Saturday, April 07, 2007

Army warns of 'jurisdiction gap' for criminal contractors

The Raw Story | Army warns of 'jurisdiction gap' for criminal contractors: "A presentation prepared by the US Army shows that there still exist situations in which the military may not be able to prosecute private contractors who commit crimes. "

This slide, with explanatory documentation, was publicized today by Secrecy News, a publication of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy.

Contractors accompanying U.S. military forces in Iraq or elsewhere who commit crimes may be beyond the reach of law enforcement...because the Defense Department has not yet updated its regulations to conform to a Congressional mandate, resulting in a 'gap' in legal jurisdiction," wrote Steven Aftergood, the project's director.

The presentation of the Combined Arms Support Command's Training Division noted that liability and accountability for contractors is often set in advance. But in some cases, Army law may not apply.

"A gap may emerge where the contractor personnel are not subject to the UCMJ (only in time of declared war) and the contractor commits an offense in an area that is not subject to the jurisdiction of an allied government (for example, an offense committed in enemy territory). In such cases, the contractor's crime may go unpunished," the explanatory notes say.

Although legislation last year expanded military law enforcement to cover contractors, the Defense Department has yet to issue regulations implementing the legislation.

"Given the lack of DoD implementation guidance, this [Training Support Package] does not include discussion on UCMJ authority over contractor personnel except in times of declared war and over retired military personnel," it adds.

Aftergood's note on the slides, with access to the source documents, are accessible at the FAS blog.

[bth: its hard to imagine this nonesense is going on 4 years into the war in Iraq. What bureaucratic ineptitude.]

An about-face on honoring fallen troops

An about-face on honoring fallen troops - The Boston Globe: "CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- In a reversal by the US government four years into the war in Iraq, America's fallen troops are being brought back to their families aboard charter jets instead of ordinary commercial flights, and the caskets are being met by honor guards in white gloves instead of baggage handlers with forklifts."

That change -- which took effect quietly in January and also applies to members of the US military killed in Afghanistan -- came after a campaign waged by a father who was aghast to learn that his son's body was going to be unloaded like luggage.

John Holley said an airline executive told him that was the "most expeditious" way to get the body home.

"I said: 'That's not going to happen with my son. That's not how my son is coming home,' " said Holley, an Army veteran from San Diego whose son, Specialist Matthew Holley, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2005. "If it was 'expeditious' to deliver them in garbage trucks, would you do that?"

Kalitta Charters of Ypsilanti, Mich., won the Pentagon contract to bring the war dead home, and has returned 143 bodies since Jan. 1.

More than 3,500 Americans have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before the new law was passed by Congress, the dead who arrived from overseas at the military mortuary in Dover, Del., were then typically flown to the commercial airport nearest their families.

Some were met by smartly uniformed military honor guards. But in other cases, the flag-draped caskets were unceremoniously taken off the plane by ordinary ground crew members and handed over to the family at a warehouse in a cargo area.

Now, the military is flying the dead into smaller regional airports closer to their hometowns, so that they can be met by their families and, in some cases, receive community tributes. And the caskets are being borne from the plane by an honor guard.

Last year, the US military spent about $1.2 million to bring home the dead on commercial flights. Switching to charter flights will cost far more: The six-month Kalitta contract is worth up to $11 million.

"It's so much more dignified, so much more a respectable way of getting them home," said Tom Bellisario, a Kalitta pilot who has flown more than 30 of the missions.

"It's definitely an honor for all of us," Bellisario said. "You figure the last time they saw that person they were alive. As soon as we pull the flag-draped casket into the doorway, you hear the crying. You can sense it in the air."

John Holley said he believed his 21-year-old son deserved a more dignified return than the Pentagon was planning, and complained to his congressman, then-House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter, a California Republican. He also got help from Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California.

They made sure an honor guard from Holley's unit based at Fort Campbell, Ky., was sent to Lindbergh Field in San Diego for the arrival of the body. Holley said the ceremony was dignified and fitting.

Then he turned his attention to other US soldiers.

"What about all these other parents?" Holley said. "This is one of the last memories. I don't want it to be in a warehouse on a forklift."

Military officials have said commercial airliners were used previously because that was the fastest way to return the dead to their families.

Hunter wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in December 2005, calling for more appropriate military honors. Speaking from the House floor in May, Hunter said: "The extreme respect that should be afforded those fallen heroes . . . has in some cases, been lacking."

Persuaded by Hunter and others, Congress passed a law that requires the remains to be flown on a military or military-contracted aircraft. There must be an escort and an honor guard. Commercial airliners are used only if requested by families, or in cases where remains are sent outside the United States.

"We are happy with what this has been able to provide the families and the relatives," said Major Stewart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman. "Regardless of what the reality was, there was a perception there that the proper respect was not being provided to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. That is no longer a question."

Kalitta's manager for the project, Steve Greene, said the sight of a forklift unloading a casket proved too much for military families.

"You just don't do that," he said. "And doing that with a family watching it, they don't want to see their son's casket being unloaded with a forklift or a belt loader, and this is what Congress saw."

Kalitta brought home the body of Army Staff Sergeant Terry William Prater of Speedwell, Tenn., on March 23. Prater, 25, was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.

Michael Patton, a police sergeant from New Tazewell, Tenn., attended the arrival ceremony at the Knoxville airport. He said he was impressed by the military escort and precision color guard.

The ceremony was held in a shaded, general aviation section of the suburban airport. The jet rolled to within 50 feet of a waiting hearse, offering the privacy the family requested.

"It showed more respect than him being on a plane with the rest of the luggage," Patton said.

[bth: really about damned time]
That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

StandUpCongress briefing on President Bush's announced veto of the House and Senate bills declaring a timetable to bring the troops home.

Bulgaria denies selling weapons to Lebanese Hizbollah group

كونا : Bulgaria denies selling weapons to Lebanese Hizbollah group - الشؤون السياسية - 06/04/2007: "Bulgaria denies selling weapons to Lebanese Hizbollah group SOFIA, April 6 (KUNA) -- Bulgaria vigorously denies information regarding selling presently or in the past weapons and military equipment to the Lebanese group Hizbollah, a spokesman for the Defense ministry of Bulgaria said on Friday."

Vlado Tralezov told KUNA that minister of Defense Veselin Bliznakov initiated an investigation into what the Spanish Ministry of Defense declared that it discovered through its troops working under the United Nations in Lebanon weapons caches, including 17 missiles, produced in Bulgaria.

Tralezov added initial information on the issue shows an arms deal with the Lebanese government in reference to a 1996 weapon's deal between the two governments and intended to be used by the Lebanese army, noting that there was no military deals whether it was declared or undeclared with the Lebanese Hizbollah group.

The spokesman added the Bulgarian ministry will ask the Spanish government for more details on the discovered missiles, particularly the missiles' date of production and model numbers to be included with its own investigation. (end) mbq.mb KUNA 062011 Apr 07NNNN

[bth: looks like Hezbollah has access to Lebanese Army weapons cashes.]

Sharia gangs roam streets of capital city to enforce their law with threats

Sharia gangs roam streets of capital city to enforce their law with threats-News-World-Asia-TimesOnline: "Shiraz Ahmed was tending his music store in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, when a group of 15 bearded young men walked in bearing bamboo poles and a chilling message. "

Politely but firmly, they instructed him to take down the colourful array of Bollywood and bhangradance tunes on display and to restrict his business to Islamic music.

“They told me I had to change my business,” said Mr Ahmed, 25, whose family has run the store for 15 years. “I am so confused. I don’t know what to do.”

Until last week he might not have worried about these men from Islamabad’s Lal Masjid (Red Mosque). After all, his shop is legal and within walking distance of Pervez Musharraf’s presidential palace.

But this was just one of several signs in the past ten days that a creeping campaign to “Talebanise” Pakistan has spread from tribal areas on the Afghan border right to the heart of the capital. And to judge from the Government’s response, even here it is reluctant to confront the radical clerics who openly preach jihad (holy war) and defy the writ of the state.

Last week hundreds of women students from the Jamia Hafsa seminary, which is attached to the Lal Masjid, raided a nearby house that they said was a brothel. Wearing black burqas and wielding bamboo poles, they dragged the alleged madam, identified only as Aunty Shamim, to the seminary along with her daughter, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.

When police arrested two women teachers from the seminary, its students responded by abducting two policemen along with their vehicles. A tense stand-off only ended when Aunty Shamim was released with her relatives after reading a signed confession in public.

