Saturday, November 19, 2005

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Republicans Refuse to Honor Springsteen

"WASHINGTON - Bruce Springsteen famously was 'born in the USA,' but he's getting scorned in the U.S. Senate. "

An effort by New Jersey's two Democratic senators to honor the veteran rocker was shot down Friday by Republicans who are apparently still miffed a year after the Boss lent his voice to the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

The chamber's GOP leaders refused to bring up for consideration a resolution, introduced by Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Jon Corzine, that honored Springsteen's long career and the 1975 release of his iconic album, "Born to Run."

No reason was given, said Lautenberg spokesman Alex Formuzis. "Resolutions like this pass all the time in the U.S. Senate, usually by unanimous consent," he said....

Springsteen endorsed Kerry last year, and made campaign appearances that drew huge crowds who came to hear music described in the resolution as "a cultural milestone that has touched the lives of millions of people."

[bth: hard to appreciate the full level of pettiness from Frist.]

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Pentagon's spending practices come under fire at hearing

"WASHINGTON - Members of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday called Pentagon purchasing agents 'incompetent' for paying $20 apiece for plastic ice cube trays as top military buyers conceded that they didn't require vendors to keep their prices down.

A Knight Ridder investigation found that the ice trays - among 122 separate food service items - were bought by the Department of Defense under a special contracting program that has cost the Pentagon 20 percent more than past purchases. "...

"This is a real slap in the face to the guy making $13,000 a year who is engaged in a firefight in Ramadi," committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., told Pentagon purchasing chiefs. "A fairly large amount of incompetence is embedded into the system."

Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C. said, "A wall of shame would be appropriate."

In the middle of the meeting, a congressional aide wheeled a 34-inch-tall steel gray refrigerator into the hearing room. Those in attendance giggled when the congressmen revealed that the refrigerator cost the Pentagon $22,797.

"That looks like it costs $99.99 at Lowe's," said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.

The Pentagon also spent $32,642.50 apiece for nine other types of small refrigerators that the manufacturer said it sells for $17,267 each. However, Lankford Sysco, the Maryland prime vendor that sold the refrigerators to the Pentagon, said it paid $29,475 for each refrigerator.

Lankford Sysco also sold the ice cube trays to the Pentagon. It said in a written statement Wednesday that the size of that order - two trays - added to its high cost. The company said it paid $12.50 for each tray and $8 apiece to ship them to the Pentagon's supply shop in Pennsylvania.

Lippert defended the prime vendor program as "providing high quality products at the lowest possible total cost to the taxpayer." But he added: "We made some errors in day-to-day execution of business."

Lippert said the new provisions "will significantly reduce, if not completely eliminate, any vulnerability to overpricing."

But even with the changes, Harston of Commercial and Marine Products said the DLA doesn't seem to be worrying about the prices it's charged. ....
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The Australian: Nuclear site left exposed at the back door [November 19, 2005]

"THE back door to one of the nation's prime terrorist targets is protected by a cheap padlock and a stern warning against trespassing or blocking the driveway.

When The Weekend Australian visited the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor site this week, a reporter and a photographer were able to park a one-tonne white van outside the back gate for more than half an hour, much more time than would be required to use a pair of bolt-cutters to snap the padlock and drive the 800m or so to the reactor or the more vulnerable cooling towers. "....

In Sydney, The Weekend Australian sought to test the security arrangements at Lucas Heights after it was revealed as a potential terrorist target during court proceedings on Monday when seven Sydney men faced terror-related offences.

The police statement of facts revealed that three of the men belonging to an alleged Sydney terror cell, Mazen Touma, Mohamed Ali Elomar and Abdul Rakib Hasan, were stopped by police near the Lucas Heights reactor in December last year.

They claimed they were in the area to ride a trail bike, but offered differing accounts of their activities that day when separately questioned. Police also said a lock for a gate to a reservoir near the reactor had recently been broken. ...

Soldiers for the Truth - Army Refuses To Confirm or Deny It Has Cancelled the Interceptor Body Armor Program

"DefenseWatch has learned that the Interceptor OTV body armor development program has been very quietly cancelled and that the Department of Defense will cease buying its home-grown body armor at the end of its current production run. A Department of the Army (DA) spokesman Wednesday declined to confirm the report. "

The Interceptor OTV body armor system (L.) was developed during the Nineties in a joint U.S. Army – United States Marine Corps development program by scientists and engineers working for the Department of the Army's U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick, Mass. Interceptor body armor was initially fielded about four years ago and is intended to protect its wearers against Level III threats presented by some small arms projectiles and shrapnel. As good as Interceptor armor is, numerous experts concluded, it is far less capable than another product sold on the open market.

A source close to the situation told DefenseWatch the decision to cancel the program after spending almost half-billion dollars buying the body armor carries with it heavy penalties for American war fighters and their Coalition partners as well as the American taxpayer. The same source said the order to terminate the program goes into effect when the current contracts are filled. As usual war fighters will ultimately bear the heaviest burden because the DOD currently does not have a body armor prototype or even a concept that is better than the Interceptor body armor already fielded, several sources confirmed.

An expert in contact with scientists at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick told DefenseWatch they are currently dealing with breakage problems with the Interceptor's ceramic armor (SAPI) plates including unconfirmed reports that up to 60 percent of its hard armor sent to the field has broken when its gets slammed around. ....

Army, Marine Corps recall 18,000 body armor vests

"The Army and Marine Corps yesterday issued a recall for more than 18,000 body armor vests that did not pass ballistic requirements when they were manufactured in 2000 and 2001.

The recall is in addition to the more than 5,000 Marine vests recalled in May after a Marine Corps Times investigation showed the vests had failed tests, yet were still approved and fielded to troops in the war zone.

The Corps learned of the problem after a Pentagon-initiated review of the ballistic strength of outer tactical vests that had returned from deployments to Iraq. After reviewing original test data from the vests' production lots, Army and Pentagon officials discovered eight lots were accepted and fielded to the Marine Corps despite originally failing tests, according to a written Marine Corps response to a Times' reporters' questions.

The 10,342 recalled Marine vests were fielded in 2000 and 2001 to units across the Corps, both active duty and Reserve, according to Corpswide message, MarAdmin 544/05, which was released yesterday."...
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ABC News: CIA's Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described

"Nov. 18, 2005 - Harsh interrogation techniques authorized by top officials of the CIA have led to questionable confessions and the death of a detainee since the techniques were first authorized in mid-March 2002, ABC News has been told by former and current intelligence officers and supervisors.

They say they are revealing specific details of the techniques, and their impact on confessions, because the public needs to know the direction their agency has chosen. All gave their accounts on the condition that their names and identities not be revealed. Portions of their accounts are corrobrated by public statements of former CIA officers and by reports recently published that cite a classified CIA Inspector General's report. "...

Sinclair Employees Claim They Were Ordered To Slant News

"Former and current news employees of Sinclair Broadcasting have described the owners' campaign to court powerful conservative legislators who responded by clearing away legal obstacles and thereby allow Sinclair to become the largest owner of TV stations in America. In interviews appearing in GQ magazine, the employees describe how they were subjected to political litmus tests before being hired, how they were ordered to report only 'good news' about Iraq, how an interview with President Bush was delivered to stations with orders to replace the image of the interviewer with that of the local anchor, and how stations were required to run a nightly right-wing editorial delivered by Sinclair exec Mark Hyman that once accused the late Peter Jennings of 'appearing to favor terrorists over America.' (One local producer said that when she used a graphic to identify Hyman's commentary as an 'editorial,' Sinclair officials ordered her to remove the offending word.) Former Sinclair Reporter Jon Leiberman, who was fired for protesting against a planned anti-Kerry documentary last year (Leiberman says he voted for Bush in both presidential elections) said that Sinclair co-owner David Smith once told him his news reports ought 'to look more like Mark's editorials.' In addition to providing ideological aid, the GQ article alleges, Smith and his three brothers have reportedly contributed $2.3 million to the campaigns of key Republican Congressmen"

[bth: the manipulation of the media is horrifying. The fourth estate seems to have lost its independence.]

