dao time

Chinese characters for time

three wise looking men with small man at side

The river, surging course,
Uninterrupted current.
Headwater, channel, mouth.
Can they be divided?

Each day, we all face a peculiar problem. We must validate our past, face our present, plan for the future.

Those who believe that life was better in the “old days” sometimes are not able to see the reality of the present; those who live only for the present frequently have little regard for either precedent or consequence; and those who live only for some deferred reward often strain themselves with too much denial. Thinking of past, present, and future is a useful conceptual technique, but ultimately they must be appropriately balanced and joined.

We must understand how the past affects us, we should keep the present full of rich and satisfying experiences, and we should devote some energy each day to building for the future. Just as a river can be said to have parts that cannot be clearly divided, so too should we consider the whole of our time when deciding how to spend our lives.

365 Tao
daily meditations
Deng Ming-Dao (author)

ISBN 0-06-250223-9

close view
Chinese characters for "The Star-lords of Good Fortune, Emolument, and Longevity"
The Star-Lords of Good Fortune, Emolument, and Longevity (detail)
Ming dynasty, Jingtai reign, dated 1454
Hanging scroll; ink, colors, and gold on silk
140 x 78 cm
Musée National des Arts Asiatiques Guimet, Paris cat. no. 91
This work will only be shown at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

The Star-Lords of Good Fortune,
Emolument, and Longevity

The three stars of Good Fortune, Emolument, and Longevity form a popular group of gods. Still today, they remain the most commonly depicted Chinese deities. Their worship seems to have begun in the 15th century; only the Star of Longevity can be traced to an earlier source. This god is shown in the upper left as an old man with white beard who looks directly outward. The other two float below him and look to the right. All three gods hold tablets and are dressed as Taoist priests. Accompanying them is a smaller attendant holding a parasol with banners. The inscriptions in gold at the upper right identify the gods and indicate the date of the painting.

In the third century B.C., China's first emperor worshiped the Star of Longevity. The other two gods, however, were unknown before the Ming dynasty. Although they became quite common, there is no scripture devoted to them in the Taoist Canon. Instead, they seem to have originated as popular gods outside of the orthodox Taoist tradition.

With one possible exception, this painting is the earliest known depiction of the group. The first literary source for these three stars is a play about the lunar New Year's festival, in which the three stars descend to the mortal world to grant the blessings suggested by their names—good fortune, wealth, and long life. The play was published only 11 years before this painting was made. Both of these early sources are connected with the emperor's family, suggesting that worship of the star-lords may have been instituted at the imperial level. This is both an example of a popular movement that originated at the highest levels of society and an important reminder that popular religion does not necessarily refer to the religion of uneducated peasants, but also to that of scholars and even the imperial family.



the symbol of yin and yang, in modern art form


Taoism and Popular Religion


From its very beginnings, religious Taoism has made a special point to distinguish itself from popular religion, especially local cults that relied on blood sacrifice as the primary means of worship. At the same time, Taoism developed from popular religious beliefs and practices and has been influenced by different regional traditions throughout its history. Popular religion has been an important source of new gods, and the orthodox Taoist establishment has frequently turned to popular traditions to renew its own spiritual doctrines.

The relationship between Taoism and popular religion, in particular the incorporation of popular gods into the official Taoist pantheon, became increasingly subject to official rules and procedures in the Song dynasty. Absorption of a local deity into the official Taoist pantheon meant imperial recognition of the deity's followers, with the political security that this recognition entailed. Imperial recognition could also provide increased economic opportunity for cults that centered around merchants and guilds. After the Song dynasty, Taoism and popular traditions often maintained a mutually beneficial relationship. Taoism was able to increase its appeal and expand its pantheon by absorbing popular deities, while local cults were able to avoid persecution and reach a wider audience through the elevation of their gods to national status.
© 2000 AND many thanks to the Chicago Institute of Art

Here are some reminders of what we have already studied in this section:


click on each to revisit that day's meditation and lesson!

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dao positioning

Chinese characters for positioning

Marshal Wen waay cool looking warrior with depth and character

Heron stands in the blue estuary,
Solitary, white, unmoving for hours.
A fish! Quick avian darting;
The prey captured.

People always ask how to follow Tao. It is as easy and natural as the heron standing in the water. The bird moves when it must; it does not move when stillness is appropriate.

The secret of its serenity is a type of vigilance, a contemplative state. The heron is not in mere dumbness or sleep. It knows a lucid stillness. It stands unmoving in the flow of the water. It gazes unperturbed and is aware. When Tao brings it something that it needs, it seizes the opportunity without hesitation or deliberation. Then it goes back to its quiescence without disturbing itself or its surroundings. Unless it found the right position in the water’s flow and remained patient, it would not have succeeded.

Actions in life can be reduced to two factors; positioning and timing. If we are not in the right place at the right time, we cannot possibly take advantage of what life has to offer us. Almost anything is appropriate if an action is in accord with the time and the place. But we must be vigilant and prepared. Even if the time and the place are right, we can still miss our chance if we do not notice the moment, if we act inadequately, or if we hamper ourselves with doubts and second thoughts. When life presents an opportunity, we must be ready to seize it without hesitation or inhibition. Position is useless without awareness. If we have both, we make no mistakes.

365 Tao
daily meditations
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
ISBN 0-06-250223-9

<>close viewMarshal Wen (detail)
<> Chinese characters for "Marshal Wen"
<> Traditionally attributed to Jiang Zicheng
<> Ming dynasty,
<> late 14th/early 15th century
<> Hanging scroll; ink and colors on silk
<> 124 x 66.1 cm
<> Museum of Fine Arts, Boston;
<> Fenollosa-Weld Collection cat. no. 87
Marshal Wen

Marshal Wen began as a popular deity worshiped in the southern coastal areas of Zhejiang province. As Zhejiang is a hot, humid region in southern China known for its frequent plagues and epidemics, it is no surprise that Marshal Wen was primarily known as a god who fought against plague demons. Legend has it that his terrifying appearance—blue face and bright red lips and hair—resulted from a selfless act. He once drank enough poison to kill a whole community so that it would not be poured into the communal well.

Although the cult around Marshal Wen began as a small-scale, regional movement, it eventually spread along the coastal areas of Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces and also to Sichuan. He gained status as a national deity of the orthodox Taoist pantheon, but his following never really expanded beyond these areas. He is still worshiped in southern coastal regions today, especially in Taiwan. Several factors aided the spread of Marshal Wen's cult, the most important being that the merchants from coastal Zhejiang looked to him as a protector spirit, thereby spreading his worship along trade routes. He was also worshiped by scholars and Taoist priests, both of whom had an impact on the development of his cult.



the symbol of yin and yang, in modern art form

Taoism and Popular Religion


From its very beginnings, religious Taoism has made a special point to distinguish itself from popular religion, especially local cults that relied on blood sacrifice as the primary means of worship. At the same time, Taoism developed from popular religious beliefs and practices and has been influenced by different regional traditions throughout its history. Popular religion has been an important source of new gods, and the orthodox Taoist establishment has frequently turned to popular traditions to renew its own spiritual doctrines.

