Saturday, May 03, 2008

Despite Alert, Flawed Wiring Still Kills G.I.’s - New York Times

Despite Alert, Flawed Wiring Still Kills G.I.’s - New York Times: ..."The"most recent fatality occurred on Jan. 2 in Baghdad, when Staff Sgt. Ryan D. Maseth, a Green Beret, died in a shower after an improperly grounded water pump short-circuited.

Nearly a year earlier, KBR issued a technical report to the contracting agency citing safety concerns related to the grounding and wiring in the building in the Radwaniyah Palace Complex, where Sergeant Maseth’s unit, the Army Fifth Special Forces Group, was housed.

Another soldier said in an interview that he was repeatedly shocked in the shower in December 2007 and submitted requests for repairs. But nothing was done until the day after Sergeant Maseth’s death, when the defense agency ordered KBR to correct the problem, according to Pentagon documents.

Cheryl Harris, Sergeant Maseth’s mother, said in an interview that the Army initially told her that her son had taken an electrical appliance into the shower with him. Later, she said, officials told her that investigators had found electrical wires hanging down around the shower. She said she had been skeptical of both accounts and learned the truth only after repeatedly questioning Army officials.

Her family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against KBR, the only such claim brought in any of the electrical deaths.

“I knew Ryan would not get into a shower with an electrical appliance, and having wires hanging overhead didn’t make sense,” said Ms. Harris, of Cranberry Township, Pa. “My biggest question is really, why would KBR do a safety inspection, know about the electrical problems and not alert the troops?”

‘Car Without a Seat Belt’

Long before Sergeant Maseth’s death, KBR electricians were raising alarms about the dangers of unsafe electrical work at various bases.

In 2006, John McLain was working as a KBR electrician at the United States regional embassy compound in Hilla, south of Baghdad, when he made a disturbing discovery. A KBR quality control inspector had recently cited employees there for failing to file quarterly ground resistance testing logs — reports on whether the electrical wiring in the newly upgraded embassy building was properly grounded and safe for use.

Mr. McLain soon realized that the testing was not being conducted, because the building had never been grounded, though KBR and at least one Iraqi subcontractor were supposed to install proper safeguards during a renovation the previous year. Mr. McLain said he had sent a series of increasingly blunt memos and e-mail warnings about the safety hazards to KBR officials.

“It’s like driving a car without a seat belt,” he explained. “You can get away with it for a while, but eventually it could kill you.”

Mr. McLain said other KBR electricians later created logs that incorrectly made it appear that the grounding system existed. KBR fired him in 2007 after he told a visiting defense contracting agency official about his concerns. His candor proved useless, however. Mr. McLain said that the contracting agency official showed no interest. “He said, ‘I’m not an electrician; I don’t know what you are talking about,’ ”Mr. McLain recalled.

Noris Rogers, who worked for KBR in Afghanistan in 2005, said he repeatedly complained to his supervisors that electrical work at Camp Eggers, the American military’s command base in Kabul, Afghanistan, did not meet the requirements of the company’s Pentagon contract.

And Mr. Bliss, who saw a soldier standing next to him in Qalat, Afghanistan, receive a severe shock from an electrical box that was not supposed to be charged, said his KBR bosses mocked him for raising safety issues. They were “not giving the Army what it needed,” he said, “and not giving the soldiers what they deserved.”

Faith-Based Missile Defense

Faith-Based Missile Defense: "In"an oversight hearing on the US missile defense program last month, Philip Coyle III, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and Director of Operational Test and Evaluation in the Department of Defense from 1994-2001, spoke to the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs about the almost impossible position it's in when it comes to oversight of this $150 billion – and counting – weapons program: "Congress does not have the information it needs to do oversight. If you don't have the information, and the Pentagon just says ‘trust me', you can't really do oversight."

Yesterday on Capitol Hill, Lieutenant General Henry A. "Trey" Obering III, Director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), appeared before the subcommittee for the third in this series of hearings: "Oversight of Missile Defense (Part 3): Questions for the Missile Defense Agency." It seemed the General was there to illustrate Coyle's very point, as evident when Chairman John Tierney tried to gauge how realistic the testing has been for the system which purports to defend the US and Europe from ICBMs. Has the system been tested against even the most basic countermeasures and decoys that we would anticipate from a nation capable of developing such missiles?

"What I can say is we have flown against countermeasures in the past… we will continue to expand that in our future program," Gen. Obering said. "To have this conversation in a genuine fashion I need to go closed."

"I gotta tell you, General, how the American public is supposed to decide on something with this kind of enormity of expense and speculation [about] some of the capabilities is mind-boggling," Rep. Tierney said. "We over-classify so much in this country. Back when the President made the decision that he wanted to try to deploy this inoperable system in 2004, we asked for a General Accountability Office study on this – it was done. There were 50 questions addressed in the study. It came back, and the minute it came back it was classified all of a sudden. And… they don't classify stuff when it's good news around here these days…. I don't think it does a service to the American people at all or to this Congress to keep classifying everything on that basis."

"…. I'm sure, Mr. Chairman, you would not want us to transmit in an open hearing to enemies around the world – Iran and North Korea – any kind of data that they could take advantage of in trying to overcome the system for the future," Gen. Obering replied. "I know you wouldn't want to do that."

"Of course not," Rep. Tierney fired back. "That's a tremendous red herring that we're not even talking about here. What we're talking about is the capacity of the people of this country [who are] spending hundreds of billions of dollars on this system – they ought to know against what it will work and against what it won't work. And I'm not sure that information is going to affect any other country's capacity… but it should affect our decision-making process of how we spend the taxpayers money." ....

[bth: while I'm for a missile shield, evidence suggests that the damned thing doesn't work]

Reaganomics Finally Trickles Down To Area Man | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Reaganomics Finally Trickles Down To Area Man | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "HAZELWOOD"MO—Twenty-six years after Ronald Reagan first set his controversial fiscal policies into motion, the deceased president's massive tax cuts for the ultrarich at last trickled all the way down to deliver their bounty, in the form of a $10 bonus, to Hazelwood, MO car-wash attendant Frank Kellener.

"Back when Reagan was in charge, I didn't think much of him," Kellener, 57, said, holding up two five-dollar bills nearly three decades in the making. "But who would have thought that in 2007 I'd have this extra $10 in my pocket? He may not have lived to see it, but I'm sure President Reagan is up in heaven smiling down on me right now."

