30 November 2005

U.S. gums up works at Montreal climate talks

From Grist Magazine:
Representatives of the world's governments are currently gathered in Montreal for a historic summit on the most pressing problem facing civilization: global warming. And the U.S.? "The United States is opposed to any such discussions," says Harlan Watson, who bears the somewhat misleading title of "chief U.S. climate negotiator." Watson is quite open about the fact that he's in Montreal to prevent negotiation. Instead, he argues that "there's more than one way to approach climate change," though the only alternative he's mentioned is ... can't you just guess? ... more research and technology. Other summit participants are putting on a brave face, hoping to, as the head of the British delegation puts it, "start a dialogue," but behind the scenes it's widely acknowledged that no real progress is possible without the participation of the U.S., and the U.S. isn't going to participate under the Bush administration. Until 2009, meaningful global efforts to fight climate change would seem to be at a stalemate.

straight to the source: BBC News, 30 Nov 2005

straight to the source: Reuters, Alister Doyle and Jeffrey Jones, 29 Nov 2005

straight to the source: CNN.com, Associated Press, 29 Nov 2005
[Read more environmental news from Grist.]

Peace group blames U.S., U.K. for Iraq hostages

Occupying Muslim countries only exacerbates the problem of radical Islamic terrorism.

As long as Bush and Blair hide behind their blinders, westerners - even peace activists - will continue to be as risk.

A peace group blamed the United States and Britain for the abduction of four activists shown in an insurgent video, saying the kidnapping was the direct result of the occupation of Iraq.

Meanwhile, in the central town of Baqouba, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a minibus early Wednesday, killing nine construction workers and wounding two others, the Diyala police said in a statement.

After a monthslong hiatus in the kidnapping of foreigners, television footage on Tuesday once again showed Westerners held captive: A German archaeologist — bound and blindfolded — knelt among masked gunmen in one video. Four frightened peace activists were shown in another blurry tape.

The latest attacks are part of a new wave of kidnappings police fear is aimed at disrupting next month’s national elections.

Christian Peacemaker Teams, a group that has had activists in Iraq since October 2002, said it was saddened by the video of their workers. The workers, the group said, were working against the occupation of Iraq.


"We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. government due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people," the group said.
[Read more.]

Bush spins victory in Iraq

In a speech today at the U.S. Naval Academy, Bush told us how well things are going in Iraq. His speech corresponds to a new 35-page document that the White House released this morning titled "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq".

Bush's speech was loaded with distortions. He was spinning so fast that I'm still dizzy.

It appears that Karl Rove is back in full force, with his spin machine working overtime in damage control mode.

[Read the text of Bush's speech.]
[Read the "Victory in Iraq" document.]
[Read a Washington Post review of the speech and document.]

American women have less political power than women in some third-world countries

Here in our industrialized high-tech nation, we're not nearly as enlightened as we might think were are.

Is there any American woman who could possibly be a worse president than George W. Bush?

From Capital Hill Blue:
An extraordinary thing happened last week and we barely noticed.

Two women were installed as national leaders, one in Europe and one in Africa. The United States, still years away from this political breakpoint, continues to consider itself advanced on women's rights.

In some ways, American women enjoy economic freedoms not enjoyed by women elsewhere. But we also use that false sense of enlightenment to delude ourselves that American women possess political parity, which in fact we do not. Not only have we never had a female chief executive, the Inter-Parliamentary Union ranked 181 countries by the percentage of women legislators in March 2003 -- and the United States ranked 59th in the world.

On top of that, an African nation elected _ yes, elected _ its first female president. Africa. Continent of poverty, tribal wars, ancient customs and low-tech. And yet this region, which many in the United States consider less advanced than our own, passed a milestone way ahead of our educated, trend-setting, high-tech nation.

The Voice of America Web site reports that during the past half-century or so, just fewer than 50 women have served as heads of state around the world, with numbers rising most rapidly since the 1980s. With the additions of Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as president of Liberia, about 10 women currently serve as (non-royal) female heads of state.

Of those who have led countries, many were legacies. Indira Gandhi of India, for example, virtually inherited the prime-minister post from her father, Jawaharlal Nehru. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan could never have gained such political power without her father, Zulfikar, who also once held that post. We Americans used to look down our noses at political legacies as something we outgrew. Then we elected one president in 2000.

The United States, meanwhile, seems decades away from its first female president. Even Mackenzie Allen, the president played by Geena Davis on ABC's "Commander in Chief," took over the top spot when her president died in office. Her highest elected position was vice president.

By some indicators, American women in politics are slipping further behind, as more and more women overseas go on to lead nations. Rutgers University's Center for American Women & Politics reports that in 2004 women comprised 25.4 percent of all U.S. statewide elected executives. State office is the premier pool from which future national political leaders are promoted.

But women's representation of 25.4 percent in 2004 was down from a high of 28.5 percent in 2000. This is a scary indication of a backward slide.


Women make up more than half of the American electorate. Women pay just as much in taxes as men. Why not fair representation?
[Read more.]

Supreme Court to hear case today on a state's parental-notification law for abortion

Hopefully this will move quickly through the court while Justice O'Connor still sits on the bench.

In any case, it will give us some insight into what kind of baggage Roberts might be bringing to the Court.

From today's Christian Science Monitor:
Wednesday the US Supreme Court takes up a case that could change the abortion battle in a fundamental way, potentially allowing state lawmakers across the nation to enact more-restrictive regulations on a woman's right to choose abortion.

The case, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, examines the constitutionality of a New Hampshire law requiring teenage girls to notify at least one parent before obtaining abortions. It carries broad implications for reproductive rights nationwide, and could be a turning point in a debate that has divided the country for more than three decades.

Instead of seeking to overturn the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, the case marks a change in tactics by antiabortion forces trying to narrow and constrain the reach of the 1973 abortion precedent.

In addition, it highlights the significance of the potential replacement on the high court of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a supporter of abortion rights, with nominee Samuel Alito, who is believed to personally oppose abortion. If a majority of justices vote to uphold the New Hampshire law, their decision could lay the groundwork for a major shift in the constitutional framework erected by Justice O'Connor upholding women's reproductive rights.

Timing could be everything. O'Connor will participate in Wednesday's oral argument, but unless she is still on the sharply divided court when the decision is announced, her vote won't count. If Judge Alito is confirmed in the meantime, the case might have to be reargued next year. Should that happen, O'Connor's vote would be replaced by that of Alito.

While the case does not threaten the central holding of Roe v. Wade, analysts are watching to see if the court's conservatives - and new Chief Justice John Roberts - are willing to use the New Hampshire case to topple a pillar of O'Connor's abortion jurisprudence.

In decisions since 1992, O'Connor has insisted that the Constitution requires invalidation of state laws that create an "undue burden" on a woman's right to an abortion when the procedure is necessary to preserve her health.


In addition to the health-exception issue, the high court will consider a second, equally significant question. The justices agreed to examine whether the appeals panel used the proper test when it struck down the entire New Hampshire statute as unconstitutional.
[Read more.]

29 November 2005

EU threatens sanctions for states operating secret CIA camps

From Agence France-Presse via Yahoo! News:
European Union Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini threatened sanctions for any EU nation found to have allowed secret CIA prison camps to operate on their soil.

"Should the accusations be accurate, I would be forced to draw serious consequences," Frattini said at a security conference in Berlin.

He said that any EU country found to have harboured one of the reported prison camps could have their voting rights in the Council of Ministers, the body which groups the 25 EU heads of government, suspended.

Frattini said the operation of such camps on EU soil would violate the bloc's rules governing freedom and human rights.

The EU had made contact several days ago with the White House about possible secret CIA activities in Europe, but Washington had "unfortunately not yet given any formal assurance" that the reports were untrue, he said.

The US State Department said Monday it was ready to answer queries "in as complete and forthright a manner as we possibly can" as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a trip to Europe next week.


The Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly had already announced a probe into reports of the CIA operating clandestine prisons in some European countries.

Germany and other EU countries are demanding the US government provide "clarifications" after reports that the CIA flew suspected Islamist extremists to secret prisons in Europe.

Germany has already opened an investigation into a case in which an Egyptian suspect was transported via Ramstein in western Germany, the largest US airbase in Europe, to Egypt where his supporters say he was tortured.

A number of other European countries have opened inquiries into alleged CIA plane landings, including Finland, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden.

New German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was expected to raise the issue of the flights when he meets Rice in Washington on Tuesday.


Steinmeier said in an interview published Sunday that he was concerned by the CIA plane accounts but would reserve judgment until Washington addressed the subject.

German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung, on a visit to Paris on Monday, said his country wanted to know if "acts of torture" had taken place.

"That's the point that worries us, legitimately I think. I hope that all this can be explained away," Jung said.
[Read more.]

