

"Realistically, it was hard to connect these things," Captain Michelena said. "No witnesses. Not a lot of clues. No DNA tests back then. In these kinds of cases, it's just difficult to know."

Semen and blood specimens can and often do sit for months or even years as overwhelmed lab technicians deal with fresh cases or cases moving toward trial. Even with a federal grant to help clear the books, the Los Angeles Police Department's crime lab still has a backlog of about 200 murder cases, said Detective David P. Lambkin, the officer in charge of the cold case homicide unit.

There was one gumshoe who never gave up: Detective Cliff Sheppard, who used to walk the beat on the South Side in the late 80's, when citywide murders topped 1,000 and detectives were busy with the gang wars.

Back then, South Side detectives talked among themselves about the possibility of at least one serial killer in the area, preying upon broken-down and vulnerable women. Yet no description was ever cobbled together. One grainy photograph taken by a security camera yielded nothing. Women were strangled, but detectives say that many sex crimes end in strangulation.

Though the murders happened in a 30-block corridor of Figueroa Street, authorities say many such murders occur along Figueroa Street.

The classic profile says serial killers tend to be white men. No one had noticed a white man plying the streets. There were no witnesses. There was nothing, except semen samples.

Detective Sheppard was transferred to the cold case unit when it was created in 2001 to investigate more than 9,000 unsolved killings in Los Angeles dating back to 1960.

He brought the memory of one particular murder with him - that of Paula Vance, 38, who was strangled and raped in 1998 and dumped behind a downtown building. Detective Sheppard reached out to the precinct houses, questioned registered sex offenders, but it led nowhere.

Then last year, he got the department's overwhelmed crime lab to test some residue from Ms. Vance's body. There was a DNA match to another unsolved killing off Figueroa Street.

As part of his plea agreement in an unrelated rape case in 2002, Mr. Turner had submitted a DNA sample to the authorities. It matched the two killings. The police have charged Mr. Turner with those two slayings and eight others in which the police say DNA evidence implicated him.

At the same time, Detective Sheppard and his partner, Detective Jose Ramirez, cleared Mr. Jones, who had been wrongly imprisoned for two murders. A part-time janitor said to be retarded, Mr. Jones was convicted even though blood samples from the crimes did not match his. Despite that, as well as ambiguous testimony and no physical evidence, Mr. Jones was sent to prison.

Though the police now say that DNA evidence from those killings matches Mr. Turner, they were not among the 10 killings that Mr. Turner has been charged with so far. Those cases are under review, said Joe Scott, spokesman for the Los Angeles district attorney.

A lawsuit against the city has been filed on Mr. Jones's behalf. The district attorney has promised a full investigation of how Mr. Jones's case was handled.


How (and Why) Did Jonathan Magbie Die?

With important national and local elections on Tuesday, and with a city in turmoil over baseball stadium financing, why return for a fourth consecutive week to the case of Jonathan Magbie, the 27-year-old quadriplegic who was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Judith Retchin to 10 days in the D.C. jail for simple possession of marijuana? After all, Magbie's dead and buried. Why keep his story alive?

Maybe it's because Jonathan Magbie didn't die the way so many other men of his age and race meet death in the nation's capital: by being gunned down or stabbed in the streets. He didn't lose his life in a house fire or an automobile accident, although it was a car crash at age 4 that left Magbie paralyzed from the neck down, unable to breathe on his own sometimes, and dependent on others for the rest of his life.

On Sept. 20 a judge took Jonathan Magbie away from the people who cared for him and placed him in the hands of the D.C. government. When he died on Sept. 24, Jonathan Magbie was this city's captive under lock and key, unable to fend for himself or live as he wished.

How and why did he die? That question, at least to me, is every bit as important as the outcome in the battleground states on Tuesday. A human being entrusted to our government lost his life. He was arrested, prosecuted and restrained from freedom in our name. Did we the people, through our government, contribute in any way to his death? The performance of this city's criminal justice system is no less important than that of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, on which Mayor Anthony Williams and other city officials lavish such rapt attention.

