Saturday, December 24, 2005

Bomb Squads Sweep Indonesian Churches

"JAKARTA, Indonesia - Bomb squads searched for explosives Saturday at churches in the capital Jakarta and its satellite cities hours before Christmas Eve celebrations amid fears that terrorists might carry out attacks to mar the holiday.

Police Lt. Sulianto, who uses only one name, told The Associated Press that 80 bomb squads were being deployed at dozens of churches in Jakarta, Bekasi, Tangerang and Depok.

'We have been prepared to sweep churches in the capital to make sure they are safe,' he said.

The Southeast Asian terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah have been blamed for at least five suicide bombings targeting Western interests since 2002 _ including Oct. 1 restaurant attacks on Bali island _ that together killed more than 240 people.

It is also accused in Christmas Eve church bombings five years ago that left 19 dead.

Sulianto said his men also will sweep two main Catholic Cathedral Church and Protestant Immanuel Church, both located in downtown Jakarta. Some 15,000 churchgoers are expected to worship at the churches on Christmas Eve.
Some 17,000 police have been deployed to guard Jakarta, where terrorists 'could carry out (attack) tonight,' Maj. Gen. Firman Gani, the Jakarta Police Chief told reporters.

Tens of thousands of police are on duty nationwide, and churches in many Indonesian towns have been checked, intelligence officials said. In Poso, where three Christian schoolgirls were beheaded last October, police tightly guarded dozens of churches.

Gani has warned that terrorists might use Christmas and New Year celebrations to carry out attacks."

Japan, US to Develop Missile Interceptor

"Japan's government has announced on Saturday it will join with the United States to develop a joint missile defense system against possible threats from North Korea and longer-term concerns about China's burgeoning military capabilities.

Japan's Security Council and its Cabinet on Saturday approved joint development of a next generation multi-billion-dollar anti-ballistic missile system with the United States. "...

The president of Japan's National Defense Academy, Tadashi Nishihara, acknowledges the joint missile defense project has faced criticism from China.

"They will continue to criticize us for research, development and also deployment. But as our defense white paper has mentioned, there is a growing concern about the increase in the number of missiles being deployed by China," he said. "Therefore, the tension between China and Japan may intensify."

Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga played down such concern, telling reporters Saturday that, when Japan significantly alters its defense policy, it always extensively explains its plan to neighboring countries. He says he believes Japan's neighbors are at ease with this decision.

Other Japanese government ministers, however, have begun expressing increasing anxiety about a lack of transparency in China's growing military budget. Foreign Minister Taro Aso recently said China is beginning to be a threat to Japan.

The next stage for the joint project will be to actually produce an advanced model of the sea-based missile interceptor. The government has authorized $30 million in next year's budget for development costs. There is no set date for deployment of the system.

 Posted by Picasa

CIA's Goss Reportedly Warned Ankara Of Iranian Threat

"Cumhuriyet - During his recent visit to Ankara, CIA Director Porter Goss reportedly brought three dossiers on Iran to Ankara.

Goss is said to have asked for Turkey's support for Washington's policy against Iran's nuclear activities, charging that Tehran had supported terrorism and taken part in activities against Turkey.

Goss also asked Ankara to be ready for a possible US air operation against Iran and Syria.

Goss, who came to Ankara just after FBI Director Robert Mueller's visit, brought up Iran's alleged attempts to develop nuclear weapons. It was said that Goss first told Ankara that Iran has nuclear weapons and this situation was creating a huge threat for both Turkey and other states in the region. Diplomatic sources say that Washington wants Turkey to coordinate with its Iran policies. The second dossier is about Iran's stance on terrorism.

The CIA argued that Iran was supporting terrorism, the PKK and al-Qaeda. The third had to do with Iran's alleged stance against Ankara. Goss said that Tehran sees Turkey as an enemy and would try to "export its regime."
 Posted by Picasa

Military Confirms Surge in Airstrikes

"U.S. airstrikes in Iraq have surged this fall, jumping to nearly five times the average monthly rate earlier in the year, according to U.S. military figures.

Until the end of August, U.S. warplanes were conducting about 25 strikes a month. The number rose to 62 in September, then to 122 in October and 120 in November."

Several U.S. officers involved in operations in Iraq attributed much of the increase to a series of ground offensives in western Anbar province. Those offensives, conducted by U.S. Marines and Iraqi forces, were aimed at clearing foreign fighters and other insurgents from the Euphrates River Valley and establishing Iraqi control over the Syrian border area.

But Air Force Maj. Gen. Allen G. Peck, deputy commander of the U.S. air operations center in the region, said the higher strike numbers also reflected more aggressive military operations in other parts of Iraq that were undertaken to improve security for last week's national elections.

"I'm hard-pressed to provide a single definitive explanation for the increase," Peck said in a telephone interview.

For most airstrikes in Iraq, U.S. crews have been employing 500-pound, precision-guided bombs rather than the 1,000- or 2,000-pound versions used in past conflicts, Peck said. The smaller bombs are intended to reduce the potential for collateral damage.

In limited cases, the 100-pound Hellfire missile is used. "It won't knock down a house, but it can be effective in taking out a car," Peck said.

With the Pentagon preparing to reduce the level of U.S. ground forces in Iraq next year, some defense experts have speculated that U.S. airpower will be used more intensively to support operations by Iraq's fledgling security forces and protect U.S. advisers embedded with them. Indeed, American commanders have said that U.S. air forces in the region will not be drawn down as quickly as ground forces.

[bth: looks like Seymour Hersh was right when he reported about a month ago that the plan was to draw down troops but increase air attacks and begin letting Iraqis call in air strikes using US aircraft on insurgent targets. Also the introduction of widely available 500 pound bombs has made air attacks more practical. Curious that artillery is virtually unused in this conflict and artillery units are being converted over to military police units.]

Attacked American convoy Posted by Picasa

Marines in Fallujah train station Posted by Picasa

Early Warning by William M. Arkin - The Curious Section 126 of the Patriot Act

"What is it that the National Security Agency began doing after 9/11 that necessitated Presidential authorization for warantless surveillance?

We have all learned in the past week that the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act of 1978 contains provisions that allow the government to conduct quick reaction surveillance of an individual and go to the court afterwards for a warrant.

So what would the NSA need to do that isn't covered by the provisions of FISA?
My guess is the government decided after 9/11 to monitor everyone.

Thanks JMC for pointing out that the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act Of 2005 contains a Section 126, inserted by the House, requiring the Attorney General to submit a report to Congress 'on any initiative of the Department of Justice that uses or is intended to develop pattern-based data-mining technology.'

Data-mining is defined in Section 126 as:

'a query or search or other analysis of one or more electronic databases, where--
(A) at least one of the databases was obtained from or remains under the control of a non-Federal entity, or the information was acquired initially by another department or agency of the Federal Government for purposes other than intelligence or law enforcement;

(B) the search does not use personal identifiers of a specific individual or does not utilize inputs that appear on their face to identify or be associated with a specified individual to acquire information; and

(C) a department or agency of the Federal Government is conducting the query or search or other analysis to find a pattern indicating terrorist or other criminal activity.
In English?

Congress is seeking assurances that "the privacy and due process rights of individuals" is protected in the course of the government using massive databases of non-publicly available data; both proprietary databases and its own compiled intelligence and law enforcement databases to "search" for terrorists and terrorist connections.

In this program, the subject of monitoring is not one individual but everyone
. ...

Gassing Kurds was genocide, court decides

"A Dutch judge ruled yesterday that the gassing of thousands of Kurds in Iraq in the 1980s was genocide. The ruling comes as an Iraqi court is reportedly preparing to charge Saddam Hussein over the attack. "....

Godalming geek made millions running the Pentagon's propaganda war in Iraq

"IT WAS astounding enough for Washington's political elite: last month they discovered that the man at the heart of a scandal over the planting of US propaganda in Iraqi newspapers was a dapper but unknown 30-year-old Oxford graduate who had somehow managed to land a $100 million Pentagon contract.

What is even more remarkable however, after an investigation by The Times, is that just ten years ago Christian Bailey, whose US company is under investigation for planting fake news stories in Iraqi newspapers, was a nerdy, socially awkward English school-leaver called Jozefowicz. "

The transformation of the geeky but ambitious Christian Jozefowicz, who just a few years ago was growing up in a modest terraced house in Godalming, Surrey, to the charming, baby-faced multimillionaire Christian Bailey now rubbing shoulders with some of the most powerful figures in Washington — and who next year will probably face questions on Capitol Hill about his company — is one of the more extraordinary stories to have emerged from the Iraq war.

This month it was revealed that Mr Bailey’s US company, the Lincoln Group, was the recipient of a Pentagon contract to help to fight the information war in Iraq. It then emerged that the company was paying Iraqi journalists to plant optimistic news “stories” in Iraqi papers that had been written by the US military.

Interference with the press touches a raw nerve in America. The fake stories revelation provoked a furore among Republicans and Democrats. President Bush said he was “very troubled” by it. Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, has promised a Pentagon investigation. Congress plans hearings into the scandal.

