Saturday, May 27, 2006 | Stewart & Stevenson shareholders accept bid Stewart & Stevenson shareholders accept bid: "Thursday the $1.11 billion sale of the Houston company to Armor Holdings, the only provider of armor for vehicles used by U.S. armed forces in Iraq.

After the shareholder vote to accept the offer by Jacksonville, Fla.-based Armor of $36.50 a share, the two companies finalized the sale, according to a prepared statement released by both companies"....

For Armor, the acquisition, its largest ever, will expand the company beyond supplying armor to other truck makers and into the production of its own vehicles.

Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are increasing demand for Stewart & Stevenson's trucks, which can carry as much as 5 tons of cargo. The purchase will add to profit next year, Armor said....

'Wings' to carry paratroopers 200km. 27/05/2006.

'Wings' to carry paratroopers 200km. 27/05/2006. ABC News Online: "A new military parachute system which fits wings on soldiers could enable them to travel to 200 kilometres after jumping, Jane's Defence Weekly reports.

The system, which involves the development of new modular carbon-fibre wings, will mean that aircraft can drop parachutists from 9,150 metres into an area of operations without flying into a danger zone.

Trials of the modular wing are being developed by the German firm Elektroniksystem und Logistik and Draeger.

They are due to finish by the end of 2006, with the entire parachute and wings combination expected to be available during 2007.

Peter Felstead, the editor of Jane's Defence Weekly, says the new system has been in use with the German Army since 2003.

But he says the development of the new wing means soldiers can travel much further than the current 48 kilometres.

'The new wing will also reduce the impact of wind conditions on the jumper and allow operatives to travel up to 40 kilometres carrying loads of around 100 kilograms,' Mr Felstead said.

'The system is reportedly 100 per cent silent and extremely difficult to track by air on ground-based radar systems.'

Jane's Defence Weekly reports that the next stage of the development will utilise small turbo-jet drives, as used on unmanned aerial vehicles, allowing jumpers to be carried longer distances without jumping from such extreme heights. "

The Reporter - Casey Sheehan's grave receives its headstone

The Reporter - Casey Sheehan's grave receives its headstone: "Memorial Day will be different this year at the Vacaville-Elmira Cemetery, where Casey Sheehan, a soldier from Vacaville, lies buried.

Until this week, more than two years after his death in Iraq, Casey's grave has been marked only by a small plaque. On Thursday, it received a headstone.

The elegant marble slab is thick and emblazoned with a cross and delicate thickets of trees on both sides.

'Our Casey,' reads an inscription on the front. 'Ever faithful, kind, and gentle, good son, beloved brother, brave soldier, dear friend, you loved your family and lived your life serving others to the end.' Six icons grace the other side, representing a military insignia, the theater, Eagle Scouts, Van Halen, the World Wrestling Federation and Superman.

Also on the front are Casey's name and the dates of his life and death, which reveal an uncanny synchronicity. In addition to Memorial Day, Monday will also be Casey's birthday, the day on which he would have turned 27.

The installation of the headstone on Casey's grave is likely to get more notice than the vast majority of such installations. Casey's mother, Cindy Sheehan, has become a well-known anti-war activist since Casey's death, frequently in the spotlight in front of a highly divided crowd.

The absence of a headstone on Casey's grave became fodder for Sheehan's critics last year, who accused her of being negligent and disrespectful. Sheehan did not publicly respond for the first several months of such charges. But on April 10, she wrote a blog entry excoriating her critics and recounting the torturous experience of burying her son. "...

White House Invokes Privilege in Spy Cases

White House Invokes Privilege in Spy Cases -- "NEW YORK -- The Bush administration has asked federal judges in New York and Michigan to dismiss a pair of lawsuits filed over the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program, saying litigating them would jeopardize state secrets.

In papers filed late Friday, Justice Department lawyers said it would be impossible to defend the legality of the spying program without disclosing classified information that could be of value to suspected terrorists. "...

Bloggers can shield sources, court rules / In setback for Apple, Internet journalists are protected by law

Bloggers can shield sources, court rules / In setback for Apple, Internet journalists are protected by law: "In a decision that could set the tone for journalism in the digital age, a California appeals court ruled Friday that bloggers, like traditional reporters, have the right to keep their sources confidential.
A panel of three judges said in a 69-page decision that a group of bloggers did not have to divulge their sources to Cupertino's Apple Computer Inc., contending that the same laws that protect traditional journalists, the First Amendment and California's Shield Law, also apply to bloggers.

Siding with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a high-tech legal group that had filed the appeal, the judges said that Apple could not force the bloggers to reveal the identity of the person -- presumably an Apple employee -- who had leaked details about a digital-music-related project code-named 'Asteroid' to a number of bloggers. The details of the product release were published on several Web logs, Internet sites commonly referred to as blogs, including Jason O'Grady's PowerPage, which reports on Apple news.

'This was a huge win for the First Amendment and for journalists who publish online,' said Lauren Gelman, associate director for Stanford's Center for Internet and Society, who filed a brief supporting the Electronic Frontier Foundation. 'The court recognized that in the modern era, one way journalists publish information is through the Internet.'

The decision by the state Court of Appeal in San Jose, which reverses a ruling by the Santa Clara County Superior Court, speaks to changes in the way news is gathered and published. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can now be a reporter. It also means that information, not limited by region or resources, can reach far and wide via the Web.

In their ruling, the judges said the online news sites should be treated as newspapers, television and radio broadcasts are. O'Grady and the other bloggers, they contended, were acting as traditional reporters and editors do: developing sources, collecting information and publishing it, albeit on the Web.
"The shield law is intended to protect the gathering and dissemination of news, and that is what the petitioners did here," the judges said in the ruling.

Apple had initially argued that the bloggers shouldn't be considered journalists. The maker of the popular iPod digital music player, along with other Bay Area high-tech companies such as Intel Corp. and Genentech, also were concerned that the Internet had made it easy for the bloggers to make their trade secrets public, potentially giving their competitors an edge and harming their business.

But Kurt Opsahl, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the companies can still protect their businesses but cannot use reporters as their first resort to expose a leak.

"The court upheld strong protections for the free flow of information to the press and from the press to the public," Opsahl said.

In addition, the judges ruled that, in the digital age, bloggers' e-mails should also be protected, just like a telephone call or written document. Apple had not sued the bloggers directly but had tried to subpoena their Internet service provider, which had access to the e-mails sent between the confidential source and the bloggers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, representing the bloggers, intervened.

In the end, the judges made little distinction between online journalists and traditional journalists.

"Does Walter Cronkite stop being a journalist if he blogs for the Huffington Post (an online news site)?" Opsahl said. "What makes a journalist a journalist is not the format. If you're engaged in journalism, you're a journalist. You have to look beyond the medium selected."

George Riley, an outside attorney representing Apple, declined to comment. Apple did not return calls for comment. It was not clear whether the company would appeal.
E-mail Ellen Lee at

[bth: excellent]

Don't the Fallen Deserve at Least a Moment?

Don't the Fallen Deserve at Least a Moment?: "'Memorial Day Sale! Warehouse Is Stocked and Ready for Your Home'; 'Memorial Day SALE plus EXTRA 15% OFF when you use your store card or pass'; 'Memorial Day 1/2 Price Sale on Mattresses!'; 'Memorial Day PIANO SALE'; 'UNBELIEVABLE! STOREWIDE SAVINGS JUST IN TIME FOR THE HOLIDAY WEEKEND!'
-- Thursday newspaper ads"

This cannot be what Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, had in mind when he officially proclaimed Memorial Day on May 5, 1868. His thought, as best I can tell, was to set aside a day to honor the war dead. The true meaning of Memorial Day, however, has been overcome by door-buster sales, backyard cookouts and the opportunity to get a little extra sleep.

The fallen don't seem to mean much anymore except, perhaps, to veterans of previous wars and their families, and to the nearly 5,000 mothers and fathers of men and women in uniform who have given their all in Iraq. To those parents, please add surviving brothers and sisters, wives, husbands, children, grandchildren, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces, neighbors and friends. If these folks happen to gather on Memorial Day, most likely it won't be to organize a shop-a-rama or barbecue. For them, Monday will be the time to remember loved ones who lost their lives serving their country.

The shame is that much of the nation won't be sharing this day of observance with those families. The shameless will be too busy with other pressing matters, such as:

· Taylor Hicks, the "American Idol" -- should he have really won out over Katharine McPhee?

· Rep. William Jefferson from New Orleans! Was he on the take?

· Don't forget Angelina, Brad and the expected baby in Namibia.

Then there's Comcast and the Nats; Libby and the Veep; Pelosi, Hastert and the FBI; illegal immigrants, the border and the debate; and the John Allen Muhammad farce in Rockville. Anything and everything but time to honor to those who have paid the ultimate price.
It shouldn't be this way.