The relationship between Taoism and popular religion, in particular the incorporation of popular gods into the official Taoist pantheon, became increasingly subject to official rules and procedures in the Song dynasty. Absorption of a local deity into the official Taoist pantheon meant imperial recognition of the deity's followers, with the political security that this recognition entailed. Imperial recognition could also provide increased economic opportunity for cults that centered around merchants and guilds. After the Song dynasty, Taoism and popular traditions often maintained a mutually beneficial relationship. Taoism was able to increase its appeal and expand its pantheon by absorbing popular deities, while local cults were able to avoid persecution and reach a wider audience through the elevation of their gods to national status.
© many thanks to the Chicago Institute of Art

Copyright © 2000, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Here are some reminders of what we have already studied:

TAOIST RITUAL OF THE IMPERIAL COURTTAOIST PRIEST ROBEtaoist priest's robe (#2)ORDINATION SCROLL OF EMPRESS ZHANGTAOIST RITUAL SWORDincense Burner with Li TieguaiCelestial worthy of the primordal beginningCelestial Worthy of Numinous TreasureCelestial Worthy of the Way and Its PowerTAOIST OFFICIAL OF HEAVENTAOIST OFFICIAL OF EARTHTAOIST OFFICIAL OF WATER

click on each to revisit that day's meditation and lesson!

receive a full HTML copy of the daily meditation sent directly to your inbox, please send a note with the words "subscribe tao" in the subject line to duckdaotsu


from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 5
January 14, 2005



The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General today released an unclassified summary of its review of allegations made by FBI contract linguist and whistleblower Sibel Edmonds. With some qualification, the review found merit to her charges.

While some of her complaints about misconduct in the FBI Translation Unit could not be substantiated, the IG report said, "we believe that many of her allegations were supported, that the FBI did not take them seriously enough, and that her allegations were, in fact, the most significant factor in the FBI's decision to terminate her services."

See "A Review of the FBI's Actions in Connection With Allegations Raised By Contract Linguist Sibel Edmonds," Unclassified Summary, January 2005:

The Justice Department blocked a lawsuit brought by Ms. Edmonds by invoking the "state secrets" privilege (SN, 05/18/04). In a pending appeal supported by the ACLU and other groups, Ms. Edmonds is challenging that use of the privilege.

See her web site here:


The Superintendent of Documents has issued a revised policy governing the withdrawal of information from Government Printing Office information dissemination programs.

The policy defines a series of formal procedures that an agency must follow, making the removal of information from the public domain a rather burdensome process, as one would hope.

See "Withdrawal of Federal Information Products from Information Dissemination Collection and Distribution Programs," Superintendent of Documents Policy Statement No. 72, 1/10/05 (thanks to MJR):


The pursuit of "remote viewing" or clairvoyance as a tool for intelligence collection, often regarded as a minor embarrassment in the modern history of U.S. intelligence, is the subject of a new memoir by one of the participants in the effort.

The author, Paul H. Smith, is a retired Army intelligence officer and practitioner of remote viewing. He does not propose a theory, physical or metaphysical, to explain how the technique might work. But he insists that it does. Most if not all studies by non-believers appear to have found little substance to it.

Smith provides a fairly readable account of the development of the initiative, known as Star Gate and other code names, and its sponsorship as an unacknowledged "black" program by the Army Intelligence and Security Command and the Defense Intelligence Agency through its termination by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1995.

"Reading the Enemy's Mind: Inside Star Gate: America's Psychic Espionage Program" by Paul H. Smith, January 2005, is available here:

A summary account of Star Gate may be found here:


Director of Central Intelligence Porter J. Goss has the distinction of having been both an outspoken critic of excessive secrecy in government -- and a leading perpetrator of such secrecy.

It was an error to refer to him in the previous issue of Secrecy News as simply an "advocate" of declassifying the intelligence budget total. Though he did endorse regular declassification of the annual intelligence appropriation and the annual budget request as a member of the 1996 Aspin-Brown Commission, he also voted against such declassification in 1997. And at his confirmation hearing last year, he said his "preference" was not to declassify the number.

But in 2003, Mr. Goss told the 9-11 Commission that intelligence classification policy was "dysfunctional."

"There's a lot of gratuitous classification going on," he said at a May 23, 2003 hearing of the Commission. "We overclassify very badly." See:

There has been little visible change in classification policy since that time, particularly at the CIA. In the meantime, however, Mr. Goss has ceased to be an external overseer of intelligence classification policy and has become the senior figure responsible for that policy, and its excesses.

Today, one would have to say: "He overclassifies very badly."

Or perhaps the CIA would put it this way: "We overclassify very well."


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
Secrecy News is archived at:

Secrecy News has an RSS feed at:

Supreme Court to Congress: Here's what you really meant

An expert explains why the unusual decision striking down mandatory sentencing guidelines has enraged Republicans -- and what effect it'll have.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Andrew Leonard

Jan. 14, 2005 | If you make your living as a defense attorney, the Supreme Court's decision on Wednesday declaring that current federal sentencing guidelines are unconstitutional is simultaneously cause for excitement and confusion. The decision could pave the way for judges to give lighter sentences to defendants who would have had no maneuvering room under the former system. But the decision, which left the federal guidelines in place but ruled that they must be "advisory" rather than mandatory, disappointed some defense lawyers who were hoping the high court would simply overturn the guidelines. And it's far from clear what the actual impact of the decision on sentencing will be.

The unusual two-part decision is already stirring up controversy, with outraged Republicans citing it as another example of judicial overreaching.

Salon asked the current chair of the American Bar Association's committee on sentencing, Jim Felman, a practicing defense attorney in Tampa, Fla., to shed some light on the surprising Supreme Court news.

What exactly did the court decide and why was it a surprise?

The opinion is a little more complex than your typical Supreme Court decision. There were two issues presented in the case. The first issue is whether the United States sentencing guidelines violate the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, which is your right to a trial by jury. [Previous to this decision] you would get charged with a crime, you would get a jury trial with respect to whether you're guilty of that crime, but then the actual sentence you received for committing that crime would be determined by a judge. And under the sentencing guidelines, the judge must increase your sentence if he finds to be true certain facts that were not presented to the jury.

So, for example, in a typical drug case, you may be charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The amount of cocaine you distributed is not relevant for purposes of whether you are guilty of the crime. So all [the jury decides] is whether you distributed some amount of cocaine, ever. If the jury finds that you did, a judge will then decide -- based on, frankly, hearsay and by a preponderance of the evidence, as opposed to admissible evidence beyond a reasonable doubt -- what the quantity of cocaine was, and the quantity will drive the sentence.

So the first question is, is that OK, and a majority of five justices [Stevens, Scalia, Thomas, Souter and Ginsberg], in an opinion authored by Justice Stevens, said, "No, that sort of a process violates the Sixth Amendment."

