Treasury's 'Body Count' Dodge

The Future of American Power
May 15 2012 9:08 AM

Treasury's 'Body Count' Dodge

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder doesn't do body counts, either.

Photograph by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Back in the dog days of the Vietnam War, the U.S. military decided it needed a metric to prove the worth of the casualties piling up in pursuit of our nebulous goals there. That number was dubbed “the body count” by American correspondents at the daily briefing in Saigon - the so-called "Five O'Clock Follies."

Michael Moran Michael Moran

Michael Moran is an author and geopolitical analyst.

We now know these body counts proved about as unreliable as a guide to 1960s wartime reality as the intelligence that would later "prove" Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons did in 2002-2003.


“We don’t do body counts” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld snapped in a television interview in 2003, early in the Iraq War, arguing that they would provide a false metric of progress. This was a highly selective absorption of 'the lessons of Vietnam," to be sure. But give him credit for at least that much.

Today, however, the Obama administration is channeling Rumsfeld with regard to the financial crisis. In March, Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the House Banking Committee, asked the Justice Department to fill in details of its recent claim that “thousands” of mortgage fraud and securities cases had been brought forward by the department. Grassely wanted to know how many board level and senior financial sector executives had actually be subject to prosecution for activities connected to the Great Recession.

The response Grassley got back this week is worthy of the Five O’Clock Follies: Justice claimed it does not keep track of the titles of those it brings charges against, "consequently, we are unable to generate the [requested] comprehensive list." How convenient.

Thanks to Wall Street Journal reporter Jean Eaglesham for following up.

In this age of lock-step obstructionism inside his party, Grassley has stood out as a guy willing to consider compromise. (He doesn’t always get there – he flirted with support for Obama’s health reforms before voting against, and he was one of the few Republicans to vote ‘yes’ on Dodd-Frank.

Now I realize some in the Slate audience have collapsed in fits of anaphylaxis at the thought of a Slate blogger praising Rumsfeld, the Wall Street Journal and a Republican senator in the same piece - and at the expense of the Obama Justice Department, no less!

Get over it. Regardless of party or past positions, Grassley’s right on this issue: Justice is invoking the Westmoreland doctrine in its lame unwillingness to take off the gloves on 2008 abuses. More on my take here.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

iOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. Then I Married Someone Like Him.

  News & Politics
Sept. 17 2014 12:02 PM Here It Is: The Flimsiest Campaign Attack Ad of 2014, Which Won’t Stop Running
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 17 2014 1:59 PM Ask a Homo: Secret Ally Codes 
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 1:26 PM Hey CBS, Rihanna Is Exactly Who I Want to See on My TV Before NFL Games
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 1:01 PM A Rare, Very Unusual Interview With Michael Jackson, Animated
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 12:35 PM IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.