Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

  Germans documented American torture in 2001

Via Laura Rozen, I see that the German news weekly stern is about to break a major story tomorrow. It has obtained copies of German government documents that reveal that US forces at a base in Tuzla, Bosnia were detaining and torturing terror-suspects already in September 2001.


Further, German agents saw evidence of this abuse at that time and sent a highly critical report about it to German intelligence, the German Federal Criminal Bureau, and German military intelligence. The German government, by contrast, has always claimed that it knew nothing of the existence of CIA detention centers in Europe until the news media reported about them.


According to today's Independent:


Stern said the German intelligence agents had been given access to documents confiscated by the Americans which were "smeared with blood". One German agent was said to have compared the actions of the US interrogators to Serbian war criminals during the break up of Yugoslavia. "The Serbs ended up before the international court in The Hague for this kind of thing," he was quoted as saying.


Here is an English language report from Deutsche Welle on what is known so far about the forthcoming stern article:


During a visit to the US military base in Tuzla, in northeastern Bosnia, two officers from Germany's federal police (BKA) and a translator for the German foreign intelligence service (BND) discovered that suspects held there were beaten savagely, the magazine said in an early extract from its edition that is set to come out on Thursday....German investigators recorded what they saw in an intelligence document, which the magazine used as the basis for its report.


It said a 70-year-old terror suspect needed 20 stitches to his scalp after he was repeatedly hit over the head with a rifle butt while being held at "Eagle Base," as the US camp is called.


The soldier who had beaten him was "visibly proud" of his conduct, the magazine quoted the report as saying.


The Independent adds this information:


The two German agents and their translator had been asked to appear at the base to help the Americans interrogate suspects and help evaluate confiscated material. But according to the leaked report, they immediately informed Germany's federal prosecutor of what they had witnessed and left the base shortly afterwards.  The magazine's report appeared to directly contradict the German government's claims that it had only been made aware of the possible existence of secret CIA interrogation centres in Europe through media reports. Stern said that German intelligence, the country's Federal Criminal Bureau and German military intelligence had all been informed about the agents' visit to "Eagle Base". All three agencies refused to comment on the Stern report yesterday [Tuesday].


The German Parliament is already considering whether to open an investigation into allegations by a German citizen, Khalid al-Masri, that he was interrogated and tortured at an American camp in Afghanistan with the collusion of German agents. I suspect that the new report by stern will add some urgency to a case that might help to expose the Bush/Cheney web of torture camps worldwide.


We know relatively little about the history of German involvement in the CIA's torture of detainees in the four corners of the globe, except that it is extensive and very different from the official story. Take a look at this recent article from Time, for example, which recounts the seizure and torture of Mohammad Haydr Zammar, an alleged al Qaeda operative resident in Germany.


In December of 2001, U.S. agents arranged to have a German citizen flown to a Syrian jail called the Palestine Branch, renowned for its use of torture, and later offered to pass written questions to Syrian interrogators to pose to the prisoner, according to a secret German intelligence report shown to TIME on Wednesday. The report is described in the new book Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program by British investigative journalist Stephen Grey. The complex arrangement was part of the CIA's sprawling practice of extraordinary renditions, the secret transfer of terror suspects to hidden prisons across the world -- which has involved the aid of numerous foreign governments and the knowledge of key Western European allies, according to the book, which was shown to TIME by the author....


The intelligence report gives a rare glimpse into the favors exchanged between governments during the CIA renditions. One day after Germany learned that the Syrians were holding Zammar, the CIA offered the German foreign-intelligence agency BND the chance to put written questions to their prisoner. The intelligence report doesn't make clear whether CIA interrogators had direct physical access to Zammar. In June 2002, Syrian officials offered German interrogators access to Zammar in prison, according to the 263-page report by the BND, marked "Geheim" (Secret). That same day, the BND chief asked Germany's federal prosecutors to drop their charges against Syrian intelligence agents who had been arrested in Germany for allegedly collecting information on Syrian dissidents.


The German intelligence report cites another deal, an "urgent request [by the United States] to avert pressure from the EU side [on Morocco] because of human-rights abuses in connection with [Zammar's]arrest, because Morocco was a valuable partner in the fight against terrorism." Grey, who had the report translated, says he obtained the classified report from a German investigator, who remains anonymous. The German government has acknowledged that they dropped the charges against the Syrian intelligence officers because of their cooperation in anti-terrorism, but they deny that the decision was specifically linked to the Zammar case.


In short, Germany was working closely with the CIA in facilitating the torture network.


As for "Eagle Base" in Tuzla, it has already been implicated as a torture center. For example, there is this report to the European Parliament by Dick Marty (PDF). It describes the treatment of six Bosnians of Algerian descent, who were detained but never tried in Bosnia. Eventually they were handed over 'extra-legally' to US forces after the Bosnian Supreme Court ruled that they should be released from Bosnian custody.


The Bosnian authorities shackled the men, placed hoods over their faces, and transported them by police vehicles to the Americans. By order of the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. forces in Europe, our clients were detained at "Eagle Base," the U.S. military base at Tuzla.


While still on Bosnian soil, the six men were kept shackled in painful positions. They were forced to wear goggles to prevent them from seeing, headphone-like covers over their ears to make it impossible for them to hear, and face masks making it impossible to be understood and very difficult to breathe. They were subsequently transported to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.


And incidentally, we also know that torture is just one of the forms of abuse that have been ongoing at the Tuzla base. Here is congressional testimony from 2004 about human-trafficking (in women and girls) by contractors stationed at Tuzla (PDF). Note that the testimony indicates that none of the DoD contractors who trafficked in humans at Tuzla were prosecuted by the Defense Department. In fact, the speaker (Martina Vandenberg) complains that Rumsfeld has dragged his feet in implementing regulations for prosecuting DoD contractors.


The scandal, in the US as in Germany, is not simply torture and abuse (though that by itself is horrific). The deeper scandal is the culture that permits, excuses, and covers up torture and abuse.


Update:


Here is the link to the one-page news release (in German) from stern about the forthcoming report. Still no further news reports on the incidents at Tuzla, pending publication of the story tomorrow. Today Germany suddenly was horrified by newly leaked photos of German soldiers in Afghanistan clowning with skulls (yes).


However Stephen Grey's new book Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program is getting increasing attention in Britain and the U.S. Some links:


Amy Goodman's interview of Grey last Thursday, where Grey discusses the Zammar case as well as much else; a brief review of the book by Jane Mayer in the forthcoming New Yorker; this Terry Gross interview; and Stephen Grey's blog, where evidently he plans to post this week more than 3,000 logs of the CIA flights.


Tomorrow the Guardian will have two substantial reports based on Grey's book. One, CIA tried to silence EU on torture flights, focuses on the torture-airline network and the complicity of European countries in helping the CIA to ship prisoners to torture camps.


After the CIA offered a deal to Germany [in the al Masri case], EU countries adopted an almost universal policy of downplaying criticism of human rights records in countries where terrorist suspects have been held. They have also sidestepped questions about secret CIA flights partly because of growing evidence of their complicity....


[Grey] describes how one CIA pilot told him that Prestwick airport, near Glasgow, was a popular destination for refuelling stops and layovers. "It's an 'ask-no-questions' type of place and you don't need to give them any advance warning you're coming," the pilot said.


The CIA used planes of Air America, a group of private companies it secretly owned, and a second company, Aero Contractors. A CIA Gulfstream V jet, frequently used for the secret rendition of prisoners, flew to Diego Garcia, the British Indian Ocean territory where the US has a large base, the book says. Grey plans to publish more than 3,000 logs of the CIA flights on the internet this week....


The [British] government has consistently denied it has ever actively cooperated in the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" programme". The Foreign Office said yesterday that the government had "not approved and will not approve a policy of facilitating transfer of individuals through the UK to places where there are substantial grounds to believe they face a real risk of torture".


So there you have it. Out and out lies from the British Foreign Office. The second article in the Guardian tomorrow, High-flying lifestyle of the CIA's rendition men, describes some of what Grey reveals about the life of luxury that CIA officers lived in Europe during interludes when they weren't kidnapping and flying people off to be tortured. This is truly sickening, and the level of plain stupidity on display will also disgust Americans if this gets wider publicity.


Agents displayed a similar taste for luxury in Milan where Italian prosecutors accuse the CIA of involvement in the seizure and rendering of Abu Omar, a radical Egyptian cleric, to Cairo in 2003. Italian investigators found the CIA agents spent nearly $150,000 (£80,000) on accommodation. Two spent nearly $18,000 during a three-week stay at Milan's Savoy hotel.


But the US secret service operatives' indiscretions meant the task of the Italians investigating the kidnapping of Abu Omar was made simple.


CIA officers frequently called each other's hotels and many of the 22 CIA agents allegedly involved had "frequent flyer" numbers or hotel loyalty cards so they could earn points during their stay in the Italian fashion capital. Among itemised phone bills discovered by Italian counter-terrorism police was one showing 156 calls had been made to a landline in Milan. This led them to the US consulate.