The journey from the Royal Grammar School, Guildford, which Mr Bailey left in 1994, to the heart of K Street in Washington, the centre of money and influence in the US capital, has been remarkably rapid. Today he has a reputation in Washington for being a socialite with links to influential Republicans. He is a helicopter and aircraft pilot and his home is in a fashionable area.

Through a Lincoln Group spokesman, Mr Bailey answered questions from The Times to help to explain how, at just 30, he landed the Pentagon as an important client. He was born Christian Martin Jozefowicz on November 28, 1975, in Kingston upon Thames, to Jerzy and Anne Jozefowicz.

His father, a Polish architect, died in April 1998. His mother, who has since reverted to her maiden name of Seifert, was born in West Germany. The family lived in East Molesey, southwest London, before moving to Godalming, Surrey.

Mr Bailey’s Royal Grammar School contemporaries recall a business-obsessed, “geeky” individual with few friends. “He was a nerd at school,” one told The Times. Another described him as a “school joke” who told everyone he was going to be a millionaire. He was the first at school to have a mobile phone and was interested in early versions of the personal computer.

He founded a Young Enterprise company, Chameleon, which led to his selection as one of the top six Young Enterprise participants in Britain.

His school yearbook records Christian Jozefowicz as “Mr Business himself” and that he was elected vice-president of the International Student Forum, a business gathering in the US. In 1994 he won a place at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he read economics and management. He kept computers in his room, thought for monitoring the stock markets.

In his third year at Oxford he hired an assistant to help him to run his first proper company, Linck Ltd, which sold self-help tapes. In 1998, he changed his name to Bailey. “Following his father’s death, Bailey assumed the name for family reasons, something which children commonly do,” a Lincoln Group spokesman said. In the late 1990s he moved to San Francisco to try his hand as a dotcom entrepreneur, and then to New York, where he became treasurer of the Oxonion Society, a club for intellectual Anglophiles. He became co-chairman of a networking group for young Republicans. With his Republican contacts growing, Mr Bailey moved to Washington, where he spotted a golden business opportunity: the looming war in Iraq. He formed a partnership with Paige Craig, a former US Marine who served in Iraq.

In early 2003, just before the invasion, Mr Bailey formed a Lincoln subsidiary, the Lincoln Alliance Corp, offering “tailored intelligence services [for] government clients faced with intelligence challenges”. He also formed another subsidiary, Iraqex, which won a $6 million Pentagon contract to launch “an aggressive advertising and PR campaign that will accurately inform the Iraqi people of the c oalition’s goals and gain their support”.

The big breakthrough came in June this year when the Pentagon awarded the Lincoln Group a contract worth up to $100 million over five years to support the US military’s “joint psychological operations”, known as “psyops”.

Lincoln group defended the planting of stories and the company has emphasised that none of them were factually incorrect. “By not speaking through the local media, the coalition would allow a vacuum for rumours and untruths perpetrated by the insurgents’ thuggery and threats,” a spokesman said.


November 28, 1975: Born Christian Jozefowicz, Kingston upon Thames

1987-94: Attends the fee-paying Royal Grammar School, Guildford

1993-94: Listed on electoral roll as Christian Jozefowicz-Seifert

1994-97: Obtains a 2:1 in economics and management from Lincoln College, Oxford. While at university, runs Linck Ltd.

October 1998: Founds Linck Corporate Finance under the name of Christian Bailey. Fails to declare previous surname or other directorship

1999: Moves to America

2003: Co-founds Lincoln Group, now subject to investigation into planting of US military propaganda in Iraqi newspapers

[bth: This whole thing is rotten. When Lincoln Group won its contract for $100 million out of nowhere it immediately subcontracted with a PR firm BKSH & Associates run by Charles Black, Jr. who is a direct connection with the Republican National Committee and foreign governments/parties (see articles below regarding Chalabi hiring BKSH as a lobbyist). Is this a money funnel connecting the government and Republican party hacks?]
 Posted by Picasa

A Mission That Ended in Inferno for 3 Women - New York Times

"The 120-degree June heat and rising tension in Falluja had already frayed the nerves of the Marine women when the cargo truck they were riding in pulled onto the main road and turned toward camp. It was only a 15-minute trip. But the blast took mere seconds to incinerate lives."

The suicide bomber had waited for his victims alongside the road, and then rammed his car into the truck with deadly precision. The ambush ignited an inferno - scorching flesh, scattering bodies and mixing smoke, blood and dirt.

Several of the women lost the skin on their hands. One's goggles fused to her cheeks. After rolling 50 yards on fire, the truck flipped and spilled the women onto the road, where enemy snipers opened fire. With their own ammunition bursting in the heat, the women crawled and pulled one another from the burning wreckage.

They were parched and dazed, and as one marine pleaded for water, another asked over and over, "How do I look?"

"It was like somebody had ripped her face off," said Cpl. Sally J. Saalman, the leader of the group, who was waving her own hands to cool them. "I told her, 'It'll be all right, babe.' "

But it wasn't. Three women died: a 20-year-old who had enlisted to support her mother, a 21-year-old former cheerleader and a 43-year-old single mother on her second tour in Iraq.

Three male marines, including two who provided security for the cargo truck, were also killed. Corporal Saalman and six other women were flown to a burn center in Texas, where even morphine, she said, could not kill the pain of having their charred skin scrubbed off.

The ambush in Falluja made June 23 one of the worst days in the history of women in the American military. Yet it faded into the running narrative of Iraq, tallied up as another tragic but unavoidable consequence of war.

At the White House the next day, President Bush spoke generally of the insurgents' resolve: "It's hard to stop suicide bombers." Answering questions over the next week about the attack, the Defense Department issued assurances that the women had been adequately protected.

But an examination of the attack, pieced together through interviews in Falluja and the United States, military documents and photographs taken by marines at the time, shows the opposite. The military sent the women off that day with substandard armor, inadequate security and faulty tactics, and the predictability of their daily commute through one of the most volatile parts of Iraq made them an open target.

The problems mounted in a lethal chain.

The cargo truck the women rode in was a relic, never intended for warfare with insurgents, and had mere improvised metal shielding that only rose to their shoulders. The flames from the blast simply shot over the top.

Their convoy was protected by just two Humvees with mounted machine guns. A third was supposed to be there but had been diverted that day by a security team that strained to juggle competing demands. But the Falluja area was so dangerous that the local Marine commander typically had four Humvees when he ventured out.

Perhaps most significantly, the security team let the suicide bomber pull to the side of the road as the convoy passed, rather than ordering him to move ahead to keep him away from the women. Marines involved in the operation called the tactic, commonly used, a serious error.

"The females should never have been transported like that," said Sgt. Carozio V. Bass, one of the marines who escorted the convoy. "We didn't have enough people or proper vehicles."

If anything, the women needed more protection because of their work in Falluja and the tension it was igniting, some marines said. They had been searching Iraqi women for weapons and other contraband and felt certain the task was infuriating insurgents. Even so, the military had the women follow a predictable routine: traveling to and from their camp each day at roughly the same time and on the same route through the city.

Some marines questioned whether they should have been traveling at all. Male marines also worked at the checkpoints, but did not have to face the dangers of the daily commute. They slept at a Marine outpost in downtown Falluja, but Marine Corps rules barred the women from sharing that space with the men.

In the weeks that followed, the wounded women said, they were told not to speak with reporters. Two sergeants said they were asked to chronicle the attack in written statements, but the Marine Corps said it decided against investigating the episode.

Marine officials defended the security measures that had been taken in transporting the women and armoring the vehicles. They said that suicide bombings were still infrequent in Falluja at that time.

"That convoy was as protected as many of the convoys that were run before," said Col. Charles M. Gurganus, who commanded Marine operations in Falluja at the time. "There is absolutely no way that you can prepare for every eventuality."

The day after the attack, however, the Marines in Falluja increased to five the number of Humvees in the convoy transporting a new crew of women, added more weapons for protection and stopped letting cars wait on the side of the road for the convoy to pass. Eventually, they switched to armored Humvees instead of cargo trucks.

The marines killed and wounded that day were part of the heavy toll that the Marine Corps has borne since it returned to Iraq in early 2004 to replace exhausted Army units.

Marine officials point out that they have inherited some of the most violent turf in Iraq. But some marines said that their trucks, training and personnel were more suitable for their traditional mission of establishing beachheads than for combating a sustained insurgency. Since returning to Iraq, the Marines have had one-sixth of the military personnel in the war, but have accounted for one-third of the deaths, Pentagon records show.

And the deadly encounters, like the one in Falluja, take a toll far beyond the numbers.

"I think about it every day, 24 hours a day," said Lance Cpl. Erin Liberty, whose seatmate on the truck that day in June was so badly burned that her body was identifiable only by dog tags. "You're never happy, you're never sad, you're never mad. You're just pretty much numb to everything."

A Sense of Dread

For four months this year, about 20 women called Camp Falluja home. They made up a sort of platoon, called the Female Search Force, working out of the Marine camp, an asphalt and gravel base that lies a few miles outside Falluja.

The Marines prohibit women from participating in direct ground combat. So some of the women had performed duties in the mailroom, others in the radio shack. In February, though, the military formed the group to help search Iraqi women at the city's checkpoints.

But if screening Iraqis did not constitute a combat job, the daily commute between camp and city would amount to one.