Pakistani police have promised to arrest Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the seminary’s vice-principal, and to prevent more vigilante raids. Maulana Abdul Aziz, the seminary’s principal, has refused to give up Mr Ghazi, who is his brother, and has vowed to cleanse Islamabad of brothels, liquor stores and other “unIslamic” activity.

He also gave the Government until today to introduce Sharia (Islamic law) across Pakistan. Otherwise, he said, his students would do it themselves, starting with the surrounding G-6 neighbourhood in central Islamabad.

“It’s like if you have garbage outside your house and the city authorities fail to clear it — you have to do it yourself,” he said. “We’re urging the whole country to rise up and make the country clean and pure.”

Radical clerics have made similar calls in vain in the past but never before have they been backed up by vigilante raids in the capital. The seminary’s students have also been seen carrying Kalashnikovs and other weapons around their compound.

Mr Aziz denied having violent intentions but said his 10,000 men and women students, most from tribal areas near the Afghan border, were ready to die for their cause.

“If the police and Army come here we will sacrifice our bodies and will not allow anyone to be arrested,” he said.

He admitted openly that some of his students may have joined the Taleban in Pakistan or Afghanistan because he taught jihadi principles. He admitted too that his students had been to the local market, where Mr Ahmed’s shop is, to tell video and music stores not to sell “unIslamic” products.

They have also been seen at traffic lights around the capital telling women to stop driving cars and asking people playing “unIslamic” music to turn it off.

Analysts say the Government is capable of arresting Mr Ghazi and even closing the mosque. Because it is a state religious institution the Government still pays its utility bills. It was also built illegally on government land.

General Musharraf has, however, shied away repeatedly from confronting the Lal Masjid’s clerics – even when they openly called for his assassination. In July 2005 his security forces tried to raid the mosque after suicide bombings in London that month but were beaten back by women students.

His Government announced plans to demolish the mosque in January but backed down when its students occupied Islamabad’s only children’s library in protest. They have been there ever since.

Analysts say President Musharraf is worried about losing the support of Islamist parties in the presidential and parliamentary elections over the next year. He is already in the midst of a showdown with the country’s lawyers after suspending Pakistan’s independent-minded Chief Justice.

Some critics also accuse him of tolerating the Lal Masjid and other madrassas to justify continued military rule. Analysts say, however, that his tactics are playing into the hands of the mullahs, allowing them to act with increasing audacity and impunity.

“They know Musharraf needs them now more than ever,” said Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director for the International Crisis Group. “What other constituency does he have?”

Creeping influence

— Leaflets distributed to barbers in the North of Pakistan last month said that growing a beard was an Islamic practice. Barbers no longer offer to shave patrons

— Militants destroyed CDs of Urdu, English and Indian films at a video shop in Bannu, northern Pakistan, in February

— Zil-e-Huma, a woman Punjabi minister, was killed in February by a vigilante because “she was leading an unIslamic life and spreading an evil influence over other women”

— A report by International Crisis Group this month said that madrassas were breeding religious militants

— In Tank, in the North West Frontier Province, the Taleban were discovered recruiting students at a boy's school. The school head confronted them and was kidnapped the next day

Source: Times archives

[bth: none of this sounds at all encouraging. In fact, it appears that the whole thing is going backwards.]

Taliban burn music shops in Khost

Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan - Taliban burn music shops in Khost: "KHOST: Taliban torched or damaged nearly two dozen music and video shops selling “un-Islamic” materials in a small town in eastern Afghanistan, an official said on Friday. The fundamentalist rebels also left leaflets warning that merchants in Alisher in Khost province will be “badly punished” if they do not stop selling CDs and DVDs, police official Wazir Badshah said. “The enemies came and burned down some nine music shops and destroyed the doors of 12 others. They’ve also dropped leaflets in the area threatening to punish people selling musical materials,” Badshah said. He said the act was aimed at creating fear amongst residents and to show the weakness of the government of US-backed President Hamid Karzai. afp"

Troops, Militiamen Battle in Shiite City

Troops, Militiamen Battle in Shiite City | The Huffington Post: "BAGHDAD — U.S. warplanes attacked suspected militiamen wielding shoulder-fired rockets Saturday in the second day of fierce fighting between U.S. and Iraqi forces and Shiite gunmen south of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials and witnesses said.

At least one civilian was killed and five were seriously wounded when an American tank fired on their house in Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad, Iraqi police and hospital officials said. The victims had to be pulled from the rubble of their home, and evacuated to Diwaniyah hospital, police said."....

American troops swept into the troubled, predominantly Shiite city of Diwaniyah before dawn on Friday, killing three militia fighters and capturing 27 in the first day of the assault, the military said. The attack _ named "Operation Black Eagle" _ targeted gunmen loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Fighting continued Saturday.

On Friday, a spokesman for al-Sadr's political movement in Baghdad denied there was any exchange of fire in Diwaniyah.

"There is only an unprovoked attack by invading American troops," spokesman Haider al-Natiq told Al-Arabiya television.

But on Saturday, al-Sadr's office in Diwaniyah suggested the fighting was not one-sided and claimed gunmen destroyed three American vehicles and seized a robot used to explode roadside bombs. U.S. officials could not confirm that claim.

Dozens of people have been killed in Diwaniyah during the past weeks and the attacks have been blamed by residents on the Mahdi Army, al-Sadr's militia.

Many women, accused by the hard-line and fundamentalist militiamen of violating their interpretation of Islamic morality, are among the dead. Police, residents who work for coalition forces at a nearby Polish army base, journalists and the wealthy, who have been kidnapped for ransom and then killed also have been targeted.

Saturday's airstrike grew out of a tip from residents who told Iraqi military officials that militiamen were operating in the area, the U.S. military said in a statement. The strike targeted "illegally armed militiamen using shoulder-fired rocket propelled grenades," it said....

Insurgents Transform U.S. Military Jails Into 'Terror Training Camps' - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - Insurgents Transform U.S. Military Jails Into 'Terror Training Camps' - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "America’s high-security prisons in Iraq have become “terrorist academies” for the most dangerous militant groups, according to former inmates and Iraqi government officials.

Inmates are left largely to run their blocks, which are segregated on sectarian lines. The policy has created a closed world run by Iraq’s worst terrorists and militias, into which detainees with no links to insurgent groups are often thrown."

Captain Phillip Valenti, a U.S. officer responsible for prisons, said he knew of at least three cases of prisoners being murdered by inmates.

“We are very concerned about insurgent efforts to recruit and convert detainees,” he said.

U.S. officials said Friday that they were investigating the suspicious death of another Camp Cropper inmate.

Saad Sultan, the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry’s official for prisons, said, “It looks like a terrorist academy. There’s a huge number of these ‘students’; they study how they can kill. And we protect them, feed them, give them medical care. The Americans have no solution to this problem.”

Vying factions often feed fake tips about their enemies to U.S. forces, meaning just about anyone can end up in jail. While the U.S. military is scrupulous about separating Sunnis from Shiite, they pay less attention to keeping seasoned terrorists apart from people picked up in security sweeps.

Abu Tibeh and his colleagues — four Sunnis and four Shiite — were arrested in November when someone told a U.S. patrol that the party offices they were guarding were being used by a death squad. In fact, the party was a moderate secular faction with close ties to the U.S..

At Camp Cropper they were put in halls of about 85 inmates. The Sunni section was controlled by an imam from an Al Qaeda-affiliated group. The Shiite hall was under the authority of a sheikh from al-Mahdi Army, a fundamentalist militia notorious for its death squads.

“I was terrified,” said Abu Tibeh, a balding, podgy Sunni in his mid-30s. “It was psychological warfare.” His colleague Abu Usama — not their real names — also in the Sunni camp, was so horrified that he suffered a minor heart attack.

Every day Abu Hamza, the Al Qaeda cleric who was in his early 20s, would lecture on the evils of the government and the need for resistance. To their dismay, the new inmates’ own party was often the target of these rants, forcing them to keep their identities secret. They slept in shifts, with two standing guard.

One night, Abu Usama recalled, a group of Al Qaeda enforcers, their faces masked by towels, murdered an inmate. “Six of them came, two guarding the door and four to kill him. One of them hit him on the head with a sock filled with rocks. They beat him to death.”

The leader of the assassins told the cowering prisoners that the man had been an informer, although merely being seen talking to a U.S. guard could count, said Abu Usama. Another suspected informer was clubbed to death in the latrines, he said.

When a new inmate arrived, the takfiris, or Sunni fundamentalists, would move in quickly to recruit him. Abu Usama listened politely to one recruiter — a youth half his age — then tried to avoid him.

