Flash Gordon Left Me The Keys

The TEST OF ALL MOTHERS

Sunday, April 06, 2003

 
Dear America: This is a difficult letter to write, because I'm no longer sure who you are.

Some of you may be having the same trouble. I thought I knew you: We'd become well acquainted over the past 55 years. You were the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comic books I read in the late 1940s. You were the radio shows -- Jack Benny, Our Miss Brooks. You were the music I sang and danced to: the Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, the Platters, Elvis. You were a ton of fun.

You wrote some of my favourite books. You created Huckleberry Finn, and Hawkeye, and Beth and Jo in Little Women, courageous in their different ways. Later, you were my beloved Thoreau, father of environmentalism, witness to individual conscience; and Walt Whitman, singer of the great Republic; and Emily Dickinson, keeper of the private soul. You were Hammett and Chandler, heroic walkers of mean streets; even later, you were the amazing trio, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner, who traced the dark labyrinths of your hidden heart. You were Sinclair Lewis and Arthur Miller, who, with their own American idealism, went after the sham in you, because they thought you could do better. You were Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, you were Humphrey Bogart in Key Largo, you were Lillian Gish in Night of the Hunter. You stood up for freedom, honesty and justice; you protected the innocent. I believed most of that. I think you did, too. It seemed true at the time.

You put God on the money, though, even then. You had a way of thinking that the things of Caesar were the same as the things of God: That gave you self-confidence. You have always wanted to be a city upon a hill, a light to all nations, and for a while you were. Give me your tired, your poor, you sang, and for a while you meant it.

We've always been close, you and us. History, that old entangler, has twisted us together since the early 17th century. Some of us used to be you; some of us want to be you; some of you used to be us. You are not only our neighbours: In many cases -- mine, for instance -- you are also our blood relations, our colleagues and our personal friends. But although we've had a ringside seat, we've never understood you completely, up here north of the 49th parallel.

We're like Romanized Gauls -- look like Romans, dress like Romans, but aren't Romans -- peering over the wall at the real Romans. What are they doing? Why? What are they doing now? Why is the haruspex eyeballing the sheep's liver? Why is the soothsayer wholesaling the Bewares?

Perhaps that's been my difficulty in writing you this letter: I'm not sure I know what's really going on. Anyway, you have a huge posse of experienced entrail-sifters who do nothing but analyze your every vein and lobe. What can I tell you about yourself that you don't already know?

This might be the reason for my hesitation: embarrassment, brought on by a becoming modesty. But it is more likely to be embarrassment of another sort. When my grandmother -- from a New England background -- was confronted with an unsavoury topic, she would change the subject and gaze out the window. And that is my own inclination: Mind your own business.

But I'll take the plunge, because your business is no longer merely your business. To paraphrase Marley's Ghost, who figured it out too late, mankind is your business. And vice versa: When the Jolly Green Giant goes on the rampage, many lesser plants and animals get trampled underfoot. As for us, you're our biggest trading partner: We know perfectly well that if you go down the plug-hole, we're going with you. We have every reason to wish you well. I won't go into the reasons why I think your recent Iraqi adventures have been -- taking the long view -- an ill-advised tactical error. By the time you read this, Baghdad may or may not look like the craters of the Moon, and many more sheep entrails will have been examined. Let's talk, then, not about what you're doing to other people, but about what you're doing to yourselves.

You're gutting the Constitution. Already your home can be entered without your knowledge or permission, you can be snatched away and incarcerated without cause, your mail can be spied on, your private records searched. Why isn't this a recipe for widespread business theft, political intimidation, and fraud? I know you've been told all this is for your own safety and protection, but think about it for a minute. Anyway, when did you get so scared? You didn't used to be easily frightened.

You're running up a record level of debt. Keep spending at this rate and pretty soon you won't be able to afford any big military adventures. Either that or you'll go the way of the USSR: lots of tanks, but no air conditioning. That will make folks very cross. They'll be even crosser when they can't take a shower because your short-sighted bulldozing of environmental protections has dirtied most of the water and dried up the rest. Then things will get hot and dirty indeed.

You're torching the American economy. How soon before the answer to that will be, not to produce anything yourselves, but to grab stuff other people produce, at gunboat-diplomacy prices? Is the world going to consist of a few megarich King Midases, with the rest being serfs, both inside and outside your country? Will the biggest business sector in the United States be the prison system? Let's hope not. If you proceed much further down the slippery slope, people around the world will stop admiring the good things about you. They'll decide that your city upon the hill is a slum and your democracy is a sham, and therefore you have no business trying to impose your sullied vision on them. They'll think you've abandoned the rule of law. They'll think you've fouled your own nest.

