Saturday, March 10, 2007

Poll: Character Trumps Policy for Voters | The Huffington Post

Poll: Character Trumps Policy for Voters The Huffington Post: "WASHINGTON — For all the policy blueprints churned out by presidential campaigns, there is this indisputable fact: People care less about issues than they do about a candidate's character."

A new Associated Press-Ipsos poll says 55 percent of those surveyed consider honesty, integrity and other values of character the most important qualities they look for in a presidential candidate.

Just one-third look first to candidates' stances on issues; even fewer focus foremost on leadership traits, experience or intelligence.

"Voters only look at policies as a lens into what type of person the candidate is," said Ken Mehlman, chairman of President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign. That campaign based its voter targeting and messaging strategies on the character-first theory....

DOD data delays slow VA medical care to soldiers

DOD data delays slow VA medical care to soldiers: "The Department of Veterans Affairs has problems accessing service members’ real-time medical data to provide them a seamless transition from the Military Health System to the VA’s health system."

The Government Accountability Office is most concerned about the Defense Department’s delays in sharing medical data because that postpones the start of injured soldiers’ rehabilitation, said Cynthia Bascetta, GAO’s director of health care issues, at a hearing March 8 of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee.“A delay in the start of rehabilitation means there can be deficits that can’t be made up,” she told lawmakers. Screening for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury has to start earlier at DOD for proper care, she told lawmakers....

[bth: these systems can be intergrated but aren't because of bureaucratic turf wars. As a consequence the soldiers suffer.]

Army can now jam IEDs without disrupting communications News - Army can now jam IEDs without disrupting communications: "FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- With the help of the Navy, the Army is now able to operate improvised explosive device (IED) jammers in Iraq without disrupting its communications equipment, according to a senior Army officer."

IED jammers, such as the Counter Radio-Controlled Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare systems, can cause the loss of all communications from co-located or nearby tactical radio systems, Naval Sea Systems Command said. The radio systems also can render the jammers ineffective.

Until recently, soldiers in Iraq were turning off the jammers to communicate, said Gen. William Wallace, head of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. But on his recent trip to the Middle East, Wallace heard no complaints about IED jammers, he said.

With coordination from the Defense Department’s Joint IED Defeat Organization, the Navy placed electronic warfare specialists in every Army battalion that needed assistance, Wallace told reporters March 8 at the Association of the U.S. Army Winter Conference here.

“For the present, it has certainly solved the problem,” he said.

The Navy experts taught Army soldiers how to remove conflicts from the frequency spectrum so that IED jammers and communications equipment can be used simultaneously in the same environment, Wallace said.

IEDs remain the single greatest cause of casualties to U.S. forces in Iraq. DOD has asked for $4 billion in funding in its fiscal 2008 budget and $2.4 billion in its fiscal 2007 supplemental budget to counter the devices.The Army is also ramping up its electronic warfare training, a specialty of the Navy, Wallace said.

“We recognize that electronic warfare is not going away and the frequency spectrum is not getting less crowded in the future,” he said.Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody recently initiated e-warfare training courses at Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Huachuca, Ariz., at the tactical and strategic levels, respectively.

The Army plans to make e-warfare a core competency, meaning every soldier will receive some training.

Also, the service could evolve the e-warfare specialty to become a separate career field, Wallace said.

The Army will base its training approach partly on the Navy model and plans to replace Navy e-warfare specialists in Iraq with Army employees by March 2008, according to the Armed Forces Press Service.

Meanwhile, the IED threat is changing to adapt to the U.S. military’s countermeasures.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said that new IED trigger devices in Iraq, supplied by Iran, use infrared driven trigger devices, rather than radio frequency-based triggers.

Counter-IED systems jam tactical comms in Iraq News - Counter-IED systems jam tactical comms in Iraq: "Jammers used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq to defeat radio-controlled improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have the side effect of knocking out a wide range of tactical radio systems, according to the Naval Sea Systems Command."...

Navsea, which is asking for industry input on mitigating the problem, said IED jammers, known as Counter Radio Controlled Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare (CREW) systems, can cause the “loss of all communications” from co-located or nearby tactical radio systems. The Navy manages the joint CREW program for Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Joint IED Defeat Organization.

At the same time, active battlefield radio systems interfere with the IED jammers “to the extent that the CREW systems become ineffective,” according to Navsea's request for information....

Last month, Navsea awarded a $79.5 million contract to BAE Systems to produce 3,800 wearable CREW systems to be fielded to all four services in Afghanistan and Iraq.

John Grimes, chief information officer and assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration, speaking at the DOD spectrum conference last month, said that the department faces a real challenge of operating IED jammers while at the same time ensuring the jammers do not knock out tactical systems.

According to the RFI, Navsea is looking for an interference mitigation system that weighs no more than five pounds and that can protect a wide range of communications systems, including UHF, VHF and HF manpack and vehicle radios as well as tactical satellite systems, the Blue Force Tracking System, the Movement Tracking System and Global Positioning System receivers.

Military struggles to identify units to extend Baghdad buildup

Military struggles to identify units to extend Baghdad buildup - International Herald Tribune: "WASHINGTON: Military leaders are struggling to identify Army units to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan longer or go there earlier than planned, as five years at war make it increasingly difficult to find fresh troops for combat."

Faced with a military buildup in Iraq that could drag into next year, Pentagon planners are trying to identify enough units to keep up to 20 brigade combat teams in Iraq. A brigade usually has about 3,500 troops.

The likely result will be to extend deployments of brigades scheduled to return home at the end of the summer and sending others earlier than scheduled.

Final decisions will come as Congress considers ways force President George W. Bush to wind down the war, despite his vow that he would veto such legislation.

In the freshest indication of the relentless demands for troops in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, commander of coalition forces in northern Iraq, told reporters Friday that his troops have picked up the pace of their attacks on the enemy in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad.

"Could I use more forces? No question about it," Mixon said, adding that he had asked for more.

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, said a day earlier that it was likely that additional U.S. forces will be shifted to areas outside the capital where militants are regrouping, including Diyala.

The region has become an increasingly important staging ground for groups including al-Qaida in Iraq.

"There have been about 30 percent more offensive actions and attacks
. Many of those are initiated by us; some are initiated by them," Mixon said from a military base outside of Tikrit. "I am cautiously optimistic that in the next 30 to 60 days that we're going to see some significant differences in the security situation in Diyala."

[bth: two points. First, the insurgent shifted from Baghdad to Diyala province. That should be obvious and Bush is going to declare success in Baghdad, meanwhile the civil war shifts elsewhere with rising intensity. Second, the national guard and reservists are going to have to be tapped with greater frequency going into 2008. There are intense political implications of that]

Pakistani lawmakers threaten end to anti-terror cooperation

Pakistani lawmakers threaten end to anti-terror cooperation - International Herald Tribune: "ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Pakistani lawmakers threatened Friday to halt counterterrorism cooperation with Washington if American military aid is made conditional on Islamabad's commitment to fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida."

Pakistani and U.S. leaders are concerned that the link, contained in a bill that has cleared the U.S. House of Representatives, could sour relations between Washington and a key ally against international terrorism.

"Pakistan's contribution to the war on terror is far higher than any other country," the defense committee of Pakistan's lower house of parliament said.

If it becomes law, the condition "calls for a reciprocal action from Pakistan, including complete or partial noncooperation in the war against terror," the committee said, according to an official summary of its Thursday meeting.

The committee has a marginal role in formulating policy for President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. However, the committee is chaired by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, a key Musharraf ally who heads the ruling Pakistan Muslim League party.

The offending bill cleared the House in January amid frustration in Washington at the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the failure of Pakistan to stamp out militancy in the remote border regions, a possible lair for al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

However, Democrats in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday proposed a milder text after strong opposition from Republican President George W. Bush.

The Senate resolution was "intended to put Congress on record as making clear that military assistance to Pakistan will be assessed in the context of efforts in cracking down on the Taliban and al-Qaida."

It implied that follow-up legislation would be introduced if Pakistan does not heed that warning...

[bth: so our aid money is really bribe money and the terms with which they "earn" it is under negotiation. The Senate language proposing milder text essentially guts the plan. Meanwhile Osama Bin Laden turns 50 and lives happily ever after.]

North Korean Crime "a Runaway Train" News: Bad Guys: "Even if North Korea cracks down on its state-sponsored organized crime, the regime has backed so many criminal rackets that they may be spinning out of control, according to a new report by the Congressional Research Service."

The regime has grown notorious in recent years for its far-flung criminal enterprises. The list of rackets reads like the Mafia in its heyday: massive production and trafficking of narcotics, counterfeiting of currencies and products ranging from cigarettes to Viagra, insurance fraud, and more. The criminal activity provides desperately needed hard cash to the impoverished regime and is thought to pull in anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion annually.

