Saturday, March 11, 2006


U.S. Has No Immediate Plans to Close Abu Ghraib Prison

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 9, 2006 The United States always has planned to transfer authority for all detention facilities in Iraq to the Iraqis, but announcements regarding the imminent closure at the Abu Ghraib prison are premature, defense officials said today.

News reports that the U.S. military intends to close Abu Ghraib within the next few months and to transfer its prisoners to other jails are inaccurate, officials said.

There's no specific timetable for that transfer or for closure of the Baghdad prison, they said. Decisions regarding Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities in Iraq will be based largely on two factors: the readiness of Iraq's security forces to assume control of them and infrastructure improvements at the facilities.


About That Rebellion ...

We keep hearing that the Republicans in Congress are in revolt against the president.

Some rebellion.

Yes, the Republicans defied President Bush on the United Arab Emirates ports deal. But it wasn't over a major principle, like the collapse of Congressional supervision of the executive branch or the incredibly lax security in the nation's ports, or even the security issues posed by this particular deal.

The Republicans dumped the ports deal into the harbor because of xenophobia and electoral tactics. Republican pollsters have been saying the president could be a liability in the fall elections, so lawmakers posed as rebels for voters who, they think, want rebels. They know those voters are unhappy about globalization, and specifically hostile toward Arabs.

The idea that a happy few are charging the White House ramparts is ridiculous. Republican lawmakers don't just turn a blind eye when they learn that the president is making profoundly bad choices, like cutting constitutional corners, abrogating treaties and even breaking the law. They actually legalize the president's misdeeds.

Take domestic spying, held up as another area of Republican revolt. The program violates the law. Congress knows it. The public knows it. Even President Bush knows it. (He just says the law doesn't apply to him.) In response, the Capitol Hill rebels are boldly refusing to investigate the program — or any other warrantless spying that is going on. They are trying to rewrite the law to legalize warrantless spying. And meanwhile, they've created new subcommittees to help the president go on defying the law.

Over the last couple of years, Republican lawmakers have been given proof that American soldiers and intelligence agents abused, tortured and even killed prisoners, or sent them to other countries to be tortured. Without hesitation, the Republicans did nothing — no serious investigation, no accountability.

Congressional and White House negotiators then watered down the new anti-torture law, which Mr. Bush said did not really apply to him anyway. And they passed another law actually encouraging the abuse of prisoners by allowing the use of coerced evidence at hearings on the prisoners' status.

After 9/11, Mr. Bush created a network of prisons outside the American legal system so he could hold people indefinitely without any hearings. When the Supreme Court said twice that he was reaching beyond his powers, the Republicans in Congress were determined not to let this assault on the rule of law continue. So they rose as one, and legalized the president's actions. In case there was any confusion about its resolve, Congress told the courts that they could no longer rule on these matters. Mr. Bush got the message, loud and clear. He sent his lawyers right out to inform the judges, including the Supreme Court, that they had to drop all the cases that were already before them.

And all this does not even include the act of open rebellion by which the Senate is helping the White House cover up the hyping of intelligence on Iraq.

With rebels like these, who needs loyalists?


So Conservatives Believe in What?

Glenn Greenwald has a must-read post today entitled "A trip down right-wing memory lane----What "conservatives" used to say about the Limits of the Federal Government, the Dangers of Surveillance Powers, and Investigations into Alleged Governmental Law-breaking"

Here is an excerpt:

Let us begin with Sen. John Ashcroft, warning in July, 1997 of the profound dangers posed by proposals for the Federal Government to overcome encryption technology in order to enable the Government to monitor international computer communications (justified by the Clinton Administration on the ground that terrorists use such communications and the U.S. government must therefore be able to monitor them):

J. Edgar Hoover would have loved this. The Clinton administration wants government to be able to read international computer communications – financial transactions, personal e-mail and proprietary information sent abroad – all in the name of national security.

In a proposal that raises obvious concerns about Americans' privacy, President Clinton wants to give agencies the keys for decoding all exported U.S. software and Internet communications. . . .

Not only would Big Brother be looming over the shoulders of international cybersurfers, he also threatens to render our state-of-the-art computer software engineers obsolete and unemployed.

Granted, the Internet could be used to commit crimes, and advanced encryption could disguise such activity. However, we do not provide the government with phone jacks outside our homes for unlimited wiretaps. Why, then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web?

The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American value. . . .

Every medium by which people communicate can be exploited by those with illegal or immoral intentions. Nevertheless, this is no reason to hand Big Brother the keys to unlock our e-mail diaries, open our ATM records or translate our international communications.

Those who made such arguments in 1997 were great patriots defending American liberty. Now, anyone who says such things is -- according to Ashcroft himself -- an al Qaeda ally who is working subversively to destroy America.

Read the whole piece here:

Friday, March 10, 2006


The Big Friday News Dump

Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy caught in shoplifting scheme.

Pentagon Admits To Improperly Snooping on Peaceful War Protesters

Bush appointee Gale Norton resigns as Interior Secretary after ties to Abramoff revealed

Colorado State Rep. Jim Welker (R) blasted an email to his colleagues containing “an essay written by someone else that accused ‘welfare-pampered blacks’ of waiting for the government to save them from Hurricane Katrina.” A excerpt from that essay, written by the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson:

Cheney Quotes Racist Anti-Semite to Demonstrate ‘Progress’ In the Middle East

Inexperienced 28-Year-Old Bush Staffer Appointed to Critical Homeland Security Post

Dems indicted. By the grand jury of CNN and Ken Mehlman

Vernon Robinson (R)'s sick commercial

Bush Admin. “Cooking The Numbers” To Award $2.1B A Year To Faith-Based Groups...

Watch Sen. Santorum Squirm On TV... Refuses To Answer Questions, Release Docs On Charity...

Dan Rather: “American Journalism Is In Need Of A Spine Transplant”...

Report Cites Rampant FBI Wiretapping Violations...

Trent Lott diverted Katrina hospital ship from New Orleans


Krugman: The Conservative Epiphany

Bush's New Critics
By Paul Krugman

Bruce Bartlett, the author of "Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy," is an angry man. At a recent book forum at the Cato Institute, he declared that the Bush administration is "unconscionable," "irresponsible," "vindictive" and "inept."

It's no wonder, then, that one commentator wrote of Mr. Bartlett that "if he were a cartoon character, he would probably look like Donald Duck during one of his famous tirades, with steam pouring out of his ears."

Oh, wait. That's not what somebody wrote about Mr. Bartlett. It's what Mr. Bartlett wrote about me in September 2003, when I was saying pretty much what he's saying now.

Human nature being what it is, I don't expect Mr. Bartlett to acknowledge his about-face. Nor do I expect any expressions of remorse from Andrew Sullivan, the conservative blogger who also spoke at the Cato forum. Mr. Sullivan used to specialize in denouncing the patriotism and character of anyone who dared to criticize President Bush, whom he lionized. Now he himself has become a critic, not just of Mr. Bush's policies, but of his personal qualities, too.