The British used to have a myth about King Arthur. He wasn't dead, but sleeping in a cave, it was said; in the country's hour of greatest peril, he would return. You, too, have great spirits of the past you may call upon: men and women of courage, of conscience, of prescience. Summon them now, to stand with you, to inspire you, to defend the best in you. You need them.








 
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. American and coalition forces are steadily advancing against the regime of Saddam Hussein. With each new village they liberate, our forces are learning more about the atrocities of that regime, and the deep fear the dictator has instilled in the Iraqi people. Yet no crime of this dying regime will divert us from our mission. We will not stop until Iraq is free.
 
Is Saddam in Syria?
Exclusive Middle East sources have tracked down the top Iraqi leadership’s bolt-hole. It is a large 1,600-room luxury resort with 600 meters of private sandy beach in the Mediterranean coastal town of Latakiya called Cote d’Azur De Cham Resort, prepaid and chartered in toto by Baghdad.

The group may include Saddam Hussein or his sons, but this is not confirmed.

The hotel is located close to the Assad family villa.

Top Iraqi officials are reported hiding there since March 23, four days after the US-led coalition invaded Iraq. They are guarded by a Syrian commando unit armed with anti-air missiles while Syrian naval missile boats secure the port.
The Iraqi troops sent to reinforce Baghdad’s international airport are members of the Iraqi 26th Brigade’s special commando unit, whose sole task is to defend lives of Saddam Hussein and close family. These commandos take orders from no one but Iraqi ruler and sons, who...






 
Day 17 of Iraq War: Battle for Saddam’s Underground Regime Centers

While the images of American tanks rumbling through the streets of Baghdad Saturday, April 5, made stunning footage – certainly meant to impress on the Iraqi people and army that further resistance is useless, notwithstanding Saddam Hussein’s walkabout the day before ...

Baghdad’s general population, thousands of whom are fleeing the city, will be left to its own devices. The invading US troops were given orders to focus on capturing Saddam Hussein’s control, command and communications centers, the nerve centers of his regime, which are buried in four vast underground palace complexes under Baghdad and its environs. The fighting against mostly jumbled tag-ends of Special Republican Guards divisions centered Saturday, Day 17 of the Iraq War, on gaining control of these hubs of government and is likely to go on for another day at least.

This is what US Central Command deputy operations officer Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks meant by his terse statement that special troops are seizing key points in Baghdad.

The war commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, is quoted by aides as remarking on the two appearances Friday by Saddam Hussein or a double that regardless of whether the Iraqi ruler is in Baghdad or not, alive or dead, the important thing now is to take over his command and control centers of government and military with all speed. Once this is accomplished, the war will have been won.

Therefore, the scenes in Baghdad depicted Saturday did not represent the battle for the capital but for Saddam’s underground regime centers. And indeed, in the early afternoon of Saturday, correspondents reported that US forces had suddenly disappeared from the streets.

The first of these underground cities was reached when the US forces took over Baghdad International Airport Thursday, April 3, and plunged into a vast underground labyrinth accessed at the tip of the outer runway. Another such facility is located to the north, known as the “Northern Palace.

More like self-contained underground cities, these compounds take up areas of between 7 and 10 sq.km, with their own internal systems of up to 7 km of road. The two airport palaces are linked by an underground expressway.
A day later, on Saturday, the Iraqi minister claimed the plan had come off and Iraqi forces had pushed the American units out and retaken the international airfield. Whether or not this is true, American and Iraqi troops were undoubtedly locked in combat at the airfield Saturday

The other two palace-cities have been tunneled under the streets of Baghdad – one under the upscale Karah neighborhood with Saddam’s own private airstrip attached; the second running under the Dora district south of the Tigris and Baghdad University. Some intelligence sources are sure that the two are also linked by a highway running under the river. The US 3rd Infantry and 101st Airborne Divisions tanks thundering through the streets of Baghdad Saturday morning were on their way to the Karah Palace. So too were the Special Republic Guards forces, ordered to defend Karah with their lives.
This regime center was placed under siege Thursday night, April 3, when elements of the 101st Airborne Division seized control of the northbound Tikrit-Mosul highway while troops of the 82nd Airborne Division came up from the west and cut the Baghdad-Tikrit highway. Saturday morning, the two American forces moved in to tighten the noose around Saddam’s underground center near Tikrit.

