Saturday, November 10, 2007

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Taliban Parades Captured Pakistani Special Forces In NWFP

Taliban Parades Captured Pakistani Special Forces In NWFP India Defence: "Taleban fighters in Pakistan's northern district of Swat have paraded 48 paramilitary troops they captured in fighting this week.

The soldiers said they surrendered when their positions on a hilltop were surrounded by armed militants.

More than 2,500 paramilitary troops were sent to Swat last week as fighting in the area worsened.Nearly 300 soldiers are still being held prisoner further south in the Waziristan tribal region.

The militants in Swat want the imposition of Sharia law.

'Fellow Muslims'The troops captured in Swat this week were air-dropped by helicopters last Saturday.

They say that more than 100 troops abandoned their positions on Thursday night. The government has been denying that any of its troops have been captured.While 48 of them surrendered to the militants, others managed to escape into the countryside.

All the troops were shabbily dressed, wearing clothes given to them by the militants.

Most said they dumped their uniforms somewhere in the fields or gave them to the militants.All of them hail from different areas of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where Swat is located.

"I surrendered because I realised that I was only fighting fellow Muslims," said Shafiullah, a soldier from Dargai area.

The soldiers, who make up the often poorly trained ranks of the Frontier Corps, were visibly under stress.At least two soldiers from Dargai area had been able to inform their families after their capture."

As soon as we received the message, all the men and women of the family got into truck and came here to plead with the Taleban for my son's life," said Ramzan, the father of one captured soldier, Murad Khan.

The families met Abdullah, the Taleban commander for Charbagh area, some 15km (nine miles) north of Mingora, the main town in Swat district.

Later on Friday the militants said they had freed all the troops.

Directing traffic

A major business centre on the road that connects Mingora with the tourist resorts of Madyan, Miandam and Kalam, Charbagh is in Taleban control.

Taleban militants were seen directing the traffic on the road.

There was an air of jubilation among them after the news that Khwazakhela, another important town 27km north of Mingora, had fallen to the militants.

One of them was distributing sweets to commuters on the road.

[bth: And these guys are supposed to find OBL?]
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Airborne honor guard for PFC John D. Hart Oct. 2003

At military funerals, one constant has been governors' presence

At military funerals, one constant has been governors' presence - "BOSTON --One by one, the families have gathered across Massachusetts, 79 times to remember local soldiers killed in Iraq, 15 more to recall those who died in Afghanistan.

more stories like thisEach wake or funeral during the past four years has been different, reflecting the varying backgrounds of the fallen and their relatives' tolerance for the public spectacle of a military send-off. One other funeral was for a State Department security officer killed in Iraq.

One constant across the spectrum has been the presence of the governor.

Amid twin battles that have continued since 2003, Mitt Romney and his successor, Deval Patrick, have made it a personal point to try to attend the wake or funeral for every member of the armed forces with Massachusetts ties who has died in the war on terrorism.

The services have appeared on their schedule because they were public, but the governors have discouraged publicity because they say they were not there for themselves or political purposes, but to honor the dead and, equally as important, those left behind.

"I thought it was important that the families knew the highest elected officer of the state recognized their sacrifice, and there was nothing more important in Massachusetts on that day I could do," said Romney, who attended over 40 wakes or funerals.

Patrick, who in less than a year in office has already attended 22 funerals or memorial services, said: "We have learned something in this country since Vietnam about how to separate the controversy over the mission from the respect for the services of those who are carrying out the mission, and I want to be there to show that respect."

Romney, a Republican now seeking his party's presidential nomination, and Patrick, the Democrat who succeeded him in January, agreed to interviews with The Associated Press in recognition of Veteran's Day.

Their gesture, repeated by most other governors across the country, has been both noticed and appreciated.

"It doesn't address the family's grief, but it is an acknowledgment on behalf of the people of Massachusetts that a supreme sacrifice has been made," said Brian Hart of Bedford. His 20-year-old son, Army Pfc. John Hart, was killed in Iraq in October 2003 while trying to repel an ambush. Brian Hart has worked since to provide troops with more armored Humvees.

He said: "These soldiers and Marines didn't die in a random gang shooting; this country sent them to war. And when they die, they need to be acknowledged."

A saber kept in the Corner Office signifies the governor's role as commander in chief of the Massachusetts National Guard, the citizen-soldiers who have served alongside active-duty troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. As did Romney before him, Patrick has made it a point to attend or dispatch a designee to the send-off and welcome-home ceremonies for troops deployed from Massachusetts

Yet their most solemn duty has been to bear personal witness at the funeral rites for those killed in action. In Patrick's case, that meant two funerals in a day on Oct. 6. The services were for Army National Guard Spc. Ciara Durkin of Quincy, and Army Sgt. Zachary Tellier, whose parents live in Groton and Falmouth.

more stories like thisBoth Romney and Patrick said no two services have been the same, ranging from strict Catholic Masses to more freewheeling commemorations, but a common denominator has been the families' stoicism and their respect for their relatives' commitment to service.

Romney remembers something else.

"One of the indelible impressions is the sacrifice of the loved ones left behind," he said. "We have always recognized the full measure of devotion a soldier gives with his life, but the measure of the family left behind is no less."

Both governors recalled meeting newlywed wives and, in several cases, new babies who never got to meet a parent. Both remembered tears welling in their eyes amid song or prayer, and eulogies that turned a name into a person -- often the same age as their own children.

"Those stories, they're frequently funny, and they bind you with everybody else there," Patrick said.

Both governors were also struck by the outpouring of public support frequently accompanying a military funeral. Crowds have lined the street for many services, as they did in Swampscott in February for Marine Capt. Jennifer Harris. The 28-year-old Naval Academy graduate died when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq.

Patrick said his own experience with loss and grief explains why he sends each family a handwritten condolence note as a keepsake after such funerals.

"There is a great outpouring right then," he said. "And then there is this vacant feeling that happens, you know, when the arrangements have all been made and done, and the casseroles have all been eaten, and the acknowledgments have all been sent and the relatives have gone back home and to their routines, and all that you are staring at is this routine you used to have that has a big hole in it, and being able to have something -- a note you can read or a card or a phone call or a visit -- in that period, at least in my experience, has been very, very comforting."

[bth: I personally bear witness as I am quoted in the article that both Gov. Romney and Gov. Patrick have attended these funerals with dignity and grace. While their styles differ their presence is felt and appreciated. I praise both of these fine gentlemen for their actions. I know many other families in Massachusetts feel the same.]
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Task Force Iron Horse Memorial Ceremony Sept. 2004 Ft. Hood. Photo by Brian T. Hart

Pakistani make-believe

Pakistani make-believe - The Boston Globe: "THOUGH THE international stakes in Pakistan's stability are high, that country's domestic power struggles remain intensely intramural. It is all too easy for foreigners, and even gullible sectors of the Pakistani public, to be fooled by appearances.

more stories like thisA case in point was the high drama yesterday, when twice-removed prime minister Benazir Bhutto declared she would lead a rally of her Pakistan People's Party against General Pervez Musharraf's state of emergency. The world saw soldiers preventing the march by surrounding her house with barbed wire and rounding up her party's activists. The effect was to make Bhutto look like a brave leader of the opposition to military dictatorship.

The reality is less clear-cut.

The parties involved have spoken openly about American sponsorship of a political deal between Musharraf and Bhutto. A complicating factor in their negotiations is that neither one wants to appear to be the pawn or the favorite of Washington.

Consequently, the two sides are fulfilling elements of the deal while insisting they have not been able to come to terms with each other. Musharraf, after all, had corruption charges dropped against Bhutto, enabling her to return from exile. In return, legislators from her Pakistan People's Party allowed Musharraf to be reelected president last month by the outgoing Parliament, despite a constitutional prohibition against one person simultaneously holding the positions of army chief and president.

The elegance of their unacknowledged understanding is that each still holds a card of great value to the other. Musharraf needs Parliament to accept the legitimacy of his election by the previous federal and provincial assemblies. This is a favor Bhutto may eventually be able and willing to grant. And for Bhutto ever to regain the office she covets, Musharraf will have to undo the constitutional ban prohibiting anyone from serving more than two terms.

The fact that Bhutto was allowed to speak on government television yesterday, denying that she has been talking directly to Musharraf and demanding that he end the state of emergency, suggests that the two sides are continuing to coordinate their actions. She is leaving the door open for Musharraf to remain in power; he is protecting her from suicidal assassins while giving her a platform to appear the people's democratic champion.