Investigators have documented at least 50 incidents–many involving North Korean diplomats–linking the regime to drug trafficking. But since 2003, according to CRS, no cases have surfaced directly tying the government to the traffic. Some analysts credit this to a crackdown by Washington and its allies, which may have forced the regime to pare back its criminal activity. But not everyone is convinced; government-backed traffickers may simply be going through cutouts, working particularly through Chinese gangs across the border.

The report, by CRS national security expert Raphael Perl and economist Dick Nanto, is the latest in a series of groundbreaking studies by the group on North Korea's narcotics and counterfeiting rackets. This latest report notes that strongman Kim Jong Il still has plenty of reason to rely on criminal revenue. His government needs "slush funds designed to sustain the loyalty of a core of party elite numbering in the tens of thousands and to underwrite weapons development programs," write Perl and Nanto....

Tape of Padilla interrogation is missing

Tape of Padilla interrogation is missing - Yahoo! News: "MIAMI - A videotape showing Pentagon officials' final interrogation of al-Qaida suspect Jose Padilla is missing, raising questions about whether federal prosecutors have lost other recordings and evidence in the case. "

The tape is classified, but Padilla's attorneys said they believe something happened during that interrogation that could explain why Padilla does not trust them and suspects they are government agents.

Padilla attorney Anthony Natale said in court papers that the March 2, 2004, interrogation at the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., could contain information the government conveyed to Padilla that "directly impacts upon his relationship with his attorneys."

Prosecutors and the Pentagon have said they cannot find the tape despite an intensive search.

Authorities made 88 video recordings of Padilla being interrogated during the 3 1/2 years he was held at the brig as an "enemy combatant," officials said. Eighty-seven tapes have been given to the defense, leaving only the last session unaccounted for.

"I don't know what happened to it," Pentagon attorney James Schmidli said during a recent court hearing.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke was incredulous that anything connected to such a high-profile defendant could be lost.

"Do you understand how it might be difficult for me to understand that a tape related to this particular individual just got mislaid?" Cooke told prosecutors at a hearing last month....

Padilla's attorneys have also accused the Bush administration of mistreating and even torturing Padilla at the brig, before he was transferred to civilian custody. Justice Department and Pentagon officials have repeatedly denied those claims....

Stephanie Pell, one of the Padilla prosecutors, said more than 150 hours of interrogation tapes have been given to defense lawyers. She said the lost tape was actually on a DVD that did not get transferred onto a format used by the Padilla defense team.

"It's somehow buried in the massive amount of information that we have turned over to defense," Pell said.

The judge ordered prosecutors to give defense lawyers a written summary of notes taken by agents during the interrogation session. But Natale said there may be more tapes missing and other interrogations that were not recorded.

Defense lawyers say brig logs indicate that there were 72 hours of Padilla interviews that either were not taped or for which tapes may be missing. Natale said it seems unlikely that any interrogation session with Padilla was not videotaped "when he was videoed taking showers."

Pell said that figure may be a miscalculation due to a misreading of the logs or mistakes in the handwritten entries. And not every Padilla interview was taped, she said. "We do not believe there is 72 missing hours," Pell said. "We can't provide what we don't have."

Senior Al-Qaeda leadership including Osama in Pakistan: Abdullah Abdullah

ONLINE - International News Network: "ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan’s former Foreign Minister, Abdullah Abdullah s known for his hard-hitting statements against Pakistan has once again alleged that Pakistan is harbouring and patronising Taliban leaders such as Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and other senior Al-Qaeda leadership. "

In an exclusive interview with Weekly Pulse Abdullah Abdullah terming Taliban and Al Qaeda a potential threat to the world and the allied troops as well said that though, Afghanistan is no more the Al Qaeda’s global headquarters, but it has not accepted defeat yet, and is trying to re-capture our country.

"I am not submissive or pessimist but despite all efforts of the international community, Al Qaeda, and Taliban are still a potential threat, and a main hindrance in establishment and maintenance of stability in Afghanistan", he said.

He said this is mainly because the focus of international community, including America has been partially shifted to some other areas. Although, the world has not disengaged Afghanistan as far as its security and economic needs are concerned, however it is reality that its focus has been partly shifted to some other areas.

"I will ask the international community not to repeat the mistake it committed after the withdrawal of defunct USSR forces from Afghanistan, and put more financial and political efforts to save Afghans from Taliban and Al Qaeda, which are trying to re-capture the country as their global headquarters", he said.

It is an evident fact. After withdrawal of USSR forces, the world had forgotten Afghanistan, which resulted in initiation of global terrorism. Al Qaeda and Taliban found the opportunity to capture Afghanistan. And this may happen again, if the world community repeats that mistake, he said.

In response to a question would the resolution of lingering issues like Palestine, and Iraq improve the situation in Afghanistan and other volatile parts of the Muslim world he said, "I am not saying that if these issues are resolved then there will no Al Qaeda. Certainly Al Qaeda will still be there, but its capacity to recruit or mislead Muslim youths will be damaged to a large extent".

He said that Mullah Omer and Hikmatyar are criminals, and are still engaged in crimes against humanity.

When asked where does he think Osama bin Laden is he said, " I can’t say anything in this regard until am hundred per cent sure, but the intelligence reports suggest that he is in Pakistan". Various senior Al Qaeda leaders have been arrested from Pakistan. This is a widely accepted perception that Al Qaeda and Taliban have support in Pakistan’s tribal areas and more sincere and serious efforts are required to arrest Bin Laden.

Mullah Omer is hiding in Quetta, and this is a known fact. I used to say that there were terrorist camps in Pakistan, but all my statements were denied. But after sometime, Pakistani forces launched operation against these terrorist camps set up in northern tribal areas, which seconded my point, and you will see, same will happen in this case, he said.

Abdullah Abdullah in response to a question said USA and NATO are not ignoring the ground realities.

They know that Pakistan is backing infiltrators. The statements of NATO commanders in Afghanistan are on the record in this regard. But diplomacy is a complex exercise. It has different ways, that is why US administration is not officially blaming Pakistan for that. But it doesn’t mean that they are not aware of the fact. They know everything.

Top Pakistan nuclear scientists in Taliban Custody: Zee News Exclusive

Zee News - Top Pakistan nuclear scientists in Taliban Custody: Zee News Exclusive: "New Delhi, March 07: Two top nuclear scientists of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) are currently in Taliban custody. The two were working at PAEC’s facility in North West Frontier Province. Zee News investigations reveal that the two scientists were kidnapped about six months ago. To avoid international embarrassment Pakistan Government has kept this information under wraps. "

According to information available with Zee News, nuclear scientists have been kidnapped by Taliban at the behest of Al-Qaeda. Further investigations reveal that Al-Qaeda may be using the expertise of the scientists to produce nuclear bombs. The two scientists are reportedly being held somewhere in Waziristan, near Afghanistan border.

In January this year Pakistan security agencies had foiled another attempt by Taliban militia to kidnap nuclear scientists. Earlier, incidents of Taliban militia stealing uranium in NWFP have already been reported. PAEC also has a uranium mining facility in NWFP. With repeated Al Qaeda threats to the US, news of kidnapping of nuclear scientists will increase pressure on Pakistan to attack terrorist camps. Bureau Report

[bth: just dandy. so why isn't this showing up in traditional American media?]

Iraqis Paid Not to Burn Oil Wells: Wilson

Iraqis Paid Not to Burn Oil Wells: Wilson - "Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) has told The Politico that before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the CIA paid Iraqi oil workers not to burn the oil wells. The agency, he said, also offered them future employment in exchange for their cooperation."

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield declined to comment on Wilson's assertion.

Wilson said that the briefing was classified at the time but that he doesn't consider it to be so anymore because the invasion is over. He made his comments during an interview about pending oil legislation in Iraq to demonstrate that he has followed developments regarding that country's oil infrastructure for many years.

Before the invasion, there were widespread fears that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would set fire to the nation's oil wells, as he did during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Largely, those fears did not materialize. Preventing the wells from burning had been a top priority of the Bush administration.

Wilson said that "extraordinary efforts had been made to make sure that the oil wells were not blown up.

The CIA, of all things, had provided funds to the persons who worked in the oil industry that if they stopped Saddam Hussein from blowing up the wells they would be employed. Plus, they would also be given money in advance and at the conclusion -- like $100 in advance and $100 afterwards to make sure the oil wells weren't blown up -- and that's a reason they weren't."

The CIA is given wide latitude by law in how it operates overseas....

[bth: this seems entirely reasonable.]

Think Progress » Army Secretary Who Resigned Over Walter Reed Given Lavish Farewell Ceremony

Think Progress » Army Secretary Who Resigned Over Walter Reed Given Lavish Farewell Ceremony: "Army Secretary Francis Harvey resigned last week after the neglect and squalor at Walter Reed military hospital was exposed by the Washington Post. "

Harvey not only oversaw these conditions, but chose to place Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley — who had been personally aware for years about the problems and apparently done nothing — back in control of the hospital. That decision was reversed days later by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Despite the terms of his resignation, Harvey today was given a celebratory farewell ceremony at the large Conmy Hall in Virginia, pictured below. ThinkProgress obtained a media advisory promoting the event, which states that Army chief of staff Peter Schoomaker would be hosting the “farewell ceremony in honor” of Harvey.