It looks as though Tommy Franks, amid the hype and misdirection, is forging ahead with his preconceived war plan, step by step.

Day 17 of Iraq War: Battle for Saddam’s Underground Regime Centers

While the images of American tanks rumbling through the streets of Baghdad Saturday, April 5, made stunning footage – certainly meant to impress on the Iraqi people and army that further resistance is useless, notwithstanding Saddam Hussein’s walkabout the day before ...

Baghdad’s general population, thousands of whom are fleeing the city, will be left to its own devices. The invading US troops were given orders to focus on capturing Saddam Hussein’s control, command and communications centers, the nerve centers of his regime, which are buried in four vast underground palace complexes under Baghdad and its environs. The fighting against mostly jumbled tag-ends of Special Republican Guards divisions centered Saturday, Day 17 of the Iraq War, on gaining control of these hubs of government and is likely to go on for another day at least.

This is what US Central Command deputy operations officer Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks meant by his terse statement that special troops are seizing key points in Baghdad.

The war commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, is quoted by aides as remarking on the two appearances Friday by Saddam Hussein or a double that regardless of whether the Iraqi ruler is in Baghdad or not, alive or dead, the important thing now is to take over his command and control centers of government and military with all speed. Once this is accomplished, the war will have been won.

Therefore, the scenes in Baghdad depicted Saturday did not represent the battle for the capital but for Saddam’s underground regime centers. And indeed, in the early afternoon of Saturday, correspondents reported that US forces had suddenly disappeared from the streets.

The first of these underground cities was reached when the US forces took over Baghdad International Airport Thursday, April 3, and plunged into a vast underground labyrinth accessed at the tip of the outer runway. Another such facility is located to the north, known as the “Northern Palace.

More like self-contained underground cities, these compounds take up areas of between 7 and 10 sq.km, with their own internal systems of up to 7 km of road. The two airport palaces are linked by an underground expressway.
A day later, on Saturday, the Iraqi minister claimed the plan had come off and Iraqi forces had pushed the American units out and retaken the international airfield. Whether or not this is true, American and Iraqi troops were undoubtedly locked in combat at the airfield Saturday

The other two palace-cities have been tunneled under the streets of Baghdad – one under the upscale Karah neighborhood with Saddam’s own private airstrip attached; the second running under the Dora district south of the Tigris and Baghdad University. Some intelligence sources are sure that the two are also linked by a highway running under the river. The US 3rd Infantry and 101st Airborne Divisions tanks thundering through the streets of Baghdad Saturday morning were on their way to the Karah Palace. So too were the Special Republic Guards forces, ordered to defend Karah with their lives.
This regime center was placed under siege Thursday night, April 3, when elements of the 101st Airborne Division seized control of the northbound Tikrit-Mosul highway while troops of the 82nd Airborne Division came up from the west and cut the Baghdad-Tikrit highway. Saturday morning, the two American forces moved in to tighten the noose around Saddam’s underground center near Tikrit.

It looks as though Tommy Franks, amid the hype and misdirection, is forging ahead with his preconceived war plan, step by step.








 
Iraqi TV announces Baghdad entrances closed from 6pm to 6am – effective curfew - amid more bombing and heavy artillery explosions on Baghdad outskirts early Sunday.

US Marine reinforcements brought in as fighting reported from southwest in direction of international airport and southeast between US and Republican Guards troops.

Capital largely blockaded by coalition troops, with round-the-clock coalition air patrols flying “close urban protection”.

US command says coalition forces can go into capital at will, 7,000 US troops at international airport, while Iraq claims to have chased invaders from Baghdad and airport, showing new footage of Saddam with top aides and sons.

Northbound highways blocked by US 101st Airborne and 3rd Mechanized Divisions, keeping Baghdad cut off from Tikrit.

Iraqi officers reported in contact with coalition commanders. Many non-Iraqis, Arab volunteers, surrender or are captured in and around Iraq

Units of US 101st Airborne Division flown in to Shiite holy town of Karbala, 50 m southwest of capital, Sunday after day of street-to-street fighting.

DEBKAfile military sources reported Saturday: US forces entering Baghdad head for Saddam Hussein’s four underground palace-cities:

-- Army’s 3rd and elements of 101st Airborne Divisions making for Karah center and adjoining private presidential airfield

-- US 1st Marine Expeditionary Force fighting way towards presidential bunker at Dora in south of Baghdad

-- Reinforced American units at international airport are securing underground complex under runway and battling Iraqis on highways from Baghdad to “Northern Palace”, advancing after threatened Iraqi “martyrdom” attack did not materialize Friday night.