If ever there was a day when the country should call a timeout on fun and self-indulgent distractions and devote some serious time to a solemn observance, it's this Memorial Day. Goodness knows, enough Americans have given their lives to make it possible.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, beginning with the American Revolution and continuing through the war on terrorism (as of Sept. 30, 2005), there were 652,696 American battle deaths, including 53,402 in World War I; 291,557 in World War II; 33,741 in the Korean War; 47,424 in Vietnam; and 147 in Desert Shield-Desert Storm. Those totals don't include the other Americans who died in those theaters of war. That total comes to 14,416. To devote one day to the honor of 667,112 American souls should not be asking too much. Evidently it is.

Otherwise, why will the malls, auto showrooms and ballparks be open for business on Memorial Day? Why, on Monday, will sales outnumber memorial services? But I overreach. I'm fussing about not having a day, when most people aren't inclined to give up a moment. You think not?

What did you do last Memorial Day at 3 p.m.? What will you do this Memorial Day at 3 p.m.?

Lest we forget: Congress put a "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution ( ) on the books in December 2000 in the hope that America would return to the true meaning of Memorial Day. The resolution asks that in an act of national unity, Americans at 3 p.m. local time "voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to 'Taps.' "
The resolution notwithstanding, on Monday, some folks will go on nonchalantly as if there isn't a war on. They'll be so distracted in their pursuit of a good time that they will be oblivious to the fact that some of the country's finest are in Iraq and Afghanistan paying with their lives. And the cruel truth, which the comfortable here at home will also ignore, is that today's troops slugging it out overseas -- conveniently out of sight and mind -- are bearing a disproportionately heavy load when it comes to heeding the call to service.

They, more than any other group of Americans, are bearing the brunt of decisions made by politicians in Washington. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan -- not the well-protected people in the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and Congress -- are the ones losing arms, legs and life itself. An indebted nation owes them more than can ever be repaid. A single, uncluttered day of honor would be a good start. It's the least a grateful America can do.
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A RIDE FOR REMEMBRANCE: Event to raise money for monument

A RIDE FOR REMEMBRANCE: Event to raise money for monument: "John Dearing is looking to Macomb County for help in getting his son remembered as a hero.

Dearing, a Hazel Park resident, was recently laid off and doesn't have $5,000 to erect a bronze and concrete monument in his city to commemorate Army Pfc. John Wilson Dearing, 21, who died in November when his Humvee drove over a land mine in Iraq.

So he organized a memorial motorcycle and car ride for Sunday that will meander 45 miles north from Washington Township to the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly Township, where jets will fly overhead and Dearing will address the crowd.

"My son died for our country," Dearing said Thursday. "He died as a hero."

The monument -- a 4-foot-high concrete pillar topped with bronzed combat boots, a rifle and helmet -- will eventually stand in front of Hazel Park City Hall. Florida resident Gregg Garvey, whose son was killed in Iraq in July 2003, designed the monument.

Garvey, who founded the group Lest They Be Forgotten to establish memorials in the hometowns of fallen service members, said he "was in so much pain, so much grief, so much shock" when his son, Army Sgt. Justin W. Garvey, died.

"No one should have to drive to Washington, D.C., to honor their loved one," Garvey said Thursday. "They should be honored in their hometown."

John Wilson Dearing grew up in Oscoda and graduated with high marks from Oscoda High School in 2003, his father said.

He had dreams of becoming a professional baseball player, and his hero was Atlanta Braves' slugger Chipper Jones.

Dearing signed up for the National Guard in his junior year of high school, in part, for the college money it offers.

Before long, Dearing grew passionate about his country. He had more than a dozen tattoos on his body, most with patriotic themes, his father said.

On Father's Day about three years ago, Dearing bought his father a tattoo. After the son died, his father got another tattoo on his arm -- a cross with a rifle.

John Wilson Dearing left behind a wife, Amanda Dearing of Hazel Park.

Since his son's death, John Dearing figures he's gone to nearly 10 funerals of other fallen Michigan troops.

Sunday's motorcade starts at noon at Leather Works at 26 Mile and Van Dyke and ends at Great Lakes National Cemetery, which opened in October.

A meal, auction and door prizes will follow at Waterford Oaks Park.

"I want it to be an awesome day," Dearing said.

Dearing, who goes to a grief support group, said the monument will help ease the pain.

"People come up to me and say, 'I know what you're going through,' " Dearing said. "I just say, 'No you don't.' "

The cost to participate in the memorial ride is $20 for the driver and an additional $15 for each passenger. To participate, arrive at Leather Works before noon Sunday. All proceeds will help pay for the monument. To learn more about the memorials designed by Garvey, visit

Contact STEVE NEAVLING at 586-469-4935 or
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UPDATE 1-Shi'ite faction menaces Iraq's Basra oil exports

Reuters Business Channel "BAGHDAD, May 26 (Reuters) - Iraq's new government risks being held to ransom by a dissident Shi'ite faction using its local clout in Basra to hobble vital oil exports, Iraqi officials and senior political sources said on Friday.

They warned that the locally powerful Fadhila party was threatening to have members in the oil industry stage a go-slow to halt exports through the key southern oil port if it did not win the concessions it wanted from Baghdad.

'Fadhila is in control,' a senior Shi'ite political source close to the party said.

Turf wars among Iraq's ruling Shi'ite Islamist parties have long made its second city a confusing battleground for rival militias, leaving the British forces nominally in charge of Basra hoping that the new government can finally impose order.

Instead, the small Fadhila, which controls the governor's office and parts of the local oil industry but which refused to join Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet, risks turning the tables on Baghdad by turning off its cash lifeline. "

"He who owns Basra owns the oil reserves. It is the gateway to the Gulf," the Shi'ite political source said. "It's the richest city in the world. It has a strategic position so why would any one give it up?"

The power struggle over Basra's oil goes to the fractious heart of the United Iraqi Alliance, the bloc of Shi'ite Islamist parties that controls a near-majority in parliament and will shape Iraq's future for years, with or without U.S. occupation.

"The security problem in Basra, the corruption, the death squads, is all a power struggle between militias and mafia run by parts of the UIA," a senior Iraqi oil official said, warning that factions in Basra could shut down all Iraq's exports.

Maliki's Dawa party, the SCIRI group and followers of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr dominate the Alliance in Baghdad. Fadhila refused to join the government when Maliki took the Oil Ministry from it and handed it to an independent, Hussain al-Shahristani.

Shahristani in turn has vowed to centralise control of oil in Baghdad and crack down hard on corruption and oil smuggling, which officials say are endemic in the southern oilfields.


The senior oil official said: "Fadhila are threatening that they want kickbacks. Unless they get kickbacks they could shut down exports. This is a very serious problem and crisis."

Oil exports produce virtually all Iraq's government revenue and, with sabotage halting exports from the northern fields, the Basra oil terminal is essentially Iraq's only source of income.

Politics in the city have been dominated by bitter disputes over authority and accusations of corruption and organised crime between the governor, Fadhila's Mohammed al-Waeli and its police chief as well as other Shi'ite factions and clerical figures.

But the political source said these issues masked a broader agenda that ultimately came down to control of oil.

"The real struggle is hidden beneath the politics," he said.
"There are local and international battles for Basra. Locally it is between Fadhila and other groups while regionally it is between Iran and other forces, like the British."

"This will affect the oil sector. The Alliance has chosen a person with no experience to be oil minister instead of someone from Fadhila. This has angered the party.

"Fadhila employees will do a minimum of work to satisfy domestic needs of 400,000 to 500,000 barrels a day. As for exports and boosting output, let the ministry deal with that."
Shipping agents said on Friday there was no disruption to oil loadings at Basra.

Basra province is not only vital for Iraq's oil exports but for its domestic fuel requirements, due to its refinery, and for food supply, containing its only port and rich farmland.

With beleaguered British troops trying to hold the ring in Basra, London has pressed Maliki to intervene, pointing out that the credibility of the Alliance-led government is at stake, and a high-level delegation is expected to visit Basra soon.
(Editing by Anthony Barker)

[bth: this is fundamentally about controlling cash flow for the government by holding oil exports hostage. The central government has no effective taxation system. It has no way of billing for electricity or water. It has no way of paying for its soldiers or police without oil export revenues. That means holding oil exports hostage holds the government hostage.]
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Daily Kos: Playing Poker with Karl Rove

Daily Kos: Playing Poker with Karl Rove: "In poker, the definition of a 'calling station' is someone who always calls no matter what the cards, no matter what the odds. Someone who always follows and never leads. Riding to the end, they are the stopped clocks of poker. They may not be winners but they are right twice a day.