This is a political shadow play. Many Pakistanis know that Bhutto's family and entourage presided over egregiously corrupt and incompetent governments, and that Musharraf's military cronies have been placed in key business sinecures from which they control a large swath of Pakistan's economy.

Amid all this intrigue, the current prime minister, the apolitical former Citibank executive Shaukat Aziz, has fostered stunning economic growth in the last few years, without the corruption of his predecessors. His stewardship comes much closer to the ideals of competence, transparency, and accountability than to Bhutto's penchant for feudal privilege or Musharraf's for Napoleonic authoritarianism. Whatever the outcome of the Bhutto-Musharraf shadow play, Pakistan needs the kind of good governance it has had from Aziz

[bth: nothing is as it seems in Pakistani politics. I feel we have no friends there, only certain interests in common. Hopefully one of those interests is catching or killing OBL, but I doubt it. I doubt their sincerity and their competence as they probably doubt ours. An business associate that financed power plants and worked with the World Bank told me that in Pakistan you had to double the cost of the project to pay the graft. There is nothing earnest there, not even the religion which stones its women, peddles heroin and hocks nuclear technology to the highest bidder.]
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Dems Question Latest Anti-War Strategy

Dems Question Latest Anti-War Strategy: "WASHINGTON (AP) - Rank-and-file Democrats expressed heartburn on Friday over their party's latest anti-war strategy, with some members reluctant to coincide a vote to bring troops home with Veterans Day.
The House was on track to consider next week legislation that would give President Bush $50 billion for operations Iraq and Afghanistan but insist that he begin withdrawing troops.

The measure identifies a goal of ending combat by December 2008, leaving only enough soldiers and Marines behind to fight terrorists, train Iraqi security forces and protect U.S. assets.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed off plans for a Friday vote after caucus members told her late Thursday they weren't sure they would support it. Liberal Democrats said the proposal was too soft, while conservative members told Pelosi they thought it went too far.

"I think the message in the next week ought to be that a heck of a lot of people have been harmed (in combat) and we ought to take care of them," said Rep. Gene Taylor, a conservative Mississippi Democrat who says his constituents mostly support the war.

Rep. John Murtha, chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said the vote was delayed because leadership was not satisfied it would pass. The proposal—which also includes a provision that would effectively ban waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques and restrict troop deployments—might be tweaked to address member concerns, he added.

But one guarantee, Murtha said, is that Bush will have to accept some timetable on troop withdrawals if he wants the money.

"I don't think you'll see the House pass anything without restrictions," said Murtha, D-Pa.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Thursday that Bush would again veto any legislation that sets an "artificial timeline" for troop withdrawals.

"We should be supporting our troops as they are succeeding, not finding ways to undercut their mission," he said.

Pelosi, D-Calif., told members in a private caucus meeting on Thursday that if Bush rejected the measure, she did not intend on sending him another war spending bill for the rest of the year.

"It's a war without end," Pelosi, D-Calif., later told reporters. "There is no light at the end of the tunnel. We must reverse it."

The bill is similar to one rejected by Bush in May. Unable to muster the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto, Democrats stripped the timetable from the bill and approved a $95 billion emergency spending bill, mostly for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The measure established political goals for the Iraqi government and put conditions on reconstruction aid, but Bush ultimately retained authority over the money, which ran out this fall.

Several anti-war liberals said Thursday they were willing to swing behind the measure, so long as it came with strings attached.

"The American people want out," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. "And we have to make sure we take giant steps in that direction."

If approved by the House, the Senate also might take up the measure next week.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he did not want to approve a spending measure for Iraq unless it forced a change in Bush's policies. When asked whether that was possible, considering the thin majority Democrats hold in the Senate, Reid said it "is up to the White House and up to the Republicans."

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Democrats face "unfortunate timing" because of the military progress being made in Iraq.

"While our troops are quelling violence and defeating terrorists in Baghdad and throughout Iraq, Democrats in Washington are trying to choke off funds for our troops in the field," he said.

[bth: this whole discussion is going to get ugly and mean. How we can ever fight a war and each other at the same time escapes me. I have concluded that two rules guide me well: (1) is this good for a PFC or Lance Corporal and (2) is this fight worth your son's life? If the answers are yes then the decisions are easy. If the answer if is no, then act accordingly.]

Ron Paul and the anti-war Republicans

Gulfnews: Ron Paul and the anti-war Republicans: "The Republican presidential field thinned last week with the withdrawal of Kansas Senator Sam Brownback. The weekend brought yet another candidates' debate as well as an opportunity for GOP hopefuls to parade before a convention of "values-oriented voters" and proclaim their loyalty to the Christian right.

But the question that has begun to intrigue me is whether the Republicans may have misread the country as a whole on the most important issue facing us: Iraq.

GOP rhetoric almost universally accepts the Bush administration's view of the war: Iraq as the central front in a "generational" global war against terrorism in general and "Islamo-fascism" (a term that manages the striking trick of being misleading, incendiary and slightly ridiculous all at the same time) in particular.

Make no mistake: there are a lot of Americans out there who buy into the idea that we must fight and defeat the "Islamo-fascists" "over there" to prevent their "following us home".

But are the Republicans right in believing such voters constitute a decisive majority not just of their party but of the electorate as a whole?

This question is important because it touches on one of the most basic rules of running for president: to win the Democratic or Republican nomination a candidate must play to the more extreme factions of each party's base.

Once nominated conventional wisdom says a candidate needs to move toward the centre in anticipation of the general election.

Senator Hillary Clinton has been using a variation on this logic over the last few weeks. Now enjoying, according to most polls, she is establishing her credentials for toughness by voting to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guards a "terrorist organisation" and refusing to commit herself to any far-reaching withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

It is a strategy designed to emphasise the senator's "inevitability" as nominee and, in turn, to get people to think of her as a potential president rather than a mere senator seeking higher office. Whether this represents brilliant and far-sighted tactical thinking or suicidal hubris we won't know until sometime in February or March.

But where Clinton seeks to sound presidential by both denouncing the war and indicating her willingness to continue it if necessary, all of the Republicans but one are convinced that leadership lies in taking as hard a line as possible.

Thus does Mitt Romney call for doubling the size of Guantanamo while Rudy Giuliani claims that any talk of pulling out of Iraq shows that the Democrats' are soft. When it comes to the war in Iraq conventional wisdom holds that Republicans want no talk of withdrawal or compromise - only of victory and the stomach to see our way through to it.

But do they?

A month spent driving across the country this summer reminded me that there are still a lot of people who see supporting the war and the president as something close to requirements of citizenship.

But it also brought encounters with lifelong Republicans who say they will call themselves "independent" until the present bunch clears out of the White House.

People like this have few places to go. They are unwilling to vote for a Democrat - any Democrat - but see in their party only a commitment to more endless war.

That is why the quirky Texas congressman Ron Paul is the Republican to watch in the coming weeks.

Make no mistake, Paul is not going to be the Republican nominee, let alone the president of the US. But as the only GOP candidate who denounces the Iraq War as an arrogant, ill-planned bad-idea-from-the-word-'go' he is a potential lightening rod for voters who define their Republicanism through something beyond blind support for the war.

Paul's message differs from his rivals in other ways. He is a libertarian who opposes most government spending on principle. In this he is closer to the leave-me-alone types who dominate talk radio than to the conservative ideologues the other candidates are so eager to line up.

Paul raised $5 million in the third quarter of the year. This put him far behind the "money primary" leaders Romney and Giuliani. It even put him a bit behind the faltering campaign of John McCain.

But Paul's campaign is a low-budget operation in which $5 million will go a long, long way. It is a fair bet that he will still be around to annoy his party's leadership long after the field has thinned to leave only two or three serious contenders.

The question the people who run the Republican party need to be asking themselves is what all that money flowing into Paul's coffers says about their base and what it really thinks about the idea of an open-ended "generational" war against a tactic.

The answer may not be as obvious as they appear to think.