-- US forces also clashing with Iraqis on road to fifth buried palace compound southeast of Tikrit. Read more in DEBKAfile War Diary of Day 17 below

US 3rd Division captured Special Republican Guard al Medina Division headquarters at As-Suwayrah south of Baghdad.

Two Marines killed early Saturday when AH-1W Super Cobra crashed in Central Iraq

According to official figures, coalition forces have lost 102 dead in 17 days of Iraq War. Of 75 American soldiers killed, 62 died in combat, 13 in accidents, 8 missing. Twenty-seven British servicemen lost their lives.

Retired Lt.-Gen Jay Garner is President Bush’s choice to head interim administration before Iraqis take over. Wolfowitz described Garner’s function as technocratic rather than political and not long-term. UN role in rehabilitating Iraq would be “facilitating” not key

Israeli security forces thwarted attempt by armed Palestinians to break into Hebron’s Jewish Quarter, Kiryat Arba, Saturday night. One Palestinian killed in fire exchange with pursuing Israeli troops, second escaped.

Palestinians claim Israeli troops in armored carrier shot and seriously wounded Brian Avery, an American pro-Palestinian sympathizer living in West Bank town of Jenin. IDF is investigating incident
Jane?¡

German foreign minister Fischer visits Israel Monday, will see Sharon and ministers and visit designated Palestinian PM Abu Mazen in Ramallah

 
I THINK IT WAS Garfield who said, "Vacation is a state of mind." Or maybe it was Ziggy. Either way, it's demonstrably true: Vacation is what happens when you abandon the things that dominate your life. When you're a journalist, that means getting away from the news.


You've probably been following the story of Fieldsboro, New Jersey. The tiny Burlington County berg, just a dozen or so miles from my family homestead in Moorestown, has banned the display of yellow ribbons on public property. The town's Democratic mayor, Edward "Buddy" Tyler, and Democratic city council passed the ban a few days ago and actually tried to enforce it--until the national media caught wind of the scheme.

Tyler's explanation: "It's a matter of law. I'm not putting my town on a slippery slope."

The good mayor is worried that if you allow yellow ribbons, the next thing you know neo-Nazis will want to put their flags up and then poor Buddy Tyler won't have a leg to stand on.

Except that we don't have a lot of neo-Nazis in Burlington County and even if we did, life is not a community-college ethics class. People make distinctions and judgement calls every day because life is a slippery slope. Reasonable people accept the adult duty to make these judgements and not simply throw their hands in the air at the slightest bit of trouble.

Take, for instance, the quite reasonable people of Rumford, Maine.

This week's edition has a banner headline that reads "Yellow ribbons flying in the River Valley." The Falls Times's Abbey Casás Rice reports:

As stories of American servicemen and women begin to filter back to the homefront, citizens around the country are reviving the tradition of displaying a yellow ribbon to show support for U.S. troops.

In the River Valley, residents and municipal governments are joining in the effort.

Since Thursday, Davis Florist on Congress Street in Rumford has sold or taken orders for more than 120 large outdoor yellow ribbons. The town of Rumford has ordered 40. . . . The town of Mexico plans to order 30 . . .

Rumford plans to display the ribbons on Waldo and Congress street, as well as on town bridges. . . .

Mexico Town Manager Joe Derouche said that the ribbons would go on telephone poles throughout town and at the town office . . .

"The Town of Mexico and town officials have always supported the troops," commented Derouche, and noted that "whether we agree or disagree, the fact is they need our support." . . .

Rumford Town Manager Robert Welch voiced a similar sentiment when asked about yellow ribbons.

"Whether you agree with policy coming out of Washington or not, you have to support the troops," he said.

Welch decided to order the ribbons after a discussion with Rumford Selectman Eugene Boivin. . . .

I'll keep an eye out and let you know if Rumford is buried under an avalanche of swastikas; somehow, I suspect it won't be a problem.




 
April 6, 2003

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Refrain from the use of indiscriminate weapons

I am deeply concerned by indications that the US Government is considering the use of indiscriminate weapons in Iraq. The use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, cluster bombs, or anti-personnel landmines are likely to result in civilian casualties and deaths. I urge you to make an immediate and public commitment to refrain from using such weapons under any circumstances, and to refrain from the use of thermobaric weapons or depleted uranium, which pose a high risk of causing disproportionate, superfluous, and indiscriminate injury to civilians.