In the text of his “Message to the Army,” Harvey says, “I am leaving your ranks saddened,” but claims that the “well-being” of “Soldiers and their families” has “always been my highest priority.”

Significant progress has also been made in force and business transformation, modernization, leader development, and the well-being of Soldiers and their families - your well-being has always been my highest priority.

The press advisory notes, “The Secretary of the Army will not conduct a media availability before or after the ceremony.”

Your tax dollars at work. (And how long until the Medal of Freedom?)

[bth: vile, putrid revulsion. we honor the disgraced, the arrogant, the incompetent and hide the wounded and dead away - out of sight out of mind]

If alive, Osama bin Laden turns 50

If alive, Osama bin Laden turns 50 - "SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (Reuters) -- Osama bin Laden, if he's alive, celebrated his 50th birthday on Saturday, and his friends in the Taliban prayed for his long life."

The al Qaeda leader's long silence has fueled speculation that the world's most-wanted fugitive may have died, though many in the international intelligence community reckon Islamist militant Web sites would circulate word of his death.

"He is alive. I am 100 percent sure," Taliban spokesman Mullah Hayatullah Khan told Reuters, adding that senior leaders were in touch with bin Laden, reinforcing a widely held view that he is hiding near the rugged Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Khan said special prayers were offered by Taliban fighters in camps in Afghanistan to mark bin Laden's birth on March 10, 1957, in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah.

"We prayed that Allah may give him 200 years to live," Khan said," by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location....

[bth: the thought this bastard could die of old age is adhorent.]

Saddam Judge Seeks Asylum in UK

IraqSlogger: Saddam Judge Seeks Asylum in UK: "The judge who issued the death sentence to Saddam Hussein has fled to London and requested political asylum from the British authorities, al-Jazeera reports in Arabic. "

Ra'uf 'Abd al-Rahman, the head of the Iraqi criminal courts, came to London on a tourist visa in December 2006, and has been residing in the country since with his family.

The judge claims that he is seeking poltiical asyulm because he fears that his life is in danger from attacks which may seek to avenge the former Iraqi president's death sentence, according to Al-Jazeera.

"The information we have is that the judge sought asylum for reasons including that he fears for his own life and the lives of family members ... The application is being considered by the Home Office," said al-Jazeera's correspondent, Nasser al-Badri, who cited unnamed official British sources, according to a Reuters report. ...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Pakistanis suffer under militants

Pakistanis suffer under militants - Los Angeles Times: "PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN — For weeks, there had been whispers that Akhtar Usmani, a young teacher at a Muslim religious school, was speaking out against the growing presence of Islamic militants in his home in the tribal area of Waziristan."

Then one day last week, the schoolteacher's corpse, with the head severed from the torso, was found in a bloody sack dumped beside a desolate road. A note on his mutilated body called him a spy for America.Such grisly reprisal killings have become a recurring feature of life in Waziristan, a rugged border zone that is in the global spotlight because of U.S. intelligence claims that elements of Al Qaeda are regrouping there

A little-noted corollary of the area's notoriety as a militant haven is the suffering of civilians who live and work there, say human rights groups, political analysts and Pakistani law enforcement officials.

The killings are part of an atmosphere of terror enveloping many of the 4 million or so people living in North and South Waziristan and the other "tribal agencies," seven federally administered but essentially ungoverned areas adjoining the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier.

Civilians there are increasingly subject to the stringent Islamic prohibitions and punishments of Taliban insurgents, foreign militants and members of radical Pakistani organizations, whose influence is breaking down traditional tribal leadership, people in the area say.

Barbers get warningsIn some locales, barbers are being warned against trimming beards. Singing and dancing are discouraged, and music has been banned. Motorists who play their car radios face fines or beatings.

Schools, particularly those educating girls, operate under constant threat. Movie theaters have been ordered to close."With this phenomenon of 'Talibanization,' or militant religiosity, the first victims are always the local populations," said Ali Dayan Hasan, a researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch."These people have absolutely no protection, and their most fundamental rights are violated daily."

In a report last month, the group urged that independent monitors be allowed to visit the tribal areas and document abuses. Most of the region, populated almost exclusively by Pashtun tribes, is a no-go zone for any outsider, even fellow Pakistanis.No official reporting mechanism exists for violent crimes, such as the slayings of clerics and elders accused of sympathizing with the United States or the Pakistani government.

But human rights activists say scores of such killings have occurred in the last year, including two more this week.Adding to the tribal zone's woes, criminal gangs claiming allegiance to the militant groups routinely carry out kidnappings for ransom, extort protection money, hijack commercial trucks and smuggle weapons and drugs.

In a recent brazen heist, militiamen stole a fire engine.

"Anyone can put on a black [Taliban] turban and claim they are acting in the name of Islam," said retired Brig. Gen. Mahmood Shah, a former chief of security in the tribal areas. "That's what many of these criminals are doing — taking advantage of people's fear of standing up to the militias."In some areas, the residents are fighting back.

This week, armed tribesmen attacked Uzbek militants, setting off a gun battle that left at least 19 people dead.

Surrounded by extremismUnrest in the tribal areas is steadily encroaching on the nearest big city, Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, which lies outside the tribal belt but is the regional hub for jobs, supplies and services.

Peshawar, with its 2.2 million residents, is more diverse and cosmopolitan than the conservative villages surrounding it. But here too, "extremism is gaining ground," said Qibla Ayaz, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Peshawar.

Activists for women's rights say they feel particularly vulnerable amid the rising religious fundamentalism.

"Where there is a push toward a mullah state, we are the primary target," said Rukhshanda Naz, a lawyer who works with a Peshawar-based group that encourages women to participate in politics. Many Peshawar neighborhoods, particularly outlying districts, have become unsafe for her group's workers, she said.

Foreign and local aid organizations have been the subject of fiery sermons by tribal clerics, creating an atmosphere of intimidation that sharply hampers their ability to deliver essential services, such as healthcare, in remote areas where they are most needed.

Last month, a Pakistani doctor and his assistant were killed by a roadside bomb in the tribal area of Bajaur after they met with village elders to try to persuade them to allow a polio immunization campaign for children.

Mullahs had denounced the vaccinations as a foreign conspiracy to sterilize Muslims.Despite the hardships the populace is enduring, there is a degree of grudging public support for the militants in the tribal areas, according to some who were born and raised there."On the whole, people don't want to live under a Taliban-style system," said Shah, the former security chief."

But anti-American sentiment, and anger at the central Pakistani government, is a strong uniting force, and one that the militant elements can exploit.

"A power vacuumLawlessness accelerated last autumn after a controversial pact between tribal elders in North Waziristan and the government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Under the accord, Pakistani troops withdrew to barracks in exchange for a promise that militants would not use the area as a springboard for attacks on American and allied troops in Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence officials say the pact created a power vacuum that gave militant groups a chance to consolidate.

Concern about the regrouping of Al Qaeda and other militant organizations in the tribal areas dominated talks in the Pakistani capital last week between Musharraf and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.J. Michael McConnell, the new U.S. director of national intelligence, told Congress last week that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, were thought to be hiding in Pakistan's border area, an assertion the Pakistani government rejected.

Whether or not high-ranking Al Qaeda leaders are present, militants in areas such as North Waziristan have succeeded in establishing "a state within a state, with its own mechanisms and institutions," such as Islamic courts, said Hasan, the human rights researcher.

Analysts say the notion of a military solution to the Taliban influence in the tribal territories is simplistic. Such a campaign by the Pakistani government would almost certainly kill and injure civilians as well as the militants, human rights groups and other observers say."

Outsiders tend not to understand the complexity of these areas," said Hamid Sharif, the Pakistan country representative for the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation, pointing to a long and unyielding tradition of ungovernability and hostility toward outsiders.

"There's this naive belief that this is Pakistan, so why doesn't Pakistani law, the Pakistani writ, apply," Sharif said. "But anyone who has an idea of the history of these areas will know this is an extremely difficult issue to resolve."

[bth: one wonders what the Taliban offers people in this lifetime? Ignorance and violence? At some point the local population has to stand up and defend itself or be enslaved.]

Chemicals stockpiled for 'jihad on Sydney'

Chemicals stockpiled for 'jihad on Sydney' "NINE suspected terrorists allegedly stockpiled a cache of deadly chemicals as they plotted a 'violent jihad' on Sydney.

In what is being described as the biggest terror trial in Australia's history, Penrith Local Court yesterday heard for the first time detailed allegations against the nine alleged Muslim extremists. "

The men stand accused of plotting a massive terrorist attack on Sydney - with Lucas Heights nuclear plant the possible target.

In her opening address, prosecutor Wendy Abraham QC claimed preparations for an attack involved chemical stockpiling, the collation of "extremist" documents and specialised terrorist training.

