Friday, June 06, 2014

Cruising the Web

The WSJ reminds us of what one of the men released from Guantanamo did. There is a reason this guy was there. And a reason why he was wanted by the UN for war crimes.
Taliban forces led by Mohammed Fazl swept through this village on the Shomali plain north of Kabul in 1999 in a scorched-earth offensive that prompted some 300,000 people to flee for their lives.

Fifteen years later, local residents here are responding with fear and dismay to the U.S. release of the notorious commander, along with four other Taliban leaders in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American prisoner of war who was held by the Taliban. The group released a video on Wednesday showing the hurried handover a few days earlier of the American captive, looking gaunt and dazed.

The villages of Shomali were once the orchard of central Afghanistan, and the plain's carefully tended vineyards were famous for their grapes.

"There was not a single undamaged house or garden," said Masjidi Fatehzada, a shopkeeper in Mir Bacha Kot, the district center. "My entire shop was burned to the ground. There was nothing left."

Khwaja Mohammad, a farmer in the village of Sheykhan, remembered how Mr. Fazl's men took away his son, a civilian, and sent him to Kabul's Pul-e Charkhi prison....

Among the five, however, Mr. Fazl stands out as one with the strongest ties to involvement in wartime atrocities, Afghans familiar with the Taliban and human-rights groups say.

"Fazl is the case among the five where there is clear evidence that he had command responsibility for forces that committed atrocities," said Patricia Gossman, a researcher with the advocacy group Human Rights Watch who has studied crimes committed during the Afghan civil war. "Shomali is the place where he was on the ground."

Ms. Gossman added that evidence also places Mr. Fazl on the scene of a massacre of civilians in the Yakawlang district of central Bamyan province in January 2001. All of the parties in Afghanistan's civil war that began in the 1990s were involved in atrocities and rights abuses, according to researchers....

On the Shomali plain, however, memories are still raw about the alleged role of Mr. Fazl and his men in war crimes.

Taliban figure Mohammed Fazl Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Dil Agha, who was a young Northern Alliance fighter in 1999, said he escaped to the Panjshir Valley, an anti-Taliban redoubt, after the Shomali front line collapsed under the Taliban offensive.

"When I came back from Panjshir, this whole place was completely destroyed," he said. "There wasn't a single building standing."

Months after the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001, the Shomali plain was still a wasteland littered with unexploded ordnance. Mine-clearance teams had barely begun the painstaking work of sweeping away the detritus of war, and many of the newly returned refugees from the fighting were still living in tents.

Assadullah, a local schoolteacher, still walks with a limp. He showed a reporter a bullet wound he said he received after was shot in the leg by the Taliban after trying to escape arrest.

"Taliban demanded I surrender a gun, but I told them I was a schoolteacher and I didn't have one," he said.

Khwaja Gul Ahmad, a 74-year-old farmer, said his son, Khwaja Ibrahim, was killed by Taliban artillery fire during the fighting in Shomali.

Standing by the grave of his son, Mr. Ahmad's eyes welled with tears when he learned about Mr. Fazl's release from a reporter. "If he is released, he will burn our houses again because he doesn't shake hands with the government," Mr. Ahmad said.
But Obama wasn't concerned about Afghan citizens. He has higher interests. John Podhoretz dissects what was really on the administration's agenda with this swap.
Obama believes that he has the public’s backing in his effort to extricate America from the 13-year-old War on Terror — Iraq, Afghanistan, the prison at Guantanamo and stated policies like “no negotiations with terrorists.”

He might have thought the Bergdahl-Taliban swap was a perfect blend of his policy interests and an example of the new way forward.

1) The fact that US forces are, at his direction, going to pull out from Afghanistan at the end of 2015 meant that sooner or later the five Taliban commanders were going to have to be removed from the Gitmo prison.
2) Their removal from Gitmo would help to make the case for shuttering it, as they were among the worst of the worst still there.
3) The ability to strike a deal with the Taliban would prefigure the kinds of negotiations he thinks we and the Afghan government are going to have to undertake over the next couple of years. If the resolution of this first negotiation were seen as successful, that might portend future successes.
4) The final US departure from Afghanistan couldn’t take place without bringing Bergdahl home — in part to prevent a repeat of the gruesome late ’70s/early ’80s fantasy that America had left POWs to rot in Vietnam.
5) Taken all together, this swap would be a potent demonstration that the centerpiece of the Obama foreign policy is the ending of wars — perhaps even, finally, the War on Terror, the detritus of which sits inside the fences at Gitmo. “This war, like all wars, must end,” the president said last year.