Leading economists say Kellener's unexpected windfall provides the first irrefutable proof of the effectiveness of Reagan's so-called supply-side economics, and shows that the former president had "incredible, far-reaching foresight."

"When the tax burden on the upper income brackets is lifted, the rich and not-rich alike all benefit," said Arthur Laffer, who was a former member of Reagan's Economic Policy Advisory Board. "Eventually." ...

Study Finds Link Between Being Struck By Cream Pie, Diminished Social Standing | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Study Finds Link Between Being Struck By Cream Pie, Diminished Social Standing | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "ITHACA"NY—A new study conducted by the Cornell Institute for Behavioral and Social Sciences has found what researchers believe to be a demonstrable link between being struck with a banana cream pie and a sudden, significant drop in one's public standing.

"What we have observed is nothing short of astounding," Dr. Philip Shaw, a human sciences professor at Cornell and the study's lead researcher, said Monday. "By having cream-topped pies forcibly applied to their faces—or kissers—men and women of high regard were seen to immediately fall in both status and esteem."

"Whether the subjects were wealthy shopkeepers, pompous barons of British descent, or matronly women sporting tiny opera glasses—our results were always the same," Shaw added.

The study, which was conducted with the help of 25 dignified members of the aristocracy and three rather clumsy butlers, showed a direct correlation between unexpected contact with the custard-based stimulus and a loss of social stature—including the respect of bystanders, the affections of untold gentlewomen, and any possibility of securing a sizable donation for one's struggling playhouse.

Even more surprisingly, results showed that the drop in standing took place in mere seconds and not over the course of many weeks, as is generally needed for adjusting an individual's hierarchical status...

'You build a school, then find propaganda against you' | World news | guardian.co.uk

'You build a school, then find propaganda against you' | World news | guardian.co.uk: "Walking"into a village on an exposed road overlooked by high ground is no fun. The total absence of children, known to soldiers as a "combat indicator," certainly raises the tension. But the soldiers of Charlie Company had no choice but to carry out their mission: to visit the village of Mangritay in south-east Afghanistan.

This was my first operation this year beyond the bases and combat outposts - outside the wire, as soldiers call it - and I was jumpy as hell. I know from bitter experience that being a journalist, and therefore a non-combatant, makes very little difference once bullets start flying through the air. So, as we walked into the deserted village, I spent a lot more time looking around me, gauging where the best cover from gunfire might be, and a lot less time photographing and filming than I should have.

The fact that everyone bolted into their homes as our unit approached made me nervous, but it seemed to annoy the soldiers more than concern them. The feeling among the soldiers is that that the locals take advantage of the fact that Hamid Karzai last year asked that the military stay out of people's homes.

"Yeah," said Sergeant First Class Adams. "We're not supposed to go in to, well, any buildings uninvited. And pretty much out of respect for the Muslim faith, we're not supposed to go into the mosques. Unless they're shooting at us, then we'll go in." Adams laughs as he says this. He often laughs, and the more grim the situation is, the more he seems to laugh it off.

Earlier in the day, in his role as the leader of the patrol, Adams had given a briefing to his platoon. He told the gathered soldiers: "I only have one reason to go out here, and that is to say, hey, who are the bad guys in your village right now? They're not going to tell us, I'm gonna get kinda mad, and it'll probably be pretty short." His commander, Captain McChrystal, asked him to do his best to get any information from the locals, even though they had so far failed to report any insurgent activity.

Despite the fact that he had been asked to sit down and talk to the elders, Adams summed up his feelings about the mission in a single sentence: "I don't trust the fucking people."

Walking deeper into the village, Adams spots a young man. Invariably, any man between about 14 and 40 is described as "fighting age" and immediately falls under suspicion. Adams calls to the man in Pashto, the lingua franca of this part of Afghanistan. He asks the man to go and fetch the elders. The man rushes off to find them with great haste.

The soldiers of Charlie Company have been in Afghanistan for over a year now and still have around three months to go. "Unless we get extended again," one soldier pointed out to me, referring to the unexpected and forced extension by four months of the 10th Mountain Division in 2007. The fact that they have been here for so long shows in the way they work. Spreading out to secure a perimeter, they make preparations should any attack materialise.

In the meantime, Adams observes the location where just a week earlier eight rockets were launched at his home base in Bermel. The feeling was that the villagers must know something about either the attack or those that had carried it out. While they scanned the ridgeline, the village elder emerged.

"Ah, that's him," cried Adams. "Yeah, fat guy with red beard, that's him." Not a terribly kind description of the man waddling towards him, but accurate, and consistent with the notes he had been given....

[bth: an article worth reading in full as well as examining the attached pictures and video. Kind of interesting that this has to appear in a British paper instead of an American one.]

Spinning Iraq - New York Times

Spinning Iraq - New York Times: "President"Bush will never live down “Mission Accomplished” — and should not. When the White House’s spinners spun that claim five years ago (remember the aircraft carrier?), it seemed cocky and premature. As Mr. Bush continues his $526 billion war-without-end in Iraq, it seems stunningly deceitful

The only mission that needs to be accomplished is an orderly exit from Iraq, and Mr. Bush is no closer to acknowledging that reality. Neither is Senator John McCain. All Congress seems capable of is hand-wringing.

So it is up to Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton to revive the national debate on Iraq — and up the pressure on the White House. While it is clear that Mr. Bush has no intention of coming up with an exit strategy, there are things he could do to give his successor a better chance at containing the chaos after American troops leave.

A rational debate must first recognize that Iraq is still a very dangerous place. An increase in American forces last year initially produced a steep decline in insurgent attacks. But attacks in April killed more than 50 United States troops — the highest death toll for a single month since last September.

Americans also need a full accounting of the American-financed and American-led military training programs in Iraq, and a better explanation of why Iraqi forces remain so weak. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s decision to finally challenge some Shiite militias was a good thing, but it exposed how the Iraqi Army remains unprepared — even now — to fight by itself.

We are encouraged that Mr. Maliki chose to talk to Tehran about its role in arming and financing militias. It is long past time for Iranian leaders to hear directly — and firmly — from their Shiite brethren in Baghdad that such destabilizing behavior must stop. The United States also needs to engage Iran, Syria and all of Iraq’s neighbors. They need to understand that more chaos in Iraq is not in their interest.