The court heard documents written in Arabic showed step-by-step instructions on how to make deadly explosives such as TATP and HMTD.

The materials were allegedly found during searches of their homes and vehicles, with one found hidden in a children's book called Choice Islamic Stories. Bradley Umar Sariff Baladjam, Khaled and Moustafa Cheikho, Mohamed Ali Elomar, Abdul Rakib Hasan, Mohammed Omar Jamal, Mirsad Mulahalilovic, Khaled Sharrouf and Mazen Touma faced court together for the first time since their arrest during ASIO raids in November 2005.

The court heard Touma had told his mother he was about to enter paradise and that "Allah's satisfaction is more important than yours".

"He (Touma) spoke of Allah giving him a paradise for martyrdom," Ms Abraham said. "It is alleged he said his mother should be patient because tomorrow her children would be in paradise."

The Crown alleges the defendants each played a role in conspiring to prepare for a terrorist attack by equipping themselves with the "knowledge, ability and means to prepare and plan for a terrorist attack".

"They believed Islam was under attack and and in defence of Islam and other Muslims ... the primary tool was violent jihad," Ms Abraham said.

The defendants allegedly obtained or attempted to obtain chemicals and necessary items that could be used in the construction of explosives.

These include 50 litres of hydrochloric acid, 200 litres of sulphuric acid and more than 60 litres of hydroperoxide.

It is also alleged the group had large amounts of "extremist" and instructional material as well as firearms and ammunition used in SKS and AK47 semi-automatic weapons.

The court heard how the men shopped at chemists, hardware stores and discount shops in Sydney and Melbourne for chemicals and items such as PVC piping.

The committal hearing, expected to run for at least two months, continues today.

Most youth ineligible for Army, survey says - Military News, Army News, opinions, editorials, news from Iraq, photos, reports

Most youth ineligible for Army, survey says - Military News, Army News, opinions, editorials, news from Iraq, photos, reports - Army Times: "Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — Close to three-quarters of American youth are ineligible to serve in the Army and patriotism among the country’s recruitable population has been sliding since 2002."

That was the assessment of a series of recent surveys conducted in fiscal 2006 and early fiscal 2007 by the Army’s Center for Accessions Research and presented Thursday by Gen. William S. Wallace, commanding general of Training and Doctrine Command.

“It’s an Army problem, but it’s also a national problem,” said Wallace, who presented a slice of the report at the winter meeting of the Association of the United States Army.

TraDoc is the major command that oversees Accessions Command and the subordinate U.S. Army Recruiting Command. Recruiting is seen as a looming and growing challenge as the Army begins to expand by 65,000 more soldiers.

According to Wallace, only 27 percent of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 are eligible for recruiting.

The remaining 73 percent, he said, “are morally, intellectually or physically” unfit for service. “It’s the lowest it’s been in more than 10 years

College, he said, is now the preferred post-high school activity and youths surveyed said they perceived the Army as “ordinary.”

According to Wallace, those surveyed considered the Marine Corps “elite but dangerous.” They considered the Navy “somewhat elite but safer” and the Air Force was considered “elite and highly technical.”

One of the Army’s challenges, he said, was to be able to “break through the media clutter.”

Referring to the Army’s four-month-old “Army strong” recruiting ad campaign, Wallace said the study showed that 80 percent of youths don’t watch commercials, 80 percent do some sort of text messaging, and 85 percent have access to the Internet.

In spite of the challenges, he said, the Army recruited 80,635 soldiers into the active component in fiscal 2006 and the year-to-date figures indicate the Army is at 107.8 percent of its goal with a total of 2,055 soldiers.

The Reserve component, however, is behind at only 90 percent, or 804 soldiers short of where it wants to be for this date.

Still, he said, “we expect to meet our U.S. Army Reserve goals” although it will be gradual.

[bth: note how they need 80,635 this year but have 2,055 for the fiscal year (5 months so far). That means its almost entirely back end loaded.]

Japan military deal worries China

Japan military deal worries China "AUSTRALIA and Japan are about to embark on their most wide-ranging military and intelligence-sharing agreement, in a move that is generating concern from Beijing.

In the 50th anniversary year of the signing of the post-war Australia-Japan trade pact, Tokyo and Canberra will agree on a joint security declaration that promises to transform defence relations between the two countries. "....

Afghan official a convicted trafficker

Afghan official a convicted trafficker - Yahoo! News: "KABUL, Afghanistan - When the deal went down in Las Vegas, the seller was introduced only as 'Mr. E.' In a room at Caesars Palace hotel, Mr. E exchanged a pound-and-a-half bag of heroin for $65,000 cash — unaware that the buyer was an undercover detective. The sting landed him in Nevada state prison for nearly four years. "

Twenty years later and Mr. E, whose real name is Izzatullah Wasifi, has a new job. He is the government of Afghanistan''s anti-corruption chief.

Wasifi leads a staff of 84 people charged with rooting out the endemic graft that is fueled in part by the country's position as the world's largest producer of opium poppy, the raw ingredient of heroin.

President Hamid Karzai's office won't say if he knew about the drug conviction when Wasifi was appointed two months ago as general-director of the General Independent Administration of Anti-Corruption and Bribery. Wasifi, a childhood friend of Karzai, is the son of a prominent Afghan nationalist leader....

Counterterrorism Blog: Accused Terror Financier Boasted Of Access to U.S. Military Briefings in Iraq

Counterterrorism Blog: Accused Terror Financier Boasted Of Access to U.S. Military Briefings in Iraq: "A federal grand jury in Missouri has issued a formal indictment against five officials from the local offices of an Islamic charity, charging them with violating U.S. trade laws and also fraudulently diverting thousands of dollars from a U.S. government development grant into a lobbying campaign aimed at thwarting a Congressional investigation into its links to terrorism. The new indictment comes directly on the heels of another decision last month from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the right of the U.S. Treasury Department to freeze the financial assets of the same charity, the Islamic African Relief Agency (IARA), for allegedly helping to finance terrorism."

The individuals named in the current indictment include former IARA-USA executive director Mubarak Hamed, former board member and treasurer Ali Bagegni, vice-president for international operations Abdel Azim el-Siddiq, and IARA Middle East coordinator based in Jordan Khalid al-Sudani. A frequent visitor to Iraq, al-Sudani—whose assets have been frozen by the U.S. government since 2004—was routinely profiled in donor materials produced by IARA and its sister organization ISRA. Yet, in the months of chaos following the fall of Saddam Hussein, al-Sudani was nonetheless reportedly handed “a pass from the Americans” and even granted access to U.S. “military briefings” in Baghdad. It is not clear precisely when U.S. authorities in Iraq finally recognized al-Sudani as an alleged terrorist financier.

The now-defunct IARA—a Sudanese organization with domestic operations in Missouri, Maryland, Michigan, Texas, Florida, New York, and Oklahoma—has repeatedly denied any role in financing Al-Qaida. However, neither the charity’s directors nor lawyers have been able to explain a litany of instances in which IARA-USA and its officers have been engaged in problematic behavior. In the early 1990s, the president and vice-president of IARA were regular invited speakers at conferences organized inside the U.S. by front groups for Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). In February 1999, the Turkish government reportedly blocked IARA-USA from transferring thousands of dollars in donations to another Islamic charity that was later accused by French magistrates of playing “an important role” in the attempted terrorist attack on Los Angeles International Airport by Algerian Ahmed Ressam.

Meanwhile, in December 1999—the same month that Ressam was arrested crossing the U.S.-Canadian border—Jordanian authorities detained IARA-USA regional fundraising coordinator Ziyad Khaleel during a trip to Amman on charges of serving as a “procurement agent” for Al-Qaida leader Usama Bin Laden.

Subsequent federal court proceedings against Bin Laden in New York revealed that while working as a fundraiser and webmaster for IARA-USA in Missouri, Khaleel had knowingly purchased a satellite telephone and accessories for Bin Laden’s personal use in Afghanistan.

In October 2004, three years after 9/11, the U.S. government eventually announced the formal designation of IARA as a banned terrorist entity for providing financial and logistical assistance to a host of terrorist groups, including Al-Qaida, Hamas, Al-Gama`at al-Islamiyya in Egypt, and Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya in Somalia.

CQ Today - Members Were Aware of Lapses at Walter Reed

CQ Today: "By Seth Stern, CQ Staff
Senior Republicans who knew about problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center while their party controlled Congress insist they did all they could to prod the Pentagon to fix them."

But C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., former chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he stopped short of going public with the hospital’s problems to avoid embarrassing the Army while it was fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Young and Thomas M. Davis III, R-Va., the former chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, both acknowledged in interviews that they were aware of patient care problems at Walter Reed long before The Washington Post exposed them two weeks ago.

At a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday, Young detailed his efforts to assist patients at Walter Reed during visits he or his wife made to the hospital as early as 2003. He described repeatedly confronting the hospital’s then commander, Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, about patients who, they discovered, had received poor care.