I urge that principles of international humanitarian law are followed and that civilian lives and objects are protected to the maximum extent possible. Furthermore, I urge you to ensure that rules of engagement be adhered to and aircrews distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate targets, and suspend an attack if the distinction cannot be made. The United States and all parties to this conflict are under obligation to protect against civilian casualties. This is the case even if the Iraqi military deliberately deploys military equipment in civilian areas. The rules of international humanitarian law make clear that even if one side shields itself behind civilians, such a violation does not release the other side from its obligation to ensure that all precautionary measures are taken to ensure that the civilian population and civilian objects are spared. The protection of life, safety, and security of civilians must be of paramount consideration in any action taken to resolve the crisis.

Iraqi civilians have already suffered unduly from decades of war, systematic human rights abuse by the Hussein government, and a United Nations sanctions regime that has crippled the country's economic and social infrastructure. The United States must comply fully with international law in any action it takes in Iraq to prevent further exacerbation of a humanitarian crisis that is likely to result from conflict.

Joe Amnesty International


 
LAST SUNDAY on "Meet the Press," Tim Russert confronted Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Al-Douri, with evidence of Iraqi human-rights abuses documented by Amnesty International. Asked for comment, Al-Douri demurred, saying, "Amnesty International is not reliable for me. . . . They are a part of the war propaganda of United States and Britain. They are not neutral so I cannot accept their witnesses, what they are saying."

Whatever you think of Al-Douri's comments, he's right about one thing: Amnesty International certainly isn't neutral. They are quite biased--against the United States.

A visit to Amnesty International USA's website reveals this astonishing headline: "Iraq: Fear of War Crimes By Both Sides." The accompanying March 26 press release spends five paragraphs castigating coalition forces for "war crimes" on account of the U.S. effort to take Iraq's state-run television station off the air. Claudio Cordone, a senior director for international law at Amnesty International, says, "The bombing of a television station simply because it is being used for purposes of propaganda is unacceptable."

One supposes that reasonable people could disagree on whether or not Iraqi TV constituted a real threat and deserved to be targeted. But Amnesty International goes further. Cordone accuses the United States of accepting the doctrine of "total war." This despite mountains of evidence that coalition commanders have planned every single aspect of the war around the pillar of protecting civilians.

You would think that if bombing Iraqi TV gets Cordone that fired up, he would be in a state of apoplexy about what the Iraqi military has done: shooting and hanging civilians; using hospitals, mosques, and homes to hide soldiers; executing and abusing prisoners of war. You would, of course, be wrong.

After five paragraphs excoriating the United States, Amnesty International spends exactly four sentences on Saddam Hussein's regime. Their denunciation reads in full:

Iraqi forces are reported to have deliberately shelled civilians in Basra and to placing [sic] military objectives in close proximity to civilians and civilian objects. There have also been reports of Iraqis dressed in civilian clothes in order to allow surprise attacks on coalition troops.

"Any direct attack on civilians is a war crime. Those who blur the distinction between combatants and civilians undermine the very foundations of humanitarian law," said Claudio Cordone.

Other recent Amnesty International press releases are similar in tone. One bemoaned the coalition's use of cluster bombs. Another started, promisingly enough, by taking Iraqi soldiers to task for using fake surrenders to stage ambushes on coalition troops. The group's executive director, William F. Schulz, managed to call these tactics "perfidy." (Whoa, Bill! Take it easy on the invective!) But a few sentences later, Amnesty International returns to form, attacking the United States for the March 31 incident in which seven Iraqi women and children were killed when their vehicle stormed a coalition checkpoint.

In a final bit of posturing, Amnesty International urges people to write President Bush, even going so far as to provide a handy, pre-fab letter. And this isn't just moral equivalence--they don't suggest any way for individuals to pressure the Iraqi regime.

All of which suggests that Mohammed Al-Douri should engage Amnesty International. He's unlikely to find a more sympathetic foe.
Coalition forces have confirmed attacking the main Iraqi television station early on Wednesday. According to reports from the BBC, US Central Command in Qatar has said that missiles struck Iraq's main TV station. The Pentagon is reported to have said that the purpose of the operation was to counter the command and control abilities of the Iraqi regime, and also to deal with propaganda and the disinformation campaign of Baghdad.