Rumsfeld given Iraq withdrawal plan - Nov 18, 2005

"WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The top U.S. commander in Iraq has submitted a plan to the Pentagon for withdrawing troops in Iraq, according to a senior defense official.

Gen. George Casey submitted the plan to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. It includes numerous options and recommends that brigades -- usually made up of about 2,000 soldiers each -- begin pulling out of Iraq early next year.

The proposal comes as tension grows in both Washington and Baghdad following a call by a senior House Democrat to bring U.S. troops home and the deaths of scores of people by suicide bombers in two Iraqi cities. ..."

Unidentified attackers armed with machetes killed a woman and wounded another in central Sulawesi province, where tensions are high following a series

"Unidentified attackers armed with machetes killed a woman and wounded another in central Sulawesi province, where tensions are high following a series of attacks blamed on Islamic militants, police said Saturday.

Police said it was too soon to say whether the attack was linked to the simmering sectarian conflict in the Indonesian province, where open battles between Muslims and Christians killed about 1,000 people in 2001 and 2002.

The assailants were on motorbikes when they slashed the 20-year-old makeup seller in the neck as she walked home Friday in Palu, the capital of central Sulawesi, said police Lt. Col. Rais Adam.

Her companion was injured in the arm, he said.

The victims' religions were not immediately known."

Friday, November 18, 2005

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War and Piece: Excerpted ad lib piece from Murtha's prepared comments

"Silver Spring, Md.: One of the truly refreshing things about Rep. Murtha's statement that you linked to is that it sounds like it was actually written by him, and expressed his deeply held views, in stark contrast to releases crafted by 25 year old aides who typically marry cliched talking points with some statistics the Congressional Research Service ginned up for them. Is there any chance we'll ever return to such plain speaking from our leaders?
Dana Milbank: This may be missing from his statement. It's where he departed from the text and choked up. It's a bit halting but worth perusing:

[Murtha]: Now, let me personalize this thing for you. I go out to the hospitals every week. One of my first visits -- two young women. One was 22 or 23, had two children; lost her husband. One was 19. And they both went out to the hospitals to tell the people out there how happy they should be to be alive. In other words, they were reaching out because they felt their husbands had done their duty, but they wanted to tell them that they were so fortunate, even though they were wounded, to be alive.
I have a young fellow in my district who was blinded and he lost his foot. And they did everything they could for him at Walter Reed, then they sent him home.

His father was in jail; he had nobody at home -- imagine this: young kid that age -- 22, 23 years old -- goes home to nobody. V.A. did everything they could do to help him.

He was reaching out, so they sent him -- to make sure that he was blind, they sent him to John Hopkins. John Hopkins started to send him bills. Then the collection agency started sending bills.

Well, when I found out about it, you could imagine they stopped the collection agency and Walter Reed finally paid the bills. But imagine a young person being blinded, without a foot, and he's getting bills from a collection agency.

I saw a young soldier who lost two legs and an arm.

< MURTHA >: His dad was pushing him around.

I go to the mental ward. You know what they say to me? They've got battle fatigue. You know what they say? "We don't get nothing. We get nothing. We're just as bruised, just as injured as everybody else, but we don't even get a Purple Heart. We get nothing. We get shunted aside. We get looked at as if there's something wrong with us."

I saw a young woman from Notre Dame, basketball player, right- handed; lost her right hand. You know what she's worried about? She's worried about her husband, because he lost weight worrying about her.

These are great people. These soldiers and people who are serving, they're marvelous people.

I saw a Seabee lying there with three children. His mother and his wife were there. And he was paralyzed from the neck down. There were 18 of them killed in this one mortar attack -- and they were all crying because they knew what it would be like in the future.

I saw a Marine rub his boy's hand. He was a Marine in Vietnam, and his son had just come back from Iraq. And he said he wanted his brother to come home, is what the father said, because the kid couldn't speak. He was in a coma. Kept rubbing his hand.

He didn't want to come home. I told the Marine Corps to get him home.

There's one other kid lost both of his hands, blinded. I was praising him, saying how proud we were of him and how much we appreciate his service to the country. "Anything I can do for you?"

His mother said, "Get him a Purple Heart."

I said, "What do you mean, get him a Purple Heart?"

He had been wounded in taking care of bomblets -- these bomblets that they drop that they have to dismantle.

< MURTHA >: And he had been wounded and lost both his hands. The kid behind him was killed.

His mother said, because they were friendly bomblets, they wouldn't give him a Purple Heart.

I met with the commandant. I said, "If you don't give him a Purple Heart, I'll give him one of mine." And they gave him a Purple Heart.
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Statement by the White House Press Secretary on Congressman Murtha's Statement


Congressman Murtha is a respected veteran and politician who has a record of supporting a strong America. So it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party. The eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists. After seeing statement, we remain baffled -- nowhere does he explain how retreating from Iraq makes America safer. "

Compare the above piece of trashy commentary about one of the truly great Americans serving in the House of Representatives with this biography of his military service. It also should be mentioned that Murtha was the first Vietnam veteran elected to congress and remains there to this day. Here is an excerpt from his bio which can be found on his website.

Congressman Murtha is so well-respected for his first-hand knowledge of military and defense issues that he has been a trusted adviser to presidents of
both parties on military and defense issues and is one of the most effective advocates for the national defense in the country. He is ranking member and former chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, a Vietnam combat veteran and a retired Marine Corps colonel with 37 years of service, a rare combination of experience that enables him to understand defense and military operations from every perspective.

He learned about military service from the bottom up, beginning as a raw recruit when he left Washington and Jefferson College in 1952 to join the Marines out of a growing sense of obligation to his country during the Korean War. There he earned the American Spirit Honor Medal, awarded to fewer than one in 10,000 recruits. He rose through the ranks to become a drill instructor at Parris Island and was selected for Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia. He then was assigned to the Second Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. In 1959, Captain Murtha took command of the 34th Special Infantry Company, Marine Corps Reserves, in Johnstown. He remained in the Reserves after his discharge from active duty until he volunteered for Vietnam in 1966-67, receiving the Bronze Star with Combat "V", two Purple Hearts and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He remained in the Reserves until his retirement.

This first-hand knowledge of military and defense issues has made him a trusted
adviser to presidents of both parties and one of the most effective advocates for the national defense in Washington. At the request of Presidents and Speakers of the House, he served as chairman of delegations monitoring elections in the Philippines, El Salvador, Panama and Bosnia. He was awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal by the Marine Corps Commandant when he retired from the Marines.

I can tell you from personal experience that Congressman Murtha deeply cares about the Lance Corporals and PFCs of this country and that his statements are rock solid. For the White House to try to smear Congressman Murtha with the same brush as Michael Moore is almost laughable. Murtha is a patriot and has guts. When Murtha makes a statement that we need to be out of Iraq in six months because we don't have any more military objectives to achieve there, people had better pay attention.

Senior Democrat calls for U.S. troops to leave

"WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Warning that other global threats 'cannot be ignored,' Rep. John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, a leading adviser on defense issues, called Thursday for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

'U.S. and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq,' the senior lawmaker said. 'It's time for a change in direction.'

He said he believes all the forces could be redeployed over a six-month period.
Murtha, a former Marine Corps colonel and veteran of the Vietnam war, is the first senior lawmaker to call for an immediate withdrawal. Other critics of the war have asked President Bush to set up a timetable for withdrawal. (Watch Murtha's take on 'flawed policy wrapped in illusion' -- 8:11)

GOP lawmaker: Withdrawal 'a mistake'

Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, blasted Murtha for his comments.
'I am saddened by the comments made today by Rep. Murtha,' Hastert said in a statement. 'It is clear that as [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi's top lieutenant on armed services, Rep. Murtha and Democratic leaders have adopted a policy of cut-and-run. They would prefer that the United States surrender to the terrorists who would harm innocent Americans.'

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, described calls for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq 'a mistake,' arguing that leaving Iraq would make it appear that America cannot sustain prolonged military operations.

"I just wanted to remind our friends that now is the time for endurance," Hunter said. "Right now, in Iraq, we are changing the world. ... We're changing a very strategic part of the world in such a way that it will not be a threat to the United States and, in fact, will be an ally in the global war against terror."