The white phosphorus debate continues

Saddam didn't have WMDs, so we brought our own.

What does this say about our military leaders?

From yesterday's Los Angeles Times via Common Dreams:
Omar Ibrahim Abdullah went for a walk to get away from the heavy fighting in Fallouja a little over a year ago and, by his account, came across such a grotesque sight that he's been unable to banish it from his memory.

The United States had mounted a full-scale offensive to pacify the rebel-controlled Iraqi city, and Abdullah said he was eager to escape the Askari district, where he lived. He walked south toward the Euphrates River and stumbled on dozens of burned bodies that he said were colored black and red.

"They must have been affected by chemicals," he said, "because I had never seen anything like that before."

The corpses, he said, had suffered burns from the U.S. military's use of an incendiary chemical known as white phosphorus.

The Pentagon and other U.S. officials at first denied, and later admitted, that troops had used white phosphorus as a weapon against insurgents in Fallouja during that fiercely fought campaign. Its use became public because of questions raised by an Italian television documentary Nov. 8, which alleged that civilians had been targeted "indiscriminately" and that hundreds had died.

But even though U.S. officials have admitted using the substance against enemy fighters, they have denied the allegations of Fallouja residents such as Abdullah that its use was widespread and civilians were among those killed.

"We don't use munitions of any kind against innocent civilians," Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said during a news conference. "In accordance with all established conventions, [white phosphorus] can be used against enemy combatants."

Nicknamed "Willie Pete" by troops, white phosphorus is a dangerous chemical that combusts on contact with oxygen. The military employs it mainly to illuminate battlefields and provide smoke screens. But its use is highly controversial because the only way it can be extinguished is by shutting off its air supply. When it comes in contact with humans, the chemical will burn through to the bone.

Incendiaries are considered particularly inhumane weapons under international treaty, and a 1980 United Nations convention limits their use. The U.S. has not signed the part of the convention that deals with incendiary weapons. Nevertheless, it largely has avoided using incendiary weapons since the Vietnam War and destroyed the last of its napalm arsenal four years ago.

In the 1990s, in fact, the U.S. condemned Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for allegedly using "white phosphorus chemical weapons" against Kurdish rebels and residents of Irbil and Dohuk.
[Read more.]

More on Cheney and prisoner abuse

In an interview with the BBC, Col. Wilkerson strengthened his accusations of Cheney's role in prisoner abuse.

From the BBC:
A top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell has launched a stinging attack on US Vice-President Dick Cheney over abuse of prisoners by US troops.
Col Lawrence Wilkerson accused Mr Cheney of ignoring a decision by President Bush on the treatment of prisoners in the war on terror.

Asked by the BBC's Today if Mr Cheney could be accused of war crimes, he said: "It's an interesting question."

"Certainly it is a domestic crime to advocate terror," he added.

"And I would suspect, for whatever it's worth, it's an international crime as well."

This is an extraordinary attack by a man who until earlier in the year was Mr Cheney's colleague in the senior reaches of the Bush team, the BBC's Justin Webb in Washington says.

Col Wilkerson has in the past accused the vice-president of responsibility for the conditions which led to the abuse of prisoners.

But this time he has gone much further, appearing to suggest Mr Cheney should face war crimes charges, our correspondent adds.


He said that there were two sides of the debate within the Bush administration over the treatment of prisoners.

Mr Powell and more dovish members had argued for sticking to the Geneva conventions, which prohibit the torture of detainees.

Meanwhile, the other side "essentially wanted to do away with all restrictions".

Mr Bush agreed a compromise, that "Geneva would in fact govern all but al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda look-alike detainees".

"What I'm saying is that, under the vice-president's protection, the secretary of defence [Donald Rumsfeld] moved out to do what they wanted in the first place, even though the president had made a decision that was clearly a compromise," Col Wilkerson said.

He said that he laid the blame on the issue of prisoner abuse and post-war planning for Iraq "pretty fairly and squarely" at Mr Cheney's feet.

"I look at the relationship between Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld as being one that produced these two failures in particular, and I see that the president is not holding either of them accountable... so I have to lay some blame at his feet too," he went on.
[Read more.]

Another Time reporter agrees to testify in Plamegate case

Wow. It seems that each week Fitzgerald pulls another rabbit out of his hat. Let's hope it all leads to some truth and justice.

From the Associated Press via Yahoo! News:
A second Time magazine reporter has been asked to testify in the CIA leak case, this time about her discussions with Karl Rove's attorney, a sign that prosecutors are still exploring charges against the White House aide.

Viveca Novak, a reporter in Time's Washington bureau, is cooperating with Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity in 2003, the magazine reported in its Dec. 5 issue.

Novak specifically has been asked to testify under oath about conversations she had with Rove attorney Robert Luskin starting in May 2004, the magazine reported.

Novak, part of a team tracking the CIA case for Time, has written or contributed to articles quoting Luskin that characterized the nature of what was said between Rove and Matthew Cooper, the first Time reporter who testified in the case in July.

A grand jury indicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, on perjury and obstruction charges on Oct. 28. Fitzgerald said in court papers earlier this month that he will present additional evidence to another grand jury.

Rove has remained under investigation for his involvement in leaking the identity of Plame, whose husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, is a critic of the Bush administration.
[Read more.]

Will Rove be indicted this week?

The Plamegate saga continues, and it remains interesting. Maybe it really didn't end with the Libby indictment. Will justice be served?

From truthout:
Continuing his two-year-old investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's identity as a covert CIA agent, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will present evidence to a second grand jury this week that could lead to a criminal indictment being handed up against Karl Rove, President Bush's deputy chief of staff, sources inside the investigation said over the weekend.

For the past month, Rove has remained under intense scrutiny by Fitzgerald's office. During that time Fitzgerald, according to these sources, has acquired evidence that Rove tried to cover up his role in the leak by withholding crucial facts from investigators and the grand jury on three separate occasions, beginning in October 2003, about a conversation he had with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, as well as not being truthful about the reasons that call was not logged by his office.

Rove's conversation with Cooper took place a week or so before Plame Wilson's identity was first revealed, in a July 14, 2003, column published by conservative journalist Robert Novak. Cooper had written his own story about Plame Wilson a few days later.

During previous testimony before the grand jury, Rove said he first learned Plame Wilson's name from reporters - specifically, from Novak's column - and only after her name was published did he discuss Plame Wilson's CIA status with other journalists. That sequence of events, however, as described by Rove during his grand jury testimony, has turned out not to be true, and his reasons for not being forthcoming have not convinced Fitzgerald that Rove had a momentary lapse, according to sources.

Still, Robert Luskin, Rove's lawyer, maintains that his client has not intentionally withheld facts from the prosecutor or the grand jury but had simply forgotten about his conversations with Cooper, the sources said.

Luskin would not return calls for comment.

Fitzgerald will present evidence to the grand jury later this week, obtained from other witnesses who were interviewed by the Special Prosecutor or who testified, showing that Rove lied during the three times he testified under oath and that he made misleading statements to Justice Department and FBI investigators in an attempt to cover up his role in the leak when he was first interviewed about it in October 2003, the sources said.

The most serious charges Rove faces are making false statements to investigators and obstruction of justice, the sources said. He does not appear to be in jeopardy of violating the law making it a crime to leak the name of a covert CIA agent, because it's unlikely that Rove was unaware that Plame Wilson was undercover, the sources said.

However, according to the sources, two things are very clear: either Rove will agree to enter into a plea deal with Fitzgerald or he will be charged with a crime, but he will not be exonerated for the role he played in the leak, based on numerous internal conversations Fitzgerald has had with his staff. If Rove does agree to enter into a plea, Fitzgerald is not expected to discuss any aspect of his probe into Rove, because Rove may be called to testify as a prosecution witness against Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was indicted last month on five counts of lying to investigators, perjury, and obstruction of justice related to his role in the leak.

Moreover, a second high-ranking official in the Bush administration also faces the possibility of indictment for making false statements to investigators about his role in the leak: National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

Hadley had been interviewed in 2004 about his role in the leak and had vehemently denied speaking to reporters about Plame Wilson, the sources said. However, these sources have identified Hadley as sharing information about Plame Wilson with Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, whose stunning revelation two weeks ago - that he was the first journalist to learn of Plame Wilson's identity in mid-June 2003 and had kept that fact secret for two years - led Fitzgerald to return to a second grand jury.
[Read more.]

28 November 2005

Seymour Hersh: Where is the Iraq war headed next?

Seymour Hersh (the amazing investigative reporter for The New Yorker who broke the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal last year) now lends some insight into the future direction of the Iraq war.

