Friends and Enemies

Today righties are linking to this London Times story about the murder of Iraqi television journalist Atwar Bahjat. She was killed in an unspeakably cruel manner; you may wish not to read about it. [Update 5/8: It is reported the video is a hoax.]

Here’s a typical Right Blogosphere response to the story at

There are those who will respond with disgust to the details of Bahjat’s murder, but temper that disgust with a feeling that she somehow brought this on herself through her provocative journalism–and, by extension, conclude that the United States is ultimately culpable for her death for going into Iraq in the first place. This line of reasoning is utterly false. The people responsible for her death are the monsters who sawed at her neck and stomped on her stomach. Such people would not be peacefully sipping tea in Samarra had we not deposed Saddam Hussein. It is not their way. And if they could do this to Atwar Bahjat, what could they do to any of us if given the chance? Bahjat’s death is a tragic illustration of the fanatical and vicious violence that we fight and which, for her sake–for all our sakes–we must keep fighting.

The problem with this reaction (beside the straw man “There are those who will respond with disgust to the details of Bahjat’s murder, but temper that disgust with a feeling that she somehow brought this on herself through her provocative journalism….”) is that it’s not at all clear who the murderers are and which side they are on. The murderers appeared to be wearing Iraqi National Guard uniforms, but of course the uniforms could have been stolen. The Sunni insurgency supplied the video but claimed they found it on a cell phone captured by from the Shi’ite Badr Brigade.

But there is no evidence the Iranian-backed Badr militia was responsible. Indeed, there are conflicting indications. The drill is said to be a popular tool of torture with the Badr Brigade. But beheading is a hallmark of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, led by the Sunni Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

According to a report that was circulating after Bahjat’s murder, she had enraged the Shi’ite militias during her coverage of the bombing of the Samarra shrine by filming the interior minister, Bayan Jabr, ordering police to release two Iranians they had arrested.

There is no confirmation of this and the Badr Brigade, with which she maintained good relations, protected her family after her funeral came under attack in Baghdad from a bomber and then from a gunman. Three people died that day.

Bahjat’s reporting of terrorist attacks and denunciations of violence to a wide audience across the Middle East made her plenty of enemies among both Shi’ite and Sunni gunmen. Death threats from Sunnis drove her away to Qatar for a spell but she believed her place was in Iraq and she returned to frontline reporting despite the risks.

Anything is possible. They may have been Sunni insurgents or even al Qaeda. But they just as easily could have been from one of the Shi’ite militias — groups our little maladministration in Iraq unleashed. The Shi’ites and Kurds are the people our troops liberated from the Sunni Saddam-supporting Baathists, and the Shi’ites dominate the new government George W. Bush is so proud of.

Last month Tom Lasseter reported for Knight-Ridder that, after ignoring the growth of the militias for two years, U.S. officials are finally admitting the Shi’ite militias are responsible for “more civilian deaths than the Sunni Muslim-based insurgency.”

Among U.S. officials’ missteps:

_White House and Pentagon officials ignored a stream of warnings from American intelligence agencies about the mounting danger posed by two Shiite militias, the Badr Organization and the Mahdi Army. The Badr Organization is the armed wing of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the most powerful Shiite political faction in the country; the Mahdi Army is loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

_A group of high-ranking Iraqis appointed in 2004 to persuade militia leaders to disband their groups received no funding and was allowed to wither away.

_U.S. diplomats in Baghdad were slow to recognize that the majority Shiite population’s ascent to political power would expand rather than diminish militia activity. Many believed that the groups’ members would retire or would be integrated into the security forces without significant problems.

_Acting against the Shiite militias would have undercut the administration’s arguments that foreign terrorists and holdovers from Saddam Hussein’s regime were the problem in Iraq. It also would have raised doubts about the administration’s reliance on training largely Shiite security forces to replace U.S. troops in Iraq.

The American military’s inability to curb the Sunni insurgency, in part because U.S. troops are spread thin in Iraq, also played a role. As the insurgency continued to kill Shiite civilians, Shiites came to see the militias as their only reliable means of protection.

In the weeks since the February bombing of a Shiite shrine in the town of Samarra, the militias and their allies in the Interior Ministry are thought to have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of Sunnis, who’ve been shot, hanged or tortured.