And so the late Jonathan Magbie still tops my agenda. So does the mystery of his death.

Will we ever know?

Last week Chief Judge Rufus King III of the D.C. Superior Court pledged to "determine what went wrong" in Magbie's case ["Judge King Responds," letters, Oct. 22]. But when asked if the judge would make public his findings after meetings with Corrections Department officials about the jail's capacity to handle different medical conditions, Superior Court spokeswoman Leah Gurowitz said in an e-mail: "The Chief Judge will make any changes in Superior Court practice and procedure that are found necessary to assist the jail in assessing and treating those committed to its custody." Apparently it's going to take more than a prying journalist to find out what the court did or failed to do with regard to Jonathan Magbie.

But answers are needed.

Why did Judge Retchin not take action when Malek Malekghasemi, associate medical director of the Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF), where Magbie was housed, called Judge Retchin's law clerk on the day after his sentencing to say that Magbie should not be in jail, given the nature of the sentence and his overall medical condition? Did the court have a responsibility to act after receiving information from a competent medical authority, especially information that contradicted her earlier understanding of the jail's ability to accommodate Magbie?

Who advised Judge Retchin's law clerk that the jail could accommodate, as a court official described Magbie, "a paralyzed wheelchair-bound defendant"? The Corrections Department sent me this statement on Thursday: "For the record, the Department of Corrections (DOC) had no conversation with anyone from the Superior Court regarding the housing of a person confined to a wheelchair prior to the sentencing of Mr. Magbie. The DOC was not aware of Mr. Magbie, or his condition, prior to his arrival at the Central Detention Facility [D.C. jail], following his sentencing in Superior Court, on September 20, 2004. However, the judges of the U.S. District Court and the Superior Court, and their staffs, routinely communicate with the DOC through the DOC's General Counsel's Office."

So who gave Judge Retchin assurances, which she stated in open court, that the jail could accommodate Magbie's needs? Was Judge Retchin ever advised that Magbie needed a ventilator at night to breathe? The Corrections Department maintains that it does not provide ventilator services in any of its facilities, and would have said so if asked. A review of all court transcripts related to Magbie will, of course, settle that question. But will that happen?

Did the Corrections Department provide the appropriate level of care needed for Magbie while he was at the CTF? The department maintains that it did. But department staff members learned from Magbie -- after he began experiencing breathing problems on his first night in incarceration and before he was transported by ambulance to Greater Southeast Community Hospital -- that he used a ventilator at night to assist his breathing when he slept. Yet for three nights at the CTF, he was never supplied with one or sent to a facility where a ventilator was available. The Corrections Department says it followed oral and written instructions from Greater Southeast's medical staff for Magbie's care, namely, to provide him with nasal oxygen as needed. Did the hospital provide appropriate instructions, given Magbie's medical condition? Did the Corrections Department take into account the concerns of its associate medical director?

Who will answer these questions?

The D.C. Health Department's investigation into Magbie's death, started Sept. 28, was completed on Oct. 22, according to Philippa Mezile of the department's communications staff. A report is expected next week. Mezile said that after a review by physician Robert Vowels, senior deputy director for D.C. environmental health administration, and the department's general counsel, the report will be made public, subject to further review by the city's attorney general (formerly the corporation counsel). The investigation included interviews with hospital and jail staff members and a review of hospital and jail records, Mezile said.

Did investigators also interview other inmates housed in the CTF infirmary with Magbie, I asked? No, Mezile said, because the Health Department lacks regulatory authority over the Corrections Department except for environmental and sanitation issues. Suppose, she was asked, that there are inmates with stories to tell about Magbie's treatment, as Magbie's family has heard; shouldn't authorities want to know? The question remains unanswered.

Five weeks later, we do not know how and why Magbie died.