The second question presented in the case was what do we do about that? And most people anticipated that the court really had two options. The first option was to find that it's really not possible to separate those parts of the statute that call for judge fact-finding and that violate the Sixth Amendment, and so as a result the alternative is just to find the entire statutory scheme unconstitutional and just wipe it out as a whole. That was one option that everybody thought they had.

A second option that I think everybody assumed that they had was to say this really is only unconstitutional as it is applied. There certainly are many cases in which there aren't any upward adjustments [of the sentence] based on facts not found by a jury, and in those cases there really isn't any problem, so there's no need to wipe out the whole scheme. Instead, you could just basically say you can't use those parts of the guidelines that call for upward adjustments without giving the jury a chance to be involved. You could put [the additional evidence] to a jury, which a lot of places were doing, or you could just not use it, which would result in quite a windfall for some defendants.

On the second issue, Stevens and three other justices from the majority on the first issue [Souter, Scalia and Thomas] opted for that second option: in other words, go ahead and put it to the jury, no problem. Justice Ginsberg, who joined Justice Stevens' majority opinion on the first issue, broke ranks with that group with respect to the second issue.

In a pretty surprising and unpredicted move, a coalition of the four dissenting judges on the first issue [Breyer, Rehnquist, Kennedy and O'Connor] and Justice Ginsberg, in an opinion authored by Justice Breyer, answered Point 2 in a way that no one expected. And that is to ask the question: What would Congress have really wanted, had they known when they wrote this statute that parts of it would violate the Sixth Amendment? He concluded Congress would have wanted them to strike the parts of the guidelines that make them mandatory. And while he was at it, he also struck a part of the appeals provision, leaving behind an appeal remedy based on a standard of "reasonableness." In other words, if an appeals court found that a given sentence was "unreasonable" they could overturn it. I don't think anybody really expected that.

Is this a good or bad thing for defendants?

I don't think there's a lot in this case for the defense bar to complain about. Under Breyer's remedy the harshness of the guidelines can be alleviated because some judges are going to say, "I'm just not going to do that."

What does the "reasonableness" standard mean?

My best guess is it isn't going to mean a lot. It would be pretty unusual for an appellate court to say that a particular sentence is unreasonable.

What does this mean then, practically speaking, for people who have cases moving through the federal system?

Cases fall into a bunch of different categories. For starters there are cases where people haven't been charged, or they have been charged but they haven't pled guilty yet. It's now very difficult as an attorney to give such clients advice; it's sort of like a return to the old days, where all you could tell your client is you could get as low as probation, or you could get as much as life. I can't tell you which it is likely to be, I can only tell you that whatever it is we won't really be able to complain about it much.

Some defendants may decide, in light of that uncertainty, that it's in their interest to just go ahead and go to trial. So it's at least possible that one effect could be more trials. And that's going to depend a little bit on the reputations of the particular judges. There are going to be some judges who are going to react to this by saying, "Thank God, I'm finally rid of these guidelines, and I can sentence as I see fit." And they may feel that way because they've always wanted to sentence higher, but more likely and statistically based, they'd be going, "Thank God, now I can actually impose more lenient sentences because these are too harsh." There will be many other judges who will react to this by saying, "I've never really been thinking that what I've been doing all these years is all that wrong and I'm going to go ahead and follow the guidelines in most cases unless there is something about a particular case that just hits me wrong."

So my sense is, at the end of the day, most people are probably going to be sentenced around the same point as before. It's going to be the more marginal cases that really cry out for justice that maybe now finally will get it.

Now that's for cases that haven't been pled yet. What will be interesting to see is as follows: The government also will have lost some of their leverage, because they've always been able to entice people to cooperate with them and testify on their behalf against other people, because under the sentencing guidelines system, if they so much as tell the judge, "This particular person provided substantial assistance to us," then the entire guidelines manual gets thrown out the window.

Prosecutors are going to lose some of their leverage. There is a provision in the rules that isn't used very much now, that allows the prosecutor and defense to stipulate a specific sentence in a plea agreement. In other words I can enter into a deal that says I'm willing to plead guilty, and the government and defense agree that if I plead guilty, I get two years and three months in prison, and they put it to the judge and the judge can say up or down on that. A lot of judges don't like those kind of agreements and won't accept them on principle, because they want the discretion to do what they think is right after they hear about the case. The government has traditionally not liked to do that kind of thing either, because they just want to let the guidelines operate. Now that there's a chance that people could get sentenced more leniently, it will be interesting to see if those kinds of agreements come back into vogue and whether prosecutors might think to themselves, I want to make sure the guy gets at least a year in jail or two years in jail, and they are willing to stipulate to that. And defendants might want that kind of agreement because it gives them a greater sense of certainty. But in general one could expect that there will be more trials, because it is less clear what the advantages are to pleading guilty.

Wednesday's decision follows upon on a decision last summer, Blakely vs. Washington, in which the Supreme Court overturned Washington state's sentencing guidelines. How does that affect the chances of defendants?

There are a bunch of cases where people were sentenced after Blakely and in which they objected to the guidelines citing the Blakely decision, and the judges overruled their objections, but they appealed and the appeal is pending. In situations like that where the issue has been raised, and it has been properly preserved for appeal, I would think virtually every one of those people will get a new sentencing hearing. So for sure there will be some people who will get a new sentencing hearing at which they get a new sentence. It's just impossible to know how many people are in that category.

The big category that everyone is talking about is the people who have already been sentenced, but didn't cite the Blakely decision in an appeal, or they were sentenced before Blakely and they don't have an appeal pending. They're sitting in jail, having been sentenced under a procedure that we now know was unconstitutional and they are going to want to bitch about it. There is going to be a flood of prisoner petitions that are going to start being filed. And the question is then going to be, does this opinion apply retroactively?

That's a really complicated legal question. It turns essentially on how obvious was this result? If this case was just a straightforward application of existing precedent then it should be applied retroactively. And there are certainly parts of Stevens' opinion that make it sound like, duh, this is just the same as we said in Apprendi vs. New Jersey and Blakely vs. Washington. It's straightforward and ought to be applied retroactively. But there are other parts of Breyer's remedial opinion that suggest that this is not going to be clear-cut and that this is novel and unprecedented, etc., etc., and so it should not be applied retroactively.

As a practical matter I'm kind of cynical and I think courts are unfortunately mindful of what the political results are of their rulings. And there will be tremendous political pressure on them not to apply this retroactively, just because of the floodgate of relief that would flow from that and the adverse public outcry: We're letting people out of prison and whatnot. My prediction about what will happen -- without regard to the legal merits of it -- is that there will not be many people who get relief due to any sort of retroactive application of this decision. There are going to be a lot of petitions filed, but not too many of them granted.

How do you think this will play out politically?

