Saturday, December 10, 2005

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Murder of man of peace inspires a voters' revolt

"THE grand mufti of Falluja, Sheikh Hamza Abbas al-Issawi, knew he was risking his life by urging worshippers to vote in Iraq's elections this week and by preaching against terrorist violence.
Refusing to be intimidated, he intensified his rhetoric after receiving death threats from radical Islamists for criticising Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. He challenged his shadowy enemies by declaring at prayers: "I know I am targeted."

Death came to the 70-year-old grand mufti 12 days ago, when he was gunned down in front of his teenage son by three masked men in a silver BMW. Many inhabitants of Iraq's "city of mosques" intend to honour his memory by casting their ballots on December 15. Issawi was an influential scholar who castigated militants loyal to Zarqawi for "un-Islamic behaviour"and blamed them for provoking last year's American military offensive against the city.

He also encouraged local Sunnis to enrol in the police and military, fearing they could be needed to defend Falluja in a future sectarian war.

Despite advice from friends and family not to attend dawn and evening prayers, Issawi insisted he was a man of God who would not be cowed. "He believed that Allah protected people and not bodyguards." a close friend said.

Following his assassination, the city held three days of official mourning. Shops, schools and government institutions shut down to protest against his killing. Thousands attended his funeral, with many chanting anti-American slogans.

But others vowed to avenge his death by hunting down Zarqawi loyalists"...

Iraq's Dr No says Yes to peace and democracy

"As befits the holder of a doctorate in classical Arabic, Adnan al Duleimi is known as one of the more polished orators among Iraq's aspiring politicians. Yet his popularity in volatile Sunni districts is based on the stubborn repetition of a single word: La, or No.

It was No to taking part in Iraq's historic elections last January and No in the constitution referendum. He is a firm No man on the continued presence of American troops. Such is his rejectionist record that the joke among Iraqis is that he would automatically decline a dinner invitation. But now, the man nicknamed Dr No is saying Yes."

Defying expectations, he has ended his boycott of the US-fostered political process and is campaigning in this week's elections for a new Iraqi government. The stern, grey-haired septuagenarian is one of a clutch of influential Sunni figures who, after more than two years of favouring the bullet rather than the ballot, have decided to seek office.

"Until now he has said 'No' to many things because there was nothing right in the government," said Mohamed Faeq, his spokesman. "But now we will try to stop the fighting and create a dialogue between the resistance and the American occupation. We want to stop the bloodshed, defend the rights of the Sunnis and get our place back in government."

The decision by the likes of Dr al Duleimi to embrace democracy, however tentatively, is a huge relief to coalition officials, who hope that some of the energy being channelled into Iraq's Sunni-led insurgency will now be diverted into peaceful politics. His Sunni Family party, along with several other Sunni coalitions, could win up to 25 per cent of the seats when the polls open on Thursday.

It is also a tacit admission by some Sunnis that their previous tactic of boycotting the elections in the hope of derailing the process entirely was a mistake, leaving the group that ruled absolutely under Saddam Hussein virtually powerless....

EU concealed deal with US to allow 'rendition' flights

"The European Union secretly allowed the United States to use transit facilities on European soil to transport 'criminals' in 2003, according to a previously unpublished document. The revelation contradicts repeated EU denials that it knew of 'rendition' flights by the CIA."...

Here is a WWII US propaganda poster. With the clarity of history, it is hard not to view this attempt at motivational propaganda as almost comical. With all the truth that is possible in Iraq, why would the US government have to resort to planted stories and propaganda? Do mass graves need a spin to highlight their evil? Does a car bombing in front of a Shiite mosque need a twist or a PR pitch when the horror of this tragedy can be seen on the faces of the victims, the bloody clothes, the shoes, the body parts that were but moments ago happy children? What has happened to our government? To the truths that made us proud to be Americans? Posted by Picasa

Military's Information War Is Vast and Often Secretive - New York Times

"The media center in Fayetteville, N.C., would be the envy of any global communications company.

In state of the art studios, producers prepare the daily mix of music and news for the group's radio stations or spots for friendly television outlets. Writers putting out newspapers and magazines in Baghdad and Kabul converse via teleconferences. Mobile trailers with high-tech gear are parked outside, ready for the next crisis."

The center is not part of a news organization, but a military operation, and those writers and producers are soldiers. The 1,200-strong psychological operations unit based at Fort Bragg turns out what its officers call "truthful messages" to support the United States government's objectives, though its commander acknowledges that those stories are one-sided and their American sponsorship is hidden.

"We call our stuff information and the enemy's propaganda," said Col. Jack N. Summe, then the commander of the Fourth Psychological Operations Group, during a tour in June. Even in the Pentagon, "some public affairs professionals see us unfavorably," and inaccurately, he said, as "lying, dirty tricksters...

[bth: this NYT article on the tail of the Rolling Stones and the LA Times stories which previously covered aspects of this story adds some new information. It is worth a full read. The sad result of all this is that the US military is losing its credibility with the American public. Good news from Iraq will be questioned as propaganda. It is astounding that the military traded its trust for a few bogus stories. Profoundly saddening.]

Family Upset Over Marine's Body Arriving As Freight

"SAN DIEGO -- There's controversy over how the military is transporting the bodies of service members killed overseas, 10News reported.

A local family said fallen soldiers and Marines deserve better and that one would think our war heroes are being transported with dignity, care and respect. It said one would think upon arrival in their hometowns they are greeted with honor. But unfortunately, the family said that is just not the case.

Dead heroes are supposed to come home with their coffins draped with the American flag -- greeted by a color guard.

But in reality, many are arriving as freight on commercial airliners -- stuffed in the belly of a plane with suitcases and other cargo."

John Holley and his wife, Stacey, were stunned when they found out the body of their only child, Matthew, who died in Iraq last month, would be arriving at Lindbergh Field as freight.

"When someone dies in combat, they need to give them due respect they deserve for (the) sacrifice they made," said John Holley.

John and Stacey Holley, who were both in the Army, made some calls, and with the help of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, Matthew was greeted with honor and respect.

"Our familiarity with military protocol and things of that sort allowed us to kind of put our foot down -- we're not sure other parents have that same knowledge," said Stacey Holley.

The Holleys now want to make sure every fallen hero gets the proper welcome.

The bodies of dead service members arrive at Dover Air Force Base.

From that point, they are sent to their families on commercial airliners.

Reporters from 10News called the Defense Department for an explanation. A representative said she did not know why this is happening.

Man who wrote Flanders Field Posted by Picasa

Iraq: Politics and power

"The spinmeisters are having a field day.

President Bush journeyed to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., to declare before a safe audience that he will never cut and run in Iraq. He's staying the course, and that's that.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld chimed in to warn that any withdrawal from Iraq short of victory would lead to radicals taking power throughout the Islamic world. Vice President Cheney traveled to Fort Drum in upstate New York to stand before the usual photo-op backdrop of soldiers in desert uniforms and add Spain to Osama bin Laden's Islamic empire.

Ah yes, a new domino theory: First Iraq falls, and the next thing we know the Moors will be back running Spain and invading France. Where have we heard that one before?
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice then jetted to Europe and said that the ban on cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of terrorist suspects extends to U.S. forces overseas.

The administration is trying to reverse its sinking standing in the opinion polls; to rebut criticism from even some hawkish members of Congress; to counter perceptions at home and abroad that the war in Iraq isn't going well; and to counter those who demand that the United States abide by the Geneva Conventions and international treaties that prohibit torture.

The prize for the strangest argument of all, as usual, goes to Cheney with this:
Some have suggested by liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein we simply stirred up a hornet's nest. They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq in September 2001, and the terrorists hit us anyway.'

That's right. And the terrorists who hit us didn't come from Iraq, weren't in league with Iraq, and in fact had nothing to do with Iraq or Saddam. The Sept. 11 attacks were plotted and directed out of Afghanistan where al-Qaida was sheltered by the Taliban government.

We rightly invaded Afghanistan, overthrew the Taliban government and were in hot pursuit of al-Qaida and its leadership when Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld took their eyes -- and considerable military and intelligence resources -- off job one and diverted them to invading Iraq.

That's when they stuck the stick in the hornet's nest. By invading Iraq without a post-war plan for occupying, pacifying and rebuilding it, they created a recruiting tool of al-Qaida and a schoolhouse for jihadists worldwide who want to learn how to kill Americans

By botching the mission -- demobilizing the Iraq army and barring anyone who had belonged to Saddam's Baath Party from employment in the public sector -- the United States unwittingly helped fuel the growth of a homemade insurgency among the minority Sunni Muslims of central Iraq, who ruled under Saddam.

Iraq, to put it plainly, is a disaster of the Bush administration's own creation.

