Friday, March 11, 2011

We wouldn't want to look bad ...

Sometimes I wonder if some of the more idiotic (and disgusting) statements and acts of my government arise from little more than simple embarrassment.

Case in point: The other day, James Clapper who holds the title "Director of National Intelligence" -- chief overseer of US spooks -- told a Senate committee that Libyan dictator Gadhafi would "prevail" over the current uprising at a time when the U.S. government was conferring with NATO leaders (who care about Libyan oil a lot) about how to support the rebels. Less noted, he also offered his opinion that

...both Russia and China potentially represent a mortal threat to the United States.

You might have noticed that US "intelligence" services have had some big misses lately. Weren't (some of them) mighty certain there were WMDs in Saddam's Iraq? And none of them seem to have predicted the popular revolt sweeping aside Arab dictatorships. Might Mr. Clapper has simply been warning of everything he could imagine, trying to get ahead of the curve on the next intelligence failure? Stupid, undiplomatic, sure -- but maybe it's worth assuming that intra-bureaucratic competition for budgets and prestige drives much of what our Washington overlords say and do.

Case in point: As many people probably know by now, the US military thinks Pfc. Bradley Manning was the source of the Wikileaks disclosures and has the guy locked up in a brig in Quantico under conditions that sure look like torture. Ever so diplomatic Amnesty International puts the case more delicately.

Amnesty International is concerned that the conditions inflicted on Bradley Manning... are unnecessarily severe and amount to inhumane treatment by the US authorities. Bradley Manning has not been convicted of any offence, but military authorities appear to be using all available means to punish him while in detention. The conditions under which Bradley Manning is held appear to breach the USA’s human rights obligations.

Stirring the pot further, a transcript of a question and answer session with journalists involving PJ Crowley, the US Department of State's spokesman (flack) records him as saying

"I spent 26 years in the air force. What is happening to Manning is ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid, and I don’t know why the DoD is doing it. Nevertheless, Manning is in the right place."

Looks like someone knows the administration is blowing it by mistreating Manning. This public adoption of torture on the homefront gives the lie to whatever smoke they are supposed to be blowing about human rights. Less noticed is what Crowley added [same source; apparently a paraphrase].

There are leaks everywhere in Washington – it’s a town that can’t keep a secret. But the scale is different. It was a colossal failure by the DoD to allow this mass of documents to be transported outside the network. Historically, someone has picked up a file of papers and passed it around – the information exposed is on one country or one subject. But this is a scale we’ve never seen before.

I can only take the implication that the Department of Defense is torturing Manning because they are embarrassed that an underling with a USB jump drive could make off with so much "secret" material. It sure doesn't make them look like the mean fighting machine they want to appear to be.

Today President Obama stuck up for the DoD's treatment of Manning. Guess we know whose tune he dances to. It would be interesting to know what the spooks do to new Presidents.

UPDATE: Over the weekend of March 13, P.J. Crowley lost his job for calling out the torture of Manning. Apparently he was pushed out under pressure from the White House. Apparently we must consider President Obama fully complicit in adoption of torture as a routine element among U.S. detention practices.

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