Never mind; better late than never. We should welcome the recent epiphanies by conservative commentators who have finally realized that the Bush administration isn't trustworthy. But we should guard against a conventional wisdom that seems to be taking hold in some quarters,, which says there's something praiseworthy about having initially been taken in by Mr. Bush's deceptions, even though the administration's mendacity was obvious from the beginning.

According to this view, if you're a former Bush supporter who now says, as Mr. Bartlett did at the Cato event, that "the administration lies about budget numbers," you're a brave truth-teller. But if you've been saying that since the early days of the Bush administration, you were unpleasantly shrill.

Similarly, if you're a former worshipful admirer of George W. Bush who now says, as Mr. Sullivan did at Cato, that "the people in this administration have no principles," you're taking a courageous stand. If you said the same thing back when Mr. Bush had an 80 percent approval rating, you were blinded by Bush-hatred.

And if you're a former hawk who now concedes that the administration exaggerated the threat from Iraq, you're to be applauded for your open-mindedness. But if you warned three years ago that the administration was hyping the case for war, you were a conspiracy theorist.

The truth is that everything the new wave of Bush critics has to say was obvious long ago to any commentator who was willing to look at the facts.

Mr. Bartlett's book is mainly a critique of the Bush administration's fiscal policy. Well, the administration's pattern of fiscal dishonesty and irresponsibility was clear right from the start to anyone who understands budget arithmetic. The chicanery that took place during the selling of the 2001 tax cut — obviously fraudulent budget projections, transparently deceptive advertising about who would benefit and the use of blatant accounting gimmicks to conceal the plan's true cost — was as bad as anything that followed.

The false selling of the Iraq war was almost as easy to spot. All the supposed evidence for an Iraqi nuclear program was discredited before the war — and it was the threat of nukes, not lesser W.M.D., that stampeded Congress into authorizing Mr. Bush to go to war. The administration's nonsensical but insistent rhetorical linkage of Iraq and 9/11 was also a dead giveaway that we were being railroaded into an unnecessary war.

The point is that pundits who failed to notice the administration's mendacity a long time ago either weren't doing their homework, or deliberately turned a blind eye to the evidence.

But as I said, better late than never. Born-again Bush-bashers like Mr. Bartlett and Mr. Sullivan, however churlish, are intellectually and morally superior to the Bushist dead-enders who still insist that Saddam was allied with Al Qaeda, and will soon be claiming that we lost the war in Iraq because the liberal media stabbed the troops in the back. And reporters understandably consider it newsworthy that some conservative voices are now echoing longstanding liberal critiques of the Bush administration.

It's still fair, however, to ask people like Mr. Bartlett the obvious question: What took you so long?


Quoting Bible to attack gays is hypocritical

An open letter to Donna Reddick:

I'm writing this for Desiree. She's a student at Miami Sunset Senior High, where you teach business technology. A few days ago, she sent me an e-mail recounting an incident that happened on campus last week.

It seems that on three successive days, the morning announcements, which are televised throughout the school, featured student-produced segments on the subject of gay rights.

On the first day came comments from students who took the pro position. On the second day came remarks from a counselor who spoke of the need for students to respect one another. On the third day came you.

You and a few students, actually. One told classmates homosexuality was ''unacceptable in the eyesight of God.'' Another said gays were ``unrighteous.''

The coup de grace, though, was you invoking Sodom and Gomorrah and telling students homosexuality was ''wrong according to the Bible'' because God ordered humanity to multiply, which gay couples cannot do.

Desiree was, to put it mildly, upset. In the e-mail, she accused you of bigotry and wondered how a gay student could feel assured ever again of fair treatment in your class. I tend to agree. She also suggested that you crossed the line between church and state, an accusation about which I'm more conflicted.

It seems to me there's a difference between proselytizing for a religion and explaining how one's faith has influenced one's opinion.

You're entitled to think what you think, no matter how stupid it might be.


But I'll leave those questions for others to parse. My biggest frustration lies elsewhere. Put simply, I've had it up to here with the moral hypocrisy and intellectual constipation of Bible literalists.

By which I mean people like you, who dress their homophobia up in Scripture, insisting with sanctimonious sincerity that it's not homophobia at all, but just a pious determination to live according to what the Bible says.

And never mind that the Bible also says it is ''disgraceful'' for a woman to speak out in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-36) and that if she has any questions, she should wait till she gets home and ask her husband. Never mind that the Bible says the penalty for going to work on Sunday (Exodus 35:1-3) is death. Never mind that the Bible says the man who rapes a virgin should buy her from her father (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) and marry her.

I'm going to speculate that you don't observe or support those commands. Which says to me that yours is a literalism of convenience, a literalism that is literal only so long as it allows you to condemn what you'd be condemning anyway and takes no skin off your personal backside.

As such, your claim that God sanctions your homophobia is the moral equivalent of Flip Wilson's old claim that the devil made him do it.

You resemble many of your and my co-religionists, whose faith so often expresses itself in an obsessive focus on one or two hot-button issues -- and seemingly nowhere else.

They're so panicked at the thought that somebody accidentally might treat gay people like people. They run around Chicken Little-like, screaming, 'Th' homosex'shals is comin'! Th' homosex'shals is comin'!'' Meantime, people are ignorant in Appalachia, strung out in Miami, starving in Niger, sex slaves in India, mass-murdered in Darfur. Where is the Christian outrage about that?


Just once, I'd like to read a headline that said a Christian group was boycotting to feed the hungry. Or marching to house the homeless. Or pushing Congress to provide the poor with healthcare worthy of the name.

Instead, they fixate on keeping the gay in their place. Which makes me question their priorities. And their compassion. And their faith.

If you love me, feed my sheep.

For the record, Ms. Reddick, the Bible says that, too.


Retired Supreme Court Justice hits attacks on courts and warns of dictatorship

Supreme Court justices keep many opinions private but Sandra Day O’Connor no longer faces that obligation. Yesterday, the retired justice criticized Republicans who criticized the courts. She said they challenge the independence of judges and the freedoms of all Americans. O’Connor’s speech at Georgetown University was not available for broadcast but NPR’s legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg was there.

Nina Totenberg: In an unusually forceful and forthright speech, O’Connor said that attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms. O’Connor began by conceding that courts do have the power to make presidents or the Congress or governors, as she put it “really, really angry.” But, she continued, if we don’t make them mad some of the time we probably aren’t doing our jobs as judges, and our effectiveness, she said, is premised on the notion that we won’t be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts. The nation’s founders wrote repeatedly, she said, that without an independent judiciary to protect individual rights from the other branches of government those rights and privileges would amount to nothing. But, said O’Connor, as the founding fathers knew statutes and constitutions don’t protect judicial independence, people do.

And then she took aim at former House GOP leader Tom DeLay. She didn’t name him, but she quoted his attacks on the courts at a meeting of the conservative Christian group Justice Sunday last year when DeLay took out after the courts for rulings on abortions, prayer and the Terri Schiavo case. This, said O’Connor, was after the federal courts had applied Congress’ onetime only statute about Schiavo as it was written. Not, said O’Connor, as the congressman might have wished it were written. This response to this flagrant display of judicial restraint, said O’Connor, her voice dripping with sarcasm, was that the congressman blasted the courts.