It may well turn out to be the case that this arrogance of the CIA agents while on 'holiday' in Europe will provide the critical evidence to track them down and prosecute them. For that, though, we may need to wait for a change of government -- here in the U.S., and in several European countries that are complicit in the CIA's crimes.


From Unbossed

  Feeling chilled? Let your blood boil.

Just listening to Dick Cheney usually is enough to get any normal person hot under the collar. So if the unseasonably cool temperatures have got you shivering, check out the transcripts of these two radio interviews the Vice President had today with Sean Hannity and Scott Hennen.

In the former, Cheney has the gall to say that Democratic politicans who charge him and George Bush with being "liars" are undermining the war effort and "I think what it does is it encourages our adversaries", al Qaida. No word from him, however, on whether the charge is true.

Yet Hannity at his worst cannot hold a candle to the raw and stupid Hennen. From start to finish, Hennen's interview with Cheney is vile. It truly beggars belief. I suspect that you will not want to miss this one -- if only for Cheney's assertion that "things are going along swimmingly" with American policy.

I won't ruin the fun by describing the full contents of this horror show. But here is one segment that deserves to be singled out.

Q I've heard from a lot of listeners -- that's what we do for a living, talk to good folks in the Heartland every day -- and I've talked to as many who want an increased military presence in Iraq as want us out, which seems to be the larger debate, at least coming from the left -- cut and run, get out of there. One fax said, when you talk to the Vice President, ask him when shock and awe is coming back to Iraq. Let's finish the job once and for all.

And terrorist interrogations and that debate is another example. And I've had people call and say, please, let the Vice President know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we're all for it, if it saves American lives. Again, this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do agree. ...

Q Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the Vice President "for torture." We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we're party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that.

And thanks to the leadership of the President now, and the action of the Congress, we have that authority, and we are able to continue [the] program.


The mind boggles. The Vice President agrees that we should go back to inflicting an intense aerial bombardment on Iraq, though we now occupy the country? For the purpose of...? He accepts the description of water-boarding as "dunking" prisoners? He's claiming that water-boarding is both a "no-brainer" and not torture? He's admitting that the Torture Bill just signed into law by George Bush will be used to continue the water-boarding?

The one thing that would have made sense in this circumstance is of course the very thing that Cheney does not utter: "Mr. Hennen, you're a fruitcake."

These are the kind of nuts to whom Cheney, Bush, and Rumsfeld have been giving interviews over the years. As I've discussed in the past, they reach past and around the saner part of the American populace to address their base by means of these weird radio talk-show hosts. You'll rarely see or hear any of the triumvirate being interviewed by respectable journalists. But the nuts, however obscure, however ill-informed, they have their own keys to the White House.

At your leisure, run down the lists of the interviews that the White House and Dept. of Defense websites link to. You'll be gobsmacked at the number of idiots whom Cheney, Bush, and Rumsfeld can make time to talk to.

From Unbossed

Sunday, October 22, 2006

  A long process of violence for many years to come

Jeremy Greenstock, former British UN ambassador and special envoy to Iraq, gave an interview today to Sky News that is enormously embarrassing to the Bush administration, even though Greenstock does still believe that US and UK forces should remain in Iraq.


Here, the interviewer asked whether Greenstock agrees with the British Defense Minister that an orderly transition of power to the Iraqi defense forces is happening.


GREENSTOCK: Well, that's the process, but it's not orderly. There's no way in which the central government of Iraq can exert its authority over the whole country in the next year or two. This is going to be a long process of violence for many years to come. I don't see it being eradicated.

There are only bad options for the coalition from now on.
This is what people have got to understand, that if there is to be a change of policy then a cost has got to be paid for bringing something new into the equation--whether that's a cost of talking to the neighbours of Iraq that the Americans haven't talked to up to now, particularly Iran but also Syria; whether it's a cost of putting more resources into the ground; whether it's the cost of, um, drawing troops back and seeing the comparative failure of Iraqi army and police, who are not yet fully formed...They're not going to take over the rest of the country without several parts of Iraq being full of violence....


INTERVIEWER: So when you say there are only bad options basically for the forces now in Iraq, for the coalition forces, are we therefore saying that the whole war, the invasion, was wrong, that it has been a failure?


GREENSTOCK: It's been a failure in holding Iraq to a secure and stable peace. It's another argument about whether we should have done it in the beginning...


Greenstock goes on to say that both Bush and Blair are to be held accountable for this war by their fellow citizens. He says there were so many mistakes made so early on that we're now going to pay the price for these, and he claims that he warned in 2003/ early 2004 that no further mistakes could be tolerated in Iraq without risking total failure.


In particular, he says that Paul Bremmer was warned by Greenstock's predecessor not to break up the Iraqi army; but his predecessor was not listened to because Bremmer was not in complete charge of the situation.


INTERVIEWER: Why was that?


GREENSTOCK: Well because the decisions were being made in the Pentagon and not on the ground in Iraq. We didn't have anybody in the Pentagon sitting next to Donald Rumsfeld. The channels of communication to Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld were not at all good. And Americans when they're under pressure make decisions as a superpower with America....


INTERVIEWER: So what you're saying is that the Vice President and the Defense Secretary of the US were taking the decisions, so not the President, not George W. Bush.


GREENSTOCK: They had the President's say so with them, but they were taking them, the tactical decisions, yes, the Defense Secretary.


He adds that the British government kept up pressure on the Bush administration to fix the "mess" in Iraq, but the Brits knew all along that there were not enough resources being put into Iraq for stabilizing the country, guarding its borders, guarding ammunition dumps, recruiting an army and police force. You can make of that what you will; the interviewer presses home the point that the British public was not told that information at the time.


Greenstock also predicts that there "will be a further process of breakdown" in Iraq hereafter, a fragmentation not into a few regions but rather into individual towns, neighborhoods, and even streets.


These comments are in direct contrast (intentionally) to the absurdly rosy picture that Des Browne, the British Defense Secretary has been painting on behalf of the incredible shrinking Tony Blair. Here is tomorrow's Guardian:


In an attempt to demonstrate that the British army will not be bogged down in Iraq indefinitely, the defence secretary, Des Browne, said yesterday he expected that Iraq's security forces would have the capacity within a year to take over from British forces, a point also pushed home by the Foreign Office minister, Kim Howells. Mr Howells said: "I would have thought that certainly in a year or so there will be adequately trained Iraqi soldiers and security forces - policemen and women and so on - in order to do the job."


Over in the Independent, however, there's a more sanguine report from Patrick Cockburn, who explains why Iraqi lives are already broken beyond repair.


Iraq is in flight. Everywhere inside and outside the country, Iraqis who once lived in their own houses cower for safety six or seven to a room in hovels....


Out of the population of 26 million, 1.6 million Iraqis have fled the country and a further 1.5 million are displaced within Iraq, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In Jordan alone there are 500,000 Iraqi refugees and a further 450,000 in Syria. In Syria alone they are arriving at the rate of 40,000 a month.


It is one of the largest long-term population movements in the Middle East since Israel expelled Palestinians in the 1940s. Few of the Iraqis taking flight now show any desire to return to their homes.


One measure of how little control the coalition forces have left in Iraq, even over the immediate areas they're stationed in, is the fact that by the end of last week there had been several military parades conducted by Sunni insurgents through the streets of Iraqi towns.


Gunmen staged military-like parades Friday in a string of towns west of Baghdad, underlining the growing confidence of Sunni insurgents in a part of Iraq where U.S. and Iraqi forces maintain a heavy presence and major counterinsurgency campaigns had taken place over the past two years....


Significantly, two of Friday's four parades -- in the towns of Haditha and Haqlaniyah -- took place within less than 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) of U.S. military bases, according to witnesses. There were no reports of clashes....


In the town of Haditha...dozens of masked gunmen riding in at least 20 sedans and pickup trucks paraded undisturbed in the heart of the town for about 30 minutes.


How much worse will things get in Iraq, before the Cheney administration faces up to its utter failure to achieve any of the grandiose goals it aimed for? Can the U.S. position in Iraq be more tenuous, when American forces do not even dare, or cannot be bothered, to march half a mile from their base to round up the 'terrorists' that we've been told this invasion of Iraq was all about?


I've said several times in the last few years, as the situation in Iraq went from bad to worse, that if we keep along the path we're traveling down, sooner or later we'll get where we're headed. And is there a shred of doubt any longer whence we began? If so, take a look at this short article in Newsweek (h/t to Litagatormom).


A new book by Tyler Drumheller, former chief of the CIA's European ops, describes how, the day after 9/11, a "powerful delegation from a very close European ally" visited CIA Director George Tenet at HQ. In his book "On the Brink," Drumheller says the foreign-team leader said "his government stood by us ... and that we could count on it for any and all support." But the foreign rep cautioned, "I hope we can all agree that we should concentrate on Afghanistan and not be tempted to launch any attacks on Iraq." In Drumheller's account, Tenet replied, "Absolutely, we all agree on that."