Over and over, the Republicans play their cards, make their bets and the Democrats are always following. Reacting to the play, the only call, never raise. They don't play to win, they play to be at the table at the end of the night.

If they had a motto it might be 'The mower hits the tallest blade of grass first'.

Exceptions to this are Feingold who plays a very spirited game, Hillary who plays a very deep game and Kennedy who has been playing for so long he just plays percentages at this point.

The point here is that when something comes up like immigration, the tendency is for Democrats to run around like Chicken Little.

It is pathetic how predictable it is."
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Friday, May 26, 2006

Purple Heart Stamp Reissued, Iraqi War Vets Honored

DefenseLINK News: Purple Heart Stamp Reissued, Iraqi War Vets Honored: "ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va., May 26, 2006 � A new version of a postage stamp commemorating the Purple Heart and all those who have earned it was issued in a ceremony here today. "...

Civilian deaths send top Marine to Iraq - Civilian deaths�send top Marine to Iraq - May 25, 2006: "WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As the military investigates two reports of Marines in Iraq allegedly killing innocent civilians, Gen. Michael Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, left for Iraq on Thursday to talk about use of force.

According to a statement released by the Marine Corps, Hagee is expected to address the core values of honor, courage and commitment, and 'the risk of becoming indifferent to the loss of a human life.'

'We do not employ force just for the sake of employing force. We use lethal force only when justified, proportional and, most importantly, lawful,' Hagee will tell the Marines, according to a copy of his speech released by the Marine Corps. 'This is the American way of war. We must regulate force and violence, we only damage property that must be damaged and we protect the non-combatants we find on the battlefield.'

The speech, titled 'On Marine Virtue,' will also touch on the numbing effects of combat and of watching fellow Marines wounded or killed in fighting.

'There is the risk of becoming indifferent to the loss of a human life, as well as bringing dishonor upon ourselves,' Hagee is expected to say. 'Leaders of all grades need to reinforce continually that Marines care for one another and do what is right.' ...

Remember families of fallen heroes on Memorial Day

American News 05/26/2006 Remember families of fallen heroes on Memorial Day: "WASHINGTON - Memorial Day is hard upon us, and hard on us as well.

While most Americans celebrate the holiday as the first long weekend of summer, the rest of us will be honoring the sacrifice of countless American lives during 230 years of our nation's history. Winning our independence was bloody work; defending our freedom has been even bloodier.

We are a nation at war this year, just as we have been for the last five years since the terror attacks on innocent American citizens on Sept. 11, 2001. We are at war, but who among us knows the true cost of war, and who pays the price?

The answer to that question is, of course, our living veterans of wars.

All but 50 of the 5 million veterans of World War I are gone from among us. Only about 3.5 million of 16 million American veterans of World War II are still alive. Some 3.2 million veterans of the Korean War are still alive. About 2.5 million of the 3.4 million who served in the Vietnam War theater are still living.

They surely know the true cost of war."

The knowledge of that cost is borne even more keenly by the widows and children, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters of those who gave their lives in battle in our country's wars.

There are so many of them, and more coming with each passing day in the wars we are fighting now.

The children of war, especially, have so large a claim on our hearts. They have lost fathers, and now even their mothers, in today's wars. The estimate is that Iraq alone has left 3,000 children without one parent or with no parent at all.

This Memorial Day I will be thinking particularly of the five children of the two Army pilots of a Kiowa Warrior helicopter shot down in Mosul, Iraq, on Jan. 13. Their fathers, CWO3 Mitchell K. Carver Jr., 31, of Charlotte, N.C., and CWO2 Kyle E. Jackson, 28, of Sarasota, Fla., were flying cover for a small three-vehicle patrol of Stryker armored vehicles at the time.

I was riding in one of those Strykers at the time and was at the crash site within minutes.

At that moment I knew that within a matter of a few hours Army sedans with a chaplain and a casualty notification officer would be pulling up outside houses bearing the news that would shatter happy lives. I knew that those young children would carry holes in their hearts all their lives - holes where a father was supposed to dwell.

My friend Karen Spears Zacharias lost her father, Sgt. David Spears, in Vietnam in 1966 when she was 9. She's written a book about what that one death among 58,250 in that war did to the lives of her mother, her two siblings and herself. It's out in paperback with a new title: "After the Flag Has Been Folded."

She travels around the country talking to new widows and their heartbroken children. She tries to help them understand that they are not alone.

So this Memorial Day, think of all our fallen servicemen in America's wars. But think especially of those innocents they left behind - so filled with pride, so filled with grief, so filled with pain. They are there in many American cities and towns.
Reach out to them. Tell them you thank them for their family's great sacrifice. Tell them we grieve with them. Offer them any help they need. Tell them they are not alone.

Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers. Readers may write to him at: Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, 700 12th St. N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, D.C. 20005-3994. His column appears most Fridays.

Iraqi tennis coach, players killed 'for wearing shorts'

Mail & Guardian Online: Printer version: "Gunmen in Baghdad killed the coach of the Iraqi national tennis team and two players, reportedly for wearing Western-style tennis shorts, an Iraqi Olympic official said on Friday.

The coach, Hussein Ahmed Rashid, was murdered along with two of his players, Nasser Ali Hatem and Wissam Adel Auda, outside his home in the capital's southern al-Saidiyah neighbourhood on Thursday, Olympic Committee chairperson Amr Jabar told Agence France-Presse.

A witness, who asked not to be named, said the shorts-clad tennis players had just left some laundry at the cleaners, when gunmen stopped their car and asked them to step out of the vehicle.

When two did so they were shot in the head. The third was then dragged from the car, thrown on the bodies of his teammates, and shot as he lay on the ground.

The gunmen then kicked the corpses before stealing the car and making their escape, the witness said.

He added that fundamentalists had been distributing leaflets recently warning residents of the area not to wear shorts."...

U.S. residents don't trust leaders

United Press International - NewsTrack - U.S. residents don't trust leaders: "UTICA, N.Y., May 25 (UPI) -- A Zogby Interactive poll finds that U.S. voters are more distrustful than ever of political and corporate leaders.

Only 3 percent believe Congress is trustworthy; 7 percent think business leaders are; 24 percent say President George W. Bush can be trusted; and 29 percent trust the courts.
The poll was commissioned by Jim Lichtman, an ethics specialist whose latest book is 'What Do You Stand For?'
Three out of four respondents said they trust politicians less than they did five years ago.

Seventy-five percent of those polled said their friends, neighbors and co-workers are trustworthy, and an overwhelming majority -- 97 percent -- described themselves as trustworthy."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

DHB stock prices - US leading producer of SAPI plated body armor

David Brooks and his family along with other insiders sold huge holdings in late 2004 - Nov-Dec 04. The financials for last year - 2005 - are being withheld or restated. The CFO and her replacement have resigned along with key members of the audit committee. AMEX is threatening to delist and there is a federal grand jury on the move. Perhaps the timing of CEO David Brooks' sale was coincidental, perhaps not. Posted by Picasa

Is Management Compensaton Unreaasonable at DHB?

Don't Get Duped [ Commentary] May 23, 2006: "If management compensation seems unreasonably high, then it can be a sign that management is looking after its own interests first and foremost, leaving shareholders in the dust. In general, compensation should be judged relative to the company size and standard industry practices. DHB Industries (AMEX: DHB) has been noteworthy in this area. For seven years, its CEO received 10% of the firm's profits. In 2004, he made $73 million, mostly from options -- which was almost 50% more than the company's profits. DHB evidently felt this wasn't enough, because it then awarded him warrants to purchase 5 million shares at a buck each, significantly below market price."

[bth: the above is from the Motley Fool and refers to compensation give to David Brooks, CEO of DHB. I think he cashed out about $175 million in all before the stock collapsed if memory serves.]
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Congress passes funeral protest ban - Congress�passes funeral protest ban - May 25, 2006: "WASHINGTON (AP) -- Demonstrators would be barred from disrupting military funerals at national cemeteries under legislation approved by Congress and sent to the White House.

The measure, passed by voice vote in the House Wednesday hours after the Senate passed an amended version, specifically targets a Kansas church group that has staged protests at military funerals around the country, claiming that the deaths were a sign of God's anger at U.S. tolerance of homosexuals.

The act 'will protect the sanctity of all 122 of our national cemeteries as shrines to their gallant dead,' Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, said prior to the Senate vote.
'It's a sad but necessary measure to protect what should be recognized by all reasonable people as a solemn, private and deeply sacred occasion,' he said.

Under the Senate bill, approved without objection by the House with no recorded vote, the 'Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act' would bar protests within 300 feet of the entrance of a cemetery and within 150 feet of a road into the cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral. Those violating the act would face up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.

The sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, said he took up the issue after attending a military funeral in his home state, where mourners were greeted by 'chants and taunting and some of the most vile things I have ever heard.'
'Families deserve the time to bury their American heroes with dignity and in peace,' Rogers said Wednesday before the House vote."...

[bth: These ratbastards protested our town middle school for its tolerance of gays. Imagine driving half way across the country to try to intimidate 11 and 13 year olds. Fred Phelps and his Topeka, Kansas Westboro Baptist Church are the most hate filled people I've ever seen in this country.]
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The Borowitz Report .com: "Amid a growing belief that there is no way the Democrats can blow the 2006 midterm elections, Democratic National Committee chief Howard Dean sought today to reassure the party faithful that the party was "doing everything in its power" to uphold its losing tradition.

At a top-level summit called "Defeat: 2006" being held in Boston, the former Vermont Governor gave a rousing speech to concerned Democrats, bringing his audience to his feet by vowing, "I can assure each and every one of you, we will find a way to screw this up."

With President Bush's approval rating below thirty percent and key Republican members of Congress the targets of ethics probes, many Democrats have been worried that their historic role as losers and sad sacks might come to an abrupt end this November, a fear Mr. Dean attempted to quell today.

"Folks, let's not forget, we're Democrats." Mr. Dean said. "If there's a way to lose, we will find it."

Carol Foyler, a longtime Democrat from Bethesda, Maryland who attended the summit, said that she had been worried that the Democrats might somehow pull out a victory in 2006, but added, "Just knowing that Howard Dean is in charge makes me feel much more confident about losing."

Elsewhere, after a study by the Georgetown School of Medicine said that millions of dollars are wasted on unnecessary medical tests, the American Medical Association said that there might be something wrong with the author of the study and he should come in for a checkup immediately."
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U.S. Urged to Stop Paying Iraqi Reporters - New York Times

U.S. Urged to Stop Paying Iraqi Reporters - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, May 23 � A Defense Department investigation of Pentagon-financed propaganda efforts in Iraq warns that paying Iraqi journalists to produce positive stories could damage American credibility and calls for an end to military payments to a group of Iraqi journalists in Baghdad, according to a summary of the investigation."

The review, by Rear Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, was ordered after the disclosure last November that the military had paid the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based Pentagon contractor, to plant articles written by American soldiers in Iraqi publications, without disclosing the source of the articles. The contractor's work also included paying Iraqi journalists for favorable treatment.

Though the document does not mention the Lincoln Group, Admiral Van Buskirk concluded that the military should scrutinize contractors involved in the propaganda effort more closely "to ensure proper oversight is in place." He also faulted the military for failing to examine whether paying for placement for articles would "undermine the concept of a free press," in Iraq, according to the summary.

It was not clear on Tuesday whether the report would have any immediate effect on the military's actions in Iraq. In interviews this week, several Pentagon officials said the Lincoln Group and other contractors were still involved in placing propaganda messages in Iraqi publications and on television. Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a senior military spokesman in Iraq, said Tuesday that he could not comment on the report. William Dixon, a spokesman for the Lincoln Group, also declined to comment on Tuesday....

[bth: the real problem isn't Iraqi propaganda. The Lincoln Group was also a front run by Republican hacks - Rove proteges - funded by the DOD to plant English language propaganda into the internet and foreign news services so that it would be picked up here in the states and broadcast as news. ....

I was monitoring some well done professional looking websites written in Enlgish and supposedly written by Iraqis last fall. Within a week of the Lincoln story being published, websites started going off line and over a course of about six weeks Google cached links and files actually started disappearing! Within about two months virtually all traces disappeared. I tried to trace the servers back and was able to trace them to a company in New Jersey whic provided high end server connections to the government and major corporations but then something attacked my computer hard while exploring this connection. Comcast later blacklisted (there actually is a blacklist!) my account, which was later restored but after many weeks. I believe that the Lincoln Group was planting English language puff pieces of propaganda into the US media and that Congress finally took action on the matter once it realized what was happening. Its one thing for the DOD to fund foreign propaganda, its another if the DOD is feeding false propaganda back to Americans. Has it stopped? I doubt it. Shortly thereafter (early this year) the Pentagon started awarding recognition prizes to websites that were producing Pentagon favorble news postings and I suspect subsidizing them as well through third party cutouts.]
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Bin Laden on the Move; New Sightings in Pakistan

The Blotter: "Pakistani government sources tell ABC News they have 'credible reports' that Osama bin Laden and his entourage have moved down from high mountainous peaks along the Afghan border to a valley area 40 miles inside the Pakistan border.

The officials say the reports put bin Laden around Kohistan's Kumrat Valley.

Officials said the reports were validated by the release of bin Laden's audio tape yesterday, which appears to have been recorded only two weeks earlier.

Such a quick turn-around suggests, say the officials, that bin Laden is much closer to civilization than he had been previously.

Previous audio and video tapes have taken four to six weeks to become public. "

Libby Told Grand Jury Cheney Spoke of Plame

Libby Told Grand Jury Cheney Spoke of Plame: "Vice President Cheney was personally angered by a former U.S. ambassador's newspaper column attacking a key rationale for the war in Iraq and repeatedly directed I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, then his chief of staff, to 'get all the facts out' related to the critique, according to excerpts from Libby's 2004 grand jury testimony released late yesterday by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Libby also told the grand jury that Cheney raised as an issue that the former ambassador's wife worked at the CIA and that she allegedly played a role in sending him to investigate the Iraqi government's interest in acquiring nuclear weapons materials. That issue formed the basis of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's published critique."

In the court filing that included the formerly secret testimony, Fitzgerald did not assert that Cheney instructed Libby to tell reporters the name and role of Valerie Plame, Wilson's wife. But he said Cheney's interactions with Libby on that topic were a key part of the reason Libby allegedly made false statements to the FBI about his conversations with reporters around the time her name was disclosed in news accounts....

A.C.L.U. Seeks States' Help on Phone Records Inquiry - New York Times

A.C.L.U. Seeks States' Help on Phone Records Inquiry - New York Times: "The American Civil Liberties Union said yesterday that it was asking utility commissions in 21 states to investigate whether the country's largest phone companies handed over their customer records to the National Security Agency without warrants. "

The A.C.L.U. is approaching the state commissions because they often monitor the privacy and abuse of customer data. The group said it also hoped to clarify whether local as well as long-distance calls had been monitored.

The civil liberties union also created a Web site and bought advertisements in newspapers to encourage the public to join complaints being sent to state regulators and the Federal Communications Commission.

"The likelihood of further public hearings will increase when more requests to investigate are made," said Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the A.C.L.U. "The companies have a major problem on their hands trying to explain why they violated consumer protections."...

Court in Abuse Case Hears Testimony of General

Court in Abuse Case Hears Testimony of General - New York Times: "FORT MEADE, Md., May 24 � Testifying at the court-martial of a dog handler accused of abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller said Wednesday that he never suggested that dogs be used to intimidate prisoners during interrogations in Iraq."

General Miller, who was the commander of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was sent to Iraq in August 2003 by senior Pentagon commanders to review the interrogation and detention system there and recommend ways to improve the collection of intelligence about the growing insurgency.
Within days of his visit, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the commander of the coalition forces in Iraq, issued guidance that seemed to allow for the use of dogs in interrogations.

Since the disclosures in April 2004 of extensive abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, sometimes involving dogs, the question of who was responsible for interrogation procedures has remained a subject of debate.

General Miller, the highest ranking officer to testify at any trial involving misconduct at Abu Ghraib, shed little light on Wednesday into questions of command responsibility for the prison abuses.

He was called as a witness in the trial of Sgt. Santos A. Cardona, 32, who is charged with using his dog, a Belgian Malinois, to abuse prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

In March, military jurors sentenced another dog handler, Sgt. Michael J. Smith, was sentenced to nearly six months in prison for abuse that included taking part with Sergeant Cardona in a competition to see who could be first to terrify prisoners enough to get them to soil themselves.

In nearly an hour on the witness stand, General Miller offered new details of his trip to Iraq, which has been depicted as importing harsh interrogation techniques from Guantánamo. He said he recommended that military dogs could be used to help with "custody and control" of detainees at the prison.

Harvey J. Volzer, Sergeant Cardona's civilian defense lawyer, asked whether General Miller had recommended "military working dogs as part of the interrogation situation."
His response: "No."

General Miller said he believed that the dogs "were very effective in assisting detention staff in maintaining custody and control."

Mr. Volzer has said that the dog handlers were following orders from superior officers. But it remained unclear how General Miller's testimony could help Sergeant Cardona.

Mr. Volzer told the military jury of four officers and three enlisted soldiers in his opening statement on Tuesday that soldiers at Abu Ghraib were operating under confusing orders and that the testimony might be aimed at bolstering that argument.