It gets worse, she said, noting that death threats against judges are increasing. It doesn’t help, she said, when a high-profile senator suggests there may be a connection between violence against judges and decisions that the senator disagrees with. She didn’t name him, but it was Texas senator John Cornyn who made that statement, after a Georgia judge was murdered in the courtroom and the family of a federal judge in Illinois murdered in the judge’s home. O’Connor observed that there have been a lot of suggestions lately for so-called judicial reforms, recommendations for the massive impeachment of judges, stripping the courts of jurisdiction and cutting judicial budgets to punish offending judges. Any of these might be debatable, she said, as long as they are not retaliation for decisions that political leaders disagree with.

I, said O’Connor, am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning. Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strongarm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Bushworld: Florida Style

Election official hammered for telling the truth


Ion Sancho may be a hero in California, where grateful election officials have verified the ''serious security vulnerabilities'' in Diebold voting machines that the Leon County election supervisor uncovered last year.

Sancho is regarded a little differently in Florida.

Florida's secretary of state's office disparaged Sancho's finding, demonstrating considerably more interest in propping up vendors than protecting elections.

California, alarmed by Sancho's report, dispatched its independent, expert-laden Voting Systems Technology Assessment Advisory Board to conduct its own investigation.

Florida, meanwhile, threatened to sue Sancho.


When two of the only three voting machine vendors certified to do business in Florida (other potential competitors are shut out) refused to sell new machines to the troublemaking maverick from Leon County, the state snatched $564,421 in grant money away from Leon County for failing to meet a deadline for -- you guessed it -- obtaining new machines.

He may be a hero in California, but messing with monied interests makes him a pariah in Florida.

California's voting systems assessment board issued a report last month that cited -- in the very first paragraph -- Leon County's security tests. Sancho had dispatched renowned computer expert Harri Hursti of Finland to attempt to hack Leon County's Diebold voting system. He did. Hursti demonstrated that someone inside the supervisor's office could both alter the outcome of an election and erase any trace of his meddling.


California's follow-up investigation ''absolutely vindicated Sancho's concerns,'' said David Wagner, a University of California computer scientist and a member of the voting machine assessment board. ``Our report found all of Ion Sancho's concerns were valid and, in fact, worse than anyone realized.''

Last month, California quickly issued a series of fixes for the holes in the system. On Friday afternoon, the Florida secretary of state's office sent out the same California security directives to county election supervisors. Of course, there was no mention that the California findings had been available all along right there in Ion Sancho's Tallahassee office.

''This is incredible how he has been treated,'' Wagner said Monday. ``He's the leader everyone else in the nation has been watching. Because of his investigation, we've been able to strengthen security and protect the voters of California and Florida.''

Wagner noted, instead of getting credit, Sancho has been savaged. One vendor canceled his orders at the last minute, one refused to sell him machines, the third won't return his phone calls.

Salesmen are suddenly too busy to sell him machines. The state, rather than react to possible collusion, promptly canceled his grant and threatened to sue him for failing to fulfill his official duties. A couple of Leon County commissioners have joined the pummeling.


''It's been a rough few weeks,'' Sancho said Monday, nearly in tears.

Wagner suggested that Sancho's situation ''exposed a weakness that no one has realized up to now.'' Florida apparently doesn't mind if its only licensed vendors refuse to sell their products to certain supervisors.

''Can a vendor punish someone who exposes defects in their product?'' Wagner asked.

``If they can drive out Ion Sancho, this is going to have a chilling effect on election supervisors across the country.''

He e-mailed Sancho: ``I just wanted to drop you a note to let you know that some of us are grateful for your dedication to election security, even if the state of Florida can't bring themselves to thank you.

''In my mind,'' Wagner added, ``You are a real hero.''

In Florida, real heroes just catch hell.


Groups Counterattack Strict South Dakota Abortion Law


Wednesday 08 March 2006

Pierre, South Dakota - Abortion rights supporters on Tuesday responded to South Dakota's strict new abortion law by organizing protests, raising money and debating whether to use legal action or a statewide vote to try to strike down the law.

The actions came a day after South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds signed what is considered the most restrictive abortion law in the nation. Backers of the measure, which outlaws abortions in virtually any circumstance, say it was designed as a vehicle to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established a woman's right to an abortion.

Rounds said he expects the law to be mired in litigation for years. A Planned Parenthood official confirmed litigation was an option but said abortion rights supporters might try to kill the law quickly through a statewide referendum this fall.

"We haven't decided yet. We're trying to sort out our strategy," said Sarah Stoesz, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood operations in South Dakota, Minnesota and North Dakota. "Clearly the people are very unhappy about this law."

Stoesz said a statewide referendum would require "millions and millions of dollars" but she was optimistic the law would be rejected if put to a vote.

"All signs are certainly that we would win this," she said. "If the anti-choicers believed that they would win this they would have put this on the ballot as a constitutional amendment."

Abortion rights supporters are planning a "day of solidarity" on Thursday with supporters encouraged to rally at federal courtrooms across the nation, Stoesz said. An Internet fund-raising campaign also is under way.

Rounds held a press conference on Tuesday to reiterate his support of the law and his desire that it help lead to a ban on abortions across the United States.

"It is appropriate to do everything we can to save life, particularly the life of an unborn child," Rounds said.

The South Dakota law bans virtually all abortions at all stages of a pregnancy, even if it is the result of rape or incest. The law creates a narrow exemption in cases in which a physician's effort to save a pregnant woman's life results in the accidental death or injury of her fetus but says a physician must make "reasonable medical effort" to save the life of the fetus as well as the woman.

In anticipation of legal challenges, which are a necessity if the law is to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, the state has set up a fund to help defend the measure. Several donations already have been received, although in limited amounts, Rounds said. An anonymous donor has reportedly pledged $1 million toward the defense effort.

Abortion rights supporters said they were far short of the kind of funding they would need to overturn the law but hoped to change that.

In a separate action spurred at least in part by the South Dakota law, the NARAL Pro-Choice America abortion rights group has launched an ad campaign calling for federal and state lawmakers to work to prevent unwanted pregnancies instead of focusing on curtailing women's' rights.

NARAL is seeking support for improved access to birth control, sex education initiatives and increased support for family planning services.

Other states also are moving to pass sweeping anti-abortion laws including Mississippi, Missouri, Alabama, Indiana, and Ohio.

The moves come amid a shifting makeup in the Supreme Court. President George W. Bush, an avowed abortion opponent, is expected to get to name at least one more justice during his term, and abortion opponents hope that when combined with his other recent appointments, a new justice would swing the court majority to favor conservative views.


UN: Women Denied Representation, Making War on Poverty Hard to Win

By Maxine Frith
The Independent UK

Wednesday 08 March 2006

Millions of women around the world, including those in the UK and other Western countries, are being denied effective representation because of the low numbers of female politicians, judges and employers, the United Nations has warned.

