Morocco Dispatch: No faith in the system

Moroccan Traffic

This was sent in by our intrepid correspondent Abu Ray, whose wrote many dispatches from Iraq a few years back, and now lives in Morocco.

The police officer finally looked up from behind the ancient, hulking Arabic-language typewriter with which he’d been hunting and pecking out the report for what seemed like an hour.

“You know, it would have been much easier for everyone if he’d just sorted things out on the side of the road and left us out of it,” he said with exasperation to my Moroccan friend.

It was a striking admission of the total lack of faith in a system by someone charged to uphold it.

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Libya Dispatch: Lies, Damn Lies and Government-sponsored Trips (3)

Abu Ray reports from Tripoli as the NATO airstrikes and rebel insurgency loom ever closer. See his previous dispatches here.

As the bus pulled up to what was described as the site of a NATO airstrike, we could see the burly cameraman from Libyan state TV hurriedly stashing khaki military uniforms onto the roof of a nearby shed ahead of our arrival. It was the culmination of a truly farcical day.

Perhaps the collapsed building was just, as they said, an office and some apartments hit by a NATO missile, killing… one person? At least two people, said a bystander trotted out for the visiting journalists, others were not so sure. Maybe it was, but then why did someone have to run ahead and hide a bunch of tattered military uniforms and, as we later discovered, a helmet. Was it perhaps actually a military target?

We were in the town of Zlitan on another government organized trip, in what should have been a fascinating journey to a front line town facing an assault of rebels who had broken out of the besieged city of Misrata and were headed towards Tripoli with vengeance on their minds.

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Libya Dispatch: The Cage (2)

The lobby of the Rixos.Our intrepid correspondent Abu Ray, once covering Libya's East, is now covering the West. This week he makes it to Tripoli's Rixos hotel. (See past dispatches.) 

The billboard in the lobby shows a smiling child waving pictures of other cute smiling children, topped by the slogan, "Stop the Bleeding!" Bleeding? What bleeding? What now?

Welcome to the Rixos Hotel, Tripoli's finest and a gleaming, inlaid marble cage for Western journalists.

I'd heard a lot about this place over the last five months, about being trapped inside, about the mind games and the midnight summons, the hallways prowled by semi-feral minders and the press conferences by the smooth-tongued Moussa Ibrahim.

I wasn't prepared for the opulence. In my mind's eye, as I traveled along the coastal road from the border with a BBC reporter who'd stayed here before, I saw a tacky hotel built during the mad oil rush of the late 70s, now gone to seed, all flaking plastic and chipped gilt Barberella finery.

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Libya dispatch: Borders (1)

The Tunisia-Libya border

Today we inaugurate a new series of dispatches from Libya by our intrepid war correspondent Abu Ray, who is headed to Tripoli where bored journalists await the final battle.

Coming into Libya again, once again I was greeted by graffiti, but this time it was "God, Gadhafi, Libya and that's it." And in fact that was pretty much it for the spray painted slogans for the whole trip from the Tunisian border to Tripoli. As the Palestinian TV producer I was traveling with pointed out, it was somewhat heartening that God at least came before Gadhafi in this instance.

It was certainly a contrast to the jubiliant, riot of "Libya is free" graffiti on the eastern side that I saw four months ago when I came to cover a nationwide rebellion that has since turned into a stalemated civil war and a cautionary tale for any would be Arab democracy activists.

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Libya Dispatch: Rebel Twinkies fuel the struggle

An alternative use for ammo

Napoleon famously said an army marches on its stomach, and in the case of Libya's rebel forces, that would be tuna sandwiches, fava beans and a lot of junk food.

As Western air strikes are restarting once thoroughly defeated rebel advance, the once weirdly successful aspect of their rag tag forces should be gearing up again -- their food supply lines.

Like everything else about the uprising in eastern Libya seeking to challenge Moammar Gadhafi's four decade hammerlock on power, the fighters' food supply was an ad hoc affair of entreprising individuals and local charities with official sanction that somehow seemed to work -- even when nothing else really did.

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Libya dispatch: Momentum

Life on the road

A second dispatch from Libya from Abu Ray, who's been very, very close to the action.

"I came here to cover a revolution, not a war," said one photographer in disgust after a particularly bad day on the front. Many of those covering this conflict have been surfing from one Middle East uprising to the last and as exhausting as it’s been, it’s also been an uplifting story of peoples peacefully overcoming nasty repressive governments. Until now.

