American Foreign Service Assn Protests Condi/Karen Hughes Action


This letter is interesting.
Not sure that I’m on the same page as the American Foreign Service Association which has a beef that a new senior post created by Condi did not go to a career foreign service officer — but the nature of the public letter is provocative.
I am flying to DC from Germany today. Have just had four fascinating days — speaking in the Bundestag in Berlin as well as speaking to groups in Halle, Bremen, and Hamburg.
I don’t know how much coverage there has been in the U.S. of “Germany’s Abu Ghraib” scandal (well, that is what they are calling it here) — but essentially I heard personally Angela Merkel’s comments of outrage on Wednesday regarding a bunch of pictures of German soldiers posing with and abusing a human skull. One of the pics that ran in The Bild shows a soldier with his penis out — and the skull posed as if giving the soldier a blow job.
A friend of mine who is a high ranking Bundestag member in the Free Democrats said that just this one photo by some young idiot destroys the good will of building hundreds of schools or hospitals, of people exchanges, and so on designed to get public diplomacy on a good track.
— Steve Clemons


14 comments on “American Foreign Service Assn Protests Condi/Karen Hughes Action

  1. RichF says:

    erichwwk: I think you misread and misstate what I said.
    I don’t agree the words “unkindness” or “disrespect” apply here.
    At no time did I say ” ‘desecration of 60 year old components of the dead are equivalent to genocide’ ” — nor is that a valid paraphrase. (So why the quote marks?)
    “Reprehensible” has nothing to do with it. This is not a cricket match or a tea party.
    Don’t get me wrong. If that’s all the Germans did with that skull, I’m not terribly shocked or moved by it.
    I’m not sure how this is hard. Rights, principles, and standards of conduct exist to eliminate the really BIG war crimes.
    If you uphold habeas corpusin “small” initial cases, you drastically lower the probability that people are being diappeared /held /tortured wholesale or under formal programs.
    If you explicitly state in the Constitution that Congress shall have the power to declare war, you eliminate the possibility that some tinhorn despot will come along and lie about the evidence, and proceed to start unprovoked, preemptive wars and avoid the inevitable disastrous consequences of an ‘openiing gambit’ discredited WWII.
    Just because 655,000 Iraqi dead > the family killed at Haditha, doesn’t mean that 14-year-old girl wasn’t worth sparing.
    My point is about the German government’s relation to their guiding principles, and their ingenuous REACTION to the violations of those standards. THAT is MUCH more important than quibbling about which crime is worthy of your attention.


  2. erichwwk says:

    To RichF and Carrol:
    Of course ultimately ALL acts of unkindness are reprehensible, and yes, are indeed ultimately the path to more and greater atrocities.
    Rich, I commend you for recognizing the seriousness of disrespect, but you if you’re going to walk down this road of “desecration of 60 year old components of the dead are equivalent to genocide”, please keep walking further.
    What exactly do you think happened in World War II? That American soldiers focused on killing soldiers, rather than civilian populations? Do the math. BTW, over 12,000 civilians were killed in ONE NIGHT (Sept. 11, ironically) by the British and Americans in the small town where I lived at the time. No soldiers, to my knowledge. It is ALWAYS the civilians that suffer most.
    From my perspective (and from what I could tell on a recent visit, this was the majority German sentiment) to make a dent in atrocities against civilians, one must not lose the forest for the trees. Yes, mimicking a blow job with a 60 yr old Russian skull is horrible, to be dealt with immediately, lest it fester in the direction you clearly recognize. In that sense I agree, there IS no minor atrocity.
    But Germans are much more horrified that we continue to violate the NPT, and flaunt the International Court of Justice and UN Resolutions #1 by insisting on doing unto others what we are not willing to do to ourselves. Others are required to stop what “could” lead to nuclear weapons, while we merely go full speed ahead with building better nuclear weapons.
    To me focusing on acts which still have a long way to go toward manifesting genocide, while clearly in the same universe as those acts which make genocide just a “push-button away” divert our attention from what almost everyone else in the world is saying, that terrorism is brought on by our insistence on being the one preeminent nuclear power, with the right to give or deny nuclear assistance to whomever we wish. While the Iraq War may be about oil, it is oil in the sense of power, not wealth.
    While, as Christ said, anger toward another does fall in the same category as actually killing another (your point, I believe), this does not itself negate the fact that actual genocide ALSO needs to be faced. And where here on this blog have we done that? From my perspective, we focus on those acts which have a long way to go before causing mass genocide because we cannot accept how much effort we are putting into attempting to create a monopoly on genocide.
    Just as the Germans did during the Third Reich (by grumbling about minor atrocities while pretending not to see what was happening with the concentration camps) we are shocked at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, but pretend not to see what is happening at Los Alamos.