A respected voice
Murtha's call for a withdrawal, however, could have a significant impact on the debate over the future of the Iraq war, as both Democrats and Republicans seek his advice on military and veterans' issues.

"A man of the stature of John Murtha -- that's a pretty heavy hit, I don't mind telling you," said North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones, sponsor of the House resolution that calls for a timetable for withdrawal. "He ... gives a lot of weight to this debate."

Jones said he thinks this will make "some Republicans think about their responsibility as relates to the war in Iraq" and that "this is a week that will help further the debate -- ignite the debate."

Another Democrat who voted for the war, Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee, said he had heard of Murtha's comments and wouldn't endorse his call for immediate withdrawal.

But, Ford said, "It's a powerful statement coming from arguably the most respected voice in the Congress," and it will be hard for the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney to dismiss these comments as easily as other Democratic criticisms on the war.

Presence 'uniting enemy against us'
Murtha, who has served in the House for over three decades, is the senior Democrat and former chairman of the Defense Appropriations Committee and voted in favor of the Iraq war. Now, he said, the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq are "uniting the enemy against us."

"Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty," he said. "Our military captured Saddam Hussein, captured or killed his closest associates, but the war continues to intensify."

He said the redeployment will give Iraqis the incentive to take control of their country.

The statement comes amid increasingly heated debate over the Iraq war and the intelligence leading up to the March 2003 invasion. A recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll also found the public increasingly dissatisfied with the Iraq war. The poll, released Monday, found that 60 percent of Americans said the war was not worth fighting, while 38 percent said it was worthwhile. (Full story)

Monday's poll found that 19 percent of Americans want to see the troops come home now and 33 percent said they wanted them home within a year. Only 38 percent said they should remain "as long as needed."

On Tuesday, the Senate also voted 79-19 for an amendment that called for progress reports on the Iraq war every 90 days. The amendment's purpose was "to clarify and recommend changes" to U.S. policy in Iraq. The vote was seen as a reflection of the increasing bipartisan dissatisfaction over the war's progress.

On Wednesday, Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed Democratic critics, calling allegations that the administration misled the country as "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city." (Full story)

Murtha took issue with the administration's counter-criticism, specifically President Bush's Veterans Day speech in which he said it is "deeply irresponsible to rewrite how that war began."

'Flawed policy'

"I resent the fact that on Veterans Day, they criticized Democrats for criticizing them," Murtha said. "This [the war] is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public knows it, and lashing out at critics doesn't help a bit. You've got to change the policy. That's what's going to help the American people. You need to change direction."

Murtha -- who recently visited Iraq's Anbar province -- said it is Congress' responsibility to speak out for the "sons and daughters" on the battlefield, and relayed several emotional stories from soldiers recovering at Bethesda's Walter Reed Medical Center.

"I tell you, these young folks are under intense activity over there, I mean much more intense than Vietnam," he said. "You never know when it's going to happen."

CNN's Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

Vital Military Jobs Go Unfilled, Study Says

"The military is falling far behind in its effort to recruit and re-enlist soldiers for some of the most vital combat positions in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new government report.

The report, completed by the Government Accountability Office, shows that the Army, National Guard and Marines signed up as few as a third of the Special Forces soldiers, intelligence specialists and translators that they had aimed for over the last year.

Both the Army and the Marines, for instance, fell short of their goals for hiring roadside bomb defusers by about 20 percent in each of the last two years. The Army Reserve, meanwhile, failed to fill about a third of its more than 1,500 intelligence analysts jobs.

And in the National Guard, there have been consistent shortages filling positions involving tanks, field artillery and intelligence.

The report found that, in all, the military, which is engaged in the most demanding wartime recruitment effort since the 1970's, had failed to fully staff 41 percent of its array of combat and noncombat specialties.

Officials with the accountability office, the independent investigative arm of Congress, found that some of the critical shortfalls had been masked by the overfilling of other positions in an effort to reach overall recruiting goals. As a result, the G.A.O. report questioned whether Congress had been given an accurate picture by the Pentagon of the military's ability to maintain the force it needs for Iraq and Afghanistan.

'The aggregate recruiting numbers are rather meaningless,' said Derek B. Stewart, the G.A.O.'s director of military personnel. 'For Congress and this nation to truly understand what's happening with the all-volunteer force and its ability to recruit and retain highly qualified people, you have to drill down into occupational specialties. And when you do, it's very revealing."...

[bth: So they are overstaffing some specialties to get recruitment figures in aggregate up and unable to fill key positions. The net result is a game whereby those that are recruited are re-routed to other specialties when they sign on the dotted line against their contractual arrangements and to deceive the public about the depth of problems in overall recruitment.]

Pentagon agrees to probe Feith's role in Iraq intel

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon's inspector general has agreed to review the prewar intelligence activities of former U.S. defense undersecretary Douglas Feith, a main architect of the Iraq war, congressional officials said on Thursday.

News of the Defense Department probe comes at a time of bitter political debate over whether President George W. Bush misled the American people with prewar intelligence. The increasingly biter dispute has pitted the president and his top advisers against lawmakers including some from Bush's own Republican Party.

Democrats have accused Feith of manipulating information from sources including discredited Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi to suggest links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, which masterminded the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Bush and other top administration officials cited alleged ties between Iraq and al Qaeda as a justification for military action. But the September 11 commission later reported that no collaborative relationship existed between the two.

The inspector general's office informed the Senate on October 19 that it would undertake a review after receiving separate requests from the Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, officials said.

Congressional officials expect the review to look at whether Feith and his staff bypassed the CIA by giving the White House uncorroborated intelligence that sought to make a case for war in the months leading up to the 2003 Iraq invasion."...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

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American Journalism - Collusion and the loss of innocence

The realization that the New York Times’ Judith Miller and the Washington Post’s Woodward lost their objectivity in the hallways of Washington’s power-elite – abandoned their journalistic responsibility to the American public to preserve distance between the press and the government – to seek the truth – to shine a light in dark places for all to see. The truth.

We witness dishevelment and lies. The death of innocents and innocence to a cynical, sneering cabal that somehow co-opted the most powerful journalists of our time. How can this be?

While men like Col Shaffer are destroyed by the Pentagon for revealing the truth about Able Danger the press seems almost inactive. And as I slowly realize that I bought the lies – drank the Kool-Aid – screwed-up and trusted our President. A betrayal of trust at the deepest level.

Of late my mind has returned again and again to the Three Days of the Condor when Turner confronts Higgins on a street in front of the New York Times building.

Turner: Do we have plans to invade the Middle East?
Higgins: Are you crazy?
Turner: Am I?
Higgins: Look, Turner…
Turner: Do we
have plans?
Higgins: No. Absolutely not. We have
games. That's all. We play games. What if? How many men? What would it
take? Is there a cheaper way to destabilize a regime? That's what we're paid to
. . .

Higgins: Fact is, there was nothing wrong
with the plan. Oh, the plan was alright, the plan would've worked.
Turner: Boy, what is it with you people? You think
not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?
Higgins: No. It's simple economics. Today it's oil, right?
In ten or fifteen years, food. Plutonium. And maybe even sooner. Now, what do
you think the people are gonna want us to do then?
Turner: Ask them.
Higgins: Not now — then! Ask 'em when they're running out. Ask 'em when there's no heat in their homes and they're cold. Ask 'em when their engines stop. Ask 'em when people who have never known hunger start going hungry. You wanna know something? They won't want us to ask 'em. They'll just want us to get it for 'em!
Turner: Boy, have you found a home.

[Turner and Higgins stop in front of The New York Times.]
Turner: I told 'em a story. You play games; I told 'em
a story.
Higgins: Oh, you… you poor, dumb son of a bitch.
You've done more damage than you know.
Turner: I hope so.
. . .

Higgins: Hey Turner! How do you know they'll print it? You can take a walk… but how far if they don't print it?
Turner: They'll print it.
Higgins: How
do you know?

Among Insurgents in Iraq, Few Foreigners Are Found

"BAGHDAD -- Before 8,500 U.S. and Iraqi soldiers methodically swept through Tall Afar two months ago in the year's largest counterinsurgency offensive, commanders described the northern city as a logistics hub for fighters, including foreigners entering the country from Syria, 65 miles to the west.