It is shocking that the United States and Iraq still have no strategy for dealing with more than 4 million Iraqis who have been driven from their homes; 2.7 million people are internally displaced, and there are another 1.5 million or more refugees in Syria and Jordan. This is not only a question of human suffering. It threatens to spread Iraq’s chaos far beyond its borders.

Both Iraq and the United States must take responsibility. Baghdad, awash in oil profits, must provide more aid to its own people. Washington must provide more aid and allow in many more than the 12,000 refugees it has pledged to accept for this year. We fear that it is unlikely to meet even that meager target.

The list of failings and missions not accomplished doesn’t stop there. Millions of Iraqis still don’t have clean water and medical care, thousands are jobless, the government is still dragging its feet on important reforms like an oil sharing law.

Mr. Bush no longer declares “Mission Accomplished.” Quite the opposite. He has made clear that he will keep troops in Iraq until he leaves office — and then abandon the mess to his successor. The three senators who want his job should insist that he address these problems now.

[bth: fat chance. we have to wait Bush out like a prison sentence]

War and Piece: Gen. Sanchez on Rumsfeld's Operation CYA

War and Piece:: ..."So"what was Rumsfeld doing? Nineteen months earlier, in September 2004, when it was clearly established in the Fay-Jones report that CJTF-7 was never adequately manned, he called me in from Europe and claimed ignorance, "I didn't know about it," he said. "How could this happen? Why didn't you tell somebody about it?"

Now, he had done exactly the same thing, only this time he had prepared a written memorandum documenting his denials. So it was clearly a pattern on the Secretary's part, and now I recognized it. Bring in the top-level leaders. Profess total ignorance. Ask why he had not been informed. Try to establish that others were screwing things up. Have witnesses in the room to verify his denials. Put it in writing. In essence, Rumsfeld was covering his rear. He was setting up his chain of denials should his actions ever be questioned. And worse yet, in my mind, he was attempting to level all the blame on his generals. ...

U.S. weighs thousands more troops for Afghan war: paper - washingtonpost.com

U.S. weighs thousands more troops for Afghan war: paper - washingtonpost.com: "The"Pentagon is considering sending up to 7,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan next year to make up for a shortfall in contributions from NATO allies, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

The increase would likely result in "the re-Americanization" of the war, one U.S. official said, according to the Times. U.S. forces would then account for two-thirds of foreign troops in Afghanistan, it said.

The report appeared a day after Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States could consider taking over NATO's command in southern Afghanistan, where some NATO allies have been reluctant to provide combat forces.

Southern Afghanistan, site of the worst in a surge of Taliban violence, is now under NATO command. Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia all have forces in the region.

"This is a matter that's going to be looked at over probably some period of time primarily because it requires consultation with our allies," Gates told reporters when asked to comment on discussion at the Pentagon about the possibility of taking over command in southern Afghanistan.

"It certainly is worth taking a look at," he added during a visit to the Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, Texas.

REDUCTION IN IRAQ

Citing unnamed Bush administration officials, the Times said sending up to 7,000 additional troops would increase U.S. forces in Afghanistan to some 40,000, the highest level since the United States invaded the country in 2001 and toppled the Taliban government after the September 11 attacks.

The increase would require a reduction in troop levels in Iraq by at least a modest amount, and planning for it began in recent weeks, the newspaper said.

"There are simply going to be more American forces than we've ever had there," the Times quoted a senior official as saying.

The officials said the decision for more troops could be left to the next U.S. president, who will take office in January, and that few additional troops were expected in Afghanistan any time soon.

The United States has 34,000 troops in Afghanistan under two commands.

About 16,000 soldiers under U.S. European Command serve as part of a 47,000-strong NATO force. A further 18,000 U.S. troops are in the country separately under U.S. Central Command.

"We need to look also at some of our own command and control arrangements. For example, does it continue to make sense to have two combatant commands involved in one country?" the defense chief said.

"We're basically just trying to see how do you best provide for unity of command, how do you have the most effective operations possible in Afghanistan," he added. ...

Ahmed Rashid - Taking Back The Frontier - washingtonpost.com

Ahmed Rashid - Taking Back The Frontier - washingtonpost.com: ..."First"it must curtail the Afghan Taliban leadership, which draws recruits, supplies and support from elements within Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban is guiding the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas and farther south in Baluchistan province, where the Afghan Taliban leadership is largely based.

Second, the army must accept that no political process or development programs can succeed in the tribal areas unless linked to similar efforts in the Afghan provinces where the same Pashtun tribes live. (Afghan President Hamid Karzai is trying, unsuccessfully, to woo the Afghan Taliban.) Such efforts require a much better relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan than has existed since 2001. The army needs to support improvements in relations. For its part, Afghanistan must ultimately recognize the Durand Line, a border between the two countries that no Kabul government has acknowledged.

Third, the army needs to make clear that it supports political reform in the tribal areas and will protect tribal leaders and Pashtun civilians there. Since 2004 tens of thousands of Pakistanis have fled the tribal areas rather than live under the Taliban. Hundreds of Pashtuns have already been executed by the Taliban. The army must help the refugees return and protect them while the government provides economic support. Only then can the state develop a serious Pashtun lobby for political changes in the tribal areas.

Given its massive military aid to Pakistan, the Bush administration could push the army to take such steps while also encouraging the army and the government to promote an effective plan for the tribal areas. Instead, the United States is again pushing military action -- a course that will further alienate the Pashtuns, weaken a fragile civilian government and absolve the army of responsibility for changes it must make.

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, is the author of "Taliban" and "Jihad." His latest book, "Descent into Chaos: U.S. Policy and the Failure of Nation Building in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia," will be published next month.

Qatar’s top-selling English daily newspaper - Iraq

Gulf Times – Qatar’s top-selling English daily newspaper - Iraq: "BAGHDAD"An Iraqi delegation in Iran has confronted Iranian security officials with evidence that Tehran is providing support for Shia militias battling Iraqi government forces, an Iraqi official said yesterday.

“They presented a list of names, training camps and cells linked to Iran,” Haidar al-Ibadi, a member of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa party, said.

“The Iranians did not confess or admit anything. They claim they are not intervening in Iraq and they feel they are being unfairly blamed for everything going on Iraq,” he said of the talks, which took place on Thursday.

Ibadi said he had been in contact with the delegation.

Washington has long accused Tehran of backing Shia militias, particularly fiery cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army, providing them with weapons, funding and training. It has displayed some of the weapons, including rockets and mortars.

