May 04, 2004


Foreign jihadists and terrorists may still lurk, but local populations are more likely to turn them INTO a security force whose presence they consider legitimate.

--Fred Kaplan, today. I know what he means, that they'd "turn them in TO a security force," but it's still an interesting typo. Indeed, that is what is now gradually happening, possibly by default... the men with arms are being bribed to keep relatively peaceful until a new national leader arises who can assemble enough of a political and military powerbase to become a proper proxy ruler. Which, again, makes total sense if you think you're dealing with a almost-entirely native insurgency, and none at all if you think it's all a bunch of foreigners and terrorists attracted to your flypaper.

Posted by BruceR at 10:05 PM


I strongly suggest all readers take time to go through this. Even if you accept that civilians or military intelligence played a larger role than has yet been acknowledged in Abu Ghraib, the story within of a Military Police organization (320th MP Battalion) essentially falling apart through lack of motivation, leadership or discipline is unmistakable. This is remarkable:

Despite the fact that hundreds of former Iraqi soldiers and officers were detainees, MP personnel were allowed to wear civilian clothes in the FOB after duty hours while carrying weapons.

FM 3-19.40 outlines the need for 2 roll calls (100% ISN band checks) per day. The 320th MP Battalion did this check only 2 times per week. Due to the lack of real-time updates to the system, these checks were regularly inaccurate.

While all this was going on, the commander's main concern was apparently that her officers were getting TOO MANY salutes:

Saluting of officers was sporadic and not enforced... BG [Brigadier General Janis] Karpinski approached COL Pappas to reverse the saluting policy [at Abu Ghraib] back to a no-saluting policy as previously existed.

Not that she was ever there:

BG Karpinski claimed, during her testimony, that she paid regular visits to the various detention facilities where her Soldiers were stationed. However, the detailed calendar provided by her Aide-de-Camp, 1LT Mabry, does not support her contention. Moreover, numerous witnesses stated that they rarely saw BG Karpinski...

Posted by BruceR at 09:15 PM


Apparently a rather sensationalist story of the Sadrist uprising was not quite accurate:

At one point, a vehicle carrying four Salvadoran soldiers was caught outside the gate. Demonstrators overwhelmed its terrified occupants, seizing and killing one prisoner on the spot by putting a grenade in his mouth and pulling the pin.

--WashPost, April 10

The only soldier to die in Najaf that day (Apr. 4) was, it is true, a Salvadoran, but his mates say he died entirely differently:

[During an intense firefight] Pvt. Natividad Mendez, Cpl. Toloza's friend for three years, lay dead, shot twice probably by a sniper.

The Salvadorans evidently came to Iraq ready for an occasional dustup. I'd trust their account of what risked becoming, if they hadn't fought so well, a national last stand of sorts over some sensationalist tale from the anonymous Iraqi street.

UPDATE: Good account of an Apr. 17 ambush in Diwaniyah, here, which the American tankers won in a rather unusual fashion.

Posted by BruceR at 05:01 PM


Phil Carter, May 1:

The military should immediately apprehend these individuals [private military contractors at Abu Ghraib] and render them to Justice Department prosecution before a U.S. District Court in the United States. Nothing less -- not termination, not administrative sanction, not suspension or debarment for these contractors -- will be sufficient. These contractors broke the law in a heinous and brutal way, and they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Phil Carter, Apr. 9:

Moreover, while the Justice Department has jurisdiction to prosecute military contractors for actions overseas under a 2000 law, it may decline to do so as a result of limited resources and the fact that there is no U.S. attorney's office (yet) established in Iraq to govern U.S. civilian activities there... The Coalition Provisional Authority has decreed that contractors and other foreign personnel will not be subject to Iraqi criminal processes. Yet, there's also no clear mandate for American jurisdiction.

Phil Carter, today:

...the Justice Department told the Wall Street Journal on Monday that it has no current plans to prosecute any contractors involved with the abuses at Abu Ghraib...

As much as Mr. Carter might have initially liked, it's hard to escape the conclusion that the private military contractors involved in Abu Ghraib are wholly beyond the reach of American courts or laws (even the law Carter cites refers to the use of private military personnel in "time of war," and, as we all know, the war's been over for a year now; this is probably the main reason the Justice Department sees no value in pursuing this one).

And, when the accused soldiers' defence lawyers successfully transfer all the blame from their clients onto the immunity-enjoying "contractors" in the court martial proceedings-to-come, you know most of the accused soldiers will get off entirely, or least much more lightly than they could have, as well. The even money at this point is the Abu Ghraib cases turning into another Italian gondola-style discrediting of the effectiveness of military justice; Stephen Stephanowicz, who as of this week was apparently still on the job at the prison, can sleep easy tonight.

UPDATE: Donald Sensing raises another issue that will likely further bury the chances of strong court martial verdicts. I don't think it's as serious as that, yet, but the continued pressure on America's leaders to say or do more in the way of an apology to Muslims could certainly produce the kind of slip of the tongue that could lead to acquittal. For instance, the decision to release the Taguba report today (see above) with all the higher-ups' names (remarkably!) left in it probably goes a long way toward immunizing any one of those higher-ups from effective prosecution. ("This charge is political, it's a witch-hunt, the public's baying for blood," etc.)

Posted by BruceR at 04:49 PM


One line in the Taguba report on the Abu Ghraib abuses refers to:

Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees

In a CNN interview, Sy Hersh elevated this to pouring "phosphoritic acid" on Iraqis... which isn't an actual chemical term that I've ever heard. I suppose he may have been referring to "phosphoric acid" which is a flavoring agent in Coca Cola, but phosphoric acid has little if anything to do with chemical lights.

So what does the report refer to?

All militaries use various makes of Cyalume glowsticks on operations... the same compound is used in the glowsticks and glowrings used by ravers and the like. The stick is not meant to be actually broken apart (just "cracked" to start it glowing) but if you take a knife or scissors to them, you can then spread the glowing liquid within them over furniture, floors, trees, other people, etc. It continues to glow for a little while before the chemical energy source fully converts to carbon dioxide and it fades. I have seen it done on military exercises occasionally, as a patrol's stealthy way of noting to sleepy sentries that "we were here." The Cyalume chemical reaction combines an oxalate ester and a dilute hydrogen peroxide solution to energize fluorescing dye molecules (the glowing "phosphoric liquid", above). The colour of the liquid is changed by using different coloured dyes. The glowing substance does not effect the skin and is supposedly nowhere near as toxic as, say, rubbing alcohol... not fun to drink, but not poisonous unless you drank a considerable amount (I'm not speaking from experience, here). Some may use dibutyl phthalate as the ester, which is a minor eye/throat irritant, and when ingested in large quantities a carcinogen as well, but not in the quantities one might reasonably consume from glowsticks.

Making a prisoner go around with a glowing stain on him for a while could certainly be demeaning (and the subsequent allegations of sodomy by glowstick are a whole other thing) but spilling a glowstick's contents on someone by itself should not have endangered them physically in any way.

This is not meant to be an excuse, just information. It's always important that our outrage over such things be grounded in fact.

Posted by BruceR at 03:38 PM