In Egypt and Tunisia the militaries balked from shooting their own people and in the end presidents had to go. In Bahrain, a mercenary military and police were finally restrained by a country that needs world opinion on its side.

None of those strictures existed in Libya where the army was weak and did divide over killing civilians, but was offset by brigades of shady security forces and mercenaries that stayed loyal to Moammar Gadhafi and were ok with shooting people in the streets..

We arrived in Tobruk and Benghazi into a barely restrained carnival of euphoria and over the next three weeks watched the fits and starts of a fledgling state. Eastern Libya and its string of “liberated” cities did not dissolve into chaos or tribalism as some had predicted, calling Libya with its complex web of clan ties as “North Africa’s Somalia.”

Instead it remained peaceful, generous to outsiders and incredibly earnest about building something new in land ruled for four decades by a destructive whim suspicious of any normal social or civic institutions.

Perhaps some sort of shaky future lay ahead for this nascent Free Libya, but we’ll never know because the empire struck back and today it all seems in peril. I leave now with the feeling of a retreat. Qadhafi’s forces, backed by the overwhelming force of tanks and rockets, are rolling back rebel gains and making their way east.

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Facing death in Libya

Our sometime correspondent Abu Ray just got back from Libya. Here's what he wrote.

Death has been a lot on my mind since coming to Libya. It's not that I've been in any real danger, it's just it's sort of out there, all around me and hard to ignore. The other day, we were driving back from Bayda, a medium size town nestled in a stunningly beautiful Green Mountain area of Libya. A high mass of wildflower studded fields set in the middle of an otherwise arid coast.

It had been a long day of chasing an elusive politicians and visiting decrepit military bases trying to find out if the rebel east really had a shot of marching on Tripoli. There was some success, but mostly we were exhausted after a long day, like so many other long days since we came roaring across the Egyptian border into Libya a week before.

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Dispatch: Checking points

Green Zone checkpoint. Photo by Iraq.ir.

One of my first days back in Baghdad, I tagged along with a 
photographer to go cover the handover of a small base from the 
Americans to the Iraqis up in northeast Baghdad.

I’d been in the neighborhood years ago on an embed and I was curious 
how it might have changed, and of course it was a chance to get out of 
the bureau and cruise a bit more around Baghdad.

We never made it.

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Babel

A new dispatch from Iraq by our correspondent Abu Ray.
According to the ancient texts, the Tower of Babel was a seven level step pyramid 91.5 meters high with a temple to the god Marduk on the top. Now it is a square shaped grassy knoll bordered by a water-filled trench.
The mound is surrounded by lumpy, overgrown hills, date palm trees and some distant cows grazing in the fields hosting the ruins of Babylon, a city founded 4,000 years ago. We were cautioned against walking too far away from the site as there are still some trip flares planted in the undergrowth left over from the old military base.
It is hard to say which was more exciting, visiting the ruins of Babylon, something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid… or just driving there.
A friend of mine has been working down in Babylon as part of an effort to assess some of the problems at the site and come up with a plan to save the ruins, which are threatened by, well, all the usual things that are threatening in Iraq, as well as a rising water table.
It was a measure of just how much Iraq had changed when the bureau chief barely batted an eye when I asked if I could make the hour and a half drive south.
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Dispatch from Iraq: Do It Again

In 2005 and 2006, we ran a series of dispatches from our friend Abu Ray, who was reporting from Iraq. Abu Ray is now back in Iraq and has sent a new dispatch:

The day after I arrived, I found myself heading back to the airport, that familiar ride through west Baghdad, past the checkpoints, with the bubbles in the stomach wondering whether the flight would be canceled or some other unforeseen disaster would prevent escape.
 
This time was for work though, and I wouldn’t be flying anywhere, just on hand to watch a young Iraqi boy return home after a year in the U.S. It was a good thing I’d just arrived and didn’t yet have that trapped, desperate sensation I always remembered after leaving here for six weeks at a time.
 
It would have been a too much of a tease to come all the way to the airport, with all its accompanying emotions, and then not leave. This time around, though, I was okay with it – freshly arrive and still trying to figure out how much the place has changed.
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That's it for now (23)

December 19, 2006

So that was it. The plane took off, we did the familiar stomach churning spin and I looked out and watched the airport dip in and out of view, watched Camp Victory go by, idly pointed out too myself the various Saddam palaces that have become military headquarters and tried to remember which ones I'd been in.