Campaigners say that unless urgent action is taken on the status of women, the Millennium Development Goals on reducing poverty, infant deaths and standards of education will not be met.

To mark International Women's Day, the UN has published a report that says rates of female participation in governments across the developed and developing world are still appallingly low. The report says that for women to be adequately represented in their country, at least 30 per cent of parliamentary seats should have a female representative.

In Britain, only 18 per cent of MPs are women, while only 8 per cent of MPs in Arab countries are female. Just 20 nations - including Rwanda, Mozambique, Guyana and Burundi - have reached or exceeded the 30 per cent mark and only three countries (Chile, Spain and Sweden) have complete gender parity in government.

Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, said: "The rate of progress overall is slow. Women are every bit as affected as any man by the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century - in economic and social development, as well as in peace and security - often they are more affected."

He added: "The world is starting to grasp that there is no policy more effective in promoting development, health and education than the empowerment of women and girls, and no policy is more important in preventing conflict, or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict has ended."

United Nations figures also show that 70 per cent of the world's 1.2 billion people who are estimated to live in poverty are women and children. A woman dies every minute from complications arising from pregnancy and childbirth, and HIV rates are now rising faster among women than men. Charities say that 700 million women are living without adequate food, water, sanitation and education.

Even in the developed world, women face endemic discrimination. Full-time female workers in Japan earn just 51 per cent of the wages of their male counterparts, while only one in five managers in Italy is a woman and just 14 per cent of the seats in the US Congress are taken by women.

In a speech to mark International Women's Day in Britain, Lady Barbara Thomas Judge, who chairs the UK Atomic Energy Authority, said that girls still suffered from discrimination in schools and work. She told a conference organized by the Aurora Network for women in business that 30 years after the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act in the United Kingdom, women account for half of the working population but for just one in four managers, 9 per cent of the judiciary and 10 per cent of senior police officers.

Lady Judge highlighted the fact that only 14.5 per cent of people employed in the fields of technology and engineering are women, despite evidence that when they do enter the professions, female engineers earn more than men. "Research indicates that those girls that are interested in math and science are channeled into medicine, nursing and veterinary science because these are perceived as "caring" professions," she said.

"Girls have few role models that show that women can be engineers and there are few companies that provide work experience for women in engineering. If we are to survive as a leading nation in this globalized world, we must utilize this country's intellectual capability to the fullest extent."

Julia Häusermann, the president of the human rights charity Rights and Humanity, said: "We have much to celebrate on International Women's Day.

"All over the world, women are making progress in political participation, economic empowerment and increased access to education. But wherever we turn, poverty, violence and Aids have a woman's face.

"The empowerment of women is the single most effective tool for development. There is increasing evidence that securing women's rights benefits not just women and their immediate families, but the wider society and national economies."

Women's Day in Brief

* Women are better prepared for retirement than men, according to research. Only 16 per cent of women expect to rely on state pensions, compared to 22 per cent of men. One in five women have already consulted their bank about their retirement plans, compared to only 16 per cent of men, a survey for HSBC found.

* An End Violence Against Women campaign by the Fawcett Society today reached its target to get 200 MPs to back an Early Day Motion which calls for the Government to take more action on the issue.

* The Birds Eye View Film Festival, launched today at the NFT, is a female film festival, which features short films, documentaries and feature films, including the Oscar- nominated Badgered by Sharon Colman.

* The yachtswoman Dee Caffari, who left Portsmouth 107 days ago in an attempt to become the first woman to complete the Aviva Challenge - single-handedly sailing against prevailing winds - is expected to finish in May.

* The National Archives in London has digitized more than 7,000 records of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in the years from 1917 to 1920 for Women's Day.


How to Lose the Moral High-Ground, By George W. Bush

China Lashes Back at U.S. Criticism

China Lashes Back at U.S. Criticism of Its Human Rights Record


The Associated Press

BEIJING - China on Thursday lashed out against U.S. criticism of its human rights record, saying racial discrimination and crime were still rife in the United States and prisoners were being abused at U.S.-run detention centers abroad.

The State Council, China's cabinet, denounced the United States for what it said were rampant violence and widespread discrimination against minorities especially blacks in its annual response to the State Department's report on human rights worldwide.

"For a long time, the life and security of the people of the United States has not been under efficient protection," the Chinese report said.

Blacks are given heavier criminal penalties, arrested more frequently and are more likely to be targeted for hate crimes, the report said.

It also criticized American troops for brutality at prisons in Iraq and the detention camp for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"As in previous years, the State Department pointed the finger at human rights situations in more than 190 countries and regions, including China, but kept silent on the serious violations of human rights in the United States," it said.

It is "an act that fully exposes its hypocrisy and double standard on human rights issues," said the report which drew mostly from stories and statistics in the American press.

The response came one day after the State Department said the Chinese government's human rights record "remained poor, and the government continued to commit numerous and serious abuses."

The U.S. report said repression worsened in China in 2005, with a trend toward "increased harassment, detention, and imprisonment" of people seen as threats to the Chinese government. It also mentioned tightened controls over print, broadcast and electronic media and censorship of online content.

The State Department study, published each year since 1977, offers a comprehensive analysis of all countries in the world except the United States.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Washington's report ignored China's progress in human rights, which he claimed "not only met with the satisfaction of the Chinese people but also has been widely affirmed by the international community."

"We express our strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition," Qin said, adding that Washington should "immediately end the erroneous practice of interfering in other country's internal politics."

A large section of the Chinese report was devoted to racial discrimination, which it said had "long been a chronic malady of American society."

It said the country's blacks and other minorities had much lower living standards and incomes and faced job discrimination. Blacks were also more likely to receive the death penalty for serious crimes, it said.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, Muslims have been targeted for arrests and detention under "the banner of 'anti-terrorism,'" the report said.

It also criticized American foreign policy and detailed prison abuse by American troops in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, accusing them of using "various kinds of torture" while trying to "extract information."

The report also touched on:

private gun ownership in America, saying the "unchecked spread of guns has caused incessant murders."

secret wire taps and surveillance on American citizens under the Patriot Act.

the poverty rate and the problem of homelessness.

"No country in the world can claim to have a perfect state of human rights," the Chinese report said.

"We urge the U.S. government to look squarely at its own human rights problems, reflect what it has done in the human rights field and take concrete measures to improve its own human rights status."


Official Says Shiite Party Suppressed Body Count

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 9, 2006; A01

BAGHDAD, March 8 -- Days after the bombing of a Shiite shrine unleashed a wave of retaliatory killings of Sunnis, the leading Shiite party in Iraq's governing coalition directed the Health Ministry to stop tabulating execution-style shootings, according to a ministry official familiar with the recording of deaths.

The official, who spoke on the condition that he not be named because he feared for his safety, said a representative of the Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, ordered that government hospitals and morgues catalogue deaths caused by bombings or clashes with insurgents, but not by execution-style shootings.