"The bombing of a television station simply because it is being used for the purposes of propaganda is unacceptable. It is a civilian object, and thus protected under international humanitarian law," said Claudio Cordone, Senior Director for International Law at Amnesty International.

"To justify such an attack Coalition forces would have to show that the TV station was being used for military purposes and that the attack properly balanced the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated with the incidental risk to civilian life."

"Attacking a civilian object and carrying out a disproportionate attack are war crimes. The onus is on the Coalition forces to demonstrate the military use of the TV station and, if that is indeed the case, to show that the attack took into account the risk to civilian lives."

"At times of war many civilian activities can be seen as supporting, in a general way, the war effort. But to accept that all such activities can be targeted is to accept the logic of 'total war'. Preventing the devastation of such 'total wars' has been one of the key underpinnings for the development of the rules of war in recent decades," Claudio Cordone added.

Iraqi forces are reported to have deliberately shelled civilians in Basra and to placing military objectives in close proximity to civilians and civilian objects. There have also been reports of Iraqis dressed in civilian clothes in order to allow surprise attacks on coalition troops.

"Any direct attack on civilians is a war crime. Those who blur the distinction between combatants and civilians undermine the very foundations of humanitarian law," said Claudio Cordone.



 
LAST SUNDAY on "Meet the Press," Tim Russert confronted Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Al-Douri, with evidence of Iraqi human-rights abuses documented by Amnesty International. Asked for comment, Al-Douri demurred, saying, "Amnesty International is not reliable for me. . . . They are a part of the war propaganda of United States and Britain. They are not neutral so I cannot accept their witnesses, what they are saying."

Whatever you think of Al-Douri's comments, he's right about one thing: Amnesty International certainly isn't neutral. They are quite biased--against the United States.

A visit to Amnesty International USA's website reveals this astonishing headline: "Iraq: Fear of War Crimes By Both Sides." The accompanying March 26 press release spends five paragraphs castigating coalition forces for "war crimes" on account of the U.S. effort to take Iraq's state-run television station off the air. Claudio Cordone, a senior director for international law at Amnesty International, says, "The bombing of a television station simply because it is being used for purposes of propaganda is unacceptable."

One supposes that reasonable people could disagree on whether or not Iraqi TV constituted a real threat and deserved to be targeted. But Amnesty International goes further. Cordone accuses the United States of accepting the doctrine of "total war." This despite mountains of evidence that coalition commanders have planned every single aspect of the war around the pillar of protecting civilians.

You would think that if bombing Iraqi TV gets Cordone that fired up, he would be in a state of apoplexy about what the Iraqi military has done: shooting and hanging civilians; using hospitals, mosques, and homes to hide soldiers; executing and abusing prisoners of war. You would, of course, be wrong.

After five paragraphs excoriating the United States, Amnesty International spends exactly four sentences on Saddam Hussein's regime. Their denunciation reads in full:

Iraqi forces are reported to have deliberately shelled civilians in Basra and to placing [sic] military objectives in close proximity to civilians and civilian objects. There have also been reports of Iraqis dressed in civilian clothes in order to allow surprise attacks on coalition troops.

"Any direct attack on civilians is a war crime. Those who blur the distinction between combatants and civilians undermine the very foundations of humanitarian law," said Claudio Cordone.

Other recent Amnesty International press releases are similar in tone. One bemoaned the coalition's use of cluster bombs. Another started, promisingly enough, by taking Iraqi soldiers to task for using fake surrenders to stage ambushes on coalition troops. The group's executive director, William F. Schulz, managed to call these tactics "perfidy." (Whoa, Bill! Take it easy on the invective!) But a few sentences later, Amnesty International returns to form, attacking the United States for the March 31 incident in which seven Iraqi women and children were killed when their vehicle stormed a coalition checkpoint.

In a final bit of posturing, Amnesty International urges people to write President Bush, even going so far as to provide a handy, pre-fab letter. And this isn't just moral equivalence--they don't suggest any way for individuals to pressure the Iraqi regime.

All of which suggests that Mohammed Al-Douri should engage Amnesty International. He's unlikely to find a more sympathetic foe.


 
On April 3, an Al Jazeera correspondent asked Brooks:

We've heard various reports throughout the day about coalition forces being about 10 to 20 kilometers on the outskirts of Baghdad, close to Saddam International Airport. Can you clarify that matter for us? And I'm sure you're aware, sir, that the Iraqis contest your attestation that you've inflicted heavy damage on the Republican Guards in the past few days. I was wondering if and when you can show us videos, combat footage of that, proof of that?