Gordon Robison is a journalist and consultant based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has lived in and reported on the Middle East for two decades, including assignments in Baghdad for both CNN and Fox News

[bth: The federal government has actually got to work. People can tolerate big government, they can tolerate small government, but most of all they want effective government. They want it to work. If it doesn't work, if it encroaches on their civil liberties - taps their phones, peaks in their bedrooms, if it lies - Iraq, WMD, torture, if it fails to function - Katrina, vehicular armor and Walter Reed, if it's lost the pubic trust - Rumsfeld, Cheney, DeLay, then people don't want it. Democrats and Republicans think they can play the public off against one another for advantage, but what the party hacks are missing is the obvious - that people can conclude they don't need or want the parties or the pony they rode in on. ... we are in a world where younger people now think talking in chat rooms is the same thing as civic involvement -- that going to the mall is equivalent to going to Iraq. People have forgotten what its like to reach out and touch someone - really touch people. So why shouldn't Ron Paul be popular. He asks little of government and less of people who vote for him.]
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كونا : Iraqi Islamic Army kills 18 Qaeda fighters N. Baghdad - الدفاع والأمن - 10/11/2007

كونا : Iraqi Islamic Army kills 18 Qaeda fighters N. Baghdad - الدفاع والأمن - 10/11/2007: "An Iraqi insurgent group has killed 18 Qaeda fighters in Iraq and captured 16 others in clashes in Salahuddin province north of Baghdad, a police source said on Saturday.

Fierce clashes erupted on Friday afternoon between militants from the Islamic Army, a major Sunni Arab insurgent group, and Qaeda network fighters in Banat Al-Hassan village near Samarra City, some 120 km north of Baghdad, the source told KUNA on condition of anonymity.

Clashes went on for several hours and resulted in the killing of 18 Qaeda fighters and the capturing of 16 others, along with the seizing of weapons and six vehicle, the source said.

The source did not say whether there was any casualty among Islamic Army members, who believed to have joined the U.S. and Iraqi forces in battling Qaeda fighters earlier this year.

Other security sources claimed that 15 members of the Islamic Army were killed during the fighting.

U.S. and Iraqi security forces did not interfere in the battle between the two sides, the source said, adding that the 16 captured Qaeda fighters have not been handed over to the government forces, apparently because the Islamic Army wanted to offer a prisoner exchange for some of its members held by Qaeda.

Some Sunni insurgent groups fought Qaeda network in the Sunni dominated cities, including Samarra, because of its adherence to a hardline form of Islam and indiscriminate killings against both Shiite and Sunni communities. (end) mhg.gta KUNA 101748 Nov 07NNNN

Americans' thoughts of the war diminish

Top of the Ticket : Los Angeles Times : Americans' thoughts of the war diminish: "An interesting but little-noticed poll came out today from the Pew Research Center that could have some long-term effects on the '08 presidential campaign.

It's not about voters and their genders and favorite candidate and their negative ratings. It's about the average citizen's interest in certain news stories. Public interest in news of the Iraq war has plummeted.

On Jan. 12-15, for instance, 55% of Americans said the war was the first news story that came to mind, way far ahead of some kidnapped boys in Missouri (7%) and winter weather (5%). This month, on Nov. 2-5, only 16% named the Iraq conflict as the first story, only slightly ahead of California wildfires (13%) and the presidential campaign (10%).

Speaking of the presidential campaign, the Iraq war was supposed to be a major weight around the neck of every Republican and a huge bonus for Democrats. It still is the major issue for the Democratic left and those candidates continue to talk about withdrawal while Congressional Democrats, who appear largely to have given up on forcing President Bush to withdraw, still are trying various legislative strategies to show their constituency they're trying.

But for most of the country, Pew finds, the war is drawing less interest as well as less media coverage, which may well be linked. Additionally, much of the war news that does appear is much more encouraging about allied successes on the ground and diminished monthly casualties.

At this rate of melting, the Iraq war issue may well not help the Democrats much in the general electorate during the long months of the 2008 campaign. So what will take its place? The economy? (Bad for Republicans.) Gas prices? (The same.) National security? Say, there's a terrorist attack or a thwarted one?

Americans haven't elected a sitting legislator as president in 47 years. And four of the last five elected presidents have been governors. The fifth one was a sitting vice president.

--Andrew Malcolm

[bth: out of sight out of mind. Fundamentally the issue is that it's not their kids that are sent to war - at least that's the case for 99% of Americans.]
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Roses Of Picardy

FRANK SINATRA lyrics - Roses Of Picardy:
"She is watching by the poplars,
Colinette with the sea-blue eyes,
She is watching and longing, and waiting
Where the long white roadway lies,
And a song stirs in the silence,
As the wind in the boughs above,
She listens and starts and trembles,
'Tis the first little song of love.

Roses are shining in Picardy,
In the hush of the silver dew,
Roses are flow'ring in Picardy,
But there's never a rose like you!
And the roses will die with the summertime,
And our roads may be far apart,
But there's one rose that dies not in Picardy,
'Tis the rose that I keep in my heart

And the years fly on forever,
Till the shadows veil their skies,
But he loves to hold her little hands,
And look into her sea-blue eyes,
And she sees the road by the poplars,
Where they met in the bygone years,
For the first little song of the roses,
Is the last little song she hears:

Roses are shining in Picardy,
In the hush of the silver dew,
Roses are flow'ring in Picardy,
But there's never a rose like you!
And the roses will die with the summertime,
And our roads may be far apart,
But there's one rose that dies not in Picardy,
'Tis the rose that I keep in my heart

This little 5 year old is on the terror watch list. His parents found out when they tried to fly him to Disney World. You'd think assigning a few people to sort through their damned list and clean it up would be worth the money. What is wrong with our government that it fails to function in a competent manner? Was it always like this or is it falling apart?
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Home of the Brave -- Ambush brought out Navy officer's best > News > Military > Home of the Brave -- Ambush brought out Navy officer's best: "Navy Lt. j.g. Bradley Pate thought he was finished.
Taliban fighters had ambushed the convoy of his humanitarian-aid team in an Afghan mountain pass, wounding half of the 30-member group Nov. 2, 2006.

Pate and the remaining team hunkered down that night, waiting for the next battle. As the sun rose, a mortar shell exploded in the middle of its encampment. Pinned down by rifle and mortar fire, Pate heard the screams of bleeding troops around him.

Then he spotted a badly wounded Air Force captain lying in the open. Pate raced out and dragged the captain to relative safety next to an armored Humvee.

Pate wrapped the captain's head with bandages while directing fire against enemy positions. A relief unit arrived later, allowing him to make it back to his base – and the rest of his team – alive.

“They were hugging us. They didn't know if we were going to get out,” Pate recalled almost a year later. “It was definitely a good experience to have walked away from.”

To honor Pate's service during his yearlong tour in Afghanistan – including his courage on that mountain – the military awarded him a Bronze Star. Pate received the medal in September in San Diego, where he now is stationed.

He could hardly have envisioned a battle like the one in Dowlet Shah, northeast of Bagram Air Base, when he joined the Navy. But it's the kind of action sailors are seeing more frequently, now that the Navy is using up to 11,000 sailors at any given time for ground roles in the Middle East.

Perhaps ground warfare is in Pate's genes. His father and two uncles served in the Army.

After a year and a half of college, he enlisted in the Navy in 1996 at the urging of his grandfather.

“My grandpa always thought the Navy had a better quality of life,” Pate said. “I wanted to see the world, and I liked the idea of being on the high seas.”

What gradually caught Pate's interest was the idea of winning hearts and minds by rebuilding nations where U.S. forces were at war. He volunteered for a one-year tour with a reconstruction team.

After arriving in Afghanistan in February 2006, Pate plunged into a job that coupled high reward with high risk. The team met daily with local elders and funded construction of new schools, playgrounds and hospitals, frequently in hostile countryside. The death in a car-bombing of two of his teammates that September only underscored the dangers.

On Nov. 2 of that year, Pate's team drove up a mountain to inspect a new district center built with military funds. The convoy encountered gunfire on the way up, but nothing like the ambush they confronted on the way down.

The Taliban's grenades and small-arms fire disabled an Afghan truck and a U.S. Humvee and wounded about half of the team. It's an ironclad rule that U.S. military vehicles must not fall into enemy hands, so the convoy's commanders sought permission to blow up the wrecked Humvee and get out of the dangerous pass in the remaining trucks.

Instead, Pate said, they were ordered to stay and guard it until a tow truck could crawl up the mountain the next morning.

“We thought we were dead,” Pate recalled, anger still in his voice. They just hung us out to dry

His group parked the remaining vehicles in a circle and camped inside, readying for the attack they knew would come. When the mortar hit after dawn, Pate avoided injury only because he and a soldier had walked off to push the Afghan truck over an embankment.

The Taliban attack continued even after reinforcements came. Pate and the other survivors managed to straggle back to their base.