On Tuesday, I asked Beverly Fields, chief of staff to the city's chief medical examiner, about Magbie's cause of death. "It's pending," Fields said. "Pending what?" I asked. "Just pending," she said.

Colbert I. King
Saturday, October 30, 2004

Appeasing Israel

Bush and Kerry put Israel first – and ignore the rise of fascism in the 'Promised Land'

The collapse and seemingly imminent demise of Yasser Arafat once again draws our attention to the plight of the Palestinian people at the hands of their Israeli occupiers: just as the Jewish state keeps an entire people captive in the twin concentration camps of Gaza and the West Bank, so Arafat was himself incarcerated, physically confined to his headquarters in Ramallah. Surrounded by Israeli tanks and sharpshooters, the constant recipient of open death threats uttered by Ariel Sharon, the history and present condition of the Palestinian nationalist leader underscores the significance of Arafat as metaphor. Perhaps we will kill him this year, or perhaps not: the Israelis love to torture and berate the Palestinian leader far too much to let him die a natural death. Which is why his probable demise, in bed, may be a kind of victory.

The Israelis have been on a rampage since 9/11: it was as much of a green light for them as it was for our own War Party. They didn't waste much time before unleashing their U.S.-armed and amply subsidized military on the largely helpless civilian population in the occupied territories. Whereas before the U.S. had often acted as a restraining force, chiding the Israelis when their brutality reached a fever pitch and cooling them down with threats of a (temporary) reduction in aid (or, more accurately, a reduction in the annual increase they feel is owed to them), the post-9/11 era saw George W. Bush in the role of practically egging them on. Brent Scowcroft, George H. W. Bush's former national security advisor, told the Financial Times that Bush II is "mesmerized" by Sharon, and that, as a consequence, the U.S. stance toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is skewed:

"When there is a suicide attack [followed by a reprisal] Sharon calls the president and says, 'I'm on the front line of terrorism', and the president says, 'Yes, you are. . . ' He [Mr Sharon] has been nothing but trouble."

"Mr Scowcroft also cast doubt on Mr Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, which last week Dov Weisglass, a leading Israeli adviser, said was intended to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state.

"'When I first heard Sharon was getting out of Gaza I was having dinner with Condi [Rice] and she said: 'At least that's good news.' And I said: 'That's terrible news . . . Sharon will say: 'I want to get out of Gaza, finish the wall [the Israelis' security fence] and say I'm done.'"

The brutally relentless and single-minded pursuit of Israeli interests is what one might expect would be the cornerstone of the ruling Likud party's foreign policy strategy. That this principle also seems to animate American policy in the region is one of life's darker mysteries, which has baffled not only Republican realists of the Scowcroft persuasion, but also the Arab world.

The brazen double standard by which Israeli state terrorism is empowered by the U.S., as a matter of official policy, while retaliatory terror on the part of the Palestinians is unreservedly condemned, has fueled all sorts of unsavory conspiracy theories. Israel's most ardent defenders have, on the one hand, decried the allegedly rising tide of anti-Semitism – redefined as too vociferous an opposition to Israeli political objectives – and on the other hand have done everything in their power to cultivate an image straight out of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, that infamous Russian forgery which always comes up when any discussion of Israeli power is imminent.

But one needn't refer to fiction when the relevant facts are so readily available. If there is a single other country that could have its semi-official lobby in the U.S. accused of espionage, and then have that lobby courted, praised, and visited by the official representatives of both major parties, including a sitting National Security Advisor – well, I want to know which country that could possibly be other than Israel.

It has been barely a few months since a U.S. government official was caught red-handed turning over highly sensitive documents to a group of AIPAC officials and Israeli spooks masquerading as diplomats, and yet Condoleezza Rice saw fit to show up at the AIPAC national conference demanding that Arafat step down and declaring her unconditional fealty to Israeli expansionism. Richard Holbrooke, widely seen as the top candidate for National Security Advisor in a Kerry administration, also showed up to bend his knee before Israel's fifth column. As the Boston Globe reported:

"These days, it is rare to hear advisers to John F. Kerry praise President Bush over any foreign policy issue, especially in a hotly contested battleground just days before the election. But the subject of Israel brought out the bipartisan side of Kerry adviser Richard Holbrooke here on Sunday – to the delight of his mostly Jewish audience.