Because, you know, the Iraqi press operation has proved incredibly reliable in recent days. But that was just a warm-up. The question of the day--nay, the question of the millennium--came from a reporter from a Hong Kong TV network:

If the plan to take down Baghdad didn't succeed and the coalition would have to retreat, and without giving a detailed description of the location, where would the coalition troops retreat to, since most of the cities around Baghdad are only partially secured, not completely taken by U.S.-led force? Thank you.

Yes, the intrepid reporter from Hong Kong wants to know about our plans for retreat.


 
CENTCOM...same shit different day...
IF THERE IS ANYTHING that can be said to be "enjoyable" about this war, it must surely be the delights of the CENTCOM 7:00 a.m. press briefings. Handled mostly by the able Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, they shed little light on the actual progress of the war, but give a clear look into the minds of the press.

Surprisingly, the questions from the American press have been quite good. Reporters from U.S. news outlets typically ask factual questions, such as how many men are in the Fedayeen or where Iraqi chem suits were manufactured.

The foreign press seem less interested in facts and more interested in, well, see for yourself:


***
Kevin Dunn of Britain's ITV News: General, going back to the friendly fire incident in which a British soldier was killed, his colleagues have said or found it inconceivable that the pilot of the A-10 was unable to identify the British armor, and he is said to have made not just one, but two passes over the column. In fact, they described his actions as being that of a cowboy. What do you say to the family of the dead soldier?


***
An unidentified reporter from China's Hsinhua News Agency: General, as we know, 47 (UNINTELLIGIBLE) British military personnel have been confirmed here since the war began and there are no prisoners (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Some American reports say if coalition casualties exceed 150, that's one more than the Gulf War in 1991, the U.S. government will face a big problem. Could you just comment about that?


***
Kathy Shin (ph) of Hong Kong's Phoenix Satellite TV: On the second day of the operation, the coalition declared they have Umm Qasr secure. But a statement got (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by the Iraqi information minister and with the pictures they have been showing us at the briefing indicates the coalition only targeted precisely on the military infrastructure. But Iraqi and also--Iraqi, as a matter of fact, Iraqi health minister said that the coalition have killed many of their civilians. So could you tell me who is telling the truth here and is this war all about image building?


***
Augusta Policinski (ph) of Polish Weekly: Do you receive information about increasing movement of antiwar protesters around the world? Does the information change your decisions, influence your decisions?


***
James Forlong of Sky News: Do you accept, given the footage that we saw today of the hearts-and-minds operations going on, the immense damage to that that incurs when incidents such as this checkpoint shooting take place? And do you also accept that a contributory factor to that may be that U.S. forces on the ground simply don't have enough experience of this sort of policing operation within an area like this?


***
Abella Safin (ph) of WTV (ph): When you show us these impressive satellite footage and video clips, you probably want us to believe that (A) your bombs are accurate; (B) you do not target civilians. If it is really the case, I'm just wondering how can you explain the deaths of between 500 to 700 civilian Iraqis and injuring many more thousands? And how do you find this consistent with Geneva Conventions? And when you used those villagers to carry out weapons and munitions outside the house in order to destroy it, how moral do you find this?


These journalists aren't interested in finding out what's going on so much as browbeating the United States. I don't know how representative the sample is, but from the crowd of scribes assembled in Doha, it looks like we've got a planet full of Helen Thomases on our hands.

And those questions are some of the more respectable ones. At the March 26 briefing, one foreign correspondent proclaimed/asked: "This war talks about humanity a lot, and according to a Russian radio station that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter, Elizabeth, is on her way to Baghdad to join an antiwar group who use themselves as human shields to defend further aggression from coalition. What do you have to say to the innocent civilian people who are willing to risk their own lives in a hope to stop this war?"

A few moments later, another foreign journo--leaning on junk science so discredited that even the U.N. thinks it's bunk--asked: "General, how much of your weaponry uses depleted uranium? And what are your concerns about the effects of that on Iraqi civilians?"

On the one hand, it's frightening to realize that the global media operate on a professional level roughly equivalent to a bad college paper. But on the other hand, it's a little bit liberating: After all, with press like this, no wonder the rest of the world hates us--America really is besieged by a vast, left-wing conspiracy.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe the fourth estate's pomposity and ignorance is structural and not political. After all, the most revealing question asked so far in Doha was from a superstar American journalist:

I'm Michael Wolff from New York magazine.