Each day at 5 a.m., the marines rose from their canvas cots and were taken by truck to downtown Falluja. They often did not return until 11 p.m. On good days, the women joshed with the Iraqis, their huge goggles bringing either squeals or tears from children. But many older Iraqi women objected to being searched.

"One lady came through and had a bunch of ID's on her," Cpl. Christina J. Humphrey, of Chico, Calif., said in a phone interview from a base in Okinawa, Japan. "I said I have to confiscate them and she grabbed my flak jacket."

By June, the checkpoints were sweltering and, the women said, a sense of dread was setting in.

Eighteen members of the military had been killed in the Falluja area and nearby Ramadi that month. Marine and Iraqi forces were encountering explosives nearly every day. In the week before the women were attacked, an Iraqi general survived a suicide car bombing in Falluja.

Cpl. Ramona M. Valdez, 20, who worked at the Statue of Liberty before joining the Marines in early 2002 to support her mother in the Bronx, regularly asked to be relieved from the checkpoint duty. The job even spooked Petty Officer First Class Regina R. Clark, a 43-year-old Navy Seabee from Centralia, Wash., who was in Iraq for the second time. She had taken her previous tour in such stride that she had even shipped a stray dog back home.

This time was different. "She had bad feelings all around," said Kelly Pennington, a friend in Washington. "Her whole attitude went from getting the dog home to getting herself home safe."

Making sure the women's commute was safe was the responsibility of the men who provided convoy security. "That was their job," said Corporal Saalman, the group's leader, of Branchville, Ind.

Two weeks before the attack, the mood changed for the worse. The Iraqi women became withdrawn, and the marines began to suspect trouble.

"It was like a cold feeling," Corporal Saalman said. "Everything was slow moving."

Shorthanded Forces

The skies in Falluja on June 23 were beginning to clear from a sandstorm when Sergeant Bass, the convoy member, prepared to help take the women back to camp.

His unit provided security for the short trip, dubbed the Milk Run, but members had mixed feelings when they got the job a few weeks earlier. The marines were already escorting five or more convoys of supplies and military personnel in and around Falluja each day and Sergeant Bass and other team members said they struggled to provide each convoy with full protection.

The problem was particularly acute when it came to Humvees.

Sgt. James P. Sherlock, whose Humvee would have been in the convoy that day behind the women's truck, said he had been pulled off to patrol a nearby highway that was seen as more of a threat.

"It was a manpower issue," Sergeant Bass said.

He said his section of the security unit had roughly 10 Humvees at its disposal. But each vehicle required three to five marines, and by June their numbers had dropped to about 30, which stretched them thin.

Sergeant Bass said no one raised any objection to using just two Humvees that day because, while all of Falluja was dangerous, there had been no recent attacks on that stretch of road. Moreover, he said, the Marines were trying to lower their profile.

"We were trying to give the people some normalcy," he said. "We didn't want to appear to them as being bullies."

Colonel Gurganus, the former commander in Falluja, said that while he usually had an escort of four Humvees, that number rose to as many as eight when other officers or dignitaries joined him.

There were no hard and fast rules on how many Humvees to use, nor were there any on how to position the women in the convoy. Often, the women would mix with the men in a second cargo truck, which Sergeant Bass said he preferred because it made them a less enticing target.

The Marine compound in downtown Falluja, where the convoy was staged, is easily observable from nearby buildings, and Sergeant Bass said he was convinced that the insurgents did their homework.

"They planned this maybe for months," he said. "Scoped our convoy out and saw typically where do the females sit. Maybe they had someone watching and they called on the cellphone."

That evening, however, Corporal Saalman said she was focused on a routine but necessary chore: calling the roll. So she had all the women climb onto the bed of one truck.

'Flames Everywhere'

Falluja should have been bustling on a Thursday evening in summertime. But the streets had been deserted for much of the day, which the American military had learned could be a signal that residents had been tipped off to an impending attack.

"I even told my buddy, 'Something bad is going to happen today,' " Corporal Saalman said.

At 7:20 p.m., there was only one car on the road when the women's convoy left. The marines in the lead Humvee waved the driver of a car to the side of the road and later said that his demeanor had raised no alarms.

The driver waited, they said, for the lead Humvee to pass and then hit the women's cargo truck, striking just behind the cab on the passenger's side.

The blast instantly killed the truck's assistant driver, Cpl. Chad W. Powell, an outdoorsman and third-generation marine from West Monroe, La., and Pfc. Veashna Muy, 20, of Los Angeles, who was in charge of operating a gun atop the cargo truck.

In the back, two of the women, Petty Officer Clark and Corporal Valdez, died within moments, according to casualty reports. Lance Cpl. Holly A. Charette, 21, of Cranston, R.I., the former cheerleader, died three hours later after receiving treatment at Camp Falluja, the records show.

"It was orange and black and red smoke, flames everywhere, coming at us," Corporal Liberty recalled. "I didn't see my childhood, or a big white light. I just closed my eyes and I'm like, 'Wow, I'm going to die.' "

The marines in the rear Humvee heard the explosion, but were so far back they did not know what had been hit. Sergeant Bass took a photograph that shows a huge plume of smoke some 200 yards away.

Then came the radio call from the marines who were leading the convoy: "We've been hit! We've been hit! We've taken mass casualties. Get the doc up here."

Sergeants Bass and Timothy Lawson ran, with the medic, just as snipers across the road opened fire. When they arrived they found Corporal Liberty trying to hoist a woman away from the burning truck.

"I tried to pick her up by the back of her flak jacket," said Corporal Liberty, who is now being treated in North Carolina for an injured neck, shrapnel in one leg and combat stress. "She was a big healthy woman with lots of muscle, and she was down in the dirt and blood and I said, 'Come on girl, we've got to go.' "

Another marine grabbed Corporal Liberty and told her to let go. The woman was already dead.

The women took shelter at a storefront about 100 yards off the road and the few men who were present had to run back and forth carrying the wounded. In all, 13 women and men were injured.

Against orders, two men from the second cargo truck jumped out and raced ahead to help, including Cpl. Carlos Pineda, a 23-year-old from Los Angeles. When smoke from the flaming truck cleared for a moment, a bullet found the gap in the armor on his side and sliced through his lungs.

His widow, Ana, said she later received a letter he wrote the day before, saying he had narrowly escaped harm in another attack. "He said, 'I feel my luck here is just running out.' "

When another Marine unit arrived on the scene, the dead and wounded were loaded onto the second cargo truck and the convoy pressed on to camp. One of the two Humvees then broke down, and one of the injured women had to be moved to the cargo truck.

In the back, Corporal Saalman started to sing. First, "America the Beautiful," then "Amazing Grace."

"I have this thing ever since I was little, if I get scared or I'm worried or someone else is worried, I sing," said Corporal Saalman, whose nickname is Songbird.

It calmed her platoon, the marines said, and between verses she consoled the woman whose scorched head lay in her lap.

Wrong Armor for the Mission

Long before that June day, Marine commanders were wrestling with a vexing problem: their troops lacked the right protection for a war exacting its toll in roadside bombs.

To carry out its traditional mission of leading invasions, the Marines have lightly armored amphibious vehicles to get them onto dry ground and trucks to ferry them and their supplies on the back lines. The cargo truck that carried the security checkpoint workers through Falluja each day was conceived of in the early 1990's without armor for noncombat supply lines.

"We equip for what we fight and the truck was not designed to be an armored vehicle," said Maj. Gen. William D. Catto, the leader of the unit responsible for equipping marines, in an interview at his headquarters in Quantico, Va.

In November of 2003, as the Pentagon was ordering the Marines to relieve Army troops in Iraq, General Catto's team told Oshkosh Truck, which makes the cargo truck, to help create an integrated armor system, according to records released to The New York Times.

"During the fall of 2003, we noted the alarming increase in the number of Army vehicles under attack," Col. Susan Schuler, a Marine procurement official, said in an e-mail message. "Therefore, anticipating that Marine units would return to Iraq in early 2004, we had to address vehicle hardening of all our fleets."

General Catto said the plan was ideal but was taking too long. In the meantime, they began buying ceramic panels used on military aircraft, but could not get enough from the single company that was making them.

So they obtained metal plates, which were neither as strong nor as tall as the factory armor that was being developed.

The women's truck that was hit in Falluja had been fitted with the plates and General Catto said he had been told that they repelled the blast. But the makeshift shielding, just 36½ inches tall, left the women's necks and heads exposed.

A year earlier, when four marines were killed in Ramadi after a roadside bomb hit their Humvee, their company leader told The Times that a few inches more of steel would have saved their lives.

A contract to produce the new factory armor for the cargo trucks, which is double-walled and 46 inches high, was awarded in September 2004, but the Marine Corps said it could find only one company to make it: Plasan Sasa, based in Kibbutz Sasa, Israel.

With nearly 1,000 cargo trucks in Iraq, General Catto said he would like to have multiple companies making the armor, but Plasan Sasa holds the rights to the design. However, Plasan's chief executive, Dan Ziv, said his firm had more than kept pace with the Marines' schedule. "We are not the bottleneck at the moment," he said.