From The New Yorker:
In recent weeks, there has been widespread speculation that President George W. Bush, confronted by diminishing approval ratings and dissent within his own party, will begin pulling American troops out of Iraq next year. The Administration's best-case scenario is that the parliamentary election scheduled for December 15th will produce a coalition government that will join the Administration in calling for a withdrawal to begin in the spring. By then, the White House hopes, the new government will be capable of handling the insurgency. In a speech on November 19th, Bush repeated the latest Administration catchphrase: "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." He added, "When our commanders on the ground tell me that Iraqi forces can defend their freedom, our troops will come home with the honor they have earned." One sign of the political pressure on the Administration to prepare for a withdrawal came last week, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News that the current level of American troops would not have to be maintained "for very much longer," because the Iraqis were getting better at fighting the insurgency.

A high-level Pentagon war planner told me, however, that he has seen scant indication that the President would authorize a significant pullout of American troops if he believed that it would impede the war against the insurgency. There are several proposals currently under review by the White House and the Pentagon; the most ambitious calls for American combat forces to be reduced from a hundred and fifty-five thousand troops to fewer than eighty thousand by next fall, with all American forces officially designated "combat" to be pulled out of the area by the summer of 2008. In terms of implementation, the planner said, "the drawdown plans that I'm familiar with are condition-based, event-driven, and not in a specific time frame"-that is, they depend on the ability of a new Iraqi government to defeat the insurgency. (A Pentagon spokesman said that the Administration had not made any decisions and had "no plan to leave, only a plan to complete the mission.")

A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.

"We're not planning to diminish the war," Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me. Clawson's views often mirror the thinking of the men and women around Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting-Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower. The rule now is to commit Iraqi forces into combat only in places where they are sure to win. The pace of commitment, and withdrawal, depends on their success in the battlefield."

He continued, "We want to draw down our forces, but the President is prepared to tough this one out. There is a very deep feeling on his part that the issue of Iraq was settled by the American people at the polling places in 2004." The war against the insurgency "may end up being a nasty and murderous civil war in Iraq, but we and our allies would still win," he said. "As long as the Kurds and the Shiites stay on our side, we're set to go. There's no sense that the world is caving in. We're in the middle of a seven-year slog in Iraq, and eighty per cent of the Iraqis are receptive to our message."

One Pentagon adviser told me, "There are always contingency plans, but why withdraw and take a chance? I don't think the President will go for it"-until the insurgency is broken. "He's not going to back off. This is bigger than domestic politics."

Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding.

Bush's closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush's first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President's religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that "God put me here" to deal with the war on terror. The President's belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that "he's the man," the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his re-election as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.

The former senior official said that after the election he made a lengthy inspection visit to Iraq and reported his findings to Bush in the White House: "I said to the President, 'We're not winning the war.' And he asked, 'Are we losing?' I said, 'Not yet.'" The President, he said, "appeared displeased" with that answer.

"I tried to tell him," the former senior official said. "And he couldn't hear it."

There are grave concerns within the military about the capability of the U.S. Army to sustain two or three more years of combat in Iraq. Michael O'Hanlon, a specialist on military issues at the Brookings Institution, told me, "The people in the institutional Army feel they don't have the luxury of deciding troop levels, or even participating in the debate. They're planning on staying the course until 2009. I can't believe the Army thinks that it will happen, because there's no sustained drive to increase the size of the regular Army." O'Hanlon noted that "if the President decides to stay the present course in Iraq some troops would be compelled to serve fourth and fifth tours of combat by 2007 and 2008, which could have serious consequences for morale and competency levels."

Many of the military's most senior generals are deeply frustrated, but they say nothing in public, because they don't want to jeopardize their careers. The Administration has "so terrified the generals that they know they won't go public," a former defense official said. A retired senior C.I.A. officer with knowledge of Iraq told me that one of his colleagues recently participated in a congressional tour there. The legislators were repeatedly told, in meetings with enlisted men, junior officers, and generals that "things were fucked up." But in a subsequent teleconference with Rumsfeld, he said, the generals kept those criticisms to themselves.
[Read more.]

Counting the top-level officials driven from the Bush administration

From Nick Turse at TomDispatch.com (via truthout):
About six weeks ago, at the urging of fellow TomDispatch author Rebecca Solnit, I undertook the beginnings of an on-line memorial to the Fallen Legion of the Bush administration. It was, in effect, a proposal for a virtual "wall" made up of the seemingly endless and ever-growing list of top officials as well as beleaguered administrators, managers, and career civil servants who had quit their government posts in protest or were defamed, threatened, fired, forced out, demoted, or driven to retire by administration strong-arm tactics, cronyism, and disastrous policies. As a start, I offered 42 prospective names for a Fallen Legion (and brief descriptions of their fates). These ranged from well-known figures like the President's former chief adviser on terrorism on the National Security Council, Richard Clarke, former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, and former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill to the archivist of the United States, the state director of the Bureau of Land Management in Idaho, and three members of the White House Cultural Property Advisory Committee (who resigned over the looting of Iraq after Baghdad fell to U.S. troops). I also called upon readers to aid my future efforts and to send suggestions to: fallenlegionwall@yahoo.com . (And I renew that call in this piece.)

The response has been, in a word, overwhelming. Hundreds of letters poured in - from readers who took me to task for the omission of their own personal picks for such a "Wall" to notes of encouragement from courageous former officials already included in my listing (like Teresa Chambers, the U.S. Park Police Chief who was fired for speaking out and now has a website documenting her long struggle). Some of the fallen whose stories, sad to say, I hadn't even heard of, wrote in as well.

Here, then, is the second installment in what is by now an ongoing series at Tomdispatch dedicated to continuing to build the Fallen Legion Wall, "brick" by "brick." Included in this installment is one honorary legionnaire, former NFL football player Pat Tillman, and a consideration of some officials picked by readers for spots of honor whose departure from government service was less than clear cut. This new installment adds approximately 175 additional casualties to the rolls of "the Fallen." But bear in mind that this list is not yet close to being finished. Many suggested Fallen Legionnaires (even some who wrote in personally) do not appear below, but will take their bows in future follow-ups.
[Read the second installment.]

Bolton's tactics causing problems at UN

As expected, UN ambassador John Bolton is living up to his reputation as a bully.

I still find it amazing (although not surprising) that Bush saw fit to assign this bully to a diplomat's job.

From the Telegraph (UK):
Britain has rejected a proposal by John Bolton, America's combative ambassador to the United Nations, to block the upcoming UN budget as a tactic to push throughdisputed reforms.

The rare public disagreement between the two close allies comes as the showdown over reforms at the UN's New York headquarters becomes increasingly acrimonious.

Britain has rebuffed a Bolton move to join him in refusing to pass the organisation's 2006 budget until member states approve wide-ranging management reforms.

To the irritation of Mr Bolton, many developing nations are bitterly opposed to changes that they claim are driven by American political pressure. He suggested last week that talks on the 2006 and 2007 budgets could be postponed as a means to overcome the trenchant resistance from the "G77" bloc of developing countries. He also threatened that the United States could seek an alternative to the UN for solving international problems in future.

Britain strongly supports the reform package, but along with the other 24 EU states it has ruled out a budget delay. "We are not in favour of holding any individual items or the budget hostage to other issues but we do say very clearly that by the end of this year we need clarity and a determination to tackle a better management for the United Nations," said the British ambassador Emyr Jones Parry.

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, said that any delay in approving next year's budget would create a "serious financial crisis".
[Read more.]

"Trophy" video shows private contractors shooting up Iraqi civilians for sport

From the Telegraph (UK):
A "trophy" video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

The video has sparked concern that private security companies, which are not subject to any form of regulation either in Britain or in Iraq, could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqis.

The video, which first appeared on a website that has been linked unofficially to Aegis Defence Services, contained four separate clips, in which security guards open fire with automatic rifles at civilian cars. All of the shooting incidents apparently took place on "route Irish", a road that links the airport to Baghdad.

The road has acquired the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous in the world because of the number of suicide attacks and ambushes carried out by insurgents against coalition troops. In one four-month period earlier this year it was the scene of 150 attacks.

In one of the videoed attacks, a Mercedes is fired on at a distance of several hundred yards before it crashes in to a civilian taxi. In the last clip, a white civilian car is raked with machine gun fire as it approaches an unidentified security company vehicle. Bullets can be seen hitting the vehicle before it comes to a slow stop.

There are no clues as to the shooter but either a Scottish or Irish accent can be heard in at least one of the clips above Elvis Presley's Mystery Train, the music which accompanies the video.

Last night a spokesman for defence firm Aegis Defence Services - set up in 2002 by Lt Col Tim Spicer, a former Scots Guards officer - confirmed that the company was carrying out an internal investigation to see if any of their employees were involved.