Young said his wife, Beverly, found one Walter Reed patient lying in his hospital bed without sheets or blankets, having soiled himself. Another, who suffered from a battlefield brain injury, had fallen out of his bed three times, even after Young had told Kiley about the problem, the lawmaker said. And he said a third patient, who had an aneurysm, died after a respiratory therapist ignored family warnings about the patient’s fragile condition and treated him anyway.

“We got in Gen. Kiley’s face on a regular basis,” Young said, adding that he even contacted the commander of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda in the hopes of getting better care there for the patient with the aneurysm, though doctors at Walter Reed declined to transfer him.

“What else do you want me to do? I am not going to go into a hospital and push my way into a medical situation,” Young said after the hearing.

Young said he “separates my life as a member of Congress and the work I do on a volunteer basis,” visiting military hospitals with his wife almost every week.

Young said he used his role as an appropriator to push to fund a new lab at Walter Reed and a new phone system at Fort Carson so patients could more easily make appointments.

But he said he purposely opted to bring concerns about individual patients’ care privately to the attention of Walter Reed commanders, rather than wield his clout as an Appropriations subcommittee chairman.

“We did not go public with these concerns, because we did not want to undermine the confidence of the patients and their families and give the Army a black eye while fighting a war,” Young said.

At the time, Young said, he believed “what I was dealing with was basically isolated cases, solder by soldier,” rather than a systemic problem at the hospital.

Even now, Young said, he’s not sure what more he could have done.

“Appropriations alone cannot solve all problems,” he said. “It takes more. It takes skill, it takes experience, it takes determination, and it takes attitude.”

He placed the blame for the hospital’s substandard conditions on Kiley, who now serves as the Army’s surgeon general, its top-ranking uniformed doctor. Young said he was not satisfied with Kiley’s answers at the hearing Wednesday and predicted that he would be relieved of his post by the weekend.

“The rumor around the Capitol is they’re keeping him here to take all the spears,” Young said.

Davis’ Panel Aware Since 2004

Davis, the former chairman of the committee with responsibility for oversight of government programs, said his options also were limited. He said his committee staff first learned in 2004 about problems with wounded soldiers’ health care while investigating their pay problems.

At a February 2005 hearing on care for wounded Army Guard and Reserve soldiers, Davis said, “I’m appalled that these men and women not only have had to face the recovery from their war wounds, but are simultaneously forced to navigate a confusing and seemingly uncaring system of benefits.”

Davis said he directed the Government Accountability Office to conduct several studies, “some of them coming from complaints from veterans that were stationed” at Walter Reed.

Davis’ committee staff aides fielded calls and attempted to help wounded soldiers and their families who called with complaints about pay and health care problems. At the committee’s March 5 hearing at Walter Reed, Annette L. McLeod testified that only after calling Davis’ office in 2006 did she make progress in getting proper care for her husband, Army National Guard Spec. Wendell W. McLeod Jr., who was injured while deployed in Iraq.

But Davis says he never pressed other committees or Republican leaders for legislation or new money to address problems his staff had identified.

“We are not appropriators. . . . I don’t know what else we could have done,” Davis said. “If generals don’t go around and look at the barracks, how do you legislate that?”

Democrats Also Aware

Democrats said they did all they could while in the minority.

John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, who was the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he sought appropriations to address problems he found during visits to military hospitals. For example, he obtained money for air conditioners for the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and modern stretchers for a Baghdad field hospital.

Murtha focused blame for the Walter Reed scandal on the Bush administration and said the Pentagon discouraged patients from talking to lawmakers in both parties.

“My impression is that the military was constrained, even intimidated, from telling me and other congressional members about the real problems and the real needs,” Murtha said.

Democrat Henry A. Waxman of California, who now chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, defended how his predecessor as chairman had handled the problems at Walter Reed.

“It isn’t that Chairman Davis didn’t ask them to account for it,” Waxman said. “I don’t think the problem is in our committee. The problem is in the Department of Defense.”

John F. Tierney, D-Mass., the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, made a point to praise Davis and former subcommittee Chairman Christopher Shays, R-Conn., at the March 5 hearing at Walter Reed. “I want to thank those members for their leadership so far,” Tierney said.

Army officials are scheduled to testify Thursday about Walter Reed before the House Armed Services Committee, while administration officials will appear before the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, capping appearances at five congressional hearings this week.

[bth: I can confirm that Rep. Young and his wife Beverly were active in helping patients and in Kiley's face in 2003-2004.]

Iraq Pullout Could Begin July 1 Under Democratic Plan

The Crypt's Blog - "The House Democratic plan for funding the war in Iraq could force a pullout of U.S. combat troops starting on July 1, with all American units out of the country by the end of 2007, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday."

Even under the least aggressive timetable laid out by Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, U.S. forces will have withdrawn from Iraq by Sept. 1, 2008.

When the pullout begins depends on the progress that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki makes in meeting political and military benchmarks. President Bush would have to certify by July 1 that the Maliki government is "making progress" toward those goals, or a U.S. withdrawal would start immediately and be finished in six months.

If Bush says there is some progress in reaching the benchmarks, the Maliki government would have until Oct. 1 to formally enact them. If they aren't, pullout begins, and again, it's a six-month timetable to complete withdrawal.

If the Maliki government meets both those deadlines, and Bush certifies that it has, withdrawal would begin on March 1, 2008, with almost all U.S. units out of Iraq by that September.

So the range for U.S. withdrawal under the Democratic plan is as early as July 1, 2007, with departure no later than September 2008....

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Blotter - Insurgents in Iraq Claim They Can Beat U.S. Anti-IED Technology

The Blotter: "A new insurgent video mocks U.S. attempts to fight the attacks and claims insurgents managed to beat advanced technology used by the U.S. to detect the deadly explosives. "

A series of fierce and gruesome IED attacks against U.S. armored vehicles in Iraq is shown on the 25-minute video.

The new video, issued by a coalition of insurgent groups known as "The Islamic State of Iraq," is subtitled "The Fall and Decline of the U.S. Technology." The underlying message is that U.S. efforts to counter IED attacks are futile because the group claims its "engineers" managed to invent ways to face the newly developed techniques and devices by U.S. forces.

It begins by showing a masked man identified as a field commander talking about U.S. counter IED efforts before listing different types of U.S. vehicles, including the Buffalo, Cougar and RG-31 Nayala.

The video contains footage of alleged attacks against U.S. vehicles that are seen being blown up. In some instances, bodies are seen flying in the air amidst fire and smoke.

IEDs are responsible for 65 percent of American casualties in Iraq, according to retired Gen. Montgomery Meigs, who heads the counter-IED efforts in Iraq.

Meigs, who briefed reporters about the fight against IEDs yesterday, argued, however, that IED lethality has dropped, pointing out that the level of American casualties resulting from IED attacks has remained constant since 2004. To show the progress being made, Meigs said insurgents have to put four to five times as many IEDs as in June 2003 to cause one American casualty. The drop in lethality is due to the timely discovery of an IED leading to detonation or IEDs that just aren't as lethal.

The video ends by showing an old statement by al Qaeda's No. 2 man Ayman al Zawahri in which he challenges President Bush to send more U.S. troops to Iraq and claims the insurgents will win.

Gen. Meigs, whose Joint IED Defeat Organization has a budget of almost $6 billion in the last three years, admits the attacker always has the upper hand in this fight. There is no uparmor or body armor that can totally defeat an offensive weapon like the IED, he said. He added, however, that in the last six months the number of tips about IEDs has more than doubled.

Insurgent video showing the defeat of our best armored vehicles

Link to insurgent video showing the IED defeat of our most advanced vehicles.

The Blotter - Whistle-blower Had to Fight NSA, LA Times to Tell Story

The Blotter: "Whistle-blower AT&T technician Mark Klein says his effort to reveal alleged government surveillance of domestic Internet traffic was blocked not only by U.S. intelligence officials but also by the top editors of the Los Angeles Times."

In his first broadcast interview, which can be seen tonight on World News and Nightline, Klein describes how he stumbled across "secret NSA rooms" being installed at an AT&T switching center in San Francisco and later heard of similar rooms in at least six other cities, including Atlanta, San Diego, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, San Jose and Seattle.

"You needed an ordinary key and the code to punch into a key pad on the door, and the only person who had both of those things was the one guy cleared by the NSA," Klein says of the "secret room" at the AT&T center in San Francisco.

The NSA is the National Security Agency, the country's most secretive intelligence agency, charged with intercepting communications overseas.

Klein says he collected 120 pages of technical documents left around the San Francisco office showing how the NSA was installing "splitters" that would allow it to copy both domestic and international Internet traffic moving through AT&T connections with 16 other trunk lines.

"It's gobs and gobs of information going across the Internet," Klein says.

President Bush has acknowledged he authorized the NSA to intercept the communications of people with known links to terrorist organizations "into or out of the United States," but that "we're not trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans."

Intelligence experts say the NSA has the means to filter out suspect communications with sophisticated machines that spot key words, names, addresses or patterns.