Rather remarkable that already on September 12, 2001 our close ally thought that they needed to try to derail the rush to war against Iraq. According to Newsweek, the delegation Drumheller refers to was from Britain and included the head of MI5, Sir Richard Dearlove, he of the Downing Street memo. Henry Porter has some choice things to say about that document, and about the abject failure of Britain to remove the disastrous Tony Blair from office, in today's Observer. It's a good read, and will cheer Americans who have been wondering how in the world George W. Bush has survived his many failures.

Friday, October 20, 2006

  Baltimore Orioles GM promises to 'stay the course'

My friend Milo forwarded to me this news story from Reuters. I thought it was so interesting that I'm going to quote it in full:

Baltimore Orioles General Manager Mike Flanagan said on Friday he will resist pressure from fans for a major shift in strategy in the American League playoffs, despite growing doubts among Americans and anxiety over the Orioles among Republican lawmakers.

"Our goal in this pennant race is clear and it's unchanging," Flanagan told Republican loyalists, denouncing Democrats who want a course correction as supporting a "doubt and defeat" approach.

But less than three days before the World Series begins, pressure is growing in the U.S. Congress for a major shift in a pennant race that has seen multiple defeats in October alone.

"I don't believe we can continue based on an open-ended, unproductive offense," Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe was quoted as saying in The Washington Post.


"I don't think there's any question about that, that there will be a change" in the Orioles' strategy after the American League playoffs, she added.


Addressing election-year concerns about the Orioles that have many Republicans panicking about losing control of the World Series, White House spokesman Tony Snow said, "Political opportunists do nothing to win postseason games."


At the same time, Snow said Flanagan was open to adjusting pitching rotations in the face of a failed attempt to stem loses in July, August and September.


Flanagan met for a half hour on Friday with visiting manager Sam Perlozzo, who oversees the team as head of the Interim Disaster Management Group, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.


On Saturday, Flanagan, Vice President Jim Duquette, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and top White House officials will meet with the Orioles coaching staff for a long-scheduled videoconference. Perlozzo will be a key presenter at that meeting, Perino said.


"The General Manager is always listening to his vice president and his senior coaches on the tactics that are needed to win in the playoffs," she said.


Many Senate Republicans are awaiting the results of a special panel led by Peter Angelos' longtime family friend and former manager Ray Miller, the Orioles Study Group, which is preparing recommendations for a shift in strategy.


The Miller report will not be issued until after the playoffs, in which the Orioles risk being defeated even before reaching the World Series.


COURSE CORRECTION?


Orioles officials say the recommendations will be reviewed seriously, but have already rejected trial balloons such as benching unproductive hitters, a dialogue with the team's leading scouts, or replacing the entire roster with the Orioles' triple A team, the Norfolk Tides.


Rumsfeld declined to say whether he believed a course correction was needed in Camden Yards.


"I think the way I'll leave it is I prefer to give my advice to the General Manager," he said at the Pentagon. "I'm old-fashioned."


Democratic leaders of the House and Senate wrote a letter to Flanagan urging him to change course, saying the situation was deteriorating and "there is no effective plan for improvement."


"We've lost the hearts and minds of the fans and we've become caught in a downward spiral," said Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha, who drew Flanagan's ire a year ago by calling for unproductive hitters to be benched.


Flanagan, raising $1 million at a downtown fundraiser for new cup-holders in the bleachers, invoked Manager Earl Weaver, saying Weaver had the strong will to win several World Series and that it would take similar backbone to win the Series this year.


"Despite all of the opposition that the Manager faced from the Democrats, he didn't waiver," he said. "He stood for what he believed: Weaver Ball."


I suppose I have nothing to add to this. I think it's pretty self-explanatory.

  Bush's soulmate

Vlad Putin bared his soul again today, per the Guardian:

"He turned out to be a strong man, raped 10 women," the Russian president was quoted by Russian media as saying at a meeting in Moscow with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. "I never would have expected it of him. He has surprised us all, we all envy him!"

Israeli police announced on Sunday that the president, Moshe Katsav, could be charged with the rape and sexual harassment of several women….

"It was one of those moments when you couldn't believe your ears," [reporter Andrei Kolesnikov] said. Another reporter said officials had burst into laughter.


Ah, so that was what George Bush found so admirable about Putin:

I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul…


Thank the gods we can count on Bush's good judgment.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

  Pair of Jokers

The Republican Party in Pennsylvania has a lot to answer for. Just for example, the senior Senator from PA, Arlen Specter, declared that the repeal of habeas corpus rights in the President's torture bill was "patently unconstitutional on its face"...shortly before Specter voted for the bill. Then there is Representative Don Sherwood, who is basing his re-election campaign on family values and not choking his mistress.

But for consistent, unadulterated idiocy it would be hard to beat Sen. Rick Santorum and Congressman Curt Weldon. They are the jokers in the Republican pack.

Last week Santorum justified his support for continuing the war in Iraq along the very same lines that have failed until now, by adapting (some might say, 'mangling') the President's idiotic mantra "fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here."

Embattled U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said America has avoided a second terrorist attack for five years because the "Eye of Mordor" has instead been drawn to Iraq.

Santorum used the analogy from one of his favorite books, J.R.R. Tolkien's 1950s fantasy classic, "Lord of the Rings," to put an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq into terms any school kid could easily understand.

"As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else," Santorum said, describing the tool the evil Lord Sauron used in search of the magical ring that would consolidate his power over Middle-earth.

"It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S.," he continued. "You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States."


Had his audience been children, this analogy might have made some sort of sense. But in fact Santorum was speaking to the editorial board of the Bucks County Courier Times.

Asked whether he thinks U.S. troops will be in Iraq a half-century later, as they still are in Germany, Santorum said "potentially."


Because in the early 20th century, after all, four decades of British occupation of Iraq went so swimmingly.

Turning to crazy Curt Weldon, his latest intergalactic postcard from Planet Zorgon X charges that his Democratic challenger was behind the recent FBI raid of the offices of his daughter and of a close political supporter.

McClatchy Newspapers broke the story Friday of a federal investigation into whether Weldon had a role in his daughter Karen and political adviser Charles Sexton obtaining nearly $1 million worth of lobbying contracts. While his staff initially denied the reports and threatened the newspaper chain with a lawsuit, FBI agents raided the homes of Sexton and Karen Weldon, their business office, and two locations in Floridathree days later.

Weldon has charged that the investigation was timed to inflict maximum damage on his re-election campaign. Speaking to reporters after a House Aviation Subcommittee meeting Wednesday afternoon, he said the retired FBI agent, Gregory Auld, confirmed the night before that a Sestak worker "was bragging that three weeks ago they knew this was going to come down."

"That, to me, is absolutely outrageous," Weldon said. "If that occurred, it means that someone in the Justice Department was coordinating whatever was happening with a political campaign."

Except it didn’t happen, according to Auld, who told an entirely different story.


The only question is whether Weldon is retreating into fantasy, as the noose tightens around his wretched neck, or whether he has always lived there.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

  Hussein verdict to be announced two days before U.S. election?

This Monday the chief prosecutor from the special tribunal in Iraq stated that the court may announce its verdict against Saddam Hussein on November 5. Oddly, none of the news reports in the U.S. so much as commented on the curious timing of such an announcement.


Here is the Associated Press report:


A verdict against Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants charged with crimes against humanity in connection with an anti-Shiite crackdown in the 1980s [at the town of Dujail] will be announced Nov. 5, a senior court official said Monday. Sentences for those found guilty will be issued the same day, he said....


"The Dujail trial will resume Nov. 5 when the presiding judge will announce the verdict and the sentencing," [Raed] Juhi, the investigating judge, said.



For what it is worth, Reuters attributes the most confident statements about the date to the prosecutor, while quoting the investigating judge as making a more cautious prediction:


Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi said the Iraqi High Tribunal could announce a verdict when it reconvenes on November 5. "Right now they are checking some testimonies and details. If they finish by then, then they will definitely announce the verdict on November 5," he told Reuters.


Court spokesman Raed Juhi was more cautious on setting a date for the ruling of a case which opened a year ago and has been marred by repeated delays and interruptions. "If the court has finished reviewing testimony by November 5 there might be a verdict. The court would do whatever it finds appropriate," Juhi told Reuters.


The judge would have good reason to be cautious about speaking too confidently about that date. It falls just two days before what promises to be for Republicans the most embarrassing election since 1974. And as Tom Engelhardt remarks, the Iraqi tribunal is widely viewed as a puppet of the U.S. government. He quotes Scott Horton, chairman of the International Law Committee at the New York City Bar Association:


"This is not coincidence," [Horton] continued. "Nothing in Iraq that's set up this far in advance is coincidental. Look at Michael Gordon's book Cobra II. One of the points he drives home is how everything in the battle for Baghdad was scripted for US media consumption.