Three months later, Pate wound up his deployment and was sent to the San Diego-based destroyer Benfold as an electronics warfare officer working on ballistic-missile defense.

Pate said he harbors no regrets about the civil affairs work he found so rewarding, but sometimes feels guilty to be among the few who escaped the mountain ambush uninjured.

“It was two days I don't want to relive,” he said.

[bth: my hat off to this Lt. and his men. What I find disturbing is that this entire ambush and the casualties that followed was because some asshole ordered them to recover and not to destroy a damaged US vehicle. For crying out loud, an M1114 can be bought new for $225K. How much is half the unit being wounded worth?]

New Law May Spell End To Iraq Contractors

New Law May Spell End To Iraq Contractors, CBS News: Documents Show Iraqi Parliament Considering Ending Immunity For Private Firms - CBS News: "The government of Iraq has notified private security firms their immunity from Iraqi law is about to end, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports.

The title of a letter sent by the interior ministry - and obtained exclusively CBS News - says it all: “Removing the legal immunity.” Until now, security firms like Blackwater have operated under a grant of immunity issued in 2004 by the then-top American in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer.

But the draft of a new law says “all immunities … shall be cancelled."

That law still must be ratified by the Iraqi parliament, and if and when it is, private security firms would almost certainly pull out of Iraq.

There’s no question it’s a disaster if this got passed,” said Carter Andress, one of an estimated 8,500 private security contractors guarding diplomats, convoys and reconstruction sites for the U.S. He is not willing to let his employees be subject to arrest by an Iraqi police force he believes is riddled with corruption and infiltrated by enemy fighters.

“How do we determine in that situation whether or not it's legitimate use of the rule of law or whether or not this is someone trying to kidnap one of us and take advantage of the situation,” he said.

Despite troubles caused by out-of-control contractors American officials say they are indispensible to U.S. operations in Iraq. They're counting on the Iraqi parliament not to ratify the law.

But Andress, who knows first hand the public anger triggered by last September’s infamous Blackwater shooting, is not so sure.

This may be the first law that parliament gets passed,” he said. “Here's one they can all agree upon.”

If the parliament strikes back, the shooting, which left 17 Iraqis dead could end up killing off the entire network of private contractors on which the U.S. depends.

[bth: Maliki's own body guards are Blackwater contractors. ... It's amazing that htis is the only thing that can unify the Iraqi parliament.]
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Friday, November 09, 2007

Dems to Tie Iraq Funds to Withdrawal - Politics on The Huffington Post

Dems to Tie Iraq Funds to Withdrawal - Politics on The Huffington Post: "WASHINGTON — Under pressure to support the troops but end the war, House Democrats said Thursday they would send President Bush $50 billion for combat operations on the condition that he begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.

The proposal, similar to one Bush vetoed earlier this year, would identify a goal of ending combat entirely by December 2008. It would require that troops spend as much time at home as they do in combat, as well as effectively ban harsh interrogation techniques like waterboarding.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had hoped the House would vote as early as Friday on the bill. But late on Thursday, after meeting with liberal Democrats who were concerned the bill was too soft, she decided to put off debate until next week.

In a private caucus meeting earlier in the day, Pelosi told rank-and-file Democrats that the bill was their best shot at challenging Bush on the war. And if Bush rejected it, she said, she did not intend on sending him another war spending bill for the rest of the year.

"This is not a blank check for the president," she said at a Capitol Hill news conference following the caucus meeting. "This is providing funding for the troops limited to a particular purpose, for a short time frame."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush would veto any bill that sets an "artificial timeline" for troop withdrawals.

"We should be supporting our troops as they are succeeding, not finding ways to undercut their mission," he said.

Democrats are in a tight spot. Since taking control of Congress in January, catapulted to power by voters frustrated by the war, they remain unable to pass veto-proof legislation demanding troops leave Iraq. Democrats are split on whether to continue paying for the unpopular war, with many saying Congress must provide the military with the money it needs so long as troops are in harm's way.

Without another spending bill for the war, the Defense Department would have to drain its less urgent accounts to keep the war afloat.

Several anti-war liberals said Thursday they were willing to get behind the measure, so long as Democrats don't send Bush the money anyway if the bill is vetoed.

"What I don't want to do is get on this merry-go-round where we try to end this war and negotiate it down to a blank check," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. "It's time to play hardball."

The $50 billion included in the bill represents about a quarter of the $196 billion requested by Bush. It would finance about four months of combat, Pelosi said.

It also would call on Bush to restrict the mission of U.S. troops. After December 2008, troops left behind in Iraq should be restricted to a narrow set of missions, namely counterterrorism, training Iraqi security forces and protecting U.S. assets, Pelosi said.

Bush rejected a similar proposal in May, and Democrats lacked the votes to override the veto. They eventually relented, sending Bush a $95 billion that financed operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through the summer.

The latest proposal was headed on a similar path, with Republicans immediately sounding their objections.

House Republican Leader John Boehner called the idea "backward and irresponsible" in light of military progress being made in Iraq.

"Our troops need all of the resources Congress can provide to seize upon the tactical momentum they've achieved and eliminate al-Qaida from Iraq's communities once and for all," said Boehner, R-Ohio.

Republicans will likely have other objections to the bill. In addition to setting a timetable for troop withdrawals, the measure was on track to limit the time soldiers and Marines spent in combat in relation to time spent at home. Earlier this year, the Pentagon lobbied against restricting combat tours because they said it would force troops in Iraq now to stay longer.

The new bill also would require all government interrogators rely on the Army's field manual. The Army's manual was updated in 2006 to specifically ban the military from using aggressive interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding.

While the measure was expected to pass the House, some Democrats said they would still reject it because the December 2008 date was nonbinding.

"It doesn't matter if we're voting to send the president $50 billion or $50,000, this Congress should only pass funding bills for Iraq that are used to fully fund the safe and orderly withdrawal of our brave men and women from Iraq, and bring them home to their families," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., a co-chair of the Progressive Caucus.

On Thursday, the House approved $460 billion in annual military spending and $11.6 billion for bomb-resistant vehicles for the war, as well as a stopgap funding measure to keep the rest of the government running through mid-December.

The spending package omits money for combat operations.

Without that money, the Defense Department would have to transfer money from less urgent spending accounts to keep the wars afloat.

Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, said he believes the Army would run out of money entirely by January if Congress does not approve some war money.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he did not want to approve a spending measure for Iraq unless it forced a change in Bush's policies. When asked whether that was possible, considering the razor-thin majority Democrats hold in the Senate, Reid said it "is up to the White House and up to the Republicans."

15,000 want off the U.S. terror watch list -

15,000 want off the U.S. terror watch list - "WASHINGTON — More than 15,000 people have appealed to the government since February to have their names removed from the terrorist watch list that delayed their travel at U.S. airports and border crossings, the Homeland Security Department says.

The complaints have created such a backlog that members of Congress are calling for a speedier appeal system that would help innocent people clear their names so they won't fall under future suspicion. Among those who have been flagged at checkpoints: toddlers and senior citizens with the same names as suspected terrorists on the watch list.

"To leave individuals in this purgatory is un-American," says Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., who says she'll introduce legislation to try to streamline the process.

The Homeland Security Department says it gets about 2,000 requests a month from people who want to have their names cleared. That number is so high that the department has been unable to meet its goal of resolving cases in 30 days, says Christopher White, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, which handles the appeals. He says the TSA takes about 44 days to process a complaint.

In February, the TSA launched the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program, a one-stop shop for people to appeal links to the watch list, which flags anyone with potential ties to terrorism. The list has more than 750,000 names.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., says he will grill officials at a hearing on Thursday. "Given the widespread use of the terrorist watch list, the redress process is of paramount importance," he says.

John Anderson of Minneapolis, who turned 6 on July 4, is among those who have been inconvenienced.

He was first stopped at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in 2004, when his family took him for his first airplane ride to Disney World. "We checked in at the ticket counter, and the woman said in a stern voice, 'Who is John Anderson?' " says his mother, Christine Anderson. "I pointed to my stroller."

Her son is allowed to fly. But because his name is flagged, his family cannot print out a boarding pass for him online and he must check in at the ticket counter so an airline official can see that he's a child.

Christine Anderson says she has tried repeatedly to get her child's name cleared, but she can't find the right forms on the TSA website and none have come in the mail after officials promised to send them. "No one can give any answers to why my son is on the list or really how to get him off," she says.