The Shia-led Iraqi government, however, has generally been more restrained in its criticism of its Shia majority neighbour, which denies the charges and says it supports the government.

Maliki launched a crackdown on the Mehdi Army in the southern oil hub of Basra in late March, provoking a furious response by the militia in southern Iraq and Baghdad, including relentless volleys of Iranian-made rockets against the Green Zone government and diplomatic compound in the capital.

The US military said this week that “very, very significant” amounts of Iranian weaponry had been found in Basra and Baghdad during the offensive. Some of those arms were made in 2008, a senior US military official said yesterday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there had been a “sea change” in Baghdad’s view of Iranian activity in Iraq since the discovery of the weapons.

“Basra changed it for the Iraqis. I’m not sure they believed it before. But they went to Basra and saw it first hand,” he said.

Maliki’s ruling United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shia Islamist parties, sent the delegation to Tehran to tell Iranian officials to stop backing the militias.

The delegation includes the deputy speaker of parliament, Khalid al-Attiya, Ali al-Adeeb, a lawmaker from Dawa, and Hadi al-Amari, a powerful figure in the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, one of the biggest Shia parties in Iraq.

Iran’s official Irna news agency said Tehran wanted to help end fighting in its neighbour and welcomed the opportunity offered by the delegation’s visit.

“Iranian officials will be holding talks with the delegation with a view to helping resolve the differences and clashes in Iraq,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Hosseini was quoted late on Thursday as saying.

“Tehran has generally emphasised stability and security in Iraq and the invitation to the Iraqi delegation has been for this goal, and Iran’s past measures has been to bring stability and security in Iraq,” he said without giving more details.

Analysts say Tehran wants to keep a friendly, Shia-led government in charge but wants to ensure rival Iraqi Shia factions look to the Islamic Republic as a powerbroker.

They also say Iran wants a stable Iraq, after fighting a bloody war with its neighbour in the 1980s. But at the same time Iran does not want to give its long-time foe, the US, an easy ride lest it considers military action in its row with Tehran.

Ibadi said the delegation had presented evidence showing that Mehdi Army leaders in Basra had escaped to Iran to avoid the assault by government troops.

“The delegation also carried evidence of the smuggling of weapons and training of individuals in Iran to enter later into Iraq,” he said.

The senior US military official said the delegation had taken with them photographs of the recently seized weapons with markings showing they originated in Iran, as well as testimony from detained militants who had received Iranian training.

In the talks, the delegation stressed Iran should have contacts only with the Iraqi government and not with other groups, Ibadi said. - Reuters

Shiite fighting Shiite in Sadr City / Government presses on against militia with risky crackdown

Shiite fighting Shiite in Sadr City / Government presses on against militia with risky crackdown: ..."The"government will liberate Sadr City and clear it from gunmen," prominent Shiite cleric and lawmaker Jalaleddin Sagheer said during prayers at the Buratha mosque in Baghdad. "Those criminals have stocks of ammunitions, but they will run out of ammunition within days."

Sagheer also predicted the government would root out militias controlling other Baghdad neighborhoods. Four Shiite extremists were killed Friday in the western district of Hay al-Amil, a religiously mixed area in southwest Baghdad, police said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media....

[bth: there is no real plan here for Sadr City other than to isolate it and wait until the locals run out of bullets. No hearts and minds. No public works. Nothing. Its a simple plan. Let them keep shooting at the infidel Americans and Iraqi conscripts until there is no more ammunition. A temporary plan for a temporary 'victory'.]

Pentagon launches foreign news websites - USATODAY.com

Pentagon launches foreign news websites - USATODAY.com: "WASHINGTON"— The Pentagon is setting up a global network of foreign-language news websites, including an Arabic site for Iraqis, and hiring local journalists to write current events stories and other content that promote U.S. interests and counter insurgent messages.
The news sites are part of a Pentagon initiative to expand "Information Operations" on the Internet. Neither the initiative nor the Iraqi site, www.Mawtani.com, has been disclosed publicly.

At first glance, Mawtani.com looks like a conventional news website. Only the "about" link at the bottom of the site takes readers to a page that discloses the Pentagon sponsorship. The site, which has operated since October, is modeled on two long-established Pentagon-sponsored sites that offer native-language news for people in the Balkans and North Africa.

Journalism groups say the sites are deceptive and easily could be mistaken for independent news....

The Raw Story | U.S. mulls Guantanamo closure as Bush term nears end

The Raw Story | U.S. mulls Guantanamo closure as Bush term nears end: ..."The Supreme Court is expected to rule within weeks whether Guantanamo prisoners have rights under the U.S. Constitution even though they are held on the base in Cuba, where the United States has had a presence for about 100 years."

The court decision could influence whether the U.S. government announces plans to close the prison before Bush leaves office in January 2009, several officials said.

"If the Supreme Court concludes that the detainees have constitutional rights, then there would be little legal difference between holding them in Guantanamo or holding them on the (U.S.) mainland," one senior official said.

"It's possible the Supreme Court decision could provide an impetus to a policy decision to close Guantanamo," he added. ...

Pat Tillman’s mother still not sure she’s being told the truth

Raw Replay - Revisiting History: "The"mother of Pat Tillman is speaking out about her son’s death in her first television interview, to be broadcast this Sunday on 60 Minutes.

Tillman, a pro football player, joined the military after 9/11 and was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2004. The Army initially lauded him as a hero who had died storming a hill in the face of enemy fire and even awarded him the Silver Star. They only revealed five weeks later that he had actually died by friendly fire.

The Tillman family has spent years trying to get at the facts of what happened and who was responsible for the cover-up. Even today, they are not convinced it was as innocent an accident as the military claims.

“When I heard it was a friendly fire, I felt terrible for these soldiers,” Mary Tillman stated. “I still do to a degree, but I don’t think it was the horrible accident that they like to play this out. I think there was huge negligence involved here.”

According to the Army, Tillman was firing across a valley at enemy fighters on the other side, but Rangers on the road below thought he was shooting at them and fired back.

A dozen officers and Rangers were disciplined for the incident, but Mary Tillman is still not satisfied. According to CBS, “She points to inconsistencies, including that his uniform was burned after his death, which is against regulations, and that the coroner refused to sign the autopsy for months because his analysis of Tillman’s gunshot wounds was not consistent with the Army’s original story.”

“This isn’t about us,” Mary Tillman told CBS. “This is about what they’ve done to the public. This was a public deception.”...