It was a disaster to invade Iraq when we did, on the spurious grounds that the administration originally gave as reason. Now they tell us that it would be an even greater disaster to leave Iraq short of a victory that they can't define.

They can surround themselves with uniforms and wrap themselves in the flag and spin the message day after day, but they can't ignore their Republican friends in the House and Senate who must face the voters in 2006.

They can talk tough all day long, but watch to see if there's a drawdown of troops in Iraq before Election Day next November.

This isn't about victory over the terrorists. This isn't about supporting our soldiers. This is about politics and power

Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers can write to him at: Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, 700 12th St. N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20005-3994.

[bth: as usual Mr. Galloway has hit the nail on the head.]<em>

The Next Hurrah: Are We Drawing Down In Iraq Or Are We Drawing Down In Iraq?

"Little can be less valuable and sillier than the current media 'debate' about Iraq. 'Let's make some controversy. Let's highlight Democratic diversity of opinion and ignore Republican control of the levers of power. Let's pull in Lieberman and make him a pariah. Let's make this winners and losers.'

Guess what, folks? The only winner is Iran. Talking about Iraq in terms of winners, losers and 'victory' is a simpleton's game. Firstly, we are drawing down. Our allies know it. Our enemies already know it. Our President and the current majority party know it. Above all, the American people know it.

The only disagreement here is timing. Are we drawing down sooner within 6 months (as Murtha suggests - not immediately , he never suggested that) or within 18 months?

What Al From thinks about this is as immaterial as what Howard Dean thinks. What Dick Cheney thinks about this is relevant to the extent that it highlights how far Cheney is from both reality and the country's pulse, and only because he controls one of the levers of power.

Americans are a pragmatic group and the voters have rejected both the rationale and the trust behind the rationale for being there. The only question on the table is how to extricate ourselves and do the least harm. There are no good solutions, only least worst ones.

The sooner the media gets on the ball and starts reporting that, the better off the country will be."
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If America Left Iraq - The case for cutting and running by Nir Rosen

At some point-whether sooner or later-U.S. troops will leave Iraq. I have spent much of the occupation reporting from Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul, Fallujah, and elsewhere in the country, and I can tell you that a growing majority of Iraqis would like it to be sooner. As the occupation wears on, more and more Iraqis chafe at its failure to provide stability or even electricity, and they have grown to hate the explosions, gunfire, and constant war, and also the daily annoyances: having to wait hours in traffic because the Americans have closed off half the city; having to sit in that traffic behind a U.S. military vehicle pointing its weapons at them; having to endure constant searches and arrests. Before the January 30 elections this year the Association of Muslim Scholars-Iraq's most important Sunni Arab body, and one closely tied to the indigenous majority of the insurgency-called for a commitment to a timely U.S. withdrawal as a condition for its participation in the vote. (In exchange the association promised to rein in the resistance.) It's not just Sunnis who have demanded a withdrawal: the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is immensely popular among the young and the poor, has made a similar demand. So has the mainstream leader of the Shiites' Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, who made his first call for U.S. withdrawal as early as April 23, 2003.

If the people the U.S. military is ostensibly protecting want it to go, why do the soldiers stay? The most common answer is that it would be irresponsible for the United States to depart before some measure of peace has been assured. The American presence, this argument goes, is the only thing keeping Iraq from an all-out civil war that could take millions of lives and would profoundly destabilize the region. But is that really the case? Let's consider the key questions surrounding the prospect of an imminent American withdrawal.

Would the withdrawal of U.S. troops ignite a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites?

No. That civil war is already under way—in large part because of the American presence. The longer the United States stays, the more it fuels Sunni hostility toward Shiite "collaborators." Were America not in Iraq, Sunni leaders could negotiate and participate without fear that they themselves would be branded traitors and collaborators by their constituents...

But if American troops aren't in Baghdad, what's to stop the Sunnis from launching an assault and seizing control of the city?

Sunni forces could not mount such an assault. The preponderance of power now lies with the majority Shiites and the Kurds, and the Sunnis know this. Sunni fighters wield only small arms and explosives, not Saddam's tanks and helicopters, and are very weak compared with the cohesive, better armed, and numerically superior Shiite and Kurdish militias. Most important, Iraqi nationalism—not intramural rivalry—is the chief motivator for both Shiites and Sunnis. Most insurgency groups view themselves as waging a muqawama—a resistance—rather than a jihad....

Wouldn't a U.S. withdrawal embolden the insurgency?

No. If the occupation were to end, so, too, would the insurgency. After all, what the resistance movement has been resisting is the occupation. Who would the insurgents fight if the enemy left? When I asked Sunni Arab fighters and the clerics who support them why they were fighting, they all gave me the same one-word answer: intiqaam—revenge. Revenge for the destruction of their homes, for the shame they felt when Americans forced them to the ground and stepped on them, for the killing of their friends and relatives by U.S. soldiers either in combat or during raids.

But what about the foreign jihadi element of the resistance? Wouldn't it be empowered by a U.S. withdrawal?

The foreign jihadi element—commanded by the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—is numerically insignificant; the bulk of the resistance has no connection to al-Qaeda or its offshoots. (Zarqawi and his followers have benefited greatly from U.S. propaganda blaming him for all attacks in Iraq, because he is now seen by Arabs around the world as more powerful than he is; we have been his best recruiting tool.) It is true that the Sunni resistance welcomed the foreign fighters (and to some extent still do), because they were far more willing to die than indigenous Iraqis were. But what Zarqawi wants fundamentally conflicts with what Iraqi Sunnis want: Zarqawi seeks re-establishment of the Muslim caliphate and a Manichean confrontation with infidels around the world, to last until Judgment Day; the mainstream Iraqi resistance just wants the Americans out. If U.S. forces were to leave, the foreigners in Zarqawi's movement would find little support—and perhaps significant animosity—among Iraqi Sunnis, who want wealth and power, not jihad until death. They have already lost much of their support: many Iraqis have begun turning on them...

What about the Kurds? Won't they secede if the United States leaves?

Yes, but that's going to happen anyway. All Iraqi Kurds want an independent Kurdistan. They do not feel Iraqi. They've effectively had more than a decade of autonomy, thanks to the UN-imposed no-fly zone; they want nothing to do with the chaos that is Iraq. Kurdish independence is inevitable—and positive. (Few peoples on earth deserve a state more than the Kurds.) For the moment the Kurdish government in the north is officially participating in the federalist plan—but the Kurds are preparing for secession. They have their own troops, the peshmerga, thought to contain 50,000 to 100,000 fighters. They essentially control the oil city of Kirkuk. They also happen to be the most America-loving people I have ever met; their leaders openly seek to become, like Israel, a proxy for American interests. If what the United States wants is long-term bases in the region, the Kurds are its partners.

Would Turkey invade in response to a Kurdish secession?

For the moment Turkey is more concerned with EU membership than with Iraq's Kurds—who in any event have expressed no ambitions to expand into Turkey. Iraq's Kurds speak a dialect different from Turkey's, and, in fact, have a history of animosity toward Turkish Kurds. Besides, Turkey, as a member of NATO, would be reluctant to attack in defiance of the United States. Turkey would be satisfied with guarantees that it would have continued access to Kurdish oil and trade and that Iraqi Kurds would not incite rebellion in Turkey.

Would Iran effectively take over Iraq?

No. Iraqis are fiercely nationalist—even the country's Shiites resent Iranian meddling. (It is true that some Iraqi Shiites view Iran as an ally, because many of their leaders found safe haven there when exiled by Saddam—but thousands of other Iraqi Shiites experienced years of misery as prisoners of war in Iran.) Even in southeastern towns near the border I encountered only hostility toward Iran.

What about the goal of creating a secular democracy in Iraq that respects the rights of women and non-Muslims?

Give it up. It's not going to happen. Apart from the Kurds, who revel in their secularism, Iraqis overwhelmingly seek a Muslim state. Although Iraq may have been officially secular during the 1970s and 1980s, Saddam encouraged Islamism during the 1990s, and the difficulties of the past decades have strengthened the resurgence of Islam. In the absence of any other social institutions, the mosques and the clergy assumed the dominant role in Iraq following the invasion. Even Baathist resistance leaders told me they have returned to Islam to atone for their sins under Saddam....

What can the United States do to repair Iraq?

There is no panacea. Iraq is a destroyed and fissiparous country. Iranians and Saudis I've spoken to worry that it might be impossible to keep Iraq from disintegrating. But they agree that the best hope of avoiding this scenario is if the United States leaves; perhaps then Iraqi nationalism will keep at least the Arabs united. The sooner America withdraws and allows Iraqis to assume control of their own country, the better the chances that Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari won't face sahil. It may be decades before Iraq recovers from the current maelstrom. By then its borders may be different, its vaunted secularism a distant relic. But a continued U.S. occupation can only get in the way.