White says many names will be cleared when the government begins requiring air travelers to provide their birth date. The government won't start collecting that information until next year, he says.

[bth: so after 6 years since 9-11 its hard to imagine a more screwed up system.]

Thursday, November 08, 2007

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AT&T gave feds access to all Web, phone traffic, ex-tech says

Politics | AT&T gave feds access to all Web, phone traffic, ex-tech says | Seattle Times Newspaper: "WASHINGTON — His first inkling that something was amiss came in summer 2002, when he opened the door to admit a visitor from the National Security Agency (NSA) to an AT&T office in San Francisco.

"What the heck is the NSA doing here?" Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician, said he asked himself.

A year or so later, he stumbled upon documents that, he said, show the agency gained access to massive amounts of e-mail, Web search and other Internet records of more than a dozen global and regional telecom providers. AT&T allowed the agency to hook into its network and, according to Klein, many of the other telecom companies probably knew nothing about it.

Klein will be on Capitol Hill today to share his story in the hope it will persuade Congress not to grant legal immunity to telecommunications firms that helped the government in its warrantless anti-terrorism efforts.

Klein, 62, said he may be the only person in a position to discuss firsthand knowledge of an important aspect of the Bush administration's domestic surveillance. He is retired, so he isn't worried about losing his job. He carried no security clearance, and the documents in his possession were not classified, he said. He has no qualms about "turning in," as he put it, the company where he worked for 22 years until he retired in 2004.

"If they've done something massively illegal and unconstitutional — well, they should suffer the consequences," Klein said.

In an interview this week, he alleged that the NSA set up a system that vacuumed up Internet and phone-call data from ordinary Americans with the help of AT&T and without obtaining a court order. Contrary to the government's depiction of its surveillance program as aimed at overseas terrorists, Klein said, much of the data sent through AT&T to the NSA was purely domestic. Klein said he thinks the NSA was analyzing the records for usage patterns and for content.

He said the NSA built a special room in San Francisco to receive data streamed through an AT&T Internet room containing "peering links," or major connections to other telecom providers. Other so-called secret rooms reportedly were constructed at AT&T sites in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose, Calif.

Klein's documents and his account form the basis of one of the first lawsuits filed against the telecom companies after the government's warrantless-surveillance program was disclosed by The New York Times in December 2005.

Claudia Jones, an AT&T spokeswoman, said she had no comment on Klein's allegations. "AT&T is fully committed to protecting our customers' privacy. We do not comment on matters of national security," she said.

The NSA and the White House also declined to comment.

Klein is urging Congress not to block Hepting v. AT&T, a class-action suit pending in federal court in San Francisco, and 37 other lawsuits charging carriers with illegally collaborating with the NSA program. He and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed Hepting v. AT&T in 2006, are urging key lawmakers to oppose a pending White House-endorsed immunity provision that effectively would wipe out the lawsuits. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the measure today.

In summer 2002, Klein was working in an office responsible for Internet equipment when an NSA representative arrived to interview a management-level technician for a special, secret job.

The job entailed building a "secret room" in another AT&T office 10 blocks away, he said. By coincidence, in October 2003, Klein was transferred to that office. He asked a technician about the secret room on the sixth floor, and the technician told him it was connected to the Internet room a floor above. The technician handed him wiring diagrams.

"That was my 'aha' moment," Klein said. "They're sending the entire Internet to the secret room."

The diagram showed splitters glass prisms that split signals from each network into two identical copies. One copy fed into the secret room. The other proceeded to its destination, he said.

"This splitter was sweeping up everything, vacuum-cleaner-style," he said. "The NSA is getting everything. These are major pipes that carry not just AT&T's customers but everybody's."

One of Klein's documents listed links to 16 entities, including Global Crossing, a large provider of voice and data services in the United States and abroad; UUNet, a large Internet provider now owned by Verizon; Level 3 Communications, which provides local, long-distance and data transmission in the United States and overseas; and more familiar names, such as Sprint and Qwest. It also included data exchanges MAE-West and PAIX, or Palo Alto Internet Exchange, facilities where telecom carriers hand off Internet traffic to each other.

"I flipped out," he said. "They're copying the whole Internet. There's no selection going on here. Maybe they select out later, but at the point of handoff to the government, they get everything."

Qwest has not been sued because of media reports last year that said the company declined to participate in an NSA program to build a database of domestic phone-call records out of concern that it may have been illegal. What the documents show, Klein said, is that the NSA apparently was collecting several carriers' communications, probably without their consent.

Another document showed that the NSA installed in the room a Narus semantic traffic analyzer, which Klein said indicated the NSA was doing content analysis.

Steve Bannerman, Narus' marketing vice president, said the NarusInsight system can track a communication's origin and destination, as well as its content. He declined to comment on AT&T's use of the system.

Klein said he went public after President Bush defended the NSA's surveillance program as limited to collecting phone calls between suspected terrorists overseas and people in the United States. Klein said the documents show that the scope was much broader.

Details on other secret sites were provided by The Seattle Times archives.

[bth: our constitutional rights have been sold out. The idea of unwarranted search and seizure goes back to ancient English law when the crown read subjects' mail. We can't allow our constitutional rights to be rolled back by centuries.]
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FBI: Terrorists Moving Toward Greater Use of WMDs, Attacks on Soft Targets - Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party | Political Spectrum - FBI: Terrorists Moving Toward Greater Use of WMDs, Attacks on Soft Targets - Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party | Political Spectrum: "WASHINGTON — Radical Islamists who have been stymied in efforts to hit traditional military and diplomatic targets are increasingly eyeing so-called "soft targets," and could be moving toward greater use of chemical and biological weapons, reads a new terrorism threat report released by the FBI on Wednesday

The 68-page report, called "Terrorism 2002-2005" and obtained by FOX News, offers some information already known to the public but also provides details of new trends.

For instance, the report says Al Qaeda is looking increasingly at targeting market places, subways and other civilian sites. Those attacks are increasingly being carried out by trainees who set out to pursue their own regional agendas.

The review — only the second report of its kind compiled by the FBI since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks — states that the threat of terrorism is expected to continue from both international and domestic sources. Internationally, two trends are taking place, the report reads.

"First is a preference for high-casualty, high-profile attacks directed against lower-risk, unofficial, so-called soft targets, as traditional military and diplomatic targets become increasingly hardened," states the report. "Second, the dissolution of much of Al Qaeda's structure by international military and law enforcement efforts has resulted in the dispersal of its multi-national trainees to pursue their own regional agendas."

The latest evidence of this trend was demonstrated Tuesday in the arrest of 20 people across Europe accused of recruiting suicide bombers. Italian police who led the investigation said the recruits were being trained to go into Afghanistan and Iraq; investigators found explosives, detonation devices, various poisons and manuals on guerrilla warfare.

On Wednesday, U.S. Lt. Gen. Carter F. Ham at the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed that an increasing number of suicide bombings is occurring in Afghanistan. He said Taliban and foreign fighters who have recently entered the country are reverting to terrorist attacks because larger scale operations have not been successful.

In another portion of the report, the top U.S. law enforcement agency also finds that the biggest threat from weapons of mass destruction are smaller, easier to manipulate chemical, biological and radiological weapons, rather than nuclear technology

"The use of WMD against civilian targets represents the most serious potential international and domestic terrorism threat facing the United States today and provides a glimpse into emerging terrorist scenarios of the 21st century. A variety of intelligence reporting indicates that Al Qaeda has energetically sought to acquire and experiment with biological, chemical, and radiological weapons of mass destruction," the report reads.

"Ricin and the bacterial agent anthrax are emerging as the most prevalent agents involved in WMD investigations," the report continues.

The report cites a series of arrests in the United Kingdom and elsewhere involving Ricin

FOX News' Catherine Herridge and Ian McCaleb contributed to this report.
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Report: 14 percent of Iraqis now displaced

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 11/06/2007 | Report: 14 percent of Iraqis now displaced: "WASHINGTON — The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction offered a generally optimistic picture of security developments in Iraq in his quarterly report to Congress on Tuesday, but noted that while violence was down, one of every seven Iraqis — 14 percent of Iraq's population — is now displaced by the war.

The report said that electricity production in Iraq reached its highest level since early 2003, in part because insurgent attacks on power-lines and repair crews have declined. Corruption, however, remains a major problem, the report said.

The deaths of 72 civilian contractors working on U.S.-funded projects in Iraq were reported to the U.S. Department of Labor during the third quarter of the year, a 22 percent increase over the average of previous quarters, the report said.