In the Shiite camp, their comrade Abu Mustafa, a lean 31-year-old, was faring only slightly better. The imam there was Sayyid Adnan al-Enabi, an al-Mahdi Army commander who ordered the men to join prayer sessions and lectures.

Abu Mustafa refused. “No one should force your religion,” he explained this week. In revenge, the al-Mahdi inmates told the U.S. guards that he was planning to escape. The Americans put him in a metal punishment box 6 feet by 4 feet known as “the coffin,” and kept him there for days.

Both men were freed when the leader of their party intervened with the U.S. military.

Friday, April 06, 2007

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Deadly Iraq bomb releases chlorine gas News - Latest News - Deadly Iraq bomb releases chlorine gas: "RAMADI, Iraq (Reuters) - A truck bomb exploded in the volatile Iraqi city of Ramadi on Friday, killing at least 15 people and releasing chlorine gas into the air, police and security sources said."

Police Colonel Tareq Dulaimi from Ramadi said the bomb, which targeted a police patrol, wounded at least 30 people. He said several people were also choking from the gas.

There has been a spate of chlorine truck bomb attacks in recent months, mainly in western Anbar province. Ramadi is the capital of Anbar, stronghold of the Sunni Arab insurgency and a haven for al Qaeda.

U.S. commanders and Iraqi police have blamed al Qaeda militants for several of the chlorine attacks.

Chlorine gas was widely used in World War One but its use in insurgent attacks in Iraq has particular resonance there. Saddam Hussein attacked Kurdish areas with chemical weapons in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war

Saudis hold back on signing BAE deal until Brown in No 10

Saudis hold back on signing BAE deal until Brown in No 10-Business-Industry Sectors-Engineering-TimesOnline: "Saudi Arabia will wait for Gordon Brown to become Prime Minister before signing a £20 billion deal to buy Eurofighter Typhoon jets from BAE Systems, The Times has learnt. "...

IraqSlogger: Former Prisoner Awarded Courage Award

IraqSlogger: Former Prisoner Awarded Courage Award: "By David Phinney
A year ago, Donald Vance learned what its like to be falsely accused by the US military of aiding terrorists, held without charge for more than three months in a high-security prison in Iraq, and interrogated daily after sleepless nights without legal counsel or even a phone call to his family."

Zip-Ties and Goggles
On Wednesday, the former private security contractor was honored for his ordeal in Washington and for speaking out against the incident. At a luncheon at the National Press Club, Vance received the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, an award named in memory of Army helicopter gunner Ron Ridenhour who struggled to bring the horrific mass murders at My Lai to the attention of Congress and the Pentagon during the Vietnam War.

Vance was joined by former president Jimmy Carter, who won a lifetime achievement award, and journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran of The Washington Post who was recognized for his recent book, Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone.

As hundreds the luncheon finished their lobster salad, Vance, a two-time Bush voter and Navy veteran, recounted the events of his imprisonment and the grief of his fiancé and family. They did not know if he was alive or dead, he said. They were already making inquiries to the US State Department on how to ship his body home.

He then drew a wider circle around his ordeal to include the countless others who have been held falsely without charge and denied normal legal constitutional protections under law. “My name used to be 200343,” Vance said recalling his prisoner ID. “If they can do this to a former Navy man and an American, what is happening to people in facilities all over the world run by the American government?”

Vance’s nightmare began last year on April 15 after he and co-worker Nathan Ertel barricaded themselves in a Baghdad office after their employer, an Iraqi private security firm, took away their ID tags. They feared for their lives because they suspected the company was involved in selling unauthorized guns to Iraqi troublemakers and other nefarious activity. A US military squad freed them from the red zone in Baghdad after a friend at the US embassy advised him to call for help.

Once they reached the US-controlled Green Zone, government officials took them inside the embassy, listened to their individual accounts and then sent them to a trailer outside for sleep. Two or three hours later before the crack of dawn, US military personnel woke them. This time, however, Vance and Ertel, Shield Security’s contract manager, were under arrest. Soldiers bound their wrists with zip ties and covered their eyes with goggles blacked out with duct tape.

The two were then escorted to a humvee and driven first to possibly Camp Prosperity and then to Camp Cropper, a high-security prison near the Baghdad airport where Saddam Hussein was once kept. Vance says he was denied the usual body armor and helmet while traveling through the perilous Baghdad streets outside the safety of the Green Zone or a US military installation.

Bullets For Beer Program

It was not the way the tall 29-year old with an easy charm and keen, sharp mind, had expected to be treated. Vance claims that during the months leading up to his arrest he worked as an unpaid FBI informant. Sometimes twice a day, he would share information with an agent in Chicago about the Iraqi-owned Shield Group Security, whose principals and managers appeared to be involved in weapons deals and violence against Iraqi civilians. One company employee regularly bartered of alcohol with US military personnel in exchange for ammunition they delivered, Vance said.

“He called it the bullets for beer program,” Vance claimed while relating the incident during an interview this week at a cigar bar just walking distance from the White House.

But his interrogators at Camp Cropper weren’t impressed. Instead, his jailers insisted that Vance and Ertel had been detained and imprisoned because the two worked for Shield Group Security where large caches of weapons have been found -- weapons that may have been intended for the possible distribution to insurgents and terrorist groups, Vance said.
In a lawsuit now pending against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and “other unidentified agents,” Vance and Ertel both accuse their US government captors of subjecting them to psychological torture day and night. Lights were kept on in their cell around the clock. They endured solitary confinement. They had only thin plastic mattresses on concrete for sleeping. Meals were of powdered milk and bread or rice and chicken, but interrupted by selective deprivation of food and water. Ceaseless heavy metal and country music screamed in their ears for hours on end, their legal complaint alleges.

They lived through “conditions of confinement and interrogation tantamount to torture,” says the lawsuit filed in northern Illinois US District Court. “There interrogators utilized the types of physically and mentally coercive tactics that are supposedly reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants.”

Possible Enemies of the United States

Rumsfeld is singled out as the key defendant because he played a key role in establishing a policy of “unlawful detention and torment” that Vance, Ertel and countless others in the War on Terrorism have endured, the lawsuit asserts, noting that the former defense secretary and other high-level military commanders acting at his direction, developed and authorized a policy that allows government officials unilateral discretion to designate possible enemies of the United States.

Because the incident and allegations are now in litigation, the Pentagon has no comment, spokesman Army Lieut. Col. Mark Ballesteros said. He referred all inquires to the US Justice Department, which also had no comment for similar reasons.

But darker allegations also are included in the complaint over false imprisonment. By working with the FBI, Vance contends that U.S. government officials in Iraq decided to retaliate against him and Ertel. These officials conspired to jail the two not because they worked for a suspicious security company they suspected of selling weapons to insurgents, but because they were sharing information with law enforcement agents outside the control of US officials in Baghdad.

“In other words,” claims the lawsuit, “United States officials in Iraq were concerned and wanted to find out about what intelligence agents in the United States knew about their territory and their operations. The unconstitutional policies that Rumsfeld and other Unidentified Agents had implemented for ‘enemies’ provided ample cover to detain Plaintiffs and interrogate them toward that end.” It may take some time to sort out the allegations as the legal process grinds forward, but, in the meantime, Vance is raising new questions about his detention. He still wonders why his jailers didn’t just call the FBI and have him cleared. They had access to his computer and cell phone to determine if his claims were true. “When I told them to do that, they just got angry and told me to stop answering questions I wasn’t being asked,” Vance said.

“I think they were butting heads with the State Department,” he offered. “I just snitched on the wrong people. I took the bull by the horns and got the horn.
And why weren’t managers with the Shield Group held and interrogated?

Interrogators were certainly interested in these other individuals, according to the lawsuit. They wanted to know about the company’s structure, its political contacts, and its owners – most of whom are related to a long-established Iraqi family who fled Iraq during the years the country was ruled by Saddam Hussein, Vance said. More startling even now, is that the company has reformed. At the time they left, Shield Security held US-funded contracts with the Iraqi government, Iraqi companies, NGOs and US contractors. As far as he knows, the company still does – but under a different name: National Shield Security.

“I built their Web site,” he said. “And they are still being awarded millions of dollars in contracts.”

David Phinney is a journalist and broadcaster based in Washington, DC, whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, New York Times and on ABC and PBS. He can be contacted at:

[bth: stunning that an American citizen and an informant for the FBI would be treated this way by the US authorities in Baghdad.]