"'I'm not here to criticize President Bush,' Holbrooke, a former United Nations ambassador, told hundreds of members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, a major pro-Israel lobbying group, gathered for their annual summit. ''His support for Israel is, in my mind, unquestionable.'"

The total convergence of U.S. and Israeli interests in the post-9/11 era is a myth that is faithfully perpetuated by the leaders of both major parties – just as it was relentlessly pushed before 9/11. But this sort of malarkey is particularly disingenuous coming from the partisans of a candidate who pledges to wage a "smarter" war on Islamist terrorism. Such craven kowtowing to Sharon is a gift to Osama bin Laden, who feeds off Muslim resentment of the Palestinians' plight and glories in the evolution of the Israeli-American relationship into a single target of Arab hatred.

When it comes to the peculiar universality of blind support for Israel among the American political elite – as opposed to the more ambivalent popular attitude toward our troublesome ally – one recalls the words of Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terrorism, and a currently serving CIA analyst, who described the U.S. government as "bin Laden's only indispensable ally." Yet any serious questioning of this costly and inexplicable policy is strictly forbidden:

"Almost every such speaker is immediately branded anti-Semitic and consigned to the netherworld of American politics, as if concerns about U.S. national security are prima facie void if they involve any questioning of the U.S.-Israel status quo."

The vehemence of this reaction to any criticism is recently ratcheting up as Israel's post-9/11 rampage accelerates, even as ours begins to (hopefully) slow down. The aggressive foreign policy of that socialist Sparta is reflected in the tactics of its overseas defenders, especially in the U.S., who stop at nothing to smear and preemptively neutralize any and all critics of Israeli government policy. Nor is the Israeli media shy about a little display of muscle-flexing. As the liberal Ha'aretz put it the other day:

"The appearance of the candidates' senior advisers at the AIPAC meeting shows both a desire to prove their friendship to Israel on the eve of the elections and that AIPAC wields power. Only two months after a Pentagon analyst was suspected of handing information to AIPAC activists, neither of the candidates' two senior advisers had any qualms about appearing publicly before the organization, and AIPAC officials said the relationship with the administration had not been harmed."

We can get away with it, they gloat, and their American cheering section is just as cocky. As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency report on the AIPAC conference pointed out,

"There was little mention of the [Israeli spy] controversy at the summit this week. That was a sharp contrast to the days when the scandal first broke in late August, just before the Republican National Convention in New York. At that time, AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr began his remarks at each convention-related event by trying to quell donors' concerns."

The AIPAC party line is that the investigation – which is at least two years in the making, and which Ms. Rice was informed of shortly after the Bushies took office – is the work of dastardly "anti-Semites" in the government. If AIPAC and its supporters have their way, the investigation will get the kibosh – and one can only wonder if that's what Holbrooke promised them. The Bush administration has already reined in prosecutors, who have yet to file charges, telling them to "slow down," according to the Financial Times. The whole thing has died down, the Amen Corner insists, and AIPAC has been "vindicated."

Not so fast. Laura Rozen and Jason Vest, writing in The American Prospect, report that the process may have been slowed, but the wheels of justice continue to turn:

"A grand jury was seated on the case in September and had subpoenaed at least some witnesses to testify about Franklin. Then, on October 1, The New York Sun reported that Franklin had fired his court-appointed attorney (whom he had presumably retained for financial reasons), halting grand-jury proceedings while he found new counsel. On October 6, the Los Angeles Times reported that Franklin had stopped cooperating with the FBI entirely. He had hired a high-profile lawyer, Plato Cacheris (of Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen fame), and had rejected a proposed plea agreement whose terms Franklin considers 'too onerous,' according to the Los Angeles Times.

