Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Deciding What to Write About

Harry Whittington's doctors say he has had a "minor heart attack" after a piece of the bird shot that Dick Cheney sprayed him with on Saturday moved to his heart.

Doctors were deciding how to treat Whittington's condition, which was discovered after doctors noticed an irregularity in his heartbeat, Banko said.

Dr. David Blanchard, the hospital's emergency room chief, said Whittington suffered an "asymptomatic heart attack," without displaying symptoms such as chest pains or breathing difficulty. He said a roughly 5 mm piece of shot became lodged in or alongside Whittington's heart muscle, causing the organ's upper two chambers to beat irregularly.

Obviously, the fact that Whittington is 78 years old makes this a lot more serious.

I am not going to rehash the troubling aspects of this event. Others have written about that just as ably and comprehensively as I could, if not more. Yesterday, at this time, there were half a dozen articles about it on Memeorandum, with floods of blogger commentary. Today, there are (at my count) 15 articles or blogger posts about it, with dozens and dozens of bloggers and news outlets commenting.


At least as troubling as the news that the vice-president shot a fellow hunter, covered it up for almost 24 hours, and then put the blame on the victim, is the fact that in the past two days at least three other stories have broken that are just as horrifying (and actually a couple of them are much more horrifying) and more far-reaching in their significance; and have gone virtually unnoticed:

On Sunday, February 12, Ann Louise Bardach, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, had an opinion piece titled "For One Marine, Torture Came Home." It's about Jeffrey Lehner, a former Marine sergeant in Afghanistan, who contacted Bardach about a year and a half ago to tell her about horrors he had witnessed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in that region that continued to haunt him.

In the beginning, Jeff supported the administration's policies in the region. But over time, that began to change. As we talked, Jeff brought out an album of photos from Afghanistan. He pointed to a series of photographs of a trailer and several huts behind a barbed-wire fence; these were taken, he said, outside a U.S. military camp not far from the Kandahar airport. He told me that young Afghans -- some visible in blue jumpsuits in his photos -- had been rounded up and brought to the site by a CIA special operations team. The CIA officers made no great secret of what they were doing, he said, but were dismissive of the Marines and pulled rank when challenged.

Jeff said he had been told by soldiers who had been present that the detainees were being interrogated and tortured, and that they were sometimes given psychotropic drugs. Some, he believed, had died in custody. What disturbed him most, he said, was that the detainees were not Taliban fighters or associates of Osama bin Laden. "By the time we got there," Jeff said, "the serious fighters were long gone." [Emphasis added.]

Jeff had other stories to tell as well. He said the CIA team had put detainees in cargo containers aboard planes and interrogated them while circling in the air. He'd been on board some of these flights, he said, and was deeply disturbed by what he'd seen.

Long story short, Lehner had struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder since returning from Afghanistan because of what he had seen; could not get the help he needed despite truly herculean efforts to do so; and in early December fatally shot his father and killed himself with a single gunshot to the head.

Yesterday, the New York Times's Tim Golden reported that, more than four years after two Afghan civilians were found dead in their cells at Bagram Air Force Base, and one year after Army investigators began the effort to bring those responsible to justice, the murder case has reached a dead end, probably for good.

Of 27 soldiers and officers against whom Army investigators had recommended criminal charges, 15 have been prosecuted. Five of those have pleaded guilty to assault and other crimes; the stiffest punishment any of them have received has been five months in a military prison. Only one soldier has been convicted at trial; he was not imprisoned at all.

The major obstacles to getting convictions seem to be these: The rules for treatment of detainees were not clear; and judges and jurors in similar cases "seemed to consider the soldiers' guilt or innocence with an acute sense of the sacrifices they had made in serving overseas."

Of course, the Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar and the other Afghan civilian who were killed by U.S. military personnel sacrificed their lives, and not by their own choice. Here's the abbreviated version of what happened to them:

The two Afghans were found dead within days of each other, hanging by their shackled wrists in isolation cells at the prison in Bagram, north of Kabul. An Army investigation showed they were treated harshly by interrogators, deprived of sleep for days, and struck so often in the legs by guards that a coroner compared the injuries to being run over by a bus.

For the more complete version of what happened to these men, go here.

Also yesterday, The Raw Story reported that Valerie Plame was working on a project to get information about Iran's WMD program.

The unmasking of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson by White House officials in 2003 caused significant damage to U.S. national security and its ability to counter nuclear proliferation abroad, RAW STORY has learned.

According to current and former intelligence officials, Plame Wilson, who worked on the clandestine side of the CIA in the Directorate of Operations as a non-official cover (NOC) officer, was part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran.

Speaking under strict confidentiality, intelligence officials revealed heretofore unreported elements of Plame's work. Their accounts suggest that Plame's outing was more serious than has previously been reported and carries grave implications for U.S. national security and its ability to monitor Iran's burgeoning nuclear program.

These three stories are only a sampling of recent breaking news that call for serious and comprehensive coverage and commentary. And they do not even include other, ongoing stories like the NSA spy scandal, which have been completely eclipsed by two full days of rapt attention to Dick Cheney's shooting of a friend while hunting.

All three of the stories detailed above demonstrate the Bush administration's utter lack of humanity and concern for human rights or international law. Arguably even more important, from a strictly pragmatic point of view, all three stories demonstrate that, if there is anything the Bush administration cares less about than human rights, it's U.S. national security. The damage done to national security by forcing a covert C.I.A. officer to shut down an operation tracking WMD acquisition by a country the Bush administration is currently planning to bomb is obvious; but torturing Afghan and Pakistani and Iraqi civilians who have no intelligence value whatsoever is equally harmful to U.S. efforts to prevent or reduce the threat of terrorism. Not only does it create needless enmity that helps terrorist recruiting efforts, but it takes valuable resources away from finding and interrogating real threats.

I will say straightforwardly here, for the record: The Cheney hunting story is important and should be covered -- but to the exclusion of everything else?

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