Hussein's Prewar Ties To Al-Qaeda Discounted

Hussein's Prewar Ties To Al-Qaeda Discounted - "Captured Iraqi documents and intelligence interrogations of Saddam Hussein and two former aides 'all confirmed' that Hussein's regime was not directly cooperating with al-Qaeda before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to a declassified Defense Department report released yesterday."

The declassified version of the report, by acting Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble, also contains new details about the intelligence community's prewar consensus that the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda figures had only limited contacts, and about its judgments that reports of deeper links were based on dubious or unconfirmed information. The report had been released in summary form in February.

The report's release came on the same day that Vice President Cheney, appearing on Rush Limbaugh's radio program, repeated his allegation that al-Qaeda was operating inside Iraq "before we ever launched" the war, under the direction of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist killed last June.

"This is al-Qaeda operating in Iraq," Cheney told Limbaugh's listeners about Zarqawi, who he said had "led the charge for Iraq." Cheney cited the alleged history to illustrate his argument that withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq would "play right into the hands of al-Qaeda."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), who requested the report's declassification, said in a written statement that the complete text demonstrates more fully why the inspector general concluded that a key Pentagon office -- run by then-Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith -- had inappropriately written intelligence assessments before the March 2003 invasion alleging connections between al-Qaeda and Iraq that the U.S. intelligence consensus disputed.

The report, in a passage previously marked secret, said Feith's office had asserted in a briefing given to Cheney's chief of staff in September 2002 that the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda was "mature" and "symbiotic," marked by shared interests and evidenced by cooperation across 10 categories, including training, financing and logistics.

Instead, the report said, the CIA had concluded in June 2002 that there were few substantiated contacts between al-Qaeda operatives and Iraqi officials and had said that it lacked evidence of a long-term relationship like the ones Iraq had forged with other terrorist groups.

"Overall, the reporting provides no conclusive signs of cooperation on specific terrorist operations," that CIA report said, adding that discussions on the issue were "necessarily speculative."

The CIA had separately concluded that reports of Iraqi training on weapons of mass destruction were "episodic, sketchy, or not corroborated in other channels," the inspector general's report said. It quoted an August 2002 CIA report describing the relationship as more closely resembling "two organizations trying to feel out or exploit each other" rather than cooperating operationally

The CIA was not alone, the defense report emphasized. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had concluded that year that "available reporting is not firm enough to demonstrate an ongoing relationship" between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, it said.

But the contrary conclusions reached by Feith's office -- and leaked to the conservative Weekly Standard magazine before the war -- were publicly praised by Cheney as the best source of information on the topic, a circumstance the Pentagon report cites in documenting the impact of what it described as "inappropriate" work.

Feith has vigorously defended his work, accusing Gimble of "giving bad advice based on incomplete fact-finding and poor logic," and charging that the acting inspector general has been "cheered on by the chairmen of the Senate intelligence and armed services committees." In January, Feith's successor at the Pentagon, Eric S. Edelman, wrote a 52-page rebuttal to the inspector general's report that disputed its analysis and its recommendations for Pentagon reform.

Cheney's public statements before and after the war about the risks posed by Iraq have closely tracked the briefing Feith's office presented to the vice president's then-chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. That includes the briefing's depiction of an alleged 2001 meeting in Prague between an Iraqi intelligence official and one of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers as one of eight "Known Iraq-Al Qaida Contacts."

The defense report states that at the time, "the intelligence community disagreed with the briefing's assessment that the alleged meeting constituted a 'known contact' " -- a circumstance that the report said was known to Feith's office. But his office had bluntly concluded in a July 2002 critique of a CIA report on Iraq's relationship with al-Qaeda that the CIA's interpretation of the facts it cited "ought to be ignored."

The briefing to Libby was also presented with slight variations to then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet and then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley. It was prepared in part by someone whom the defense report described as a "junior Naval Reservist" intelligence analyst detailed to Feith's office from the DIA. The person is not named in the report, but Edelman wrote that she was requested by Feith's office.

The briefing, a copy of which was declassified and released yesterday by Levin, goes so far as to state that "Fragmentary reporting points to possible Iraqi involvement not only in 9/11 but also in previous al Qaida attacks." That idea was dismissed in 2004 by a presidential commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, noting that "no credible evidence" existed to support it.

When a senior intelligence analyst working for the government's counterterrorism task force obtained an early account of the conclusions by Feith's office -- titled "Iraq and al-Qaida: Making the Case" -- the analyst prepared a detailed rebuttal calling it of "no intelligence value" and taking issue with 15 of 26 key conclusions, the report states. The analyst's rebuttal was shared with intelligence officers on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but evidently not with others.

Edelman complained in his own account of the incident that a senior Joint Chiefs analyst -- in responding to a suggestion by the DIA analyst that the "Making the Case" account be widely circulated -- told its author that "putting it out there would be playing into the hands of people" such as then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, and belittled the author for trying to support "some agenda of people in the building."

But the inspector general's report, in a footnote, commented that it is "noteworthy . . . that post-war debriefs of Sadaam Hussein, [former Iraqi foreign minister] Tariq Aziz, [former Iraqi intelligence minister Mani al-Rashid] al Tikriti, and [senior al-Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh] al-Libi, as well as document exploitation by DIA all confirmed that the Intelligence Community was correct: Iraq and al-Qaida did not cooperate in all categories" alleged by Feith's office.

From these sources, the report added, "the terms the Intelligence Community used to describe the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida were validated, [namely] 'no conclusive signs,' and 'direct cooperation . . . has not been established.' "

Zarqawi, whom Cheney depicted yesterday as an agent of al-Qaeda in Iraq before the war, was not then an al-Qaeda member but was the leader of an unaffiliated terrorist group who occasionally associated with al-Qaeda adherents, according to several intelligence analysts. He publicly allied himself with al-Qaeda in early 2004, after the U.S. invasion.

Staff writer Dafna Linzer and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

[bth: Feith, Wolfowitz, Hadley, Edelman, Cheney each betrayed the public trust and lied our way into a war that has cost this country dearly. ... Here is a link to the actual Inspector Generals Report]

12,000 more Guard may go to Iraq

12,000 more Guard may go to Iraq - Nightly News with Brian Williams - "WASHINGTON - Coming on the heels of a controversial “surge” of 21,000 U.S. troops that has stretched the Army thin, the Defense Department is preparing to send an additional 12,000 National Guard combat forces to Iraq and Afghanistan, defense officials told NBC News on Thursday."

The troops will come from four Guard combat brigades in different states, the officials told NBC News’ chief Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski. They said papers ordering the deployment, which would run for one year beginning in early 2008, were awaiting Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ signature....

[bth: one need only have done the math to understand that this was necessary - and hidden from public view.]

Thursday, April 05, 2007

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Bush's rhetoric rings hollow

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 04/04/2007 | Bush's rhetoric rings hollow: "An ever more combative President George W. Bush this week denounced the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate for attempting to substitute their tactical and strategic judgment for that of our military commanders on the ground in Iraq. "

Heaven forbid.

How dare Washington politicians attempt to dictate benchmarks for measuring the effectiveness of the ineffective Iraqi government or lay down timelines for beginning the withdrawal of American troops from a war gone bad?

The President's indignation might resonate more loudly with the American people if it were not so heavily laden with hypocrisy.

Shall we call to mind that for six years Bush and his senior cohorts - Vice President Dick Cheney and the unlamented former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld - rode roughshod over the best advice of their military commanders.

Remember Afghanistan? Remember how we blew the best chance ever at destroying Osama bin Laden and the top leadership of al Qaeda because we didn't have enough American forces on the ground to seal off all the escape routes from Tora Bora?

Or how American troops were killed and wounded in Operation Anaconda because they didn't have artillery support when they so desperately needed it?

And why was this?

It was because Secretary Rumsfeld, that paragon of military expertise who like his bosses had never heard a shot fired in anger, had dictated that no more than 7,000 American troops would be permitted to set foot in Afghanistan and had ordered the Army to leave its artillery pieces behind.

How did Rumsfeld arrive at that arbitrary manpower ceiling of 7,000 pairs of boots on the ground and not one pair more? God only knows. He was determined to prove that high-tech weaponry had rendered obsolete old-fashioned ideas about how you seize and control an enemy's territory.

The Army would have no need of its artillery fire support. The Air Force, with its satellite-guided smart bombs and its AC-130 gunships, would provide all the fire support the old-fashioned groundpounders would ever need.

So, when we finally tracked Osama and his merry band of murderous thugs to the cave stronghold of Tora Bora, our military commanders had no choice but to depend on three Afghan warlords to seal the escape routes into Pakistan. Instead, the warlords set up what amounted to toll booths and happily sold get out of jail free cards to Osama and company.