It was a sick and tawdry story and I didn't want to tell it anymore. I walked into a bad situation one year ago and actually watched it get worse, with the fairly certain belief that it will continue to do so.
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That's it for now

So that was it. The plane took off, we did the familiar stomach churning spin and I looked out and watched the airport dip in and out of view, watched Camp Victory go by, idly pointed out too myself the various Saddam palaces that have become military headquarters and tried to remember which ones I'd been in. It was a sick and tawdry story and I didn't want to tell it anymore. I walked into a bad situation one year ago and actually watched it get worse, with the fairly certain belief that it will continue to do so. One year ago, I left Cairo as the Arab League was holding a reconciliation conference to bring together Iraq's disparate factions, to get them to talk to each other, to resolve the ever growing crisis. The day before I left, my last journalistic endeavor in the country, I attended a reconciliation conference in the Green Zone between... I guess it must have been Iraq's disparate factions again. But the stakes were higher this time, the number of corpses even greater on the streets, because in between those two conferences what was once a disgruntled Sunni-fueled insurgency had turned into a full blown sectarian civil war. For months the Sunni insurgency, Al Qaeda, whoever, blew up Shiites, until they finally nailed that shrine and that was just a little bit too much and what had until then been some occasional sectarian skirmishing, a bit of police brutality taken to extremes, turned into a concerted effort to drive the Sunnis out of mixed areas, with the inevitable violent reaction. It wasn't just the Americans fault, though I almost don't want to read all the books coming out detailing just how badly the US forces screwed up in those extremely sensitive early days after the invasion when so much was possible and so little was done right. The Iraqi political class does have to take its responsibility for the situation as well. These are politicians who could only see everything in a zero sum game. For the Shiites it was just a matter of settling scores, of killing off old Baathists, and humiliating the once dominant Sunnis. And for the Sunnis? They were convinced that they would soon be back in power - hadn't they always run the place? Those idiot, Mahdi-mad Shiites would eventually screw up and they would take power back, so why cooperate now? Why work together when you can have it all one day? So everyone's taking it all, and not getting anything. Even the Kurds, for the most part happy in the northern provinces, were playing a zero sum game in Kirkuk, which, stunningly, hasn't totally burst into flame, but when the time comes, they will probably just as vicious there as all the others. This country has become a graveyard for so much, including the US neo-con ambitions for the Middle East, which would almost be cause for smugness and celebration if it hadn't come at such a high price. I sympathize with fellow journalists who covered this conflict from the beginning and truly wanted the whole Bush project in Iraq to work because it would have meant peace and prosperity for the people there. I mean really, who is against democracy, free market, prosperity and social justice for a country? Instead, the utterly flawed nature of the whole enterprise has become starkly obvious in the body counts, corruption and total dysfunctional nature of the whole country. Instead of becoming the beacon for democracy in the Middle East that the Bushie neo-cons envisioned to pressure the autocratic regimes of the region, it has become the warning to all. It justifies every warning given by every dictator in the region -- would you rather have autocracy and order or democracy and chaos? So what if Iraq has had two elections and a referendum, it is also the most dangerous place on earth. People are fleeing en masse to Syria, of all places, a country with a terrible economy and a stupid dictatorial regime, that nevertheless looks good from Iraq. It's almost like a case study of medieval Muslim political philosophy which recommended supporting the ruler, no matter how perfidious, because order was always better than chaos. As the guy at the Cairo airport said as I was haggling over my ride home, said, "here in Egypt... it is safe." Way to go George. The thing is, I know I will be back. As long as US troops are there, this will be one of the biggest stories in the world, and as soon as they leave, which they will over the next year because suddenly cut and run doesn't seem so bad, it is going to turn into the Middle East's version of the Congo, an ugly conflict that everyone meddles in but doesn't really attract many headlines. It is so much easier to let them work their own problems out when no one's paying all that much attention. I don't know how many people died in Iraq while I was there, probably thirty or forty thousand. I knew three, the office manager at our news agency, a cameraman for CBS who lived downstairs, and a US captain out in Ramadi. There will be more.
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Bad cops, good cops