'They come across the border and use Tall Afar as a base to launch attacks across northern Iraq,' Col. H.R. McMaster, commander of the Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which led the assault, said in a briefing the day before it began."

When the air and ground operation wound down in mid-September, nearly 200 insurgents had been killed and close to 1,000 detained, the military said at the time. But interrogations and other analyses carried out in recent weeks showed that none of those captured was from outside Iraq. According to McMaster's staff, the 3rd Armored Cavalry last detained a foreign fighter in June....

The relative importance of the foreign component of Iraq's two-year-old insurgency, estimated at between 4 and 10 percent of all guerrillas, has been a matter of growing debate in military and intelligence circles, U.S. and Iraqi officials and American commanders said. Top U.S. military officials here have long emphasized the influence of groups such as al Qaeda in Iraq, an insurgent network led by a Jordanian, Abu Musab Zarqawi. But analysts say the focus on foreign elements is also an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the insurgency in the eyes of Iraqis, by portraying it as terrorism foisted on the country by outsiders.

"Both Iraqis and coalition people often exaggerate the role of foreign infiltrators and downplay the role of Iraqi resentment in the insurgency," said Anthony H. Cordesman, a former Pentagon official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who is writing a book about the Iraqi insurgency.

"It makes the government's counterinsurgency efforts seem more legitimate, and it links what's going on in Iraq to the war on terrorism," he continued. "When people go out into battle, they often characterize enemies in the most negative way possible. Obviously there are all kinds of interacting political prejudices they can bring out by blaming outsiders."

In weekly briefings for reporters in Baghdad, Maj. Gen Rick Lynch regularly displays slides showing the face of Zarqawi, whose organization has asserted responsibility for many high-profile attacks. Mug shots of the Jordanian adorn virtually every barracks and checkpoint in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.

"We do believe that the major players are in Zarqawi's network, and that's why we're focusing our operations against him," Lynch said in a recent interview. "We believe that the most lethal piece of the insurgency here is the terrorist and foreign fighters. And it's because of the level of violence they're willing to go to to accomplish their objective, which is to derail the democratic process and discredit the Iraqi government."

U.S. and Iraqi officials have long maintained that a key to stabilizing the country is preventing an alliance between foreign fighters and Iraqis who might be amenable to pursuing politics instead of violence to accomplish their goals. But as the country's nascent political process has moved forward -- a transitional government has been elected and a constitutional referendum held so far this year, and parliamentary elections are scheduled for next month -- there is little evidence that the native insurgency has diminished.

In much of the country, including the north and center, commanders say, the insurgency is led and populated almost entirely by Iraqis, many of them former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, who do not work closely with Zarqawi's group. Commanders there say Iraqi insurgents are largely responsible for the roadside bombings, some involving armor-penetrating weapons, that have been responsible for roughly half of the U.S. combat deaths in recent months.

"The foreign fighters' attacks tend to be more spectacular, but local nationals, the Saddamists, the Iraqi rejectionists, are much more problematic," said Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Taluto, commander of the Army's 42nd Infantry Division. His unit, which lost 59 soldiers during its tour here, was based in the northern city of Tikrit, Hussein's home town, before transferring the region to the 101st Airborne Division this month.

Al Qaeda in Iraq maintains a presence in the region, he said, "but they're not having much of an impact. Their message is not resonating."

In Washington, a senior State Department official called foreign fighters "an important element to the insurgency," but added that "it would be a mistake to imagine that this isn't a largely Iraqi-based operation with critical support from foreign elements."

A Western diplomat in Baghdad, who spoke on the condition that he not be named, said that foreign fighters remained the coalition's "greatest concern" and that publicizing their role helps the Iraqi government pressure nations whose citizens are traveling to Iraq to fight. "It may be overstated by some, but that does not mean they don't exist," he said. "It is critical to get the help from countries where these people come from, to stop the flow."

Cordesman said the relative influence of foreign and Iraqi elements of the insurgency is difficult to measure because accurate numbers are hard to come by. In a report published in September, he and a co-author said they believed that 4 to 10 percent of the roughly 30,000 insurgents in Iraq are foreigners, many of them adherents of a radical branch of Islam known as Salafism....

Correspondent John Ward Anderson in Baghdad and staff writer Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.

[bth: I am coming to the sad conclusion that the foreign terrorist elements in Iraq are being exaggerated by the US government in order to link Iraq with the War on Terror (Osama Bin Laden) and by the Iraqi government in order to maintain the US in the fight -- namely fighting their civil war.]

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Shadows - NYC -9-11 Posted by Picasa

An Incomplete Investigation - Why did the 9/11 Commission ignore "Able Danger"?

..."Recent revelations from the military intelligence operation code-named 'Able Danger' have cast light on a missed opportunity that could have potentially prevented 9/11. Specifically, Able Danger concluded in February 2000 that military experts had identified Mohamed Atta by name (and maybe photograph) as an al Qaeda agent operating in the U.S. Subsequently, military officers assigned to Able Danger were prevented from sharing this critical information with FBI agents, even though appointments had been made to do so. Why?

There are other questions that need answers. Was Able Danger intelligence provided to the 9/11 Commission prior to the finalization of its report, and, if so, why was it not explored? In sum, what did the 9/11 commissioners and their staff know about Able Danger and when did they know it?

The Able Danger intelligence, if confirmed, is undoubtedly the most relevant fact of the entire post-9/11 inquiry. "...

[bth: this article from Freeh the former head of the FBI should be read in full.]

Richard Cohen: Bush can't handle the truth

..."But far more important is what this would mean in foreign policy from here on out. Repeatedly in his speech, Bush mentioned Syria, Iran and North Korea - Syria above all. If push comes to shove there, it would be nice to have confidence in American intelligence and the case for possibly widening the war. If we are to go to the mat with North Korea or the increasingly alarming Iran, then, once again, it would be wonderful to have the confidence we once had in the intelligence community. Is there or is there not a threatening nuclear weapons program on the horizon?

At the moment, no one can have confidence in the Bush administration. Almost three years into the war, the world is not safer, the Middle East is less stable and Americans and others die for a mission that is not what it once was called: a fight for democracy. It would be nice, as well as important, to know how we got into this mess - nice for us, important for the President. It wasn't that he had the wrong facts. It was that the right ones didn't matter. "

[bth: this editorial is worth a full read.]

Four Australians detained in Syria

"FOUR Australian women have been detained while trying to board a plane in Syria, reportedly after gun parts were found inside a child's toy.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) said two women from Victoria and two from NSW were with two Iraqi women when they were detained at Damascus airport on Tuesday.

All six were of Iraqi origin, the department said.

A DFAT spokesman would not confirm media reports that the group was detained after a disassembled gun was found inside a toy being carried by a child with the women.

The ABC has quoted a Syrian police source and a diplomatic source as saying the women entered the airport in the Syrian capital with a child.

They said the women were detained after the gun parts were found in a toy the child was holding."

The women were reportedly trying to board a flight bound for Australia....
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Letter shows al Qaeda hurting for cash: official

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A recent letter attributed by the United States to top al Qaeda official Ayman al-Zawahri is a fresh sign the militant network is facing financial troubles, a senior U.S. Treasury official said on Wednesday.

'There's ... a passage in there where Zawahri says to Zarqawi: I'm out of money. Send me money. I don't have any money,' said Stuart Levey, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, referring to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.

'I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy, so I look at that as a good thing. Zawahri's out of money. Glass-half-empty people would say, well, he thinks Zarqawi has got so much money he's got it to spare,' he said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation think tank.

U.S. intelligence officials released the purported letter from Zawahri to Zarqawi last month, but al Qaeda's wing in Iraq rejected it as a fabrication.

The letter has Zawahri telling Zarqawi: 'We need a payment while new (financial supply) lines are being opened. So, if you are capable of sending a payment of approximately one hundred thousand (dollars), we'll be very grateful to you.'

U.S security officials have repeatedly said they are confident of the letter's authenticity, but some U.S. terrorism experts say its style and some of the content -- including the request for money -- made them concerned it might be a fake.