When reconnaissance photos showed the escaping terrorists' campfires in the mountains, the warlords said they belonged to shepherds, who presumably were feeding snow to their sheep.

And while Army artillery is on call 24/7 to provide a shield of hot steel to their infantry brothers in snow, sleet or heavy mountain clouds, the Air Force still is loath to fly expensive jet fighters through zero-zero weather full of 12,000-foot granite peaks. It already had decreed that the highly effective AC-130 gunships with their Gatling guns and 105mm artillery pieces were too vulnerable to fly during daylight hours.

That's just Afghanistan. Then came Iraq.

Here Mr. Rumsfeld, with the obvious approval of Cheney and Bush, tampered and tinkered with literally everything. He threw out a war plan, which had been drawn up based on everything the generals had learned about war in that part of the world, that called for an invasion force of 450,000 American and allied troops. Mr. Rumsfeld determined that a figure of something like 100,000 would be more than enough and threw out five years of planning and war games.

When Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki reluctantly offered an opinion to a senator that it would require "several hundred thousand troops" to secure and occupy Iraq, Rumsfeld's Deputy Paul Wolfowitz hurried to Capitol Hill to dismiss that estimate as "outlandish." After all, Wolfowitz said, we all know that Iraq has none of the ethnic divisions of a place like Afghanistan and, thus, would be easier to subdue.

So we invaded Iraq with half the troops we needed to occupy and pacify the country. When Baghdad fell, there was no plan and no troops to keep the mobs from looting government offices and destroying everything from power and sewage plants to hospitals and army camps and schools. No troops available to occupy and pacify the heart of Saddam Hussein's power base among the Sunnis of Anbar Province. No troops to secure the vast ammunition dumps or secure the borders.

Mr. Rumsfeld and his bosses forbade the generals from planning for a long occupation or nation building. Why plan for those things when we'd be leaving Iraq within six months, by the summer of 2003? Nation building and the creation of a new government were not our job they said. Instead, we'd just turn Iraq over to the Pentagon's good friend Ahmad Chalabi and his fellow Iraqi exiles.

We now know how well Bush has commanded the military; how accurate his and Cheney's and Rumsfeld's predictions were and what masters they were of the art of war. Mission Accomplished. Last throes. A few dead-enders. A little untidiness.

Now President Bush would have us believe that he always listens to his military commanders; that he's outraged that a mere majority of both houses of Congress would presume to substitute their judgment for his . . . er, his commanders.

After all, he's not merely the commander-in-chief; he's The Decider.

Pentagon's WSH hires firm in aftermath of Walt Reed scandal - PRWeek US

Pentagon's WSH hires firm in aftermath of Walt Reed scandal - PRWeek US: "WASHINGTON: The Washington Headquarters Services (WHS), a provider of operational support to several Department of Defense agencies, has hired a PR agency on behalf of the President's Commission on Care for Americas' Returning Wounded Warriors in the aftermath of the controversy that has erupted over conditions at Walter Reed hospital."

According to the Federal Business Opportunity database, the government has awarded LMW Strategies, based in Bethesda, MD, a no-bid contract through August 1 of this year.

The contracting officer for the contract did not return calls for comment, and no information on LMW Strategies could be obtained by press time.

The database states that the firm has been hired to provide strategic communications to the presidential commission, formed March 6, to review the healthcare provided to wounded soldiers.

Controversy erupted following a Washington Post series that began running on February 18, highlighting appalling conditions for recovering soldiers. The scandal resulted in the resignations of several high level military officials and congressional hearings.

[bth: man, what a country. PR heals all wounds. Here is the link to the federal no-bid contract.]
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Al-Sahab Expected To Release New Bin Ladin Video

Al-Sahab Expected To Release New Bin Ladin Video: "Terrorism: Al-Sahab Reportedly To Release New Bin Ladin Video Message
On 4 April, a jihadist website carried the following posting:

'After a long absence by the shaykh of mujahidin, whom we have missed as well as his speeches, some news is being leaked indicating that Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin, God protect and preserve him and make him a thorn in the throat of the enemies, will make an appearance.

The news indicates that Al-Sahab Media Establishment, which specializes in publishing Al-Qa'ida leaders' speeches, has recently finished producing a video featuring Bin Ladin's speech to the entire Islamic nation. '

Furthermore, the poster of this note maintains that the speech includes several messages to the 'mujahidin' in Iraq, the Palestinian People on ' the capitulation choice which HAMAS gave in to,' the Riyadh Arab summit, the 'fears' of America and its allies of the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate state in Iraq, and the 'good tidings of victory in Iraq and Afghanistan.'"

US helicopter crashes after being shot at in Iraq

US helicopter crashes after being shot at in Iraq | Jerusalem Post: " US helicopter went down after coming under fire Thursday in a Sunni militant stronghold south of Baghdad but there was no immediate word on casualties, an Iraqi army official said.

The US military confirmed the report. All nine on board survived but four were wounded.

Gunmen opened fire on a Black Hawk helicopter at about 7:30 a.m. as it flew over Latifiyah, 30 kilometers south of Baghdad, the Iraqi official said.

The helicopter went down in a rural area and US forces had cordoned off the site, the official said."

Veteran Files Claim After Wrong Testicle Removed at Virginia Veteran's Hospital - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News - Veteran Files Claim After Wrong Testicle Removed at Virginia Veteran's Hospital - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News: "LOS ANGELES — An Air Force veteran has filed a federal claim after an operation at a Veterans Administration hospital in which a healthy testicle was removed instead of a potentially cancerous one.

Benjamin Houghton, 47, was to have had his left testicle removed June 14 at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center because there was a chance it could harbor cancer cells. It also was atrophied and painful."

But doctors mistakenly removed the right testicle, according to medical records and the claim, which seeks $200,000 for future care and unspecified damages. He still hasn't had the other testicle removed.

"At first I thought it was a joke," Houghton told the Los Angeles Times. "Then I was shocked. I told them, 'What do I do now?"'...

Al-Sadr fires 2 for meeting US general

Al-Sadr fires 2 for meeting US general - Yahoo! News: "BAGHDAD - Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday fired two senior members of his movement after they met with the top U.S. military officer in Iraq, a lawmaker close to the anti-American cleric said. "

Salam al-Maliki and Qusai Abdul-Wahab, members of parliament in al-Sadr's bloc, were having dinner at the home of former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari on Monday when Gen. David Petraeus, arrived, the legislator said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Al-Maliki and Abdul-Wahab did not leave the room when Petraeus walked in, he said. Al-Sadr has decreed that lawmakers from his bloc must not speak with U.S. officials and sacked the men when he heard of the infraction, the lawmaker told The Associated Press.

Al-Maliki, a former transportation minister, denied both that he had been expelled and that he had met Petraeus.

Abdul-Wahab, confirmed the pair were expelled from the party and said they had gone to al-Jaafari's house for a lunch that included about 70 other government officials, lawmakers and military men. He confirmed that Petraeus was present but denied he or al-Maliki had spoken with him.

Another member of al-Sadr's bloc also confirmed the firings, but said he had no information about the meeting at al-Jaafari's home. Saleh al-Aujaili said the two deputies were expelled from the Sadrist movement because "they met American officials in the Green Zone."

"The decision was taken at the orders of his eminence Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr," he said. "The political committee of the Sadrist movement informed us about the orders of Sheik Muqtada and tomorrow we will tell the parliament's chairmanship that we want to replace them in line with parliament rules."

Iraqi legislative regulations allow a political bloc to replace members, but only if they resign, which the men were expected to do.

U.S. troops recently have cracked down on al-Sadr's followers and captured some of his senior associates, including Sheik Qais Khazaali and cleric Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji.

In an interview with U.S.-funded Alhuraa television, al-Maliki said "we did not meet any American official but our work was to win the release of Sheik Qais Khazaali and Sheik Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji."

Al-Sadr launched two uprisings against U.S. troops in April and August 2004 that left hundreds of people dead.

Since a major security plan was launched seven weeks ago, U.S. and Iraqi troops have targeted members of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. U.S. officials say al-Sadr is currently in neighboring Iran. His followers say he is in Iraq.

[bth: hard to imagine how we can have a functioning relationship with the Iraqi government when Sadr does stuff like this.]