It depends on the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. I think it will be very important what Arlen Specter thinks, because I think if history is any guide, the House is dominated by Republicans of a particularly anti-judge bent. They are already making noises about the opinion. They are hot. They are not going to want to let this state of affairs continue, and they are going to want to move, and probably want to move quickly.

But I think cooler minds may prevail on the Senate side. The Democrats on the Senate side have already come out and said let's not rush to judgment here, let's let this play out. I think their inclination is to say, let's let the guidelines be advisory for awhile and see what happens. Maybe the judges will actually continue to follow them for the most part and maybe everything will work out just fine.

So the real question mark is, what will be the mood of Orrin Hatch or Arlen Specter? Are they going to be pressured by their more hotheaded friends in the House to act quickly, or will they be more willing to learn what we might be able to learn by allowing this system to be in place for a little while.

The real story here is just the incredible pissing match going on between Congress and the courts. It's nasty, and the people who are going to get caught in the crossfire are the defendants. The Congress has basically said we don't trust you judges. Breyer's remedial opinion, as Scalia points out, is so ironic, because in the name of divining what Congress would have wanted with respect to its statute that eliminated judicial discretion, he went ahead and eliminated the part that made it mandatory.

They're pretty rightfully pissed off. Breyer's analysis that you get to excise out the part of the statue that makes it mandatory is unprecedented. That part of the statute doesn't violate the Constitution. It isn't the mandatory part that makes it unconstitutional, it's the part that says you can do it without putting it to a jury that makes it unconstitutional. So what he did, which is so novel and so unprecedented and so frankly intellectually not compelling, is to rewrite the statute; in essence he said, "Rather than strike out the part of the statute that makes it unconstitutional, I'm going to strike a different part of the statute, that everybody agrees is constitutional so that the result of it will be to save those other parts of it that are unconstitutional." That's unprecedented, as far as I can tell.

But if the Supreme Court has declared that mandatorily making upward adjustments to a sentence violates the Sixth Amendment, what could Congress do in response? Isn't the Supreme Court the law of the land?

Congress has a number of options. It's still up to Congress to set the sentencing range, so they could pass a law that sets the top of every range at the maximum penalty. In other words, basically judges could give the maximum penalty for no reason at all. The ironic part is that that would end up giving judges discretion, which Congress doesn't really want, but only at the high end, not at the lenient end. Or they could just set a whole bunch more mandatory minimums. Mandatory minimums have not been declared unconstitutional. They could release a blizzard of mandatory minimums for all sorts of crimes. I think this would turn out to be more trouble than they imagine, but they still could do it.

Best-case scenario, they could just come up with a much simpler version of the guidelines and require that they put them to the jury. But I don't think that will happen.

About the writer
Andrew Leonard is the editor of Salon's Technology & Business department.

Jamail: Collective Punishment

January 14, 2005

Collective Punishment

It’s not a new tactic here in Iraq. The US military has been doing it for well over a year now. Last January 3rd, in the Al-Dora rural region on the outskirts of Baghdad, where beautiful farms of date palms and orange trees line the banks of the Tigris, I visited a farm where occupation forces had lobbed several mortars.

The military claimed they had been attacked by fighters in the area, while the locals denied any knowledge of harboring resistance fighters.

Standing in a field full of unexploded mortar rounds a farmer explained, “We don’t know why they bomb our house and our fields. We have never resisted the Americans. There are foreign fighters who have passed through here, and I think this is who they want. But why are they bombing us?”

At that time U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters that Operation Iron Grip in this area sends “a very clear message to anybody who thinks that they can run around Baghdad without worrying about the consequences of firing RPG’s, firing mortars. There is a capability in the air that can quickly respond against anybody who would want to harm Iraqi citizens or coalition forces."

I counted 9 small tails of the mortar rounds sticking into the air in this small section of the field.

I asked if the family had requested that the Americans come remove the unexploded ordnance.

Mr. Shakr, with a very troubled look told me, “We asked them the first time and they said ‘OK, we’ll come take care of it.’ But they never came. We asked them the second time and they told us they would not remove them until we gave them a resistance fighter. They told us, ‘If you won’t give us a resistance fighter, we are not coming to remove the bombs.’”

He holds his hands in the air and said, “But we don’t know any resistance fighters!”

Also last winter I also reported on home demolitions in Samarra by the military. The consistent pattern then was that anytime an attack occurred against occupation forces, nearby homes/buildings/fields were then raided or destroyed by the military, along with complimentary electricity cuts for the villages and/or cities.

That pattern appears to remain the same, as I found today in another visit to the al-Dora region of Baghdad.

Seven weeks ago, after having suffered many attacks by the Iraqi resistance in the area, the military began plowing date palm orchards, blasted a gas station with a tank, cut the electricity which is still down, and blocking roads in the rural farming area.

As we drove deep into the rural farming area along a thin, winding road which parallels the Tigris River, a wolf trots across the road. Rounding a bend I saw a large swath of date palms which had been bulldozed to the ground. Large piles of them had been pushed together, doused with fuel, and burned.

“The Americans were attacked from this field, then they returned and started plowing down all the trees,” explains Kareem, a local mechanic, “None of us knows any fighters and we all know they are coming here from other areas to attack the Americans, but we are the people who suffer from this.”

Across the way are other piles of scorched date palms.

Mohammed, a 15 year-old secondary school student stands near his home explaining what he saw. “There is a grave of an old woman they bulldozed,” and then he points to the nearby road, “They destroyed our fences, and now there are wolves attacking our animals, they destroyed much of our farming equipment, and the worst is they cut our electricity.”

“They come by here every night and fire their weapons to frighten us,” he explains while pointing out an MRE on the ground, left from some soldiers who used the bulldozers.

“But we need electricity to run our pumps to irrigate our farms,” added Mohammed, “And now we are carrying water in buckets from the river instead and this is very difficult for us. They say they are going to make things better for us, but they are worse. Saddam was better than this, even though he executed three of my relatives.”

His mother, Um Raed, cannot stop talking about the electricity.

“If there are bombs why do they attack our homes,” she pleads, “Why don’t they follow the people who attack them? Why do they come to our family? All we need now is electricity so we can run our water pumps. I don’t need my house, but we need water. This is our planting season.”

Ihsan, a 17 year-old student, joins the conversation near the bulldozed orchard. “I was beaten by the Americans,” he explains, “They asked me who attacked them and I do not know. My home was raided, our furniture destroyed, and one of my uncles was arrested.”

Um Raed is asking him to talk about the electricity some more, but then adds, “Yesterday at 5:30pm they came here and fired their weapons for 15 minutes randomly before they left.”

I glance at the ground and see the casing of a 50 caliber bullet while she is speaking, “Nobody attacked them. Why are they doing this? We told them to come and search but they didn’t. They just shot their guns and left.”

She holds her arms in the air and pleads, “Please, please, we must have electricity. They destroyed two of our pumps and threw them in the river!”