The armor kits take 300 hours of work to install, and General Catto said that with the marines so pressed by the war, they could not easily give up their trucks to have the work done. The first trucks retrofitted with factory armor began showing up in the field on May 31, the Marines said, and as of last week half of its cargo trucks had this armor installed. That leaves about 460 trucks in Iraq with the same protection as the truck that carried the Marine women in Falluja.

Despite the June 23 ambush, Corporal Saalman said she was willing to return to Iraq.

Sergeant Bass, who has returned to a marketing job in San Diego, said he had turned the events over and over in his head. "I don't want to blame everything on the Marine Corps," he said. "Leaders make mistakes and aren't perfect."

Then he added: "We were undermanned and overtaxed, and that is not out of the norm for the Marine Corps. But in a wartime situation it really hindered our capability and sometimes our willingness to do things."

Al Qaeda fiend targeted Bush

"WASHINGTON - Before he was captured last spring, Osama Bin Laden's top operational commander was solely focused on killing President Bush and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharaff, the Daily News has learned.

The capture last May of Al Qaeda's No. 3 leader, Abu Faraj Al-Libi, apparently thwarted plots to assassinate the two partners in the global war on terror, said a senior Pakistani official, whose information was corroborated by two senior U.S. counterterrorism officials.

'Al-Libi had one mission: Kill Bush and Musharraf,' the Pakistani official told The News. 'He wanted to kill Bush in the White House, preferably.'

'It was clearly something they wanted to do. There's no question about that. It's the holy grail of jihad,' a senior U.S. counterterrorism official confirmed.

Al-Libi organized several failed assassination attempts on Musharraf before he was nabbed, officials have said. But the plot by Al Qaeda's international operations chief to send assassins to the U.S. to kill Bush was only disclosed this week.

The officials asked for anonymity because details of the Bush plot are still highly classified. The officials added that there is little evidence the U.S. mission advanced beyond initial planning by Al-Libi in Pakistan"...

[bth: while its probably true the al-Qaeda would like to kill Bush, the timing of this leak on an event over two years old, suggests to me it was motivated by the US Administration or the Pakistanis which have been seeking new military and financial arrangements as noted by Cheney's visit there earlier this week. The Paki's want us to remember how important they are to our war on terror so we will continue to pay them for the effort.]

Alito Urged Wiretap Immunity

"Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. once argued that the nation's top law enforcement official deserves blanket protection from lawsuits when acting in the name of national security, even when those actions involve the illegal wiretapping of American citizens, documents released yesterday show."...
 Posted by Picasa

Federal agents' visit was a hoax: 12/ 24/ 2005

" NEW BEDFORD -- The UMass Dartmouth student who claimed to have been visited by Homeland Security agents over his request for 'The Little Red Book' by Mao Zedong has admitted to making up the entire story.

The 22-year-old student tearfully admitted he made the story up to his history professor, Dr. Brian Glyn Williams, and his parents, after being confronted with the inconsistencies in his account.

Had the student stuck to his original story, it might never have been proved false.

But on Thursday, when the student told his tale in the office of UMass Dartmouth professor Dr. Robert Pontbriand to Dr. Williams, Dr. Pontbriand, university spokesman John Hoey and The Standard-Times, the student added new details.

The agents had returned, the student said, just last night. The two agents, the student, his parents and the student's uncle all signed confidentiality agreements, he claimed, to put an end to the matter.

But when Dr. Williams went to the student's home yesterday and relayed that part of the story to his parents, it was the first time they had heard it. The story began to unravel, and the student, faced with the truth, broke down and cried.

It was a dramatic turnaround from the day before.

For more than an hour on Thursday, he spoke of two visits from Homeland Security over his inter-library loan request for the 1965, Peking Press version of 'Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung,' which is the book's official title.

His basic tale remained the same: The book was on a government watch list, and his loan request had triggered a visit from an agent who was seeking to 'tame' reading of particular books. He said he saw a long list of such books. "

In the days after its initial reporting on Dec. 17 in The Standard-Times, the story had become an international phenomenon on the Internet. Media outlets from around the world were requesting interviews with the students, and a number of reporters had been asking UMass Dartmouth students and professors for information.

The story's release came at a perfect storm in the news cycle.
Only a day before, The New York Times had reported that President Bush had allowed the National Security Agency to conduct wiretaps on international phone calls from the United States without a warrant. The Patriot Act, created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to allow the government greater authority to monitor for possible terrorism activities, was up for re-authorization in Congress.

There was an increased sense among some Americans that the U.S. government was overstepping its bounds and trampling on civil liberties in order to thwart future attacks of terrorism. The story of a college student being questioned for requesting a 40-year old book on Communism fed right into that atmosphere.
In Thursday's retelling of the story, the student added several new twists, ones that the professors and journalist had not heard before. The biggest new piece of information was an alleged second visit of Homeland Security agents the previous night, where two agents waited in his living room for two hours with his parents and brother while he drove back from a retreat in western Massachusetts. He said he, the agents, his parents and his uncle all signed confidentiality agreements that the story would never be told.

He revealed the agents' names: one was Nicolai Brushaev or Broshaev, and the other was simply Agent Roberts. He said they were dressed in black suits with thin black ties, "just like the guys in Men in Black."

He had dates and times and places, things he had signed and sent back in order to receive the book. The tale involved his twin brother, who allegedly requested the book for him at UMass Amherst; his uncle, a former FBI attorney who took care of all the paperwork; and his parents, who signed those confidentiality agreements.

But by now, the story had too many holes. Every time there was a fact to be had that would verify the story -- providing a copy of the confidentiality agreements the student and agent signed, for example -- there would be a convenient excuse. The uncle took all the documents home to Puerto Rico, he said.

What was the address of the Homeland Security building in Boston where he and his uncle visited the agency and actually received a copy of the book? It was a brick building, he said, but he couldn't remember where it was, or what was around it.

He said he met a former professor at the mysterious Homeland Security building who had requested a book on bomb-making, along with two Ph.D. students and a one pursuing a master's degree who had also been stopped from accessing books. The student couldn't remember their names, but the former professor had appeared on the Bill O'Reilly show on Fox News recently, he said.

The former professor's appearance on The O'Reilly Factor did not check out.

Other proof was sought.

Were there any copies of the inter-library loan request? No.

Did the agents leave their cards, or any paperwork at your home? No.

His brother, a student at Amherst, told Dr. Williams that he had never made the inter-library loan request on behalf of his brother.
While The Standard-Times had tape recorded the entire tale on Thursday, the reporter could not reach the student for comment after he admitted making up the story. Phone calls and a note on the door were not returned.

At the request of the two professors and the university, The Standard-Times has agreed to withhold his name.

During the whole episode, the professors said that while they wanted to protect the student from the media that were flooding their voice mails and e-mail boxes seeking comment and information, they also wanted to know: Was the story true?

"I grew skeptical of this story, as did Bob, considering the ramifications," Dr. Williams said yesterday. "I spent the last five days avoiding work, and the international media, and rest, trying to get names and dates and facts. My investigation eventually took me to his house, where I began to investigate family matters. I eventually found out the whole thing had been invented, and I'm happy to report that it's safe to borrow books."

Dr. Williams said he does not regret bringing the story to light, but that now the issue can be put to rest.

"I wasn't involved in some partisan struggle to embarrass the Bush administration, I just wanted the truth," he said.

Dr. Pontbriand said the entire episode has been "an incredible experience and exposure for something a student had said." He said all along, his only desire had been to "get to the bottom of it and get the truth of the matter."

"When it blew up into an international story, our only desire was to interview this student and get to the truth. We did not want from the outset to declare the student a liar, but we wanted to check out his story," he said. "It was a disastrous thing for him to do. He needs attention, he needs care. I feel for the kid. We have great concern for this student's health and welfare."

Mr. Hoey, the university spokesman, said the university had been unable to substantiate any of the facts of the story since it first was reported in The Standard-Times on Dec. 17.

As to any possible repercussions against the student, Mr. Hoey said, "We consider this to be an issue to be handled faculty member to student. We wouldn't discuss publicly any other action. Student discipline is a private matter."

Dr. Williams said the whole affair has had one bright point: The question of whether it is safe for students to do research has been answered.

"I can now tell my students that it is safe to do research without being monitored," he said. "With that hanging in the air like before, I couldn't say that to them."

The student's motivation remains a mystery, but in the interview on Thursday, he provided a glimpse.

"When I came back, like wow, there's this circus coming on. I saw my cell phone, and I see like, wow, I have something like 75 messages and like something like 87 missed calls," he said. "Wow, I was popular. I usually get one or probably two a week and that's about it, and I usually pick them up."

Contact Aaron Nicodemus at

Friday, December 23, 2005

Osama Bin Laden's niece Posted by Picasa

NOTEBOOK: Cheney Flies in Comfort - Yahoo! News

... "The vice president is an iPod fan, and keeping it charged is a priority for his staff.
Normally that isn't an issue, even when he's flying around the world. Air Force II is equipped with outlets in each row of seats.

But when Dick Cheney was traveling home overnight Wednesday from his diplomatic mission, most of the outlets went on the fritz.

Working passengers began lining up their laptops to share the power from a couple of working outlets - particularly the reporters who urgently needed to prepare their articles to transmit during a quick refueling stop in England.