Bush recess appoints major Swift Boat Vets donor

The Raw Story | Bush recess appoints major Swift Boat Vets donor: "President George W. Bush circumvented Senate opposition today and recess appointed a controversial nominee as Ambassador to Belgium. Sam Fox, who donated thousands of dollars to the anti-John Kerry Swift Boat Veterans For Truth before the 2004 Presidential election, received the nod from the White House in a quiet personnel announcement this afternoon that caught Senate Democrats off guard."...

[bth: it is one abuse of power after another. shameless really.]

Police Log Confirms FBI Role In Arrests

Police Log Confirms FBI Role In Arrests - "A secret FBI intelligence unit helped detain a group of war protesters in a downtown Washington parking garage in April 2002 and interrogated some of them on videotape about their political and religious beliefs, newly uncovered documents and interviews show."

For years, law enforcement authorities suggested it never happened. The FBI and D.C. police said they had no records of such an incident. And police told a federal court that no FBI agents were present when officers arrested more than 20 protesters that afternoon for trespassing; police viewed them as suspicious for milling around the parking garage entrance.

But a civil lawsuit, filed by the protesters, recently unearthed D.C. police logs that confirm the FBI's role in the incident. Lawyers for the demonstrators said the logs, which police say they just found, bolster their allegations of civil rights violations.

The probable cause to arrest the protesters as they retrieved food from their parked van? They were wearing black -- a color choice the FBI and police associated with anarchists, according to the police records.

FBI agents dressed in street clothes separated members to question them one by one about protests they attended, whom they had spent time with recently, what political views they espoused and the significance of their tattoos and slogans, according to interviews and court records.

The revelations, combined with protester accounts, provide the first public evidence that Washington-based FBI personnel used their intelligence-gathering powers in the District to collect purely political intelligence. Ultimately, the protesters were not prosecuted because there wasn't sufficient evidence of trespassing, and their arrest records were expunged.

Similar intelligence-gathering operations have been reported in New York, where a local police intelligence unit tried to infiltrate groups planning to protest at the Republican National Convention in 2004, and in Colorado, where records surfaced showing that the FBI collected names and license plates of people protesting timber industry practices at a 2002 industry convention.

Several federal courts have ruled that intelligence agencies can monitor domestic groups only when there is reason to believe the group is engaged in criminal activity. Experts in police conduct say it is hard to imagine how asking questions about a person's political views would be appropriate in a trespassing case.

The Washington case centers on activities that took place April 20, 2002 -- a day of three cacophonic but generally orderly rallies that drew an estimated 75,000 people to the Mall. They included groups demonstrating against the prospect of war in Iraq, numerous supporters of the war, and Palestinians and others rallying for an end to U.S. aid to Israel and for peace in the Middle East.

The police logs for that day show how events developed: Secret Service agents had some concern about a group near the JBG Co. building's garage at 1275 K St. NW just after 5 p.m.

"Intell 53 advises that five members of the anarchist group have entered a parking garage," reads an entry from 5:12 p.m.

Ten minutes later, an entry notes the FBI's role.

"FBI, JOCC advises that an FBI intell team is responding to area of 13th and K/L Streets regarding a report of alleged anarchists in the vicinity," it reads. "There are reportedly 15 anarchists at 13th and K being interviewed. The subjects reportedly had a passkey to a building, but it's unknown how they came to be in possession of it."

The entry notes that D.C. police also were at the site. The protesters were detained at the garage for more than an hour, logs show, until police decided to arrest them for alleged unlawful entry.

D.C. police officials acknowledged in 2003 that the department had a secret intelligence unit that infiltrated and monitored protest groups in the Washington area, even if authorities had no evidence of criminal activity. The practice drew complaints from the D.C. Council, and police promised to develop guidelines.

The Partnership for Civil Justice, a civil liberties group, helped 11 protesters sue D.C. police in 2003 and the FBI last year, alleging that the questioning and detentions violated their civil rights.

In response to the suit, D.C. police at first said that no police intelligence officials were involved in the arrests. Last year, city officials revealed under additional questioning that five members of the police intelligence unit were present.

The plaintiffs argue that the newly released police logs make clear that the FBI, working hand in hand with local police, is engaged in a concerted effort to spy on and intimidate U.S. citizens who are lawfully exercising their free-speech rights. They contend that this is a national effort that abuses the FBI's broad counterterrorism powers and equates political speech with a risk to national security.

"It really is a secret police: This is an effort to suppress political dissent," said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice. "If this was happening in another country that the U.S. was targeting, U.S. officials at the highest levels would be decrying this as a violation of human rights,"

FBI spokeswoman Debbie Weierman said the agency stands by its assertion in court filings that it maintains no records of the incident.

A law enforcement official familiar with joint operations during protests said it would be typical for the FBI to hand over records of questioning to the lead agency -- in this case, the D.C. police.

D.C. police said authorities only recently found the logs of police responses to that day's events. That discovery came after three years of police assurances in federal court that no such records or logs existed showing the FBI's role.

The records turned up on the eve of a deposition in which a police records technician was to be questioned about the existence of a routine log that his office is responsible for maintaining during any mass protest in Washington.

Sgt. Joe Gentile, a D.C. police spokesman, referred questions to the D.C. attorney general's office.

Traci Hughes, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said the city's lawyers never intentionally misrepresent evidence to the court and come forward when discrepancies turn up.

"We have to rely upon information that the client gives us," Hughes said, adding that police turned over the log as soon as they learned it existed.

In November, as the Partnership for Civil Justice continued to try to get police records of the event, the FBI officials argued that the lawsuit against the agency should be dismissed. They said that the bureau had no relevant records and that if the FBI ever had any records, they had been disposed of when protesters' arrest records were expunged, or "they remain unidentifiable for other reasons." Justice Department attorneys noted, however, that questioning people in a criminal investigation was not improper.

In their lawsuit, the partnership and protesters said the FBI's political and religious questioning was "wholly unrelated to any legitimate activities of law enforcement" and violated their free speech rights under the First Amendment. They noted that some of the protesters had parked their van in the garage and were merely retrieving food

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

Rep. John Murtha: My Response to the President's Veto Threat | The Huffington Post

The Blog | Rep. John Murtha: My Response to the President's Veto Threat | The Huffington Post: "I have just been informed that the 4th Infantry Division is preparing to deploy to Iraq with only eight months at home and without the appropriate training. This is unacceptable.

The stress on our military due to the manner in which the president has waged the war in Iraq is no longer tolerable."

Due to continuous and extended deployments to Iraq, our military is running out of troops and equipment and is being forced to abandon its own rotation and deployment guidelines in order to sustain the president's war plan.

In short, our military has been forced to do too much with too little.

Our military readiness has deteriorated to levels not seen since Vietnam and our ability to fight future threats is severely compromised. Yet the president refuses to address this most vital issue.

In reaction to the disastrous manner in which the president has run the war, Congress passed the Iraq Accountability Act in both houses. This bill provides resources to address the readiness problem, puts the onus on the Iraqi Government to internally solve its own civil war and provides the beginnings of a safe and responsible return of our United States forces from Iraq.

The Constitution expressly places the power 'to raise and support Armies,' and 'to provide and maintain a Navy' with Congress. It is, therefore, Congress' responsibility to raise the revenues for our military and to determine in what manner and by what means they shall be spent.

For four years, the president has been waging a war without end and without accountability. The Iraq Accountability Act expresses the sentiment of the Congress and the majority of the American people who say it's time for a plan to safely and responsibly end the war.

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Gonzales Prepares to Fight for His Job in Testimony

Gonzales Prepares to Fight for His Job in Testimony - "Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has retreated from public view this week in an intensive effort to save his job, spending hours practicing testimony and phoning lawmakers for support in preparation for pivotal appearances in the Senate this month, according to administration officials."

After struggling for weeks to explain the extent of his involvement in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, Gonzales and his aides are viewing the Senate testimony on April 12 and April 17 as seriously as if it were a confirmation proceeding for a Supreme Court or a Cabinet appointment, officials said....

Army: Friendly fire might have killed U.S. troops

Army: Friendly fire might have killed U.S. troops - "WASHINGTON (AP) -- A week after acknowledging a litany of errors in the friendly fire death of former NFL star Pat Tillman, the Army said Wednesday two soldiers killed in Iraq in February may also have been killed by their own comrades."

The Army said it is investigating the deaths of Pvt. Matthew Zeimer, 18, of Glendive, Montana, and Spc. Alan E. McPeek, 20, of Tucson, Arizona, who were killed in Ramadi, in western Iraq, on February 2.

The families of the two soldiers were initially told they were killed by enemy fire.

According to Army Col. Daniel Baggio, unit commanders in Iraq did not at first suspect they were killed by U.S. forces, but an investigation by the unit concluded that may be the case.