The word of the air strike came around mid-morning. I was actually the one to take the call from our stringer in Samarra. He said 32 people had been killed in an American air strike somewhere to the south according to local government official Amr something-or-other and he was heading towards the site, then the line went dead. We tried to call him back later, because you can’t give a story based on the word of Amr something-or-other, certainly not an Americans-killed-dozens-of-people kind of story, but he’d either moved out of coverage area or the appalling Iraqi mobile networks were having another miserable day. Then the press release came. “20 Al-Qaeda terrorists killed� in a midnight airstrike about 80 kilometers north of Baghdad. The wording in these things are key. As US ground forces approached a target site, they were suddenly fired upon, forcing them to return fire – killing two “terrorists�. “Coalition Forces continued to be threatened by enemy fire, causing forces to call in close air support.� They really had no choice, it seems. Eighteen more armed terrorists were killed, and a subsequent search revealed that two of them were women. “Al-Qaeda in Iraq has both men and women supporting and facilitating their operations, unfortunately,� said the statement. So it was back to the telephones, talked to the official US military spokesman, “um, how did you know the women were terrorists?� Apparently in the post-air strike “battlefield assessment� done at 1 am in the rubble of the building revealed this fact. “If there is a weapon with or near to the person or they are holding it, they are a terrorist,� he replied.Of course in a normal place, in a normal situation, we would have jumped into a car right after the first phone call and been there an hour or two later and made our own determination about what occurred. But that wasn’t going to happen, and we weren’t going to send our Baghdad-based mostly Shiite reporters north into the angry Sunni heartland to a bunch of furious tribesmen who’d just been air-struck. So we rely on our stringers in the area, who probably can only function in that region because they are sympathetic to the insurgents. It’s no fun being a stringer, either the insurgents are going to kill you or the US military will arrest you. You have to take these allegiances in mind when evaluating their reports. Our stringer finally called, he’d arrived at the site and according to the mayor of the small town (Amr Alwan, as it turned out), who wasn’t there at the time, US forces showed up, dragged dozens of peace loving citizens out of their houses, executed them, then put them back into the house and blew it up to cover up their crime so it looked like an air strike. That version didn’t quite pass the plausibility test, either, so we went, roughly, with the US version, putting a lot of things in quotes to convey the skepticism. Then our photo stringer managed to send the pictures: the massive craters where the houses once were, the pancaked concrete and twisted rebar. And then among the bodies, the dead children. One of the first picture could have been of a young adolescent, but a later picture clearly showed a pair of young boys under 13 years of age with large chunks of them missing, covered in white cement dust. We also received a list of the dead (17 names) from the local police, and at least four of the names were female – and also everyone had the same last name. We sent the pics to the US military spokesman, and asked him if the children were among the “armed terrorists� as well. Were there weapons found next to them too? He wrote back and said, while pictures of dead children were an awful thing, how did he know these pictures came from the actual site? He said he checked back with the unit (which he wouldn’t reveal anything about suggesting they were “special�) and they stuck by their story, 20 adults killed, of which, two were women terrorists. So we wrote the next version of the article, which spent a little more time noting the evidence that seemed to indicate that a pair of houses containing two families may well have been on the receiving end of those 500 pound bombs. Were there “terrorists� in that house? It’s very possible, but there were also, quite clearly, a large number of women and children who, I am absolutely sure, were not bearing arms, and it is simply insulting and nasty to try to say so in the press release. Did they expect people not to find the bodies the next day? It was one of those, I really hate the military days. But of course it’s never totally simple. There are plenty of other US military people who, if you can find them, will give more of a straight story. During one trip out to Ramadi, I met a civil affairs officer, Capt. Travis Patriquin, who just seemed to get it. He seemed to have a clue about Iraq, actually liked the place and, even weirder, spoke good Arabic. I was a little skeptical about the last one until I checked out the books stacked on his desk. He spoke Pashto as well, apparently from his time in Afghanistan, where he had been in the special forces and worked closely with the Afghans. His leg had gotten pretty messed up in one of the big battles there, and he had nearly left the army, but instead, when he healed had volunteered to be the civil affairs person for the army unit stationed in Ramadi. He’d put on a layer or two of fat since his special forces days, and admitted that now that his leg was better he was hoping to slim down a bit. We had lunch and he enthusiastically told me about the work he was doing with the tribes around Ramadi. Apparently, a lot of them had become fed up with Al-Qaeda, the insurgency, the non stop violence and were willing to work with the central government and the Americans to drive the “terrorists� out (I heard a bribe of $5 million from the prime minister also helped, but that could just be a rumor). A lot of tribes that had once shot at the Americans were now willing to put their people into the police force in the hope that stability would eventually mean the Americans would leave. And Travis was in the middle of this whole process. I’ve never known someone to enjoy his work so much, he invited me to come back out to Ramadi when I had more time, to meet the tribal leaders, and see some of his work in action. I always meant to go out, but went to Kurdistan instead. We kept in touch mostly by email, I would send him queries to try to get behind the mass of propaganda and mystery that surrounded any event in Ramadi. There are no phone lines out there, and though an hour’s drive from Baghdad, it might as well be on another planet. The US military just says everything is great as one more insurgent is arrested, another weapons cache is found, and more “terrorists� are engaged without “reported� loss of civilian life. On the other hand, stringers out there, who tend to by controlled by the insurgents, send daily reports of insurgent victories and American atrocities that just don’t sound plausible either. In Ramadi, at least, Travis could sometimes help, sort a few things out, provide another perspective between the competing propagandas. He also had a sense of humor, which is not always common. Anyway, as is probably clear by now from the excessive use of the past tense, he’s dead, blown to pieces by a road side bomb a few days ago, driving through downtown Ramadi, probably on his way to another meeting with Iraqi tribesmen. I saw his obit in a home town newspaper, he had a wife and three children. So many people die every day from every side (11 US soldiers and marines died that day, incidentally, two others in his vehicle, more than 100 Iraqis), but I knew this one. He shouldn’t have died, he was a good one. And the public affairs guy who told me about armed women terrorists is still sending out press statements.
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Bad cops, good cops (22)