Ex-Iraq commander accuses Bush Administration of 'gross incompetence'

The Raw Story | Ex-Iraq commander accuses Bush Administration of 'gross incompetence':... "In"a memo acquired by the ACLU through a freedom of information act request, Sanchez authorized techniques to be used against prisoners which included "environmental manipulation," such as heating or cooling a room or using an "unpleasant smell," isolating prisoners, and disrupting sleep patterns. Sanchez later denied ever authorizing interrogators to "go to the outer limits" and called the ACLU "...a bunch of sensationalist liars, I mean lawyers, that will distort any and all information that they get to draw attention to their positions."

Six months after he was told he would not receive a promotion -- in April 2006 -- he says he was called in for a meeting with then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In his book, he writes:

"Ric, it's been a long time," Rumsfeld said, greeting me in a friendly manner. "I'm really sorry that your promotion didn't work out. We just couldn't make it work politically. Sending a nomination to the Senate would not be good for you, the Army, or the department."

"I understand, sir," I replied.
Rumsfeld then went on to offer Sanchez a post in Africa.

In what Sanchez maintains was an effort by Rumsfeld to shrug off blame for mistakes in Iraq's first year, he says that the Secretary penned a memo which blamed failures on him.

"I stopped reading after I read that last statement, because I knew it was total BS," he writes. "After a deep breath, I said, "Well, Mr. Secretary, the problem as you've stated it is generally accurate, but your memo does not accurately capture the magnitude of the problem. Furthermore, I just can't believe you didn't know that Franks's and McKiernan's staffs had pulled out and that the orders had been issued to redeploy the forces."

Starting to get a little worked up," he adds, "I paused a moment, and then looked Rumsfeld straight in the eye. "Sir, I cannot believe that you didn't know I was being left in charge in Iraq...."

After the meeting ended, I remember walking out of the Pentagon shaking my head and wondering how in the world Rumsfeld could have expected me to believe him. Everybody knew that CENTCOM had issued orders to drawdown the forces. The Department of Defense had printed public affairs guidance for how the military should answer press queries about the redeployment. There were victory parades being planned. And in mid-May 2003, Rumsfeld himself had sent out some of his famous "snowflake" memorandums to Gen. Franks asking how the general was going to redeploy all the forces in Kuwait. The Secretary knew. Everybody knew.
He goes on to detail a report prepared by the Pentagon's Joint Warfighting Center. The Pentagon commissioned the report -- and it validated Sanchez's assertions that he was not to blame and that decisions had been made at other levels.

"Say, did you guys ever complete that investigation?" I asked.

"Oh, yes sir. We sure did," came the reply. "And let me tell you, it was ugly."

"Ugly?" I asked.

"Yes, sir. Our report validated everything you told us — that Franks issued the orders to discard the original twelve-to-eighteen-month occupation deployment, that the forces were drawing down, that we were walking away from the mission, and that everybody knew about it. And let me tell you, the Secretary did not like that one bit. After we went in to brief him, he just shut us down. 'This is not going anywhere,' he said. 'Oh, and by the way, leave all the copies right here and don't talk to anybody about it.'"

"You mean he embargoed all the copies of the report?" I asked.

"Yes, sir, he did...'

...It turned out that the investigative team was so thorough, they had actually gone back and looked at the original operational concept that had been prepared by CENTCOM (led by Gen. Franks) before the invasion of Iraq was launched. It was standard procedure to present such a plan, which included such things as: timing for predeployment, deployment, staging for major combat operations, and postdeployment. The concept was briefed up to the highest levels of the U.S. government, including the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council, and the President of the United States.

And the investigators were now telling me that the plan called for a Phase IV (after combat action) operation that would last twelve to eighteen months...

"That decision set up the United States for a failed first year in Iraq," he concludes. "There is no question about it. And I was supposed to believe that neither the Secretary of Defense nor anybody above him knew anything about it? Impossible! Rumsfeld knew about it. Everybody on the NSC knew about it, including Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, and Colin Powell. Vice President Cheney knew about it. And President Bush knew about it."

"In the meantime," he adds, "hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars were unnecessarily spent, and worse yet, too many of our most precious military resource, our American soldiers, were unnecessarily wounded, maimed, and killed as a result. In my mind, this action by the Bush administration amounts to gross incompetence and dereliction of duty."

Thursday, May 01, 2008

CNN Political Ticker: All politics, all the time Blog Archive - Poll: Bush most unpopular in modern history « - Blogs from CNN.com

CNN Political Ticker: All politics, all the time Blog Archive - Poll: Bush most unpopular in modern history « - Blogs from CNN.com: "A new poll suggests that George W. Bush is the most unpopular president in modern American history.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Thursday indicates that 71 percent of the American public disapprove of how Bush his handling his job as president.

"No president has ever had a higher disapproval rating in any CNN or Gallup poll; in fact, this is the first time that any president's disapproval rating has cracked the 70 percent mark," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

"Bush's approval rating, which stands at 28 percent in our new poll, remains better than the all-time lows set by Harry Truman and Richard Nixon (22 percent and 24 percent, respectively) but even those two presidents never got a disapproval rating in the 70s," Holland added. "The previous all-time record in CNN or Gallup polling was set by Truman, 66 percent disapproval in January 1952."

CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider adds, "He is more unpopular than Richard Nixon was just before he resigned from the presidency in August 1974." President Nixon's disapproval rating in August 1974 stood at 67 percent.


The poll also indicates that support for the war in Iraq has never been lower. Thirty percent of those questioned favored the war while 68 percent opposed the conflict.

"Americans are growing more pessimistic about the war," Holland said. "In January, nearly half believed that things were going well for the U.S. in Iraq; now that figure has dropped to 39 percent."

The numbers on the Iraq war come on the five-year anniversary of President Bush's "mission accomplished" moment onboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, when Bush proclaimed that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

The record low support for the war in a CNN poll could be one reason behind the president's unpopularity, but it probably is not the only one.

"Support for the war, the assessment of the economy and approval of Mr. Bush are all about the same — bad," Schneider said....