The Foreign Office has also confirmed that it is investigating the contents of the video in conjunction with Aegis, one of the biggest security companies operating in Iraq. The company was recently awarded a £220 million security contract in Iraq by the United States government. Aegis conducts a number of security duties and helped with the collection of ballot papers in the country's recent referendum


www.aegisIraq.co.uk. The website states: "This site does not belong to Aegis Defence Ltd, it belongs to the men on the ground who are the heart and soul of the company." The clips have been removed.

The website also contains a message from Lt Col Spicer, which reads: "I am concerned about media interest in this site and I remind everyone of their contractual obligation not to speak to or assist the media without clearing it with the project management or Aegis London.

"Refrain from posting anything which is detrimental to the company since this could result in the loss or curtailment of our contract with resultant loss for everybody."
[Read more.]

[Watch the video.]

Abuse worse than under Saddam, says Iraqi leader

It is interesting to note that the Iraqi leaders are no longer sucking up to the Bush administration and obediently repeating whatever Bush wants to hear.

Here is how they're now describing George W. Bush's "liberation":

From The Observer (UK):
Human rights abuses in Iraq are now as bad as they were under Saddam Hussein and are even in danger of eclipsing his record, according to the country's first Prime Minister after the fall of Saddam's regime.

'People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and worse,' Ayad Allawi told The Observer. 'It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things.'

In a damning and wide-ranging indictment of Iraq's escalating human rights catastrophe, Allawi accused fellow Shias in the government of being responsible for death squads and secret torture centres. The brutality of elements in the new security forces rivals that of Saddam's secret police, he said.

Allawi, who was a strong ally of the US-led coalition forces and was prime minister until this April, made his remarks as further hints emerged yesterday that President George Bush is planning to withdraw up to 40,000 US troops from the country next year, when Iraqi forces will be capable of taking over.

Allawi's bleak assessment is likely to undermine any attempt to suggest that conditions in Iraq are markedly improving.
[Read more.]

27 November 2005

Frank Rich on the Bush regime: "Dishonest, Reprehensible, Corrupt ..."

Here's yet another example of why Frank Rich is one of my favorite columnists. He's insightful, and he always backs up his insights with facts.

From his column in today's New York Times (via truthout):
George W. Bush is so desperate for allies that his hapless Asian tour took him to Ulan Bator, a first for an American president, so he could mingle with the yaks and give personal thanks for Mongolia's contribution of some 160 soldiers to "the coalition of the willing." Dick Cheney, whose honest-and-ethical poll number hit 29 percent in Newsweek's latest survey, is so radioactive that he vanished into his bunker for weeks at a time during the storms Katrina and Scootergate.

The whole world can see that both men are on the run. Just how much so became clear in the brace of nasty broadsides each delivered this month about Iraq. Neither man engaged the national debate ignited by John Murtha about how our troops might be best redeployed in a recalibrated battle against Islamic radicalism. Neither offered a plan for "victory." Instead, both impugned their critics' patriotism and retreated into the past to defend the origins of the war. In a seasonally appropriate impersonation of the misanthropic Mr. Potter from "It's a Wonderful Life," the vice president went so far as to label critics of the administration's prewar smoke screen both "dishonest and reprehensible" and "corrupt and shameless." He sounded but one epithet away from a defibrillator.

The Washington line has it that the motivation for the Bush-Cheney rage is the need to push back against opponents who have bloodied the White House in the polls. But, Mr. Murtha notwithstanding, the Democrats are too feeble to merit that strong a response. There is more going on here than politics.

Much more: each day brings slam-dunk evidence that the doomsday threats marshaled by the administration to sell the war weren't, in Cheney-speak, just dishonest and reprehensible but also corrupt and shameless. The more the president and vice president tell us that their mistakes were merely innocent byproducts of the same bad intelligence seen by everyone else in the world, the more we learn that this was not so. The web of half-truths and falsehoods used to sell the war did not happen by accident; it was woven by design and then foisted on the public by a P.R. operation built expressly for that purpose in the White House. The real point of the Bush-Cheney verbal fisticuffs this month, like the earlier campaign to take down Joseph Wilson, is less to smite Democrats than to cover up wrongdoing in the executive branch between 9/11 and shock and awe.

The cover-up is failing, however. No matter how much the president and vice president raise their decibel levels, the truth keeps roaring out. A nearly 7,000-word investigation in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times found that Mr. Bush and his aides had "issued increasingly dire warnings" about Iraq's mobile biological weapons labs long after U.S. intelligence authorities were told by Germany's Federal Intelligence Service that the principal source for these warnings, an Iraqi defector in German custody code-named Curveball, "never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so." The five senior German intelligence officials who spoke to The Times said they were aghast that such long-discredited misinformation from a suspected fabricator turned up in Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations and in the president's 2003 State of the Union address (where it shared billing with the equally bogus 16 words about Saddam's fictitious African uranium).

Right after the L.A. Times scoop, Murray Waas filled in another piece of the prewar propaganda puzzle. He reported in the nonpartisan National Journal that 10 days after 9/11, "President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda."

The information was delivered in the President's Daily Brief, a C.I.A. assessment also given to the vice president and other top administration officials. Nonetheless Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney repeatedly pounded in an implicit (and at times specific) link between Saddam and Al Qaeda until Americans even started to believe that the 9/11 attacks had been carried out by Iraqis. More damning still, Mr. Waas finds that the "few credible reports" of Iraq-Al Qaeda contacts actually involved efforts by Saddam to monitor or infiltrate Islamic terrorist groups, which he regarded as adversaries of his secular regime. Thus Saddam's antipathy to Islamic radicals was the same in 2001 as it had been in 1983, when Donald Rumsfeld, then a Reagan administration emissary, embraced the dictator as a secular fascist ally in the American struggle against the theocratic fascist rulers in Iran.

What these revelations also tell us is that Mr. Bush was wrong when he said in his Veterans Day speech that more than 100 Congressional Democrats who voted for the Iraqi war resolution "had access to the same intelligence" he did. They didn't have access to the President's Daily Brief that Mr. Waas uncovered. They didn't have access to the information that German intelligence officials spoke about to The Los Angeles Times. Nor did they have access to material from a Defense Intelligence Agency report, released by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan this month, which as early as February 2002 demolished the reliability of another major source that the administration had persistently used for its false claims about Iraqi-Al Qaeda collaboration.


"We're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history," the vice president said of his critics. "We're going to continue throwing their own words back at them." But according to a Harris poll released by The Wall Street Journal last Wednesday, 64 percent of Americans now believe that the Bush administration "generally misleads the American public on current issues to achieve its own ends." That's why it's Mr. Cheney's and the president's own words that are being thrown back now - not to rewrite history but to reveal it for the first time to an angry country that has learned the hard way that it can no longer afford to be without the truth.
[Read more.]

Pentagon expanding its domestic surveillance activity

Think you're protected by the Bill of Rights? Read the following and guess again.

Big Brother just got bigger. It's 1984, only a couple of decades late.

From the Washington Post:
The Defense Department has expanded its programs aimed at gathering and analyzing intelligence within the United States, creating new agencies, adding personnel and seeking additional legal authority for domestic security activities in the post-9/11 world.

The moves have taken place on several fronts. The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts -- including protecting military facilities from attack -- to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.

The Pentagon has pushed legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence. Backers say the measure is needed to strengthen investigations into terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.

The proposals, and other Pentagon steps aimed at improving its ability to analyze counterterrorism intelligence collected inside the United States, have drawn complaints from civil liberties advocates and a few members of Congress, who say the Defense Department's push into domestic collection is proceeding with little scrutiny by the Congress or the public.

"We are deputizing the military to spy on law-abiding Americans in America. This is a huge leap without even a [congressional] hearing," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a recent interview.
[Read more.]

Bush may signal Iraq drawdown

It is interesting to note that this article appeared in the ultra-conservative Washington Times newspaper.

Is Bush going to announce a change of course in Iraq, and try to make it look like it was his idea all along?

From UPI via yesterday's Washington Times:
President Bush plans what is being billed as a major speech on Iraq for Wednesday amid signs that the administration is changing course.

Aides told the Los Angeles Times that the president is expected to say at the Naval Academy in Annapolis that Iraqi troops are close to being able to operate on their own.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said recently that the United States should be able to start reducing the number of troops in Iraq soon.

The administration is under pressure with increasing public disapproval at the president's handling of Iraq. Members of his own party are worried about next year's Congressional elections and the 2008 presidential race.

At a meeting in Egypt, members of Iraq's Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions were able to agree on a call for a U.S. withdrawal.

At home, Rep. John Murtha's call for redeployment and his bitter description of the war invigorated administration opponents. Attempts by Vice President Dick Cheney, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan and others to counter the Pennsylvania Democrat, a decorated veteran of Korean and Vietnam, backfired, the newspaper said.
[See it on the Washington Times site.]