December 11, 2006

The word of the air strike came around mid-morning. I was actually the one to take the call from our stringer in Samarra. He said 32 people had been killed in an American air strike somewhere to the south according to local government official Amr something-or-other and he was heading towards the site, then the line went dead.

We tried to call him back later, because you can’t give a story based on the word of Amr something-or-other, certainly not an Americans-killed-dozens-of-people kind of story, but he’d either moved out of coverage area or the appalling Iraqi mobile networks were having another miserable day.
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Better late than never?

I read the recommendations and descriptions of the Iraq Study Group report wit a mixture of elation and rage. Elation because this was the final nail in the coffin of the whole incredibly destructive US neo-con mission to remake the Middle East. It was the reassertion of traditional realpolitik over US policy -- not necessarily the best and most constructive approach, but certainly less destructive that Bush Jr. and his psychopaths. I’m sure many would say it’s not even the lesser of two evils, but under the cold calculating approach by people like Baker and the others, Iraq would not have been so horrifically destabilized. As the cartoon in the Guardian said, it was time for the adults to get back into politics. God save us from the visionaries. Steve But if the price for Bush’s humiliation was the wholesale dismantling of Iraq’s social fiber, was it really worth it? And that’s where the rage comes in. It’s a good report, it’s familiar reading because all of us – media, Iraqis, international organizations – have been saying this for years. Where the hell was this panel a year and a half ago before got quite so awful? Why do these old fogies say it and everyone, including the president, nod sagaciously and accept it, while everyone else was ignored before. The upbeat military weekly military press conferences, the blog attacks on the “liberal media�, the Bush administration’s defense of the situation … suddenly it’s all gone, as though it never was, and everyone seems to have no problem acknowledging that the situation in Iraq has become beyond awful. Better late than never. I guess. Unless of course it’s too late.
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Fish ‘n chips-eating surrender monkeys