I think the connections here were entirely clear to him, and that he did see the Bergdahl swap as a triumph for which he deserved to take credit — and which he could use to demonstrate to the American people he cares deeply about our men and women in uniform.

That became necessary in the wake of the VA hospital scandal (a Washington Post poll yesterday reveals an astounding 79 percent believe he is personally responsible to some degree for it).

The allure of all this blinded Obama and his team to the cascade of horrified responses to the deal.
I think this analysis makes perfect sense. And it means that, just as Michael Mukasey wrote yesterday, we should anticipate more and more releases of dangerous men from Guantanamo.

Rich Lowry just tears apart those on the left who want to chalk up all the criticism from soldiers who served with Bergdahl as part of some sort of Republican-led effort to smear Obama.
On CNN, Van Jones said “the air waves are being filled mysteriously with former solders just trashing the guy.” Ah, but it’s not so mysterious, after all. “It turns out,” Jones intoned, “that there are Republican operatives who are working behind the scenes to get some of those guys on television. This is an orchestrated smear campaign.”

He was referring to former Republican official Ric Grenell putting a few of the troops together with journalists. Evidently, these guys should have waited until Robert Gibbs offered to hook them up, and otherwise kept to themselves their silly stories about what they went through in Afghanistan after Bergdahl’s disappearance.

Joan Walsh of Salon says the critiques of the deal play “into six years of scurrilous insinuation that Obama is a secret Muslim.” I’m waiting for the piece arguing that the criticisms of the Bergdahl deal are a function of white privilege, or patriarchal attitudes.

About half a dozen of Bergdahl’s former comrades have said he deliberately walked off his base in 2009 after becoming disillusioned with the war and that soldiers were killed looking for him. Steve Hayes of The Weekly Standard reports that the military investigated and considered Bergdahl absent without leave.

Let’s stipulate that — given the fog of war — these accounts might exaggerate the harm done by Bergdahl’s disappearance. But there is no doubt that they are sincere and heartfelt. And what are the odds that Bergdahl happened to get assigned to a platoon full of highly politicized soldiers who waited years for the opportunity to use the circumstances of his capture as a cudgel against President Obama?

As the pseudonymous blogger Allahpundit points out, if there are comrades who will vouch for Bergdahl’s character, or were witnesses to him being snatched while lagging on patrol (as Bergdahl maintained in a video after his capture), we would presumably have heard from them by now.

The conspiracy against Bergdahl is so vast that it encompasses Afghan villagers, who no doubt are speaking out at the behest of Sean Spicer of the Republican National Committee or some other nefarious GOP operative. The villagers told The Washington Post that they saw Bergdahl after he walked away from his base, heading for Taliban strongholds and ignoring their warnings that he was in danger.

And the Taliban certainly aren't helping the Obama administration with comments to a reporter like this.
Time magazine received a call Thursday from a Taliban commander who said that the recent prisoner swap for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl set a precedent for more kidnappings of American soldiers and other valuable targets. “It has encouraged our people,” he said.

The commander, who has been in communication with Time for several years and has previously provided reliable information about Bergdahl, spoke anonymously as he is not authorized to speak with the media. He said he’s been close to negotiations regarding the Bergdahl swap.

“It’s better to kidnap one person like Bergdahl than kidnapping hundreds of useless people,” the commander explained (the Taliban frequently kidnaps Afghan nationals for ransom and leverage). “Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird.”
Gee, it's almost like the Taliban want to make Obama look bad or something.

Stephen Hayes reports on how Obama set up a different group at Guantanamo to assess the likelihood of any of the detainees would revert to violence if released. There was already a group in place, but the administration wasn't getting the assessments they wanted. And even that group did not recommend the release of those five Taliban leaders released for Bergdahl.
The Taliban had been seeking the release of these five officials—plus another who died in prison—for more than three years. The assessments of the men conducted by Joint Task Force Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO) found that each one presented a “high risk” of returning to the battle if he were released. Other detainees had been assessed as lesser threats, and some had even been cleared for release. Not these prisoners.

“All five of those guys are exceptionally dangerous,” says Paul Rester, the former lead interrogator at Joint Task Force Guantánamo. “These are men who ran entire regions for the Taliban, they had thousands of fighters under their command. They survived the Soviets, they survived the civil war, they survived us, they survived Sam Scott’s Gitmo chicken.”

Rester and his team were responsible for the threat assessments of the detainees. An experienced interrogator, Rester got his start during the Vietnam war and first interviewed mujahedeen in the 1980s when the United States saw them as allies against the Soviet Union. Rester interrogated many of those at Guantánamo and in some cases got to know them well. He and his team rewrote their assessments every year.