"In fact, in my experience, everything that comes out of Baghdad is very carefully prepared for American domestic consumption.


For good measure, Horton also states the obvious: that the only significant spikes in George Bush's poll ratings since March 2003 have all followed events that the Bush administration trumpeted as spectacular successes for its policies in Iraq.


"One was the date on which Saddam was captured. The second was the purple fingers election. The third was Zarqawi being killed."


November the fifth. How does that coincide with your post-war conspiracies, huh?


Remember, remember, the fifth of November...


From Unbossed

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

  Republicans stone-walling Cunningham probe

Yesterday, on her own stick, Jane Harman released the Executive Summary of the House Intelligence Committee's investigation of how the disgraced former member, Randy 'Duke' Cunningham, managed to use his influence to steer contracts to his business cronies Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade. Republicans will view its release as, ahhh...inconvenient.

Here is a PDF of the Executive Summary, and here is the San Diego Union Tribune report on the story. The Union Tribune piece gives a good overview of the document Harman released, and the politics of its release.

Meanwhile the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, is furious that Harman dared to release a document that he would have prefered to keep the public from seeing. Laura Rozen quotes Hoekstra saying:

"Today the committee's Ranking Member, Jane Harman, unilaterally and without the consent and authority of the full committee, released an interim, internal report by the committee's independent counsel into the actions of former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham....the unilateral decision by Harman to break our bipartisan, written agreement to review the Cunningham matter by releasing an incomplete, internal committee document that has not been reviewed by the other committee Members is disturbing and beyond the pale."


Because that's the main issue, the partisanship that has tainted this investigation. Though, I must add, not for the reason Hoekstra would have us believe. Harman clearly is fed up with Republican stone-walling and decided it was time to sand-bag the whole lot of them. It's about time Democrats started fighting back against the Republicans' refusal to permit any meaningful oversight to occur.

Stone-walling? The Department of Defense has failed to cooperate with the Intelligence Committee's investigation; the House Appropriations Committee (under Chairman Jerry Lewis) has failed to cooperate; Hoekstra himself has refused to subpoena Cunningham on behalf of the Intelligence Committee.

So all the Intelligence Committee investigation is able to conclude thus far, on the evidence made available to it, is that Cunningham abused his position on the Committee and browbeat reluctant Committee staffers into going along with his highly suspicious activities--or, at least, remaining silent about their suspicions.

Once again, Republicans shield their own powerful friends from any manner of accountability, while permitting lower level staffers to face the brunt of investigation.

  An emerging Democratic majority

It has long seemed to me that the outlandish behavior of the Republican Party during the last decade; its fawning upon the nuts, the bigots, and the wild-eyed manicheans of the religious right; its flagrant corruption; its arrogant abuse of raw power; and its refusal to be held accountable either under law or custom--would provoke a long-lasting backlash against the Republican Party. Add to that foul brew an extremely nasty Bush/Cheney administration, shredding the Constitution, flouting the law, grabbing for unchecked power, hounding opponents, bungling national security, deceiving the nation about Iraq...and so forth. You get a cataclysm for the Republican Party, especially among people young enough to be flexible about their political views.

That is evident in this chart published by the New York Times on Sunday. It deserves more attention than it has gotten. The chart tracks party identification by the age of voters.

What it shows pretty clearly is that certain dynamic presidents attract voters who are young into their party, where the voters remain for decades, whereas others who are repulsive (like Nixon and Dubya) push young voters into the opposite party.

The biggest shift toward one party in the last 70 plus years is going on right now, with young people moving en masse to the Democrats.

It seems to confirm what I sensed in 2004, when I was teaching at a college whose student body was pretty uniformly affluent and privileged. They were some of the most conservative students I'd ever seen. And that year the anger among students against the Republican Party was almost palpable. A few years earlier, the students would have identified themselves heavily as Republicans. But in 2004, it was the Republican activists who were moaning that they were in the minority on campus, and were looked down upon.

The reasons were many, but one of the most obvious was the open bigotry of the Republican national leadership, particularly against gays. Even staunchly conservative Republican students tended to distance themselves from such attitudes. Their generation, thankfully, is no longer fearful of homosexuality. Most young people have openly gay friends. A party that seeks to demonize your friends, whether they're gay, or atheists, or foreign born, is not a party that the young of this generation will embrace.

So, good riddance to all that. The only question that remains is how many years will it take for the Republicans to recognize the obvious and throw the wackos overboard.

Crossposted at Unbossed

Monday, October 16, 2006

  The nature of the Enemy we face



If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I'd live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You'd see me with my puffy, petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
Reading the Roll of Honour. 'Poor young chap,
'I'd say --- 'I used to know his father well;
Yes, we've lost heavily in this last scrap.'
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I'd toddle safely home and die --- in bed.

-Seigfreid Sassoon, WWI vet


"Time and time again, we're seeing examples of Democratic Party leaders apparently having lost their perspective concerning the nature of the enemy we face," [Cheney] told his Republican supporters.

Indeed.

hat tip to Puma at Past is Prologue

Sunday, October 15, 2006

  Is it curtains for Ken Mehlman?

The LA Times posted a major story this evening linking Jack Abramoff so closely to Ken Mehlman that it's has to be wondered whether the RNC Chair can survive the revelations. The evidence is documentary—emails--and these have recently been released by a House committee. Republicans will have a fine time trying to impeach the credibility of this evidence.

The new scandal certainly cannot come at a worse time for the Republican Party, since the details will confirm for the public the idea that corruption reaches all the way to the top within the GOP. The behavior of Mehlman in question is pretty despicable on the face of it. Worse, some of would appear to be illegal. And worst of all for everybody, Mehlman committed these acts while he was working as the White House political director.

The main charges are these:

* In 2001 Jack Abramoff decided that he wanted to get Allen Stayman fired from his State Department job. Stayman's sin? He was pushing to enact labor reforms on the Northern Mariana Islands. One of Abramoff's associates met with Ken Mehlman and then emailed Abramoff saying that Mehlman promised to get Stayman fired. Susan Ralston, Rove's disgraced staffer, also was involved in the "Stayman project". She sent Abramoff an email at one stage predicting that Stayman would be fired within 4 months, as indeed he was.

* At the same time that Abramoff was lobbying Mehlman to fire Stayman, Mehlman received tickets from Abramoff to a sold out U2 concert, worth over $260. That would be in violation of ethics rules which "prohibit officials from accepting gifts worth more than $20 from a person doing business with the government".

* Mehlman also had a "role in helping an Abramoff client, the Mississippi Band of the Choctaw Indians, secure $16.3 million for a new jail that government analysts concluded was not necessary".

* There appears to have been a quid pro quo for helping the Choctaws, in the form of a $10,000 donation to the RNC.

Tony Rudy, a onetime aide to former Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, referred to Mehlman on Nov. 9, 2001, as a "rock star" after Mehlman agreed to "take care of" the Choctaws' jail, despite a Justice Department finding that the tribe's existing jail was adequate.

Several days after that meeting, on Nov. 13, Rudy recommended a $15,000 contribution to the Republican National Committee. "Let's give the check to Ken Mehlman at the White House," wrote Rudy, who later pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges as part of the broader investigation.

On Nov. 15, campaign finance records show, the tribe gave $10,000 to the RNC.


* Department of Justice was not happy about the boondoggle of a jail, but eventually relented to the lobbying campaign, which Mehlman took part in. Abramoff rewarded DoJ figures for playing along.

When Justice Department officials relented and released the money for the jail, giddy Abramoff associates planned to host agency officials in a suite for a Dave Matthews concert.

"I have the suite filling up with DOJ staffers who just got our client $16 million," one wrote. Another replied that the agency officials deserve any reward they want, "opening day tickets, Skins v Giants, oriental massages, hookers, whatever."


This should tie in well with attempts (well, my attempts at least) to revive the moribund Hookergate scandal.

* In 2002 Mehlman also intervened on behalf of Abramoff to get a White House endorsement of the Republican gubernatorial ticket in Guam.

Abramoff received a note from Ralston, then Rove's assistant, saying that Mehlman had gotten a quote from the White House for "your candidate." She also asked Abramoff to send his requests in the future to "Ken only."


Now, with evidence like that, how will it be possible any longer to convince anybody that Bush Co. did not know the extent and nature of Jack Abramoff's influence among White House staff? From Ralson's instructions, it sure appears like Rove was already trying to put some distance between himself and Abramoff already in 2002.

And the reason is that scandals like this were certain to come out some day.

Henry Waxman's office has plenty of documentation, including links to the Committee's report, clear introductions to the main issues from Waxman himself, a spreadsheet laying out the 485 lobbying contacts that Abramoff had with the White House, and PDFs with the texts of the emails that are under discussion in the LAT article. Waxman released this information about two weeks ago, though I did not notice it at the time (more's the shame). I've seen no news coverage of these particular findings of the Committee before today, so in that sense it may all be news to the public.