[bth: an article worth reading in full.]

Pearl Harbor Posted by Picasa

Clergy in Bangladesh rises against militancy

"Muslim clerics throughout Bangladesh today read special 'khutba' (sermon) during the Friday prayer at mosques, condemmnng the recent spell of bombings and urged the militants to shun the path of violence using the name of Islam.

Special police forces were deployed by the administration at different mosques to ward off any unpleasant incident.

Around 40 people, including lawyers, police and cultural activists were killed in recent spell of bombings by banned Muslim outfit Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) calling for establishment of Islamic rule in the country.

The latest bomb attack in northern Netrokona yesterday, killed nine people and injured nearly 100 others."...

Bangladesh says it arrests key explosive supplier to militants

"DHAKA - Bangladesh's elite security force said on Saturday it had arrested the main supplier of explosives to an Islamic group waging a suicide bombing campaign to establish Islamic law in the Muslim nation.

The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) also said it had seized a huge cache of explosives and bomb-making equipment sufficient to make 200 powerful bombs.

"We have arrested Tariqul, 28, who we believe is the main supplier of explosives to the Jamayetul Mujahideen," a senior RAB officer told AFP.

"He's being interrogated and information has already helped us seize explosives across the country," the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Police have linked the outlawed group to a series of nationwide blasts since August and a new suicide bomb campaign that has claimed 21 lives in the past two weeks.

Thousands of police and all 10 battalion of the RAB, set up a year ago, have been making nationwide raids to hunt the members of the group and its fugitive leader Shaikh Abdur Rahman."
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ACLU says next deadline in Abu Ghraib photo case is Dec. 15

"A judge could rule on whether to order the release of new photographs from the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison anytime after Dec. 15, an ACLU spokesperson told RAW STORY.
The 144 photographs and four videos, which have been seen by New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh, are alleged to contain photographs of U.S. servicemembers involved in raping detainees, possibly underage. The photos and videos are in addition to an earlier set of photographs already released.

The Bush Administration has successfully blocked their release, first saying they needed time to anonymize those engaged in illicit behavior, and then seeking a permanent block, arguing the photos could endanger troops and civilians overseas"

The ACLU sued to have the photos released under the Freedom of Information Act, and won the last round in court.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the Defense Department must release the images and videos, saying that suppressing them would only create more intrigue about their contents. The Department then appealed, and was granted an extension through Dec. 15. If their appeal is rejected, the Bush Administration could take the case to the Supreme Court....

FBI put peaceful protesters in terrorism files

"COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The names and license plate numbers of about 30 people who protested three years ago in Colorado Springs were put into FBI domestic-terrorism files, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado says.

The Denver-based ACLU obtained federal documents on a 2002 Colorado Springs protest and a 2003 anti-war rally under the Freedom of Information Act.
ACLU legal director Mark Silverstein said the documents show the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force wastes resources generating files on 'nonviolent protest.'

'These documents confirm that the names and license plate numbers of several dozen peaceful protesters who committed no crime are now in a JTTF file marked 'counterterrorism,'' he said. 'This kind of surveillance of First Amendment activities has serious consequences. Law-abiding Americans may be reluctant to speak out when doing so means that their names will wind up in an FBI file.'

FBI Special Agent Monique Kelso, the spokeswoman for the agency in Colorado, disputed the claim the task force wastes resources gathering information on protesters."

The Truth Comes Out... | The Huffington Post

"The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials.

The officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition."

Limbaugh repeated's false claim that McCain "admitted that torture worked on him"

"Summary: Rush Limbaugh twice falsely claimed that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) had "admitted that torture worked on him" during his five years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. The false assertion originated in a article and is not supported by McCain's version of events."...

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Live Tracking of Mobile Phones Prompts Court Fights on Privacy

"Most Americans carry cellphones, but many may not know that government agencies can track their movements through the signals emanating from the handset.

In recent years, law enforcement officials have turned to cellular technology as a tool for easily and secretly monitoring the movements of suspects as they occur. But this kind of surveillance - which investigators have been able to conduct with easily obtained court orders - has now come under tougher legal scrutiny.

In the last four months, three federal judges have denied prosecutors the right to get cellphone tracking information from wireless companies without first showing 'probable cause' to believe that a crime has been or is being committed. That is the same standard applied to requests for search warrants. "...
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Friday, December 09, 2005

Iranian leader condemned for Holocaust remarks

"BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany, Russia and Switzerland joined the European Union on Friday in a chorus of condemnation of the Iranian president for suggesting the Holocaust might not have taken place and that Israel should be moved to Europe.

The remarks by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at a news conference in the Saudia Arabian city of Mecca on Thursday, follow his call in October for Israel to be 'wiped off the map', which also sparked broad international criticism.

The German Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Iran's ambassador to protest, and ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger told a news conference this was being done to show how seriously Berlin was taking the comments."...

[bth: this Iranian President has done more to undermine Iran's position in the world than any statement by Israel or the U.S. He is a menace.]

US told Saudis about Qaeda plane threat pre-9/11

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States told Saudi Arabia more than three years before the September 11 attacks that Osama bin Laden might be targeting civilian airplanes, according to a newly declassified State Department cable."...

Iraqis Hand Over 'The Butcher,' High-Ranking Al Qaeda Member

"BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi citizens turned over a high-ranking Al Qaeda member known as 'the Butcher' to U.S. forces in Ramadi Friday a military statement said.

Amir Khalaf Fanus was No. 3 on the 28th Infantry Division's High Value Individual list for Ramadi, wanted for murder and kidnapping in connection with his affiliation with Al Qaeda in Iraq.

'He is the highest ranking Al Qaeda in Iraq member to be turned into Iraqi and U.S. officials by local citizens,' Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool said in a statement released from Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi. 'His capture is another indication that the local citizens tire of the insurgents' presence within their community.'

According to Pool, Iraqi and U.S. Forces 'have witnessed increasing signs of citizens fighting the terrorists within Ramadi as the Dec. 15 National Elections draw nearer.'

He said that another 1,200 Iraqi Security Force soldiers were recently stationed in Ramadi, while 1,100 Iraqi special police commandos and a mechanized Iraqi army company had moved into the city."

Researchers: Alcohol misuse, divorce rates higher among returning troops

"WASHINGTON -Army researchers saw alcohol misuse rise from 13 percent among soldiers to 21 percent one year after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, underscoring the continuing stress of deployment for some troops.

In post-deployment reassessment data completed in July, researchers also saw soldiers with anger and aggression issues increase from 11 percent to 22 percent after deployment. Those planning to divorce their spouse rose from 9 percent to 15 percent after time spent in the combat zone.

And that's just the start of the problems, according to military family support groups.

"At the end of the day, wounded servicemembers have wounded families." said Joyce Wessel Raezer, government relations director for the National Military Family Association. "More must be done to link servicemembers and families with the services they need and the information about PTSD and other mental health issues."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Saudi Ambassador: Iraq Invasion Helped Spread Terrorism

"WASHINGTON =The U.S.-led war in Iraq accelerated the spread of terrorism around the globe and reports of U.S. mistreatment of terror prisoners are troubling its allies, the new Saudi ambassador to Washington said Thursday.

In a wide-ranging interview with American reporters, Prince Turki bin al-Faisal also said he thinks Usama bin Laden may no longer be in charge of Al Qaeda, called Israel's decision to pull out of the Gaza Strip a 'remarkable achievement' and said his country has concerns that Iran is meddling in the establishment of an Iraqi government.

Asked whether the war in Iraq made the world less safe, Turki said even if the United States had not invaded, global terrorism would have continued. 'Going into Iraq may have accentuated or accelerated that process, but I don't think it is the reason why we are having bombs in London or in Saudi Arabia or wherever,' he said."...

Major Cache Uncovered near Tuz (FOB Bernstein)

"TIKRIT, Iraq - Just a week after a huge cache of mortars was uncovered near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, another large terrorist cache was discovered Tuesday morning near the neighboring city of Tuz.

Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, found two storage bunkers crammed with weapons near Forward Operating Base Bernstein, west of the city.

More than 400 rockets of various types and 80 mortar rounds were discovered in the bunkers. Mortars and rockets, along with IEDs, are the preferred weapons of terrorist against civilian populations and military forces because they allow them to conduct attacks and then run away from the launch sites without having to face Iraqi or Coalition Forces.

Seventy cases of small arms ammunition, 100 artillery fuses, and a dozen rocket-propelled grenade warheads were also stashed in the bunkers.

An explosive ordnance disposal team was called in to inspect the weapons and conducted a controlled detonation to destroy the cache.

Another weapons cache was seized in Kirkuk Dec. 6, after police received a tip from a local resident. Rockets, mortars, tank rounds, anti-aircraft rounds and artillery fuses were taken by Soldiers from 1st BCT and an EOD team for disposal.