Levey said while he could not reveal specifics, there was other anecdotal evidence that tough measures to curb terrorism funding had put the screws on al Qaeda as well as Palestinian militant group Hamas over the past few months.

The undersecretary said in May that al Qaeda and Hamas were having difficulties collecting, transferring and storing funds. Hamas has told Reuters it has been hit hard by a drop in revenue following a Saudi crackdown on the abuse of charities and other avenues of financing.

"Anecdotally what we're seeing is that we are having a real impact on al Qaeda and Hamas, both in terms of putting pressure on them financially but also in terms of creating deterrents both for donors to give money to them and how they're able to move money," Levey said in the Wednesday speech.

The United States has taken a series of steps since the September 11, 2001, attacks -- including freezing funds, requiring banks to report more suspicious transactions and making informal cash brokers register with authorities -- to make it harder for militants to abuse the U.S. financial system.

[bth: how to sort out the contradictions? On the one hand we are hearing of millions more going into Afghanistan from the Taliban and definitely experiencing an increase in violent activity. On the other we are hearing about distrupted supplies of cash per his real/fake letter. My guess is that Zarqawi has been better able to tap sympathetic arab money sources for his violent struggle in Iraq while Osama et al sit relatively quietly in Pakistan taking money from religious charities and Pakistani hosts stretched with their own financial wows following the earthquakes in that region. My guess is that money flows are shifting rather than drying up. Also I'd suspect that Saudi Arabia will be threatened with civil unrest or oil supply threats in coming months in order to get the bribes flowing to Osama and gang once more. It is a curious note isn't it that no oil wells, pipelines or refineries have been touched in Saudi Arabia or the UAE while pipelines are constantly being attacked in Iraq. Also it may be that the Afghan resurgence cash and violence has to do with a good opium crop as much as anything else.]

Al Qaeda Boosts Afghan Activity, Official Says

"KABUL, Afghanistan - Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network has increased its activities in Afghanistan, smuggling in explosives, high-tech weapons and millions of dollars in cash for a resurgent terror campaign, the defense minister said Wednesday.

A number of Arabs and other foreigners have entered Afghanistan to launch suicide attacks, Defense Minister Rahim Wardak said in an interview with The Associated Press.

His comments came after an unprecedented series of suicide assaults � the latest on Wednesday when a bomber attacked a U.S. military convoy, killing three civilians"

"There has been ... more money and more weapons flowing into their hands in recent months," he said. "We see similarities between the type of attacks here and in Iraq."

Wardak said Al Qaeda militants and other foreign Islamic extremists had teamed up with local Taliban rebels.

"There is no doubt that there is a connection between Taliban and Al Qaeda and some other fundamentalists," he said. "In most cases, the suicide bombers are foreigners ... from the Middle East, from neighboring countries. ... It is a new trend."

But he said not all the suicide assailants were extremists and that some had been duped into carrying explosives.

[bth: Our high crude oil prices have sent a surge of new money to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. This money seems to be matriculating to the Philippines, Australia, Bangladesh, Iraq and Afghanistan. It doesn't seem to be arriving to earthquake victims in Pakistan however. Pakistan is desparate for financial help in its earthquake ravaged regions. Why aren't these muslim charities doing Gods work there with the petro-dollars we are shipping to Saudi Arabia like never before?]

Philippines -- Al-Qaeda funding Abus, RSM

"A CONFESSED terrorist whose group allegedly plotted bomb attacks in Metro Manila has admitted that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda international terror network was directly funding the Abu Sayyaf bandit group and had bankrolled the activities of his own group, the Rajah Solaiman Movement.

Malik Alimuddin last week turned state witness in the case against his fellow members in the RSM, a group of Christians who had converted to Islam.

He was arrested in a police raid last month along with RSM founder Ahmad Santos (also known by the aliases Hilarion del Rosario Santos/Abu Hamza/Abu Hamid al-Luzon).

In a sworn statement to state prosecutors, Alimuddin said he had maintained an account in the state-run Land Bank of the Philippines where money from the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah Southeast Asian terror group and other "foreign" supporters was being wired to finance their operations."...
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National Security Adviser was Woodward's source, attorneys say

"National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley was the senior administration official who told Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA officer, attorneys close to the investigation and intelligence officials tell RAW STORY."...

Sheehan Pleads Not Guilty to Protest Charge

"WASHINGTON - War protester Cindy Sheehan and several others return to court Thursday for the second day of trials on misdemeanor charges of demonstrating without a permit outside the White House.

The protesters, who are being tried separately in one proceeding, took turns questioning police and arguing their cases Wednesday afternoon in front of U.S. Magistrate Alan Kay.

Charges against at least nine were dismissed, leaving about 30 protesters facing possible fines but no jail time if found guilty by Kay. The maximum fine each faces is $500.

Before the trial began, Sheehan announced plans to return to Texas next week to resume her anti-war protest near President Bush's Texas ranch, despite new county ordinances banning roadside camping.

Sheehan, who is expected to testify before Kay Thursday, was arrested with about 300 other anti-war activists Sept. 26 as they wrapped up a weekend of protests in Washington. It was the city's largest anti-war demonstration since the Vietnam War.

'If we stick together as an American people we can bring down the war criminals that are running our country right now,' Sheehan told reporters at the end of the first day of the trial."

Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son Casey, a soldier, was killed in Iraq last year, and a dozen supporters are prepared to be arrested when they return to their makeshift campsite along the road leading to Bush's ranch, where he is expected to spend the holiday.

In August, Sheehan spent 26 days camped near Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch, where he was spending a working vacation.

A month later, McLennan County, Texas, commissioners approved new ordinances prohibiting parking on parts of 14 roads near the ranch — roughly a 5-mile radius — and banning camping in any county ditch. The laws also ban portable toilets in ditches.

[bth: The anti-war movement is being forced into active civil disobedience which will likely results in arrests and jail around Thanksgiving. Banning parking for a five mile radius - incredible. When did this country abandon the notion of free speech?]

American Faces Charge of Graft for Work in Iraq - New York Times

"In what is expected to be the first of a series of criminal charges against officials and contractors overseeing the rebuilding of Iraq, an American has been charged with paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to American occupation authorities and their spouses to obtain construction contracts, according to a complaint unsealed late yesterday."

The man, Philip H. Bloom, who controlled three companies that did work in Iraq in the multibillion-dollar reconstruction effort, was charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, conspiracy to launder money and interstate transportation of stolen property, all in connection with obtaining up to $3.5 million in reportedly fraudulent contracts.

The complaint, unsealed in the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia, also cites two unnamed co-conspirators who worked in the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American administration that governed Iraq when the contracts were awarded in early 2004. These were the officials who, with their spouses, allegedly received the payments.

"This is the first case, but it won't be the last," said Jim Mitchell, a spokesman for the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent office. Mr. Mitchell said as many as a dozen related cases had been referred to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.

Mr. Bloom's lawyer, Robert Mintz of Newark, said he still knew little about the case beyond what was in the complaint. "The complaint and the supporting affidavit were unsealed for the first time today and we're in the process of reviewing the allegations," he said.

Mr. Bloom, who lived in Romania for many years, appeared in court yesterday, Mr. Mintz said. He was arrested recently at Newark Liberty International Airport, the lawyer added.

The complaint says that in order to obtain lucrative reconstruction contracts, Mr. Bloom paid at least $200,000 a month to an unspecified number of coalition authority officials, including the two co-conspirators and their spouses. Neither co-conspirator is named in the complaint, although it indicates that one is cooperating with the prosecution.

The other co-conspirator, the complaint says, held the position of comptroller and financing officer for "C.P.A. South Central Region in Iraq," which included Hillah. This person controlled $82 million "to be used for payment of contract services rendered in Al Hillah, Iraq, including contracts awarded to Bloom," the complaint asserts.

A United States government official said this person was named Robert J. Stein.

The complaint says the contracts Mr. Bloom obtained "were purported to be for the rebuilding and stabilization of Iraq" in Hillah and Karbala, a holy city in the south. The work included "the renovation of the Karbala Public Library; demolition work related to, and construction of, the Al Hillah Police Academy; the upgrading of security of the Al Hillah Police Academy, and the construction of the Regional Tribal Democracy Center."