After General Miller's visit, General Sanchez issued an order saying that Arab men had a fear of dogs and that the fear could be exploited in using the animals "while maintaining security during interrogations."

Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the top military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib, testified in the earlier trial of Sergeant Smith that General Miller had recommended the use of dogs during interrogations. But on Wednesday in the current trial, he testified that General Miller did not make any such specific recommendations.

General Miller did not appear in the earlier trial, invoking his right not to give testimony that might incriminate him. But he changed his position after the Senate Armed Services Committee delayed his retirement until he was more forthcoming.

Virginia Tech materials researchers selected to improve military armor

Virginia Tech materials researchers selected to improve military armor: "Virginia Tech has been selected by the Army Research Laboratory to establish a Materials Center of Excellence. The center will develop polymer-based materials to protect personnel and equipment against weapons attack. ...

"Fundamental science and engineering also enable us to engineer corrosion resistance, chemical agent resistance, more durable adhesives, and self-repairing technologies for aircraft and munitions," Long said. ...

DHB gets AMEX warning

DHB gets AMEX warning -- "Troubled body-armor manufacturer DHB Industries Inc. of Westbury, busy lately dodging bullets from shareholders and federal investigators, has been informed it is not in compliance with continued listing requirements of the American Stock Exchange for failing to timely file its annual financial report.

The company, which said in April it would have to restate its earnings for 'one or more quarter' of the first three quarters of last year, said it was informed by the AMEX on May 16 that it was not in compliance with certain stock exchange standards."

DHB said it was told that to maintain its AMEX listing, it must submit an updated plan of compliance to the exchange.

The plan was to have been submitted by the end of business Tuesday.

DHB said it was told it must file its annual report for the year ending Dec. 31, 2005 no later than June 2.

Additionally, the company said, it was told it is also not conforming to exchange regulations following the resignation of a director, Jerome Krantz, on May 9. Exchange regulations require listed companies to have an audit committee of at least three members "each of whom is independent" and at least one member of the committee who is "deemed financially sophisticated.

"DHB said in response that it intends to provide the AMEX with a response "as soon as practicable" and that it will endeavor to comply with the requirements.

However, DHB said, "there can be no assurance that the company will be able to do so."

According to sources, federal investigators have begun a criminal investigation into possible fraud and insider trading at DHB, which makes body armor for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for the New York City police department as well.

Grand jury subpoenas have been issued for company records, the sources said.Shareholder suits have alleged that David H. Brooks, DHB's founder and chairman, as well other top executives, have made fortunes by selling blocks of the company's stock after knowingly making false claims about the financial health of the business.

[bth: Brooks is probably going to be a flight risk. Watch him and his money show up in Israel or Switzerland. The CFO resigned, the CFO's replacement resigned, the Audit committee is bailing out, the CEO dumped huge chunks of stock before the marines and the company disclosed deficiencies in marine body armor. ... War profiteering at its best.]

Dems want probe of Iraq contracts

Dems want probe of Iraq contracts: "Two leading Senate Democrats are asking Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) to investigate allegations of Iraq contracting abuses highlighted by Democratic Policy Committee hearings.

"These matters fall clearly within your committee's jurisdiction, and they have a direct bearing on our troops' mission and safety in Iraq, as well as on the use of taxpayer dollars," Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) wrote yesterday in a letter to Warner. "In the alternative, we would hope that you would support the creation of a special committee of the Senate - modeled after the Truman Committee during World War II - to conduct oversight hearings on Iraq contracting."

Democrats have long complained that the Republican-controlled Congress is not conducting proper oversight of the administration's prosecution of the war in Iraq and its awarding of reconstruction contracts.

Dorgan and Durbin attached an 18-page "findings" document detailing what they say are a pattern of abuses related to contracting in Iraq."

“These witnesses and reports reveal a disturbing pattern of abuse and mismanagement by the Department of Defense, Halliburton, and the Coalition Provisional Authority,” the findings document reads. “Although administration officials pride themselves on both management expertise and national security credentials, their inability to maintain proper oversight of military contractors has cost hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that could otherwise purchase necessary armor and equipment for American troops.”

Among the findings listed in the letter are allegations of a series of alleged abuses by Halliburton subsidiary KBR.

John Ullyot, Warner’s spokesman, said the committee has held three acquisition-reform hearings in the past three months, adding that “we’re always interested in the perspectives of other senators” on determining future hearings.

[bth: a Truman Commission is a necessary and probably inevitable.]

New Lockheed armor protects against IEDs

United Press International - Security & Terrorism - New Lockheed armor protects against IEDs: "DALLAS, May 24 (UPI) -- Lockheed Martin said Wednesday it had developed a new type of armor plating that offers improved protection against improvised explosive devices.

The Macro-Composite Protection System (MAPS) has been provided to the U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Navy for independent testing that should be completed by the end of the year.

Lockheed was bullish on the new product after its own testing, which was carried out in Texas with the Iraq market definitely in mind.

'We believe MAPS is a breakthrough in protective technology,' said Lockheed engineering director David Hunn. 'MAPS armor promises to provide an entirely new level of vehicle and personal protection to our forces that could save lives.'

MAPS is specifically aimed at the threat posed by shrapnel-producing IEDs as well as armor-piercing small arms fire.

Thus far, there has been no penetration of the plating by either explosions or 7.62 armor-piercing rounds fired from a sniper rifle, the company said Wednesday in a news release.

The plating consists of a macro-composite material encased in shock-absorbing polymers with a metallic strike face and spall plate on the front. It weighs in at about half of what current armor weighs.

It is suitable not only for military vehicles but on helicopters and attack aircraft as well as civilian vehicles such as armored trucks.

Lockheed didn't say how much the new material costs; however Hunn stated 'it should prove much less expensive than current ceramic armors once in production.'"

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

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Suspicious recording in Yonkers handed over to terrorist task force

Suspicious recording in Yonkers handed over to terrorist task force: "YONKERS � A 34-year-old employee of the Moroccan Consulate and his wife drew the suspicions of two police officers after they spotted the woman videotaping a wooded area near a Consolidated Edison facility and Ridge Hill near the New York State Thruway, police said.

No charges were filed, but state police did confiscate the camera. The driver is a security officer with the Moroccan Consulate, and his wife is unemployed.

Yonkers Police Officers David Cenelli and Ruperto Medina of the 1st Precinct were on the Thruway when they saw the red Honda Prelude parked on the side of the road at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

The officers became suspicious because the 30-year-old woman in the back seat was videotaping a quarter of a mile south of the entrance ramp where the power facility is located.

The officers walked up to the car and asked the driver to turn off his engine. The driver put his keys on the hood of the car and told police his wife is new to the country, and they were taking pictures.

The couple's two children, a 3-year-old boy and 5-year-old daughter, were in the back seat. The officers notified state police, who viewed the videotape along with city police. The couple had tape of the World Trade Center site, the Statue of Liberty, the Intrepid Sea and Air Museum, and the Yonkers site, police said.

State police confiscated the camera, and the Joint Terrorist Task Force was notified."
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VOA's Baghdad Bureau Still Closed After Six Months

VOA's Baghdad Bureau Still Closed After Six Months: "The Voice of America's bureau in Baghdad has been closed for the past six months, ever since the government-funded agency withdrew its only reporter in Iraq after she was fired upon in an ambush and her security guard was later killed.

All Western news organizations have struggled with the dangerous conditions in Iraq, which have led to such high-profile incidents as the kidnapping of Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll and the wounding of ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff. But for a federally funded information service to pull out of Baghdad for such a prolonged period raises questions about the Bush administration's insistence that conditions there are gradually improving.

VOA reporter Alisha Ryu said yesterday that she told her bosses in December that 'it would really be impossible for me to do any kind of work' in Iraq. 'I couldn't live with the idea that someone else could have died who was working with me. . . . For all journalists, it's really become impossible to move around.'

Asked why VOA has not sent another reporter to Iraq, Ryu said, 'They didn't have any volunteers to replace me.'

Larry Hart, communications coordinator for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees VOA, said the agency hopes to send another reporter to Baghdad soon but could not specify a time frame. He said Ryu was withdrawn 'because of threats against her personal security.'"...
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Armed Groups Propel Iraq Toward Chaos - New York Times

Armed Groups Propel Iraq Toward Chaos - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 23 � Even in a country beset by murder and death, the 16th Brigade represented a new frontier."

The brigade, a 1,000-man force set up by Iraq's Ministry of Defense in early 2005, was charged with guarding a stretch of oil pipeline that ran through the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dawra. Heavily armed and lightly supervised, some members of the largely Sunni brigade transformed themselves into a death squad, cooperating with insurgents and executing government collaborators, Iraqi officials say.

