Saturday, July 11, 2009

Are we "going to be going after him for that?"

Compare these two New York Times articles, both describing prominent Neocon Paul Wolfowicz: First, in 2002, an article described Karl Rove calling Mr. Wolfowicz and asking him to speak at the White House regarding the Bush Administration's stances on the Middle East. Describing as a "soft-spoken" person whose "world views... were forged by family history" after the "rest of his father's family perished in the Holocaust," it quotes him as saying:

''That sense of what happened in Europe in World War II has shaped a lot of my views,'' he said. ''It's a very bad thing when people exterminate other people, and people persecute minorities. It doesn't mean you can prevent every such incident in the world, but it's also a mistake to dismiss that sort of concern as merely humanitarian and not related to real interests.''

Admirable, right? But still, whose views wouldn't be shaped by such a traumatic family history? It reminded me of my 15-year old daughter, who picked up Schindler's List last night at the video store, stopped in halfway through, unable to bear the dramatized horrors as she was unable to fathom the real horror that was represented on the screen.

But today's New York Times quotes Wolfowicz, secondhandedly, taking a different stance toward similar war crimes. James Risen's article, headlined "U.S. Inaction Seen After Taliban P.O.W.’s Died," claims:

After a mass killing of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taliban prisoners of war by the forces of an American-backed warlord during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Bush administration officials repeatedly discouraged efforts to investigate the episode, according to government officials and human rights organizations.

The article goes on to describe how "in 2002, Physicians for Human Rights asked Defense Department officials to open an investigation and provide security for its forensics team to conduct a more thorough examination of the gravesite" but were "met with blanket denials from the Pentagon."

The next year, according to a "former defense official, who would speak only on condition of anonymity:

"... prisoner deaths came up in a conversation with Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense at the time, in early 2003.

“Somebody mentioned Dostum and the story about the containers and the possibility that this was a war crime,” the official said. “And Wolfowitz said we are not going to be going after him for that.

Wolfowicz' response? You'll recognize the line, repeatedly repeated by many Bush Administration players:

In an interview, Mr. Wolfowitz said he did not recall the conversation. However, Pentagon documents obtained by Physicians for Human Rights through a Freedom of Information Act request confirm that the issue was debated by Mr. Wolfowitz and other officials.

If we've learned anything from the Bush years, it's that the word of an official "who wishes to remain anonymous" shouldn't be enough to establish the truth about anything. Still, if true (the FOIA docs should shed light on this) how do we reconcile these two statements?

Juxtapose Wolfowicz' statement that "what happened in Europe in World War II has shaped a lot of my views" with his alleged statement that "we are not going to be going after him for that." When you read in the same article that the "that" Wolfowicz was allegedly claiming "we weren't going to be going after him for" referred to "killings" that...:

...occurred in late November 2001, just days after the American-led invasion forced the ouster of the Taliban government in Kabul. Thousands of Taliban fighters surrendered to General Dostum’s forces, which were part of the American-backed Northern Alliance, in the city of Kunduz. They were then transported to a prison run by the general’s forces near the town of Shibarghan.

Survivors and witnesses told The New York Times and Newsweek in 2002 that over a three-day period, Taliban prisoners were stuffed into closed metal shipping containers and given no food or water; many suffocated while being trucked to the prison. Other prisoners were killed when guards shot into the containers. The bodies were said to have been buried in a mass grave in Dasht-i-Leili, a stretch of desert just outside Shibarghan.

A recently declassified 2002 State Department intelligence report states that one source, whose identity is redacted, concluded that about 1,500 Taliban prisoners died. Estimates from other witnesses or human rights groups range from several hundred to several thousand.

How do you decide that "we're not going to be going after him" for stuffing prisoners into closed metal shipping containers when thousands were killed and buried in mass graves when your "views" were shaped by "what happened in Europe in World War II?"

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