  3. Carroll says:

    Posted by RichF at October 28, 2006 01:45 PM
    Yes..right and absolutely.


  4. RichF says:

    Wow, Dan Kervick–that’s both thoughtful and a longer way to say ‘Everybody does it.’
    I don’t disagree. But does it not occur to you that there’s no distinction between collecting “talismans” and “trophies”? That it’s indistinguishable? That mutilation and desecration are closely associated with war crimes against civilian populations*, with genocide? That dehumanizing enemies (whether ‘Juden’ or ‘gooks’ or ‘krauts’) is the first enabling step down the road to the war crimes that directly caused Germany to be rightly reviled, to be treated as pariah, to experience shattering military defeat in WWII?
    My folks met at Union Theological Seminary in NYC– b/c Dad’s family came from Germany to Milwaukee in the 1870s to leave behind the bloody insanity of the Franco-Prussian war(s). As an American coming of age at the close of WWII, my Dad had to grapple with how German & Lutheran culture could result in a Holocaust. A nation that had been nominally a democracy, nominally Christian. How do you explain that? (note: Wisconsin NOT = German culture.) How do you come to terms with that?
    (Mom’s family came over in the 1730s–and fought in the American Revolution, the Civil War (all 3 sides), etc., so you can see my insistence that the Constitution is not some relic to be shat upon.)
    Union had Paul Tillich, & Deitrich Bonhoeffer had studied there. They had to grapple with how you face up to Hitler. What does a person of faith, an adherent of democracy, do in the face of Evil, of fascism, or any demand by any government that you torture, kill civilians–or “just” break the law? Is it enough to do your job?
    Is it enough to exercise your free speech? Is it remotely conscionable to give up your right to free speech (a physical impossibility, as our unalienable liberties are not endowed, nor can they be suspended, by mortal men), to remain silent? Is obedience to the law enough? Is civil disobedience even viable under Hitler? Would it be sufficient?
    When the illegal is made legal (nacht und nebel; Military Commissions Act of 2006), what do patriots in a democracy do? Everybody knew–and EVERYBODY knows now–that these laws violate the law, violate the Constitution, and attempt to amputate the government from any and all accountability. We have an outlaw administration, a movement that has literally perverted all three branches of government; there IS NO clearer or more substantive definition of legal treason, internal treason. America IS the opportunity to form “a more perfect union”–NOT eradicate it.
    When our foreign policy adheres to our Constitutional legal framework & cultural values, then American interests, security, and objectives can be realized. Failure to live up to this is why America lost in Vietnam, and it’s why we’ll lose in Iraq. The issue is not the mess we’re in—not so much or not simply the “mistakes”/”atrocities”—but rather the breach of trust with the American people and rupture of the social contract here at home. You have to have a formal Declaration of War in order to go to war. The Big Orwellian Lie of passing a “resolution” is that it’s always, substantively, an Ir-resolution.
    Today Germany has at least that much right:
    “The aim of the announced measure, German defence minister Franz Josef Jung told Parliament on Thursday, ‘is for soldiers, especially those serving in missions abroad, to communicate the values of our Constitution and respect them.’ ”
    If America wants to WIN wars, or maintain any semblance of national security, then it must do the same. Say about Germans what you want (I do), but having gotten that right, they’ll fight to maintain integrity on the issue, rightly, angrily, stubbornly—and in character. Can Americans say the same?
    America had the World’s respect and admiration b/c it stood for just causes. The U.S. Constitution codified—INTO LAW—the legal requirement that Congress debate the evidence, consider the cause, and vote on a FORMAL Declaration of War. Every Congressional Senator & Representative swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. But did they? No. First they settled for cheap, illegitimate substitutes—violating their oaths. THEN they failed to heed the lesson of history: Germany & Adolph Hitler was rightly reviled BECAUSE they resorted to preemptive war. Preemptive war as a tool is no more legitimate, nor is it legal, just because of our identity as Americans! It’s a means-ends question, the most basic kind, and we failed utterly; we failed Constitutioally. The PROOF is that there was no evidence for the war in Iraq. THAT’s why we have a Constitution. Unscrupulous leaders will lie about evidence, about cause. That’s why “a more perfect union” was forged in 1776; that’s why America was founded. That’s why we’re in a quagmire in Iraq.