With the assistance of the alleged co-conspirators and others, the document says, Mr. Bloom submitted multiple bids on the same contracts, using the names of different companies that were either controlled by Mr. Bloom or did not exist. Once there were sufficient bids to satisfy United States government regulations, the co-conspirators, including Mr. Stein, would ensure that the contract went to one of the companies, the complaint says.

"The value of these contracts ranged up to $498,900," the complaint says. "Co-conspirator 1's approval authority for awarding contracts was limited to contracts less than $500,000."

The complaint contends that the monthly bribes to coalition officials have been corroborated by an Iraqi witness, one of the conspirators "and other persons with personal knowledge of the payments, and through reviewing various financial records."

In one case Mr. Bloom, "who paid the aforementioned bribes, kickbacks and gratuities," the complaint says, "caused the transfer of funds totaling more than $267,000 from foreign bank accounts to accounts in the United States in the name of Co-conspirator 1 and/or his spouse." Other transfers came from banks in Kuwait, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Romania to accounts controlled by the alleged conspirators, the complaint says. Some transfers also went to jewelers, automobile dealerships and a realty firm, all apparently for the benefit of the fellow conspirators.

"I believe that the financial and monetary transactions described above are part of a conspiracy to violate United States law," wrote Patrick McKenna Jr., a special agent for the inspector general's office, as part of the complaint.

Little information was immediately available about Mr. Bloom or Mr. Stein. But the inspector general previously noted that in the rush to start reconstruction projects in south central Iraq, contracts were handled sloppily and oversight was minimal.

The charges are likely to fuel further criticisms of the rebuilding effort in Iraq, which has largely failed to live up to the hopes of United States officials. Large amounts of the money appropriated for rebuilding have been spent on securing projects and repairing sabotage, both results of insurgent activity. The effort has also been criticized for failing to take into account the problems faced by any building project in Iraq, including the difficulty of visiting project sites.

[bth: while we send young men to war, slithering in the back room where the money is, guys like Mr. Philip H. Bloom and government officials like Mr. Robert J. Stein find a way to make a buck - the country or its people be damned. I venture to say it will be one of the great under reported stories of the month. As the Iraqi reconstruction funds begin to run out and projects are left half completed and the Iraqis are expected to fund them themselves, one wonders how Chalabi will get more money from the US Congress or Bush Administration. The only organization that seems more corrupt than the CPA is the Iraqi government itself.]

Hunt For 2,000 Suicide Bombers

"Police in Bangladesh are hunting about 2,000 potential suicide bombers from three banned militant groups."....

Howard unmoved by militant's threat.

"Prime Minister John Howard says he will not be swayed by a videotaped warning that Australia faces more terrorism attacks unless it withdraws its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Indonesian police say the militant in the video is Bali bombings suspect Noordin Top.

The militant says Australia is being led into darkness and misfortune by Mr Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

Mr Howard is not concerned by the personal reference.

'It's not uncommon in these things for particular reference to be made to leaders,' he said.

He has dismissed the suggestion that Australia's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has made it a terrorist target.

'We were a target long before Iraq,' he said.

'If anybody thinks that by pulling out of Iraq tomorrow we would dramatically and markedly reduce the terrorist threat they don't understand the mind of terrorists.'

Mr Howard says withdrawing from Iraq might actually increase the risk of a terrorist attack.

'There are some who believe ... to withdraw in the name of reducing the level of risk might in fact increase it because it would be seen as a sign of weakness and a sign that you could actually bring about changes in government policy if you lifted the threat level high enough,' he said...."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

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Analysis: CIA camps row heats up in Europe

"BRUSSELS, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Just when the United States thought the transatlantic row over possible Central Intelligence Agency terrorist detention camps in Europe had blown over, the European Parliament followed the Council of Europe's decision to launch an investigation into the allegations by holding a rowdy debate on the issue Monday.

Washington-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch caused a diplomatic storm earlier this month by publishing flight records showing that a CIA-commissioned Boeing 737 transported suspected al-Qaida terrorists from Afghanistan and Iraq to Poland and Romania in 2002 and 2003. The allegations were corroborated by a Washington Post story that revealed details of eight 'black sites' -- as the covert prisons are referred to in classified White House and CIA documents -- in South Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Fresh allegations are putting more pressure on the Pentagon -- and EU governments -- to come clean about the affair. The New York Times reported Monday that Spanish police have opened a criminal investigation into reports that Majorca was used as a stopover for CIA planes transporting terrorist suspects to internment camps. And according to Swedish news agency TT, at least two airplanes hired by the agency have landed at Swedish airports. "...

McCain: Pentagon spending 'unsustainable'

"WASHINGTON, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Republican Sen. John McCain Tuesday said the massive Pentagon budget for the war in Iraq can't be sustained because of the need to replace weapons.

'We have unsustainable defense spending,' said McCain, a chief proponent of military acquisition reform. 'Refurbishment or replacement sooner than planned is putting further pressure on DOD's investment accounts. We cannot sustain the number of weapons programs that are in the program of record.'

The Arizona Republican said the Defense Department spent $291 billion on the top five weapons systems in 2000 but the top five weapons systems in 2005 cost nearly $550 billion. One of those top five systems, the FA-22, has seen unit costs increase almost 190 percent,' he said.

The Pentagon's budget for 2006 was $441 billion with a $50 billion fund to pay for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, which cost a combined $5.5 billion a month. "
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Torture Alleged at Ministry Site Outside Baghdad - New York Times

"BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 15 - Iraq's government said Tuesday that it had ordered an urgent investigation of allegations that many of the 173 detainees American troops discovered over the weekend in the basement of an Interior Ministry building in a Baghdad suburb had been tortured by their Iraqi captors. A senior Iraqi official who visited the detainees said two appeared paralyzed and others had some of the skin peeled off their bodies by their abusers."...

The detention center was discovered by chance late on Sunday evening, when troops of the Third Infantry Division, investigating a mother's complaint about a missing 15-year-old boy, led Iraqi soldiers in forcing their way past Interior Ministry guards at the building in Jadriya, a densely populated suburb less than a mile south across the Tigris River from the Green Zone compound that is the seat of American and Iraqi power.

Only a half-mile further south is the headquarters of the Shiite religious party that is the parent of the Badr group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, known as Sciri, which has wide influence in Jadriya.

American officers said the guards had told them that only 40 men were held in the building.

At his news conference, Mr. Jaafari said the troops who stormed the building found "signs of malnourishment" among the 173 men and teenage boys, and "there was some talk that they had been tortured."...

An Interior Ministry statement said flatly that torture had occurred and that "instruments of torture," which it did not describe, were found in the building.

The ministry's under secretary for security, Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, was similarly blunt. "They were being abused," he told Reuters. "This is totally unacceptable treatment and it is denounced by the minister and everyone in Iraq."

In a CNN interview, he was more graphic. "I saw signs of physical abuse by brutal beating, one or two detainees were paralyzed and some had skin peeling off various parts of their bodies," he said.

The dismay among American officers involved in the operations on Sunday was evident from a report on Tuesday in The Los Angeles Times, which on Monday carried the first report of the raid in Jadriya. In its report on Tuesday, the newspaper quoted Brig. Gen. Karl Horst of the Third Infantry Division, the commander of the raid, as saying that there would be more operations directed at uncovering secret detention centers. "We're going to hit every single one of them," he said....

[bth: If I'm not mistaken, these torture chambers are run by our allies who were trained by Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen. Good for the 3rd ID for raiding this place. We need to be on the right side of this issue instead of trading Sunni torturers for Shia ones.]

Who could possibly have thought 4 years ago that Bill Clinton would be more trusted than George W. Bush? Posted by Picasa - Skewed intelligence or not, war was a mistake

..."If any success is to come from Iraq now - and that remains a possibility - it depends on staying until a stable government is elected and Iraqi forces can manage for themselves. This is what Bush wants, but that commitment will require time and lives, which demands public support. Bush's only chance of gaining that support is to admit what's obvious beyond the White House walls: That the war was a mistake. Only then can he credibly redefine the mission and earn broad support.