Eventually, Klein says he decided to take his documents to the Los Angeles Times, to blow the whistle on what he calls "an illegal and Orwellian project."

But after working for two months with LA Times reporter Joe Menn, Klein says he was told the story had been killed at the request of then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and then-director of the NSA Gen. Michael Hayden.

The Los Angeles Times' decision was made by the paper's editor at the time, Dean Baquet, now the Washington bureau chief of The New York Times.

Baquet confirmed to he talked with Negroponte and Hayden but says "government pressure played no role in my decision not to run the story."

Baquet says he and managing editor Doug Frantz decided "we did not have a story, that we could not figure out what was going on" based on Klein's highly technical documents.

The reporter, Menn, declined to comment, but Baquet says he knows "Joe disagreed and was very disappointed."

Klein says he then took his AT&T documents to The New York Times, which published its exclusive account last April.

As the new Washington bureau chief of The New York Times, Baquet now oversees the reporters who have broken most of the major stories involving the government surveillance program, often over objections from the government.

After The New York Times story appeared, Klein filed an affidavit in a lawsuit against AT&T brought by a civil liberties group, Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The NSA says it will not confirm or deny the existence or the purpose of the "secret rooms," but in a filing in the court case against AT&T, Negroponte formally invoked the "state secrets privilege," claiming the lawsuit and the information from Klein and others could "cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States."

Klein says what he knows won't help terrorists.

"The only people that are being kept in the dark is the American people who are being misled and not realizing, not being told that their private information, that their liberties are being destroyed and tramped on," he said.

[bth: what is most distubing about this that the editors of major papers squashed the story.]

GALLUP: 58% Want Pullout in Iraq Within 12 Months

NEW YORK A record number of Americans now say that the Iraq war was a "mistake" and less than half say the U.S. can win the war, a record low number, according to a new Gallup/USA Today poll released today. Almost 6 out of 10 Americans (58%) want troops to be withdrawn within 12 months and only 13% support sending more.

Americans are in favor of congressional legislation that would set a timetable for withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq, and 54% want to set a cap on the number of troops.

But only 37% back bills that would cut off funds for troop increases in Iraq and 44% want to revoke authority for the war granted in 2002.

Over three-quarters of Americans support Congress both requiring U.S. troops to come home from Iraq if Iraqi leaders fail to reduce violence in that country and also requiring U.S. troops who served in Iraq to remain home for one year before being redeployed there.

A partisan divide remains. Only 29% of Republicans say the war was a mistake, vs. 84% of Democrats.

The poll was taken March 2-4.

Qaeda-led militants storm Iraq jail, free 140

MOSUL, Iraq, March 6 (Reuters) - Dozens of al Qaeda-led militants stormed an Iraqi jail in the northern city of Mosul on Tuesday and freed up to 140 prisoners in one of the biggest prison breaks since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, police said.

As many as 300 militants led by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq, attacked Mosul's northwestern Badoush prison just after sunset in the ethnically mixed city and overwhelmed police, who were forced to call the U.S. military for backup, officials said.

Hisham al-Hamdani, a member of the Mosul provincial government, said Abu Omar al-Baghdadi took part in the attack himself. The Islamic State in Iraq is a body set up by al Qaeda's Iraq wing and other Sunni militant groups in October.

Most of the prisoners were believed to be insurgents, police said.

It was unclear if there were any clashes between gunmen and police during the incident.

Saddam Hussein's nephew, Ayham Sabawi, escaped the same prison in December after he was accused of financing the Sunni insurgency against U.S. forces and the Shi'ite-led government

Leaders Try to Get House Democrats Together on Measures to End Iraq War

Leaders Try to Get House Democrats Together on Measures to End Iraq War - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, March 6 — House Democratic leaders on Tuesday implored their rank and file to stick together as the debate intensified over the financing and direction of the Iraq war, saying a fractured party would impede the overarching goal of bringing the conflict to a close."

As Congress considers President Bush’s $93.4 billion spending request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Democrats are struggling to reach agreement over what conditions should be placed on war financing. Among the sticking points is whether the legislation should include a specific date for a withdrawal from Iraq.

“To some degree we are focused on the doughnut hole here rather than the doughnut itself,” Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, said after presiding over a 90-minute session with members of the Democratic caucus.

Last month House Democrats passed a symbolic resolution opposing the administration’s plan to send more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq. While Democrats voted in near unanimity to rebuke Mr. Bush, leaders are still trying to reconcile diverging views of liberal, moderate and conservative lawmakers on the larger question of financing the war.

The proposal put forward by Democratic leaders calls for granting Mr. Bush’s spending request, but establishing guidelines for troops to be sent to Iraq. If the standards were not met, the president would be allowed to waive the restrictions if he justified doing so.

“There’s no real plan on the table,” Representative Jane Harman, a California Democrat, said as she walked away from the meeting. “There’s a lot of conversation. We have a very big tent in our caucus, and there are a lot of different viewpoints to consider.”

Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the Democratic conference chairman, said they had agreed on several areas, including increasing spending to combat terrorism in Afghanistan, imposing benchmarks to measure performance of the Iraqi government and enforcing standards for training and equipping troops. He said the rest of the differences would be resolved within two weeks.

The Out of Iraq Caucus, a group of 75 lawmakers who oppose the war, is pressing Democratic leaders to schedule a vote on a proposal to pull troops from Iraq. Even though that would almost certainly fail, some representatives say they are inclined to only support the larger spending measure if there is a House debate on troop withdrawal.

“The Out of Iraq Caucus is not happy,” said Representative Pete Stark, a California Democrat. “And Rahm is trying to importune them to stay together and show we have a plan.”

The White House and House Republicans sought to exploit the diverging Democratic views. In a speech to leaders of the American Legion on Tuesday, the president said strict conditions on war spending “would undermine everything our troops have worked for.”

“There are no shortcuts in Iraq,” Mr. Bush said.

Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader, said members of his party were likely to vote against the military spending bill if it included provisions to interfere with on-the-ground military decisions. “If we think there is language that will inhibit their ability to win, we’re not going to support it,” Mr. Boehner said.

In the Senate, Democratic leaders said Tuesday that they had abandoned plans seeking to repeal the 2002 authorization of the Iraq war. The proposal faced considerable opposition, particularly from Democratic senators who opposed the war in the first place and objected to reauthorizing military action there.

Senator Carl E. Levin, a Michigan Democrat and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he was working on a compromise to call for a “limited mission” in Iraq.

The plan is expected to be made public by week’s end, he said.

Planning Still Larger Buildup

WASHINGTON, March 6 (Reuters) — The number of American troops needed to carry out President Bush’s new Iraq security plan may be 28,500, significantly more than he projected in January, a senior Pentagon official testified Tuesday.

In front of the House Budget Committee, the official, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, said United States military commanders in Iraq were requesting varying numbers of support troops to augment the additional 21,500 soldiers Mr. Bush has already ordered into combat.

Mr. England said the new troops “could go above 21,500 by about 4,000, maybe as many as 7,000.”

There are nearly 140,000 American troops in Iraq.

The new estimate contrasts with a forecast on Feb. 6 by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that as many as 3,000 would be needed.

The higher estimate could raise the projected $5.6 billion price of the troop buildup by about $1 billion if about 4,000 support troops are needed, Mr. England said.

The Pentagon would “reallocate,” or shift some money around, to pay for the added costs instead of asking Congress for additional money, he said.

[bth: the people want the congress - house and senate - to have a real God's honest debate, not a discussion where the outcome is predetermined and hence won't happen at all.]

The Wider Shame of Walter Reed - New York Times

The Wider Shame of Walter Reed - New York Times: "It is impossible not to feel fury at the shameful neglect of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed’s outpatient facilities, just a few miles from an oblivious and neglectful White House. Many have been housed in rooms coated with mold and infested with cockroaches and mice. They have been swamped with confusing paperwork and forced to take responsibility for managing their own medical care. And when they or their family members have complained, their pleas for help have been callously ignored. "

In a desperate scramble to mute public outrage, President Bush yesterday named two political veterans to lead a commission charged with investigating conditions throughout the entire system of military and veterans’ hospitals. The choices seem to be good ones: Bob Dole, a veteran wounded in World War II and a former Republican Party candidate for president, and Donna Shalala, who ran the Health and Human Services Department for President Bill Clinton.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Officials at Walter Reed were egregiously negligent. The Army’s high command, and the Joint Chiefs above them, were too weak-kneed or obtuse to demand adequate resources for medical care — just as they were too fearful for their own careers to demand adequate troops to fight the Iraq war to begin with.

But the fundamental responsibility rests with the president and his former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who stubbornly insisted on going to war without sufficient resources — and then sought to hide the costs of their disastrous mistakes from the American public.

Is it any surprise that the war’s wounded have been hidden away in the shadows of moldy buildings by an administration that refused to let photographers take pictures of returning coffins? Or a White House that keeps claiming that victory in this failed and ever more costly war is always just a few more months away?