A statement this week by the U.N. human rights department in Baghdad appeared to support the account of the Health Ministry official. The agency said it had received information about Baghdad's main morgue -- where victims of fatal shootings are taken -- that indicated "the current acting director is under pressure by the Interior Ministry in order not to reveal such information and to minimize the number of casualties."

The U.N. office said it had not confirmed the information about the morgue and had been unable so far to obtain an accounting of the toll from Iraqi authorities.

Spokesmen for the Health Ministry and the Supreme Council -- commonly known by its initials, SCIRI -- denied that any order to alter the tabulation of deaths had been issued.

Abductions and killings of Sunni Arab men, usually by gunshots to the back of the head, have occurred with increasing frequency over the past year and are widely blamed on government-allied Shiite religious militias and death squads alleged to be operating from inside the SCIRI-dominated Interior Ministry. In particular, Shiite militias have been accused of abducting and executing large numbers of Sunni men in the days immediately following the Feb. 22 destruction of the Askariya mosque, a revered Shiite shrine in the northern city of Samarra.

After a lull in recent days, abductions and killings flared again in Baghdad on Wednesday. Police in west Baghdad found a minibus that contained the bodies of 18 bound and strangled men, and 50 employees of an Iraqi security firm were kidnapped on the east side of the city.

The Washington Post reported on Feb. 28 that more than 1,300 shooting victims had been brought to the morgue in the first six days after the Samarra bombing. The figure was provided by a morgue worker who refused to be identified by name.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari denied the account, saying Shiite-Sunni violence had claimed 379 lives in the week following the attack on the shrine. Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the U.S. commander in Iraq, called The Post's report exaggerated and inaccurate. An e-mail sent to U.S. military officials this week seeking updated casualty figures went unanswered.

But during the past week, various government ministries declined to give a breakdown of the 379 total, or said they were unable to, and several inconsistencies in their accounts appeared to call the government's tally into question.

In addition to the morgue worker, three sources -- the Health Ministry official, an official with the Interior Ministry and an international official in Baghdad -- involved in tallying or monitoring the mounting deaths also have put the toll at 1,000 or more, though none gave a toll as high as 1,300. Two of the sources said pressure by Shiite leaders not to report execution-style shootings had produced the lower death toll announced by Jafari.

The international official said "Ministry of Health types" were reckoning about 1,000 deaths before Jafari issued his denial. "By February 28th, even the 1st, that was the number being floated, almost acknowledged" publicly, the international official said, referring to March 1. "Then the government announced'' its lower figure.

"They're afraid," the official said.

Morgue authorities now say that only 250 bodies were received between Feb. 22 and 28. That breaks down to about 35 bodies a day, scarcely more than the daily average of roughly 30 corpses reported since the middle of last year. And it is unclear how, or whether, the government includes execution-style militia killings in the tally.

Iraqi officials denied that the death figures had been manipulated.

"I find it very unlikely, very strange, that some political official would come and impose their own views on this ministry," said Qasim Yahiya, a spokesman for the Health Ministry.

Haitham al-Husseini, a spokesman for the SCIRI, said: "How can SCIRI put pressure on authorities or on people? I don't expect you can believe such a thing. How can SCIRI go to a ministry and give instruction to an official to do this or that?"

"This is part of the campaign that the enemies of Iraq and the Iraqi people are still trying to lead to confuse the situation," Husseini said. "And this is part of their campaign to show their lies about the Ministry of Interior and what is happening and also to draw the attention of the people away from the crimes they are committing against the civilians."

The widely differing tolls reflect acute political sensitivity at a time when Iraq's three-year-old conflict is undergoing a fundamental shift: Execution-style killings of the kind frequently blamed on police or Shiite militias allied with the government appear to be killing more Iraqis than bombings of government and civilian targets by Sunni Arab insurgents.

Since Jan. 30, 2005, when Iraq held its first parliamentary elections since President Saddam Hussein was ousted almost two years earlier, the country's Shiite majority has controlled the largest bloc in parliament and the most powerful positions in the cabinet. The SCIRI is the dominant member of the governing Shiite coalition and holds several key cabinet portfolios, including the Interior Ministry, which oversees Iraq's police.

The Health Ministry, which operates the Baghdad morgue and government hospitals, is in the hands of a religious party headed by Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric whose militia, the Mahdi Army, waged two armed uprisings against U.S. forces in 2004. Since the Samarra bombing, the Mahdi Army has been widely accused of kidnapping and killing Sunni men. Families collecting bodies at the morgue last week described gunmen in the black clothes associated with Sadr's militia coming to Sunni homes or to mosques and taking men away.

Sadr's organization has denied any connection with the killings, saying crimes were being committed by people who had dressed in black to focus blame on the Mahdi Army.

At Baghdad's morgue, where the walls are decorated with pictures of Sadr, Post reporters saw bodies overflowing into hallways and onto floors during the week following the Samarra bombing. Bodies taken to the morgue are almost invariably victims of shootings and other circumstances requiring investigation; those killed in bombings and rocket and mortar attacks are taken to hospitals because the cause of death is considered clear-cut.

A Post reporter visiting the morgue about noon Feb. 23, the day after the mosque bombing and before the subsequent violence peaked, counted the bodies of 84 males ranging in age from about 12 to more than 60. All died violently -- the morgue handles most violent deaths for which police request an investigation -- and morgue officials separately told the Agence France-Presse news agency at the time that 80 people had been killed in the first hours of violence after the mosque bombing.

Four days later, another Post reporter who went to the morgue was told by workers that the facility contained more than 200 unclaimed bodies at that time.

Morgue and Health Ministry officials say morgue workers were barely able to keep up with the arrival of bodies. Iraq's state-run pharmaceutical company lent the ministry "six or seven'' refrigerated trailers to handle the overflow, according to the ministry official. Bodies that went unclaimed were buried in cemeteries in Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala.

In all, the Health Ministry official said, more than 1,000 people died in the first six days of violence, although it was not clear whether that covered only Baghdad or all of Iraq.

For several days after the Samarra bombing, the government added a daytime curfew to the long-standing one in Baghdad at night in a bid to quell the Shiite-Sunni bloodletting. During the last weekend in February, few vehicles could be seen on Baghdad's streets other than those of government officials, security forces and gunmen dressed in black.

At least one representative of the SCIRI traveled to the Health Ministry, according to the ministry official. On or about Feb. 27, the ministry official said, a party representative directed ministry employees that victims of sectarian killings not associated with insurgent attacks should no longer be recorded. Instead, their names were only to be posted on the morgue wall so that their families could retrieve their bodies.

Contacted a second time this week, the ministry official refused to speak further, saying, "Forget what I told you."

Abdul Razzaq Kadhumi, the prime minister's spokesman, declined Wednesday to give a breakdown of the figure of 379 execution-style killings given by Jafari. "These are obviously terrorist, Saddamist and Baathist acts against civilians, and they all go under victims of terrorism," he said

Kadhumi also declined to give a contact number for Jafari's operations room, where he said the figure was reached. He referred the question to the operations rooms of the Defense and Interior ministries, which said they had a figure only for "terrorists'' killed -- 35 -- from Feb. 22 to March 1 and none for civilians or security forces.

