Our way


I did a Guardian post on Michael Bloomberg's scary ego trip, and if you missed the "More Marty" section, yesterday, I think it's worth a trip.

Jeff Gerth rules our world:

How Things Work: The thoroughly discredited Mr. Gerth puts a badly sourced charge in a book full of such things, but it works for a Dowdesque Clinton/Sopranos riff, and so now it's true.

We note, via our man Boehlert, that Gerth appeared on Fox and dismissed Media Matters, claiming he doesn't read the site, that "dozens of reporters" he and his co-author had spoken to in recent weeks agreed that Media Matters is "irrelevant" and that they "don't pay any attention" to it. Says Eric B, "Gerth's put-down of Media Matters simply reinforced his bad habit of leveling sloppy, often sweeping allegations that he cannot back up." Read more here.

The Altercation Book Club returns:

The following is drawn from Monstering: Inside America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War by Tara McKelvey, which examines the many underreported, under-investigated crimes of Abu Ghraib. The chapter is called "Photographic Evidence":


Two Frankfort High School seniors, Heather Helmsetter and Matt Sampson, were honored as the students Most Likely to Become Famous in the West Virginia school's Class of 2001 yearbook. Their classmate, Lynndie England, who has short, brown hair and sleepy eyes in her photo in the yearbook, had only a modest record of achievement. (She had, for example, served as a member of the yearbook staff for one year). Yet England, four and a half months pregnant with Charles Graner's child, suddenly became known around the world in the spring of 2004.

"We turned on CNN, and my mouth dropped," her sister, Jessie Klinestiver, tells me. She leans forward and opens her mouth in mock surprise, showing her reaction at the time. "I was like, 'Why would Lynndie be on TV? It was an actual shock. Me and my mom sat down on the couch. We were just like glued to the TV. Then reporters started showing up."

Attorney Roy Hardy stationed himself at the door to the Englands' trailer. He folded his arms across his chest and fended off journalists. One Boston newspaper reporter managed to speak with Klinestiver, who was at home in a nearby trailer. Hardy confronted the reporter, who said she was trying to find out more about Graner and England. "She said, 'I want to do the 'lust-in-the-dust' story," Hardy recalls. The reporter was turned out of the trailer park. Another time, a network producer showed up at the Englands' doorstep in the middle of the night. The Englands posted a No Trespassing sign in the yard and went on a turkey-hunting trip.


On May 1, 2004, Sergeant Samuel Jefferson Provance III met with Major General George R. Fay in a room in an army building in Darmstadt, Germany. A reservist and former executive vice president of Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, Fay was an unusual choice as the head of an investigation into detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib. As attorney Scott Horton and other critics of the administration have pointed out, Fay was a financial supporter of the New Jersey Republican Party. Horton and others believe he was chosen for that reason.

In Darmstadt, Fay spoke with Provance about his background in military intelligence. Provance tried to tell him about the abuse at Abu Ghraib. "I kept bringing back up to him that I'd heard a lot of things," says Provance. But Fay did not seem interested. "He was sighing, like a frustrated sigh." Finally, says Provance, "He said, 'Okay, fine. Tell me what you heard.' " Fay put his hands on the table, as Provance recalls, and he had a stern expression on his face. Provance described several incidents at the prison.

"He said, 'Well, I don't know,' " says Provance. He recalls how Fay picked up a manila folder from the table and took out Provance's statement about detainee abuse that had appeared in the Taguba Report. Fay held up the sheet of paper. "He said, 'You should have said something earlier,'" Provance says. " 'You could have busted this thing wide open.' "

There was "a certain dramatic pause," Provance tells me, "as if he were giving me an opportunity to say, 'Okay, just scratch that from the record.' And I would have walked out like everybody else. And everything would be back to normal. My state of mind was: If I keep this up, my career in the army is over. It was kind of like an impasse or a crossroad. Either I keep going, or I stop, I kept going."

At the end of the three-hour interview, claims Provance, Fay told him he planned to recommend administrative action against him since he had failed to report the incidents in the fall. Provance hitched a ride back to Heidelberg that evening with a soldier who drove at breakneck speed along the autobahn, complaining about the lengthy interviews that day and saying she did not want to be late for a punk-rock concert. No one, thought Provance, was taking the investigation seriously.

Attorney Horton tells me that Fay's report is "whitewashing." "During the interviews, [Fay] would say, 'Now if anyone saw anything and failed to intervene, they can be charged with a crime. Did anyone see anything and fail to intervene?' " says Horton. "They'd all say, 'No, sir!' "

Provance tells me abut the film "Casualties of War" in an email from Heidelberg, citing the similarities between his own experiences and those of a character in the film, which depicts a military culture that makes it difficult to report crimes committed by soldiers. After one soldier turns in other soldiers, wrote Provance in an email to me, "He was confronted by his sergeant who was in charge of the crimes. And then he had this to say to that sergeant: 'Nobody cares. I told everybody. I told them. So you don't have to worry. You don't have to try to kill me, man. I told them, and THEY DON'T CARE!'"