But when Cheney said his iPod needed to be recharged, it took precedent above all else and dominated one precious outlet for several hours. The vice president's press staff intervened so a reporter could use the outlet for 15 minutes to charge a dead laptop, but then the digital music device was plugged back in.

That way, Cheney got his press coverage and his music, too. "

[bth: nothing like pissing off a plane full of reporters.]

Note how the bars of his cage are now painted brown when they used to be white making it look more like a jail than a baby crib. Posted by Picasa


"The Lebanese Government's stonewalling attitude in protecting the Lebanese convicted murderer of an American sailor during the TWA 847 hijacking should prompt the U.S. Government to consider placing Lebanon on the State Department's list of state supporters of terrorism.

This is the time of the year that the State Department traditionally reviews the terrorist list while preparing its annual international terrorism report to Congress at the end of April.

Lebanon provides sanctuary to a number of terrorists sought by the United States, as well as allowing terrorist groups to operate from its soil.

Mohammad Ali Hamadi, who was released last week from a German jail after serving nearly 19 years for the killing of Robert Stethem during 1985 airline hijacking, flew back to Lebanon last week. According to press reports, he was briefly detained in Lebanon and then released.

The Beirut Daily Star reported that the Lebanese government has criticized the U.S. demand that Lebanon hand over Hamadi. 'Originally they [the U.S. government] could have requested that Germany hand him over. Why are they asking us?' Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was quoted as telling reporters Wednesday. The Prime Minister should know better.

In fact the U.S. had repeatedly asked Germany to extradite Hamadi, ever since he was arrested in 1987 while trying to enter Germany. We approached the Germans again recently when he was coming up for parole hearings in January. However the Germans quietly released him last week in what had the earmarks of a deal to obtain the release of a German archeologist who was kidnapped in Iraq."...
 Posted by Picasa

No official U.S. request to Lebanon for Hammadi

"BEIRUT: While the U.S. declared Thursday that it had requested Germany not release an alleged Hizbullah hijacker accused of killing a U.S. Navy diver back to Lebanon, it has yet to officially contact Lebanese authorities regarding the issue.

'It has all been just statements so far,' said a source close to the Beirut Public Prosecutor Saed Mirza.

Mohammad Ali Hammadi was paroled last week by German authorities after serving almost 19 years of a life sentence for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA plane, during which navy diver Robert Dean Stethem was killed.

Since Hammadi's reported return to Lebanon, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack has been making public announcements condemning the release of Hammadi and demanding he be sent to the U.S. for trial.

'We have been in contact with them on the issue,' said McCormack, despite reports that nothing 'official' has been sent to the Lebanese authorities.

'And at this point I think what I can assure anybody who's listening, including Mr. Hammadi, is that we will track him down. We will find him. And we will bring him to justice in the U.S. for what he's done,' the American official said.

Lebanon does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S. While McCormack did not name any Lebanese officials, he identified Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as one of the American authorities to have contacted and asked the German government not to release the 'terrorist' accused of killing an American"

"We did, at senior levels at the U.S. government, contact the German authorities to emphasize that we thought it was important that he serve out his entire term, but we did so with a full understanding that under German law it was highly likely that he was going to be released," McCormack said Thursday.

He indicated the Hammadi episode would not damage relations between Germany and the U.S., saying "they have a different legal system than we do ... We respect that."

A Justice Department official confirmed Gonzales' involvement but could not provide a date or details of the conversation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora criticized the U.S. for its demands, and has assigned that Hammadi's legal statues be studied by the legal authorities in Lebanon.

Local authorities are questioning whether they are any legal grounds for them to hand over Hamadi.

TWA Flight 847, with 145 passengers and nine crew members, was flying from Athens to Rome on June 14, 1985 when it was hijacked by alleged Hizbullah members to back demands for the release of hundreds of Lebanese from Israeli jails.

Posted by Picasa

Navy diver's family demands trial for killer

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The brothers of a U.S. Navy diver killed in a 1985 hijacking expressed outrage on Thursday that a Hizbollah hijacker had been released by Germany and demanded Lebanon turn him over to the United States for trial.

Mohammad Ali Hammadi was quietly released last week after serving nearly 19 years of a life sentence for his role in the hijacking of a TWA airliner and the murder of U.S. Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem in Beirut. He was immediately returned to Lebanon despite U.S. objections.

Stethem's brother Kenneth said on CNN he was 'totally disgusted at the German government and at the United States government for allowing this to have happened and not doing something about it.'

Brothers Kenneth and Patrick Stethem said their family had feared Hammadi would be sent back to Lebanon early and avoid going before a judge in the United States.

The brothers said they had tried for six months to speak to U.S. Justice and State Department officials to express their concerns but got no response and have yet to hear from Washington on Hammadi's status.

'We want him to be brought to justice. We want him to be tried in the United States,' Kenneth Stethem said.

Hammadi was arrested in Frankfurt in 1987 and convicted in 1989 of murder, air piracy and possession of explosives.

Germany rejected an early U.S. extradition request on the grounds that he could have faced execution in America. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States would track Hammadi down and bring him to justice, but the Stethems said they were not satisfied with that vow.

"We've heard the same exact comment for the last 20 years," Kenneth Stethem said, adding that three other hijackers were never captured.

"The one guy who was in prison, who was captured, who was convicted, has been let go
," he said

Even though they say that they'll be working with the Lebanese government, there's no timeline on it. There's no sense of urgency," Stethem said of Washington's pursuit of Hammadi.

Patrick Stethem said the United States needed to put pressure on Lebanon to cooperate and said if Beirut did not, it should be branded a country that harbors terrorists.

"The last thing this administration needs, the last thing this country needs, is a new poster boy on terrorism," he said. "If we don't bring him in to justice, if we don't bring him back to the United States, he's going to be a celebrity over there."

 Posted by Picasa

Germany Capitulates to Terrorism

"The extraordinary decision by German authorities to release convicted terrorist and murderer Mohammad Ali Hammadi should be strongly condemned by both the Bush Administration and Congress. Hammadi's release and subsequent safe passage to Lebanon raise major questions regarding Germany's commitment to the war on terror, and will cast a huge shadow over the forthcoming January 11 White House meeting between President Bush and newly elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The United States must send a clear message that Hammadi's release is unacceptable, and that immediate action will be taken to ensure that this brutal terrorist will be brought to justice. Both the House and the Senate should pass resolutions condemning the release of Mohammad Ali Hammadi. Congress and the Bush Administration should call on Lebanon to hand over Hammadi for trial in the United States to face justice under American law. If Lebanon does not comply with this request, the U.S. should hunt down and seize Hammadi under its policy of "rendition" of terror suspects.

Hammadi, a Shiite militant from Lebanon, was convicted by a German court in 1989 of the brutal killing of U.S. Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem in the June 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 from Athens to Rome by Hezbollah terrorists. Stethem, who was singled out because he was an American serviceman, was savagely beaten before being executed and dumped by the terrorists on the tarmac of Beirut International Airport. Stethem was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His killers all escaped from the scene of the hijacking.

Hammadi was subsequently arrested at Frankfurt Airport in 1987 carrying liquid explosives in his luggage. ...

The timing of Hammadi’s release was significant. It came just a couple of days before the release in Iraq of German hostage Susanne Osthoff, an archaeologist who was held captive for several weeks after being kidnapped in the north-western region of the country. The German government is firmly rejecting any suggestion that Hammadi’s release was part of an agreement to free Osthoff. However, Hammadi’s exit from Germany raises major concerns over how exactly the Germans secured Osthoff’s freedom, especially in light of an alleged secret deal between the Italian government and Iraqi insurgents to gain the release of two Italian hostages in August this year.

The release of Mohammad Ali Hammadi is a deeply insensitive as well as dangerous move by the German government. It projects an image of cowardice and weakness in the war on terror, and sends a powerful signal to terrorist groups such as Al-Qeada and Hezbollah that continental European leaders lack the stomach for the fight. ...

TWA Beirut hijacking 1985 where navy diver was beaten to death with the arm of an airplane seat. Posted by Picasa

Lebanon slams U.S. request to hand over alleged Hizbullah hijacker

"BEIRUT: The Lebanese government has criticized the U.S. demand that Lebanon hand over an alleged Hizbullah hijacker released by Germany last week after serving 19 years in jail for hijacking a U.S. airliner and killing an American passenger. 'Originally they [the U.S. government] could have requested that Germany hand him over. Why are they asking us?' Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told reporters Wednesday.

Mohammad Ali Hammadi, 41, from the southern town of Deir Kifa, returned to Lebanon after serving 19 years in a German jail after being sentenced to life imprisonment by a German courting 1987 for his role in the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner and the murder of U.S. Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem in Beirut.

'He served his sentence in Germany and there are measures that will be completed in Lebanon ... Why are they asking us now?' said Siniora.

According to The Daily Star sources, Hammadi was freed quietly 10 days ago but his return to Lebanon was delayed because of the recent assassination of journalist Gebran Tueni, and hence he arrived Thursday last week, despite objections from Washington, which has vowed to bring him from Lebanon to face a U.S. judge.