For more information, please contact the 101st AIRBORNE DIVISION Public Affairs Office at EDWARD.LOOMIS@US.ARMY.MIL "

Most Afghans say life is better now

"WASHINGTON - More than three-fourths of the people living in Afghanistan say living conditions, security from crime and freedom of expression have improved from the days when they were living under Taliban rule, an ABC News poll says.

On the questions of jobs and economic opportunity, people are evenly divided on whether economic opportunities are better or worse.

Almost nine in 10 - 87 percent - say the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban in 2002 was a good thing for the people of Afghanistan. And three-fourths of Afghans say their country is headed in the right direction, far higher than in the United States, where only three of 10 say that.

The optimism comes in a country where people say by a 2-1 margin that their own economic situation is bad, medical care is limited and basic services such as electricity are not available for many people.

Six in 10 Afghans say attacks on U.S. troops cannot be justified, while three in 10 say they can.
The poll of 1,089 adults was conducted by Charney Research with field work by the Afghan Center for Social and Opinion Research in Kabul from Oct. 8-18 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points."

Pentagon Plans to Cancel Two Units' Deployment to Iraq

"WASHINGTON -The Pentagon has tentative plans to halt the scheduled deployment of two brigades to Iraq and instead send smaller teams to support and train Iraqi forces in what could be an early step toward an eventual drawdown of U.S. forces, defense officials said Wednesday. "...
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Iran leader: Move Israel to Europe - Dec 8, 2005

"TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has expressed doubt that the Holocaust occurred and suggested Israel be moved to Europe.

His comments, reported by Iran's official IRNA news agency from a news conference he gave on Thursday in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, follow his call in October for Israel to be 'wiped off the map,' which sparked widespread international condemnation.

'Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces and they insist on it to the extent that if anyone proves something contrary to that they condemn that person and throw them in jail,' IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
'Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true, our question for the Europeans is: is the killing of innocent Jewish people by Hitler the reason for their support to the occupiers of Jerusalem?' he said.

'If the Europeans are honest they should give some of their provinces in Europe -- like in Germany, Austria or other countries -- to the Zionists and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe. You offer part of Europe and we will support it.'

Historians say six million Jews were killed in the Nazi Holocaust. Ahmadinejad's remarks drew swift rebukes from Israel and Washington.

'This is not the first time, unfortunately, that the Iranian president has expressed the most outrageous ideas concerning Jews and Israel,' said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

'He is not just Israel's problem. He is a worry for the entire international community,' he added.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: 'It just further underscores our concerns about the regime in Iran and it's all the more reason why it's so important that the regime not have the ability to develop nuclear weapons."
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Truth for the Troops

"If, as Samuel Johnson said, 'patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,' then 'support our troops' is very close by. It is being used to deflect criticism of the war in Iraq, or to rebut those who call for a pullout or question how incompetents seized control of the government in a coup by ideologues. In the lexicon of some, the only way to support our troops is to ensure that more of them die.

The utter tastelessness of this approach was on display Tuesday when Vice President Cheney spoke to the 10th Mountain Division and the National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division at Fort Drum, N.Y. These are storied outfits. The Mountain Division is Bob Dole's own, and those of us who followed him as he campaigned for the presidency in 1996 will never forget the day in New Hampshire when some of the division's World War II veterans gathered to hear from their old comrade in arms. There was Dole, trying as ever to be stoical, but that day his voice cracked and emotion rocked him and, along the wall of the hall, a mighty cynical press corps fought hard to hold back the tears.

As for the 42nd Division, it is my own. Its famous Rainbow Patch -- Douglas MacArthur said 'the 42nd Division stretches like a rainbow from one end of America to the other' -- is among my mementos. I make no great claim to military service -- I was a reluctant Vietnam-era enlistee in the National Guard -- but I trained at Fort Drum, wore the Rainbow Patch and keep it to this day on the bulletin board in my office. By accident and happenstance, it's my outfit. Somehow, it matters.

So I don't need any cheap reminders about supporting the troops. On the contrary, it's the other way around. It is the reminders who need reminding that they owe the troops the highest level of respect. That means, among other things, explaining clearly and honestly why they are being sent into harm's way. If that cannot be done -- if you cannot tell soldiers why they might die -- then you cannot send them. At the very least, you must stick to the strictest truth....

As for the 42nd Division, it is my own. Its famous Rainbow Patch -- Douglas MacArthur said "the 42nd Division stretches like a rainbow from one end of America to the other" -- is among my mementos. I make no great claim to military service -- I was a reluctant Vietnam-era enlistee in the National Guard -- but I trained at Fort Drum, wore the Rainbow Patch and keep it to this day on the bulletin board in my office. By accident and happenstance, it's my outfit. Somehow, it matters.

So I don't need any cheap reminders about supporting the troops. On the contrary, it's the other way around. It is the reminders who need reminding that they owe the troops the highest level of respect. That means, among other things, explaining clearly and honestly why they are being sent into harm's way. If that cannot be done -- if you cannot tell soldiers why they might die -- then you cannot send them. At the very least, you must stick to the strictest truth.

But Cheney was not strictly truthful. He turned the war in Iraq into a war against terrorism, when it is only partly that. The Sunni insurgents have no designs on America. And to say, as Cheney did, that terrorists "believe that, by controlling an entire country, they will be able to . . . establish a radical Islamic empire that encompasses a region from Spain, across North Africa, through the Middle East and South Asia, all the way to Indonesia" is to give credence to the fantasies of Islamic nut cases. This may or may not be the goal of certain terrorists, but it is clearly beyond their reach -- and no reason to fight in Iraq.

Similarly, Cheney once again implied a link between the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Saddam Hussein. His words were slippery, but his meaning was clear: "Some have suggested that by liberating Iraq . . . we simply stirred up a hornet's nest. They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq . . . and the terrorists hit us anyway." Yes, and the crowing of the rooster makes the sun come up. Cause and effect is being mocked here.

As I recently wrote, I do not favor an immediate pullout from Iraq -- not yet, anyway. The arguments advanced for staying make sense to me, and Cheney mentioned some of them in his speech. There is reason to fear civil war in Iraq, the country's dissolution, the creation of a haven for terrorists and the precipitous loss of American prestige, which could encourage even more terrorism.

But I do not fear the emergence of a vast, radical Islamic empire stretching from Granada to Jakarta, and neither do I believe that toppling Hussein dealt a blow to terrorists or made the United States one iota safer. Soon enough we will exceed in military deaths the number of civilians killed on Sept. 11 -- and the culprits, including Osama bin Laden, are still on the loose, still posing a threat. This is a policy that collapsed of its own stupidity.

By dint of heroic effort, the Bush administration long ago lost any credibility. But if we are going to stay in Iraq -- if additional Americans are going to be asked to die -- then Bush, Cheney and others should avoid emotionally compelling, but intellectually fatuous, arguments. As far as the troops are concerned, pay them the ultimate respect for their ultimate sacrifice: Stick to the truth.

Rummy exit rumored; Lieberman eyed for job

"WASHINGTON - White House officials are telling associates they expect Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to quit early next year, once a new government is formed in Iraq, sources said yesterday.

Rumsfeld's deputy, Gordon England, is the inside contender to replace him, but there's also speculation that Sen. Joe Lieberman - a Democrat who ran against Bush-Cheney in the 2000 election - might become top guy at the Pentagon.

That's not as farfetched as it might first appear.

The Daily News has learned that the White House considered Lieberman for the UN ambassador's job last year before giving the post to John Bolton, a Bush adviser said.

'He thought about it for a week or so and finally said no,' the adviser recalled.

A source close to the White House said Rumsfeld wanted out a year ago, after Bush's reelection, but neither he nor President Bush wanted his departure to appear to have been forced. "...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

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Skepticism Seems to Erode Europeans' Faith in Rice - New York Times

..."In Britain, members of Parliament from both parties reacted with even greater skepticism to Ms. Rice's statement, saying it had neither answered their questions nor allayed their concerns about American policy.

'It's clear that the text of the speech was drafted by lawyers with the intention of misleading an audience,' Andrew Tyrie, a Conservative member of Parliament, said in an interview. Mr. Tyrie is chairman of a recently formed nonpartisan committee that plans to investigate claims that the British government has tacitly condoned torture by allowing the United States to use its airspace to transport terrorist suspects to countries where they are subsequently tortured.

Parsing through the speech, Mr. Tyrie pointed out example after example where, he said, Ms. Rice was using surgically precise language to obfuscate and distract. By asserting, for instance, that the United States does not send suspects to countries where they 'will be' tortured, Ms. Rice is protecting herself, Mr. Tyrie said, leaving open the possibility that they 'may be' tortured in those countries.