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Scholars and Rogues

Letter from Washington: The Hidden Power: The New Yorker

Letter from Washington: The Hidden Power: The New Yorker: ..."Most"Americans, even those who follow politics closely, have probably never heard of Addington. But current and former Administration officials say that he has played a central role in shaping the Administration’s legal strategy for the war on terror. Known as the New Paradigm, this strategy rests on a reading of the Constitution that few legal scholars share—namely, that the President, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority to disregard virtually all previously known legal boundaries, if national security demands it. Under this framework, statutes prohibiting torture, secret detention, and warrantless surveillance have been set aside. A former high-ranking Administration lawyer who worked extensively on national-security issues said that the Administration’s legal positions were, to a remarkable degree, “all Addington.” Another lawyer, Richard L. Shiffrin, who until 2003 was the Pentagon’s deputy general counsel for intelligence, said that Addington was “an unopposable force.”

The overarching intent of the New Paradigm, which was put in place after the attacks of September 11th, was to allow the Pentagon to bring terrorists to justice as swiftly as possible. Criminal courts and military courts, with their exacting standards of evidence and emphasis on protecting defendants’ rights, were deemed too cumbersome. Instead, the President authorized a system of detention and interrogation that operated outside the international standards for the treatment of prisoners of war established by the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Terror suspects would be tried in a system of military commissions, in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, devised by the executive branch. The Administration designated these suspects not as criminals or as prisoners of war but as “illegal enemy combatants,” whose treatment would be ultimately decided by the President. By emphasizing interrogation over due process, the government intended to preëmpt future attacks before they materialized. In November, 2001, Cheney said of the military commissions, “We think it guarantees that we’ll have the kind of treatment of these individuals that we believe they deserve.”....

[bth: we conceded our rights with trembling hands out of fear.]

YouTube - Aaron Copland - Rodeo: Hoedown

YouTube - Aaron Copland - Rodeo: Hoedown: ""

Turkey plans to send envoy to Israel for Syria talks

ReadCountOfNews: "Turkey"is planning to send an emissary to Jerusalem in an attempt to find a compromise that would pave the way of peace talks between Syria and Israel, as it played down the high expectations saying there is a long way to go. (UPDATED)


Israel's Haaretz said on Monday Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan plans to send an emissary to Jerusalem to brief Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on his recent talks with Assad in Damascus. Erdogan will apparently send his foreign policy advisor Ahmet Davutoglu, who is also in charge of talks with Syria and has in the past met with Olmert adviser, Yoram Turbowicz, in Ankara, it reported.

Israeli officials believe Turkey's involvement in the issue will increase. "Erdogan has decided to go all the way on the issue of Israel and Syria," the Israeli government source told Haaretz.

The source added that Israel has not yet received an update on Erdogan's talks in Damascus. "Talks are being conducted to chart out the issue," the source said. "The goal of Turkey's activity is to allow talks to start. That's how we view it. So far, no real negotiations are taking place."

Turkey has been mediating between Syria and Israel to restart peace talks. Israel and Syria's last round of direct talks broke down in 2000 over the details of Israel's proposed withdrawal from the Golan.

Syria has said it received word from Turkey that Israel would be willing to give back the Golan in return for peace with the Arab state. Israel captured the plateau in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally.

Israel would be open to participating in a senior-level meeting with the Syrians brokered by Turkey to test the waters for renewed peace negotiations, Israeli officials said. Turkey's foreign minister said there's still a lot to achieve before any peace agreement between Israel and Syria.

In Ankara Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told reporters there's still a lot to achieve before any peace agreement between Israel and Syria. An agreement between the longtime enemies requires "strong political determination" from both sides, he added.

Babacan said Turkey would pass messages between the sides until they are ready to meet. "Talks will continue to take place through Turkey for a while," he said. "When the issue is a little more mature, then I hope that the sides will meet each other," he added.

Turkey is trying to restart low-level talks between the two countries as a prelude to bringing the leaders of Syria and Israel together. ...

[bth: surprise surprise. Turkey can fill a role vacated by our Sec of State who couldn't successfully negotiate a used car purchase much less peace between Syria and Israel.]

YouTube - banksy

YouTube - banksy: ""

From Chief Prosecutor To Critic at Guantanamo - washingtonpost.com

From Chief Prosecutor To Critic at Guantanamo - washingtonpost.com: "GUANTANAMO"BAY, Cuba, April 28 -- The Defense Department's former chief prosecutor for terrorism cases appeared Monday at the controversial U.S. detention facility here to argue on behalf of a terrorism suspect that the military justice system has been corrupted by politics and inappropriate influence from senior Pentagon officials.

Sitting just feet from the courtroom table where he had once planned to make cases against military detainees, Air Force Col. Morris Davis instead took the witness stand to declare under oath that he felt undue pressure to hurry cases along so that the Bush administration could claim before political elections that the system was working.

His testimony in a small, windowless room -- as a witness for Salim Ahmed Hamdan, an alleged driver for Osama bin Laden -- offered a harsh insider's critique of how senior political officials have allegedly influenced the system created to try suspected terrorists outside existing military and civilian courts.

Davis's claims, which the Pentagon has previously denied, were aired here as the Supreme Court nears a decision on whether the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that laid the legal foundation for these hearings violates the Constitution by barring any of the approximately 275 remaining Guantanamo Bay prisoners from forcing a civilian judicial review of their detention.

Davis told Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred, who presided over the hearing, that top Pentagon officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England, made it clear to him that charging some of the highest-profile detainees before elections this year could have "strategic political value."

Davis said he wants to wait until the cases -- and the military commissions system -- have a more solid legal footing. He also said that Defense Department general counsel William J. Haynes II, who announced his retirement in February, once bristled at the suggestion that some defendants could be acquitted, an outcome that Davis said would give the process added legitimacy.

"He said, 'We can't have acquittals,' " Davis said under questioning from Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, the military counsel who represents Hamdan. " 'We've been holding these guys for years. How can we explain acquittals? We have to have convictions.' "

Davis also decried as unethical a decision by top military officials to allow the use of evidence obtained by coercive interrogation techniques. He said Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, the legal adviser to the top military official overseeing the commissions process, was improperly willing to use evidence derived from waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning. "To allow or direct a prosecutor to come into the courtroom and offer evidence they felt was torture, it puts a prosecutor in an ethical bind," Davis testified. But he said Hartmann replied that "everything was fair game -- let the judge sort it out."

He also said Hartmann took "micromanagement" of the prosecution effort to a new level and treated prosecutors with "cruelty and maltreatment." Hartmann, he said, was trying to take over the prosecutor's role, compromising the independence of the Office of Military Commissions, which decides which cases to bring and what evidence to use....