Crossposted at Unbossed and Daily Kos

Friday, October 13, 2006

  Your Think Tank's war

Laura Rozen has a rather remarkable post about the genesis of the Iraq War, which has gotten virtually no attention. That's all the more surprising because she's discussing allegations made in Bob Woodward's new book, which people have been pawing over frantically for inside information about how and why the White House has failed in Iraq.

This particular passage from State of Denial did in fact receive a certain amount of attention about four days ago, after Julie Bosman of the NYT commented on it. Her interest, which has been reflected in virtually everything subsequently written about the passage, was in the ethics of the journalists and pundits who, Woodward says, took part in a secret strategy session organized by the Cheney adminstration. Until now all the figures named have kept their participation in the session (indeed, the very existence of the session) secret, though they have been commenting publicly and writing about the events that they helped to shape in this meeting.

The meeting of November 29, 2001 was organized to supply the Cheney administration with a plan for what to do with the Middle East. The presumption, evidently, was that the U.S. should do something with, or to, the Middle East after the invasion of Afghanistan. The talkers and the scribblers at the meeting were supposed to identify whom to do something to. Bosman quotes Robert Kaplan (of The Atlantic) saying that he and the other participants wrote up “a forceful summary of some of the best pro-war arguments at the time.” This document became an important contribution to the Cheney administration's plan for screwing up the Middle East in subsequent years.

I won't bother to discuss the ethics of 'journalists' who secretly help to formulate government policy, nor the fact that in this case it amounted to framing a case for invading a foreign country. It's enough to note that this group included Reuel Marc Gerecht, of all people. Further commentary is unnecessary.

I'm also not going to discuss the important point raised by Steve Clemons, who wonders whether this secret meeting violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act. That's a proper subject for people who are smarter than me.

I will however highlight something important that has been overlooked, in so far as anybody is paying attention to this story. Here I'll quote Laura Rozen's distillation of Woodward:

At Wolfowitz's request, American Enterprise Institute president Christopher Demuth "recruited a dozen people. [Bernard Lewis, Mark Palmer, Fareed Zakaria, Fouad Ajami, James Q. Wilson, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Steve Herbits among them]. He later said they agreed to serve only 'if I promised it would all be kept secret.' ... On Thursday night, November 29, 2001, Demuth assembled the group at a secure conference center in Virginia for a weekend of discussions ... DeMuth was surprised at the consensus among his group. He stayed up late Sunday night distilling their thoughts into a seven page, single-spaced document, called 'Delta of Terrorism.' ... 'The general analysis was that Egypt and Saudi Arabia ... were the key, but the problems there are intractable. Iran is more important...' But Iran was similarly difficult to envision dealing with... But Saddam Hussein was different, weaker, more vulnerable... 'We concluded that a confrontation with Saddam was inevitable. ... We agreed that Saddam would have to leave the scene before the problem would be addressed.' ... Copies of the memo, straight from the neoconservative playbook, were hand-delivered to the war cabinet members. In at least some cases, it was given a SECRET classification. Cheney was pleased with the memo, and it had a strong impact on President Bush ..."


It's the nature of the report itself, now classified, that strikes me as most outlandish. The American Enterprise all-stars came to an agreement that the Middle Eastern countries that were most problematic for the U.S. were Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

What did they propose to do about Egypt and Saudi Arabia? In perfect neo-con fashion, they changed the subject. Egypt and Saudi Arabia were too hard to figure out. They couldn't identify a plan for Egypt and Saudi Arabia. So they forgot about Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Change the subject: Iran. Iran was dangerous too.

What did they propose to do about Iran? In perfect neo-con fashion, they changed the subject. Iran was too hard to figure out. They couldn't identify a plan for Iran. So they forgot about Iran.

Change the subject: Iraq. Iraq wasn't particularly dangerous. But Iraq was weak and vulnerable. What did they propose to do about Iraq? In perfect neo-con fashion, they decided to invade it.

Ponder this for a moment. The American Enterprise Institute is, in the parlance of our times, a "Think Tank". So this classified plan, a roadmap to hell, was the best product of neo-con "thinking". In the parlance of our times.

  The word unspoken

Many interesting statements, and mistatements, today from Tony Snow at the White House. One of his most revealing exchanges with reporters speaks volumes about how embarrassed Republicans are by their own corruption. And, ironically, it does this by saying nothing.

Q This morning Congressman Bob Ney pled guilty in federal court to charges that took nine minutes to read into the record. When he resigns, he'll become the fourth Republican congressman to leave (inaudible). Do Republicans in Washington have a problem with ethics?

MR. SNOW: No, but he ought to resign.

Q But is there something that the Republicans should do to perhaps better deal with problems within their own ranks, better self-policing of behavior?

MR. SNOW: I think it's important that everybody be policed -- Democrats or Republicans. If you've got money in your freezer or skeletons in your closet, you better make sure that you're taking care of what's going on. I think it's incumbent on everybody to behave in a model way. And that's always our belief. We do not think that being a Republican -- let me put it this way, what Congressman Ney did is not a reflection of the Republican Party, it's a reflection of Congressman Ney. And he ought to step down.

We saw that with Duke Cunningham. He took money. He stepped down. He should have. And when people break the law or bring discredit upon themselves and their -- bring credit [sic] upon themselves, they ought to do the appropriate thing.


Now, for the sake of comity let's just stipulate that Mr. Snow made a slip of the tongue when he spoke of bringing credit to oneself by breaking the law.

I'm more focused upon the phrase "bring discredit upon themselves and their--", or rather, upon the omitted word. Snow breaks off in mid clause, and then shifts back suddenly and ungrammatically to his previous phrase "bring [dis]credit upon themselves"...but this time without the embarrassing tail end of it, "and their..."

Their what? What was that word that Tony Snow chose to avoid speaking? That caused him to wrench his sentence backwards, like a crash-test car that has hit a wall? One senses a fleeting moment of panic in Mr. Snow. Must have been quite a word, that word unspoken.

My guess: their "party".

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

  Taking al Qaida at its word

In his press conference today, George Bush once again claimed that terrorists were hoping to drive the US out of Iraq "before the mission is done":


If we were to abandon that country before the Iraqis can defend their young democracy, the terrorists would take control of Iraq and establish a new safe haven from which to launch new attacks on America.


How do I know that would happen? Because that's what the enemy has told us would happen. That's what they have said.


And as commander in chief of the United States military, and as a person working to secure this country, I take the words of the enemy very seriously, and so should the American people.


Well, fair enough...and some might say it's about time.

Here is what an al Qaida leader named "Atiyah" wrote to the former leader of Al Qaida in Iraq, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, on Dec. 11, 2005 (PDF):


The most important thing is that you continue in your jihad in Iraq, and that you be patient and forbearing, even in weakness, and even with fewer operations; even if each day had half of the number of current daily operations, that is not a problem, or even less than that. So, do not be hasty. The most important thing is that the jihad continues with steadfastness and firm rooting, and that it grows in terms of supporters, strength, clarity of justification, and visible proof each day. Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest, with God's permission. The best acts are those that last, however few they may be, provided that we guard against mistakes building up and that we have integration in the jihadist enterprise. The only thing that you have to fear is yourselves and your own mistakes, not your enemy. By God, your enemy will never defeat you as long as you are patient and steadfast, not having caused damage that is great or frequent; and you seek help in God.


For more context on this letter, see my post from last week, plus Robert Parry at his Consortium News, who points out that a second al Qaida letter from July 2005, by Zawahiri, also states that a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq would be disastrous for al Qaida. Over the weekend the Christian Science Monitor picked up the story about this important passage in the Atiyah letter.


So, Mr. Bush, are you going to take those statements from al Qaida seriously? Are you prepared to admit that al Qaida wishes to keep the U.S. bogged down in Iraq as long as possible, wearing down our military strength, sapping our prosperity, undermining our international standing, and assisting al Qaida itself as it tries to repair its damaged reputation in Iraq and cement its base of power there?


Or will you continue to take seriously only to what you want to hear the terrorists saying? Will you continue to dwell upon their fantasies about reviving the caliphate?


The stakes couldn't be any higher, as I said earlier, in the world in which we live. There are extreme elements that use religion to achieve objectives. And they want us to leave. And they want to topple government. They want to extend an ideological caliphate that has no concept of liberty inherent in their beliefs.


We know all about extremists using religion to achieve their objectives. Here in the U.S., they're called Republicans.


But why, Mr. Bush, are you obsessing about will-o-wisps like a caliphate, when you ignore al Qaida's statements about their tactical, their real, their actual plan to keep the U.S. bogged down in Iraq?


The enemy's doing everything within its power to destroy the government and to drive us out of the Middle East, starting with driving us out of Iraq before the mission is done.


The stakes are high. As a matter of fact, they couldn't be higher....


They want to control oil resources and they want to plot and plan and attack us again. That's their objectives.