"They were killing innocent people, anyone who was affiliated with the government," said Hassan Thuwaini, the director of the Iraqi Oil Ministry's protection force.

Forty-two members of the brigade were arrested in January, according to officials at the Ministry of the Interior and the police department in Dawra.

Since then, Iraqi officials say, individual gunmen have confessed to carrying out dozens of assassinations, including the killing of their own commander, Col. Mohsin Najdi, when he threatened to turn them in.

Some of the men assigned to guard the oil pipeline, the officials say, appear to have maintained links to the major Iraqi insurgent groups. For months, American and Iraqi officials have been trying to track down death squads singling out Sunnis that operated inside the Shiite-led Interior Ministry.

But the 16th Brigade was different. Unlike the others, the 16th Brigade was a Sunni outfit, accused of killing Shiites. And it was not, like the others, part of the Iraqi police or even the Interior Ministry. It was run by another Iraqi ministry altogether.

Such is the country that the new Iraqi leaders who took office Saturday are inheriting. The headlong, American-backed effort to arm tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and officers, coupled with a failure to curb a nearly equal number of militia gunmen, has created a galaxy of armed groups, each with its own loyalty and agenda, which are accelerating the country's slide into chaos.

Indeed, the 16th Brigade stands as a model for how freelance government violence has spread far beyond the ranks of the Shiite-backed police force and Interior Ministry to encompass other government ministries, private militias and people in the upper levels of the Shiite government.

Sometimes, the lines between one government force and another — and between the police and the militias — are so blurry that it is impossible to determine who the killers are.

"No one knows who is who right now," said Adil Abdul Mahdi, one of Iraq's vice presidents.

The armed groups operating across Iraq include not just the 145,000 officially sanctioned police officers and commandos who have come under scrutiny for widespread human rights violations. They also include thousands of armed guards and militia gunmen: some Shiite, some Sunni; some, like the 145,000-member Facilities Protection Service, operating with official backing; and some, like the Shiite-led Badr Brigade militia, conducting operations with the government's tacit approval, sometimes even wearing government uniforms....

It is impossible to know just how many rogue units exist among the 145,000 police officers, commandos and other officers operating out of the ministry, most of them trained under American supervision.

That uncertainty lies at the heart of the political struggle that is now shaping up in Baghdad: Sunni and Shiite leaders disagree fundamentally on the nature and scope of the problem itself, which makes it harder to solve.

Leaders of the Shiite coalition, the largest partner in the new government, say the protests about the security forces, as well as their own militias, are being exaggerated for political effect. They say they plan to resist any wholesale transformation of the Interior Ministry.

Car bombings and suicide attacks have markedly dropped in Baghdad over the past several months, and the Shiite leaders say a large-scale purge of the Interior Ministry, or a rehiring of officers fired after the fall of Saddam Hussein, would probably revive the insurgency.

"A lot of noise comes from the fact that they are doing their jobs," Mr. Mahdi, the Shiite vice president, said of the Iraqi security forces. "We are in a war."

Indeed, to Iraq's main Shiite leaders, complaints about the Interior Ministry distract from the far larger problem of Sunni death squads, consisting of people whom they refer to as "taqfiris," the Arabic word that describes someone who hunts down apostates and violators of the faith. It has come to be a shorthand for insurgents who kill Shiites. In this formulation, the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry is merely doing to Sunni insurgents what Sunni insurgents have been doing to the Shiites since April 2003.

"The problem is the Saddamists and the taqfiris," said Abdul Aziz Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the main Shiite parties that controls the government. "These groups are committing genocide against the Shiite people."...

The Sunnis accused Mr. Jabr of allowing the largely Shiite police force to run wild in Sunni neighborhoods. American officials thought that was an exaggerated view of Mr. Jabr; they described him as a well-intentioned man who lost control of his ministry. For example, they point out, hundreds and possibly thousands of gunmen from the Mahdi Army militia, a rival to Mr. Jabr's Badr Brigade and loyal to the renegade cleric Moktada al-Sadr, also joined the police forces across the country.

While acknowledging the well-publicized cases of murder and torture within the Interior Ministry, American officers say that most of the atrocities are being carried out by a small number of rogues inside the government, or by groups, like the militias, that are not under Iraqi government control.

"The size of the problem is basically within a couple of brigades," said a senior American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, citing the delicacy of the subject.

The official, who works closely with the Iraqi government, said he believed there was one group inside the Interior Ministry that was responsible for many of the atrocities: the 28th Battalion, whose official assignment is to provide security for the ministry itself.

The American official did not specify which atrocities he believed the battalion was responsible for. "We are very concerned about it," the official said. "They form the core of the death squads."

The official was reluctant to go into detail. American and Iraqi leaders agree that the subject of rogue elements operating inside the ministry is a delicate topic, particularly since they are trying to bring Sunni leaders into the government. Some declined to talk about the 28th Battalion, while others, like Mr. Jabr, said they had not heard of it.


Indeed, the possibilities for government-sponsored violence are enormous: aside from the police and commandos in the Interior Ministry, approximately 117,000 soldiers are trained and equipped in the Iraqi Army. There are more than 50,000 private security guards, most of them armed, roaming the country. Another 145,000 men are assigned to protect Iraq's infrastructure.

Each of these units, Mr. Jabr said, could be infiltrated by insurgents or commit atrocities against Iraqi civilians, with few people in the senior levels of the government ever being aware.

"I am not responsible for these people," Mr. Jabr said of the other Iraqi forces. "You can imagine. This is out of my control.

Out of control."

Mr. Jabr offered an example: two weeks ago, his men arrested a team of bodyguards protecting a person whom Mr. Jabr would describe only as a "very senior Iraqi official." The bodyguards, Mr. Jabr said, were using their government identification cards and official positions to run a kidnapping ring and death squad.

The senior Iraqi official, Mr. Jabr said, apparently did not know what his bodyguards were up to. "They said, 'We sent him home,' referring to their boss, 'and then we do our job.' "

Mr. Jabr said criminals and terrorists often impersonated police officers, wearing uniforms that can be bought at bazaars.

Where Sunnis point to the Interior Ministry, Shiite leaders are indignant about the Facilities Protection Service, a 145,000-man force spread throughout 27 Iraqi ministries, each with its own agenda. The officers, Iraqi officials say, are at the disposal of each minister....

The Facilities Protection Service was first set up in 2003 with only 4,000 men to protect crucial parts of Iraqi utilities like power plants and oil refineries. As insurgents stepped up their attacks, and the Americans needed to free up their troops for combat, the service was rapidly expanded. From August 2004 to January 2005, the number of the service's men grew to 60,000 from 4,000.

The man who oversaw that expansion was B. J. Turner, a 64-year-old consultant from Florida. Mr. Turner said he was the lone American assigned to the effort for the first several months. Facilities Protection Service guards received just three days of training and half the pay of regular police officers. They had no power of arrest.

"We actually trained people at times, firing one to two rounds, "Mr. Turner said. "Because that's all the ammunition we had."

Once the ministries starting paying their salaries, Mr. Turner said, the individual F.P.S. units became "little armies," loyal to the ministers who paid them.

Last month, an inspector general assigned to check American programs in Iraq released an audit of the $147 million F.P.S. program. The report said the auditors were never able to determine basic facts like how many Iraqis were trained, how many weapons were purchased and where much of the equipment ended up.

Of 21,000 guards who were supposed to be trained to protect oil equipment, for example, probably only about 11,000 received the training, the report said. And of 9,792 automatic rifles purchased for those guards, auditors were able to track just 3,015.

The Americans exercise no oversight over the F.P.S., nor does any central authority in the Iraqi government.

Oil Pipelines at Risk

As much as Mr. Thuwaini despairs over the men under his command, he saved his fiercest criticism for the pipeline protection units run by the Ministry of Defense. One of those units was the 16th Brigade, which he and other Iraqi officials said was operating as a death squad in Dawra.

Mr. Thuwaini said there were at least three other such brigades operating in Iraq that were also similarly out of control: the 9th, 10th and 11th Brigades of the Ministry of Defense's pipeline protection forces. Those three groups, Mr. Thuwaini said, appear to be cooperating with insurgents, regularly allowing oil pipelines to be destroyed.

Maj. Gen. Mahdi al-Gharawai, a senior official at the Interior Ministry, said he had no specific information on the 9th, 10th or 11th Brigades. But he said the Iraqi units assigned to guard the oil pipelines were widely regarded as useless. "Most of these oil pipeline protection brigades are corrupt and have ties to the insurgents," General Gharawai said.

Among the responsibilities assigned to Mr. Thuwaini's men is the protection of the oil refinery in Dawra. That, Mr. Thuwaini said, was a good thing.

"If those guys guarded the refinery," he said of the Ministry of Defense pipeline ...