The Walter Reed revelations once again put the lie to the president’s claim that everything is being done to support America’s troops. Just as the administration has been shockingly slow to provide the necessary body armor for troops in Iraq and notably complacent about rotating exhausted troops back into the war, so, too, has it been reluctant to confront the large casualty toll from Iraq and Afghanistan. Military doctors have been amazingly proficient about saving lives that would have been lost in earlier wars. But as we now know, the injured survivors too often fall through the cracks.

The new commission’s investigation, supplemented by the military’s own inquiries and by oversight hearings in Congress, must explore all aspects of this scandal. The revelations have flushed out disturbing complaints about shoddy treatment throughout the military and the veterans’ medical system and about a hostile process for determining disability benefits. None of this can be tolerated. The soldiers who have sacrificed their health and limbs to a misguided and mismanaged war deserve the best possible care when they return — for a lifetime, if necessary. And the president needs to learn that the horrors of this war can no longer be denied or hidden away.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

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Saudi Kidnap, Rape Victim Faces Lashing for 'Crime' of Being Alone With Man Not Related to Her - Saudi Kidnap, Rape Victim Faces Lashing for 'Crime' of Being Alone With Man Not Related to Her - Middle East Map | News | Crisis: "A 19-year-old Saudi woman who was kidnapped, beaten and gang raped by seven men who then took photos of their victim and threatened to kill her, was sentenced under the country's Islamic-based law to 90 lashes for the 'crime' of being alone with a man not related to her."

The woman is appealing to Saudi King Abdullah to intervene in the controversial case.

"I ask the king to consider me as one of his own daughters and have mercy on me and set me free from the 90 lashes," the woman said in an emotional interview published Monday in the Saudi Gazette.

"I was shocked at the verdict. I couldn't believe my ears. Ninety lashes! Ninety lashes!" the woman, identified only as "G," told the English-language newspaper.

Five months after the harsh judgment, her sentence has yet to be carried out, "G" said she waits in fear every day for the phone call telling her to submit to authorities to carry out her punishment.

Lashes are usually spread over several days. About 50 lashes are given at a time.

The woman's ordeal began a year ago when she was blackmailed into meeting a man who threatened to tell her family they were having a relationship outside wedlock, which is illegal in the desert kingdom, according to a report in The Scotsman newspaper.

She met the man at a shopping mall and, after driving off together, the blackmailer's car was stopped by two other cars bearing men wielding knives and meat cleavers.

During the next three hours, the woman was raped 14 times by her seven captors.

One of the men took pictures of her naked with his mobile phone and threatened to blackmail her with them.

Back at home in a town near the eastern city of Qatif, the young woman did not tell her family of her ordeal. Nor did she inform the authorities, fearing the rapist would circulate the pictures of her naked. She also attempted suicide.

Five of the rapists were arrested and given jail terms ranging from 10 months to five years. The prosecutor had asked for the death penalty for the men.

The Saudi justice ministry, however, said rape could not be proved because there were no witnesses and the men had recanted confessions they made during interrogation.

The judges, basing their decision on Islamic law, also decided to sentence the woman and her original blackmailer to lashes for being alone together in his car.

The Saudi Gazette and The Scotsman contributed to this report.

[bth: disgusting. truly revolting. how can anyone call this justice?]
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Democrats Alter Plan To Restrict Iraq War -

Democrats Alter Plan To Restrict Iraq War - "Senior House Democrats, seeking to placate members of their party from Republican-leaning districts, are pushing a plan that would place restrictions on President Bush's ability to wage the war in Iraq but would allow him to waive them if he publicly justifies his position."

Under the proposal, Bush would also have to set a date to begin troop withdrawals if the Iraqi government fails to meet benchmarks aimed at stabilizing the country that the president laid out in January.

The plan is an attempt to bridge the differences between anti-war Democrats, led by Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), who have wanted to devise standards of troop readiness strict enough to force Bush to delay some deployments and bring some troops home, and Democrats wary of seeming to place restrictions on the president's role as commander in chief.

The legislative jujitsu in the backrooms of Capitol Hill underscores the difficulties the Democrats face in confronting the issue that helped them regain control of Congress -- Iraq. Democrats passed a resolution in February opposing Bush's deployment of 21,500 additional troops to Iraq, but Murtha's proposal to go a step further by restricting deployment to troops deemed to be adequately trained and equipped elicited a fierce response from Republicans, while also dividing the Democratic caucus.

The new plan would demand that Bush certify that combat troops meet the military's own standards of readiness, which are routinely ignored. The president could then waive such certifications if doing so is in "the national interest."

Democrats hope the waiver and benchmark proposals, whose details were confirmed by aides and senior Democrats close to the House Appropriations Committee and leadership, will keep the policymaking responsibilities on Bush. That should allow the committee to move forward next week with a $100 billion war spending bill.

"They're going to end up where they should have started a long time ago: You set readiness requirements, time-in-country requirements, time-in-rotation requirements as policy, then grant the president waivers and demand why it's so important for him to violate these principles," said a senior Democrat close to the Appropriations Committee. "It's all part of military regulations now. You have to elevate that to the policy of the country."

But any dilution of Murtha's original proposal is likely to infuriate the antiwar wing of the party, which wants dramatic action now. After a conference call yesterday, antiwar and labor groups all but gave up on Murtha's approach, concluding they could only support a war-funding "supplemental" bill if it contains a deadline for withdrawing troops.

Participants -- including the Service Employees International Union,, Win Without War and the Iraq veterans group VoteVets -- insisted there would be more support for a straightforward approach to ending the war than the roundabout efforts Murtha champions.

"A timeline will make a vote for the supplemental a vote to end the war and a vote against it a vote for war without end," said Tom Matzzie, Washington director of Political Action.

That conclusion mirrors the judgment of even some of the Democrats the proposal was meant to attract. One conservative lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of angering Democratic leaders, dismissed Murtha's approach as "too cute by half."

Democratic leaders are not likely to embrace a straightforward legislative timetable. But they hope the adoption of the benchmarks will win over antiwar groups.

Under those benchmarks, which Bush laid out in a speech to the nation Jan. 10, the Iraqi government would have to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November, and adopt and implement oil-revenue-sharing legislation. The government would also have to spend $10 billion of Iraq's money on job-creating reconstruction and infrastructure projects; hold new provincial elections this year; liberalize laws that purged Baath Party members from the government; and establish a fairer process for amending the Iraqi constitution.

If those benchmarks are not met, Democrats would demand Bush submit to Congress a timetable for withdrawing troops, leadership aides said. The idea is to force Bush to abide by his own promises but to make sure he remains responsible for conducting and ending the war.

In the Senate, Democratic leaders are drafting a resolution that would drastically narrow the scope of the military mission in Iraq to that of a support role, with the emphasis on counterterrorism activities. The effort is expected to last most of the week, with debate starting on the Senate floor as early as next week.

But unlike last month, when nonbinding language expressing opposition to Bush's troop increase plan was blocked by GOP procedural objections, Democrats this time intend to give Republicans broad latitude to offer their own Iraq-related measures. If Republicans go along, the result could be a remarkably robust and wide-open debate -- but nothing of consequence is likely to pass.

Staff writers Shailagh Murray and Lyndsey Layton contributed to this report.

[bth: its all about not getting blamed now - troops and treasure be damned. The missing element in this story is the revulsion the American people will have to this cowardly process. 14,000 minimum will be wounded or killed in the next 24 months...]
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How to stop genocide in Iraq

....How to stop genocide in Iraq - Los Angeles Times: "However, if this political pressure fails and U.S. forces remain unable to stave off an ever-widening civil war, the U.S. should go further and announce its willingness to assist in the voluntary transport and relocation of Iraqi civilians in peril. If Iraqis tell us that they would feel safer in religiously homogenous neighborhoods, and we lack the means to protect them where they are, we should support and protect them in their voluntary, peaceful evacuation — a means, one might say, to preempt genocide in advance of our departure. "

The administration must help secure asylum for those Iraqis — and there are millions who fit this bill — who have a "well-founded fear of persecution." At the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees' conference scheduled for April, which will be attended by Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and the United States, the overburdened countries of first asylum (Syria is sheltering 1 million Iraqis; Jordan has taken in 700,000) must be persuaded to reopen their gates to fleeing Iraqis. And Western countries must dramatically expand the number of resettlement slots for Iraqis. Astoundingly, the U.S. took in just 202 Iraqis last year and, although the maximum for this year was recently raised to 7,000, this is still not sufficient.

Finally, if we are serious about preventing further sectarian horrors, the U.S. must send a clear signal to the militias and political leaders who order or carry out atrocities that they will be brought to justice for their crimes. That means offering belated U.S. support to the International Criminal Court, the only credible, independent body with the jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against humanity and genocide.