[bth: what to say? Is this what we have become?]

Wolfowitz Admits 'Clueless' on Counterinsurgency - April 29, 2008 - The New York Sun

Wolfowitz Admits 'Clueless' on Counterinsurgency - April 29, 2008 - The New York Sun: "WASHINGTON"— Paul Wolfowitz, in his first public remarks on the Iraq war in years, said the American government was "pretty much clueless on counterinsurgency" in the first year of the war.

The former deputy secretary of defense said yesterday that the force sent to Iraq was adequate for fighting Saddam Hussein's military, citing the speed with which American troops toppled the regime. But Mr. Wolfowitz said no one in the Bush administration anticipated that Saddam would order his security services to wage an insurgency after their formal defeat on the battlefield.

Mr. Wolfowitz's remarks came at a forum for a new book, "War and Decision," by the former no. 3 official at the Pentagon, Douglas Feith. In the book, Mr. Feith argues that America's greatest mistake in the war was establishing a coalition provisional authority instead of installing a group of Iraqi exiles in an interim government until elections could be held.

Mr. Wolfowitz said he agreed with his old colleague. But his remarks yesterday have special relevance, because in the run-up to the war, the deputy secretary of defense downplayed testimony from a retired Army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, who told Congress that postwar stabilization operations would require several hundred thousand troops.

On February 27, 2003, Mr. Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the estimate was "wildly off the mark." Until 2007, Democrats often cited General Shinseki's testimony in their critique of the war.

"There were two issues about enough troops," Mr. Wolfowitz, who served as deputy defense secretary between 2001 and 2005, said yesterday. "One was enough troops for the major combat. A lot of people said we didn't have it, and obviously we did. There was a very difficult balance that had to be struck between surprise, which meant a smaller force, and enough troops or a lot of troops, which meant a much slower force and potential of many disastrous consequences."...

[bth: hard to conceive how any traitor or spy could have done more damage to this country than Wolfowitz and Feith. No one will hold him to account.]
War and Piece:: "'..."Emphasizing Iranian involvement provides a useful public 'explanation' for the difficulty U.S. and Iraqi forces have had, thus far, in quelling violence in Sadr City. Blame it on Iran, not Sadr/JAM. Why go this route? Because it allows the United States to maintain the fiction that it is only the 'special groups' that are fighting the coalition instead of rank-and-file JAM, thus preserving the illusion that the Sadr "freeze" declared last August--a major (perhaps the major) reason for declining violence during the later part of the "surge" period in 2007--has not collapsed."

U.S. Military Contractor 'Used Armored Cars To Transport Prostitutes'

U.S. Military Contractor 'Used Armored Cars To Transport Prostitutes' - Politics on The Huffington Post: ..."A"contractor died when a DynCorp manager used an employee's armored car to transport prostitutes, according to Barry Halley, a Worldwide Network Services employee working under a DynCorp subcontract.

"DynCorp's site manager was involved in bringing prostitutes into hotels operated by DynCorp. A co-worker unrelated to the ring was killed when he was traveling in an unsecure car and shot performing a high-risk mission. I believe that my co-worker could have survived if he had been riding in an armored car. At the time, the armored car that he would otherwise have been riding in was being used by the contractor's manager to transport prostitutes from Kuwait to Baghdad."
....

Two former employees of DynCorp, the government contracting powerhouse, have won legal victories after charging that the $2 billion-a-year firm fired them when they complained that co-workers were involved in a Bosnia sex-slave trade...

Because of a combination of international treaties, jurisdictional loopholes and bureaucratic confusion, employees of private military companies such as DynCorp can escape prosecution for crimes they commit overseas. Most common crimes committed outside the United States are beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, and the burgeoning local law enforcement systems in war-torn regions such as Bosnia are often insufficient or unwilling to police U.S. contractors.

How Great Thou Art by Alan Jackson

YouTube - How Great Thou Art by Alan Jackson: ""

Army widens probe after finding bad conditions at Fort Bragg

Army widens probe after finding bad conditions at Fort Bragg - Yahoo! NewsArmy officials said Tuesday they are inspecting every barracks building worldwide to see whether plumbing and other problems revealed at Fort Bragg, N.C., last week are widespread.

Brig. Gen. Dennis Rogers, who is responsible for maintaining barracks throughout the Army, told reporters at the Pentagon that most inspections were done last weekend but he had not seen final results.

While not providing specifics about problems discovered during the weekend inspections, Rogers indicated some deficiencies were corrected. In cases where extensive repairs are deemed necessary, the soldiers in that housing would be moved elsewhere until the fixes are completed, he added.

Rogers said it was too soon to know whether the Fort Bragg problem was an isolated incident. He acknowledged the revelations from a video shot by the father of an 82nd Airborne Division soldier showing poor conditions such as mold inside the barracks, peeling interior paint and a bathroom drain plugged with sewage.

The soldier's father, Ed Frawley, said he was disgusted by the conditions that greeted his son and the rest of his 82nd Airborne unit that returned on April 7-8 after a 15-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

"We let our soldiers down, and that's not like us," Rogers told reporters. "We let our soldiers down. That's not how we want America's sons and daughters to live. There's no good excuse for what happened."

He said the problems in that building have been fixed and that a final paint job is in the works. It is one of 24 barracks at Fort Bragg that were built in the 1950s and are scheduled for demolition by 2013. The barracks singled out by Frawley had been remodeled in April 2006, Rogers said.

Rogers said the Army's standard procedure is to inspect a barracks building to verify that it meets Army standards before it is occupied by soldiers returning from an overseas deployment. For reasons he was unable to explain, that apparently did not happen in the Fort Bragg incident.

A spokesman for Fort Bragg, Tom McCollum, told the same group of reporters that the post, which is one of the Army's largest with a population of 51,000 soldiers — including more than 12,000 who live on the post — is saddled with 1950s-vintage housing that is not popular with soldiers.

Of the more than 12,000 in barracks at Fort Bragg, about 2,500 are in those built in the 1950s, Army spokesman Paul Boyce said.

"Are soldiers happy with living in the Korean War-era barracks? No," McCollum said. They do not meet the expectations of today's troops, although the Army has done what it can to improve living conditions, McCollum said, speaking by telephone from Fort Bragg.