This article from the NYT from Dec. 2 about a British initiative in Afghanistan’s Helmand province caught my eye. After fighting the Taliban in Musa Qala district, British forces “who had been under siege by the Taliban in a compound there for three months� brokered a ceasefire with Taliban forces and local government – and pulled out. In the words of one Afghan lawmaker:
"The Musa Qala project has sent two messages: one, recognition for the enemy, and two, military defeat," said Mustafa Qazemi, a member of Afghanistan’s Parliament and a former resistance fighter with the Northern Alliance, which fought the Taliban for seven years. . . . Some compare the deal to agreements that Pakistan has struck with leaders in its tribal areas along the Afghan border, which have given those territories more autonomy and, critics say, empowered the Taliban who have taken sanctuary there and allowed them to regroup.
What’s so interesting about this is that this is essentially what the British did in southern Iraq. They gave up. No one really likes to talk about it, and they are extremely difficult to embed with, but more and more people are starting to recognize that the one place coalition forces really suffered a defeat was in the south. The Brits don’t patrol in Basra anymore, they largely just stay in their compound and get shelled every night. US bases get shelled too, but then they do something about it and the shelling stops. Their most famous move was their abrupt withdrawal from Amara, capital of Maysan province, where they were rocketed every night by Mahdi militia. So with no warning to Iraqi authorities, they declared their mission in Amara complete, pulled out and “redeployed� to the Iranian border to conduct “World War II-style� desert patrol tactics. Somehow trying to turn a retreat into a evocation of the glories of the North Africa campaign. The base in Amara, meanwhile was sacked by the Mahdi militia because Iraqi authorities hadn’t been given enough time to take control of it. Since their departure, there have been pitched battles in Amara between Mahdi militia and police (who are controlled by the rival Badr Brigade Shiite militia). Now don’t get me wrong, Iraq’s a tough place and each army has to make its decision about how to deal with it, but the British enjoy so much describing how they do everything better than the Americans. In the beginning of their Basra occupation, they described how their years of experience occupying Northern Ireland made them expert at a light touch and winning the inhabitants’ trust. Now, as they are talking about pulling out, the city is dangerous place awash in battles between rival militias and gangs making millions off the oil smuggling. The Brits just let them take over, and when it got too dangerous, they stopped leaving their base. And now they are leaving entirely. In Afghanistan, when the fighting suddenly became hot. They appear to be doing the same thing. So my question is, who are the real surrender monkeys?
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Mountains and plains (21)

November 24, 2006

It was just such a classic Baghdad return. The sky was hazy and overcast as we drove back from the airport. The traffic was bad, a convoy of SUVs featuring guys with assault rifles hanging out of the window came blaring past. And then back at the office a bombing that killed 25 people in a Shiite neighborhood soon mushroomed into stunning death toll of over 200.

Soon I was scribbling away, updating stories, answering calls from radio stations describing the latest "brutal" attack in Baghdad and the ongoing "civil war" or was it just a "sectarian conflict" as bombs "rip apart" the neighborhood in a city "convulsed" by violence as the "fabric of society frays" or whatever other cliché I've gotten so used to using to describe the nasty situation here.
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Too much TV (20)

My friend Abu Ray, a journalist in Baghdad, sends regular personal dispatches from there. His latest is about something we both like a lot -- Battlestar Galactica. This season (the third) is replete with references to tawhid, the Islamic concept of monotheism or "oneness of God" that is unfortunately more famous as a jihadi terms. Not only that, but the humans engage in suicide bombing operations against the Cylon occupier and then debate the morality of it. All in all, a lot of the stuff in this season hits close to home if you're living in the Middle East. Here's Paul's take on the unsettling parallels between his job as a journalist and what he watches on his downtime.

Today two suicide bombers walked into a police commando recruitment center and blew themselves up, killing 35 recruiting hopefuls. The night before I watched a TV show where a young cadet blew himself up at the police graduation ceremony - killing, as I recall, 35 people.

That was a bit of a shock.

The moments after I leave the desk at night, after a long shift, are very special to me. I read, listen to music, decompress and drink my whiskey. Most importantly I watch the movies that I've been patiently downloading while in Egypt, or copying off friends.

The best things are television series, discrete one hour shows - they aren't too long and don't require too much brain power. Frankly after a day on the desk my attention span is pretty shot.
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Just a passing phase (19)


October 22, 2006

They beat up one of our photographers today.

And smashed his cameras. Now that's pretty tough – not so much slapping around our photographer and threatening to drag him into a car so that he could join the ranks of nameless corpses, that's common. But destroying these big clunky professional Canons, with metal frames takes a lot of effort.

Apparently, though, grabbing a camera by its lens and hurling it with all force onto a stone floor, will do the trick.
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Media Culpa (18)


October 3, 2006

It was our fault. We brought him down. He seemed to be a perfectly good judge and by all counts was doing a better job than some of his predecessors.

He just made a little slip and we pounced on him.

This trial was supposed to be different. The first trial of Saddam Hussein was a circus. Saddam Hussein and three cronies and four total unknown minor officials were on trial for the brutal crackdown on the Shiite village of Dujail following an assassination attempt on Saddam in 1982.

It was an odd choice to start with, of all of Saddam's crimes, this was the one to kick off with? Who's ever heard of Dujail? Only 148 people died in this one, compared to hundreds of thousands in the other cases.

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