On Tuesday, Yahiya, the Health Ministry spokesman, showed a Post reporter what he said was the official, confidential tally that the Health Ministry sends to the prime minister's office each day. The two-page sheet included only two categories of deaths: "military operations" and "terrorist attacks."

Yahiya said he did not know if the ministry tally included bodies that turned up at morgues in Baghdad and regional capitals of Iraq after having been tortured and shot. "There's always fights between tribes," Yahiya said. "We have no idea if a person was killed in executions or personal vendettas.'"

The Baghdad morgue's acting director, Qais Hassan, said the morgue sent the Health Ministry daily figures broken down only by cause of death, without details about the kind of attack in which each person was killed. Hassan denied that any pressure had been placed on him to manipulate death tolls.

Hassan became acting morgue director after the previous director, Faik Bakir, left the country in recent months. International officials said he fled the country after receiving threats from both insurgents and pro-government forces over investigations of suspicious deaths. Bakir issued a statement over the weekend denying that, saying he had left the country on four months' approved medical leave.

Hassan also said refrigerated trucks had been borrowed from the state pharmaceutical agency to handle the overflow of corpses following the mosque bombing. He said only three of the trailers were brought in, however, rather than six to seven. "It was overwhelming work to do, but we managed it," he said.

On Monday, two trucks with Thermo King refrigerated trailers were parked in a lot between the Health Ministry and the morgue, and a third refrigerated trailer was seen over the weekend in a separate parking lot off the morgue. Both parking lots were closed. From a distance, there was no clear sign the trailers were in use.

Health Ministry drivers volunteered Monday that two of the refrigerated trailers had been brought to the ministry parking lot during the violence following the mosque bombing, and that two other trailers also were brought in. The drivers said they saw bodies being placed in the trailers. Their accounts could not be independently verified.

On Sunday, as a Washington Post reporter briefly visited the morgue office, five bodies were brought in from a town just outside Baghdad. All were neatly dressed men, all had their hands bound, and all had been shot in the back of the head. Morgue officials took the bodies to one of the refrigerated trailers. No mention of the five appeared in news reports.

Access to the morgue was restricted, a sharp contrast from the scene on Feb. 27, when men were allowed to enter the morgue to search among the many bloodied corpses for family members and anxious relatives swarmed around a computer screen that showed photos of the unidentified dead.

Over the weekend, families were kept outside a gate and made to register to see the photos on the computer. No access was allowed to the morgue itself. A man dressed in black and carrying a radio kept watch on the crowd.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Tapes Refresh Debate Over Katrina, Levees

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Much of the controversy has focused on 10 words: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

President Bush made the statement in a television interview last Sept. 1, three days after Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast and inundated much of New Orleans.

Now, the disclosure of videotapes and transcripts of meetings among federal and state disaster-management officials just before and during the storm's Aug. 29 landfall has refreshed the debate over what the government knew about the levees protecting New Orleans - and when.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan has said Bush's comments were not intended to suggest that no one had anticipated levee failures. Instead, McClellan says, the president meant that once the storm had initially passed many people believed the region had escaped the "worst-case scenario."

The transcripts and videotapes have touched off a brushfire among liberal and conservative bloggers, provided midterm election-year ammunition to Democrats and brought a defense by the White House.

There is no specific mention of levees being breached at Bush's videoconference with federal, state and local disaster management officials on Aug. 28, the day before Katrina's landfall. A videotape of that meeting was one of two videos and seven transcripts of Katrina-related briefings reported by The Associated Press last week.

But there were dire warnings of a gigantic storm that could overflow the levees at that session and at other pre-landfall conferences. And specific mention of possible breaches was raised at an Aug. 29 teleconference that included Joe Hagin, deputy White House chief of staff.

The Army Corps of Engineers considers a breach a hole developing in a levee rather than an overrun, or water flowing over the top.

But civil engineers understand that once a levee is "topped," floodwaters can rapidly erode the structural base of the levee and nearly always result in a breach, according to AP interviews with officials from the Corps of Engineers and others.

The White House's own "lessons learned" review of the federal response issued last month compared overtopping to a breach of a levee.

"Overtopping is a term used to describe the situation where the water level rises above the height of the levee or floodwall and consequently overtops, or flows over the structure. A breach is a break in the levee or floodwall. A prolonged overtopping can actually cause a levee or floodwall breach," the report said.

"In general, a breach can lead to more significant flooding than an overtopping since breaches take time to repair and until repaired continue to allow water to flow until the water level has receded below the height of the breach. Overtopping, on the other hand, will stop as soon as the water level recedes below the top of the levee or floodwall."

"Although the consequences are significantly different, from outward appearances, it is often difficult to differentiate a breach from an overtopping," the White House report said.

Charles Aubeny, an engineer at Texas A&M University, said that if levees are overtopped that "will usually erode out the levees." Breaches can also occur when the water seeps through the levees or if the water weakens the soil and a "stability failure" follows. Some experts say that this may take some time to happen - days, weeks or even months.

There's a long history to concerns about the reliability of New Orleans' levees.

In 1965, after Hurricane Betsy caused extensive flooding, Congress ordered the levees to be reinforced to withstand the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane. In July 2004, FEMA sponsored a "Hurricane Pam" exercise that simulated massive flooding that could kill up to 60,000 people and destroy buildings and roads.

According to a GOP-written House of Representatives report released in February, the main reason for the Hurricane Pam exercise "was the well-known potential for levee failure and catastrophic flooding in the metropolitan area."

For years, the Army Corps of Engineers and others warned that New Orleans levees might not withstand a major storm, according to the House report. "Levees were designed for a 'standard' hurricane, not the most severe hurricanes."

As Katrina moved into the Gulf of Mexico last August, the National Weather Service deemed it a Category 5 monster with 160 mph winds. By the time it hit landfall early Aug. 29, its winds had diminished somewhat, downgrading the hurricane's category. Experts disagree on just how strong the winds were at landfall, but some estimates put them as strong as 145 mph - still far stronger than the levees were built to withstand.

Video of the Sunday, Aug. 28, teleconference shows the National Hurricane Center's Max Mayfield warning Bush and the others that the levees could be topped. Mayfield called it a "very, very grave concern." Bush was monitoring Katrina's progress from his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Later Sunday, he summoned reporters to the ranch and told them: "We cannot stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to Gulf Coast communities." Bush urged people in the path of the storm to head for safer ground.

His comments echoed those of local officials. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said in a CNN interview on Aug. 27 that the storm could bring a 15-to-20-foot surge of water and the people of New Orleans "will not survive that if indeed it happens." New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin told a news conference on Aug. 28: "The storm surge most likely will topple our levee system."

Blanco and Nagin's comments were mentioned in the House report, which concluded governmental response to Katrina was marked by "organizational paralysis."