“Those assessments only tell the story of how they constitute a risk to us,” he says. “They don’t tell you how they are revered in the population. They can think rings around us in that environment.”

When Obama came to Washington, he made clear that one of the immediate goals of his presidency would be to close the facility at Guantánamo. So the president set up his own team, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, made up of lawyers, military officers, intelligence analysts, and diplomats, who would make recommendations to the president about how to handle individual prisoners.

JTF-GTMO’s job was to assess each detainee’s intent and ability to harm the United States, its interests, and its allies. Its assessments were done by men and women who were chiefly concerned with prosecuting a war. The Guantánamo Review Task Force’s mandate was different. It was established simultaneously with President Obama’s order to shutter the facility in one year. That deadline proved impractical, but the task force was formed for the purpose of closing Guantánamo. Clearly, the task force was willing to accept more risk in detainee transfers than JTF-GTMO. Indeed, the task force recommended that dozens of detainees who were deemed “high risk” by JTF-GTMO be transferred.

But even the Obama team recommended that 48 of the remaining Guantánamo detainees be held indefinitely. All five Taliban commanders that Obama released last week were in this group.

For Rester, that’s significant. “We had the best military analysts on the planet look at these guys and recommend against transfer,” he says. “And then Obama’s team—this administration’s most knowledgeable, courageous, and liberal legal minds came to the same conclusion. They could not bring themselves to recommend these guys for transfer or release.”

Insurance companies are beginning to submit their proposed rate increases for next year and residents of some states should prepare for the price shock.
Insurance companies are beginning to submit their proposed premium rates for next year – and so far, it looks like a mixed bag, with gradual and expected increases in some states, but dramatic hikes in others.

The latest submissions come out of Arizona, where major insurers have proposed rate increases from 14.4 percent from Cigna, to 25.5 percent from Humana, The Arizona Republic reported.

Can you imagine the brouhaha if a Republican candidate had done this?
Michigan Senate candidate Gary Peters heaped praise on the Dow Chemical corporation’s work days after buying assets in the company, which has also donated to his campaign, according to financial information reviewed by POLITICO.

Responding to an audience question on cap-and-trade legislation last week, the three-term Democratic congressman used the opportunity to single out the Michigan-based firm’s efforts to develop renewable energy solutions.

“When you talk about Dow Chemical, a lot of folks think about an old world chemical company, but they’re actually a leading edge environmental technology, new cutting edge alternative technologies in solar and geothermal and insulation,” Peters said last Wednesday at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

Peters described a visit to a Dow Chemical model house near the company’s headquarters in Midland, Michigan, where green energy technologies such as solar, geothermal and other renewables are on display. Peters said he was particularly impressed by a type of solar shingle that the company has created.

“They’re not the solar panels, they look just like shingles you would see on your house, very aesthetically pleasing,” Peters said. “This house uses zero energy off the grid.”

His remarks came less than two weeks after Peters purchased between $1,001 and $15,000 in Dow Chemical bonds, according to a financial disclosure filed with the House of Representatives. In addition, Peters owned between $15,001 and $50,000 in Dow stock as of 2012 — the last year his full financial disclosure report is available. That same year, he reported receiving as much as $1,000 in dividend payments from his ownership of the company stock.

POLITICO was alerted to the financial data by a GOP source conducting opposition research on Peters.
That's all mighty convenient, isn't it? I guess that the Democrats will just chalk it up to a Republican smear campaign. But change the name to Mitt Romney or some other Republican and check the outrage level that would have evoked.

Along those lines of what if a Republican did this, Patrick Brennan notes that the anti-Joni Ernst ad uses an actual chick to stand in for her. We'd be hearing an outcry of a Republican attack ad used a chick to represent a female opponent. But don't expect to hear a peep from feminists about this ad.

Take the test. See if you would match up better with Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio based on their votes in the Senate.

The New Yorker has a long, detailed look at what has happened in Newark schools since Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Christie, and Cory Booker went on Oprah to announce Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to Newark schools. They had the money and leaders dedicated to reforming education. There was so much hope that Newark could become a laboratory for school change in an urban environment. It's now four years later and the story hasn't played out the way so many hoped. The reformers encountered the obduracy of the unions and the demagoguery of politicians as well as the resistance of many parents. Money had to be spent to buy off unionized teachers once schools began to be closed and opposed reforms. The teachers' union and public schools resent the charter schools. The city, even before Zuckerberg's donation had one of the highest per-student education budgets in the country yet the money wasn't and still isn't getting to the students. It's a heartbreaking story.