"Today, no matter how hard we try, we can't put enough lipstick on this pig to make it more pretty," the spokesman said. "So are there soldiers complaining? Yeah." He said they've been complaining for decades
.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Informed Comment

Iran says Iraq situation makes U.S. attack unlikely

The Raw Story | Iran says Iraq situation makes U.S. attack unlikely: "Iran"said on Sunday a "disastrous situation" facing the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan coupled with Washington's domestic issues made any U.S. attack on the Islamic Republic unlikely.

The Foreign Ministry comments came two days after the U.S. Navy said a cargo ship hired by the U.S. military fired warning shots at approaching boats in the Gulf, underscoring tension in an area vital to world oil shipments, and driving up crude prices.

"We think it would be unlikely the Americans would take the decision to get themselves into a new fiasco, the consequences of which they themselves have acknowledged would be painful for the region and the world," spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said.

"We hope those who think better in America view the realities more closely and manage to correct such approaches," he told a news conference....

[bth: being over extended militarily throws a wet blanket over deterrence we might otherwise have with Iran. Also, by continuing our occupation of Iraq as we currently have it, we allow Iran to sow chaos in Iraq and bog us down.]

U.S.-Funded Iraq Reconstruction Projects Scrapped After Snags, New Report Finds - Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party | Political Spectrum

FOXNews.com - U.S.-Funded Iraq Reconstruction Projects Scrapped After Snags, New Report Finds - Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party | Political Spectrum: "WASHINGTON"Millions of dollars of lucrative Iraq reconstruction contracts were never finished because of excessive delays, poor performance or other factors, including failed projects that are being falsely described by the U.S. government as complete, federal investigators say.

The audit released Sunday by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, provides the latest snapshot of an uneven reconstruction effort that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $100 billion. It also comes as several lawmakers have said they want the Iraqis to pick up more of the cost of reconstruction.

The special IG's review of 47,321 reconstruction projects worth billions of dollars found that at least 855 contracts were terminated by U.S. officials before their completion, primarily because of unforeseen factors such as violence and excessive costs. About 112 of those agreements were ended specifically because of the contractors' actual or anticipated poor performance.

In addition, the audit said many reconstruction projects were being described as complete or otherwise successful when they were not. In one case, the U.S. Agency for International Development contracted with Bechtel Corp. in 2004 to construct a $50 million children's hospital in Basra, only to "essentially terminate" the project in 2006 because of monthslong delays.

But rather than terminate the project, U.S. officials modified the contract to change the scope of the work. As a result, a U.S. database of Iraq reconstruction contracts shows the project as complete "when in fact the hospital was only 35 percent complete when work was stopped," said investigators in describing the practice of "descoping" as frequent.

"Descoping is an appropriate process but does mask problem projects to the extent they occur," the audit states.

Responding, USAID in the report said it disagreed that its descoping of the hospital project was "effectively a contract termination," but that it had changed the work because of escalating costs and security problems. Mark Tokola, the director of the Iraq transition assistance office, also responded that the database the IG's office reviewed of Iraq reconstruction contracts was incomplete.

Bowen's office said its review was preliminary and that it planned follow-up reviews to investigate descoping more closely. Investigators said they were also looking into whether contractors whose projects were terminated by the U.S. government due to inadequate performance might have been awarded new contracts later despite their poor records.

Investigators said the database they reviewed lacked full data on projects such as those done by USAID, the State Department, and those completed before 2006. But they said the figures cited in the report offered a baseline in terms of unfinished Iraq reconstruction contracts.

"Adding contract terminations from these (other) sources would certainly raise the number of terminated projects," the report states.

The audit comes amid renewed focus in recent months on potential abuse in contracting government-wide, such as Iraq reconstruction. Last year, congressional investigators said as much as $10 billion -- or one in six dollars -- charged by U.S. contractors for Iraq reconstruction were questionable or unsupported, and warned that significantly more taxpayer money was at risk....

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Crooks and Liars

Few states let overseas troops vote by e-mail - Yahoo! News

Few states let overseas troops vote by e-mail - Yahoo! News - U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan can speak to their families by Web camera and fight insurgents using sophisticated electronic warfare. Yet when it comes to voting, most troops are stuck in the past

Communities in 13 states will send overseas troops presidential election ballots by e-mail this year, and districts in at least seven states will also let them return completed ballots over the Internet, according to data compiled by The Associated Press and the Overseas Vote Foundation.

That still leaves tens of thousands of service members in far-flung military bases struggling to meet voting deadlines and relying largely on regular mail to get ballots and cast votes — often at the last minute because of delays in ballot preparations in some states.

Adding an electronic boost to the process would ease those problems, but it raises security and privacy concerns.

Pentagon officials have been urging more states to move into the electronic age before November, a move that could help reverse recent trends in which thousands of military members asked for ballots but either didn't vote or had their ballots rejected for flaws.

The push comes more than seven years after problems with overseas military voting set off an uproar in President Bush's narrow 2000 victory.

This year, when war is a key campaign issue, the election results in any state — particularly one with heavy military voting — could turn on the votes of thousands of troops on the front lines.

"The personnel that fight our wars, the people who are most affected by the decisions on the use of the military, are being systematically denied the right to vote," said Bob Carey, a board member of the Overseas Vote Foundation, a voting rights group.

Carey, a Navy reservist who has served in Iraq, noted that ballots are often not prepared and ready to be mailed until 30 to 45 days before an election. And since it can take more than two weeks for troops to get ballots by regular mail, they sometimes get them too late to meet voting deadlines.

Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, who is president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, said the use of e-mail is a controversial subject among his members. Yet, he said his state has had no problems using e-mail to both deliver and receive ballots from overseas voters.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai Safe After Assassination Attempt - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

FOXNews.com - Afghan President Hamid Karzai Safe After Assassination Attempt - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "Suspected"Taliban militants attacked a ceremony attended by the Afghan president on Sunday, unleashing automatic weapons fire that sent foreign dignitaries and senior members of the government fleeing for cover.

Three people, including a lawmaker, were killed and eight were wounded. President Hamid Karzai, Cabinet ministers and ambassadors escaped unharmed, the presidential palace said.

Karzai later appeared on television saying several suspects in the attack had been arrested.

He said that "the enemy of Afghanistan" tried to disrupt the ceremony but were thwarted by security forces.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had deployed six militants with suicide vests and guns to target the president. Spokesman Zabiullah Mujaheed said three had died....

[bth: I find it amazing that Afghan and the Paki government are so inclined to negotiate with the Taliban even in the midst of assassination attempts.]