The Associated Press initially reported on March 1 that federal disaster officials warned Bush and his homeland security chief at the Aug. 28 session that the storm could breach levees. On March 3, The AP moved a clarification that the story should have made clear that Bush was warned about floodwaters overrunning the levees rather than the levees breaking.

Regardless of terminology, everybody involved with the situation had plenty of reason to worry before and during about the levees and whether they would protect the city from flooding.

In that final Aug. 28 briefing before the hurricane hit, Bush asked no questions but assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

White House officials later sought to explain why Bush asked no questions at the briefing. They said he had been on the phone with governors in affected states and had received updates from then-FEMA chief Michael Brown and his own staff. Bush got on the videoconference to boost morale, not collect information, McClellan said - and left before it ended.

In sessions beginning Aug. 25, discussion had focused on Florida. Attention turned slowly to the Gulf Coast on the weekend as the storm crossed Florida without extensive damage. By Saturday, Aug. 27, FEMA's Brown told other participants "my gut hurts" about the potential for Gulf Coast damage. At the Aug. 28 session, he was grim, calling the storm "a big one."

Bush has drawn criticism from Democrats who say he did not give Katrina the attention it deserved. For instance, Bush on Monday - shortly after the storm's landfall - headed West on Air Force One for a previously scheduled two-day trip to Arizona and California.

Concern over possible levee breaches does show up in the transcript of a conference on Aug. 29. Participating from Air Force One, Hagin, the deputy White House chief of staff, asks about "the current status of the levee system."

Brown, who later resigned as FEMA chief under pressure, told participants he had spoken twice that day to Bush directly and that the president was "asking questions about reports of breaches."

Blanco said that, as of then, "we have not breached the levee" but "that could change." The Louisiana governor said, however, that water in some low-lying areas was 8 to 10 feet deep.

In a document it called "Setting the Record Straight," the White House said Bush's Aug. 28 videoconference "was open to the press and the full transcript of this videoconference was released to Congress and the public in the fall of 2005."

However, only the opening portion of the conference, where Bush made brief remarks, was witnessed by a small news media pool. And full transcripts of that and other sessions were not released by either the administration or Congress.

Brown said Bush and other top officials knew from those briefings there was a serious chance that New Orleans' levees would be breached. "Everybody else knew and clearly on our conference calls it was being discussed," Brown said in a March 1 interview with The Associated Press.

Brown, interviewed by KHOW Radio in Denver on Monday night, characterized the distinction between levees being breached and overtopped as "a matter of semantics."

"I can tell you everyone involved in that videotape and in my conversations with the president and with the chief of staff, our concern was always the breach of the levees," Brown said.


Iraq through the prism of Vietnam

By William E. Odom

The Vietnam War experience can’t tell us anything about the war in Iraq – or so it is said. If you believe that, trying looking through this lens, and you may change your mind.

The Vietnam War had three phases. The War in Iraq has already completed an analogous first phase, is approaching the end of the second phase, and shows signs of entering the third.

Phase One in Vietnam lasted from 1961 until the Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in March 1965, authorizing deployment of large U.S. combat forces in South Vietnam. It began with hesitation and a gross misreading of American strategic interests. It concluded with the U.S. use of phony intelligence that made it seem that North Vietnamese patrol boats had attacked U.S. ships in the Tonkin Gulf without provocation.

President Kennedy was ambivalent about deeper involvement, but some of his aides believed that a North Vietnamese takeover of the south would bring Sino-Soviet dominion over all of Southeast Asia. They paid little attention to the emerging Sino-Soviet split, which the Intelligence Community was reporting in the early 1960s. Accordingly, the “containment of China” became their goal, their rationale for U.S. strategic purpose – that is, not allowing the Soviet Bloc to expand in this region.

Was it really in the American interest to “contain China” in Vietnam? By 1965, Soviet leaders were also pursuing the containment of China, in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Did it, then, make sense for the United States to commit large military forces to the pursuit of Soviet objectives in Southeast Asia? Obviously not; the White House’s strategic rationale had no grounding in reality.

Not only Soviet leaders but Ho Chi Minh also wanted to contain China. A long-time loyalist to Moscow and early member of Lenin’s Communist International, he was never under China’s thumb. Yet he cooperated with Beijing to balance his dependency on Moscow, disallowing either to frustrate his aim, unifying all of Vietnam under his rule.

The Johnson Administration used an apparent North Vietnamese attack on U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin on the coast of North Vietnam in the spring of 1965 to persuade Congress to support the introduction of major U.S. ground forces in South Vietnam. We now know that U.S. special operations – incursions into North Vietnam by Navy Seals – played a role in prompting North Vietnamese gun boat actions that became the casus belli for President Johnson. Thus, a misleading interpretation of the known facts, i.e., the intelligence assessment of these events, became the critical factor in making it America’s war, not just Saigon’s war.

Phase One in Iraq, the run-up to the invasion, looks remarkably similar. Broodings about the “necessity” to overthrow Saddam’s regime were heard earlier, but signs of action appeared in January 2002, when President Bush proclaimed his “axis of evil” thesis about Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, countries he accused of acquiring “weapons of mass destruction” and supporting terrorists against the United States. This became the cornerstone of his rationale for invading Iraq, and it was no less ill-conceived than the strategic purpose for President Johnson’s war in Vietnam. It better served the interests of Iran and Osama bin Laden.

Iran had serious scores to settle with Iraq. In 1980, Saddam Hussein launched a bloody war that dragged on until 1988 without a decisive end. That President Bush would destroy Saddam's regime, saving Iran the trouble, was probably beyond its clerics’ wildest dreams.

He did the same for al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden must have been ecstatic. The U.S. invasion opened the way for al Qaeda cadres to enter Iraq by the scores. Killing Americans in Iraq is much easier than killing them in the United States after 9/11. Moreover, toppling secular Arab leaders – including Saddam – was, and remains, Osama bin Laden’s highest priority aim. America is farther down his list, seen as an intermediate objective in the long struggle to bring his version of radical Islamic rule to all Arab countries.

As it turned out, the alleged intelligence that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” and that Saddam aided al Qaeda was grossly wrong. That, of course, became a major international embarrassment, alienating many U.S. allies and aiding its enemies in their claims that America is an aggressor state that cannot be trusted.

Does all of this – confused war aims and phony intelligence – sound familiar? It should.

Phase Two in Vietnam was marked by a refusal to reconsider the war’s “strategic” rationale. Rather, debate focused only on “tactical” issues as the war went sour.

By1965 things had begun going badly for U.S. military operations. By the end of March 1968, public opinion was turning against the war and Johnson chose not to run for re-election. His own party in Congress was breaking with him, and the pro-war New York Times reversed itself that summer.

During this phase, no major leader or opinion maker in the United States dared revisit the key strategic judgment: did the U.S. war aim of containing China make sense? Instead, debate focused on how the war was being fought: on search-and-destroy operations, on body counts, and pacification efforts.