The deaths brought to 1,073 the number of civilians working on U.S.-funded projects who've died in Iraq since the war there began, the report said. The report did not say how the 72 died.

Private companies with U.S. contracts are required to report any deaths to the Department of Labor under U.S. regulations.

The report, which was released on the same day Special Inspector General Stuart Bowen testified before a congressional subcommittee, also said that the number of mortar and rocket attacks on the Green Zone in Baghdad during the quarter had declined to the lowest levels in a year. But mortar and rocket attacks on Camp Victory, where the U.S. military is headquarters, increased during the same period. Attacks there killed one person on Sept. 11 and two people on October 11, the report said.

Neil Bush's Firm Under Federal Scrutiny - Politics on The Huffington Post

Neil Bush's Firm Under Federal Scrutiny - Politics on The Huffington Post: "WASHINGTON — The Education Department's inspector general says he will review whether federal money is inappropriately being spent on programs by a company founded by Neil Bush, the president's brother.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a Washington-based watchdog group, called for the inquiry and released a letter this week from the department's inspector general, John Higgins Jr.

In it, Higgins said he would ask an assistant to examine the group's complaint.

The group contends school districts inappropriately are using federal dollars for Ignite! Learning Inc. programs. It says there is no proof the company's products are effective and claims the schools are using the products due to political considerations...

[bth: this is the same company that he raised money for just after 9-11 by going to the middle east and getting it from the Saudi families (soon after their relatives were flown out of the US) and he raised money from eastern european mafia types. This whole situation stinks to high heaven.]
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America To Democrats: Get Aggressive On Iraq - Politics on The Huffington Post

America To Democrats: Get Aggressive On Iraq - Politics on The Huffington Post: "Greg Sargent at TPM Election Central tips us off to a key passage in a new Pew poll, titled "More Favor Dems Getting Tougher on Iraq":

The proportion of Americans saying Democratic leaders in Congress are not going far enough in challenging President Bush's Iraq policies has been increasing fairly steadily since March, when 40% expressed this view; the October figure is 47%. The remainder of the public is divided over whether Democratic leaders have gone too far (21%) or have taken an approach that is about right (23%).

The poll notes that while just 31% approve of Congress' job performance (down 10 points since February), "most Americans (54%) say that they are happy that the Democrats won control of Congress in last year's elections. That represents a modest decline since last November, but positive views of the Democratic congressional victory have remained stable since March. At least in part, this reflects the fact that Republican leaders are blamed about as often as Democratic leaders for Congress' lack of productivity."

[bth: Democrats either have to be part of the solution or part of the problem.]
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Troops cheat on brain-injury tests to stay with units -

Troops cheat on brain-injury tests to stay with units - "WASHINGTON "— Troops in Iraq and elsewhere have tried to avoid being pulled out of combat units by cheating on problem-solving tests that are used to spot traumatic brain-injury problems, military doctors say.

New versions of the tests were sent into Iraq late last month to prevent the cheating, says Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Jaffee of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center in Washington, D.C.

"With highly motivated individuals, be they athletes, be they our servicemembers in harm's way, there is a motivation to stay with the unit and stay on the job or stay in the game," he says.

The tests, administered by medics in the field, are the military's primary means of uncovering subtle signs of brain injuries from exposure to blasts.

Reports of cheating began surfacing in Iraq during the summer, says Col. Brian Eastridge, a trauma surgeon who supervises medical care in Iraq and Afghanistan from his office in Baghdad....

[bth: Richenbocher (sp?) from WWI cheated on his eye exam. Does this surprise people? They are motivated and don't want to leave their friends behind.]

Pentagon Forbids Marine to Testify

Free Article - "WASHINGTON The Bush administration blocked a Marine Corps lawyer from testifying before Congress today that severe techniques employed by U.S. interrogators derailed his prosecution of a suspected al Qaeda terrorist.

The move comes as the administration seeks to tamp down concerns about detainee policies that flared up after attorney general-designate Michael Mukasey declined to tell senators whether he believes that waterboarding, or simulated drowning of prisoners, constitutes torture. The debate has focused on whether severe interrogation practices, some of which critics consider to be torture, are legal, moral or effective....

Militant Group Is Out of Baghdad, U.S. Says

Militant Group Is Out of Baghdad, U.S. Says - New York Times: "BAGHDAD Nov. 7 — American forces have routed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Iraqi militant network, from every neighborhood of Baghdad, a top American general said today, allowing American troops involved in the “surge” to depart as planned

Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commander of United States forces in Baghdad, also said that American troops had yet to clear some 13 percent of the city, including Sadr City and several other areas controlled by Shiite militias. But, he said, “there’s just no question” that violence had declined since a spike in June.

“Murder victims are down 80 percent from where they were at the peak,” and attacks involving improvised bombs are down 70 percent, he said.

General Fil attributed the decline to improvements in the Iraqi security forces, a cease-fire ordered by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, the disruption of financing for insurgents, and, most significant, Iraqis’ rejection of “the rule of the gun.”

[bth: this is probably a case of just declaring victory and going home, but even if that's the case, I think I'll take it.]
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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Mukasey one step closer to becoming second Jewish AG in U.S. history

Mukasey one step closer to becoming second Jewish AG in U.S. history - Haaretz - Israel News: "Michael "Mukasey is one step closer to becoming only the second Jewish attorney general in United States history, after the Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to advance his nomination to the Senate floor.

The decision virtually ensured his confirmation before the end of the month.

Mukasey has been ensnarled in bitter controversy over waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique used in interrogations. The 11-8 vote came after two key Democrats accepted his vow to enforce any law Congress might enact against the method.

Mukasey, a 66-year-old retired federal judge and Modern-Orthodox Jew from New York, graduated from Columbia University in 1963. He later received a degree in law from Yale. If his nomination is approved, Mukasey will become the second Jew in U.S. history to preside as attorney general.

The first Jewish U.S. attorney general, Edward Hirsch Levi, was appointed to the post is 1975, with the task of restoring the federal justice department's greatly diminished status following the Watergate affair.

Mukasey was appointed to the bench in 1987 by the late Republican president Ronald Reagan. He retired last year and opened a private law firm.

The nomination of Mukasey to replace Alberto Gonzales as the chief U.S. law enforcement official now goes to the Senate floor where a vote is expected before the end of the month.

Gonzales resigned two months ago in the midst of congressional investigation over his handling of the dismissal of eight U.S. prosecutors. Democrats said the firings were politically motivated. The dispute mushroomed into doubts about the credibility of Gonzales, a longtime friend and adviser to President George W. Bush.

Mukasey's nomination represents a victory for Bush as he heads into his last 14 months in office with a dismal showing in opinion polls over his handling of the Iraq war and other issues.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, who suggested Mukasey to the White House in the first place, countered that the nominee's statements against waterboarding and for purging politics from the Justice Department amount to the best deal Democrats could get from the Bush administration.

"If we block Judge Mukasey's nomination and then learn in six months that waterboarding has continued unabated, that victory will seem much less valuable," he wrote in an op-ed in Tuesday's editions of The New York Times.

However, the Democratic committee chairman, Patrick Leahy called Mukasey's promise disingenuous. "Unsaid, of course, is the fact that any such prohibition would have to be enacted over the veto of this president," said Leahy.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, said her vote for Muksaey's confirmation came down in part to practicality. "If Mukasey's nomination were killed," she said, "Bush would install an acting attorney general not subject to Senate confirmation and make recess appointments to fill nearly a dozen other empty jobs at the top of Justice."

"I don't believe a leaderless department is in the best interests of the American people or of the department itself," Feinstein said. Bush, she added, "appointed this man because he believes he is mainstream."

Support for Mukasey from Schumer and Feinstein virtually assured the former federal judge the majority vote he needed to be favorably recommended by the 19-member committee.

Many Democrats came out in opposition to Mukasey after he refused to say unequivocally that so-called waterboarding - an interrogation technique that makes the victim believe he is drowning - is tantamount to torture and thus illegal under domestic and international law.

Mukasey rankled Democrats during his confirmation hearing by saying he was not familiar with the waterboarding technique and could not say whether it was torture.

Even Sen. Arlen Specter, the panel's ranking Republican, called that explanation a flimsy excuse and suggested instead that Mukasey declined to call waterboarding illegal torture because he wanted to avoid putting at legal risk U.S. officials who may have engaged in the practice.

