Handling Haditha—The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi bumped news of Haditha off the front page, blunting public impact of the incident, in which U.S. troops stand accused of killing 24 Iraqi civilians and then covering it up. On the day of Zarqawi’s death, the State Department’s coordinator for Iraq said, “Haditha is a serious issue and we have to get to the bottom of it, by investigating it, as was done with Abu Ghraib abuses.”
On the other hand, the Army never did get to the bottom of Abu Ghraib. No high-ranking military personnel were ever charged or prosecuted. Congress performed minimal oversight, and the promised Congressional hearings into Haditha have yet to occur. Excerpts of the military’s initial investigative findings, however, were recently leaked to the press. “Virtually no inquiry at any level of command was conducted into the circumstances surrounding the deaths,” the summary of the findings states. “There were, however, a number of red flags and opportunities to do so.” This report now goes to the Army’s second in command in Iraq, who has offered no timetable for its release.
Meanwhile, cases similar to Haditha have emerged. The Army recently charged four U.S. soldiers with the premeditated deaths of three Iraqi detainees, and seven more Marines and one sailor have been charged with kidnapping and killing an unarmed Iraqi in April.
Nedmentum—Since Ned Lamont announced his primary challenge to Senator Joseph Lieberman in Connecticut, in March, Lieberman and his loyalists have dubbed him “angry,” “fringe,” “single issue,” and, most curiously, “a Republican.” In the span of a few months, Lamont has gone from being a little-known cable TV exec from Greenwich to the best shot insurgent Democrats have to eject one of the most entrenched senators in the country. Lieberman, who is known as “George Bush’s favorite Democrat,” is a strong supporter of the Iraq War. With the fervent backing of the progressive bloggers who recruited Lamont to run, this dark horse raised $350,000 from 4,000 online donors in his campaign’s first 45 days. In the month of June alone, he cut Lieberman’s lead from 46 percentage points down to 15 points, according to recent polling.
Only 20 percent of Connecticut residents have heard of Lamont, but in a state where 83 percent of the population disapproves of the war, Lieberman is in trouble. He was booed on March 30 at the Connecticut Democrats’ annual dinner. Then in mid-May Lamont won a surprising third of all delegates at the nominating convention, twice as many as he needed to qualify for the August 8 primary ballot. Since then he has picked up key endorsements from the AFL-CIO, the National Organization for Women, the former state party chair, and, the state Senate majority leader. Lieberman is already laying the groundwork for a possible Independent run if he loses the primary, a feat attempted only twice in Senate history. Both candidates lost.
Since the 1970s, conservative Republicans have been running primary challengers against establishment moderates, in the process taking over the party. Grassroots Democrats have been slow to do the same, but 2006 could be the year that changes. In California, antiwar Democrat Marcy Winograd won a surprising 37 percent of the vote against hawkish House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jane Harman. A Lamont victory would send shock waves through the Beltway. But Lamont’s candidacy alone is already having a transformative effect.
The War on Parks—The Bush Administration has launched a war on just about everything except Christmas: Afghanistan, Iraq, “Terror,” science, legal precedents, [insert choice here]. Add one more to the list: our national parks.
The beleaguered national park system has enough challenges to contend with as it is. Population density and commercial development adjacent to parks are on the rise, and parks are being called on to use their already thin budgets to cover new homeland security costs. Glaciers in Montana are melting because of global warming. Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains have the same air quality as Los Angeles. A cell phone tower was recently constructed in front of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser.
Now, according to a new article by Michael Schnayerson on Vanity Fair‘s website, the Department of Interior is trying to gut the 1916 Organic Act, which specifies that national parks must be preserved “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Bush appointees to Interior are working to tilt the priority away from conservation to recreation—especially motorized recreation.