British editor vows to print truth about Bush's threats to Qatar/al-Jazeera

A British newspaper editor wants to get to the truth re: Bush's alleged threat to bomb an al-Jazeera station in friendly Qatar. He's willing to go to jail if he has to.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Meantime, he wrote a thought-provoking editorial in the Telegraph.

An excerpt:
It must be said that subsequent events have not made life easy for those of us who were so optimistic as to support the war in Iraq. There were those who believed the Government's rubbish about Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction. Then the WMD made their historic no-show.

Some of us were so innocent as to suppose that the Pentagon had a well-thought-out plan for the removal of the dictator and the introduction of peace. Then we had the insurgency, in which tens of thousands have died.

Some of us thought it was about ensuring that chemical weapons could never again be used on Iraqi soil. Then we heard about the white phosphorus deployed by the Pentagon. Some people believed that the American liberation would mean the end of torture in Iraqi jails. Then we had Abu Ghraib.

Some of us thought it was all about the dissemination of the institutions of a civil society - above all a free press, in which journalists could work without fear of being murdered. Then we heard about the Bush plan to blow up al-Jazeera.

Some of us feel that we have an abusive relationship with this war. Every time we get our hopes up, we get punched by some piece of bad news. We yearn to be told that we're wrong, that things are going to get better, that the glass is half full. That's why I would love to think that Dubya was just having one of his little frat-house wisecracks, when he talked of destroying the Qatar-based satellite TV station. Maybe he was only horsing around. Maybe it was a flippant one-liner, of the kind that he delivers before making one of his dramatic exits into the broom-closet. Perhaps it was a kind of Henry II moment: you know, who will rid me of this turbulent TV station? Maybe he had a burst of spacy Reagan-esque surrealism, like the time the old boy forgot that the mikes were switched on, and startled a press conference with the announcement that he was going to start bombing Russia in five minutes. Maybe Bush thought he was Kenny Everett. Perhaps he was playing Basil Brush. Boom boom.

Who knows? But if his remarks were just an innocent piece of cretinism, then why in the name of holy thunder has the British state decreed that anyone printing those remarks will be sent to prison?

We all hope and pray that the American President was engaging in nothing more than neo-con Tourette-style babble about blowing things up. We are quite prepared to believe that the Daily Mirror is wrong. We are ready to accept that the two British civil servants who have leaked the account are either malicious or mistaken. But if there is one thing that would seem to confirm the essential accuracy of the story, it is that the Attorney General has announced that he will prosecute anyone printing the exact facts.

What are we supposed to think? The meeting between Bush and Blair took place on April 16, 2004, at the height of the US assault on Fallujah, and there is circumstantial evidence for believing that Bush may indeed have said what he is alleged to have said.

We know that the administration was infuriated with the al-Jazeera coverage of the battle, and the way the station focused on the deaths of hundreds of people, including civilians, rather than the necessity of ridding the town of dangerous terrorists. We remember how Cheney and Rumsfeld both launched vehement attacks on the station, and accused it of aiding the rebels. We are told by the New York Times that there were shouty-crackers arguments within the administration, with some officials yelling that the channel should be shut down, and others saying that it would be better to work with the journalists in the hope of producing better coverage.

We also recall that the Americans have form when it comes to the mass media outlets of regimes they dislike. They blew up the Kabul bureau of al-Jazeera in 2002, and they pulverised the Baghdad bureau in April 2003, killing one of the reporters. In 1999 they managed to blow up the Serb TV station, killing two make-up girls, in circumstances that were never satisfactorily explained.
[Read more.]

First woman conscientious objector resists deployment to Iraq

There are roles in the military for those who do not want to use a gun in a war that they feel is immoral.

Accordingly, I hope that the Army National Guard will reconsider its decision to deny Specialist Jashinski's request for consciencious objector status. It is in no one's best interest to deploy someone (male or female) to Iraq who doesn't want to shoot. Not only is it morally wrong, but it could present a security risk to her fellow troops.

From Ms. Magazine:
Army National Guard Specialist Katherine Jashinski is the first woman conscientious objector to the Iraq war. In a press conference last week, Jashinski publicly refused deployment and spoke out against the war. She applied for conscientious objector status in 2004, but after 18 months, her claim was denied and she was ordered to weapons training to prepare for deployment. In her public statement, Jashinski said that while she had fulfilled her duties to the Army until that point, she was "forced to choose between my legal obligation to the Army and my deepest moral values… I will exercise my legal right not to pick up a weapon and to participate in a war effort."
[Read more.]

26 November 2005


Here's a good overview of the hypocrisy of Murtha's critics.

From an editorial in The Progressive Populist:
After Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated Marine veteran of Korea and Vietnam and a renowned advocate of military veterans, came out in favor of an orderly withdrawal from Iraq, Republicans hit the roof. House GOP leaders replaced his thoughtful resolution with a one-sentence call for an immediate withdrawal. It was designed to split Democrats, so the GOP sent it to the floor for a vote.

Democrats refused to take the bait, as all but three Dems rejected the GOP resolution, but not before first-year Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, had a few minutes of infamy during the House debate over the resolution, when she scolded Murtha that "cowards cut and run, Marines never do." Schmidt previously had belittled the sacrifice of Paul Hackett, the Marine veteran of Iraq and a Democrat who ran against her in the August special election that narrowly sent her to Congress from the suburban Cincinnati district.

Murtha did not back down, even after Vice President Dick Cheney questioned the congressman's judgment. "I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done," replied Murtha, who won a Bronze Star for action in Vietnam.

Of course a Bronze Star won't deflect a Republican smear job, as the GOP Swift Boat hacks showed last year when they slandered John Kerry's bemedalled Vietnam record in favor of No-Show George. Republicans already have filed a complaint with the Ethics Committee about Murtha's relationship with his lobbyist brother.

Dennis Roddy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted that in the early 1980s, when a team of FBI agents posing as representatives of a fictitious Arab sheik offered Congress members $50,000 in return for helping the sheik gain residency in the US, Murtha was taped telling the agents, "Not interested," but inviting the sheik to invest a few million dollars in his struggling hometown of Jonestown, Pa., where unemployment reached 25%. "Now, having learned through Abscam that good intentions cannot be achieved by appealing to false premises, Mr. Murtha is applying the same fresh truth to the Iraq war," Roddy wrote.

"No man has more credibility on issues military and certainly none represents a district more attuned to the values Mr. Bush professes to love," Roddy added. "If Jack Murtha's district stands behind him on this, the Bush administration has lost that part of the body politic wherein the heart is kept."

The cowards are not the Congress members who are having second thoughts about trusting the president when he said Saddam Hussein presented a threat to the US. The cowards are those in power who "fixed" intelligence to support the case for a war that they thought would benefit the oil companies and help them regain control of the Senate.

Those cowards won't admit they made a mistake when they withdrew US military resources from Afghanistan, which actually supported the 9/11 attacks on the US, to proceed with an invasion of Iraq, against the advice of US allies in the region who warned that US intervention of Iraq would simply recruit more anti-Western Islamic fanatics.

Those cowards won't admit they erred when they fired Gen. Eric Shinseki for saying they would need several hundred thousand troops to occupy Iraq. Or when they fired White House economist Larry Lindsey for telling a journalist the war would cost upwards of $200 billion. They won't admit it was a mistake to go ahead with the invasion before they had enough armored vests or armored cars to protect US soldiers. But soldiers pay for those mistakes. Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the Iraq invasion, was promoted to head the World Bank. And CIA Director George Tenet, who assured Secretary of State Colin Powell that the allegations had been checked out and Saddam was on the verge of developing weapons of mass destruction, received the Medal of Freedom.
[Read more.]

US nears 1,000th execution since 1977

I'm not against punishing criminals. A murderer should be locked away forever, with no possibility of parole.

But the current system is prone to mistakes. We have evidence that we have executed innocent people. Yet we keep killing people to show that killing is wrong.

From the Associated Press via truthout:
"Let's do it." With those last words, convicted killer Gary Gilmore ushered in the modern era of capital punishment in the United States, an age of busy death chambers that will likely see its 1,000th execution in the coming days.

After a 10-year moratorium, Gilmore in 1977 became the first person to be executed following a 1976 US Supreme Court decision that validated state laws to reform the capital punishment system. Since then, 997 prisoners have been executed, and next week, the 998th, 999th and 1,000th are scheduled to die.

Robin Lovitt, 41, will likely be the one to earn that macabre distinction next Wednesday, Nov. 30. He was convicted of fatally stabbing a man with scissors during a 1998 pool hall robbery in Virginia.