    And I’m MOST concerned with the always already untenable position we put U.S. soldiers into, without that Declaration of War. Nevermind the illegality of it, never mind the inevitable defeat: the tactics expose our soldiers to great risk as they violate local custom, and as they violate international law. Not conducted according to laws of war; it’s not a fair fight—both due to our power and use of tactics, and b/c of the exposure to a guerilla war we can’t win–militarily.
    *Finally, Dan Kervick, take a look at:
    Members of the Tiger Force unit collected such ‘trophies’ in Vietnam. They also killed a lot of civilians.* Normal? It happens, yes; but consistently associated with war-crimes against civilians. It’s one thing to kill an soldier.
    The Toledo Blade won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for that 22-article series. Every “journalist” in America knew it, yet in the midst of a Presidential election campaign, in the midst of the war in Iraq—a war for which there was no provocation (just as there was none in Vietnam)—everyone from Gwen Ifill to George Will preferred to prattle inanely and disingenuously about the SwiftBoatVets smear-job on John Kerry. Let me say that again: the Toledo Blade’s work blew the SwiftBoater’s claims about Kerry & about Vietnam to smithereens. It disproved the SwiftBoater’s very reason for existing, and verified Kerry’s 1970 “winter soldier” statement. Not that anyone needed new journalism to prove this. Yet journalists said nothing.
    Why is this relevant? It has everything to do with current American policy and practice. From the war itself, to the use of the Salvador Option (are death squads new & different from WWII), to torture at Abu Ghraib—it’s our tactics that will cost us victory. The ends don’t justify the means. Our departure from our own law has been and will be our undoing. The “best and the brightest” cannot win this war or any other without the courage to live up to the “bright, shining” moral and political principles of the American Revolution and the Constitution.
    “I was just doing my job” didn’t play well at the Nuremburg Trials. Is it enough to be a well-intentioned American? “A good German”? Our military MUST have the legal basis and personal honor and integrity NOT to follow orders if there’s no humanity or evidentiary basis or military/political justification for those orders. “I was only following orders” didn’t justify anything at the Nuremburg Trial. Civilian authority over the military cannot result in a de facto totalitarianism—not if America is to regain any semblance of legal and moral authority. “I came here to do a job.” Ring any bells?
    I arrived at a way to fuse the fruit of the American Revolution with the lessons of the Holocaust and of WWII. It’s an adaptation, a corollary, and I think you’ll recognize its source:
    “First they came for the Second Amendment, and I said nothing.”
    “Then they came for the Fourth Amendment, and I said nothing”
    “Then they came for the First Amendment, and I said nothing”
    “When at last they came for the mandated & legal obligation that ‘Congress shall have the power to … declare War,’ there was no liberty—and no one—left to defend the country.
    Should any cheap lawyerly sophistry question that last fundamental American princple, or any Wormtongue politician offer honeyed phrases to deny our birthright, our form of governance, our “more perfect union”—or any other cheap excuse that tries to justify the wholesale capitulation of everything that defines America as a nation and as a culture—fight for your life and that of your neighbor. Never let them live it down. Because neither the U.S. Constitution, nor the blood of our forefathers, are carrion for establishment ‘moderates’ to feed off of, as though accepting such pernicious, compromising precepts and patently illegal precedents can somehow be justified, merely because it represents some eagerly received ‘truth,’ as if it were the sceptre of power, or simply because it was what you were told, how it was always done or what you were told was true. Is it too complex for lawyers to understand? I think not. There is a basis for this country, a concrete legal framework, and no one may interpret it out of existence. As a (former) student of postructuralist literary theory I can tell you that even Derrida didn’t attempt such a moral relativism. This sort of legal relativism has no traction, no merit, no ground on which to stand. Such sophistry and relativism by legal minds of every strip is not only dishonest & amoral—it’s illegal. It’s a betrayal. And it has cost us enormous blood and treasure. It has failed us. It has warped us. And it has brought us low.


  5. Frank says:

    Shit happens in wartime. Know this and all supposed atrocities and indecenys fall into its historically and yes, human kind blessed, appointed tragic place. Coping with the “insanity” of organized killing, nourishes such perverted imagination.


