Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for September 16th, 2020

Video plus a microscope

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The second half of the video explains what you watched. The video contains winning entries from the Nikon Small World in Motion competition, brought together and published by Scientific American:

Written by Leisureguy

16 September 2020 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Science, Video

Enhanced interrogation in practice: This Soldier’s Witness to the Iraq War Lie

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Torturing people who are merely suspects is something done by totalitarian governments — and also the US under George W. Bush. We know, even though the CIA deliberately destroyed the video recordings of the torture.

Frederic Wehrey writes in the NY Review of Books:

A few weeks before I deployed to Iraq as a young US military officer, in the spring of 2003, my French-born father implored me to watch The Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo’s dramatic reenactment of the 1950s Algerian insurgency against French colonial rule. There are many political and aesthetic reasons to see this masterpiece of cinéma vérité, not least of which is its portrayal of the Algerian capital’s evocative old city, or Casbah. One winter morning in 2014, more than a decade after I first saw the film, I took a stroll down the Casbah’s rain-washed alleys and into the newer French-built city. Scenes from the black-and-white movie—like the landmark Milk Bar café where a female Algerian guerrilla sets off a bomb that kills French civilians—jumped to life. The ensuing French military response, memorably depicted in the film, included arbitrary arrests, torture, and “false flag” bombings that only inflamed the Algerian insurrection.

It was these moral perils of counterinsurgency that my father hinted at. “Keep your eyes open,” he told me. This was a prescient warning, one that served as the backdrop for my deployment, even if the Algerian analogy was imperfect and would become overused. As American soldiers soon faced a guerrilla and civil war in Iraq for which they were woefully ill-equipped, intellectually and militarily, The Battle of Algiers would be screened and discussed at the Pentagon. To this day, it is taught to West Point cadets as a cautionary tale.

Still, the full weight of the film’s lessons was not apparent to me in Iraq until one morning in the summer of 2003, when I received an urgent phone call about a captured Iraqi intelligence officer. My commander wanted me to go interview him at the Baghdad hospital where he was being treated for unspecified wounds.

I donned my Kevlar vest and grabbed my carbine for the trip to the so-called Green Zone in the city center, which was becoming increasingly dangerous because of bomb attacks and ambushes by a growing insurgency.

My own experience with this militancy was mostly of a distant nature—though my encounters were anything but impersonal. As an intelligence officer, I debriefed Iraqi sources and informants on insurgent groups and foreign fighters, which sometimes yielded detailed information that US soldiers would use to conduct raids, looking for weapons, explosives, insurgents, or wanted ex-regime figures. Since I read the after-action reports of these operations, I learned the names and ages of those who were captured. Sometimes, I even saw photographs of their faces. This established a sort of intimacy, a chain of causality between my actions and their fates.

In collecting the intelligence that drove these raids, I tried to vet and verify what I heard. Ninety percent of the information I discarded after rounds of questions. Much of it was outright fabrication by Iraqis seeking financial reward or favors from the US military. Others were trying lure American soldiers into helping them settle personal scores or eliminating their political, commercial, or sectarian rivals. The remainder of the information sometimes proved valid. And the resulting seizure of militants, weapons, or bomb-making materials did save lives.

On occasion, though, we did not sufficiently corroborate the information before an assault, or we got the location wrong. In the aftermath of such misdirected predawn raids on innocent Iraqi civilians, I remembered Pontecorvo’s film and would ask myself: “How many new insurgents did we just create?”

All of this was a departure from the original focus of my deployment, which was to interview former Iraqi officials about Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But once the insurgency started attacking American soldiers, Iraqis, and international organizations, US military commanders demanded that more intelligence resources be devoted to penetrating the insurgents’ networks—especially since the hunt for Saddam’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons was going nowhere.

Even so, I continued to chase down any leads I got on WMD. And that was what I assumed this call about the detained Iraqi spy was about. Instead, when I got to the hospital room in the Green Zone, I found myself seated across from a man who had been at the center of one of the biggest lies behind the US decision to invade Iraq.

When Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani was posted to the Iraqi embassy in Prague in the late 1990s under diplomatic cover, he quickly came under surveillance by the Czech security service. One morning in early April of 2001, an Arab informant working for the Czechs reported seeing al-Ani meeting with an Arab student at the Iraqi embassy. This student was identified, according to the report, as an Egyptian named Mohamed Atta—the man who, not long after, became the ringleader of the hijackers who carried out al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

The CIA and FBI later punched holes in this story; the Czech president himself subsequently repudiated it. To begin with, the informant had identified Atta as the man from the April 2001 meeting only upon seeing his photo published in the news after September 11. The FBI’s records of Atta put him in Virginia and Florida immediately before and after the supposed Prague meeting, and the agency uncovered no evidence of international travel. But none of this stopped the Iraq war hawks in the Bush administration from seizing on the so-called Prague Connection as proof of Saddam Hussein’s supposed complicity in terrorist attacks on American soil—and using it as a casus belli for the 2003 invasion.