Ahead of Lovitt on death row are Eric Nance, scheduled to be executed Monday in Arkansas, and John Hicks, scheduled to be executed Tuesday in Ohio. Both executions appear likely to proceed.

Gilmore was executed before a Utah firing squad, after a record of petty crime, killing of a motel manager and suicide attempts in prison. His life was the basis for Norman Mailer's book "The Executioner's Song" and a TV miniseries.

While his case was well-known, most today could probably not name even one of the more than 3,400 prisoners - including 118 foreign nationals - on death row in the US In the last 28 years, the US has executed on average one person every 10 days.

The focus of the debate on capital punishment was once the question of whether it served as a deterrent to crime. Today, the argument is more on whether the government can be trusted not to execute an innocent person.

Thomas Hill, an attorney for a death row inmate in Ohio who recently won a second stay of execution, thinks the answer is obvious.

"We have a criminal system that makes mistakes. If you accept that proposition, that means you have to be prepared for the inevitability that some are sentenced to death for crimes they didn't commit," said Hill.


Still, some powerful political forces are looking to speed up the trying and executing of prisoners. Both houses of the US Congress are considering bills that would lessen the ability of defendants in capital cases to appeal to federal courts.

Proponents of the legislation say such appeals add up to 15 years to the process of executing a prisoner. Detractors say the law will not allow federal courts to review most cases and will result in innocent people being put to death.

Since 1973, 122 prisoners have been freed from death row. The vast majority of those cases came during the last 15 years, since the use of DNA evidence became widespread. While there is no official proof an innocent person has been executed, opponents of the death penalty say the number of prisoners whose convictions have been reversed should fuel skepticism.

"I don't think any rational person seriously examining the evidence can have any confidence that an innocent hasn't already been executed," said Scheck.

Using post-conviction DNA evidence, the Innocence Project has helped in more than half of the 163 cases vacated - 14 of which were from death row. "We've demonstrated that there are too many innocent people on death row," Scheck said.
[Read more.]

Interview with an innocent man released from Guantanamo

According to this former journalist, who was wrongly imprisoned at Gitmo, less that 20% of detainees are the real "bad guys".

From Le Nouvel Observateur via truthout:
He's forgotten nothing of the pain, the humiliation, the solitude. American investigators took a year to clear him. And another year to free him. Beyond the revolting injustice to which he was victim, former journalist Bader Zaman denounces the arbitrariness of American detention centers.

He suffers from hypermnesia. It's twelve months since Bader Zaman was released from Guantánamo prison, but he remembers every detail of his detention. Not only the pain, the humiliation, the solitude, but also little things: dogs' breath, the scrape of the razor against his eyebrows, the accent of the creep who cried out over the megaphone to the other soldiers: "Don't show any sympathy for the terrorists!" He can't forget anything. Today he is free. The Americans have cleared him of all accusations against him. Yet, in Peshawar, this former journalist's liberty still remains under tight surveillance. A few weeks ago, ISI (Pakistani Secret Service) agents came back to see him again. He received them calmly: "What do I have to fear from you now? Have you found a worse hell on the earth than the one you've already thrown me into?"

To meet Bader Zaman, one must dive into the alleys of Old Peshawar. The 35-year-old journalist, who looks ten years older, has transformed himself into a trader in precious stones since his liberation. In a dark little room in the middle of the rubber tire souk, he holds his stock of lapis-lazuli from Afghanistan. Meeting a foreign woman is just not done in this city controlled by Islamists, but Bader Zaman insists on bearing witness. He doesn't really resent the Americans. According to him, the party responsible for his Calvary is the Pakistani Secret Service, which he intends to sue. "I spent two months and twenty-two days in Peshawar prison, fourteen days at Bagram, two months and eight days in Kandahar and two years and four months in Guantánamo, solely because I denounced their practices."

When he was a very young man, Bader and his brother belonged to an Afghan religious organization close to Bin Laden and al-Qaeda that fought the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. He resigned from it in 1987 to protest that organization's links with the Pakistani Secret Services. Later, he who had never touched a weapon denounced the Taliban's obscurantism in his newspaper and described them as puppets of the Pakistani Secret Services. "So they sold me to the Americans. A current practice right after the American offensive in Afghanistan," he explains. "For them, it was just a question of keeping the Americans busy with false suspects. They never stopped playing the international community."

The journalist knows the stories of all the detainees who occupied neighboring cells in Guantánamo. He mentions the taxi driver sold for $5000: "The Pakistanis had just made a raid to find Arabs close to al-Qaeda and hadn't found anybody, so they arrested him. The officer who sold him to the Americans told him: 'Look here, it's worth it to sell people like you to keep the Americans from coming to make war on Pakistan...'" He says the taxi driver is still at Guantánamo.

According to Bader, less than 20% of the detainees presently in the American prison in Cuba are real "bad guys" or Taliban officials like Mullah Fazel. But it was the Kandahar and Bagram detention centers in Afghanistan that left him with the worst memories. For twenty-four days, he was shut up in a container. Then he was forbidden to wash for three months. With a light on at all times, too tight ligatures that cut into his arms and legs, tortures. At Bagram, he saw prisoners being kicked across the ground, others hung by their hands. He also saw offenses to the Koran, which he says was the normal practice in the Kandahar detention center. It was there, by the way, that he saw the guards throw the sacred book into a bucket that was used to empty toilets.

When he arrived at Guantánamo in May 2002, Bader was placed in solitary for over a year. In the prison in Cuba, there were no physical tortures. "The prisoners frequently attacked the guards. I saw them bite Americans!" But they tried to crack the detainees morally. Like when one of the female guards touched one of them on the face, her hand smudged with what she claimed was menstrual blood - testimony corroborated by one of the Guantánamo investigators, Sergeant Erik Saar, who included that episode in a book.

For Bader, after long months of despair in which he kept repeating the same story about the Pakistani Secret Services to people who didn't want to hear any of it, the climax came. "At the end of the interrogations, Federal agents finished by telling me they didn't have anything on me. That I was cleared. But after that, I had to wait another year before leaving Guantánamo. Such a long year!

After that, the conditions of Bader's detention loosened up. He was transferred to Camp 4, a camp for prisoners who "collaborate." He traded his orange overall for a white tunic, and picnics were even organized so the prisoners could see the sea. "We were transported in a closed ambulance, chained to one another. Then we were placed between rows of barbed wire near the water. I remember seeing a ship on the sea."

Bader Zaman has only one good memory from Guantánamo: that's the arrival of his mortal enemy, the one who acted as intermediary for the Pakistani Secret Services to sell him to the Americans - who was himself, in fact, close to al-Qaeda - in the neighboring cell. All the prisoners who knew the truth booed the man. He lowered his head. "That day, I knew that I had been believed, that I could hope to leave that hell. The one who handed me over, he's still there, in the Guantánamo jail...
[Read more.]

Dahr Jamail: Life goes on in Fallujah's rubble

Remember how the conservative pundits would use Saddam's mass graves as a justification for attacking Iraq?

From an article by the great Alaskan journalist Dahr Jamail:
A year after the US-led "Operation Phantom Fury" damaged or destroyed 36,000 homes, 60 schools and 65 mosques in Fallujah, Iraq, residents inside the city continue to suffer from lack of compensation, slow reconstruction and high rates of illness.

The Study Centre for Human Rights and Democracy based in Fallujah (SCHRD) estimates the number of people killed in the city during the US-led operation in October and November 2004 at 4,000 to 6,000, most of them civilians. Mass graves were dug on the outskirts of the city for thousands of the bodies.

Last week, the Pentagon confirmed that it had used white phosphorus, a chemical that bursts into flame upon contact with air, inside Fallujah as an "incendiary weapon" against insurgents. Washington denies that it is a chemical weapon, as charged by some critics, and that it was used against civilians.

Compensation payments promised by Iyad Allawi, the US-backed interim prime minister at the time of the operation, have failed to materialise for many residents in the city, who lack potable water and suffer electricity cuts on a daily basis.

"People were paid almost 20 percent of what they were promised by Allawi, which was just 100 million dollars," said Mohamad Tareq al-Deraji, a resident of Fallujah and spokesperson for the city's governing council.

According to Deraji, who is also a biologist and co-director of the SCHRD, Iraq's current prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, had agreed to continue with the second and third compensation payments to people inside Fallujah who had suffered the loss of a loved one or damaged property during the fighting, after he was pressured by the US embassy.

"But now he [Jaafari] has stopped the payments," Deraji told IPS. "So now there is no payment to the people and we all continue to suffer."

This month, US Marine Col. David Berger, who is commander of the 8th Regimental Combat Team and responsible for Fallujah, told reporters, "[Fallujah's residents] don't see any progress, they don't see any action. They hear a lot of words, a lot of promises, but not a lot of product."