And I mean no disrespect by this question, but I want to ask about the value proposition of these briefings. We're no longer being briefed by senior-most officers. To the extent that we get information, it's largely information already released by the Pentagon. You may know that ABC has sent its senior correspondent home.

So I guess my question is, why should we stay? What's the value to us for what we learn at this million-dollar press center?

Wolff may not find the CENTCOM briefings valuable, but to the rest of us, they're a priceless source of information about him and his colleagues.


 
To be put on ice...The Marine Corps relieved one of its top commanders in Iraq yesterday, an extremely unusual action, especially for a unit engaged in combat.

Col. Joe W. Dowdy has been the officer in charge of the 1st Marine Regiment, one of the three major Marine Corps ground units fighting toward Baghdad. His regiment is reported to have been used to pin down Republican Guard units in the city of Kut while the other two major units, the 5th and 7th Marines, crossed the Tigris River on Thursday and raced toward Baghdad. Those units encountered heavy ground fighting yesterday on the outskirts of the capital and had at least three M1 tanks disabled by Iraqi fire.

The U.S. military was unusually guarded about discussing the reason for the battlefield removal. The Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for the war, announced the action but offered no explanation for it. Pentagon spokesmen referred questions to the Marine Corps, which had no comment.

"We can confirm that he has been relieved," said Marine Maj. Brad Bartelt, a Central Command spokesman. "I have no other information at this time."

At Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, the 1st Marine Regiment's mission included feinting a move toward Iraqi positions in such a way as to draw artillery fire, according to a Marine officer. That maneuver was intended to expose the locations of the Iraqi gun batteries, which could then be hit by airstrikes. The Iraqi units didn't take the bait and never opened fire, the officer said.

Dowdy's immediate superior, Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, the commander of the 1st Marine Division, has the reputation of being an extremely aggressive commander, which is regarded as a plus in the Corps.

Allan Millett, a military historian at Ohio State University and a retired colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, said that "relieving a regimental commander for cause is unusual, in combat or not." The move is especially significant because the three Marine regiments in Iraq have been operating in a decentralized manner -- that is, not in one formation, but as three geographically separate "regimental combat teams."

At the outset of the war on March 20, the three units -- the 1st, 5th and 7th Marines, totaling about 20,000 troops -- drove from Kuwait to seize the Rumaila oil field, which is one of Iraq's most important economic assets, located about 20 miles west of the city of Basra. Then they pushed 75 miles north to Nasiriyah, where they skirmished with Iraqi irregular fighters and crossed the Euphrates River beginning around March 24. They moved into central Iraq and then paused as they grew low on some supplies and a huge sandstorm howled across the country. Earlier this week, the Marine units drove on two axes toward Kut, where Dowdy's 1st Marine Regiment was ordered to pin down the Baghdad Division of the Republican Guard.

Dowdy took command last summer of the 1st Marine Regiment, which is based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Including units attached to the regiment for combat, he had command of more than 6,000 troops, according to GlobalSecurity.org.

Before this assignment, he was the assistant chief of staff and chief planner for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which is the umbrella unit for the Marines fighting in Iraq. Born in Little Rock, he graduated from the University of Mississippi and joined the Marines in 1979. His service biography indicates that the current war in Iraq is the first time he has seen combat. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which much of the combat Marine force served, he was the commander of the Marine Corps security unit in Keflavik, Iceland.

"Good man," retired Marine Gen. Richard Neal said of Dowdy, who he said was a student of his years ago at the Amphibious Warfare School at Quantico.

Dowdy's removal puzzled veterans of the Corps, which -- with just about 16,000 officers -- is small enough that many senior Marines come to know each other.

"Jim Mattis was one of my battalion commanders during the first Gulf War," said retired Marine Gen. Carlton Fulford. "I have great confidence in his judgment. I know of Joe Dowdy by reputation, but not personally. He has a fine reputation."

The key to the situation, some officers suggested, is likely Mattis's views on how forcefully a unit should act in combat. "Jim Mattis is a very aggressive commander -- we wouldn't want it any other way," said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Jack Klimp.

In any case, said Fulford, removing a commander in combat is an extraordinary move that isn't taken lightly. He recalled that during the 1991 Gulf War, when he commanded the 7th Marines, and when Mattis commanded one of his battalions, he decided to remove another of his battalion commanders.

"It was one of the most difficult decisions I ever made as a commander," he recalled. But, he added: "In the final analysis, I believed the commander was not prepared to lead his men into combat, and that was the most important issue."

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