"Who pushed Franklin – who for months seemed vulnerable – to stop cooperating? And who is paying for his expensive new lawyer?"

Israel's role in world affairs, especially vis a vis the United States, continues to take on an ominous aspect. As does the political complexion of Israeli domestic politics, which is seeing a burgeoning ultra-nationalist movement that threatens to displace even the extremist Sharon with someone far worse, perhaps, than even Netanyahu. As Arnaud De Borchgrave recently observed in the Washington Times:

"In the West Bank, Ma'ariv reported, Israeli settlers are not worried about the Arab demographic threat as they nurture the vision of a 'mega-occupation,' or expanding the Kingdom of Israel to the borders promised in the covenant with Abraham.

"The Committee of Rabbis in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, writes, 'Everyone who has faith in his heart ... will not countenance betrayal of the divine promise of the Jewish people.' Professor Hillel Weiss, said Ma'ariv, spelled out what this meant: 'The purpose of the armed struggle is to establish a Jewish state in all the territory that will be captured, from the River Euphrates [in Iraq] to the Egyptian River [Nile].'"

I warned years ago about the rising tide of Israeli fundamentalism, which is even more dangerous than the Islamic variety because it is well-armed, including with nuclear weapons, and has no lack of American supporters. Today, much to my regret, we are seeing that particular prophecy fulfilled, and in spades: De Borchgrave notes that Rabbi Haim Steinitz, writing on behalf of the rabbis of the Beit El settlement, recently proclaimed the geographic parameters of a newly militant Israeli expansionism on the march:

"In general, the Euphrates and the Nile are the main points of reference, as well as the Mediterranean and the Red Sea."

Oh, but "there is some dispute about the eastern border," writes the Washington Times columnist:

"Most West Bank rabbis say the Kingdom of Israel 'should rest on the upper Syrian stretch of the Euphrates.' Others, wrote Ma'ariv, 'take a broader view with a border that runs down to the mouth of the Persian Gulf.' One rabbi calls for the military conquest of all Arab countries. Even this was not enough for Rabbi Zelman Melamed, who wrote: 'It is not impossible that the Jewish people will have the ability to threaten and put pressure on the entire world to accept our way. But even if we acquire the power to seize control of the world, that is not the way to realize the vision of complete redemption.'"

That's certainly reassuring to hear, but clearly restraint is not a key element of the new rabbinical fundamentalism:

"Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg says he knows in the near future the Land of Israel is about to expand. 'It is our duty to force all mankind to accept the seven Noahide laws, and if not – they will be killed.'"

"Imams do not have exclusive rights on loony tunes," De Borchgrave ruefully remarks. "Palestinian state anyone?" But the reality is that the Palestinians will be lucky if they get away with not being ethnically cleansed from their own land, and deported en masse to Jordan as large numbers of Israelis would prefer. We have heard much of "Islamo-fascism," the favored catchphrase of laptop bombardiers such as Christopher Hitchens and his newfound neocon comrades-in-arms, but these people are willfully blind to an equally sinister parallel development, and that is the rise of Israeli fascism.

Today, the word "fascist" is the political equivalent of the "f"-word, rendered virtually meaningless on account of its degeneration into pure epithet. Yet, Israel in its present trajectory fits the classic definition of fascism to a tee: a State that is not only thoroughly militarized and aggressively expansionist, but also one in which the government effectively controls or outright owns the commanding heights of the economy. Add to this the fulminations of the militant rabbis, and you have a nuclear-armed fanaticism that poses a potentially deadly threat to Europe as well as the entire Middle East.

Israel, far from being our faithful ally, is potentially an enemy: after all, why were they running a spy ring in the Pentagon, if they claim they can get any information they want? What, really, is going on beneath the smooth surface of Israeli-American relations – and why do top U.S. government officials continue to treat AIPAC as anything other than a sophisticated spy operation?