Historical analogies can be misleading, but there's a lesson in one: President Kennedy's response to the Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961 - the failed plan to use Cuban exiles to invade their homeland and start an uprising. Kennedy took full responsibility for the fiasco.

The result? Kennedy's popular support rose, helping his difficult ensuing tangles with Cuba in the wider Cold War. Bush's portrayal of the Iraq war as part of a wider anti-terror struggle, every bit as consequential as the Cold War, is yet another reason to follow Kennedy's example. And to prove, yet again, that it is an American trait to be forgiving - and to increase support when mistakes are faced up to honestly."

FEMA Tells 150,000 in Hotels to Exit In 15 Days

"The Federal Emergency Management Agency yesterday warned an estimated 150,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees living in government-subsidized hotels that they have until Dec. 1 to find other housing before it stops paying for their rooms.

The announcement effectively starts the clock ticking toward a new exodus of Gulf Coast storm victims who have been living rent-free in 5,700 hotels in 51 states and U.S. territories under the $273 million program."...

[bth: pushing 150,000 people into the streets is an interesting thought for FEMA. I wonder what FEMA has done with the cruise ships they paid $75 million for for 6 months?]
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The 'No Exit' Strategy

..."I believe the United States should begin drawing down forces in Iraq next year,' Hagel said at a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations. 'The course of events in Iraq has laid bare the failure to prepare for, plan for and understand the broad consequences and implications of the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein and occupy Iraq.'

Though he initially voted for the war, in June Hagel said 'the White House is completely disconnected from reality' and 'the reality is that we're losing in Iraq.' Tuesday Hagel spoke in more measured tones and offered few specifics on how to get out, rejecting any timetable. But he was clearly irritated by the Administration's insistence that criticisms of its Iraq policy 'send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will,' as President Bush remarked on Veterans Day.

'The Bush Administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and elsewhere and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them,' Hagel noted midway through his remarks. 'Suggesting that to challenge or criticize policy is undermining and hurting our troops is not democracy, nor what this country has stood for, for over 200 years.... To question your government is not unpatriotic--to not question your government is unpatriotic.'

Hagel, a Vietnam vet with two Purple Hearts, often garners comparisons to another Senate war hero, John McCain. But on this issue, Hagel and McCain couldn't be further apart. McCain wants US troops to stay in Iraq indefinitely. Hagel believes the way forward in Iraq is to find a way out.

'Congress has been absent from this debate,' Hagel said. After listing the failures of the Bush Administration, he asked, 'Where is the accountability?' Events Tuesday proved how far some in the Senate have come, and how far others still have to go."

Think Progress - Phase II Report Being Stonewalled, Senators Charge

"Yesterday was the deadline for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to report its progress on Phase II of the investigation into the administration's use of pre-war intelligence. The prognosis is not good, according to Senators Rockefeller, Levin and Feinstein. They have released a letter, and here is its main finding:
At this time, we are unable to provide an estimated completion date of the Phase II investigation given the substantial amount of work that remains to be done.

This assessment differs greatly from the one offered by Sen. Pat Roberts on November 1st: "It isn't like it's been delayed. As a matter of fact, it's been ongoing. As a matter of fact, we have been doing our work on Phase 2." In reality, as the letter makes clear at various points, the work of the committee has been stonewalled by an unwillingness on the part of conservatives to investigate the administration. The Senators report that the investigation has been unable to proceed due to the following issues:

(1) Chairman Roberts is unwilling to investigate the "Cabal" inside the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans because he is deferring to the administration to investigate itself.

(2) Roberts has been unwilling to allow for "additional interviews and documents" to conduct a thorough inquiry.

Also, it is important to note that while Bush continues to falsely claim that the Senate Intelligence Committee found the administration had not "manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war," the Intel Committee Senators say just the opposite:

The Committee staff work on two other sections of the investigation is not finished: whether public statements were substantiated by intelligence information and the use of intelligence information provided by the Iraqi National Congress

Copy of Rockefeller, Levin, and Feinstein letter here.

[bth: please follow the link to "Think Progress" for a full text with hyperlinks to original sources. Net result is that the Roberts lied on November 1st about providing the results of Phase 2 of his report on Nov. 14th. He lied to end the secret session called in the Senate by the Democrats. This would tend to confirm the worst assumptions about the cooking of intelligence leading up to the Iraq war.]

Building the Empire State Building Posted by Picasa

Document Says Oil Chiefs Met With Cheney Task Force

" White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 -- something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress.

The document, obtained this week by The Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated."...

[bth: personally, I don't have a problem with them meeting with the Vice President or to discuss a national energy policy. What is interesting is that they all apparently lied to congress about it as the article goes on to point out. The documents that finally showed who was at the meeting are the secret service entry logs. The companies executives all denied that they were there but if you note, they testified to congress last week but not under oath which was a convenience offered to them by the Republicans. The arrogance of these guys before the Congress was hard to stomach.]

Afghan Rebels 'offer bounty for foreigners'

"REBELS in Afghanistan offer cash bonuses for the murder of foreigners and civilians working for foreign forces or companies, a leading German expert on terrorism said today.

'In the province of Khost, on the border with Pakistan, the murder of a civilian working for the US forces or for the Afghan government is worth $US250 ($343),' Rolf Tophoven, of the Essen-based Institute for the Research of Terrorism and Security Policy, said.

The reward could rise up to $US1700 ($2338) in some cases, Mr Tophoven said, adding that the money came from 'Arab sources'."...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I wonder how I can get one of those Pentagon fuel contracts? Posted by Picasa

New street signs being prepared for Kirkuk Air Force Base Posted by Picasa

Pentagon's Fuel Deal Is Lesson in Risks of Graft-Prone Regions

"WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 - Soon after the American invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, the Pentagon opened an air base in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and made a deal to get jet fuel from the only two suppliers in the country. The companies just happened to be linked to relatives of the country's president"

Now the two businesses are under scrutiny by Kyrgyz prosecutors and F.B.I. agents who are looking into whether the president at the time, Askar Akayev, and his family pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars, partly from Pentagon fuel contracts, before he was ousted this year.

The family's involvement at the base, a critical site for refueling Air Force aircraft flying over Afghanistan, is a story of everyday cronyism in an impoverished country where the coming of the Americans was seen as a financial windfall for the well connected.

But the case also illustrates the risks of alliances with nations that are unstable and rife with corruption. Mr. Akayev's abrupt departure in March has put the Pentagon in an awkward bind. It needs continued access to the base, but the $207 million spent on fuel contracts has created resentment among the country's new leaders, some of whom contend that the United States knew where the proceeds were going.

"We are currently the only country in the region willing to provide the United States with an air base," said Zamira Sydykova, the country's ambassador to Washington. "Over the last four years the U.S. has paid little in the way of rent. Yet at the same time, the U.S. was paying inflated fuel prices to companies stolen by the family of the former president."...
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Arianna Huffington: Chillin' with Chalabi: My Journey into the Surreal

"Ahmad Chalabi's Washington visit hit the top floor today, as he met with Don Rumsfeld in the morning and Dick Cheney in the afternoon.

No official word on what they discussed -- but I got a sneak peek Friday night over the course of a surrealistic four-hour dinner with Chalabi at Megu, a Japanese restaurant in Tribeca."

...I arrived at Megu at 11:30 and was led past a phalanx of American security guards (provided, I was told, by the U.S. State Department), to a small, private room where Chalabi, his daughter Tamara (a Harvard PhD who lives in Baghdad and works closely with her father), and a half-dozen members of his entourage were seated. Also there were ABC news investigative reporter Chris Isham and his wife Jennifer, president of the Tribeca Film Festival. Isham has known Chalabi since 1988. When they first met in Washington, Chalabi was trying to convince U.S. officials to force Saddam out of power -- but those were the days when Saddam was still our friend.

Chalabi looked downright laid-back in a multi-colored sweater that can only be described as Cosby-esque. His group was an hour into their dinner when I arrived, with the remnants of a sushi meal spread across the table. Most were drinking sake but Chalabi (who doesn't drink) and I (who wanted to keep my wits about me) stuck to green tea.

Everything about him suggested a man in full: smart, articulate, and, above all, totally present. His focus never flagged -- not even at 3:30 in the morning when we said good-bye.