The London Times reported “The drill is said to be a popular tool of torture with the Badr Brigade.” Even if the murderers who used a drill to torment Atwar Bahjat were Sunni, the Shi’ite militias have perpetrated the same cruelty on others.

Last November, Robert Dreyfuss reported that the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior was also into drilling:

So far, it appears that the facts are these: that Iraq’s interior ministry, whose top officials, strike forces and police commando units (including the so-called Wolf Brigade) are controlled by paramilitary units from Shiite militias, maintained a medieval torture chamber; that inside that facility, hundreds of mostly Sunni Arab men were bestialized, with electric drills skewering their bones, with their skins flayed off, and more; that roving units of death-squad commandos are killing countless other Sunni Arab men in order to terrorize the Iraqi opposition. Even the Washington Post, that last-ditch defender of America’s illegal and unprovoked assault on Iraq, says:

    Scandal over the secret prison has forced the seven-month-old Shiite-led government to confront growing charges of mass illegal detentions, torture and killings of Sunni men. Members of the Sunni minority, locked in a struggle with the Shiite majority over the division of power in Iraq, say men dressed in Interior Ministry uniforms have repeatedly rounded up Sunni men from neighborhoods and towns. Bodies of scores of them have been found dumped by roadsides or in gullies.

By way of arguing his guys really aren’t so bad, the Iraqi interior minister noted that nobody was beheaded.

Righties want the Iraqi conflict to be divided up neatly between good guys versus bad guys. It doesn’t seem the conflict is cooperating.

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Coming Attractions

The Republican chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, Pete Hoekstra, opposes the appointment of Air Force Lieutenant General Michael Hayden to head the CIA. Bloomberg reports:

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Mike Hayden, and he’s done a good job, but I do believe he’s the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time,” said U.S. Representative Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican. “We should not have a military person leading a civilian agency at this time.”

Tension between Defense Department and civilian intelligence agencies is high now in the wake of spying failures before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. and during the run- up to the Iraq war, Hoekstra said. Hayden’s nomination would imply that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has too much power over intelligence, the chairman said.

“Putting a general in charge, regardless of how good Mike is, is going to send the wrong signal through the agency here in Washington and also to our agents around the world,” he said.

Time was when a Republican like Hoekstra left the reservation and publicly opposed some White House policy, within a few hours (and after being called to the White House for a chat) he’d be back in front of cameras claiming he was misquoted. He’s just fine with Policy X after all. It will be interesting to see if Hoekstra will be persuaded to back down.

If not, Hayden’s nomination hearings might be fun.

Nedra Pickler reports for the AP:

If Hayden were to get the nomination, military officers would run the major spy agencies in the United States, from the ultra-secret National Security Agency to the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The Pentagon already controls more than 80 percent of the intelligence budget.

“You can’t have the military control most of the major aspects of intelligence,” said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The CIA “is a civilian agency and is meant to be a civilian agency,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.”

A second committee member, GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, added, “I think the fact that he is a part of the military today would be the major problem.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., mentioned fears the CIA would “just be gobbled up by the Defense Department” if Hayden were to take over.

Stock up on popcorn:

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee [that would be Arlen Specter] said he would view a Hayden nomination as a way to get information from the Bush administration about its secretive domestic surveillance program, undertaken by the NSA when Hayden led that agency.

Brian Knowlton of the NY Times/International Herald Tribune quotes Nancy Pelosi:

“There’s a power struggle going on between the Department of Defense and the entire rest of the intelligence community,” she said, “so I don’t see how you have a four-star general heading up the C.I.A.” She said that she had “serious concerns” about General Hayden, at least in this position.

One Republican senator, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, said he believed that even were General Hayden to resign his military commission, serious conflicts would remain.

“I think the fact that he is part of the military today would be the major problem,” Mr. Chambliss said on ABC-TV. “Now, just resigning commission and moving on, putting on a striped suit, a pinstriped suit versus an air force uniform, I don’t think makes much difference.”

The last military man to head the Central Intelligence Agency was Adm. Stansfield Turner, during the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Christy Harden Smith reports at firedoglake that “George Stephanopolous just announced on ABC’s This Week that Gen. Michael Hayden will definitely be named President Bush’s nominee to succeed Porter Goss as the DCI for the CIA.”

The hearings could be more entertaining than “Mission Impossible III.”

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