Others pointed out that the Bush administration's definition of torture did not include practices like water-boarding - in which prisoners are strapped to a board and made to believe they are about to be drowned - that violate provisions of the international Convention Against Torture.

Andrew Mullin, a Labor member of Parliament, said he had found Ms. Rice's assertions "wholly incredible." He agreed with Mr. Tyrie that Ms. Rice's statement had been "carefully lawyered," adding: "It is a matter of record that people have been kidnapped and have been handed over to people who have tortured them. I think their experience has to be matched against the particular form of language the secretary of state is using."...

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German Man Alleges CIA Torture in Lawsuit

"WASHINGTON (AP) -- A German man alleged in a lawsuit Tuesday that the CIA took him to Afghanistan and tortured him after the spy agency mistakenly identified him as an associate of the Sept. 11 terrorists.

In the latest controversy surrounding the CIA's ''rendition'' program for terror suspects, Khaled al-Masri said Macedonian authorities took him into custody when he crossed the border on New Year's Eve 2003 and turned him over to the CIA after three weeks. He said he then was flown to Afghanistan where he spent more than four months in a cell.

Al-Masri's claims followed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her trip to Germany. She declined to discuss the case with reporters Tuesday, but the new German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said the United States had admitted making a mistake regarding al-Masri."

The CIA rendition program, in which terror suspects are captured and taken secretly to foreign countries for indefinite interrogation, has created an uproar internationally.

Last year on arrival in Afghanistan, al-Masri was ''dragged off the plane and thrown into the trunk of a car'' and beaten by his captors, he told reporters in a video hookup from Germany.

Then-CIA Director George Tenet was notified by the agency that al-Masri's captivity was a case of mistaken identity, yet the man was held for another two months after his passport was found to be valid, his lawsuit alleges. The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., where Judge T.S. Ellis III, an appointee of President Reagan, will preside.

A spokesman for Tenet declined comment. A spokesperson for the CIA said the agency does not comment on matters before the courts.

The suit says al-Masri was held at a CIA-run facility known as the ''Salt Pit,'' an abandoned brick factory north of the Kabul business district used for detention of high-level terror suspects.

At an American Civil Liberties Union news conference in Washington, al-Masri's German lawyer said that U.S. authorities on Saturday night refused to let al-Masri come into the country, turning him around in Atlanta, sending him back to Germany and giving no reason.

The United States has assured the German government that al-Masri will be allowed into the United States the next time he wants to enter, said a senior State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private.

Regarding the incident Saturday night, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, reviewed all available information about al-Masri and found him inadmissible, said Leah Yoon, a spokesperson for CBP. Al-Masri was denied entry under the visa waiver program and was informed he could apply for a visa through the State Department.

During his captivity in Afghanistan, al-Masri said, he complained that the water was unfit to drink.

''That's not your problem; that's somebody else's problem,'' al-Masri said he was told by an American he said seemed to be a doctor.

Al-Masri said that when he became ill, ''they didn't pay any attention.'' He said he went on a hunger strike, which ended after 37 days when his captors force-fed him. He said he had lost more than 60 pounds.

''You might be buried here,'' al-Masri said one of his interrogators told him. His captors kept asking him if he was acquainted with Sept. 11 conspirators Mohammed Atta and Ramzi Binalshibh.

Defendants in the case are Tenet, 10 ''John Doe'' CIA employees whose identities aren't known to the plaintiffs and three private aviation companies that worked with the CIA in transporting al-Masri to and from Afghanistan. Al-Masri contends his due process rights were violated and that he was subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

''I am asking the American government to admit its mistakes and to apologize for my treatment,'' al-Masri said in a written statement. ''Throughout my time in the prison, I asked to be brought before a court but was refused. Now I am hoping that an American court will say very clearly that what happened to me was illegal and cannot be done to others.''

The scope of the CIA's rendition program has not been publicly disclosed. However, Amnesty International contended Monday that six planes used by the CIA for renditions had made some 800 flights in or out of European airspace, including 50 landings at Shannon International Airport in Ireland.

Al-Masri, 42, was born in Kuwait to Lebanese parents and moved to Germany in 1985. He said he is reunited with his wife and five young children.

''I don't think I am the man I used to be,'' he said. He doesn't have

[bth: so we abducted and then tortured and innocent German. Then we held him for two more months without due process after the CIA had determined that his only crime had been to have the same name as a another man. Amazing. I wonder how this looks in Europe? Being abducted off a street, thrown in a trunk, drugged, tortured, sent to prisons in different countries without due process and being innocent. Have we become the Soviet Union?]
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Rally Round the (White) Flag, Boys!

"THE GOOD NEWS for the Democrats is that their leadership has settled on an electoral strategy for 2006. The bad news is that they have cribbed their game plan from one of the most disastrous campaigns in their history. The Democratic leadership has decided to elevate surrender to a party platform for the upcoming elections, with their national chairman, House leader, and last presidential nominee all running up the white flag as the Democratic war banner.

When was the last time that an entire political party stood for backpedaling the way the Democrats have in the past two weeks? Since Rep. John Murtha made his supposedly stunning announcement that he wanted an immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq, the Democrats have embraced surrender."...

[bth: so it would appear that the Republicans finally found their liberals to blame. Got to love it. Also great that Republicans can assert as fact that Murtha wanted immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq. That is of course not at all what he said. That position was actually submitted by Republican Duncan Hunter and voted down by all but 3 in the House. It was to make Murtha look bad and give the Republicans a strawman to kick around over the holidays. So in the meantime, while we have this pseudo-debate, troops fight and die in the field and $7 billion or so per month is spent in Iraq alone. We retake the same towns and villages, we fight their civil war allowing Iranian backed clerics to gain power without need of political compromise and it allows our Washington leadership to perpetuate a myth -- that they are leading. Unfortunately this situation can perpetuate itself indefinitely.]

Democrats Fear Backlash at Polls for Antiwar Remarks

"Strong antiwar comments in recent days by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean have opened anew a party rift over Iraq, with some lawmakers warning that the leaders' rhetorical blasts could harm efforts to win control of Congress next year.

Several Democrats joined President Bush yesterday in rebuking Dean's declaration to a San Antonio radio station Monday that 'the idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong.
The critics said that comment could reinforce popular perceptions that the party is weak on military matters and divert attention from the president's growing political problems on the war and other issues. 'Dean's take on Iraq makes even less sense than the scream in Iowa: Both are uninformed and unhelpful,' said Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.), recalling Dean's famous election-night roar after stumbling in Iowa during his 2004 presidential bid.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), the second-ranking House Democratic leader, have told colleagues that Pelosi's recent endorsement of a speedy withdrawal, combined with her claim that more than half of House Democrats support her position, could backfire on the party, congressional sources said.

These sources said the two leaders have expressed worry that Pelosi is playing into Bush's hands by suggesting Democrats are the party of a quick pullout -- an unpopular position in many of the most competitive House races.

"What I want Democrats to be discussing is what the president's policies have led to," Emanuel said. He added that once discussion turns to a formal timeline for troop withdrawals, "the how and when gets buried" and many voters take away only an impression that Democrats favor retreat

Pelosi last week endorsed a plan by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) to withdraw all U.S. troops in Iraq within six months, putting her at odds with most other Democratic leaders and leading foreign policy experts in her party.

Democrats, who have not controlled the White House since 2000 and the House in more than a decade, have tried over the past year to put aside deep philosophical differences and rally behind a two-pronged strategy to return to power: Highlight the growing number of GOP scandals and score Bush's unpopular war management.

While the party is divided over the specifics of Iraq policy, most Democratic legislators are slowly coalescing around a political plan, according to lawmakers and party operatives. This would involve setting a broad time frame for drawing down U.S. troops, starting with National Guard and reserve units, internationalizing the reconstruction effort, and blaming Bush for misleading the country into a war without a victory plan.

The aim is to provide the party enough maneuvering room to allow Democrats to adjust their position as conditions in Iraq change -- and fix public attention mostly on Bush's policies rather the details of a Democratic alternative. A new Time magazine poll found 60 percent of those surveyed disapproved of Bush's handling of Iraq.

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) embodies this cautious approach. He has resisted adopting a concrete Iraq policy and persuaded most Democratic senators to vote for a recent Senate resolution calling 2006 "a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty" and to compel the administration "to explain to Congress and the American people its strategy for the successful completion of the mission in Iraq." While Republicans introduced the resolution, it was prompted by a Democratic plan.

Democratic Reps. Jane Harman and Ellen Tauscher, both of California, plan to push House Democrats to adopt a similar position during a closed-door meeting today that is to include debate on the Pelosi position.

Despite Pelosi's claims that she echoes the views of most members in her caucus, plenty of Democrats are cringing at her new high profile on an Iraq withdrawal. Not only did she back a position that polls show most Americans do not support, but she also did this when Bush is trying to move off the defensive by accusing Democrats of supporting a de facto surrender.