Deraji estimates that up to 150,000 of the 350,000 residents of Fallujah continue to live as internally displaced persons due to the lack of compensation, and therefore, lack of reconstruction.

Reports from inside the city indicate that residents are increasingly angry at the situation.

"When I was recently in Fallujah, I didn't see any reconstruction," said Rana Aiouby, a freelance journalist from Baghdad. "Some of the people are rebuilding their own houses, but I'm still finding people outside Fallujah who are refugees from the April attack on the city."

Aiouby, who has been in Fallujah many times, said that she was finally allowed to visit the Shuhada district this past April, after having been previously barred from the area by US forces.

"This is the poorest district of Falluah and where there was some of the worst destruction," she added. "It was at least 95 percent destroyed."

Both Deraji and Aiouby said that the power supply is erratic, and that random bursts of fighting continued on an almost daily basis. As recently as Nov. 16, the US military confirmed that a Marine was killed by a car bomb in Karmah, a small city near Fallujah.

"So many schools are either destroyed or occupied by the Americans even now," Abu Mohammed, a resident of Fallujah, told IPS in a telephone interview. "Our children are either going to school in tents or staying at home because we are too afraid to have them outside."

Abu Mohammed, a carpenter and 30-year-old father of five, said that countless residents were sick from drinking dirty tap water. Others were falling ill from the lack of electricity coupled with cold nighttime temperatures that sink as low as 10 degrees Celsius now that winter has arrived in Iraq.

Deraji agreed, saying there were "many new diseases, especially cancers with children and with people who stayed in Falluah during the assault". He told IPS, "Maybe they took big doses from radiation and pollution inside the city during that time, so we have so many medical problems now."

This is complicated by the fact that hospitals in the city are not at full operating capacity.
[Read more.]

Chavez's cheap oil for US poor angers Washington

Of course Bush has a problem with it, because it shows that he (Bush) does not have total control of either 1) the oil; or 2) the status of the poor in our economy.

Here is an Australian perspective on the situation.

From The Sydney Morning Herald:
Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez, has pulled off his greatest public relations coup yet in his campaign to irritate the Bush Administration with a deal to supply cheap fuel to thousands of poor residents of Boston and New York.

To the anger of many in Washington, Citgo Petroleum Corporation, a company controlled by the Venezuelan Government, will supply more than 45 million litres of oil at 40 per cent below market prices.

The deal is one of the most spectacular moves yet in Mr Chavez's attempt to market his "21st-century socialism" using his country's oil wealth.

While it will not change many minds in Washington about his populist and autocratic regime, Caracas hopes it will bolster Mr Chavez's claim as the coming leader of an anti-capitalist Latin America. Mr Chavez, who once dubbed President George Bush a "genocidal madman" and led a huge anti-US protest earlier this month, first proposed his fuel offer in August when oil prices were at a record high after Hurricane Katrina.

Joe Kennedy, the chairman of Citizens Energy, one of the organisations that will distribute the oil, said the deal highlighted the failure of oil companies in the US and the Government to step in to help.

"Our government has made billions of dollars just this year on the royalty payments the oil companies pay to the Government," he said. But when it is a question of poor Americans, "what do we hear from Washington? Sorry boys. There's no money in the till."

To promote his dream, Mr Chavez has offered cheap oil and refineries to his neighbours and pledged financial support for regional development programs.
[Read more.]

"Dirty bomb" evidence against Padilla was obtained via torture

Jose Padilla, the alleged "Dirty Bomber", has been sitting in legal limbo for 3 years.

Now the government has finally been forced to charge him. And the charges don't reference anything related to the dirty bomb plot that made Padilla famous.

We're starting to learn why. This is very unsettling, as this could happen to any of us. And it reinforces my ongoing argument that torture doesn't work.

From The Guardian (UK):
The Bush administration decided not to charge Jose Padilla with planning to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a United States city because the evidence against him was extracted using torture on members of al-Qaeda, it was claimed on Thursday.

Padilla, a US citizen who had been held for more than three years as an "enemy combatant" in a military prison in North Carolina, was indicted on Tuesday on the lesser charges of supporting terrorism abroad. After his arrest in 2002 the Brooklyn-born Muslim convert was also accused by the administration of planning to blow up apartment blocks in New York using natural gas.

The administration had used his case as evidence of the continued threat posed by al-Qaeda inside the United States.

Thursday's New York Times, quoting unnamed current and former government officials, said the main evidence of Padilla's involvement in the plots against US cities had come from two captured al-Qaeda leaders, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, believed to be the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, and Abu Zubaydah, a leading al-Qaeda recruiter. But the officials told the newspaper Padilla could not be charged with the bomb plots because neither of the al-Qaeda leaders could be used as witnesses as they had been subjected to harsh questioning and could open up charges from defence lawyers that their earlier statements resulted from torture.

Officials also feared that their testimony could expose classified information about the CIA prison system in which the men were thought to be held.

The CIA has never publicly acknowledged it is detaining Mohammed and Zubaydah. It is not known where they are being held. But it was reported last month the CIA was using secret detention centres in eastern Europe, possibly in Poland and Romania, for interrogations, thus beyond the reach of US law.

Internal reviews by the CIA have raised questions about the treatment and credibility of the two men.


Announcing the charges against Padilla on Tuesday, the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, repeatedly refused to answer questions on why none of the allegations involving attacks on the US had been included. "I am not going to talk about previous accusations and allegations that are outside the indictment," he said. However, the New York Times said the officials had emphasised that the government was not backing off its initial assertions about the seriousness of Padilla's actions.

Padilla was arrested at O'Hare airport in Chicago in 2002 after returning from Pakistan. President George Bush declared him an enemy combatant, and the administration resisted calls to charge and try him in civilian courts. His case became a cause célèbre, with human rights groups claiming it was an extreme example of how civil liberties had been brushed aside in pursuit of the war on terror.

Padilla was handed over last week to the justice department for civilian proceedings, avoiding a potentially embarrassing supreme court showdown over how long the US government could hold one of its citizens in military custody without charges.
[Read more.]

US Clergy face prison after protesting use of torture

From ekklesia:
Three Catholic clergy are facing prison sentences in the US after acts of civil disobedience against a military training school which teaches torture techniques.

Franciscan Frs. Louis Vitale and Jerome Zawada and Sr. Mary Dennis Lentsch, PBVM were Arrested with 33 Others as they called for the Closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) a combat training facility for Latin American security personnel.

Formerly the School Of the Americas (SOA), WHINSEC is located at Fort Benning where over 60,000 personnel have been trained in courses including counterinsurgency, psychological warfare and interrogation techniques.

Graduates of the school have been consistently linked to human rights violations and to the suppression of popular movements in Central and South America.

Protests against the SOA/WHINSEC began 16 years ago, and since then 180 people have served federal prison sentences.

Other Christians including a nun are amongst those who have been jailed.

Fr. Louis Vitale, 73, of San Francisco, California, Fr. Jerome Zawada, 68, of Cedar Lake, Indiana, and Sr. Mary Dennis Lentsch, 68, of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, were arrested on Sunday, November 20 after crossing onto Fort Benning.

The group "crossed the line" to protest current concerns about the school’s role in training Latin American militaries and a legacy of torture and human rights abuses committed by graduates of the school.

The three clergy negotiated 10-foot barbed-wire fences to enter the base.

Their acts of civil disobedience came at the culmination of a weekend of protest that drew 19,000 people to the gates of Fort Benning, the largest protest yet calling for the schools' closure.

Thousands of people from across the Americas, including a large contingent of Catholic clergy, came together to call for the closure but also to protest the Bush Administration’s opposition to banning torture techniques.

Protestors at the vigil called attention to the recent pictures of abuse at the hands U.S. personnel, and reports about secret CIA detention facilities as part of a broader legacy of US support for torture and human rights abuses.

The annual Vigil to close the SOA/ WHINSEC has grown from a dozen people in November of 1990 to this year’s record numbers.


The SOA/WHINSEC made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture and extortion and which include passages that list religious festivals as "indicators of an imminent attack by guerrillas."

Despite this admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the training facility has ever taken place.
[Read more.]

25 November 2005

Brownie still doing a heck of a job

Former FEMA chief Michael Brown, who resigned in disgrace after bungling the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, has now started a disaster recovery consulting business. Yes, really!

So, if you aim to be inept in your highly responsible life-and-death job, and want to learn how to spin the blame, sign up now!

From the Associated Press via CBS4 in Denver:
Former FEMA Director Michael Brown is opening a business that will help clients avoid the errors that cost him his job after Hurricane Katrina, the Rocky Mountain News reported Thursday.