If the stakes are so damned high, then why have you never sent more than minimal forces to Iraq? If it truly is a "clash of civilizations", upon which the very future of the U.S. depends, then why did the Army not have enough troops to establish order in Iraq in April 2003? Why have you drawn down our forces there, rather than building them up as chaos ensued? Why did you not find the forces to win this "high-stakes" war? Why have you never asked Congress to re-introduce the draft?


No, Mr. Bush, you give the impression that you believe only part of what al Qaida's leaders say...and, only part of what you yourself say.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

  Another witness speaks about Tony Blair's march to war

This week the Guardian has published extracts from the weekly diary kept by the former British Home Secretary, David Blunkett. Tomorrow's extracts concern the planning for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Blunkett has come across as a sniveling suck-up to Tony Blair, and more interested in the personal politics within the Cabinet and perceived slights to him, than in actual policy. As a diary, it is depressingly poor stuff--especially when compared to Robin Cook's diary on the same period, which I've drawn attention to repeatedly on line.

Still, Blunkett manages to confirm in a general way the much sharper picture drawn by Cook of several important episodes. In particular, here is Blunkett's description of the first important cabinet meeting on Iraq policy.

March 7 2002

At cabinet we had a very good discussion about Iraq. I talked about where the real message was: Why aren't you doing something about the Middle East and the Palestine-Israeli conflict? Why are you just backing the Americans? I also drew on the steel industry problems and how this had changed the climate of our automatically backing the Americans.

It struck me that a bit of reciprocity wouldn't come amiss.

Apart from Jack Straw and Geoff Hoon who had clearly got the message to be gung-ho, everyone else was drawing the conclusion that we needed to go into depth with this. In the end Tony said: "Look, the management hasn't lost its marbles. We do know these things. We are not going to rush in." But we all fear that they will.


Here is what Robin Cook had to say about the same meeting, in his diary:

Thursday March 7: A real discussion at cabinet. Tony permitted us to have the debate on Iraq which David and I had asked for. For the first time I can recall in five years, Tony was out on a limb.

David was first over the top. Being now home secretary he cunningly camped on the need for a proper legal authority for any action: "What has changed that suddenly gives us the legal right to take military action that we didn't have a few months ago? Has anybody asked the legal opinion of the attorney-general, and what is he saying?"

Pat Hewitt lamented that we were expected to listen to US worries about Iraq when we could not get them to listen to us before slapping higher tariffs on our steel exports. "We are in danger of being seen as close to President Bush, but without any influence over President Bush."

I am told that in the old days prime ministers would sum up the balance of view in the discussion. This would be simple in the present case as all contributions pointed in one direction. However, Tony does not regard the cabinet as a place for decisions. Normally he avoids having discussions in cabinet until decisions are taken and announced to it.

Tony appeared totally unfazed at the fact that on this occasion the balance of discussion pointed strongly in the reverse direction of his intentions. Rather than attempt to sum up the discussion of this supreme body of collective government, he responded as if he was replying to a question-and-answer session from a party branch.

He was patient with us, but he was firm where he saw Britain's national interests lie: "I tell you that we must steer close to America. If we don't we will lose our influence to shape what they do."

This was the last cabinet meeting at which a large number of ministers spoke up against the war. I have little sympathy with the criticism of Tony that he sidelined the cabinet over Iraq. On the contrary, over the next six months we were to discuss Iraq more than any other topic, but only Clare Short and I ever expressed frank doubts about the trajectory in which we were being driven.


Oddly, Blunkett's memoir omits any discussion of the legal issue, which Cook rightly held to be an extremely strong point against invading Iraq. This demonstrates the depressing sloppiness of Blunkett's (edited) diary. In this case, his March 7 entry confirms little more than the simple fact that most of the Cabinet was against an attack on Iraq.

That said, what do we learn from this new diary?

That in the fall and winter of 2001, coordination between the US and UK regarding Afghanistan was virtually non-existent, and that British planning was so chaotic that Blair could not get the Ministry of Defense to follow basic instructions.

That already by January 2002, the Brits were accusing the U.S. of ignoring the need for reconstruction in Afghanistan.

That by September 2002, in the British Cabinet only Cook and Clare Short were actively opposing the invasion of Iraq, all the others having fallen in line with Blair's wishes. Blunkett and others were talking about pushing Cook out of the Cabinet for his obstinence on Iraq.

That Blunkett paid little attention to the government dossiers on alleged Iraqi WMD, since, he claims, he didn't think they would matter much.

That the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, decided only shortly before the invasion began to fully back Blair's position on war. Blunkett thinks that Blair would have sacked Brown after the invasion if he had not backed it strongly.

That the British army had no interest in nor plan for policing the areas of Iraq they'd over-run, and thought it wasn't their job to stop the looting that broke out.

What is most surprising to learn from Blunkett's diary, I suppose, is that such a feckless ninny could occupy an important position in the British government, as it conspired with an equally incompetent Bush administration to drag our countries to war.

Crossposted at DowningStreetMemo.com

Sunday, October 08, 2006

  Partitioning Iraq: the final insult

In its desperation to find anything like a plan for George Bush to follow in Iraq, which might give the appearance of salvaging some tiny thread of his reputation, the "Iraq Study Group" led by the truly vile James Baker is sending out feelers hinting that it might propose partitioning Iraq.

His group will not advise “partition”, but is believed to favour a division of the country that will devolve power and security to the regions, leaving a skeletal national government in Baghdad in charge of foreign affairs, border protection and the distribution of oil revenue.

The Iraqi government will be encouraged to hold a constitutional conference paving the way for greater devolution


The impetus for this horrifically bad proposal, we're told, is the desire to stave off civil war. Even the American public has noticed by now that the Bush administration's cute pronouncements notwithstanding, a civil war began long ago.

What too few Americans know, however, is that a partition is practically impossible on the ground, as things stand for Iraqis now. There are many reasons, but the most important is that nearly half the population of Iraq lives in a few large, ethnically/religiously mixed cities. The brutal campaigns of ethnic cleansing now going on in these cities will be as nothing compared to what will surely come, if the hacks working with Baker on this 'study' group manage to convince Bush to go along with their 'solution'.

That's not to say there can be a solution to the disaster Bush has created. But Baker is looking for something that will allow Bush to save some face, not necessarily for what is advantageous to any or all Iraqis. It has seemed obvious to me, since the existence of the Group was announced, that it would produce some such half-witted 'compromise' rather than face up to the consequences of Bush's failures.

The Baker commission has grown increasingly interested in the idea of splitting the Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish regions of Iraq as the only alternative to what Baker calls “cutting and running” or “staying the course”.


If Iraqis decide upon their own country's partition, that is their business. But they are more capable than foreigners to make such decisions. This "soft partition" of Iraq (yes, Baker really is trying to sell the idea by means of an empty slogan) is designed to allow Bush to depict the mayhem that will follow partition as the "birth-pangs" of a new Iraq.

  The worst time ever in Iraqi women's lives

Women in Iraq face unspeakable suffering, even more than Iraqi men, and in fact the deterioration in their lives was becoming pronounced within months of the U.S. invasion. Today The Observer publishes a devastating account of the daily peril women face. This is a portrait of the freedom that George Bush promised to bring the Iraqi people.


'Of course rape is going on,' says Aida Ussayaran, former deputy Human Rights Minister and now one of the women on the Council of Representatives. 'We blame the militias. But when we talk about the militias, many are members of the police. Any family now that has a good-looking young woman in it does not want to send her out to school or university, and does not send her out without a veil. This is the worst time ever in Iraqi women's lives. In the name of religion and sectarian conflict they are being kidnapped and killed and raped. And no one is mentioning it.'


The status and freedom of women in Iraq before the invasion was considerably better, in fact relatively high for an Arab country, even though the 1991 Gulf War brought significant reverses for women and girls.


The most significant political factor was Saddam Hussein's decision to embrace Islamic and tribal traditions as a political tool in order to consolidate power.


Still, the insecurity fostered by Bush's failed policies for occupation, and the growing insurgency, meant that already in the first months after the invasion women were living in a 'climate of fear', as Human Rights Watch reported in July 2003.


...the failure of Iraqi and U.S.-led occupation authorities to provide public security in Iraq's capital lies at the root of a widespread fear of rape and abduction among women and their families.


"Women and girls today in Baghdad are scared, and many are not going to schools or jobs or looking for work," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "If Iraqi women are to participate in postwar society, their physical security needs to be an urgent priority."...


U.S. military police were not filling the gap when Iraqi police were unwilling or unable to conduct serious investigations of sexual violence and abduction.


But of course George Bush's administration gave little attention to the interests of any Iraqis, and the situation for women deteriorated badly thereafter. By the summer of 2005, Code Pink was reporting that Iraqi women were 'Under Siege'. In addition to facing random violence on the lawless streets of Iraq as well as abuse by American troops, Code Pink reported that women had restricted access to jobs and education, and that the gains in conservative Islamist power endangered women's essential liberties. The new constitution was a significant reversal for women's rights (despite this absurdly optimistic appraisal of the future of Sharia law from Foreign Affairs).