A 20 year-old farmer sees us talking and walks up to us. “For almost the last 2 months, since they plowed these fields, we have had no electricity. “How can I irrigate my fields without pumps,” asks Khalid, “With no electricity there is no water. They come here every evening and fire their weapons, and now my house has no glass in the windows.”

I glance over at Um Raed’s home, which has bullet pock marks in the wall.

“Every night they come on their patrols and shoot everywhere,” added Khalid.

A 55 year-old blind farmer approaches us with his cane. He listens to the conversation then shares his experiences. “The problem now is no gas for our machines, then they shot our gas station with a tank,” he says while his eyes look over my shoulder, “These trees are hundreds of years old and they cut them. Why?”

“They destroyed so many of our fences,” he adds, “And now we have wolves attacking our animals. We are living on the food ration now, that is all. We only need to stop this hurting.”

While others listening are nodding, he continues on, “Every night I hear them come and shoot. During the beginning, when they searched our houses they didn’t steal. Now they steal from us. They didn’t hurt us at the beginning, but now they are hurting us so much!”

We walk a little ways down the road and Ahmed, a 38 year-old farmer talks with us. He’d been detained during a home raid on August 13th, 2003.

“I don’t know why I was arrested,” he explained of his journey through the military detention system for 10 months, which found him experiencing treatment like having mock executions, being bound and having his head covered for days on end, and being held at a camp near Basra in the scorching summer temperatures.

“At that camp they hung a sign where we stated that said, The Zoo,” he explained. He claims that his home and fields were searched and no weapons were found. His ten month detention included witnessing sexual humiliation of prisoners, and regular beatings.

“I watched black American soldiers put naked Iraqi women in a cell and then enter the cell,” he explains, “I heard the screams as they soldiers raped the women.”

Sheikh Hamed, a well dressed middle aged man approaches and suggests we move off the road in case a patrol comes through and begins shooting again.

After moving off the road he says, “These are our grandfathers’ orchards. Neither the British nor Saddam behaved like this. This is our history. When they cut a tree it is like they are killing one of our family.”

He says three of his cousins were executed by Saddam Hussein’s regime before adding, “We don’t want this freedom of the Americans. They are raiding our homes and terrorizing us at anytime. We are living in terror. They shoot and bomb here everyday. We have sent our families to live elsewhere.”

We are told the road is blocked, so we drive a little further along the Tigris to see four large concrete blocks rising out of a deep hole blasted in the road.

One of the men with us tells us that at the same time the date palm orchards were destroyed the road was blocked by first the military blasting it, then placing smaller concrete barriers.

People grew weary of walking to their homes from the roadblock, so farm tractors were used to pull the blocks and reopen the road. Yesterday the military brought larger barriers and the road is sealed yet again.

An 80 year old man carrying several bags of food gingerly makes his way through the barrier then shuffles on down the road towards his home.

Hamoud Abid, a 50 year-old cheery farmer meets us just past the roadblock and I ask him what the soldiers told him about the roadblock.

“They humiliate us when we talk to them,” he says, “They would not tell us when they will remove these blocks, so we are all walking now.”

He says the soldiers used to come ask him to search his fields and he would allow it, and give them oranges while they searched. “They searched them 10 times and never found anything, of course,” he explains, “But they came last time more recently and caused destruction to my wall. They were starting to knock over my trees when a tread fell off their bulldozer, so they left.”

But just before leaving, they destroyed his front gate and left a block of concrete as a calling card.

We begin to leave and Hamoud, despite this horrendous situation cheerily says, “You should stay. I will grill fish, and you can stay the night in my home.”

We decline and he insists we at least stay for lunch or chai, but we must be going.

As we drive back out the small, winding road two patrols of three Humvees each rumble past us headed towards where we’d just come from. Just after that two helicopters rumble low overhead towards the same area.

I just phoned the military press office in Baghdad and asked them if they can provide me information on why they are blocking roads, firing weapons, plowing down date palm groves, and cutting electricity in the Al-Arab Jubour Village in Al-Dora, as several of the residents there claim.

The spokesman, who won’t give me his name, said he knew nothing about such things, but that there were ongoing security operations in the Al-Dora area.

Posted by Dahr_Jamail at January 14, 2005 07:19 PM

Abu Ghraib trial ends as 'torturer' refuses to testify

Abu Ghraib trial ends as 'torturer' refuses to testify

Suzanne Goldenberg in Fort Hood, Texas
Friday January 14, 2005
The Guardian

The trial of the man labelled by the Pentagon the "primary torturer" at Abu Ghraib prison ended abruptly yesterday after the defendant decided at the last minute not to take the stand.

Specialist Charles Graner, who features prominently in some of the most graphic images from the Iraqi prison, had been expected to argue that he had only been following orders.

But his defence team said it had made its case in full to the military jury and saw no reason for the soldier to testify.

"We came in with a checklist with everything we wanted to present to the jury," said his defence attorney Guy Womack. "Once we accomplished that there was no reason to continue." A verdict is expected as early as today.

Throughout the proceedings in the small, dark-panelled court room in Fort Hood army base, the burly Graner had been almost ebullient.

"I feel fantastic. I'm still smiling," he said after proceedings wound down yesterday. Asked on the opening day of his trial if he felt any remorse for what went on at Abu Ghraib, the soldier rolled his eyes and smirked.

If he is found guilty by a jury of 10 soldiers, he could face 17 and a half years in prison for conspiracy, assault, maltreatment of detainees, indecency and dereliction of duty.

Graner's last-minute decision yesterday afternoon not to testify must in some ways have arrived as a relief for the Pentagon, removing any threat that the defiant soldier would try to implicate his superiors in the abuse.

In the Pentagon's view, the abuse at Abu Ghraib stopped at the enlisted ranks, and Graner was the "primary torturer", a brutal sadist who whistled as he administered beatings - once so hard that he broke a chair over a detainee - and threw prisoners' rations into the toilet.

Graner is already linked indelibly in the public mind with the most horrifying images from Abu Ghraib: giving a thumbs up over a pyramid of naked Iraqi detainees, and cajoling his then lover, Private Lynndie England, to pose with a dog leash around the neck of another prisoner.

Although Graner's defence put on an air of optimism yesterday, the decision to rest their arguments comes after the judge repeatedly refused their attempts to introduce evidence from use-of-force experts and other testimony to advance their case that piling naked detainees into a human pyramid and other practices were a legitimate form of prisoner control.

However, the trial did hear for the first time that officers ordered the sexual humiliation of an Iraqi detainee as an interrogation strategy.

Megan Ambuhl, who it emerged yesterday also had a sexual relationship with Graner, told the court interrogators used female guards to sexually humiliate prisoners.

"They asked me to sit in the shower, and to point and laugh at the detainees," said Ms Ambuhl, who pleaded guilty last year for her role in the abuse.

Another guard, Sgt Kenneth Davis, who has not been charged, said: "I thought the military intelligence was doing some pretty weird things with the detainees."