But Specter said that outlawing waterboarding rests with Congress. He disclosed that he had talked with Mukasey a day earlier and received an assurance that the nominee would back up any such legislation and quit if Bush ignores his opinion.

Thus, Specter said, Mukasey had won his support.

Legal experts cautioned that if Mukasey called it torture, that effectively could have constituted an admission that the United States engaged in war crimes. It could also commit him to prosecuting U.S. officials even before he takes office.

[bth: so did Schumer, Feinstein and Specter throw the vote? Mukasey shouldn't be appointed based on his waffling on torture and water boarding. This isn't an ambiguous issue but one that gets right down to what is involved in being a nation of laws.]
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Turkish-Bred Prosperity Makes War Less Likely in Iraqi Kurdistan - New York Times

Turkish-Bred Prosperity Makes War Less Likely in Iraqi Kurdistan - New York Times: "DOHUK , Iraq, Nov. 6 — Viewed from the outside, Iraqi Kurdistan looks close to war. Tens of thousands of Turkish troops are amassed on the border. And thousands of Iraqi Kurdish pesh merga fighters have taken up positions in the Mateen Mountains, ready for a counterattack, their local commanders say, should any Turkish operation hit civilians.

But wander the markets and byways here and a different reality comes into view, helping to explain why, despite bellicose Turkish threats, an all-out armed conflict may be less likely than is widely understood: the growing prosperity of this region is largely Turkish in origin.

In other words, while Turkey has been traditionally wary of the Kurds of Iraq, it is heavily invested here, an offshoot of its own rising wealth. Iraqi Kurdistan is also a robust export market for Turkish farmers and factory owners, who would suffer if that trade were curtailed.

Moreover, the Kurds’ longstanding fear of dominance by other powers now seems to be colliding with modest yet growing material comfort for some urban Kurds that was unthinkable not long ago, and has come on the back of Turkish investment, consumer goods and engineering expertise.

About 80 percent of foreign investment in Kurdistan now comes from Turkey. In Dohuk, the largest city in northwestern Kurdistan, the seven largest infrastructure and investment projects are being built by Turkish construction companies, said Naji Saeed, a Kurdish government engineer who is overseeing one project, a 187-room luxury hotel with a $25 million price.

Some of the projects, including overpasses, a museum and the hotel, are financed or owned by the Kurdistan Regional Government, Mr. Saeed said, underscoring the direct financial partnership. Turkish investors are also building three large housing projects, including a $400 million venture that will feature 1,800 apartments as well as a health clinic, school, gas station and shopping center.

At the construction site for a 15-story office building in central Dohuk, all of the engineers and managers are Turkish, as are dozens of laborers. “There are not any Kurdish engineers for a big project like this,” Ahmed Shahin, the Turkish engineering manager, said.

Since the American invasion four years ago, Dohuk has had a burst of consumerism, also thanks largely to Turkey. At the upscale Mazi Supermarket, rows and rows of Turkish-made glassware, shoes, cleaning supplies, beauty products and frozen chickens are for sale. Sixty percent of Mazi’s products are from Turkey, Sherwan Jamil. a store manager, said. Many other products are imported through the Turkish border crossing at Zakho.

Turkish things are the best, better than Syria and Iran,” said Shamiran Eshkery, 34, as she shopped for shoes. “We don’t have any problem with Turkish food and clothing, but we are upset because we don’t want to fight.”

Indications are growing that Turkish officials do not want a large battle, either. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested in Washington this week that military operations in Iraq would be narrowly concentrated on guerrillas from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., who use the jagged mountain border frontier as a haven after attacks in Turkey.

“We have taken the decision to pursue an operation,” Mr. Erdogan said Monday through an interpreter at the National Press Club. “We are not seeking war,” he added, but offered no specifics or timing.

His battle is largely one of perception, trying to convince the Turkish public that he is acting against the Kurdish guerrillas and that he has United States support to do so. But most analysts in Turkey expect any attack to be limited. Whatever the case, Mr. Erdogan’s visit seemed to satisfy the Turkish public. Daily newspapers on Tuesday shouted headlines like, “Green Light to the Operation.” Hard-line nationalists expressed disappointment, but on talk shows, most seemed to welcome the result.

“People are probably giving the government the benefit of the doubt at the moment,” said Ilter Turan, a political science professor at Istanbul Bilgi University. “Most are relieved that no major operation will start on Iraq.”

But if a large attack were to occur, Turkish soldiers would encounter thousands of Kurdish pesh merga fighters who have formed a loose sort of Maginot defensive line that parallels the Turkish border along the ridges of the Mateen Mountains. Kurdish leaders speak only generally about repelling an invasion, but political and military commanders here have specific instructions: Attacks on civilian villages will draw a fierce counterattack.

“If the civilians face any problems, that is our 100 percent red line,” Muhammad Muhsen, a regional leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party office in Amedi, said in a recent interview, before Kurdish authorities prohibited local commanders from discussing the conflict with Turkey. Amedi anchors a large border region where fighters are camped on south-facing slopes as trucks bring pesh merga and weapons up curvy roads.

Mr. Muhsen expressed a common fear among Kurdish commanders, that the Turkish military wants to use recent guerrilla attacks as an excuse to damage the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq. “Turkey doesn’t even want to say the name Kurdistan,” he said. “How would it ever accept Kurdistan as an independent nation?

Yet years of fighting the P.K.K., have made for strange bedfellows, especially in Bamarni, a village north of Dohuk. In the mid-1990s the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the dominant power in western Kurdistan, allowed the Turkish military to occupy several bases on the Iraqi side of the border, when both were fighting the P.K.K. The Turks now have about 1,500 soldiers at these bases, said a senior American military official in Baghdad who was not authorized to speak for the record.

In Bamarni, Kurdish pesh merga fighters are now stationed at a camp beside a Turkish air base that is home to dozens of tanks and armored vehicles. Turkish soldiers routinely dash out in gun trucks to deliver food to soldiers operating tanks that oversee the air base. They also buy supplies at local shops, said Ahmed Saeed, a local political official at a Kurdish outpost nearby.

“They have no obstacles to going to the market,” said Mr. Saeed, who estimated that as many as 400 Turkish soldiers and 50 tanks were at the base. The pesh merga never have problems with the soldiers, he said. But if heavy fighting breaks out he is not sure what to expect. “If they surrender themselves to us, then we will not kill them, because we are peaceful,” he said.

Sabrina Tavernise contributed reporting from Istanbul, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Iraqi Kurdistan.

[bth: economic co-dependence may be one of the keys to preserving peace in the region. We should be using it as a cost effective tool toward commonsense.]

Who Will Probe 'Noncombat' Deaths in Iraq?

Who Will Probe 'Noncombat' Deaths in Iraq?: "Who Will Probe 'Noncombat' Deaths in Iraq?
About 20% of the U.S. deaths in Iraq are officially labeled "noncombat," and that number has been surging. This includes accidents, friendly fire and well over 120 suicides. But the government, and the media, seem reluctant to expose the tragedy, argues vets leader Paul Rieckhoff.

By Greg Mitchell

NEW YORK (November 06, 2007) -- Pretty much alone in the media, E&P for weeks had been charting a troubling increase in non-combat deaths among U.S. troops in Iraq. So it came as no surprise recently when the Pentagon announced that it would probe the perplexing trend. Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, operations director of the Joint Staff, said commanders in Iraq were concerned enough about the spike in non-combat deaths -- from accidents, illness, friendly-fire or suicide -- that it had asked for an assessment by an Army team.

According to Pentagon figures, 29 soldiers lost their lives in August for non-hostile reasons, and another 23 died of non-combat causes in September. Compare that with the average for the first seven months of this year: fewer than nine per month. The spike has coincided with extended 15-month deployments, one senior military official said.

The military officially counts about 20% of the nearly 3900 U.S. fatalities in Iraq as "noncombat." It has officially confirmed 128 suicides in Iraq since 2003, with many others under investigation (and still more taking place on the return home).

Lt. Gen. Ham said morale remains high, but added, "I think there is a general consensus ... that for the Army, 15 months is a long hard tour. It's hard on the soldiers."

As I've noted repeatedly, the military releases little news to the press when a service member dies from a non-hostile cause, beyond saying it is "under investigation." When that probe ends, many months later, the military normally does not tell anyone but family members of the deceased. For more than four years, however, E&P has kept close tabs on non-combat deaths, and nearly every day lately I have combed the Web for details on new cases. Sometimes local newspapers find out about preliminary determinations -- including suicides -- passed along to families. So I checked again today on October casualties Vincent Kamka, Dr. Roselle Hoffmaster, and others.

