Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

A bunch of readers have asked me what it was Sen. Joe Lieberman said this morning that made me react so negatively. It was his words right out of the gate this morning at the Senate hearings ...

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Secretary, the behavior by Americans at the prison in Iraq is, as we all acknowledge, immoral, intolerable and un-American. It deserves the apology that you have given today and that have been given by others in high positions in our government and our military.

I cannot help but say, however, that those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001, never apologized. Those who have killed hundreds of Americans in uniform in Iraq working to liberate Iraq and protect our security have never apologized.

And those who murdered and burned and humiliated four Americans in Fallujah a while ago never received an apology from anybody.

So it's part of -- wrongs occurred here, by the people in those pictures and perhaps by people up the chain of command.

But Americans are different. That's why we're outraged by this. That's why the apologies were due.

Ugly, pandering, a display of the cheapest tendencies <$Ad$>of the man.

Our moral superiority to mass murderers and people who desecrate people's bodies in town squares is, while thankfully true, simply not relevant to this issue.

This is the sort of subject-changing our parents try to wean us from when we're in grade school. (Okay, I did that. But look what Tommy did!) And of course there's the side-issue that Lieberman is playing to the notion that there's some sort of 'they did this to us and now we did this to them' issue here. And (how many times does it have to be said?) these folks in Abu Ghraib weren't the 9/11 planners.

Nothing Lieberman said is untrue precisely. It does set us apart from fascists and mass-murderers that Americans are outraged by this and that there will be investigations and accountability. But talk about defining deviance down!

In cases like this, emphasis is everything. And his was all wrong.

For Mr. Responsibility and Morality, what a disappointment.

He can take a lesson not only from John McCain but from Lindsey Graham too.

I've only seen portions of today's testimony. From what I've seen the Pentagon needs new civilian management. But then we knew that. Or at least that's long been my judgment. Yet take note of this snap poll from ABC which says that very few Americans seem to think Rumsfeld's head should roll over this.

Secondly, I've always had a love/hate feeling (I'd say love/hate relationship but obviously he has no idea who I am) about Joe Lieberman. After his statement today, no love.

You know things haven't reached anything near the equilibrium phase for Don Rumsfeld when you see something like this. Yesterday afternoon or evening -- I don't remember precisely when -- the headline on MSNBC was something to the effect of 'Rumsfeld to go on offensive'.

I remember reading that and thinking, offensive against who? Who's he going to attack?

This morning the headlines everywhere read 'Rumsfeld to apologize.' So the ground is moving under their feet. All the normal signs point to Rumsfeld being history. But I still can't get myself to think that this White House, at this political moment, will kick him overboard.

On a lighter note, this might be an apt time to review that classic book of maxims Rumsfeld's Rules -- here in .pdf and here in html.

Some points now make for interesting reading ...

In the execution of presidential decisions work to be true to his views, in fact and tone.

If you foul up, tell the president and correct it fast. Delay only compounds mistakes.

Stay tuned ...

From an article in the Post: "Some U.S. officials said Rumsfeld was resistant to repeated warnings from Iraq governor L. Paul Bremer -- delivered as early as last fall -- that the United States was detaining too many Iraqis for too long and in poor conditions. Bremer told Rumsfeld and other senior administration officials that if the problem persisted, the political fallout in Iraq would be serious, the officials said."

And following up on Thursday's post about the prohibitive political costs of canning Rumsfeld, this from the same article in the Post: "A White House official said that it is the view of a number of people close to Bush that getting rid of Rumsfeld would be 'a self-inflicted political and policy wound disproportionate to the secretary's responsibility for this human failure on the part of a small number of soldiers.'"

Finally, the same Post article suggests something I'd heard from a source on Wednesday: that the Miller report from last October -- the one that seemed to recommend more Gitmo-style rules for interrogations and imprisonment in Iraq -- was itself ordered because of reports of problems with the detention of prisoners in the country. As for myself, I still have some question whether Miller was sent out there -- remember he went in August and September -- because the insurgency was heating up at the time and it was felt that ... well, more needed to be done.

Here's an idea or something possibly to consider (and I have to thank a reader --JS -- for reminding me of this connection).

In many of the articles on this emerging Iraqi prisoners story, it has been claimed that some of the key instigators or enablers of bad acts were military intelligence officers.

Now, who's the head of military intelligence? 'Head' is too vague. There's no such post per se. But what comes pretty close is the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.

And who's that? Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin.

Remember him? He's the one who got in trouble last year for describing his battle with a Muslim Somali warlord by saying "I knew that my God was bigger than his God. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol", saying President Bush was chosen by God, and generally that the war on terror is an apocalyptic struggle between Christianity and Satan.

Last fall, after Boykin's efforts to channel Charlemagne or perhaps Urban II became known, he asked Don Rumsfeld to initiate an 'investigation' into whether his comments "violated any Pentagon rules or procedures" whatever that might mean. Just this week it was reported that the 'investigation' still continues; and Boykin has not been disciplined in any way.

In any case, I doubt very much that all this mess we've gotten ourselves into is attributable to this one man. But at what point in this scandal does someone ask whether some of this might have some connection to the fact that the guy running military intelligence believes the war on terror is a literal holy war pitting Christian America against Satan and his Muslim minions?

And then there's another possibility, perhaps distinct, perhaps overlapping.

An article in the Guardian -- this piece is truly gripping, a must-read -- there is an interview with a military intelligence officer who served at Guantanamo and then later served at Abu Ghraib as a contractor for CACI.

The upshot of the piece is that the place is so mismanaged and there's so much pressure for contractors to produce people to fill slots as interrogators that they end up sending people with no experience whatsoever. "If you're in such a hurry to get bodies," he says, "you end up with cooks and truck drivers doing intelligence work."