Bush tells ‘negroes’ not to spend money on dice games as he parties on like it’s 1929

On eve of Martin Luther King Day,
Bush tells ‘negroes’ not to spend money
on dice games as he parties on like it’s 1929

By Jackson Thoreau

During a "town hall" meeting on Jan. 11 in Washington, D.C., before an audience of many African Americans, Bush made some condescending and stereotypical, if not outright racist, remarks. The comments came a few days before Martin Luther King Day, no less.

In outlining his plan to rob the Social Security trust fund to reward wealthy Wall Street campaign contributors with billions in new fees and investment funds, Bush said that "a personal savings account….will compound over time and grow over time; a personal savings account……can't be used to bet on the lottery, or a dice game, or the track."

So Bush thinks all African Americans – or "negroes," as his kind calls them in private, if not to their faces - waste their money on dice games and the betting tracks, huh?

At another point, Bush made a reference to how blacks should like the change to Social Security since African American males die sooner than other groups and they can pass their accounts to their kids. He also said "the system [of blacks dying sooner] is inherently unfair to a certain group of people. And that needs to be fixed."

But Bush’s fix is not to help provide better education, training and jobs to blacks, or allow more African Americans to have health insurance. His solution to the problem is "personal savings accounts." How out of touch can he be?

A transcript of Bush’s remarks is at

Thanks to Jon Stewart of the Daily Show for highlighting these remarks.


Among the many protests and actions during the Bush coronation week highlighted at the site is a march on Jan. 19, the evening before the coronation, from Dupont Circle to the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, scene of perhaps the most prestigious and hoity-toity of events during the week, the Black Tie and Boots Inaugural Ball.

Demonstrators from Billionaires for Bush, CODEPINK: Women for Peace, Ronald Reagan Home for the Criminally Insane ( and others will be marching to the hotel and showing the insensitive, moneyed power brokers how out of touch they really are.

Bush is spending at least $50 million on his coronation – more than any other president ever – at a time of an international tragedy like the tsunami, a costly war started on lies that the administration finally had to own up to by stopping their O.J. Simpson-like search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and massive budget cuts of programs that help children and the needy.

Bush is even sticking the taxpayers of Washington, D.C., who voted 9 to 1 against him, with a $12 million bill, the first president to stick it to the local taxpayers for his coronation. The local entity is using Homeland Security funds to pay much of that bill, another complete waste of money.

More details on this action are at

Some "mainstream" protest groups like Win Without War are sitting out the inaugural protests, thinking they need to appeal to moderates. These groups are like the wimpy, "moderate" Democrats who tried to stop the formal challenge of Bush’s cheating "victory" in Congress by Conyers, Boxer and others.

This inauguration is the big stage for protest groups. The media is here, wanting to cover this. They aren’t going to cover some small protest of a few hundred people later on. This is it.

What has trying to appeal to moderates ever gotten Bush opponents, except more of Bush?

I plan to show up with some creative signs to these inaugural protests. Some ideas I have for signs include:

"Gross Old Partiers"

"Party On Like It’s 1929"

"Millions for Parties, Pennies for Our Kids"

"Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for the Other Guy – I Think"

If you think of any other good slogans for signs, send ‘em on to the email address at the bottom of this column.

Hope to see you there.

( '? note:
Jackson has been duckdaotsu’s website “onsite columnist” (and a dear friend) for several years, we thank him for each word!

Jackson Thoreau, a Washington, D.C.-area journalist, contributed to Big Bush Lies, published by RiverWood Books and available in bookstores across the country. Thoreau's latest electronic book, The Strange Death of the Woman Who Filed a Rape Lawsuit Against Bush & Other Things the Bush Administration Doesn't Want You to Know, can be read at He can be reached at or

Horrified by Tsunami but not Abu Ghraib

Why We are Horrified by the Destructive Forces
of Nature but Accept Our Own Violence
January 14, 2005

The recent avalanche of American generosity towards those whose lives have been destroyed by the horrific damage of the Tsunami offers a troubling contrast to our callousness towards those whose lives have been wrecked by the man-made horrors of war. The uncomfortable reality is that the purposeful suffering inflicted by armed conflict is more morally tolerable than suffering caused by natural disasters.

To understand this dichotomy of conscience, consider why wars are fought. They are not fought to liberate a people or bring democracy to a country. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had little to do with liberating women or throwing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein out of power and even the White House now admits that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction. These wars, like all wars, have been fought because of greed and the quest for power and control, and the perceived need to restore honor. They are being fought to maintain and perpetuate a dominator, patriarchal society

We accept the cost of war, that collateral damage is a necessary if unfortunate side effect of our violence. Due to the near total information lockdown imposed by the military there are few pictures of Fallujah after the U.S. attack on that city. That is regrettable because it would be interesting to see pictures of Fallujah side by side with the devastation caused by the Tsunami. One wonders what difference, if any, there is between a city that has been bombed away and one that has been flooded away. They are both reduced to rubble, the surrounding landscapes permanently altered.

More profoundly, what about the impact on people's lives? We are rushing to send water and medical supplies, food and clothing to the victims of the Tsunami. But in Iraq, we have deliberately destroyed the water and electrical systems and made little effort to repair and replace them. The result is an extreme shortage of potable water and not enough power for such things as refrigerating food. We have bombed hospitals and cut off medical supplies, gasoline is scarce and expensive. People are without homes, jobs or schools. And as is always the case, civilians, most of them women and children, bear the brunt of this collateral damage.

By their very nature, wars are purposely destructive. We destroy the land and the people living there who are in our way or challenge our right to control them. It is no accident that we poison the land with permanently devastating weapons like depleted uranium and nuclear bombs or that the victims are disproportionately female. The rise of the patriarchal society in which we live was made possible by the domination of both the natural world and of women.

So why our greater horror at the devastation caused by the Tsunami? Quite simply, we are determined not to let the forces of nature have the upper hand. It is worth remembering that this country was settled in large part by taming the wilderness and its inhabitants. Today we pollute our waterways, our air and land with all manner of toxic pollution. We do this with no regard for the destructive impact of our actions because we have come to believe that the water, the air, indeed the whole world, are ours to control and use as we please. The damage done is merely the collateral damage of our insatiable need to have the most, to be the biggest and the best.

And everywhere, we shut our eyes to the victimization of women, particularly due to conflict. We shut our eyes to the shocking numbers of women who live in poverty and don't have enough to eat. We see the male privilege that allows sexism and violence against women as how the system works rather than mechanisms that perpetuate patriarchal control.

The domination of women and the earth have always been crucial to patriarchy because it is the only way to control the perpetuation of life. Forcing a woman to have sex against her will or denying her food to feed her family controls who lives and who dies. We add chemical fertilizers to crops in an attempt to grow more food, we mine the earth of its resources to supply our "needs" and build structures in which to live. Conversely, when we go to war, we destroy our enemy's homes and infrastructure and poison their resources in order to control them.