There at the Baghdad hospital, I joined an FBI agent in questioning the bedridden al-Ani about his time in the Czech Republic. A diminutive man with a grizzled face creased by bouts of pain, he epitomized the type of drab regime functionary I’d come to know in Iraq all too well. He answered our questions straightforwardly. In the end, the hours-long session provided no evidence about the Prague meeting to contradict the debunking that had already appeared in the press. Al-Ani had never met Mohamed Atta or even heard of him until he saw news reports after September 11. Nor was he himself even in Prague on the day of the alleged encounter; he was out of town, seventy miles away.

Even more disturbing than this non-revelation, though, was his account of his capture that summer by US special operations forces and the reason for his hospitalization. Snatching him from his Baghdad home at night, US soldiers had bound his wrists, covered his head, and forced him to lie on the floor of a Humvee for the long trip to a detention facility. Within fifteen minutes of his confinement in the vehicle, he felt an unbearable burning sensation. A Humvee’s engine is located in the front and conducts heat to the rear bed, where al-Ani was lying facedown on the bare metal. He twisted and writhed from the pain, but his American guards thought he was resisting. One of the soldiers stepped harder on his back with his boot. “Jesus, Jesus, please,” he’d cried, he told me, hoping that this invocation in English would get them to relent.

In front of us in the hospital, he lifted his gown to show us the results: severe burns, in dark-hued patches, covered his stomach, thighs, feet, and palms. As a consequence, al-Ani would endure three months of hospitalization, which involved multiple skin grafts, as well as the amputation of his thumb and the loss of movement of a finger.

After the meeting, I relayed his account of these injuries to my commanding general, who later reported the matter to a Senate inquiry into detainee abuses. The US Department of Justice also included the FBI’s account of this same interview in the inspector general’s 2008 report on detainee interrogations. And, over several years, the US Army investigated the incident, concluding that al-Ani’s injuries were consistent with his story and that “the offences of Assault and Cruelty and Maltreatment was [sic] substantiated.” Despite that finding, the Army dropped the case.

To my knowledge, nobody was ever disciplined or punished for al-Ani’s mistreatment.

*

It is a cruel irony that this Iraqi man was first used as a prop for an American invasion and then subjected to disfiguring violence by soldiers who had carried out that invasion. But his story weighs on me in other ways. The abuses we’ve seen in US policing have deep, homegrown roots, but I am convinced that they are also partly a result of the militarization of law enforcement born of the Iraq War and America’s other overseas interventions. The Iraq disaster has rippled across virtually every facet of American life, deepening the inequalities that divide us, stirring a popular contempt for “expertise” that has opened the door to demagoguery, and contributing to the hollowing-out of our infrastructure and institutions in ways that have left the country dangerously exposed to future shocks.

The Iraq debacle is what the journalist Robert Draper, in his engrossing recent book on the decision to oust Saddam, To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq, correctly calls . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 September 2020 at 4:59 pm

Tempeh problems and the likely cause

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I had a second failed batch here (in this apartment) despite being extra careful in the drying of the beans post cooking — and I think I know why. My oven here is quite small (really too small for even a half-sheet pan, so I use a quarter-sheet pan). If the oven door is closed with the light on, the oven is quite warm — too warm for the mold to flourish. See this post and this post.

So I’m going to start another batch, and this one I’ll put in the oven with light on and door ajar, and after 12 hours remove it to a table and cover with a towel. I’m going with plastic bag punched with 1/8″ holes again, and again on a rack to allow air circulation underneath. (i’m also at some point going to try Ziploc produce bags, which are pre-perforated.)

I know that it works because I made it in the old apartment with no trouble. I’m pretty sure I now know what the problem here is.

Written by Leisureguy

16 September 2020 at 9:55 am

The Ascenion with Wholly Kaw’s King of Bourbon

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My Mühle silvertipped Cosmo brush made a good lather from WK’s King of Bourbon. The ingredients are shown on the label, but in more detail on the website:

Potassium Stearate, Sodium Stearate, Aqua, Donkey Milk, Water Buffalo Milk, Glycerin, Potassium Tallowate, Sodium Tallowate, Potassium Ricinoleate, Sodium Ricinoleate, Potassium Shea Butterate, Sodium Shea Butterate, Garcinia Indica (Kokum) Butter, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Butter, Water Buffalo Whey, Linoleic Acid, Linolenic Acid, Humulus Lupulus (Hops) Extract, Lanolin, Fragrance, Citronellol, Linalool, Coumarin, Benzyl Benzoate

The fragrance is described thusly:

Well blended notes of Tobacco, Bourbon Vanilla from Madagascar, Ginger, Vetiver, Cypriol, Ylang-ylang and Cassia absolute. Gingery vanilla gives off boozy notes without being too sweet on the drydown. Tobacco comes into play in the middle notes. Woody and earthy notes from Cypriol and Vetiver tone down the sweetness.

It’s a very satisfying soap, and Phoenix Artisan’s Ascension tackled the stubble effectively. I do like that knob on the handle, especially when shaving the against-the-grain pass.

A splash of Musgo Real, and a new day begins, one with pollution down a little (thanks to some rain), but still quite high: 161 PM2.5. I have to go out, and I’ll wear an N95 mask — and return home quickly.

The readings and the risk ratings are clearly on different scales. Here’s what the risk factor shows:

Written by Leisureguy

16 September 2020 at 8:57 am

Posted in Shaving

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