"We have not blown our chance" of winning back the House but "we have jeopardized it," said a top strategist to House Democrats, who requested anonymity to speak freely about influential party leaders. "It raises questions about whether we are capable of seizing political opportunities or whether we cannot help ourselves and blow it" by playing to the liberal base of the party.

Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said that while Pelosi estimates more than half of House Democrats favor a speedy withdrawal, she will lobby members in today's meeting against adopting this as a caucus position.

Without naming Pelosi, Vice President Cheney told troops yesterday that terrorists will prevail "if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission," saying such precipitous move "would be unwise in the extreme." Cheney, addressing Army units at Fort Drum, N.Y., said that "any decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground and the judgment of our commanders, not by artificial timelines set by politicians in Washington, D.C."

In his comments Monday, Dean likened the president's optimistic assessment to those offered by the government during the Vietnam War. Bush fired back yesterday. "There are pessimists . . . and politicians who try to score points. But our strategy is one that is -- will lead us to victory," Bush said in response to a question about Dean's comments after a meeting with Lee Jong Wook, director general of the World Health Organization. "Our troops need to hear not only are they supported, but that we have got a strategy that will win."

DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney said Dean's comments were taken out of context. Dean, she said, meant the war was unwinnable unless the Bush administration adopts a new strategy. Still, a number of Democrats distanced themselves from Dean. "I think Howard Dean . . . represents himself when he speaks," Tauscher said. "He does not represent me."

Democratic candidates said their biggest concern is that voters will misconstrue comments by party leaders about Bush's handling of the war as criticism of U.S. troops who are fighting in Iraq. "I absolutely disagree" with Dean, said Patrick Murphy, a Democrat who is running for the suburban Philadelphia House seat now occupied by GOP Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick.

Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.), who represents a district Bush won easily in 2004, said he disagrees with Pelosi and Dean but does not see that as a problem. "The national press is playing up the fact that Democrats do not speak with one voice on Iraq," he said. "We should wear it as a badge of honor because it shows we are not playing a political line with war and peace."

[bth: Republicans are desparate to paint the blame for Iraq's lack of victory on liberals. Democrats don't want to help Bush pull the Republican car out of the Iraq quagmire. In the meantime, troops die as this country drifts on without leadership or plan.]

22 Militants Killed in Two Afghan Clashes

"KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Twenty-two suspected militants were killed in two clashes with Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces this week, including 13 in an attack on a cell that was believed responsible for several bombings in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said.

Three Afghan, three U.S. and two other coalition soldiers were wounded in fighting Sunday in a small village north of Kandahar, a former Taliban stronghold, where the bombing cell was operating, a U.S. military statement said."...

Qaeda's bin Laden still leading war: Zawahri video

"DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri has urged mujahideen to attack oil sites in Muslim states and said Osama bin Laden's battle against the West was only just beginning.

'I bring a message of joy to all Muslims and mujahideen that al Qaeda, thanks to God, is spreading and expanding and strengthening. Zawahri said in a video posted on a Web site frequently used by militants.

'Its prince Sheikh Osama bin Laden, may God protect him, is still leading its jihad (holy war),' Zawahri said.

The first apparent confirmation in a year from a top al Qaeda official that bin Laden was still alive was followed later in the lengthy interview by a call to target oil installations.

I call on mujahideen to concentrate their attacks on Muslims' stolen oil, most of the revenues of which go to the enemies of Islam while most of what they leave is seized by the thieves who rule our countries," he said....

"I call on Muslims everywhere to support their mujahideen brothers in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine with money, men and prayer ... especially (Muslims) in the countries surrounding these battlefields...

"If it wasn't for the Pakistani army's continuous support to Americans, they would have left (Afghanistan) a long time ago and they will leave soon, God willing."...

[bth: When the Red Cross wants to raise money they put Bush Senior and Clinton on a commercial. When al Qaeda wants money, their fund-raising equivalent is to shakedown wealthy oil families in the Middle East. The threat is pay us or we will disrupt your oil and cash flow. So the UAE pays out $400 million per year according to their own figures, and so on. As one may note, not a single oil well, refinery or pipelines has been attacked in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and so on. Perhaps the Pakistani earthquake is diverting muslim charity funds that otherwise go to al Qaeda?]

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U.S. expands effort to counter Iraqi rebel bombs

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon, striving to blunt the deadliest threat posed by Iraqi insurgents, on Monday named a retired four-star general to head an expanded effort to defend against roadside bombs used to kill and maim U.S. troops. "...

Personnel Cuts Ahead at Pentagon

... "While the cuts are yet to be finalized -- they will depend on White House requests for Defense budgets as well as further Pentagon planning -- the Air Force is looking to do away with some 30,000 uniformed and civilian positions by Fiscal Year 2011, the Journal reported. The Army is reportedly looking to delay its expansion by 10 5,000-solider brigades. It is not known exactly how much those Job eliminations would save the department.

Even with the cuts, the Journal said, Defense officials will need to reduce weapons procurement, expected to total some $78 billion in the next fiscal year cycle. "...

Attack on Baghdad Police Academy Kills 43

"BAGHDAD, Iraq - Two suicide bombers detonated explosives inside Baghdad's main police academy Tuesday, killing at least 43 people and wounding more than 70, police said. Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack, the capital's deadliest in months. "

The bombing came as Al-Jazeera aired an insurgent video claiming to have kidnapped a U.S. security consultant — the seventh Westerner abducted in Iraq since Nov. 26 — and the U.S. military reported another American soldier killed in a roadside bombing in Baghdad.

Late Tuesday, another suicide bomber blew himself up in a cafe frequented by police in a Shiite neighborhood, killing three people and wounding 20, police said. One of the dead and three of the wounded were policemen, officials said.

The assault on the police academy was carefully planned to maximize casualties, all of whom were police officers or cadets.

The first bomber struck near a group of students outside a classroom, a U.S. military statement said.

Thinking they were under mortar fire, survivors rushed to a bunker "where the second bomber detonated his vest," the statement added. One of the wounded was an American contractor.

A statement on an Islamist Web site in the name of al-Qaida in Iraq said "two blessed brothers" staged the attack on the academy "which continues to produce the dogs that shed the blood and violate the honor of Sunni Muslims."....

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

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White House putting pressure on Pentagon for spending cuts

"For the first time since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Pentagon is feeling pressure from the White House to rein in rapidly rising spending and, with its budget reaching record levels, it is now looking to cut billions of dollars in manpower and equipment.

Pentagon officials are in the midst of working out the final details of $32 billion in cuts that are to begin with the 2007 budget. They are also meeting with military contractors and members of Congress to prepare them for a slowdown in the double-digit growth of Pentagon spending. "

Pressure for the cuts comes from the Bush administration's growing awareness that the nation cannot afford to pay for new weapons systems costing hundreds of billions of dollars, fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and cover major domestic demands — whether rebuilding Gulf Coast areas damaged by Katrina, financing the new Medicare prescription benefit or reducing the federal budget deficit.

At the Pentagon, planners are facing hard choices between the levels of manpower they want to sustain and the types of weapon systems they want to have.

While there have been periodic attempts recently to hold the line on some costly weapons, this is the first serious threat to the next-generation weapons military contractors have been developing for years. This would be the first reversal in the Pentagon budget since 2001.

Military spending for the current year, not including the supplemental appropriations to cover the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan, has reached $444 billion, a growth of 41 percent since 2001, according to the Pentagon.

On top of that, Congress' supplemental appropriations are now running at $50 billion to $80 billion, bringing total military outlays to around $500 billion a year. Even without these supplemental funds, Pentagon spending accounts for about 18 percent of all federal spending, the largest of any agency. ...

Hadley: Pentagon Propaganda In Iraq Continues

"On Sunday's ABC This Week, Stephen Hadley acknowledged that President Bush has not yet ordered the shut-down of the Pentagon's propaganda campaign in Iraq. "...

[bth: it is hard to imagine how the Pentagon could lose credibility faster, especially after it was so hard to win post Vietnam. Now its just getting pissed away. It is tragic really.]

Democratic leaders in House will seek to block party vote on Iraq war

"House Democratic leaders this week will try to block any effort by members to adopt an official Democratic Caucus position on the Iraq war, recognizing such a move would highlight internal party differences and invite new political troubles, the paid-restricted ROLL CALL reports Monday. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) supports Rep. Murtha's (D-PA) recent call for an immediate beginning to an Iraq withdrawal; her deputy, Steny Hoyer (D-MD) opposes the measure."...

“Will we step out of the way and take advantage of their political problems and be successful, or will we step into the fray and make it about us and muck up a golden opportunity that hasn’t presented itself since we lost the House in 1994?” the aide asked.