This contemporary report from Lesley Abdela paints a grim picture of oppression of women as of July 2005, as the civil war was just beginning.


Just as Iraqi women were anticipating a new era of democracy and freedom, a wave of intimidation by extremist groups has arisen to crush their hopes. Violent oppression of women is spreading across Iraq, a weapon of mass mental and physical destruction. And yet there is silence from world leaders, religious leaders, politicians and the media.


Insurgents and religious extremists use rape, acid and assassination to force Iraqi women to wear the veil - the symbol of submission, first signal of further repression to come. Many Iraqi women have never worn the scarf. Now, dead bodies of girls and women are found in rivers and on waste ground with a veil tied around the head, as a message....


Political Islamists target universities in particular....


Attacks have now expanded from certain geographic locations to the whole country.


Again, the Bush administration failed to act to stem the oppression of Iraqi women. From March of 2006, this report from Houzan Mahmoud:


And it gets worse. Representatives of the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq recently discovered a jail in al-Kazemiah district of Baghdad holding over 200 women (and some children) in appalling conditions. They were held by the Shia-dominated authorities, some for supposed involvement with the insurgency, some for other reasons. Many had been tortured or raped....women are now caught between a pincer movement of a heavy-handed (and despised) occupation that cares little for women's rights in Iraq, and an increasingly reactionary Islamic armed insurrection that aims to imprison women.


And today, The Observer reports that the unraveling of the country has left Iraqi women to the wolves. It is a 'human rights catastrophe for Iraqi women'.


Iraqis do not like to talk about it much, but there is an understanding of what is going on these days. If a young woman is abducted and murdered without a ransom demand, she has been kidnapped to be raped. Even those raped and released are not necessarily safe: the response of some families to finding that a woman has been raped has been to kill her.


Iraq's women are living with a fear that is increasing in line with the numbers dying violently every month. They die for being a member of the wrong sect and for helping their fellow women. They die for doing jobs that the militants have decreed that they cannot do: for working in hospitals and ministries and universities. They are murdered, too, because they are the softest targets for Iraq's criminal gangs....


After a month-long investigation, The Observer has established that in almost every major area of human rights, women are being seriously discriminated against, in some cases seeing their conditions return to those of females in the Middle Ages....


It is a violence that would not be possible without a wider, permissive brutalising of women's lives: one that permeates the 'new Iraq' in its entirety.


I wonder how much of this living hell Condoleezza Rice observed during her dash in and out of the Green Zone this week?


Crossposted from Unbossed

Saturday, October 07, 2006

  Foley, Duke Cunningham, & Brent Wilkes

Rather incredibly, during the last month the only news story on Watergate II (or 'Hookergate') comes from Australia. That dearth of news coverage ought to stop, if only because this huge scandal epitomizes the Republicans' rampant corruption and reckless disregard for national security.


Perhaps we can help to put Cunningham, Wilkes, and Foggo back in the news by linking them to Foley. The alleged orgies at the Watergate and Westin hotels in DC are said to have been purely Republican affairs which continued for years with the involvement and collusion of top GOP officials. Though apparently the parties were well known, nobody dared to blow the whistle.


More to the point, these sexual libertines were undermining in private the very things they made a public show of upholding--the security of the nation.

This story blossomed and withered quickly in spring, but there's no reason why the autumn rains can't revive it. And right now, the bad news is absolutely pouring down on the GOP.


There are many parallels between Watergate II and Foleygate, which would make it possible to interest journalists in the older scandal. But are there any hooks for reporters to hang a story upon?


Well, for one thing, Mark Foley served on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, one of the swamps of corruption in Tom DeLay's House of Representatives. Several Republican members of Ways and Means, such as fellow Floridian Clay Shaw, have received large donations from the DeLay and Abramoff tag team, or from Brent Wilkes. (Shaw has also received funds from Foley's PAC.) Furthermore, just last year DeLay was instrumental in getting one of his main acolytes elevated to the committee--NRCC Chair Tom Reynolds. Reynolds and Nancy Johnson, the third most senior Republican on the committee, are among the most corrupt members of the House. (Listen to Chris Murphy on Nancy Johnson's involvment in the Medicare Bill.) So Foley was well positioned to wade into that particular swamp if he wished.


It's far from clear how involved Foley was in the rampant corruption associated with the Ways and Means Committee, but it would not be surprising to discover that he had contacts with somebody like Brent Wilkes, who seemed to play all the angles in DC. A large part of Foley's power came from the big sums his PAC spread around to other representatives. His modest PAC receipts tripled after he was appointed to Ways and Means, and he's positively swimming in money from Health Insurance PACS.


Besides, though he has the reputation of a fop, Foley was willing to play along with the most unconscionable and viscious elements in the Republican party. For example, last year he introduced H.J.RES.41, a Constitutional Amendment that would have stripped citizenship from children whose parents are not also citizens or legal permanent residents. To my mind, Foley's bill was very low blow indeed, so to speak. It would be worth knowing what else he stooped to during his years in Congress.


}}}} * {{{{


In any case, whether or not journalists are willing to try to tie Watergate II into the Foley scandal, suddenly some of the main actors are making it easy to refocus attention on their exploits.


First, there is the whinging letter that Randy "Duke" Cunningham recently sent from prison to a reporter at the San Diego Union Tribune, which reports upon it today:


In a handwritten letter to the reporter who exposed his corruption, former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham portrays life in prison as an agonizing time of regret, anger and bitterness toward those he blames for his downfall.


"I hurt more than anyone could imagine," Cunningham wrote from federal prison in North Carolina....


"Each time you print it hurts my family and now I have lost them along with everything I have worked for during my 64 years of life," he wrote. "I am human not an animal to keep whipping."


The quality of mercy is not strained. The quality of mercy is not strained. The quality of mercy is not strained.


It is a minimum security prison that Cunningham languishes in. There, I said it.


[Cunningham] aims his sharpest barbs at one of his co-conspirators....


"[Mitchell] Wade is the absolute devil and his lawyer is trying to save his donkey," wrote Cunningham, reflecting his bitterness at what Wade has been telling federal investigators and the U.S. Attorney's Office....


Noting that he "cannot discuss the case," Cunningham nonetheless said that "90 percent" of the case against him came from Wade, downplaying the role of another of his alleged co-conspirators, Brent Wilkes, founder of Poway-based ADCS Inc.


And what precisely has Wade contributed that is new? Inquiring minds, and all that.


Although Copley News is a fairly small operation with little reach into the American news media, the story of Cunningham's hand-written, self-pitying letter is bizarre enough that other news bureaus might just pick it up...especially if we lend a hand drawing attention to it.


To complement it, there is the news also from today that Cunningham's wife has admitted to guilt in tax evasion but, rather remarkably, will not be prosecuted for it. Nor will she be held accountable for repaying the full amount the couple owes the IRS.


Nancy Cunningham also admitted wrongdoing in the corruption case but will not be prosecuted as a tax cheat under an agreement with prosectors announced yesterday.


She agreed to give up $760,000 in equity in the house to pay a portion of the nearly $1.7 million the couple owe in back taxes, interest and penalties....


"Claimant (Nancy Cunningham) admits and acknowledges that the United States' agreement not to seek criminal charges against her is not based on a lack of evidence that she committed criminal tax offenses," according to the agreement filed yesterday in San Diego federal court.


"However, in light of her willingness to accept financial responsibility for her actions, her willingness to cooperate with the United States' ongoing investigations, and the remaining terms and conditions of this agreement, the United States has elected not to pursue criminal charges against Claimant."


Some taxpayers might consider that deal to be grossly lenient. They certainly might like to know more about what that cooperation with the ongoing investigation actually entails. And given that the story happens to coincide with the ridiculous prison note from the Duke, I'd say this is an open invitation to revisit all of the Cunninghams' corrupt practices.


Meanwhile, back at Brent Wilkes' 97,000 square foot ranch corporate headquarters, ADCS Inc., we learn that two financial companies recently filed lawsuits against him for breach of contract.


The lawsuits are only the latest problems for Wilkes.


When Cunningham pleaded guilty late last year to his role in a massive bribery scheme, court documents identified four unnamed co-conspirators, two of whom had allegedly provided Cunningham with more than $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for his help in steering tens of millions in government contracts to their companies.


Sources close to the investigation identified Wilkes as one of those co-conspirators, something that one of his attorneys acknowledged to reporters in the weeks following Cunningham's March sentencing.


In fact, Wilkes is the number one co-conspirator. By a curious coincidence, Wilkes' company has fallen apart since Cunningham was exposed, as his lawyer notes:


[Michael] Lipman said the scandal surrounding Cunningham has been "very difficult" financially for Wilkes.


"It has taken a toll on the business," Lipman said. "He is attempting to keep things afloat and move forward."