A supplemental report filed February 28 suggested that the initial reports might have been wrong but that an investigation was still under way, he said. According to the Army, the unit did not include friendly fire in that report "because they were reluctant to make the claim until the unit-level investigation was complete."

It took another month before the families of the two soldiers were told, on March 31, that friendly fire was suspected.

Rose Doyle, McPeek's mother, declined to discuss the latest development. "I don't feel comfortable talking," she said. "Whatever I say isn't going to bring my son back."

Three other soldiers were wounded in the incident that killed Zeimer and McPeek. There has been no indication whether they were also hit by friendly forces...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

New Advances in Gunner Protection

New Advances in Gunner Protection: "PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - The Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny has designed a new armor shield that provides much needed protection for Humvee gunners in combat situations."

The Picatinny Objective Gunner Protection Kit was a joint development by Picatinny engineers and Soldiers recently returned from active duty in Iraq. With more than 2,500 of the systems already being used in theater, the O-GPK is currently in mass production at Army depots and field-ready kits are arriving in Iraq and Afghanistan on a weekly basis.

"The O-GPK provides significant force protection and situational awareness for the Humvee gunner," said Thomas Kiel, lead designer of the O-GPK. "The system includes a combination of steel and transparent armor that are configured to protect our Soldiers against enemy rifle fire and IED blasts."

The O-GPK includes transparent armor windows and rear-view mirrors that allow Soldiers to maintain a protected posture while performing mission objectives with full visibility through the windows. The kit is modular and utilizes the existing features of Humvee design for quick installation onto the overhead turret with no special tools required.

In just six months, the system was transformed from conceptual design models to full-scale production - an effort that would historically take more than a year to complete for a program of this magnitude.

The kit consists of the turret shield, gun shield and everything needed to mount the shield to a Humvee. All the elements are shipped overseas as a kit where they are assembled in theater.

"The O-GPK is a tremendous improvement over previous shields used in theater," said Maj. Antonio Ralph, who led the user evaluation effort for the O-GPK. "Picatinny's extensive background in weapons development allowed for proper integration of the systems that our Soldiers need to fight effectively."

Early in the development cycle, four prototype systems fabricated at Picatinny were evaluated by Soldiers performing live missions in Iraq.

"The feedback from Soldiers in theater was critical in finalizing the design and kicking off production," said Ralph.

The ARDEC design enables the use of modern production equipment including laser cutting, robotic welding, automated forming and finishing operations, which results in virtually unprecedented production rates, said Kiel. ARDEC has fully documented the design and processing methods for each component to maximize production rates and minimize manufacturing and logistics costs.

"Advances in manufacturing science research at Picatinny have allowed us to develop affordable and efficient production processes for armor components," Kiel said. "Now that the O-GPK design is complete, the goal is simple - to produce large numbers of kits very quickly and send these to our Soldiers as soon as possible."

Rock Island Arsenal, located in Illinois, leads the production effort and will produce 7,500 kits by this July and 20,000 by 2008.

"The O-GPK has already saved lives in Iraq," Kiel said. "The engineers and scientists at Picatinny are very proud to be supporting the men and women that ensure our freedom at home."

Other recent developments by the Picatinny Force Protection Team include a new customized Special Forces Gunner Protection Kit for Humvees and the Picatinny Blast Shield, which is now being used by the Marine Corps on their Light Armored Vehicles.

Sound Off...What do you think? Join the discussion.

[bth: very nice andit looks like production is moving at a reasonable pace.]

Iraq loses $8 billion through corruption |

Iraq loses $8 billion through corruption | - Houston Chronicle: "BAGHDAD — Iraq's top corruption fighter said Wednesday that $8 billion in government money was wasted or stolen over the past three years and claimed he was threatened with death after opening an investigation into scores of Oil Ministry employees."

In the chaos and lawlessness of Iraq, such threats are not taken lightly. Radi al-Radhi, who runs the Public Integrity Commission, leads one of the more dangerous missions in the country. He said in an interview with The Associated Press that 20 members of the organization have been murdered since it began its work.

In perhaps the most publicized recent case, an estimated $2 billion disappeared from funds to rebuild the electricity infrastructure.

Former Electricity Minister Ayham al-Samaraie, who holds both U.S. and Iraqi citizenship, was convicted in that case and sentenced to two years in prison. He escaped from an Iraqi-run jail in the Green Zone on Dec. 17 and turned up in Chicago on Jan. 15. Al-Samaraie has said the Americans helped him escape.

Al-Radhi said the commission has investigated about 2,600 corruption cases since it was established in March 2004, a few months before the United States returned sovereignty to Iraq. He estimated $8 billion has vanished or been misappropriated.

Corruption in the country, while traditionally rampant, is encouraged by constitutional clause 136 B, al-Radhi said. It gives Cabinet ministers the power to block his investigations.

So far, he said, ministers have blocked probes into the theft or misspending of an estimated additional $55 million in public funds.

Two years ago he asked the Constitutional Court to strike the clause, but the panel has never issued a ruling.

On Wednesday, he took the matter to Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who promised to back his efforts before the court, al-Radhi said. Al-Mashhadani's office confirmed that they met and said the parliament speaker promised to support the anti-corruption move.

Senior government officials and Cabinet ministers are accused of a variety of schemes.

In February, for example, U.S. and Iraqi forces seized Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili, a supporter of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. He reportedly orchestrated kickback schemes related to inflated contracts for equipment and services, with millions of dollars allegedly funneled to al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. Al-Zamili was suspected of employing militiamen who used Health Ministry facilities and services for "sectarian kidnapping and murder," the U.S. military has said.

Al-Radhi said that after starting an investigation of 180 Oil Ministry employees in the southern province of Basra, he and another colleague received death threats.

"I and Haidar Ashour, our representative in southern Iraq, have received threats by telephone accusing us of being former regime elements (supporters of the late Saddam Hussein)," said al-Radhi. He was a judge during the former leader's rule, a job that required al-Radhi to join Saddam's Baath party.

"'If you don't stop the investigation, you will be killed,'" al-Radhi quoted the caller as saying. The threat was issued in the name of the little-known Southern Region Movement.

Commission records show arrest warrants have been issued for about 90 former Iraqi officials, including 15 ministers, on charges of corruption. Most have fled the country.

In October, parliament removed immunity from lawmaker Mishan al-Jabouri, opening the door for prosecutors to charge him with siphoning off some $7 million a month intended to pay for food for three units of the pipeline protection force. Al-Jabouri's whereabouts are unknown; he has not been arrested.

Former Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan, who served under then-Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in 2004 and early 2005, is facing corruption allegations involving $1 billion in missing funds. Shaalan has denied wrongdoing.

The Iraq war has proven a temptation for many in the United States as well.

A quarterly audit released Jan. 31 by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, found the $300 billion U.S. war and reconstruction effort continues to be plagued with waste and corruption.

According to Bowen's report, the State Department paid $43.8 million to contractor DynCorp International for a residential camp for police training personnel outside of Baghdad's Adnan Palace grounds. The camp has been empty for months. About $4.2 million of the money was improperly spent on 20 VIP trailers and an Olympic-size pool, all ordered by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior but never authorized by the U.S.

U.S. officials spent an additional $36.4 million for weapons such as armored vehicles, body armor and communications equipment that cannot be accounted for. DynCorp also may have prematurely billed $18 million in other potentially unjustified costs, the report said.

Early in the U.S. occupation of Iraq, hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted on unnecessary and overpriced equipment for the Iraqi army. Much of that waste came during Allawi's tenure as transitional prime minister.

Iraqi investigators probed several weapons and equipment deals engineered by one-time procurement officer Ziad Cattan and other defense officials. Cattan is believed to be in hiding.

One case involves Polish weapons maker Bumar, which signed a $236 million contract in December 2004 to equip the Iraqi army with helicopters, ambulances, pistols, machine guns and water tanks. Added to other deals, Bumar's contracts with the Iraqi army totaled nearly $300 million.

Iraqi officials said that when Iraqi experts traveled to Europe to check on their purchase of the transport choppers, they discovered the aircraft, which cost tens of millions of dollars, were 28 years old and outdated. They refused to take them and returned home empty-handed.

At the time, a spokeswoman for Bumar denied the company ever provided Iraq with poor-quality helicopters and said that although they were several years old and used, this was at the request of the Iraqi Defense Ministry.

Another case involving Cattan was a deal to purchase 7.62 mm bullets for machine guns and rifles. Iraqi officials said the bullets should have cost between 4 and 6 cents apiece but the ministry was eventually charged 16 cents per bullet.