The intelligence officer, who was involved in processing people at Guantanamo, thinks that more than a third of the people in custody there had no ties to terrorism at all.

And then there are passages like this that are at once entirely predictable and yet leave you wondering what things have come to ...

"A unit goes out on a raid and they have a target and the target is not available; they just grab anybody because that was their job," Mr Nelson said, referring to counter-insurgency operations in Iraq. "The troops are under a lot of stress and they don't know one guy from the next. They're not cultural experts. All they want is to count down the days and hopefully go home.

"I've read reports from capturing units where the capturing unit wrote, 'the target was not at home. The neighbour came out to see what was going on and we grabbed him'," he said.

According to Mr Nelson's account, the victims' very innocence made them more likely to be abused, because the interrogators refused to believe they could have been picked up on such arbitrary grounds. Interrogators "weren't interested in going through the less glamorous work of sifting through the chaff to get to the kernels of truth from the willing detainees; they were interested in 'breaking' tough targets", he said

Then there's the matter, reported some time ago, that one contractor working in Iraq was employing Apartheid-era paramilitaries, some of whom had had to seek amnesty from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission for war crimes, terrorism and murders they'd committed under the old regime.

It gets deeper and darker.

From a late article out from USA Today: "Shortly before Bush administration officials presented Republican congressional leaders with a request for $25 billion in Iraq funding this week, Secretary of State Colin Powell was telling members of the Congressional Black Caucus that no such request would be forthcoming ... Powell's associates tried to downplay the mix-up. But it underscores the continuing rift between President Bush's departments of State and Defense and deepens the impression that the nation's top diplomat is being cut out of the decision-making process."

Can the president apologize for humiliating this guy too? Even apologizing to Abdullah would be a start.

I see no point dragging out this presidential apology business any more. The president did what he was willing to do after the politicals told him the first try wasn't enough. Everyone's drawn their conclusions, and so forth. But what precisely was the idea in apologizing to Abdullah and then going out and announcing that he'd apologized to Abdullah?

Abdullah's an Arab. And he's from nextdoor to Iraq. And he was in town. Actually he was at my house. So I figured I'd apologize to him. How's that? Did I mentioned that I apologized to Abdullah?

And how about Rush Limbaugh's idea of a fun night out and blowing off steam?

You know when you're worked to the bone and you really need to unwind there's just nothing like grabbing a half dozen Arab dudes, stripping them naked, tying their bodies together against their will and pressing one guy's penis up against another guy's butt to make it like they're having anal sex. Right?

Party time for Rush, it would seem, is a mix of Studio 54 and Jack the Ripper.

As fun as A Clockwork Orange.

It's the Abner Louimafication of regime change.

An interesting tidbit from this evening's <$NoAd$>edition of The (must-read) Nelson Report ...

We can contribute a second hand anecdote to newspaper stories on rising concern, last year, from Secretary of State Powell and Deputy Secretary Armitage about Administration attitudes and the risks they might entail: according to eye witnesses to debate at the highest levels of the Administration...the highest levels...whenever Powell or Armitage sought to question prisoner treatment issues, they were forced to endure what our source characterizes as "around the table, coarse, vulgar, frat-boy bully remarks about what these tough guys would do if THEY ever got their hands on prisoners...."

-- let's be clear: our source is not alleging "orders" from the White House. Our source is pointing out that, as we said in the Summary, a fish rots from its head. The atmosphere created by Rumsfeld's controversial decisions was apparently aided and abetted by his colleagues in their callous disregard for the implications of the then-developing situation, and by their ridicule of the only combat veterans at the top of this Administration.

Tough guys ...

There's a rush of new articles out this afternoon which, at first blush, make me think Don Rumsfeld is finished.

An article in Reuters has a Republican senate staffer saying this about what Rumsfeld needs to do to keep his job ...

A Senate Republican aide said Rumsfeld must "give the performance of his life," and show contrition.

"He needs to have full disclosure of the facts, no parsing of words or displaying the usual convoluted testimony that the Senate Armed Services Committee has been accustomed to," the Republican aide said.

As far as people losing their jobs goes, political storms have two phases: a dynamic phase and an equilibrium phase. The first comes right after the revelation when everything is influx and the person <$Ad$>on the line is wholly embattled. Usually, and always if the person in question is to survive, you then reach a point of equilibrium where the person's defenders find some point, some firm ground, on which they feel they can defend him.

If that second stage doesn't kick in quickly the person is almost always finished. In virtually every case, what does someone in is not an abundance of critics but a lack of defenders.

One thing that makes Rumsfeld more vulnerable is that he's already lost what was once a key pillar of support: hawks and neocons. Just recently, Bill Kristol and Bob Kagan wrote a piece in the Weekly Standard that all but called on Bush to fire Rumsfeld.

For all these reasons it's difficult for me to see where Rumsfeld's equilibrium comes from. Yet there's an added political question.

Let's say Rumsfeld resigns on Friday. The election is still six months away. And the nation is at war. So a new Defense Secretary would be needed more or less immediately. That would open up a very uncomfortable prospect for the administration.

Confirmation hearings for a new Sec Def would, I think, inevitably turn into a national forum for discussing the management of the Pentagon, the planning for the war and the lack of planning for the occupation. The new nominee would be drawn into all sorts of uncomfortble public second-guessing of what's happened up until this point. Sure, that's stuff under Rumsfeld. But, really, it's stuff under Bush -- the civilian head of the United States military.

That, I have to imagine, is something the White House would like to avoid at any cost.