[bth: in the meantime soldiers die in the field. Murtha original reason for taking his stand in November was to accelerate the debate to reduce the number of casualties. That statement by him seems to always miss the sound-bytes.]

Training of Iraq forces suffers 'setback'

"DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - The training of Iraqi security forces has suffered a big 'setback' in the last six months, with the army and other forces being increasingly used to settle scores and make other political gains, Iraqi Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer said Monday.
Al-Yawer disputed contentions by U.S. officials, including President Bush, that the training of security forces was gathering speed, resulting in more professional troops.

Bush has said the United States will not pull out of Iraq until Iraq's own forces can maintain security. In a speech last week, he said Iraqi forces are becoming increasingly capable of securing the country.
Al-Yawer, a Sunni moderate, said he agreed the United States cannot pull out now because 'there will be a huge vacuum,' leaving Iraq in danger of falling into civil war. In particular, armed Shiite militias in the south might try to incite war if U.S.-led coalition forces leave, he said in an interview with The Associated Press and a U.S. newspaper at a conference here.

'I wish it were that simple,' he said of calls to set a timetable for withdrawal or a drawdown"...
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Stephen Kaus: Donald Rumsfeld's Willful Ignorance

... "Most interesting to me is Rumsfeld's reaction to the story, now almost a week old, that the U.S. purchased favorable stories in Iraq newspapers.

'We don't know what the facts are yet,' he said, noting that the military is investigating. 'The problem is the story goes out all over the world, over and over and over again, and we're still trying to find out the facts on it.'

Well, there is only one reason why we don't know more facts: because the Pentagon won't tell them to us. Does he really expect us to believe that he has learned nothing about this that can be shared with the American people who are paying the bill?

Actually, there could be a scarier reason, maybe Rumsfeld actually does not know the information.

It is ironic that those running the war complain of unfavorable coverage, given their ubiquitous news management. We are reduced to a choice between anecdotal accounts and government propaganda because Iraq is so out of control that news cannot be covered. What I have read indicates that reporters are kept away from many of the sites where this 'good news' is happening and are justifiably skeptical of rosy government accounts."
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The Next Iraq Offensive - New York Times

Published: December 6, 2005
Doha, Qatar

WHILE the Bush administration and its critics escalated the debate last week over how long our troops should stay in Iraq, I was able to see the issue through the eyes of America's friends in the Persian Gulf region. The Arab states agree on one thing: Iran is emerging as the big winner of the American invasion, and both President Bush's new strategy and the Democratic responses to it dangerously miss the point. It's a devastating critique. And, unfortunately, it is correct.

While American troops have been fighting, and dying, against the Sunni rebels and foreign jihadists, the Shiite clerics in Iraq have achieved fundamental political goals: capturing oil revenues, strengthening the role of Islam in the state, and building up formidable militias that will defend their gains and advance their causes as the Americans draw down and leave. Iraq's neighbors, then, see it evolving into a Shiite-dominated, Iranian buffer state that will strengthen Tehran's power in the Persian Gulf just as it is seeks nuclear weapons and intensifies its rhetoric against Israel.

The American approach shows little sense of Middle Eastern history and politics. As one prominent Kuwaiti academic explained to me, in the Muslim world the best way to deal with your enemies has always been to assimilate them - you never succeed in killing them all, and by trying to do so you just make more enemies. Instead, you must woo them to rejoin society and the government. Military pressure should be used in a calibrated way, to help in the wooing.

If this critique is correct - and it is difficult to argue against it - then we must face its implications. "Staying the course" risks a slow and costly departure of American forces with Iraq increasingly factionalized and aligned with Iran. Yet a more rapid departure of American troops along a timeline, as some Democrats are calling for, simply reduces our ability to affect the outcome and risks broader regional conflict.

We need to keep our troops in Iraq, but we need to modify the strategy far more drastically than anything President Bush called for last week.

On the military side, American and Iraqi forces must take greater control of the country's borders, not only on the Syrian side but also in the east, on the Iranian side. The current strategy of clearing areas near Syria of insurgents and then posting Iraqi troops, backed up by mobile American units, has had success. But it needs to be expanded, especially in the heavily Shiite regions in the southeast, where there has been continuing cross-border traffic from Iran and where the loyalties of the Iraqi troops will be especially tested.

We need to deploy three or four American brigades, some 20,000 troops, with adequate aerial reconnaissance, to provide training, supervision and backup along Iraq's several thousand miles of vulnerable border. And even then, the borders won't be "sealed"; they'll just be more challenging to penetrate.

We must also continue military efforts against insurgent strongholds and bases in the Sunni areas, in conjunction with Iraqi forces. Over the next year or so, this will probably require four to six brigade combat teams, plus an operational reserve, maybe 30,000 troops.

But these efforts must go hand-in-glove with intensified outreach to Iraqi insurgents, to seek their reassimilation into society and their assistance in wiping out residual foreign jihadists. Iraqi and American officials have had sporadic communications with insurgent leaders, but these must lead to deeper discussions on issues like amnesty for insurgents who lay down their arms and opportunities for their further participation in public and private life.

Iraq, for its part, must begin to enforce the ban on armed militias that was enshrined in the new Constitution, especially in the south. Ideally, this should be achieved voluntarily, through political means. But American muscle will have to be made available as a last resort. The Iraqi government should request that for the next two years, six to eight American brigades serve as a backup, available as a last resort if there is trouble in cities with large militia factions like Baghdad, Basra and Najaf. And it is vital that the Pentagon provide our forces with better crowd-control training and many more translators than they have now.

As important as these military changes are, they won't matter at all unless our political strategy is rethought. First, the Iraqis must change the Constitution as quickly as possible after next week's parliamentary elections. Most important, oil revenues should be declared the property of the central government, not the provinces. And the federal concept must be modified to preclude the creation of a Shiite autonomous region in the south.

Also, a broad initiative to reduce sectarian influence within government institutions is long overdue. The elections, in which Sunnis will participate, will help; but the government must do more to ensure that all ethnic and religious groups are represented within ministries, police forces, the army, the judiciary and other overarching federal institutions.

And we must start using America's diplomatic strength with Syria and Iran. The political weakness of Bashar al-Assad opens the door for significant Syrian concessions on controlling the border and cutting support for the jihadists. We also have to stop ignoring Tehran's meddling and begin a public dialogue on respecting Iraqi independence, which will make it far easier to get international support against the Iranians if (and when) they break their word.

Yes, our military forces are dangerously overstretched. Recruiting and retention are suffering; among retired officers, there is deep concern that the Bush administration's attitude on the treatment of detainees has jeopardized not only the safety of our troops but the moral purpose of our effort.

Still, none of this necessitates a pullout until the job is done. After the elections, we should be able to draw down by 30,000 troops from the 160,000 now there. Don't bet against our troops.

What a disaster it would be if the real winner in Iraq turned out to be Iran, a country that supports terrorism and opposes most of what we stand for. Surely, we can summon the wisdom, resources and bipartisan leadership to change the American course before it is too late.

Wesley K. Clark, a former Democratic presidential candidate, was the commander of NATO forces from 1997 to 2000.

[bth: There is no way the US could shift its troops to southeastern Iraq to put down the Iranians based Shia militias. There is no way we can unwind a constitutional process which allows regional militias in practice and the dispersion of oil revenues at the local level. There is every reason to think this may devolve into a civil war, but I can see no compelling reason for the Shiite which have Iranian backing like the Badr folks and US (infidel) troops fighting the Sunni for them, to agree to give up regional control, their militia or their new found oil wealth bought and paid for in American blood and treasure. In short Mr. Clark's comments might have been relevant a year or two ago, but not today. Time marches on and the situation on the ground has permanently changed.... At a minimum Iran now has a Shia mini-state as a buffer on its western border. ... I'm personally believe it unlikely that the US could possibly mount a ground offensive or threat against the Irianians with 70+ million people in mountainous terrain when we cannot hold ground in Iraq which has 25 million and favorable fighting terrain. I think Murtha has it right, the troops have done all that they can do and it is up to the politicians to finish the job.]

Let Rumsfeld Go

"Subjecting the newly declassified White House 'National Strategy for Victory in Iraq' to a cynically inspired computer search, I find that the name 'Donald Rumsfeld' is missing from the document's 35 pages. A reasonable person would be confounded by this. How can we have 'Victory in Iraq' if the man in command has already brought us defeat?

'Defeat' may be too strong a word, but if so, that's only for the moment. If, in fact, U.S. troops pull out of Iraq anytime before their mission is accomplished -- the plan of some Democrats and the wish of a few Republicans -- then defeat is surely what this debacle will be called. Even if that does not happen, any victory that comes three years and more than 2,000 U.S. military deaths later than promised cannot be considered a triumph. Call it what you will, but at the very least it's a tragedy.