In doing that a few days ago, I discovered what happened to Cpt. Erik T. Garoutte of Santee, Ca. He was a Marine who died last month at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune he "was exercising when he collapsed. He never regained consciousness."

More tragedy followed: His mother, Donna Stone, also of Santee, had a heart attack after hearing about his death.
The Union-Tribune related that "the family hopes an autopsy will explain what caused Garoutte to die."

But why has the press given this so little attention to noncombat deaths, going back to the early days of the war? Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq vet and now leader of the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, has long shared my concerns and frustration.

Rieckhoff, author of the memoir "Chasing Ghosts," calls this "one of the most under- reported stories of the war. I've been pitching the story to people for over two years. A lot of deaths are taking place under questionable circumstances -- the number would surprise you -- and no one looks at them, in theater or at home. It's a broad research project, and maybe it is not sexy, but it needs to be done."

The Veterans Administration doesn't track the deaths, Rieckhoff says. "I'd like to see a study of how many Iraq vets have died under any circumstance back in this country," he declares. "We have suicide rates tracked in the military, but once they leave it is untraced. We have argued for a national registry, if you have been in the war.

"Nobody has ever taken the step of pulling it all together. I know it would be expensive, time-consuming, and difficult for the media, but it is their responsibility. They did it with body armor, with corruption, now with Blackwater. You could at least do a clustering, like around Fort Bragg -- look at the deaths of all veterans within a 100-mile radius. If we could fund it, we would, but our group is too small."

What is his theory about the recent spike? "We know that our people are under tremendous stress," he replies. "The operational tempo is unprecedented. I met a guy in a bar who has been there eight times. He said, 'Thank God I am young and single.'

"We can push them harder, but is it smart? I don't think it is smart, or is right."

The surge in non-hostile deaths does not mean just suicides, but accidents due to overwork. Soldiers don't have a union like police and firemen, Rieckhoff points out. Federal agencies "would have a field day with working conditions," he adds. Why has there been so little coverage? "I know access to the battle zone is an issue," he admits. "And dealing with families is delicate, but you can still handle it sensitively."

But he also cites what he calls a cultural issue: "After World War II, a lot of vets went into media and could navigate the system. Now so few reporters have served. Many don't know the difference between a brigade and a battalion. Also there is fear of how it is going to play in the pro- or anti-war debate. But this is not a partisan issue. Either way -- get to the bottom of this.

"American people don't know a lot about these issues. People abroad ask me, are Americans stupid? I say, 'No, they just aren't told enough.'"

[bth: Paul is absolutely right on this matter.]

Nearly 2.3 mln driven from their homes remain inside Iraq

Khaleej Times Online - Nearly 2.3 mln driven from their homes remain inside Iraq: "BAGHDAD - The Shia militia’s threat came in a typed letter tossed at Mohammed Abdul-Wahab’s door: “Leave this house within 48 hours or you will face death.”

The Sunni government worker did just that - fleeing his ancestral home in a mostly Shia area of Baghdad with his wife and 2-year-old son.

Now, struggling to pay rent higher than his salary, Abdul-Wahab is among the nearly 2.3 million people the Iraqi Red Crescent says have been driven from their neighbourhoods as Iraq is increasingly carved up along sectarian lines.

The number of internally displaced people, or IDPs, has swelled in Iraq since the beginning of 2007, when the group counted less than half a million displaced.

A new report issued Monday by the Iraqi Red Crescent shows the number of IDPs is now greater than the number of Iraqis who have fled the country altogether, seeking refuge in neighbouring states like Syria and Jordan

The rise came despite a sharp drop in bombings, shootings and other violence more than four months after the US completed a 30,000-strong force buildup here. American and Iraqi death tolls have also fallen dramatically.

At least 17 Iraqis were killed or found dead Monday, police and morgue officials said, including a local councilman gunned down in a neighbourhood next his own in western Baghdad.

On average, 56 Iraqis - civilians and security forces - have died each day so far in 2007.
Many residents of Iraq’s sectarian patchwork aren’t waiting for violence to drive them from their homes - they’re fleeing first.

“I didn’t harm anybody, and I don’t know why I was displaced and my house was taken by another family,” said 28-year-old Abdul-Wahab, who fled his Jihad neighbourhood last December.

His house had been in the family for generations. Now, coupled with his wife’s income as a teacher, Abdul-Wahab’s meager government salary _ US$120 (Ð82) per month _ is just enough to rent another house in nearby Amariyah, a Sunni enclave. They have almost no money left for food.

“The two salaries are not enough. We have to buy milk for our baby,” Abdul-Wahab said. “We filled out an application form for displaced people at the immigration ministry, for extra income, but so far we have received nothing.”

More than 60 percent of those forced to flee are in Baghdad, the report said.

Deadly rivalries have forced Shia and Sunni Muslims to flee once diverse neighbourhoods across Iraq’s capital, leaving the city fractured and reassembled with clear boundaries between sects. In some places like Shia-dominated Hurriyah in northwest Baghdad, fighting has subsided because there are literally no more Sunnis left to kill.

The scramble for safety in segregated enclaves was thought to have eased, after anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called a formal cease-fire in August. His militia, the Mahdi Army, was blamed for dozens of bodies turning up on Baghdad’s streets each day _ apparent victims of sectarian murders.

But while the daily body count has dropped dramatically _ three corpses were found Monday in Baghdad _ the Red Crescent said the number of residents displaced from their homes rose 16 percent in the month after al-Sadr’s ceasefire.

About 83 percent of the country’s displaced people are women and children under the age of 12, the organization reported. And many are not able to find permanent housing like Abdul-Wahab was.

“Children do not attend schools and are being sheltered in tents, abandoned government buildings with no water or electricity, mosques, churches, or with relatives,” the report said. “In addition to their plight as being displaced, the majority suffer from disease, poverty and malnutrition.”

Four and a half years after the US-led invasion, the Iraqi government struggles to provide basic services _ water, electricity and access to schools and medical care _ to citizens across the country. Much of Iraq, especially the capital, is beset by violence, crumbling infrastructure and rampant crime, and most humanitarian groups are unable to reach victims who need help.

Some 2,299,425 Iraqis have been driven from their homes but remain inside the country’s borders, according to the Red Crescent’s most recent figures, through Sept. 30.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, some 2 million Iraqis have fled their country. Of these, 1.2 million are in Syria, 750,000 in Jordan, 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran, 40,000 in Lebanon, 10,000 in Turkey and 200,000 in various Persian Gulf countries.

The figures in Monday’s Red Crescent report were tabulated by Red Crescent coordinators and volunteers in all 18 Iraqi provinces. The group says it has 5,000 employees and 95,000 volunteers working at 365 offices around the country

Also Monday, US forces killed five suspects and detained 30 others in raids targeting Al Qaeda in Iraq across central and northern parts of the country, the military said.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi’s office issued a short statement saying 283 detainees were freed from Iraqi and US military prisons over the past week. The release was part of a months-long Iraqi government effort to review files of inmates jailed in American detention facilities inside Iraq, the statement said.

Among those freed Monday were nine followers of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who had spent more than a year at a US prison camp in southern Iraq, according to the director of one of al-Sadr’s Baghdad offices. The official requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

[bth: the US and Iraqi government has been manipulating the stats on displaced persons. That is the logical explanation for the surge in numbers all the sudden. One wonders what other numbers are now being managed. If you assume that a very high percentage of those displaced were Sunni and that they represent about a quarter of the 26 million or so Iraqis, one can see that there has been a tremendous displacement going on with in that population segment.]

ACLU learns of third 'secret' torture memo from Gonzales Justice Department

The Raw Story | ACLU learns of third 'secret' torture memo from Gonzales Justice Department: "Legal papers filed in federal court Monday in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations disclose that the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issued three secret memorandums relating to interrogation practices of detainees -- one more than has been publicly revealed.

The New York Times revealed two memoranda authored in 2005 relating to "harsh interrogation" of prisoners held by the CIA. One explicitly authorized interrogators to use combinations of psychological “enhanced” interrogation practices including waterboarding, head slapping, and stress positions. The second declared that none of the CIA’s interrogation methods violated a law being considered by Congress that outlawed “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment.

More details in a press release sent by the ACLU Tuesday afternoon follow....