Recently, on the 20th anniversary of the 'terrorist hijacking operation,' the U.S. government offered a reward of up to $5 million for information on the whereabouts of the TWA 847 hijackers, where it named the suspects that 'are thought to be in Lebanon or Syria' and 'need to be brought to justice,': Imad Fayez Mugniyeh, Hassan Izz-al-Din and Ali Atwaa.

Siniora said Hammadi had already served a term "close" to what he would have faced if he had been convicted in Lebanon.

He also said the Lebanese Judiciary was exploring whether his crime was covered by the general amnesty issued for crimes committed before 1991.

The Lebanese Justice Ministry released a short statement Wednesday in which it said that it would "study" Hammadi's status in Lebanon "according to Lebanese laws."

When contacted by The Daily Star, on the effect of Hammadi's case on Lebanese and American relations, especially if Hammadi is not handed over to the United States as demanded, neither Lebanese nor U.S. officials would comment.

To this date, Lebanon and the United States are not bound by an extradition treaty.

Contrary to speculations, George Assaf, a lawyer specializing in international law told The Daily Star, that "Hammadi's case is unlikely to be covered under the general amnesty law and hence the United States will come after the case."

"I suspect that the U.S. will try to bring different charges and prosecute him that way, as he already served a sentence and can't be judged on the same crime twice," said Assaf, who feels that Hammadi's release was "more political" in the first place.

"Before the incident in Iraq involving the release of a German hostage, there were no procedures being taken in Germany for his release," said Assaf, who explained that under German law, those convicted become eligible for release after serving 15 years and are reviewed by a parole court.

As for sending Hammadi directly to U.S. from Germany, Assaf said that Germany and any European country would reject a U.S. request for Hammadi's extradition on the grounds that he could have faced capital punishment in the U.S
., which is against the European Law on the Convention of Human Rights.

Germany, an important broker between Hizbullah and Israeli officials over the issue of detainees in Israel and exchange of prisoners between the two sides, has denied any links between the two cases of the released German hostage, Susanne Osthoff, and Hammadi.

Lebanon's Al-Mustaqbal daily quoted diplomatic sources as saying Wednesday that Hammadi's release was part of a German mediation for a Hizbullah-Israeli prisoner swap, including missing Israeli navigator Ron Arad.

Meanwhile judiciary sources said that the Public Prosecutor of the Cassation Court in Lebanon, Saeed Mirza has denied Hammadi was being held temporarily in custody.

"Hammadi is not being sought after by Lebanese Judiciary and the judiciary didn't receive any official requests from the U.S. in that regards," said the sources.

At the same time, Hizbullah officials in Lebanon who would not confirm or deny Hammadi's links to Hizbullah, issued an official statement in which they confirmed his return to Lebanon, without any further elaboration.

Hammadi's brother, Abdel-Hadi, who is a senior special security official within Hizbullah, has been reported to have Hammadi residing in his home, was not available for comment. TWA flight 847 from Athens, Greece, to Rome was hijacked in June 1985 to Beirut, where the hijackers beat and shot Stethem, 23, of Waldorf, Maryland, and dumped his body on the tarmac. -
 Posted by Picasa

Top U.K. cop tells of terror threats

"Metropolitan Police Chief Commissioner Ian Blair Thursday said U.K. authorities had broken up three planned terror attacks since the July 7 London bombings. "...

WWII German attrocities in the Ukraine were common place. The Ukraine lost a greater percentage of its population to war in WWII than any other country in Europe -- estimates are around 10 million people. Posted by Picasa

Pakistani earthquake orphan Posted by Picasa

War and Piece: When the FBI told Martin Luther King Jr. to Commit Suicide - Why Domestic Intelligence Must be Reigned In

"When the FBI told Martin Luther King Jr. to Commit Suicide. As Nixon press aide David Gergen reminded NPR listeners this morning, the FBI monitored King, and then sent the tapes to his wife to try to 'neutralize' him as a civil rights leader. It also sent him a note with a copy of the tapes suggesting he commit suicide or they would release the tapes. It's worth remembering how recently and how grossly the government has abused the civil liberties of Americans in the very recent past - and may be again (check out the NYT stories today on the agent provocateur activities of the NYPD, as well as the NYT and WP stories this week on the Bureau counterterrorism division investigating PETA, vegan groups, a group protesting the use of llama fur, etc.), all in the name of national security."....

The FBI's program to destroy Dr. King as the leader of the civil rights movement entailed attempts to discredit him with churches, universities, and the press. ...The FBI sought to influence universities to withhold honorary degrees from Dr. King. Attempts were made to prevent the publication of articles favorable to Dr. King and to find "friendly" news sources that would print unfavorable articles. The FBI offered to play for reporters tape recordings allegedly made from microphone surveillance of Dr. King's hotel rooms.

The FBI mailed Dr. King a tape recording made from its microphone coverage. According to the Chief of the FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division, the tape was intended to precipitate a separation between Dr. King and his wife in the belief that the separation would reduce Dr. King's stature. The tape recording was accompanied by a note which Dr. King and his advisers interpreted as a threat to release the tape recording unless Dr. King committed suicide. The FBI also made preparations to promote someone "to assume the role of leadership of the Negro people when King has been completely discredited."....

Afghan Journalist to Be Freed

"KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 22 -- An Afghan journalist who was recently sentenced to two years in prison for publishing controversial magazine articles about Islam, women's rights and the Afghan justice system will be released from jail later this week, officials said.

Before gaining his freedom, however, Ali Mohaqeq Nasab had to confront an agonizing choice: formally apologize for what he had published or risk being sent to the gallows."

After refusing for three months to retract his comments, Nasab told an appeals court this week that he was sorry for printing stories that asserted women should be given status equal to men in court, questioned the use of physical punishments for crimes and suggested converts from Islam should not face execution.

A panel of three judges responded Wednesday by shortening his punishment to a six-month suspended sentence, allowing him to walk free.

The case has aroused concern among international human rights groups and stirred contradictory passions in Afghanistan. Religious hard-liners here had called for Nasab's death; free speech advocates, women's rights backers and fellow ethnic Hazaras had asked that he be shown mercy.

As postwar Afghanistan tries to chart a path between religious traditions and modern democracy, Nasab's fate is being seen as an indicator of how much -- and how little -- the country has changed since the ouster of Taliban rule in 2001.

"Nasab's release is an encouraging sign," said Nader Nadery, who heads Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission. "But the case sets a bad precedent in the area of freedom of expression. It discourages journalists and promotes self-censorship."

Nadery said other Afghan journalists had already told him that they "have to be very, very careful in the way that they talk."

Afghan news media have proliferated rapidly in the past four years, with newspapers, radio and television stations sprouting after more than two decades of conflict. According to the new constitution, the media have broad freedom to publish and broadcast without fear of reprisal. But local leaders have physically intimidated reporters, and conservative judges have occasionally tried to punish journalists who broach controversial topics.

Nasab returned to Afghanistan last year following a long exile in Iran and began publishing a magazine called Women's Rights. Articles in the May issue attracted the attention of a Muslim cleric, who denounced Nasab as an infidel during Friday sermons.

When Nasab complained to officials in the justice system in September, he was detained on charges of blasphemy. Prosecutors said Nasab's articles -- including one that claimed God, not the courts, should punish those who leave Islam -- proved he had abandoned his religion. They pushed for the death penalty, but a lower court gave him a two-year sentence.

That decision provoked an outcry among religious conservatives. A council of 200 religious leaders in the southern city of Kandahar issued a fatwa , or religious edict, calling for Nasab to be hanged unless he repented. A division of the Supreme Court took a similar step

Meanwhile, international human rights groups lobbied on Nasab's behalf, and Western embassies here indicated to the government that they were watching the case closely. President Hamid Karzai carefully straddled the line, expressing support for a free press but insisting he could not interfere in the decisions of an independent judiciary.

One of the appeals judges, Abdul Muqeem Atarud, said Thursday that he had heard from many people on both sides of the issue.

"We told them that if he did not repent, he would be executed. It's the only way," Atarud said. "It says in sharia that if someone repents" for leaving Islam, "he should be forgiven. So that is what happened." Sharia is the Islamic system of justice.

Nasab was still in prison Thursday pending completion of paperwork for his release. In a jailhouse interview last month, he vowed not to apologize and said the charges were trumped up by opponents who dislike him because he is from the ethnic Hazara minority.

Daoud Makaram, one of Nasab's attorneys, said Nasab told the court, "If my magazine caused any misunderstanding among the people, I apologize for that."

Prosecutors still have the right to appeal Nasab's release to Afghanistan's highest court, but several observers said they doubted the outcome would change.

"We are satisfied with what the appeals judges have decided," said Maulavi Ghulam Mohammed Gharib, leader of the Kandahar religious council.

[bth: so much for free press, women's rights and religion in Afghanistan. Note how little if any news this will make in the US media. Also note how timid and quiet the human rights groups will be about this story -- they are virtually a no show.]

FEMA Slows Search for Kids From Katrina

"Efforts to locate 500 children still classified as missing after Hurricane Katrina are stalled because the Federal Emergency Management Agency, citing privacy laws, has refused to share its evacuee database with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to investigators tracking the cases.

Not until the White House and Justice Department intervened earlier this month did Department of Homeland Security officials agree to a compromise that grants FBI agents limited access to information that may provide clues to many of the unresolved cases."