– Justin Raimondo

Newspapers Take John Kerry to Task on False Stem Cell Research Claims

Sooner or later, John Kerry's misstatements on stem cell research were bound to catch up to him. Kerry has drawn flack from the Bush campaign for incorrectly saying the president has banned funding for the research. Now, two leading newspapers are holding him accountable for his remarks.

Kerry has frequently called President Bush's August 2001 policy prohibiting taxpayer funding of any new stem cell research that destroys human life a "ban" on all such research.

In an October radio address to the nation, Kerry called Bush's policy a "ban that's tied the hands of our scientists and shut down some of our most promising work."

However, the policy only limited federal funding of new embryonic stem cell research. President Bush authorized over $190 million in federal funding of research employing adult stem cells, that has already produced more than 140 treatments for diseases and various ailments.

In an editorial on Wednesday, the Washington Post took issue with Kerry's comments.

"Unfortunately, the campaign rhetoric about stem cells is misleading," the Post wrote. "President Bush has not 'banned' this form of research, as Sen. John Kerry has claimed."

The Post also took Kerry running mate John Edwards to task for implying that changing Bush's policy would allow people like Christopher Reeve, the former Superman actor who recently passed away, to walk.

During a campaign stop in Iowa earlier this month, Edwards marked Reeve's death by blasting President Bush's position.
"If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to get up out of that wheelchair and walk again," Edwards told the Iowa audience.

Just as Bush has not banned stem cell research funding, "nor would a more permissive Bush policy have led to Mr. Reeve's walking anytime soon," the Post observed.

"Stem cells are still an unknown quantity: There is certainly no proof that more research on them will ever help people like Mr. Reeve to walk," the Post editorial said.

Meanwhile, the New York Times also weighed in on the concerning Kerry comments.

An article by David Rosenbaum published Thursday says "Senator John Kerry exaggerates the potential gains from embryonic stem cell research."

"Scientists say embryonic stem cell research is a promising avenue that could lead to the treatment and possibly cure of dread diseases," Rosenbaum wrote. "But it is unlikely that anyone with these diseases today will be helped. So far, there has not even been successful treatment in mice, and no specific help for humans is on the horizon."

Despite the rebuke, Kerry continues to imply that President Bush opposes stem cell research in general while he favors it.

Kerry's campaign released a new television ad Thursday saying, "If you believe in the promise of stem cell research...then I hope you'll join me, and together, we'll change America."

"It is refreshing to see some mainstream media admit that Kerry and others are misleading people on the embryonic stem cell issue," said Nancy Valko, a representative of Nurses for Life, in response to the editorials.

Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
October 28, 2004

Mel Gibson Opposes California Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Actor and producer Mel Gibson launched the battle of the Hollywood stars on Thursday as he took issue with an endorsement actor and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger gave to a controversial billion-dollar measure in California that would fund research involving the destruction of human life.

Gibson told ABC's "Good Morning America'' that he has an "ethical problem'' with the research and called the "Terminator" actor to discuss it.

The "Passion of the Christ" producer said he initially was supportive of the proposal until he found out that it would fund cloning and killing of human embryos.

"I'm very concerned with the stem cell question. I'm for stem cell research. I think it can do a lot of good. When I heard about a Proposition 71 to promote stem cell research I was overjoyed because it can do so much good," Gibson said.

"I found that the cloning of human embryos will be used in the process and that, for me, I have an ethical problem with that,'' Gibson told ABC. "Why do I, as a taxpayer, have to fund something I believe is unethical?''

"Adult stem cell research, I'm all for it. I'll give my own stem cells to somebody if they want. But I can't condone this," Gibson, who has starred in movies such as "Braveheart" and the "Lethal Weapon" series, explained.

Gibson said she talked to Schwarzenegger, and the two discussed the issue for a few minutes before Schwarzenegger had to get off the phone for a planned speech.

"I did talk to him for several minutes and explained to him what my position was on'' Proposition 71, Schwarzenegger confirmed to the Associated Press.