A worthy "Hirohito moment" ("Despite the best that has been done by everyone . . . the war situation has developed not necessarily to our advantage.").


Otherwise, though, these days it is all whinging all the time from the crowd involved in Watergate II. I'd like to think that we could convince some national reporters that the scandal deserves another look or two.


And how far has the FBI investigation progressed since May, anyhow?

Friday, October 06, 2006

  Despair at the UN over selection of new Secretary General

More than ever, the UN desperately needs the leadership of a dynamic Secretary General. Instead, what it is likely to get when Kofi Annan retires is a virtual non-entity, Ban Ki-moon. Mr. Ban has been promoted by the Bush administration, John Bolton in particular, because he's non-threatening and appears to have no ideas.

US Ambassador John Bolton was wearing an uncharacteristic smile when he came to the microphone outside the Council chamber to give his spin on the almost certain confirmation of Ban. Some observers saw joy at the election of Bolton's favored candidate, others the smile of an assassin wiping his blade and contemplating his handiwork, scuppering other candidates with a discreet and anonymous veto.


The Security Council is set to endorse Mr. Ban next week mainly because he's inoffensive. The Guardian explores the fields of gloom at the UN.

Officials, who requested anonymity on the grounds that they would be working for Mr Ban, portray him as more secretary than general, happier with the minutiae of administrative detail than broad strategy, and a man given to platitudes....

UN officials are convinced that the Bush administration, ideologically hostile to the UN and still smarting from Mr Annan's opposition to the Iraq war, wanted the weakest candidate possible....

Ban Ki-moon has been South Korea's foreign minister for almost three years. In that time he has reformed the ministry but at the same time the country's foreign policy has been been thrown into disarray, mainly because of divisions over how to tackle North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions.


Mr. Ban has shown no ability to solve large international problems, then.

Mr Ban will confront a range of problems on taking office, ranging from conflicts worldwide to long-overdue UN internal reforms. "It is going to be a nightmare," an official said. "There is no time to learn."


But on the other hand, during the past year Mr. Ban has put together a splendid little campaign for the post of Secretary General.

The Times [of London] reported last week that South Korea, as part of a campaign to help Mr Ban, had pledged millions of dollars in aid to countries with seats on the security council, from an $18m (£9.6m) education grant to Tanzania to the gift of a grand piano to Peru.


As the The Times remarked:

Mr Ban announced his bid in February and has since been criss-crossing the globe trying to win support. A month later South Korea announced that it would treble its aid budget to Africa to $100 million (£53 million) by 2008. Seoul then contributed tens of thousands of pounds to sponsor this year’s African Union summit in the Gambia in July, when Mr Ban declared 2006 to be “the Year of Africa” for South Korea.

One fortunate recipient was Tanzania, which currently has a seat on the Security Council. When Mr Ban arrived in May he pledged $18 million for an educational programme and also promised to carry out a road and bridge project in western Tanzania. Between 1991 and 2003 South Korean grants to Tanzania totalled $4.7 million. Seoul’s generosity seems to have worked. Yesterday Elly Matango, the Tanzanian Ambassador to Tokyo and Seoul, said that his Government had decided to support Mr Ban.


Various members of the UN are hurriedly offering policy suggestions to Mr. Ban, since he appears to have none of his own. I'd like to make a suggestion as well: That when he takes over as Secretary General of the UN, Mr. Ban might work on the problem of bribery and corruption.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

  Army uncovers proof that Al Qaida wants the U.S. to remain in Iraq

George Bush has never backed up his frequent assertion that al Qaida hopes the U.S. will withdraw from Iraq. In fact, intelligence agencies have long believed that al Qaeda leadership wanted Bush to invade one or more countries in the Middle East, expecting that the U.S. would become bogged down and ultimately defeated politically (if not militarily). Further, Ron Suskind has claimed in his One Percent Doctrine that CIA analysts concluded that bin Laden released his October 2004 audio tape in order to boost George Bush's re-election chances. The expert consensus, then, appears to be that bin Laden believes Bush's floudering Middle East policy advances the interests of al Qaida.


But the public has never before been privy to direct evidence that would prove the case. Now we have a document that does so, released by the Army itself.

Via Kevin Drum, I see that Marc Lynch has spotted a document at an Army website that proves it pretty decisively. It is one of the al Qaida letters the Army scooped up in June when it killed Zarqawi.


In it, an al Qaida leader states that it is in the interest of the jihadists to prolong the Iraq War.


First of all, it ought to be evident that it is in al Qaida's interest to prolong the war. Al Qaida in Iraq has a very ugly record. As Marc Lynch pointed out last week, a recent public opinion survey shows that 94% of Iraqis have a negative opinion of al Qaida. For the immediate future, al Qaida leaders cannot hope to carve out a permanent base of power in Iraq even if the U.S. withdraws. In fact, what influence they now have would likely wither quickly absent any popular support for an insurgency against the U.S. The U.S. occupation of Iraq is a pre-condition for al Qaida's presence, and Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi never attained any popularity for al Qaida there.


Now, for the document in question. Here is the most relevant part of this long, rambling letter of advice which had been sent to Zarqawi by somebody named 'Atiyah', whom the Army presumes is a top al Qaida leader. The letter is dated to the 10th of Dhu Qa'dah, 1426, or Dec. 11, 2005:


The most important thing is that you continue in your jihad in Iraq, and that you be patient and forbearing, even in weakness, and even with fewer operations; even if each day had half of the number of current daily operations, that is not a problem, or even less than that. So, do not be hasty. The most important thing is that the jihad continues with steadfastness and firm rooting, and that it grows in terms of supporters, strength, clarity of justification, and visible proof each day. Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest, with God's permission. The best acts are those that last, however few they may be, provided that we guard against mistakes building up and that we have integration in the jihadist enterprise. The only thing that you have to fear is yourselves and your own mistakes, not your enemy. By God, your enemy will never defeat you as long as you are patient and steadfast, not having caused damage that is great or frequent; and you seek help in God.


As Marc Lynch remarks, this is a pretty straight-forward statement of the viewpoint about the Iraq War held by somebody close to bin Laden, and it's rather remarkable that the media has not picked up on its importance. The letter was posted on September 25th at the website of Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.


At the start of the PDF, the Army provides an introduction and overview of the letter, which for the most part catalogues the sorts of advice that 'Atiyah' is offering to Zarqawi on waging a successful and useful war in Iraq. Not surprisingly, the Army's summary of the letter omits any mention of the passage urging Zarqawi not to be in a hurry to defeat the U.S., and expressing the view that it is in their interest to prolong the war in Iraq. That information, one supposes, would not have been welcome to the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld triumvirate.


It's not really that surprising, then, that journalists have not picked up on the deeper significance of this letter. The CTC has released many lengthy documents concerning al Qaida planning and strategy, and the passage I've quoted could easily be overlooked, coming as it does toward the end of the letter.


The rest of the letter appears to be an attempt by al Qaida leadership to rein in Zarqawi, particularly after Zarqawi's bombing campaign in Jordan in November, 2005. 'Atiyah' urges Zarqawi to consider that the war in Iraq is about winning the "hearts of the people" as much or more than military successes; that he needs to avoid angering Muslims, especially Sunni political leaders; that he needs to consult with others who are useful and well respected, such as tribal leaders and scholars; that he needs to consider the long-term ramifications of his actions, and in particular avoid foreign operations that would undermine the cause of jihad; that he needs to follow the instructions of bin Laden and Zawahiri in the international arena and on major issues of strategy; that he needs to adopt sharia and through the justice of Islam to win over allies to his cause; that he should work with any Muslims who are useful to the cause, even if their religious views are wrong.


Thus the letter is mainly devoted to persuading Zarqawi to work more cooperatively and strategically, and to use violence in a more directed and less random way.


The comment that prolonging the Iraq War is in al Qaida's interest, then, is not central to the letter's purpose. In fact, it is close to an aside. True, it might help to persuade Zarqawi to stop alienating potential allies in Iraq if he can be convinced that he can afford to slow down the pace of his attacks and direct more attention toward diplomatic contacts. But 'Atiyah' makes no effort to prove to Zarqawi that prolonging the war was advantageous -- which would be critical, if the point was meant to persuade him to adopt the tactics suggested in the letter.


No, it looks as if 'Atiyah' assumes that it is self-evident that prolonging the war is to the advantage of al Qaida, and that he simply needs to remind Zarqawi of what each of them already understands. The statement "Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest" is pretty close to a comment made in passing.


As an historian, I feel confident in saying that the comment made in passing is often much more decisive and more revealing about the actual beliefs of a speaker or author, than any statement that belongs to the actual core of an argument. "Prolonging the war is in our interest" appears to be a candid statement of belief, for top al Qaida figures.


So the question that Americans need to ponder, is whether we ought to hold the same belief as al Qaida's leaders about the nature of the Iraq War. George Bush does.

Crossposted at Daily Kos and Unbossed