In recent days, FEMA has released data that helped close 15 cases. Yesterday, after inquiries from The Washington Post, the agency sent the FBI a computer disk with the names of 570,000 evacuees.

But as the four-month anniversary of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history approaches, congressional leaders, law enforcement authorities and family advocates say FEMA's slow response has meant that many families that could have been reunited this holiday season instead remain apart....

 Posted by Picasa

Chalabi's defeat puts U.S. friends in quandary

"WASHINGTON - Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi appears to have suffered a humiliating defeat at the recent Iraq polls, according to the uncertified preliminary results. "...

Preliminary results in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad indicate that Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress scored a minuscule 0.36 percent of the votes.

Out of almost 2.5 million voters in Baghdad, only 8,645 voted for Chalabi.

In the Shiite city of Basra, the results indicate he had an equally dismal showing of 0.34 percent of the vote.

In the violent Sunni province of Anbar, 113 people voted for him.

During the election, Chalabi’s campaign posters proclaimed, "We Liberated Iraq."

The reference was to Chalabi’s role in pushing the United States toward war against Saddam Hussein. Over the years, Chalabi’s group received tens of millions of dollars from the CIA and the State Department.

In that role, before 2003, Chalabi had been funded by the U.S. Congress, through the Iraq Liberation Act, and enjoyed the support of neoconservatives in the United States. ...

Chalabi appears to have shored up his relationship with the U.S. administration. Just last month, as deputy prime minister of Iraq he toured the United States, meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Also last month, a representative of Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress who works out of Iraq’s embassy in Washington hired a powerful lobbying firm, which helped with Chalabi’s U.S. trip.

The firm, BKSH & Associates, is the lobbying vehicle of Republican insider Charles Black and registered with the Justice Department as an agent for the INC's Entefadh Qanbar.

Lobbyist Riva Levinson wrote in an e-mail to NBC News of concerns about fraud in the Iraqi elections. She wrote that "many parties, including the INC, are concerned about fraud with dozens of cases now being actively investigated."

This would not be the first time Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress have used influential K Street lobbyists.

BKSH has longstanding ties to Chalabi that preceded the war. The firm was paid, initially, with funds from the Iraqi Liberation Act and was involved in promoting Chalabi’s cause as he pushed for the overthrow of Saddam.

[bth: it should be noted that BKSH became a subcontractor to the Lincoln Group shortly after that company won a $100 million per year propaganda contract with the Dept. of Defense. Further Black is a major player within the Republican National Committee ..... There is a great deal of irony in all this, but it seems that the Iraqi people are able to see through Chalabi much better than the US government or the pandering US media types that take straight news feeds from the Pentagon or PR firms in Washington as gospel.]

Murtha questions Bush's war honesty

"U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha accused President Bush on Wednesday of being dishonest with the American people by equating the war in Iraq with the nation's response to 9/11 as part of the war on terror.

Murtha was careful not to directly accuse Bush of lying about the war, but criticized the 'dishonesty of the administration' for lumping together the two events.

'They're mischaracterizing the facts,' the Johnstown Democrat said at a news conference in Johnstown. 'They do it very shrewdly. They say 9/11. Then they say Iraq. They're giving people the impression, in Iraq we're fighting terrorism.'

He said sending troops to Afghanistan was a direct result of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The war in Iraq was based on faulty intelligence and U.S. troops are battling an insurgency, not terrorism, he said. "

Murtha is pushing his demand for a redeployment of American troops in Iraq and a timetable for bringing soldiers home. He said military commanders on the ground in Iraq -- and in the United States -- have confided in him that U.S. forces could remain in Iraq for another 10 to 15 years.

Murtha, who voted to go to war, broke with the president Nov. 17 by coming out against the fighting and calling for an immediate withdrawal of American forces.

The Bush administration responded by calling Murtha's plan "defeatist" and using surrogates to call him a "coward," comparing him to liberal documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, a critic of Bush who is aligned with Democrats.

Murtha said administration officials have backed off the name-calling, but he's still at odds with the president for failing to develop a plan to extricate the U.S. from the war.

"I want to save every American life I can," he said. "I'm going to work until we have an exit strategy. Iraq was not a threat to our national security. No matter how many times you say it doesn't make it true.

"It's time to redeploy. I hope you see that in the next six months to a year. I haven't seen a strategy. It's just 'stay the course.'"

Murtha read portions of two letters to reporters. One, he said, was from an active duty serviceman stationed in Tal Afar, Iraq. The other was from a civilian employee of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"I heard someone say that everyone (politicians) needs to tone it down because it will hurt troops' morale," wrote the soldier, "but let me tell you, we are glad to see things getting fired up because that is when things get done."

In addition to withdrawal of U.S. forces, Murtha said Bush needs to establish a firm timetable so the Iraqis know exactly how long they have to establish a government and improve the capability of their armed forces. He said the Iraqis would be content to have U.S. forces stay forever.

"We wouldn't finish the budget if it wasn't for Christmas," he said. "We have timetables for everything."

Murtha said the lingering war and U.S. combat deaths are having an effect on recruiting. Normally, Murtha said he has 40 slots available to him as a congressman for men and women from his congressional district who want to attend U.S. military academies such as West Point or Annapolis.

This year, only 26 high school students have applied. In the past, applicants numbered in the hundreds

Murtha also criticized the president's admission that he secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on domestic telephone calls despite a law that requires a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court.

It is self-defeating to permit the U.S. to engage in torture and wiretapping, he said.

"If we lower our standards ... we've lost. You're lowering our standards to the terrorists' level
," Murtha said.

 Posted by Picasa

Saddam has religion up his sleeve

"BEIRUT, Lebanon -- He tried poetry. He tried sob stories. Now, in his latest attempt to win sympathy, Saddam Hussein is getting religion.

Over the past two days of his trial in Baghdad, Hussein has gone to great lengths to prove his religious piety and, in the process, appeal to Iraqis' growing Islamic fervor. He has repeatedly quoted from the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. On Wednesday, he asked for a break in the proceedings so he could perform his afternoon prayers. When the chief judge refused, Hussein closed his eyes and began praying in his seat. He later asked the judge, 'How can you put God on hold?'"...

Osama Bin Laden's niece. As shown in GQ magazine Posted by Picasa

Meet Osama's niece - People

"She's not the model niece Osama bin Laden's looking for - but she is modelling.

This is how Wafah Dufour, the al Qaeda leader's niece, will appear in the January 2006 issue of GQ magazine.

Dufour, who took her mother's maiden name after the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001, is an aspiring musician struggling to make a name for herself.

She says she has never met Osama bin Laden.

'Everyone relates me to that man, and I have nothing to do with him,' she said in the article.

'There are 400 other people related to him, but they are all in Saudi Arabia, so nobody's going to get tarred with it.
'I'm the only one here.'"

Rome to investigate US Marine

"ROME (Reuters) - Italian magistrates have placed a U.S. marine under official investigation for murder over the killing of an Italian agent in Iraq earlier this year, judicial sources said on Thursday.

Intelligence officer Nicola Calipari was shot dead at an improvised U.S. checkpoint on a road near Baghdad in March as he was accompanying an Italian hostage to safety.

Italy and the United States held a joint inquiry into the incident, but they failed to agree joint conclusions and instead issued conflicting reports.

While the U.S. military exonerated its troops of any blame, Rome said nervous, inexperienced American soldiers and a badly executed road block were at the root of the shooting.

In the meantime, Italy's independent judiciary have pushed ahead with their own probe and have carried out forensic tests on the car Calipari was travelling in when he came under fire.

Placing someone under official investigation for an alleged crime does not imply guilt and does not mean the person will necessarily be charged."

[bth: Do the italians really want the world to know that their government paid several million in ransom to get the hostage out and were racing to the airport to avoid being spotted by Americans and Iraqis? That they raced to an impromptu checkpoint and didn't stop and then a marine, startled by the car fired on it? I doubt it. I suspect this will quietly go away.]

Burial of last Canadian winner of the Victoria Cross Posted by Picasa

U.S. Plans Slight Force Cut, Up to 5,000 Troops, in Iraq

"WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 - In the first reduction of American troops in Iraq approved since last week's elections there, President Bush has ordered the core force of 17 combat brigades inside Iraq to be trimmed to 15 brigades early next year, senior Defense Department and military officials said Thursday. While the net reduction of American forces under this order is expected to be modest - 3,000 to 5,000 troops in Iraq overall - the decision signals that a cautious realignment has begun, one intended to bring troop levels soon to their lowest point since mid-2004, officials said. It is expected to be followed with further incremental reductions in the months to come."

The decision comes at a time of political debate over whether the American military should be withdrawn and, if so, how rapidly. The plan was described by Pentagon and military officials granted anonymity to discuss it before an announcement expected Friday.

Under the orders, a brigade of the First Armored Division, now in Kuwait but based in Germany, would not immediately be sent into Iraq as previously planned. That brigade could remain in Kuwait to be called on as needed, officials said; eventually, all or part of it could be sent home from Kuwait should the security situation settle down.

In addition, a brigade of the First Infantry Division based at Fort Riley, Kan., and slated for a yearlong tour in Iraq, would not be sent in its entirety...