American and Iraqi officials say they believe that the Badr Brigade is responsible for killing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Baathists after the fall of Mr. Hussein. The militia was set up in the early 1980's and trained in Iran, where many Shiite leaders were forced into exile during Mr. Hussein's rule.

The Mahdi Army, an informal militia that emerged after the American invasion to support Mr. Sadr, has engaged in two armed uprisings against the Americans and the Iraqi governments they backed.

Shortly after invading Iraq, the Americans outlawed the militias, but, despite many pledges to do so, they never disarmed them.

Now Shiite politicians say they need the militias to protect themselves from the insurgency. When the Shiite-led coalition first took power last spring, Mr. Hakim, whose party controls the Badr Brigade, publicly announced that it would carry on.

These days, the Mahdi Army is the most fearsome of the Shiite militias: after the bombing of the Askariya Shrine in Samarra in February, the militia's black-suited gunmen poured into Baghdad's mixed neighborhoods and killed hundreds of Sunnis. Through most of those chaotic days, the American military and the Iraqi police did nothing to stop them.

Militiamen or Policemen?

But confronting the Shiite militias head-on is a delicate and difficult task.

The two — government security forces on one hand, private militias on the other — are often indistinguishable. Many of the militiamen-turned-policemen, wearing Iraqi uniforms and driving Iraqi vehicles, carry out operations at the behest of their old commanders, sometimes after work....

Mr. Obeid's relatives said they borrowed $50,000 from friends and turned it over to a middleman to deliver to the Mahdi Army. Mr. Obeid never came home. Instead, his body turned up in the city morgue, burned with acid and shot twice in the mouth.

"I can tell you, this government is the Mahdi Army," said Abdullah Obeid, the surviving son. "The government did this."

Late last year, a senior American commander said, American soldiers captured Mahdi Army fighters dressed in Iraqi police uniforms, carting away prisoners in Iraqi police cars to be tried in front of one of the Mahdi Army's Shariah courts, which operate independently of the government and deliver a harsh brand of Islamic justice.

"There are extremist elements of Badr and of the Mahdi Army who are using their positions in the police to carry out operations against the Sunni population," said a senior American military officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity....

Disbanding the militias means confronting the parties that control them, and the parties control the government. The Supreme Council, which controls the Badr Brigade, has 30 seats in the new Parliament; Mr. Sadr, who controls the Mahdi Army, has 31 seats.

Both parties appear to be reluctant to disband their forces, if only because of the inability of the government to guarantee their safety.

"We don't think the problem in Iraq is militias," Mr. Mahdi, the vice president, said. "People have to defend themselves."

In the end, whether the Iraqi government and their American backers are able to rein in the security forces will probably depend, more than anything, on political will. On that point, the Iraqis and the Americans appear to diverge.

Some American commanders say that a confrontation with Mr. Sadr and his militia is probably inevitable. Very few Iraqi leaders publicly agree.

Yet the dilemma for the Americans and the Iraqis seems clear enough. Without confronting Mr. Sadr, there seems to be little prospect of cleaning up the police force or the Mahdi Army. But, having faced two armed uprisings by Mr. Sadr in the past, the Americans hardly seem eager to incur the political fallout that another uprising would bring.

For their part, the Americans, privately at least, are hoping the Iraqis will take the lead. But they are not holding their breath.

"They need to begin by setting examples," an American official in Baghdad said of the Iraqi government. "It is just very noticeable to me that they are not making any examples."

"None," the official said. "Zero."

[bth: what are we getting out of this again?]
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Official Secrets

Official Secrets: "ATTORNEY General Alberto R. Gonzales, asked this weekend whether he believes he can prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, made a statement that should chill the bones of every American who values a vigorous press: 'It depends on the circumstances.' Speaking on ABC's 'This Week,' Mr. Gonzales explained, 'There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility. That's a policy judgment by the Congress in passing that kind of legislation. We have an obligation to enforce those laws.' But presenting the administration's radical new strategy as mere deference to Congress is profoundly dishonest.

The administration is seeking to convert a moribund World War I-era espionage law into an American version of Britain's Official Secrets Act. Mr. Gonzales is correct that the law, which bans the transmission of national defense information to anyone not cleared to receive it, would -- if read literally -- make criminals out of journalists who publish such material. For that matter, it would also permit the jailing of whistle-blowers, academics who write about leaked information, members of Congress who disclose secrets and, theoretically, even readers of newspapers who discuss the stories. Precisely because of the law's unthinkable scope, the First Amendment has long been understood to limit its application. Government has gone after officials who promise to protect the nation's secrets and then fail to do so -- but generally not against citizens who receive those secrets."...
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A Fight in Afghanistan

A Fight in Afghanistan: "THE HEAVY fighting in Afghanistan during the past week, in which more than 300 people have died, may seem like a sudden eruption to many Americans -- who tend to assume the war there ended, more or less, years ago. In fact, the conflict has been building for some time. Casualties in Afghanistan increased by about 20 percent in 2005, driven by new insurgent tactics such as suicide bombings. As winter waned this year, Taliban fighters were reported to be moving in large numbers into southern Afghan provinces. That movement coincided with the deployment to the region of a new NATO force of 6,000 troops with a mandate to extend government control and take over counterinsurgency operations conducted until now by U.S. forces.

The result is a crucial battle for control of the south -- crucial for both Afghanistan and NATO. A decisive defeat of the Taliban offensive could help consolidate a still-fragile democratic government, and it could validate NATO as a military alliance capable of tackling the security challenges of the 21st century. The Taliban, however, is betting it can prove the reverse: that the new Afghan political order is unworkable and that NATO is a paper tiger that cannot substitute for the U.S. troops being withdrawn."

The first results have been encouraging. Canadian and British troops have fought to clear a Taliban-infested area just 15 miles from the southern city of Kandahar; with U.S. air support, scores of enemy fighters have been killed and several senior commanders captured. A Canadian and two French soldiers have been among those killed in recent fighting, along with one American, who was the 37th to die in Afghanistan this year. Though the appearance of relatively large Taliban formations is itself an alarming sign of the movement's revival, any expectation by its commanders that they could roll over the new NATO units has been shattered.

The Afghan fighting season, however, is only beginning, and many reports suggest that much of the rural south is now infiltrated by the Taliban. While Canadian and British units have performed well, others have yet to be tested -- including some from countries that intend to limit their mission to peacekeeping and reconstruction. Given the scale of the military challenge, the planned withdrawal of 3,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan this summer looks increasingly risky.

If the Taliban offensive is to be turned back, the Afghan government and its NATO allies will need some success beyond the battlefield. As Afghan President Hamid Karzai bluntly pointed out last week, the Taliban high command continues to use Pakistan as its main base. The movement cannot be defeated unless it is deprived of that sanctuary -- but Pakistan's ruling military, a former Taliban sponsor, has failed to act decisively against it. The Taliban is also supported by Afghanistan's booming trade in poppies, the raw material of opium, which means more aggressive action is needed against this billion-dollar industry. Finally, the Bush administration needs to press for more economic reconstruction in the south, which has had little improvement since the entry of Western forces nearly five years ago. The U.S.-led effort to transform this onetime base of al-Qaeda is far from over; in fact, it is still just beginning.

[bth: unfortunately the real war with al-Qaeda has barely begun, though the American public is exhausted by Iraq. Many wish al-Qaeda would just go away, but it won't. Until Democrats put forward a meaningful policy to deal with al-Qaeda it won't gain the trust of the public - sure the public is tired of Bush and his lies, but Osama Bin Laden et al are still there and they are sworn enemies willing to die for their cause.]

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

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Karzai orders 'human shield' probe - May 23, 2006 - Karzai orders 'human shield' probe - May 23, 2006: "The reports indicated that while Taliban fighters were on the run from coalition forces in the Panjwayi district, they took refuge in civilian homes, which were then bombed by coalition forces, according to a news release from the Afghanistan government.

'While expressing concern at the Coalition Forces' decision to bomb civilian areas, the president strongly condemned the terrorists' act of cowardice to hide behind civilians and use them as human shields,' the release said on Tuesday.
The incident happened Monday, according to the Coalition Press Information Center, which reported as many as 80 deaths in the operation."...
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Insurgents Keep U.S. at Bay in Ramadi Insurgents Keep U.S. at Bay in Ramadi: "RAMADI, Iraq -Whole neighborhoods are lawless, too dangerous for police. Some roads are so bomb-laden that U.S. troops won't use them. Guerrillas attack U.S. troops nearly every time they venture out _ and hit their bases with gunfire, rockets or mortars when they don't.

Though not powerful enough to overrun U.S. positions, insurgents here in the heart of the Sunni Muslim triangle have fought undermanned U.S. and Iraqi forces to a virtual stalemate."