Because these acts are deliberate, we are not affronted by the damage they cause. Just like men frequently beat women "for their own good," the havoc of war, albeit unfortunate, is considered acceptable because it strengthens our control. Natural disasters on the other hand, particularly of the size of the recent Tsunami, are not within our control.* They assault our sense of power over the land and over our lives. We are quick to offer aid to the survivors and restore things to their man-made state because it is unthinkable that such a tragedy occurred at the hand of forces beyond our control (which we quickly want to re-assert).

War and violence however, are ours to control and it therefore seems perverse that we are so accepting of the incredible damage and hundreds of thousands of lives lost due to our insatiable lust for power. Unlike deaths due to natural causes, we are culpable for this carnage. It is time to realize that true empowerment will only be achieved by taking responsibility for the destruction that takes place by our own hands.

*Obscenely, we did in fact know that such an earthquake was likely to occur and chose not to warn those affected for fear of economic repercussions. While it is not clear how many lives this would have saved, the implicit arrogance vis-à-vis the forces of nature versus our own selfishness is clear.

.by Lucinda Marchall

Yea, torture. We KNEW, WE KNOW, WHAT NOW????

Let's Not Pretend We Didn't Know

by Dr. Teresa Whitehurst

The only thing worse than seeing endless news stories about the torture of "detainees" at U.S. prison camps like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay is seeing the word "shocking" in relation to something that we all, in our heart of hearts, knew was happening from the start.

That is, unless I'm the only person in the world with eyes to see and ears to hear. From the moment I saw this picture and read these words, along with Donald Rumsfeld's reassurances, I knew that those poor men dressed in flimsy short-sleeved orange jumpsuits (their backs are exposed to the cold air in the photo) were about to experience some old-fashioned American-style "discipline." Stories about the "shocking" torture in these camps – in which women and children have also been imprisoned – suggest that we had no idea they were being maltreated these last three years.

However much we may express shock at the particulars, we knew. We all knew.

When I lived in Germany, my landlady was so sweet, so kind – I just couldn't imagine her having known what went on in the concentration camps. I talked with her and with other Germans, who explained that the truth did come out rather early on but sounded too horrible to be true. It's not surprising that average people, who by the late 1930s were afraid of being branded as unpatriotic or worse for questioning their leaders, were all too willing to believe that these reports were just rumors, exaggerated as rumors always are.

But what about the existence of the camps and the secrecy surrounding them – wouldn't that have been a tip-off that terrible things were happening there? When I toured Dachau, it was clear that the surrounding community had to have known about its existence, if not the torture that went on inside. The truth is, human beings can "know but not know" – especially when we're powerless to intervene. Like the old adage, "never watch sausage being made," one learns to avert one's eyes, to subconsciously or consciously dampen one's natural curiosity:

"'We knew there were concentration camps,' she went on. 'But you must picture they were so camouflaged, people who lived in nearby villages hardly knew anything of them. Our tour guide … said, "Here you see the prison and there was horrible torture and beheadings and who knows what else, but think, I lived right over there and we didn't know anything about it." If she says that, how should we in Bremen or Hanover know what was going on?'"

- Frauen: German Woman Recall the Third Reich

What does it mean to be "shocked" that maltreatment has occurred in prisons so foul legally, ethically, and morally that they couldn't be built inside the U.S.? What did it mean, for example, when we learned that even reporters for the then-untamed BBC were denied access to prisoners at Camp Delta? Can we seriously claim to know nothing at all, when signs such as this tell us that something is being hidden, and for good reason?

Having grieved over all the children and families killed in the "justified" attack on Afghanistan, in early 2003 I flew to New York and Boston to learn what could be done to protect the children of Iraq. I talked with UNICEF and other international agencies devoted to protecting children, thinking that moral citizens might prevail upon President Bush to avoid bombing near or in residential neighborhoods, and to keep children, at the very least, out of brutal adult prisons.

What a fool believes. I soon learned that even the most accomplished people at our most high-profile humanitarian and human rights agencies (including Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, and others) have no influence whatsoever on the White House or the Pentagon.

I should have known better – Mr. Bush never was one to pull punches about his gleeful enthusiasm for punishment. His permissive attitude toward violence and torture, without concern for "irrelevant" things like international law, was given the Good White House Seal of Approval and has turned out to be quite contagious.

This and every form of abuse is presented, of course, as a necessary means (hurting the body, humiliating the soul, and terrifying the mind) to a noble end (preventing terrorist attacks). But another end, of course, is punishment. Anybody who thinks this is designed to somehow "prevent terrorist attacks," rather than simply inflict punishment, "give them something to cry about," and get a sadistic rush, is living in a dream world.

Let's get something straight: Most Americans firmly believe in violence.

In fact, we're crazy about it. Violence is the cure for every problem, from infancy on up. Violence instills something called "respect," and it feels so good when we can strike out at others. Violence begins in the home, but it doesn't end there.

From Belts to Bombs: The American Passion for Punishment

The majority of Americans firmly believe in smacking people around, especially babies, children, and prisoners who can't defend themselves. We've been conditioned to believe that we must assault the body to save the soul. Anyway, it feels so good to be the boss in at least one sphere of our lives, to see others jump to our commands.

It's not that we don't have a multitude of books teaching nonviolent methods for helping children develop self-discipline and learn right from wrong, it's that we don't want to read them. We'd much rather learn how to use religious ends to justify whatever we feel like doing to our kids. Why, we couldn't raise children without hitting them, especially in this violent age when we bear a grave responsibility to teach them that hitting and other forms of violence are wrong!

Humiliating and hurting those who are powerless is what we need if we're going to get our fix of respect. It's not that we want to cause misery and breed hate, it's just that the look of fear, that wondrous sound of submissiveness in the voice, the unquestioning obedience to our every whim, well, you could say we're addicted to the stuff.

So it comes as no surprise that the U.S. military has been encouraged to torture and bomb and humiliate those that our president calls "evildoers." Of course, we try hard to hide the fact that the military is only following the lead of its civilian command by scapegoating young troops and older contractors who got caught doing as they were told or "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" suggested to do.

The Bush administration and its fundamentalist advisors continually imply or state outright that the U.S. is a "Christian" nation, committed to human rights and opposed to torture by "brutal dictators." This would be funny, were it not so tragic.

Torture of prisoners, particularly in the name of punishment, "preventing terrorist attacks," or extracting confessions, is in no way contrary to contemporary American culture; it goes right along with our passion for violence from the cradle to the grave. After all, where else but in America can you buy a stun-gun for use on little children, a book teaching parents to force Tabasco sauce and other burning liquids down young throats, or this fiberglass rod, the better to whip your infants and toddlers with?

It's good that the world is waking up to the torture, sometimes leading to death, that our troops and our contractors have inflicted on people who've never even been convicted of any crime. It's high time we cried out for an end to unspeakable humiliations and depravity in the name of "the War on Terror" or giving people the punishment they "deserve."