The new orders have been signed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who is in Iraq this week for meetings with Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, and with Iraqi officials. Military officers said the soldiers in the two brigades were being told of the decision on Thursday. The final decision on troop numbers reflects fresh assessments made since the Dec. 15 election, including reviews of Iraqi security forces - and with an eye to telling families before the Christmas weekend.

American commanders and senior Pentagon officials have said that American troop levels could fall to about 100,000 by next fall, depending on security conditions, political stability and whether Iraqi soldiers and police officers continue to assume greater responsibility for securing swaths of their country.

To reach those lower levels, senior American officials could send troops already in Iraq home earlier than scheduled or hold back units that are scheduled to deploy next year. One senior Army officer said Thursday that General Casey and other top commanders could make assessments about further troop reductions by March.

[bth: several items - note that they announcement is planned as the Friday before x-mas good news press release at the Pentagon. Also I'd anticipate before the end of next week an announcement that we got another al-Qaeda lieutenant in Iraq and just missed the mastermind one more time. Also note the use of a rapid reaction force in Kuwait ala Rep. Murtha's plan last month. Finally one can rest assured that the most important date for a withdrawal/drawdown or whatever one calls it these days is Nov. 2006 - election day.]

Posted by Picasa

Blair hints troops could be home in months

..."Story in full TONY BLAIR yesterday signalled that British troops could begin to leave Iraq within six months as he made a surprise visit to Basra to tell servicemen they should be 'very, very proud' of their role in its transition to democracy.

In a fleeting visit to the British-controlled south of Iraq, the Prime Minister told soldiers that they had dealt terrorism a 'huge blow' by creating the conditions for the election earlier this month which will now lead to a full Iraqi government. ...

Asked later by reporters if six months was a viable timetable for a withdrawal to begin, Mr Blair made no protestation. "If everything goes to plan," he said. "It is our strategy, we want to draw down our own forces." He added that "the security situation today is a completely different situation from the situation a year ago".

British diplomatic sources have told The Scotsman that, since the summer, officials have been planning a province-by-province troop withdrawal, with soldiers left in the most troublesome areas for at least two years.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, also made an unannounced visit to Baghdad yesterday, where he signalled that the Pentagon will allow troop numbers to fall below a 138,000 "baseline".

The US has 160,000 troops in central and northern Iraq, headquartered in Baghdad, and Britain about 8,500 in four southern provinces, controlled from Basra. The al-Muthanna and Dhiqar provinces have been peaceful for months and earmarked for "Iraqi-isation" by transferring coalition troops to more troublesome areas.

Since the invasion officially ended in March 2003, there have been 2,158 US and 65 UK deaths. But most victims of the insurgents are members of the Iraqi security forces.

A new opinion poll, for ABC News in the US, found 26 per cent felt troops should quit immediately; 19 per cent wanted them to stay until a new government was in action; 16 per cent until Iraqi security forces were ready; and 31 per cent until whenever security was restored.

While he said the new ministers could decide whether coalition troops stay or go, he gave his clearest sign yet that the Ministry of Defence plans to start winding down troops from next summer. "....

U.S. Allies in Iraq Want Out, Adding to Bush Pressure (Update1)

"The U.K., Italy and South Korea are making plans to reduce or even withdraw their troops by the end of next year, following other nations, such as Ukraine and Bulgaria, that have already started to depart.

``It is not a matter of if, but how,'' said Roberto Minotti, senior research fellow at the Aspen Institute in Rome.

The reduction of foreign troop levels will make little difference on the ground in Iraq, where U.S. troops now number 160,000, out of a total force of 184,000. The real impact may be political, undercutting President George W. Bush's claims to be leading an international operation and adding to pressure on him to set a firm plan for a reduction in U.S. forces.

``It makes even more of a mockery of what the administration likes to call a coalition,'' said retired U.S. Army Major General William Nash, now a fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. ``My guess is that it would bring the international legitimacy of the operation into question.''

When U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, the coalition included 35 nations, whose numbers are now down to 28. By the end of this month, Ukraine and Bulgaria will have withdrawn combined troops of 1,250. ``Our troops will be back home before the New Year,'' Ukraine's Chief of General Staff Serhiy Kyrychenko said at a Dec. 12 press conference in Kiev.

Poland and Italy

The remaining members of the coalition include Britain, the largest contributor after the U.S. with 8,000 troops; South Korea, with 3,200; Italy, at 2,900; and Poland, with 1,400. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Nov. 23 that his nation's forces will ``probably'' come home next year.

Both politics and money concerns are pushing these countries to examine their participation in the U.S.-led operation. The Polish force costs $600 million a year, or 10 percent of the Polish military budget, according to Marek Purowski, spokesman at the Polish embassy in Washington. He said $32 million in assistance has been provided by the U.S., with an additional $100 million promised by Bush during a visit to Poland this year.

Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said in a radio interview on Dec. 20 that he will make a decision in the next two weeks on when to withdraw Poland's remaining troops.

New Contingent?

While Poland's former government said it would recall all troops by the end of this year, the new cabinet that took power in early November may decide to send a new contingent to Iraq when the troops currently stationed there return at the end of the year, the newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported today. The new contingent would contain no more than 900 soldiers who would no longer take part in patrols and whose main task would be to train Iraqi forces, the newspaper said.

Seventy-five percent of Poles oppose their country's involvement in Iraq, according to a June survey for the Warsaw- based Center for Public Research. Poland has already sent home 1,000 troops since 2003.

William Odom, a retired Army lieutenant general who served as director of the National Security Agency under President Ronald Reagan and is now a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute in Washington, said the U.S. may even be relieved by the departure of some of the allies.

`Pretty Unilateral'

``It means we are paying these people less money and lowering the administrative coordinating costs in Iraq,'' he said. ``There is the public-image issue, but that is no longer significant. We look pretty unilateral anyway.''

Bush vowed in a speech Dec. 19 to ignore critics who say the U.S. should begin withdrawing troops. ``To retreat before victory would be an act of recklessness and dishonor, and I will not allow it,'' Bush said. ``We would abandon our Iraqi friends and signal to the world that America cannot be trusted to keep its word.''

In Italy, where the Iraqi operation is budgeted at 600 million euros a year, or $720 million, talk of withdrawal is driven by a parliamentary election scheduled for April 9.

Even within Berlusconi's coalition, which backed the U.S.- led war, the Iraq operation is increasingly unpopular. ``Most people see it as becoming a long-term mission, which it was not supposed to be,'' Minotti said.

Berlusconi Pledge

The Berlusconi government insists that any Italian withdrawal be done in concert with the U.S. The opposition, led by Romano Prodi, says it's ready to leave without the Americans. Neither side has said it would opt for immediate withdrawal.

Britain, which last year spent 910 million pounds ($1.6 billion) on its Iraqi operations, will certainly coordinate any withdrawal with the U.S., said Jeremy Greenstock, the U.K.'s former envoy to Iraq, who was ambassador to the United Nations in the run-up to the invasion, who's now director of the Ditchley Foundation, which promotes U.K.-U.S. relations.

``The important thing is that no one has a timetable,'' said Greenstock in a telephone interview on Dec. 14. ``London, Washington and Baghdad will judge together by how things progress.''

South Korea will bring one-third of its troops home in 2006, Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-Ung said on Nov. 17. ``We judge it is possible to withdraw some of the troops considering the scale of the projects scheduled for next year, the status of stabilization in Iraq and the trend in coalition forces,'' he said, according to Yonhap news agency.

U.K. in 2006?

In a Nov. 17 interview on British ITV television, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said U.K. troops could leave in 2006.

``We don't want British forces forever in Iraq,'' he said. ``Within one year, I think by the end of 2006, Iraqi troops will be ready to replace British forces in the south.'' The British are in charge of security in four southeastern Iraqi provinces.

``Anything with a date in it is wrong,'' said Sagar Sharma, a British Defense Ministry spokesman. ``Our aspiration is to hand over security in Iraq, and we are hoping that some of that could start next year. We will begin not according to a timetable, but where right conditions are met.''

Still, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, who today arrived in Iraq for an unannounced visit to British troops, said Nov. 14 it was ``entirely reasonable'' to talk about the possibility of withdrawal of U.K. troops next year.

Though the war in Iraq has been politically unpopular in the U.K., pressure to withdraw has been less than in the U.S., said Dana Allin, a research fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

`Safer' South

``On many levels, the British presence is more sustainable,'' Allin said. ``It is safer in the Shiite south, and casualties are low.''

So far, 98 British troops have been killed in Iraq, compared with 2,157 American deaths, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count Web site. Casualties among other coalition troops numbered 103 as of Dec. 20.

In the U.S., public approval of Bush's handling of the 32- month conflict has dwindled -- at 39 percent in a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Organization poll released Dec. 13, down from this year's high of 50 percent in February. An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken Dec. 15-18, following Iraqi parliamentary elections, showed 46 percent approving of his handling of Iraq, a 10-point increase from November.

``As I read it, the president is determined not to be forced into reductions that go against the trend of events,'' Greenstock said. ``It would be rash to predict. I am sure there will be reductions, but the number will probably stay quite high.''