Thursday, June 14, 2007

Iraq's Harvard Insider Damns Occupation; Rumsfeld's Arrogance

By Edward Nawotka

June 14 (Bloomberg) -- The disastrous war in Iraq continues to inspire new books. Among the most interesting:

``The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace,'' by Ali A. Allawi, is the first significant volume about the conflict by an Iraqi insider. An MIT- and Harvard-educated banker, Allawi has held several key government posts, including minister of trade, minister of defense and minister of finance.

His book is long and dense but never mealy-mouthed. Allawi regards the war as ``one of America's great strategic blunders'' and calls the Bush administration ``ignorant'' and ``ill- informed'' about conditions in Iraq (most prominently the fragility of the national economy and the ``parlous condition of the machinery of government'') prior to the invasion.

The occupation, Allawi writes, ``broke the thick crust that had accreted over the country and region as a whole and released powerful subterranean forces.'' He isn't talking about oil geysers. He shows, with an authority far surpassing that of other politicos, how a democratically elected Iraqi government runs counter to interests of authoritarian regimes (Saudi Arabia, Egypt) that are key U.S. allies in the region.

``The Occupation of Iraq'' is published by Yale University Press (518 pages, $28).


``Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall and Catastrophic Legacy,'' by Andrew Cockburn, is as damning as its title suggests. You get a sense of the pitch at which Cockburn writes from his statement that Sept. 11 transformed the defense secretary from ``a half- forgotten 20th-century political figure to America's 21st- century warlord.''

Cockburn sees Donald Rumsfeld as a shrewd political operator whose ruthlessness and ambition during the Ford administration made an ally of Dick Cheney and a ``lifelong enemy'' of George H.W. Bush. He does a superior job of showing how, as secretary of defense under Gerald Ford, Rumsfeld became a benefactor of the defense industry, into whose coffers he has since funneled hundreds of billions of dollars.

Cockburn's astute analysis of his subject's earlier career makes it seem all but inevitable that Rumsfeld would commit the errors he did in managing the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And though the story has been told repeatedly before, reading again about his hubristic dismissal of the military's request for more invasion and support forces and his long refusal to admit the existence of the insurgency revives that troubling question: Why wasn't he fired sooner?

``Rumsfeld'' is published by Scribner (247 pages, $25).


In ``Monstering: Inside America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War,'' Tara McKelvey tracks down many of the principals in the Abu Ghraib photos and posits some theories about how the pictures came into being.

She believes the poverty-stricken home lives of some of the soldiers contributed directly to the abuse. She writes about videos of bored prison guards ``Robotripping'' (getting stoned on a mixture of Robitussin and Vivarin) and simulating sex with one another. Lynndie England, the young army specialist photographed holding a naked prisoner on a leash, worked at a chicken-processing plant where animals were abused (though, surprisingly, she quit in protest) and participated in amateur porn shoots before her tour of duty in Iraq.

Working from interviews with former detainees, McKelvey serves up a dozen case studies of abuse that went beyond what was shown in the photographs; it included sophisticated forms of torture (such as stress positions and ``monstering'' -- the inhibition of diet and sleep) and, purportedly, rape and murder. The worst abuse, she reports, took place at makeshift short- term-detention facilities, such as gyms and trailers, where detainees were held for fewer than 14 days and then released without any record of their imprisonment.

Jail Time

She doggedly tracks down military documents and computer files supporting claims of abuse, including one guard's ``wish list'' of ``alternative interrogation techniques,'' including ``phone book strikes'' and ``low-voltage electrocution.'' Even more disturbing is her revelation that civilian contractors probably participated in the abuse; one translator may have sodomized a male teenager.

Thus far, she reports, of 260 soldiers investigated for detainee-related crimes, only nine have received jail time. (England is currently serving a 36-month sentence.)

McKelvey's research is impressive. Her litany of pain and suffering is equal parts enlightening and exhausting.

``Monstering'' is published by Carroll & Graf (291 pages, $25.95).