His Master of the Bazaar manner reminded me of former Rep. Lee Hamilton's description of Chalabi as the best lobbyist he'd ever met -- other than legendary Hollywood lobbyist Jack Valenti.

But he is also a study in contradiction, at one moment talking like the only power broker who could bring Shiites, Kurds, and Sunnis -- even former Baathists -- together, and then at the next moment coming across as a virtuoso victim, complaining that the CIA is trying to make him a scapegoat for all the prewar intelligence failures. "They even tried to stick Curveball on me," he told me, reflecting on his long and bitter history with the agency.

As I said, it was a surreal night -- made even more so when my cell phone rang at 12:30 a.m. It was John Cusack, who had come with me to the Council on Foreign Relations to hear Chalabi speak earlier in the day.

...The Tour kept being interrupted with the leitmotif of the evening: "You must come to Baghdad," he would say. "Not to the Green Zone -- to Baghdad itself."

Every time he said that, I couldn't help but flash on the horrific picture that had been on the front page of that morning's New York Times, showing a Baghdad restaurant blown up by suicide bombers. The accompanying description of human limbs thrown into the street by the explosion and a scalp hanging from a piece of plaster on the ceiling kept ringing in my head.

On the political front, Chalabi kept returning to his life's goal: to overthrow Saddam. Not because of WMD, he told me, but because of human rights abuses (he gave me a long exposition on Saddam's mass graves).

But I had spent some time researching Chalabi for the posts I wrote last week about his trip to Washington -- so what he had actually said in the lead up to the war was still fresh in my mind.

"Saddam is a major threat," he had said in July 2002. "You have the choice of using military force to liberate Iraq or of having your own civilians killed in the thousands."

Chalabi may want to rewrite history, but there is no question that he used the WMD threat again and again as a means to his end. And there is no question that Chalabi will now, and in the future, use all means at his disposal to achieve his ends.

He is a man of pure will
, a term -- just to add to the ironies -- used in the screenplay for John Cusack's next movie, which I was reading while in New York. "Men of pure will operate beyond the realm of judgment," says one of the characters. "They are like forces of nature...feral and oblivious. They have the morality of an avalanche."

So what of the future? Where is the avalanche headed?

Chalabi definitely wants American troops to stay in Iraq -- even though he had a lot of horror stories about the way the U.S. military is operating "with total immunity and impunity."

"American soldiers," he said, "are breaking into people's homes and are arresting and detaining Iraqi citizens without charges. Even if they run over an Iraqi and kill him they will not be charged with a crime, because they are above Iraqi law."

"Isn't that proof," I kept asking, "that the presence of the military is fueling the insurgency, and that your job would be easier if the Americans left?"

"No," he kept insisting, "we need the Americans to protect us from our neighbors. From Syria, from Saudi Arabia, from Iran."

That's obviously one of the main objectives of his current trip. He's convinced that the administration, for political reasons, is looking for a way out of Iraq. And he wants to make sure that doesn't happen.

But his other objective, which he told me he was planning to discuss with both Rumsfeld and Cheney, is to change the way U.S. troops are operating in Iraq. "America," he said, "has a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which governs how U.S. forces operate inside a sovereign nation, with over 100 countries. But the Bush administration refuses to have one with Iraq -- and, as a result, the U.S. Army is operating outside the law. Rumsfeld feels that a SOFA will tie the hands of the U.S. military and not allow it to fight the insurgency. Of course, the lack of such an agreement has the opposite effect since it causes great resentment towards the U.S. among the Iraqi people

Another thing made clear through the night was how much Chalabi hates Paul Bremer and what the Coalition Provision Authority did in Iraq. So much so that he's willing to praise Henry Waxman, who has criticized him harshly, but who, according to Chalabi, has done the most thorough work on what he regards as "the tragic waste and abuse of billions of dollars that belonged to the Iraqi people."

"The administration wants to cover this up," he told me. "Let's hope Waxman won't let them."

He wanted me to know that his meetings were not just with Republicans, but included Sen. Carl Levin, Rep. Tom Lantos, and Dick Holbrooke. "Ultimately," he said, "we have no friendships -- only interests."

Which is just as well since his neocon bud Paul Wolfowitz is off saving the world at the World Bank, Cheney and Bush are trying to save what's left of their co-presidency, and Judy Miller is no longer at the New York Times.

The problem is that this time I don't think the Master of the Bazaar will be able to square the circle and get what he wants. Because what he wants is an occupying army that no longer acts as an occupying army -- an army that fiercely protects Iraq from its neighbors while being the smiling cop on the beat in Iraq's explosive neighborhoods.

It ain't gonna happen.

There is no way he is going to get Rumsfeld and Cheney, steeped in the neocon "you're either at the table or on the menu" ethos, to agree to limit the powers of the U.S. army.

So to the extent that his visit here has made it more likely the troops will stay until the Iraqis are ready to take over -- which effectively means indefinitely -- Chalabi will have done a disservice to his country. And he will have made all the things he cares about -- including a constant and uninterrupted flow of oil -- infinitely harder to achieve.

And I know it's no big deal for avalanches, but it will also lead to even more dead young Americans, more Gold Star Moms, and more broken lives.
 Posted by Picasa - President's ratings hit new low in poll

..."Fewer than one in 10 adults say they would prefer a congressional candidate who is a Republican and who agrees with Bush on most major issues, according to a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday. Even among Republicans, seven of 10 are most likely to back a candidate who has had at least some disagreements with the president. (Related: Poll results)

Bush's job-approval rating sank to a record 37%, down from a previous low of 39% a month ago. The poll finds growing criticism of the president, unease about the nation's direction and opposition to the war in Iraq."...

[bth: So the President has no coattails for other Republicans to ride on. His ability to control them now is very limited - perhaps only by his veto power at this point; a veto he has never used. I believe that is about to change.]
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Prisoners of the Senate

"AFTER the Northern victory in the Civil War, laws passed by Congress during the era of Reconstruction imposed military governments on the former Confederate states. A Mississippi editor, William H. McCardle, was arrested by the military and charged with publishing incendiary and libelous articles. He was held for trial before a military commission. But he went to a federal court and sought his release on a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that military rule of civilians was unconstitutional.
When McCardle lost in the trial court, he appealed to the Supreme Court, as the statute allowed. The Supreme Court agreed to decide the case and heard argument on it. Critics of the Reconstruction system thought, on the basis of recent decisions, that the court was about to return the South to civilian government.

But before the Supreme Court could hand down its decision, the Radical Republicans who controlled Congress repealed the law that allowed McCardle to bring forward his habeas corpus appeal. The justices then held that they had no power to decide the case. They dismissed the appeal. Military rule of the Southern states continued.

Ex Parte McCardle, as the case is called, was decided in 1869. Ever since, most legal scholars have regarded it as a terrible blot on the constitutional history of this country: a decision that Congress could thwart a test of an imprisonment's lawfulness even after the Supreme Court had taken the case."...

Restaurant site of suicide bombing in Iraq last week. Curious that Jordanians are only now aghast at this sort of violence. Posted by Picasa
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Bin Laden brother under investigation

"Osama bin Laden's brother is under investigation in France for money laundering, Le Journal du Dimanche reports.

The newspaper said Judge Renaud van Ruymbeke asked Swiss prosecutors for access to bank accounts belonging to Yeslam bin Laden, who has been living in Switzerland since 1973 and has Swiss citizenship.

At issue is a suspicious financial transfer of $300 million to Pakistan via the Deutsche Bank in Geneva. Le Journal du Dimanche said the transfer was from an account held by a branch of the Saudi Binladin Group.

The French judge is also interested in a Swiss bank account held jointly by Yeslam and Osama bin Laden during the 1990s.

Yeslam bin Laden has previously denied having any contact with his brother. He claims the joint account was established to divide the inheritance of his father, which was split up among 54 siblings.

Van Ruymbeke has been investigating financial transactions by the Binladin Group and its affiliates since 2001, the newspaper said. "

[bth: if memory serves $300 million was the size of OBLs inheritance that the Saudi regime claimed to have taken from him. It looks like it really wasn't taken after all - just re-routed.]
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