Stars & Stripes: Soldiers in war zones to get new, lighter armor

Stars & Stripes: Soldiers in war zones to get new, lighter armor: "ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army plans to issue all soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan new, lighter body armor by the end of the year, the service announced this week. "

Steve Pinter, deputy project manager for soldier equipment at Program Executive Office Soldier, said the new armor will also provide more protection than what soldiers wear now, including better carriers for side ballistic plates, a better fitting throat protector, and an additional 52 inches of protection for the rear of the vests.

The Army is expected to begin fielding the new Improved Outer Tactical Vests this month, with deliveries to Iraq and Afghanistan expected to be finished by late December, Pinter said.

Along with the protection and weight improvements — the new body armor is also three pounds lighter than the Outer Tactical Vests that soldiers wear now — the vests have a number of other advantages, Pinter said.

The IOTV has a quick-release handle that allows soldiers to drop their body armor in emergencies.

“The vest falls off the soldier in two pieces and can be reassembled in a few minutes,” Pinter said.

Other improvements include a waistband that takes much of the vest’s weight off a soldier’s shoulders, and a side opening in the armor to give medical personnel access to a wounded soldier.

The Army has been working on the new body armor since last spring, with testing by soldiers at Fort Lewis, Wash., a PEO Soldier news release said.

The Marine Corps introduced a new version of body armor this year that features two extra ballistic plates and a ripcord that allows Marines to get out of their vests easily in emergencies.

Known as Modular Tactical Vests, that new body armor came in response to a May 2005 study by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology that found several Marines died of wounds to exposed areas of their torso, such as their shoulders. The Navy has said recently it plans to buy 16,000 MTVs for Seabees.

The Marine Corps plans to introduce its next generation of body armor in the next two to three years, depending on when the industry can come up with materials that are lighter and more flexible than what Marines wear now.

The Army plans to debut its next generation body armor in fiscal 2010 or fiscal 2012, as part of the Future Force Warrior system. The new system is expected to feature six ballistic plates that will be shaped to provide more protection along soldiers’ back and sides.

But first the shaped plates must be thoroughly tested to make sure they provide as much protection as the ballistic plates in the body armor soldiers wear now.
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Anguish Over Iraq Shakes Public's Faith in Military Solutions

Anguish Over Iraq Shakes Public's Faith in Military Solutions: "Vast Majority Reject Possible Military Responses to Iran
Survey Suggests Americans Nearing Crisis of Confidence in U.S. Foreign

NEW YORK, April 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Public Agenda and its
partner Foreign Affairs today made public the fourth edition of the
Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index (CFPI). The new research provides
striking evidence that Americans' anguish over Iraq is spilling over to
other areas of foreign policy -- with serious potential effects on the
policy options available to current and future leaders.

The Spring 2007 Anxiety Indicator stands at 137, well above the neutral
mid-point of 100 and a seven point increase since September 2006. "The
Anxiety Indicator is moving closer to the 150 mark, the 'red zone' that to
me would signal a full blown crisis of public confidence
," said Public
Agenda Chairman Daniel Yankelovich. Full report at:
Anxiety Indicator Results

-- 84 percent are worried about the way things are going for the United
States in world affairs

-- 82 percent say the world is becoming more dangerous for the United
States and its people

-- 73 percent say the United States is not doing a good job as a leader
in creating a more peaceful and prosperous world

-- 68 percent believe the rest of the world sees the United States

-- 67 percent say U.S. relations with the rest of the world are on the
wrong track

Iraq and the Spill-Over Effect

-- Public support for military solutions in many scenarios is virtually
off the table for most of the public. In dealing with Iran, support
for possible military action is in the single digits (8 percent

-- 70 percent say that criticism that the United States has been too
quick to resort to war is at least partly justified (31 percent say
it's "totally justified"). On what the government must do to fight
terrorism, 67 percent say we should put more emphasis on diplomatic
and economic methods, while 27 percent say more emphasis on military

-- 84 percent say "initiating military force only when we have the
support of our allies" should be important to our foreign policy (51
percent say "very important")

SOURCE Public Agenda

Trouble In The North

IraqSlogger: Iraqi Papers Wed: Trouble In The North: "While Az-Zaman reported a marked deterioration of security conditions in Mosul, Al-Mada is announcing that the operation “Imposing the Law” (aka the Security Plan) will be extended to the Northern city. "...

[bth: American military units were recently transfered from Mosul to Baghdad as part of the 'surge'. It isn't surprising then that the pot has started to boil over in Mosul.]
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Iraq invites 15 foreign firms to drill 100 wells

: "BAGHDAD: Iraq has issued invitations for 15 Arab, Asian and American firms to drill 100 oil wells in the country’s south as part of efforts to boost production, the oil ministry spokesman said yesterday."

Asim Jihad said the invitations, issued at the end of March, would close at the end of May.

The state-run South Oil Company will review the offers, he said. He said among the companies invited were Syrian, Iranian and Chinese firms.

“We want to drill 50 wells in Maysan (province) and 50 in Basra. It will take from one year to three years,” he said. “These new wells will give us between 50,000 to 60,000 bpd.”

Iraq has the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves and needs billions of dollars to revive its oil sector. Most of Iraq’s proven oil reserves are in the Shia south or the Kurdish north.

Iraq’s cabinet has endorsed a draft oil law regulating how wealth from the vast oil reserves will be shared by its ethnic and sectarian groups.

The world’s top oil companies have been manoeuvring for years to win a stake in Iraq’s prized oilfields such as Bin Umar, Majnoon, Nassiriyah, West Qurna and Ratawi – all located in the south of the country.

The oil law which is still awaiting parliament’s ratification has given the regions the right to negotiate with international firms on developing oilfields. – Reuters
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Afghani police swoop on religious 'suicide school'

Afghani police swoop on religious 'suicide school' | The Daily Telegraph: "POLICE raided a religious school in remote western Afghanistan and arrested 22 people, an official said Tuesday, alleging the school was involved in organising Taliban suicide attacks."

Afghan police acting on a tip-off raided the school late Monday in the western province of Farah - which last month saw several suicide blasts - provincial police chief Sayyed Agha Saqib said.

The school in the Bala Buluk district was being used as a “terrorist centre” and was supported by Pakistani nationals and Arabs, he said.

A Taliban commander named Mullah Hayatullah was alleged to be using the school to provide military training for the Taliban, who were ousted by US-led forces in 2001.

The mullah was not among those caught in the raid and some of those arrested confessed to being Taliban.

Afghan and Western officials say that many of the men behind the almost daily attacks in Afghanistan are trained in the shcools - known as 'madrassas' - run by extremist Islamists in areas of Pakistan along Afghanistan's eastern border.

Farah province, actually in the west of the country and adjoining Iran, has until the last few weeks seen relatively little of the Taliban violence stalking mainly southern and eastern Afghanistan.

In late February the small town of Bakwa was overrun by Taliban fighters who were in control for less than 24 hours before Afghan security forces drove them out.

Authorities later detained the Bakwa district governor and his police commander for alleged links with the Taliban.

A suicide bombing on a convoy delivering the new police chief to his post on March 12 killed the officer and nine of his men.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the murders.

A suicide car bombing in Bala Buluk the previous day killed one policeman and wounded three others.

It struck a convoy carrying a police chief for western provinces including Farah.

Shiite Cleric Opposes U.S. Plan to Permit Former Baath Party Members to Join Government - New York Times

Shiite Cleric Opposes U.S. Plan to Permit Former Baath Party Members to Join Government - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, April 2 — The most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq has rejected an American-backed proposal to allow thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to government service, an aide to the cleric said Monday. "

The rejection by the cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, appears certain to fuel hostility between the majority Shiites and the former ruling Sunni Arabs, since many Sunni Arabs say they were unfairly purged from the government in the clampdown on the Baath Party.

The Americans say a partial reversal of the de-Baathification process, which began in 2003, is one of the most crucial steps the Iraqi government can take in wooing back disaffected Sunni Arabs and draining the Sunni-led insurgency of its zealotry. The White House has repeatedly told the Iraqi government that the process must be changed.

The latest proposal was announced by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani on March 26 at the strong urging of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the senior American envoy to Iraq, who left his job the same day. American officials oversaw the drafting of the proposal....

[bth: Sistani has no interest in power sharing especially while the Americans will fight his enemies. This is why Iraq will eventually split. There is not middle ground, no protection of minorities against those with power in Iraq - Sunni or Shiite]