  6. Dan Kervick says:

    My understanding is that desecration and mutilation of the dead are fairly common things in war. Soldiers sometimes fashion necklaces of ears and bones. They take scalps. They carry skulls. It seems to be one way people cope with the fear and death that surround them on a daily basis. It is a way of expressing triumph over one’s enemy in an evironment governed by the ruthless logic of prevail or be prevailed upon. I’m sure their commanding officers dispprove, of course, and it is always embarrassing when these things get out and offend the sensibilities of the innocents back home. But the fact is, these soldiers are probably not much more sick than most other men in war.
    Abu Ghraib involved the torture, humiliation and murder of real live human beings. It is preposterous and irresponsible to compare what these German soldiers did to what happened at Abu Ghraib.


  7. Gloria says:

    I picked up the German soldiers/skull story in the Buzzflash World Media Watch.
    link and summary:
    The German government ordered on Thursday a total overhaul of the training programme for its troops in Afghanistan following the publication by a newspaper of photos showing German soldiers posing with a human skull while on duty in the South Asian country. The aim of the announced measure, German defence minister Franz Josef Jung told Parliament on Thursday, “is for soldiers, especially those serving in missions abroad, to communicate the values of our constitution and respect them.” The minister also confirmed that an investigation has been opened into the incident and that authorities “will request adequate punishments” for the soldiers. Photographs allegedly showing German soldiers in Afghanistan desecrating a human skull were published by Germany’s mass-selling Bild newspaper on Wednesday, sparking outrage in the country and leading to fears of retaliatory attacks on German troops in Afghanistan. Germany is the second largest contributor of peacekeepers in Afghanistan with 2,750 troops and has command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the North.


  8. Shawn says:

    I didn’t see anything in the letter from AFSA denigrating the Civil Service. Instead it points out that the State Department violated its own rules as well as The Foreign Service Act in how it appointed the non-FS person to a FS position when there are plenty of capable Foreign Service officers who’d be happy to take it.


  9. Hedley Lamarr says:

    When old men send young men with rifles out to do their killing for them, unexpected events happen.


  10. Carroll says:

    “It is clear and unmistakable that this kind of behavior from German soldiers cannot be tolerated.”
    He added “This behavior is diametrically opposed to the values and behavior we teach and train our soldiers in.”
    Is it? Where are things like this coming from? Are the sickos among us increasing in numbers these days or is it we just didn’t see it displayed in the news before?


  11. Phocion says:

    AFSA is a labor union like any other, and they’re acting like it. The real question is why AFSA has such a low opinion of their sister institution, Civil Service… The individual isn’t a political appointee, he or she is a career public servant. I expect the Foreign Service has more important things to do than sit around denegrating civil servants, or maybe not.


  12. erichwwk says:

    The title of this permalink is a bit misleading. Perhaps “Germany’s Abu Ghraib would better describe the predominant content.
    Addressing THAT issue, I am wondering just WHO is calling this “Germany’s Abu Ghraib”. I find no evidence in the link cited from “Der Spiegel” that it is the German’s. Is it being said in German, or in American?
    While the behavior is despicable, I do hope Americans (as i suspect the Germans do) distinguish between reprehensible acts committed on the living from those committed on the dead.
    Germans from at least Thueringia are required to visit Buchenwald, to witness the evidence of German atrocities firsthand. Here in the States (Los Alamos) we build much worse instruments of genocide, but yet are too meek and confused to speak out, despite a unanimous International Court of Justice opinion. It is my hope that someday EVERY American child is required to visit Los Alamos, to see the American Auschwitz’s and Buchenwalds, to put genocide into perspective.


  13. pauline says:

    Bush: I never said stay the course!
    Joseph “lie” Lieberman: I never said stay the course!
    Rumsfield: We sure are staying that course. Wait, what? No, what I meant. . .


  14. Pissed Off American says:

    Gee, you mean the Bush Administration is creating positions and filling them with unqualified people? Now hey, THATS news! What is the AFSA bitching about? I mean after all, this is Bushworld, where “mission accomplished” means “expect hundreds of thousands more to die” and “you’re doing a hell of a job” means….well, what DOES that mean in Bushworld???
    Anyone watch Rummie’s press conference yesterday? God help us. The man is detached from reality, and everyone in the room could see it, except Rummie.


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