Many of those who say U.S. troops should stay in Iraq to prevent genocide are the same people who for political reasons refuse to acknowledge the gravity of the calamity unfolding on our watch. The same people who modeled a war on best-case scenarios are now resisting ending a war by invoking worst-case scenarios. But after years of using the alleged needs of the Iraqi people to justify U.S. political postures, it is long past time to use the leverage we still have to actually advance Iraqi welfare.
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Two Generals Provide A Contrast in Accountability -

Dana Milbank - Two Generals Provide A Contrast in Accountability - "Kevin Kiley, the three-star general in charge of all Army medical facilities, seemed stumped as he testified yesterday about his responsibility for the Walter Reed scandal."

"I'm trying not to say that I'm not accountable," he told members of the House oversight committee.

But try as he might, he couldn't fix blame on himself.

How could he not have known that wounded soldiers were living in squalid conditions across the street from his own home? "I don't do barracks inspections at Walter Reed," he said.

Why did he assure Congress in 2005 that the Walter Reed bureaucracy was improving, even though many soldiers were languishing in neglect at the facility? "In my role as the MedCom commander," he said, "Walter Reed was not my only command."

What did he do when a government report in 2006 found numerous problems at the now-infamous Building 18? "My staff informed me that the Walter Reed staff was working it."

Lawmakers on the committee, who were visiting Walter Reed Army Medical Center for a field hearing yesterday, quickly tired of the general's I-don't-do-windows routine. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) accused him of spouting "hogwash." Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) called his position "dishonest."

"I want you to know that I think this is a massive failure of competence in management and command," said Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), pointing his finger at Kiley.

After Hodes's harangue, Kiley replied, "I command by commanding through my commanders and trusting them to execute the mission."

Sitting shoulder to shoulder with Kiley was one such commander, Gen. George Weightman, who last week was fired as chief of Walter Reed after just six months on the job. Weightman and Kiley, who ran Walter Reed from 2002 to 2004, wore matching Army dress uniforms, but their responses could not have been more divergent. While Kiley deflected blame, Weightman freely admitted failure -- even though the victims of Walter Reed's neglect testified, and the House committee members agreed, that he was not to blame.

"He was, in my perspective, being punished because he caught the tail end of it," testified Annette McLeod, whose ordeal with her wounded soldier-husband, Dell, was one of those chronicled in a Washington Post series on Walter Reed. "Because somebody had to be the fall guy, he was there."

After Annette McLeod's testimony, the couple sat in the first row of the audience, just three feet from Weightman and Kiley as the two generals testified. "The McLeods are right behind you," pointed out Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va). "Do you have anything you want to say to them?"

"I feel terrible for them," said Kiley, keeping his back to the McLeods. "We have got to double our efforts, redouble our efforts, to make these kind of cases disappear in the system."

Weightman, by contrast, turned around to the McLeods and spoke warmly, addressing Annette directly. "I'd just like to apologize for not meeting their expectations, not only in the care provided, but also in having so many bureaucratic processes that just took your fortitude to be an advocate for your husband that you shouldn't have to do," Weightman said, as Kiley finally turned to face the McLeods. "I promise we will do better."

When the two generals were eventually excused, Weightman again turned to the McLeods and shook hands with them; though he spoke quietly, the words "I'm sorry" were clear. Kiley left the room without a glance backward.

Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee shook their heads in amazement as Annette McLeod testified tearfully that she didn't know her husband had been hurt in Iraq "until he called me himself from a hospital in New Jersey."

They reacted similarly when another Walter Reed patient profiled by The Post, Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon, spoke about how, while recovering from being shot in the head in Iraq, he was left "extremely disoriented" to wander the Walter Reed campus alone in search of an outpatient facility. The third member of the panel, Spec. Jeremy Duncan, who had two studs where his left ear used to be, described the "unforgivable" squalor of his room at Walter Reed.

But nobody blamed Weightman. "I don't think he should have been fired," said Shannon, wearing a patch over his missing eye.

The lawmakers seemed to agree. "There appears to be a pattern developing here that we've seen before," said Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) "First deny, then try to cover up, then designate a fall guy." Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) advised Weightman that "you probably have a little more blame being laid at your doorstep than I think is probably appropriate." And Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) shared the view of a colleague's wife that Kiley "skirted this stuff for five years and blamed everyone else."

Weightman was not so easy on himself; he pleaded guilty repeatedly to a "failure of leadership," and said lawmakers were "absolutely right" to question what was "obviously a failure."

Kiley started off in similar fashion, saying he was "personally and professionally sorry" and acknowledging: "I share these failures." But the further he got from his prepared testimony, the less contrite he became. He was blameless after Walter Reed shifted maintenance to a private contractor in 2004. "I was not the commander then."

Shouldn't top officers make sure proper care is being given at every level? "I don't get involved at my level . . . at an individual issue."

Will he find a way to break down privacy obstacles that hampered proper care? "I'm not in charge of it, but I'll take care of it."

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), like his colleagues, was skeptical about Weightman's guilt and Kiley's self-exoneration; he wondered if Kiley thought the problems at Walter Reed "have been in existence for over six months."

Kiley responded with something about "two 15-6 investigations" and something else about the "MEB/PEB process."

"The information we have to date is that General Weightman in fact was trying to work through these problems; he's been fired," Welch continued. "Is that an appropriate response to the situation?"

"That is a decision for the civilian leadership," Kiley answered.

Whatever the merits of Weightman's dismissal, the problems at Walter Reed have not disappeared with him. Before yesterday's hearing, a patient with a prosthetic arm tried to get in but was stopped by a guard, who asked if the young man was supposed to be in the hearing. "I'd like to be," the soldier said.

"It's preselected, unfortunately," the guard replied. The young amputee walked away. Inside, three rows of seats had been reserved for the Army; almost all were empty

[bth: the hearing was the first one that has given me some hope of accountability. Kiley is a sleezy bastard and Weightman has taken the fall. Mrs. Young, the congressman's wife, was a strong advocate in 2004 for a friend of ours at Walter Reed. She was thrown off campus by this Kiley clown. What a disgrace to the uniform and to anything calling itself a medical profession. Surely the military has a name for gross negligence and neglect.]
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The Blotter Kidnapped or Defected? Top Iranian General Disappears

The Blotter: "The mysterious disappearance of an Iranian general in Turkey in early February has led to speculation he either was kidnapped or defected."

Iran has reportedly asked Interpol to investigate the general's disappearance. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted by Iran's news agency today as saying that a foreign ministry official was currently in Turkey to investigate the disappearance and has asked the Turkish government "to inquire into the issue and give explanation on Asgari's whereabouts."

One respected analyst with sources in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard says Gen. Ali Reza Asgari has defected and is now in a European country with his entire family, where he is cooperating with the U.S.

Other reports have suggested that the general may have been kidnapped by the Israeli secret service, the Mossad. A spokesperson at the CIA declined to comment on the reported defection.

"This is a fatal blow to Iranian intelligence," said the source, explaining that Asgari knows sensitive information about Iran's nuclear and military projects. Iran called tens of its Revolutionary Guard agents working at embassies and cultural centers in Arab and European countries back to Tehran out of fear that Asgari might disclose secret information about their identities, according to the analyst

There are conflicting reports about how and when Asgari disappeared. The general, according to Turkish and Israeli press reports, arrived in Istanbul from Damascus on Feb. 7. Initial reports speculated he may have been kidnapped because he failed to show up at a hotel that had been booked for him by two non-Turkish men.

The source, however, believes Asgari's disappearance was prompted by the detention of five Iranians after the raid on their government's liaison office in Irbil, Iraq in January. Asgari, 63, knew and may have worked with some of the detained men, said the analyst.

Asgari's years with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Iranian defense ministry would make him an invaluable source of information. He was reportedly based in Lebanon in the 1990s and was in charge of ties with the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.

At one point he was also in charge of military purchases at the defense ministry and exposed widespread corruption there which led to the arrest of a number of officials. Most recently, he worked as a consultant for the same ministr

[bth: most intriguing]

The Blotter CIA Rushing Resources to Bin Laden Hunt

The Blotter: "Armed with fresh intelligence, the CIA is moving additional man power and equipment into Pakistan in the effort to find Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahri, U.S. officials tell ABC News"

Reports that the trail has gone stone cold are not correct," said one U.S. official. "We are very much increasing our efforts there," the official said.

People familiar with the CIA operation say undercover officers with paramilitary training have been ordered into Pakistan and the area across the border with Afghanistan as part of the ramp-up.

Although never publicly acknowledged, Pakistan has permitted CIA teams to secretly operate inside Pakistan.

Pakistan officials say they are aware that CIA teams have increased their presence in northern Waziristan since last September when Pakistan withdrew its troops from the area under a much-criticized "peace deal" with tribal leaders.

Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testified last week that current intelligence "to the best of our knowledge" puts both bin Laden and al Zawahri in Pakistan. It was the first time a high-ranking U.S. official publicly identified Pakistan as bin Laden's hiding place.

Past intelligence has indicated that bin Laden often changed locations in March, traveling to hiding places in the mountains once the snow cover begins to