Gibson was hoping to spend more time talking to the governor about the $6 billion measure that would use taxpayer funds to sponsor unproven embryonic stem cell research. He said in the ABC interview he was waiting for Schwarzenegger to call him back. Schwarzenegger says he left a message for Gibson and is waiting for it to be returned.

Both men are Catholics and the Catholic Church strongly opposes Proposition 71.

Gibson's comments drew him praise from pro-life groups.

"I agree with Mel Gibson's belief that destroying days-old human embryos on research which has virtually no hope of success is immoral," Roberta Combs, head of the Christian Coalition, said in response.

Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
October 28, 2004

A War We Can't Win

"An uptick in airstrikes and other military moves points to an imminent showdown between U.S. forces and Sunni Muslim insurgents west of Baghdad – a decisive battle that could determine whether the campaign to bring democracy and stability to Iraq can succeed."

The above quotation is the lead paragraph of an Associated Press dispatch. Note the last part of that sentence: "a decisive battle that could determine whether the campaign to bring democracy and stability to Iraq can succeed."

That's bull. In counterinsurgency warfare, there is no such thing as a "decisive battle." Of course the heavily armed American forces can win every single stand-up battle they fight in Iraq. Of course they can take Fallujah or any other city they wish to take. Americans won every stand-up battle they fought in Vietnam, but who won the war? The Vietnamese communists.

It would profit us to think about how the Vietnamese communists managed to win the war while losing every battle. In sum, they wore out our will to fight. They were home and had no place to go. We were foreign invaders tethered to a 12,000-mile supply line. The people of Vietnam supported them because they, like most people, resent foreign invaders. The people of America came to the point where they withdrew their support because they discovered that they had been lied to by the U.S. government and because, in the end, they didn't really care whether Vietnam was communist or corrupt. And that was the choice: communism or a corrupt government that didn't give a hoot about democracy.

Everything in the above paragraph applies to Iraq, with one exception. In Iraq, we are tethered to a supply line that is only about 8,000 miles long. But we are the foreign invaders, and the insurgents, most of them, are at home and have no place to go. The people support the insurgents, not us. Furthermore, the Iraqis want us out more than we want to stay. Fewer than half of Americans think the war was a good idea, and as American casualties mount, as they inevitably must, eventually Americans will decide that they don't care whether Iraq is a dictatorship or a democracy.

As I said, we can win the battle of Fallujah. But let me tell you what we can't do: We can't win the battle of Fallujah without great destruction and civilian casualties, and that will create more insurgents than we kill. There is not a finite number of insurgents whom we can kill and declare victory. The number of insurgents ebbs and flows depending on events. When we kill an Iraqi, we place upon his family a burden to get revenge. The nature of Iraqi society is large, extended families interconnected with many tribal groups. There is no way we can kill Uncle Mohammed without his sons, brothers, nieces and nephews – and, indeed, his tribe – being obligated to avenge his death.

It is our presence in Iraq that is the source of the insurgency. As with Vietnam, the insurgency will end when we leave, and not before. We are in a war we can't win.

At first glance, the insurgent might seem to be at a tremendous disadvantage, but he is not. He has no need to attack us in strength. All he needs to do is kill an American now and then; set off a bomb now and then; rain down mortar shells now and then. It is the persistence of these attacks – mere pinpricks, from a conventional military point of view – that gives him victory, for as long as he can keep them up, we can't claim victory.

Our tactical intelligence in Iraq is a miserable failure for the same reason it was in Vietnam. We can't tell the good guys from the bad guys. We can't know if our translator, our Iraqi spy, or our Iraqi clerk is really on our side or on the side of the insurgents. Their country, their language and their culture are alien to us. For 13 years, our spies failed to penetrate it, and they are still failing.

I don't want to seem a gloomy Gus, but we should face the fact that we are very good at conventional warfare and lousy at counterinsurgency. There is no light at the end of this tunnel, and staying the course is stupid and futile.

Charley Reese