You can read all about it here.

From TomDispatch:

Back in February, TomDispatch.com offered Roger Morris' two-part portrait of Donald Rumsfeld, which was also a history of the Defense Department from Korea to Iraq. It was perhaps the most popular piece ever published by the site -- and the beginning of a major Morris/TomDispatch collaboration -- to produce, over the course of this year, a rogue's gallery of Washington portraits, both individual and institutional, for our moment. This major, three-part series, running through next Monday, focuses on our new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who lived the majority of his influential Washington life in the world of American intelligence.

Now, at a moment that couldn't be more crucial, Gates and his "inheritance" get their due, thanks to Morris, a member of the National Security Council senior staff under Presidents Johnson and Nixon (he resigned in protest over the invasion of Cambodia) and bestselling author of biographies of Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and the Clintons.

He begins his portrait this way:

With George W. Bush's choice of ex-CIA Director Robert Gates to take over the Pentagon, this most uninformed of presidents unwittingly gave us back vital pages of our recent history. If Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and the neoconservative claque in the second echelon of the administration are all complicit in today's misrule, Gates personifies older, equally serious, if less recognized, less remembered abuses. His laden résumé offers needed evidence that Washington's tortuous, torturing foreign policies did not begin with the Bush regime -- and will not end with it.

Over the next week, TomDispatch.com readers will get not just a portrait of the real Robert Gates, but a full-scale, yet miraculously concise history of American "intelligence" (for which read: global covert action and covert intervention). The Gates legacy, which is really the legacy of mainstream Washington, the globe's imperial capital for this last half-century-plus, will be posted in three parts this week and, long as it is, it's actually a marvel of compression, packing into a relatively modest space an epic history of mayhem none of us should avoid -- a grim history that led to September 11th, 2001, and now leads us into an unknown, increasingly perilous future. Think of it as a necessary reckoning with disaster.

The squirrel catapult. (Thanks, Chalkie.) See if you can look away.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Don Schneier
Hometown: Springfield MA

Richard Rorty fought battles on two fronts -- for progressive principles politically, and for philosophical activism academically. The greatness of Dewey was that he not merely bridged academia and public affairs, but that his Pragmatism systematically combined Theory and Practice. In contrast, for example, Bertrand Russell's participation in political demonstrations had little formal connection to his innovations in Mathematics and Logic, and once he succeeded Dewey as the paradigmatic Philosopher in most American universities, even the most liberal of Analytic Philosophers became hostile to the public commitments of Rorty and others. As a result, Liberalism became increasingly cut off from its rich philosophical tradition, to not merely Dewey, but to the likes of Kant and Spinoza, and it is no coincidence that its decline has paralleled Pragmatism's waning academic influence. Furthermore, into the public intellectual breach stepped the likes of Allan Bloom and Harvey Mansfield, to cultivate the nascent Neocon movement with Leo Strauss's interpretation of the philosophical tradition. So, if there are Liberal academics who are horrified by the current state of public affairs, they can honor the example of Rorty by dropping the prevalent hostility to philosophical activism, through both broadening their hiring policies and expanding the scope of their thinking.

Name: Cervantes
Hometown: Cambridge, Mass.

Call my life sheltered but I had never encountered stuttering until I took a philosophy class at Harvard with John Rawls. On the first day of class, with students in their seats, as Rawls began to explain what the semester would entail you could practically see the young minds gaping at the impediment. Towards the end of the hour, one clever young man, perhaps emboldened by his discovery of the professor's affliction, challenged him with an offensive comparison to the "much more convincing work" of another, ostensibly more conservative, Harvard scholar. Rawls' careful, courteous, and devastating response was the only stutter-free ten-minute period in the whole semester.

Name: Richard
Hometown: Valparaiso, IN

When will our media offer us a true picture of gun violence in America? After the Virginia Tech Shootings, we heard from the NRA and other pro-gun groups regarding the need for MORE access to guns.

Since that time, there has been a shooting that should have shaken us as a nation, and made us think. On May 10, 2007, two young men, 16 and 15 years old, boarded a Chicago bus and opened fire. They shot five people, and in the process killed Blair Holt, a 16 year old high school honor student. It's tragically stereotypical, but Mr. Holt was not the target of the shooters, but died trying to protect a female student from his school.

Blair Holt is only one of approximately 30 Chicago Public School students that have died during this school year. These students were not killed in Chicago Public Schools, but their deaths should only point out the increase in gun violence nationwide.

In cities across America, people are living in fear from guns. Too many guns. Sadly, the media doesn't seem to care about the violence we have to live with in major cities.

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