Yet the man who has had prime responsibility for Iraq, for planning for the war, waging it and then occupying the country, remains precisely what he has been all this time -- the head of the American military, the secretary of defense, the very honorable (but not very capable) Donald Rumsfeld. His mistakes, miscalculations and arrogant dismissal of dissent have cost American (and Iraqi) lives and prolonged the conflict. If there has been a worse secretary of defense, it could only be Robert McNamara. History has hung Vietnam around his neck like a noose.

Similarly, Iraq will be Rumsfeld's constant companion. He will be faulted for insisting on fighting the war on the cheap -- in terms of both manpower and money. He did not bring enough troops to the task, and when one of his senior generals, the Army chief of staff, Eric K. Shinseki, warned before the war that the occupation would require "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers," he was quickly steered to his next assignment, a retirement community. A four-star had been humbled, and all down the line the brass got the message: Stick with the program.

That program was Rumsfeld's. Early on it meant that the Bush administration eschewed "nation-building," which was some sort of do-gooder enterprise favored by the dreamy Clinton people. Rumsfeld gave a speech titled "Beyond 'Nation-Building,' " which said the United States was out of that line of work. Unfortunately, it is precisely what the United States needed to do in Iraq. The Pentagon left it to others.

Under Rumsfeld's plan, the United States never had enough troops on the ground -- still doesn't, actually. It was Rumsfeld who thought the United States would get into Iraq and then swiftly get out -- leaving nation-building to the United Nations and similar agencies, maybe the Boy Scouts. He dismissed the looting that stripped Iraq bare following the war, setting the stage for the chaos and lawlessness that persist to this day. He made Jay Garner the viceroy of Iraq and then replaced him with L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer, who sacked the Iraqi army and much of the bureaucracy -- a huge mistake. Under Rumsfeld, just about nothing has gone right.

The guy who should pay for the debacle of Iraq is George Bush. Unfortunately, the American people reelected him, and that, as they say, is that. But Rumsfeld serves at the pleasure of the president. He is a man of substantial charm, not to mention monumental self-confidence, but no one can claim he has been a success. He has failed at the task he set for himself -- a swift victory in Iraq. Almost nothing has turned out anything like he said it would. If he were still the chief executive of G.D. Searle & Co., he'd expect the board to fire him. The same standard should apply at the Pentagon.

The "board" in this case is the president. By sticking with Rumsfeld, Bush presumably thinks he is showing that no mistakes were made in the handling of the war -- that the plan is on course. Unfortunately, no one believes that. Common sense rebuts it. If Bush is going to continue to call on Americans to die in Iraq, he at least has to show that he recognizes his mistakes and is willing to change what needs to be changed. (Didn't he learn anything at Harvard Business School?) The sacking of Rumsfeld would be one such signal -- a sign that this intellectually apathetic president is willing to question his assumptions, challenge his convictions and admit that he has been wrong. When it comes to Iraq, if the United States is going to stay, then Rumsfeld has to go.

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Gloves Off: Rumsfeld Attacks Press on Iraq Coverage

"NEW YORK When public support for the Vietnam War sank in the late-1960s, President Nixon, often via his vice president, Spiro Agnew, blamed the 'nattering nabobs' in the media (in speeches crafted by William Safire and Patrick Buchanan). Is history about to repeat itself?

On Monday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attacked U.S. news coverage of the Iraq war and accused journalists of rushing to find fault with the military.

'We've arrived at a strange time in this country where the worst about America and our military seems to so quickly be taken as truth by the press, and reported and spread around the world, often with little context and little scrutiny, let alone correction or accountability after the fact,' Rumsfeld told an audience at the John Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies."...

"To be responsible, one needs to stop defining success in Iraq as the absence of terrorist attacks," Rumsfeld said....

[bth: I have noted since early 2003 when Rumsfeld got into a name game about whether Iraq had evolved into a guerilla war or an insurgency, that whenever he starts talkinga out definitions, he is skirting the truth. If a reduction in terrorist attacks is not a definition of success, what is?]

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ABC News: EXCLUSIVE: Sources Tell ABC News Top Al Qaeda Figures Held in Secret CIA Prisons

"Dec. 5, 2005 - Two CIA secret prisons were operating in Eastern Europe until last month when they were shut down following Human Rights Watch reports of their existence in Poland and Romania.

Current and former CIA officers speaking to ABC News on the condition of confidentiality say the United States scrambled to get all the suspects off European soil before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived there today. The officers say 11 top al Qaeda suspects have now been moved to a new CIA facility in the North African desert.

CIA officials asked ABC News not the name the specific countries where the prisons were located, citing security concerns.

The CIA declines to comment, but current and former intelligence officials tell ABC News that 11 top al Qaeda figures were all held at one point on a former Soviet air base in one Eastern European country. Several of them were later moved to a second Eastern European country.

All but one of these 11 high-value al Qaeda prisoners were subjected to the harshest interrogation techniques in the CIA's secret arsenal, the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" authorized for use by about 14 CIA officers and first reported by ABC News on Nov. 18.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today avoided directly answering the question of secret prisons in remarks made on her departure for Europe, where the issue of secret prisons and secret flights has caused a furor.

Without mentioning any country by name, Rice acknowledged special handling for certain terrorists.

"The captured terrorists of the 21st century do not fit easily into traditional systems of criminal or military justice, which were designed for different needs. We have had to adapt," Rice said.

The CIA has used a small fleet of private jets to move top al Qaeda suspects from Afghanistan and the Middle East to Eastern Europe, where Human Rights Watch has identified Poland and Romania as the countries that housed secret sites.

But Polish Defense Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told ABC Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross today: "My president has said there is no truth in these reports."

Ross asked: "Do you know otherwise, sir, are you aware of these sites being shut down in the last few weeks, operating on a base under your direct control?"

Sikorski answered, "I think this is as much as I can tell you about this."

In Romania, where the secret prison was possibly at a military base visited last year by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the new Romanian prime minister said today there is no evidence of a CIA site but that he will investigate.

Sources tell ABC that the CIA's secret prisons have existed since March 2002 when one was established in Thailand to house the first important al Qaeda target captured. Sources tell ABC that the approval for another secret prison was granted last year by a North African nation.

Sources tell ABC News that the CIA has a related system of secretly returning other prisoners to their home country when they have outlived their usefulness to the United States.

These same sources also tell ABC News that U.S. intelligence also ships some "unlawful combatants" to countries that use interrogation techniques harsher than any authorized for use by U.S. intelligence officers. They say that Jordan, Syria, Morocco and Egypt were among the nations used in order to extract confessions quickly using techniques harsher than those authorized for use by U.S. intelligence officers. These prisoners were not necessarily citizens of those nations.

According to sources directly involved in setting up the CIA secret prison system, it began with the capture of Abu Zabayda in Pakistan. After treatment there for gunshot wounds, he was whisked by the CIA to Thailand where he was housed in a small disused warehouse on an active airbase. There, his cell was kept under 24-hour closed circuit TV surveillance and his life-threatening wounds were tended to by a CIA doctor especially sent from Langley headquarters to assure Abu Zubaydah was given proper care, sources said. Once healthy, he was slapped, grabbed, made to stand long hours in a cold cell and finally handcuffed and strapped feet up to a water board until after .31 seconds he begged for mercy and began to cooperate.

While in the secret facilities in Eastern Europe, Abu Zubaydah and his fellow captives were fed breakfasts that included yogurt and fruit, lunches that included steamed vegetables and beans, and dinners that included meat or chicken and more vegetables and rice, sources say. In exchange for cooperation, prisoners were sometimes given hard candies, deserts and chocolates. Abu Zubaydah was partial to Kit Kats, the same treat Saddam Hussein fancied in his captivity.

"One of the difficult issues in this new kind of conflict is what to do with captured individuals who we know or believe to be terrorists," Rice said. "The individuals come from many countries and are often captured far from their original homes. Among them are those who are effectively stateless, owing allegiance only to the extremist cause of transnational terrorism. Many are extremely dangerous. And some have information that may save lives, perhaps even thousands of lives."

Sources tell ABC News that Jordanians, Egyptians, Moroccans, Tunisians, Algerians, Saudis, Pakistanis, Uzbekistanis and Chinese citizens have been returned to their nations' intelligence services after initial debriefing by U.S. intelligence officers. Rice said renditions such as these are vital to the war on terror. "Rendition is a vital tool in combating transnational terrorism," she said.

Of the 12 high value targets housed by the CIA, only one did not require water boarding before he talked. Ramzi bin al-Shibh broke down in tears after he was walked past the cell of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the operational planner for Sept. 11. Visibly shaken, he started to cry and became as cooperative as if he had been tied down to a water board, sources said.