"It's out of control," says Army Sgt. 1st Class Britt Ruble, behind the sandbags of an observation post in the capital of Anbar province. "We don't have control of this ... we just don't have enough boots on the ground."

Reining in Ramadi, through arms or persuasion, could be the toughest challenge for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's new government. Al-Maliki has promised to use "maximum force" when needed. But three years of U.S. military presence, with nearly constant patrols and sweeps, hasn't done it.

Today Ramadi, a city of 400,000 along the main highway running to Jordan and Syria, 70 miles west of Baghdad, has battles fought in endless circles. Small teams of insurgents open fire and coalition troops respond with heavy blows, often airstrikes or rocket fire that's turned city blocks into rubble.

"We're holding it down to a manageable level until Iraqis forces can take over the fight," Marine Capt. Carlos Barela said of the daily violence battering the city.

How long before that happens is anybody's guess.

U.S. and Iraqi commanders say militants fled to Ramadi from Fallujah during a devastating U.S.-led assault there in 2004. Others have joined from elsewhere in Anbar, blending into a civilian population either sympathetic to their cause or too afraid to turn against them.

They've destroyed police stations and left the force in shambles. The criminal court system doesn't function because judges are afraid to work; tribal sheiks have fled or been assassinated.

While al-Maliki has vowed to crush the insurgency, a major military operation to clear Ramadi risks destroying any hope of reaching a political settlement with disaffected Sunnis.

U.S. commanders also say a Fallujah-style operation is not in the cards, at least not yet, and might not have the desired effect. "That would set us back two years," said Lt. Col. Stephen Neary, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.

However, the status quo with its bloodletting doesn't sit well with the troops.

"We just go out, lose people and come back," said Iraqi Col. Ali Hassan, whose men fight alongside the Americans. "The insurgents are moving freely everywhere. We need a big operation. We need control."

Some Americans also say ground needs to be taken and held. Most U.S. missions typically consist of going out, coming under fire and returning to base _ leaving behind a no-man's-land held by neither side that insurgents in black ski masks always pour back into.

"This just 'we ride out, hold it for an hour, get hit, ride back in and now we don't hold it anymore,' what's the point?" said Ruble of the Army's 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment.

"I believe in the cause and I believe in doing good, but when were going out, getting hurt and ... not accomplishing anything, why are we going out there? If you're saying killing one insurgent is worth one of my guys getting hurt ... you're crazy. That's like killing one guy in the Chinese army. What have you done? not a thing."

The sheer scale of violence in Ramadi is astounding.

One recent coalition tally of "significant acts" _ roadside bombs, attacks, exchanges of fire _ indicated that out of 43 reported in Iraq on a single day, 27 occurred in Ramadi and its environs, according to a Marine officer who declined to be named because he's not authorized to speak to the media.

And that, he said, was "a quiet day" _ when nothing from Ramadi even made the news.

In Ramadi, machine-gun fire and explosions are heard every day and tracer fire or illumination flares are seen every night.

Even after airstrikes have transformed already ruined buildings full of gunmen into huge balls of gray debris, Marines have marveled at surviving insurgents who've come out shooting.

Even though such assaults kill dozens at a time, guerrillas keep on coming _ and keep dying.

"They're crazy to be coming in the numbers that they do," Lance Cpl. Chris Skiff, 25, of Tupper Lake, N.Y.

Inside a palatial Saddam-era guesthouse near the Euphrates River _ now a fortified U.S. base where sand-filled barriers and camouflage netting surround even the portable toilets _ Marines stare in wonder at photos of U.S. troops deployed here less two years ago.

The pictures show their predecessors riding in open-topped vehicles, often with little armor. They show freshly painted buildings, since destroyed or splattered with gunfire. They show U.S. troops walking through a downtown marketplace, a casual outing unthinkable today.

Some of the pictures show bullet-strafed buildings and cars on fire, but it's a far cry from Ramadi, 2006. Case in point: Government Center, headquarters of the provincial governor.
Once, civilian traffic was allowed to pass in front of the near-pristine edifice. Today, only military vehicles are allowed near. The wrecked building is enclosed by blast walls, barbed wire and a sometime moat of sewage. From machine-gun nests, walls of sandbags and tents of camouflage on the roof Marines repel several attacks a day.

Marines say that the governor is unfazed and comes to work despite 29 assassination attempts.

"If you wanna get blown up or shot at or anything else, then this is the place," said Marine Staff Sgt. Jacob Smith, 28, from Martin, S.D., who helps clear roadside bombs that are sometimes replaced just after the minesweepers drive past.

In one Ramadi neighborhood, Master Sgt. Tom Coffey, 38, of Underhill, Vt., gestured to a paved road his forces would not drive on. "They hit us so many times with IEDs (roadside bombs), we ceded it to them," he said.

Though coalition forces answer with massive firepower, they rarely pursue attackers _ for fear of falling into an ambush and because they have few troops to spare. Though U.S. and Iraqi troops conduct frequent raids and hit targets, the insurgents fight back in their own way.

When U.S. and Iraqi troops question civilians, insurgents follow in their footsteps to visit and sometimes kill the suspected informants.

After U.S. troops use residential rooftop walls as observation posts, insurgents have been known to knock them down.

Ramadi is dangerous not only for combatants, but for civilians caught in the crossfire.

"It's getting worse. Safety is zero," Col. Hassan said.

After one neighborhood sweep devolved into an hour-long gunbattle, Iraqi Maj. Jabar Marouf al-Tamini returned to base and drew his finger across a satellite map of the area he'd just fled under fire: "It's fallen under the command of insurgents," he said, shaking his head. "They control it now."
U.S. commanders would argue otherwise, but acknowledge perhaps a bigger problem.

"They don't have to win. All they have to do is not lose," said Barela, 35, of Albuquerque, N.M., citing an adage about guerrilla war.

[bth: we simply lack enough troops to win in Ramadi and we don't have enough political will to level the place - no chance for victory. There is no strategy - no strategic plan for victory - only tactics. A lot of brave soldiers and marines will pay the price for our lack of leadership and courage in Washington]
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Troop pull-out from Iraq to be speeded up

Guardian Unlimited The Guardian Troop pull-out from Iraq to be speeded up: "George Bush and Tony Blair are to discuss in Washington this week a programme of troop withdrawals from Iraq that will be much faster and more ambitious than originally planned.

In a phased pullout in which the two countries will act in tandem, Britain is to begin with a handover to Iraqi security forces in Muthanna province in July and the Americans will follow suit in Najaf, the Shia holy city.

Other withdrawals will quickly follow over the remainder of the year. Officials in both administrations hope that Britain's 8,000 forces in Iraq can be down to 5,000 by the end of the year and that the American forces will be reduced from 133,000 to about 100,000."

Yesterday Nuri al-Maliki, the new Iraqi prime minister, told a joint press conference with Mr Blair in Baghdad that Iraqi forces could take over from the US-led coalition in 16 of the country's 18 provinces by the end of the year.

Mr Blair and Mr Maliki said the "process of transition" would start in some provinces in the coming months, and that "by the end of this year responsibility for much of Iraq's territorial security should have been transferred to Iraqi control".

Mr Blair, in his fifth visit to Iraq since the invasion, flew to Baghdad to become the first leader to greet the new Iraqi government, which was inaugurated on Saturday. Mr Blair is investing his hopes of salvaging his legacy in the new Iraqi prime minister and described the government as "a new beginning" after three years of hard struggle.

The statement said the new Iraqi government would "in the weeks ahead work with the MNF [multinational force] on the details of transition to Iraqi control".

Britain has responsibility for four provinces in Iraq. After Muthanna, the next province for handover to Iraqi forces by Britain is Maysan. But Basra, where most of the 7,200 British forces are stationed, is - the two prime ministers admitted yesterday - a serious problem, and the new government is to send a delegation there soon.

The fate of Dhi Qar, which is in the British sector but is run in effect by 2,600 Italian forces, is uncertain, since the new Italian prime minister, Romano Prodi, says he wants a speedy withdrawal.

Mr Maliki denied that the country was in the midst of a civil war. "The multinational forces did let us improve the capability of our forces but the Iraqi forces still need more," he told reporters. "Iraq's forces still need more backing, more training and more armaments in order for the Iraq security forces to take over the security fully. We will start in the provinces and we will do them in turn."

His total of 263,000 Iraqi police and army is still short of the 325,000 target, although this is expected to be completed by the end of the year. ...

A senior British official predicted that a full handover of security could be achieved within the four-year term of the new Iraqi government. "The aim is to take Iraq to a position where the multinational force is able to withdraw during its [the new government's] period in office," said the official, who was accompanying Mr Blair into Baghdad.

"During the four years, the present role and structure of the multinational force will change and come to an end."