Brown told the News: "I think people are curious: 'My gosh, what was it like? The media just really beat you up. You made mistakes. I don't want to be in that situation. How do I avoid that?'"

He said he will set up his consulting business in the Boulder-Longmont area, his home before joining the Bush administration in 2001.

Several companies have already signed up for his disaster preparedness consulting business, Michael D. Brown LLC.


Brown, a lawyer, said officials need to be able to answer questions about a disaster to avoid appearing to not know how serious a situation is.
[Read more.]

Celebrating gluttony while children starve

It was another typical Thanksgiving, wasn't it?

The family gathered. They hugged. They talked. They annoyed each other. They argued. They drank too much. And, of course, they ate too much. They stuffed themselves fuller than your grandma stuffed the turkey. It's the biggest meal of the year. Gotta have that extra helping of mashed potatoes. Extra gravy. Don't bother saving room for the desserts - we'll just find a way to force those down on top of everything else.

After the meal, everyone complained about how full they felt, as they patted their extended stomachs and loosened their waistbands. Some took naps to sleep off the overstuffed feeling.

And they were proud of it. After all, this is what Thanksgiving is all about, isn't it?

It's a grand American tradition. This harvest holiday of thanks has become a celebration of gluttony and excess.

Meantime, right here in the United States, 11.2 percent of households (including 13 million children) suffer from hunger or the risk of hunger due to poverty. Many of these families must routinely skip meals, sometimes for a full day, sometimes for much longer. The lucky ones are able to get food assistance to keep themselves alive.

These people don't have so much to be grateful for on Thanksgiving. And, as long as they remain invisible to the rest of us and our leaders, they'll continue to suffer as we go for that second slice of pie.

Cities do their best to keep the homeless off the streets. The poor families who do have roofs over their heads are usually segregated to neighborhoods where the rest of us fear to tread. So the poor are, for the most part, an abstract concept. We hear about them from time to time, but the words represent something far, far away from the world in which the rest of us live.

Out of sight, out of mind.

We give our occasional donations to churches and charities, and we feel that we've done our part. And it helps. It's better than nothing. But those children are still dying. Our government needs to do more.

When he was a student at Harvard Business School, a young George W. Bush told one of his professors that "poor people are poor because they're lazy." It's their own fault.

Tell that those 13 million babies.

It couldn't possibly have to do with government policies that favor the corporation over the individual, could it?

It couldn't possibly have to do with an administration that gives tax breaks to the rich while running up huge spending deficits that the rest of us and our grandchildren will have to pay for, could it?

It couldn't possibly have to do with huge companies, like Wal-Mart, that pay their hourly workers poverty-level wages and price the company health benefits so high that thousands of their employees must rely on public assistance, could it?

Well, yes, by George, it could.

Many of those facing starvation in this country are members of the working poor. Some of them work two or more jobs to survive. While we're choosing between the apple pie and the pumpkin, they are having to choose between food and medicine.

While they suffer, George W. Bush calls himself a "Christian" and a "compassionate conservative" as he showers his rich pals with more incentives to ship American jobs overseas to India and communist China.

Where is the America that our founding fathers envisioned?

Where is the America in which all are created equal, in which all are endowed with the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - not just the richest 2 percent?

Where is the America that the world once looked upon as the land of opportunity, where anyone willing to work hard could get ahead in life?

Where is the America in which the rich get richer, but the poor get richer too?

And why have 200 billion of our tax dollars been spent so far on the quagmire in Iraq, when that money could have been better spent on health care, education, and jobs here at home?

The problem of domestic poverty might never be completely solved, but it can be significantly reduced. However, for that to happen, our leaders must do a serious reality check and adjust their priorities. Our government cannot continue to be a government of, by, and for the wealthy elite and their oil interests. We must resurrect the vision of our founding fathers, in which the United States of America is a government of, by, and for the people. All people.

Until then, the middle class may well continue to shrink, and more and more ordinary Americans may well find themselves struggling to make ends meet.

The change must start now. By the 2006 mid-term elections, it will be too late for so many poor children.

24 November 2005

Ruth Conniff: "Republicans Steal Thanksgiving"

Today is the Thanksgiving holiday in America, when each year we celebrate genocide and gluttony.

In any case, the following article ruined my appetite. Happy Thanksgiving.

From The Progressive:
As the Republicans go home for Thanksgiving this week, House leaders are congratulating themselves on having squeaked through a divisive budget bill that takes canned goods from the poor in order to fund more luxuries for the rich.

The $50 billion in budget cuts for programs that help the poor will not quite cover the $57 billion in tax cuts for the rich they plan on ramming through right after the break.

In order to save face, they decided not to take up the giveaways in dividend and estate taxes on the same day they cut Food Stamps, Medicaid, and college loans.


In addition, the House bill lifts a requirement that states pay for preventive care for low-income children just above the poverty line. Then there are the cuts in child-support enforcement, and the more than 220,000 people per month--mostly the low-income working poor with children--who will lose Food Stamps.


The bill also eliminates child care subsidies for 330,000 low-income children.
[Read more.]

23 November 2005

Molly Ivins: "An old, ugly, mean trick"

In her latest column Molly Ivins takes on John Murtha's critics.

Armed, as always, with facts, insight, and her powerful writing skills, Molly set the record straight.

I want to be Molly Ivins when I grow up.

From Working For Change, via SmirkingChimp.com:
We've had two nifty opportunities to study the Bush spin machine at work here lately, both offering such a neat schematic of how it's done one is tempted to applaud. Or something.

The first was the counter-offensive launched by President Bush on Veterans Day against those who have the nerve (!) to notice that the administration manipulated intelligence in order to justify an unnecessary war. Bush, indignation to the fore, righteously denounced his critics for "baseless attacks," "false charges" and "rewriting history" because they are "fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments."

That may be true, but it's also true that the Senate investigation did not look at whether the administration manipulated information once they got it.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence specifically refrained from looking at whether or not the administration manipulated pre-war intelligence. Got that? All it has done so far is look at the pre-war intelligence by the agencies. It has yet to do the second part of its job, looking at how that intelligence was used or misused.

The Republicans are trying to prevent the committee from doing just that, and Democratic leader Harry Reid is down to using procedural ploys to get around them.


Among the things we didn't know before the war:

• The State Department was convinced the Niger uranium claim was bogus.

• The source for the claims about biological weapons was a questionable character called "Curveball," who had a drinking problem and was distrusted by German intelligence, which had worked with him.

• We were told with great alarm that Saddam had drones that could deliver weapons, but the Air Force thought that was a joke.

• The Department of Energy never believed the famous aluminum tubes had anything to do with a nuclear program.

• Colin Powell's warnings about mobile weapons labs were not based on solid information.

I always thought the single best reason to doubt Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was that the United Nations inspectors were over there looking and couldn't find any. This was while Donald Rumsfeld was claiming we knew where the WMD were being stored. So why didn't we tell the inspectors so they could go look there? It never made sense.


Dissent equals treason. Anyone who criticizes Bush is unpatriotic. According to this pitiful attempt at intimidation, to notice that this war is a disaster is the same as spitting on our soldiers. Stephen Hadley, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush and Cheney have all played this card in recent days.

It's just plain old intimidation, trying to scare people into shutting up -- it's an old, ugly, mean trick, and it only works against cowards.

The treatment of Rep. John Murtha is a classic example. Murtha, stalwart supporter of the military, described Iraq as a "flawed policy wrapped in an illusion" and called for pulling troops out "at the earliest practicable date." White House spokesman Scott McClellan promptly denounced Murtha for "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party.'

And the charming Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio quoted an Ohio colonel: "He asked me to send Congress a message to stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run. Marines never do."

But Murtha -- 37 years in the Marine Corps, decorated war hero in Korea and Vietnam and widely respected for his knowledge of military affairs -- is not easily intimidated. Of the vice president he said, "I like guys who got five deferments and (have) never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."

While Washington stands around having a public relations battle over all this, the real war with real people dying goes right on. The main reason we should get out is because we're not doing any good over there. We stayed for years past the point of reason in Vietnam because they said there would be a "bloodbath" if we left. But there's a bloodbath because we're there.
[Read more.]

22 November 2005

British military families take Tony Blair to court

Will Tony Blair be held accountable for his role in the lead-up to the war in Iraq?

From a press release from Military Families Against the War:
This Thursday, Military Families Against the War, are launching their court case to bring Tony Blair to account for the Iraq war. 98 British soldiers have now been killed and many hundreds injured. Families of soldiers killed in Iraq believe the war to have been based on a series of lies and to be an illegal act. This will now be tested in the High Court where they and their legal team are seeking a judicial review of the Government’s decision to reject the families’ call for a full public inquiry into the decision to go to war.

Members of the legal team together with members of the families will be available for interview.
[Learn more.]