Perhaps we stifled our curiosity about what was going on in the camps because we knew we were powerless to stop it. Perhaps we were all too eager to buy into the mainstream media's reassurances that the torture camps are necessary, justified, and humane. Maybe we've convinced ourselves that the fresh-faced American torturers weren't at all influenced from above, that they were "bad apples" from the start.

But please – let's not pretend we didn't know.

No WMD? Hell, the Prez would have started that war anyhoooooo

No Semblance of Accountability

by Alan Bock

Perhaps the most striking thing about the official acknowledgment that the two-year hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is over is the fact that it was greeted by most with a collective shrug of the shoulders and an almost cheerful defense of what many of us view as utterly indefensible. "Based on what we know today," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters, "the president would have taken the same action because this is about protecting the American people."

Sorry, Scott, but what we know today suggests all too strongly that invading Iraq was not about protecting the American people. Not even close. Even if Saddam Hussein, vile as he was and is, had possessed weapons of mass destruction, his third-rate tinpot regime, weakened by an eight-year war with Iran, by defeat in the first Gulf War, and by a decade of economic sanctions, would have posed little or no threat to the American people. Americans were put in harm's way and more than 1,300 have died as a result of a deliberate decision to invade a country whose neighbors did not especially fear it, and whose chances of delivering even a glancing blow to the world's sole remaining superpower were close to zero.

You can even make a case that the invasion of Iraq increased the potential dangers of nuclear proliferation – not to mention that it stole resources from the hunt for the actual perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attack on American soil. Certainly the other countries the president arbitrarily chose to include in his overwrought "axis of evil," Iran and North Korea, have taken a perverse lesson from the invasion of Iraq. They are acting as if they believe the best way to avoid an invasion from a superpower willing to invade Iraq on the flimsiest of pretexts is actually to have nuclear weapons, or at least to have made substantial progress toward acquiring them.

No Accountability

The most troubling aspect of the not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper end to the search for the fabled WMD is the utter lack of accountability for an intelligence failure that, in retrospect, assumes almost epic proportions. Former CIA director George Tenet, who reassured the president, based on intelligence he had to know was shaky, that the presence of WMD was a "slam dunk," was allowed to retire with honors and encomia.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who misled the United Nations with a presentation full of holes and gaps, will leave his post with words of praise ringing in his ears, and will no doubt continue to be held in high esteem by Americans, insofar as the periodic "most admired" polls reflect reality. Sure, it's likely that he was pushed out. But he wasn't pushed out for assisting in the campaign of disinformation that led most Americans to support the invasion of Iraq. If anything, he was pushed out for being an occasional voice of reason and caution.

Condoleezza Rice, whose public appearances with the memorable tag line about whether reluctant warriors were willing to wait until the smoking gun was a mushroom cloud – although if she were the least bit competent or informed she would have known this was a misleading and far-fetched image – did so much to build prewar hysteria, has been named secretary of state, arguably the most prestigious position in our government after president. Truly, this is an administration in which failure by any commonsense measure is rewarded richly.

Then there's the president himself, who bears the ultimate responsibility for a decision based on a tissue of misinformation and outright deception. In an interview with Barbara Walters scheduled to air tonight, he seems incapable of taking the kind of full responsibility a genuinely strong leader would take. He's got to spread it around to others. "I felt [felt??!!]," he is reported to say, "like we'd find weapons of mass destruction – like many others here in the United States, many around the world. ... We need to find out what went wrong in the intelligence gathering. ... Saddam was dangerous, and the world is safer without him in power."

At least he stays on message. But this is not a political campaign in which he is trolling for votes and hanging on the next poll results. It is a war in which Americans have been killed and wounded. A responsible, accountable leader wouldn't whine that others seem to have been mistaken, too (especially when his administration did so much of the exaggerated and politically shaded reporting that led so many to believe that if a president was so darned certain it was likely there was something to it). He would acknowledge that the rationale for war was at least in part mistaken, accept full responsibility (and maybe fire a few people), and resolve to move on toward a constructive result despite the difficulties into which his mistaken decision-making had plunged the country.

Well, the American people had the opportunity to turn this guy out of office. The alternative was hardly inspiring, of course, especially on the crucial subject of the Iraq war. But it does also seem as if holding him accountable – polls before the election showed majorities believing the Iraq war, in retrospect, might not have been worth fighting – would have been just too harsh for many Americans. He wasn't John Kerry, who had his own problems, and he seems to have meant well. So don't punish him for misleading Americans into quagmire and slaughter.

The weaselly approach to leadership was evident even in the denouement to the snipe hunt for WMD. As this story in the Washington Post that ran on Wednesday notes, "Officials who served with the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) said the violence in Iraq, coupled with a lack of new information, led them to fold up the effort shortly before Christmas." If the Post hadn't hunted this story down and printed it, followed by the catch-up effort by other media so typical on major stories, would the administration ever have announced that the search for WMD was over on its own?

One feels almost like Bob Dole in 1996, losing an election dreadfully and shouting, "Where's the outrage?" into the wind, being ignored by all and sundry. Does anyone care that our leaders led this country into war based on false premises?

No Shame

Not only has there been no accountability demanded of those who committed such errors of judgment, there seems to be no sense of embarrassment as the major prewar justifications for invading Iraq have crumbled one by one. There was no operational link to al-Qaeda? There turned out to be no weapons of mass destruction? Never mind. Saddam was a really, really bad ruler and we've found mass graves that documented the fact. We're building democracy and transforming the Middle East – even as the White House purposely lowers expectations about just how democratic and representative the elections scheduled for the end of the month are likely to be.

This is a far cry from any remotely sensible understanding of how a free society operates. In a truly free society, the essence of freedom is responsibility. You make your choices without outright coercion, and you live with the consequences of your choices without blaming others or assuming that others have some kind of obligation to bail you out when things go badly.

This refusal to demand anything resembling accountability used to be anathema to conservatives. But conservatives don't seem to have any clear principles these days, or they place their faith in leaders rather than principles. So the general conservative response to the absence of WMD has been a resounding "So what?" Admit that a leader might have made a mistake? Hold a leader accountable? This is modern America, where state power assures that if it is not quite possible to repeal reality, it is at least possible to make sure that no leader ever pays a real price for a blunder.

Resignation or Abdication?

I can understand a certain sense of resignation. The invasion of Iraq committed the United States to at least try to establish a functional and stable government there, a task that is turning out to be more difficult than any of our leaders had imagined. It is likely to take a while, and crying over prior mistakes won't make the job any easier.

It should be the case that acknowledging mistakes could at least make it less likely that one will make the same or similar mistakes in the future. But perhaps the American time horizon is too short for this mechanism even to operate.

Are we so accustomed to being misled by our political leaders that we don't expect any better, that we greet yet another example of government failure with mute resignation? If so, we have come to a sorry place in our political life – unless we have made the first step toward acknowledging the reality that political leaders do not hold the key to success, prosperity, and building a decent society, but are more likely to be a recurrent hindrance in the achievement of any such positive goals.