This obsession with tactical issues made it easier to ignore the strategic error. As time passed, costs went up, casualties increased, and public support fell. We could not afford to “cut and run,” it was argued. “The Viet Cong would carry out an awful blood-letting.” Supporters of the war expected no honest answer when they asked “How can we get out?” Eventually Senator Aiken of Vermont gave them one: “In boats.”

Phase Two in Iraq reveals that the same kind of strategic denial error prevails today. Since 2003, public discourse has focused on how the war is being fought. Reconstruction is inadequate. Not enough troops are available. We should not have dismantled the Iraqi military. Elections will save the day. The insurgency is in its “last throes.” And so on. Some of these criticisms are valid, but they fail to address the fundamental issue, the validity of U.S. strategic purpose.

As al Qaeda marched into a country where it had not dared to tread before, the White House refused to admit that its war allowed them in. As Iran’s influence with Iraqi Shiite clerics and militias quietly expands, the administration refuses to confess its own culpability. As Shiite politicians appear headed to dominate the U.S.-created “democracy” in Iraq, no one is asking “Who lost Iraq to Iran?”

Instead, after each election and referendum in Iraq, hope surges in the media. The New York Times’s reporting on the elections in February of last year was eerily reminiscent of its reporting from Saigon on the 1968 elections.

The end of Phase Two is not yet here, but the Congress is showing signs of nervousness about where the war is taking the country. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has said that by no measure can it be said that the United States is winning the war. Republican Congressman Walter Jones is trying to push a resolution through the House, calling on the President to begin a withdrawal. When Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha, a highly decorated Marine war veteran, asserted that the war was hopeless and that U.S. forces should be withdrawn, supporters of the Bush White House attacked his patriotism. Sadly, the Democratic leadership refused to defend him.

Does all this sound familiar? Not entirely. In 1968 the Democratic Congress proved willing to oppose the Democrat in the White House. The Republican Congress today has yet to show the same courage and wisdom.

Phase Three in Vietnam was marked by “Vietnamization” and “make-believe diplomacy” in Paris, policies still ignoring the strategic realities at the war’s beginning.

The wind-down in Vietnam actually started in Johnson’s last year in office, but Richard Nixon implemented it (taking his time doing so). Rather than a rapid pullout, he pursued two tactics. The first was turning the war over to South Vietnam’s military so that U.S. forces could withdraw. By 1972 most of them were gone. Second, negotiations in Paris through Soviet intermediaries with the North Vietnamese began. Both were based on transparently false assumptions.

The key problem in South Vietnam had always been achieving a political consolidation among anti-Viet Cong elites. It was not building effective military and police forces. In fact, as South Vietnamese military units became more effective, their commanders competed aggressively for political power, insuring a weak dictatorial regime in Saigon.

The assumptions about the Paris peace talks were no less illusory. Their designer, Henry Kissinger, believed that Moscow would “help” the United States reach a settlement short of total capitulation. In fact, by the late 1960s, the war was not only serving Soviet purposes against China, but also weakening NATO, hurting the U.S. currency in the international exchange rates, and making the charge of “imperialism” believable to citizens in many countries allied to the United States. Thus Soviet leaders had no objective reason to help the United States find a face-saving exodus. The deeper into “the big muddy” in Vietnam went the United States, the better for the Soviet Union. Second, Moscow could not have compelled North Vietnamese leaders in Paris to accept half a loaf in South Vietnam. Hanoi was playing off Moscow and Beijing with no intention of conceding its ultimate goal for any price.

The war ended, we now know, with the abject failure of both policies. As helicopters evacuated the American Embassy in Saigon in 1975, both illusions vanished.

Phase Three in Iraq is only beginning. Early signs were apparent in the presidential election campaign of 2004. Both Bush and Kerry put full confidence in “Iraqization.” U.S. forces will “stand down” as Iraqi forces “stand up.” They differed only on who could train more Iraqis faster. Nor would they acknowledge that “political consolidation” had to come before “military consolidation,” as the Vietnam experience demonstrated.

In Iraq, we watch U.S.-led make-believe diplomacy negotiating a constitutional deal among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. Should we believe that the Iraqi Shiites, a majority of the population with the trauma of Saddam’s bloody repressions burned into their memories, will settle for less than full control? And why should we expect the Kurds to surrender their decade-old autonomy after suffering no less bloody repressions than did the Shiites? And why should we expect Sunnis to trust a Shiite-Kurdish regime not to take revenge against them for Saddam’s crimes? And why would Iran and Syria be willing to abandon support for their co-religionists in Iraq in order to strike a peace deal favorable to the United States?

Will Phase Three in Iraq end with helicopters flying out of the “green zone” in Baghdad? It all sounds so familiar.

The difference lies in the consequences. Vietnam did not have the devastating effects on U.S. power that Iraq is already having. On this point, those who deny the Vietnam-Iraq analogy are probably right. They are wrong, however, in believing that “staying the course” will have any result other than making the damage to U.S. power far greater than changing course and withdrawing sooner in as orderly a fashion as possible.

But even in its differences, Vietnam can be instructive about Iraq. Once the U.S. position in Vietnam collapsed, Washington was free to reverse the negative trends it faced in NATO and U.S.-Soviet military balance, in the world economy, in its international image, and in other areas. Only by getting out of Iraq can the United States possibly gain sufficient international support to design a new strategy for limiting the burgeoning growth of anti-Western forces it has unleashed in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

Note: This is the third piece General Odom has written for See also: What’s wrong with cutting and running? (Aug. 3, 2005) and Want stability in the Middle East? Get out of Iraq! (Nov. 11, 2005)


Republicans Rally Around Their King

Wed Mar 08, 2006 at 01:46:46 PM PDT

The spineless, submissive Republicans are set to make their Master happy:

After weeks of negotiations and closed door meetings, Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, said he would soon introduce the Terrorist Surveillance Act of 2006 with three other moderates who have helped shaped the debate on intelligence issues: Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The fact that Hagel and Snowe are sponsoring the legislation with Mike "The President Can Do Whatever The Hell He Wants" DeWeine proves once again that there are no "moderate" Republicans, there are none who have the best interest of America at heart. The only interest of Senators Snowe and Hagel and the entire GOP is to cover up the President's crimes. Period. Democracy be damned.

Watch how stupidly Snowe deludes herself into thinking that the measure is anything short of cowardice on her part:

"I think today we're setting a constitutional marker and also a constitutional check on presidential power because you can't allow the president to move forward with unfettered fashion," said Snowe.

Can someone please explain to me the fuck another committee that will be ignored is "constitutional check on presidential power"? The notion that a Republican-controlled committee will exercise any "oversight" is laughable on its face. The administration violated federal law by failing to conduct full briefings to the required Committees about the program. The Republican solution? Let's set up another committee so we can get screwed again! Please, Mr. President, here's another chance to fuck us every which way you can! More subcommittees to ignore! More rules to break! Same rape, different position. Seriously, this Republican party is filled with legislative masochists who apparently get off getting abused time and time again by this administration.

Every legal scholar out there that doesn't have his mouth firmly sucking on the teat of this administration has concluded this program is blatantly illegal. Not illegal like getting blown in the Oval Office, but illegal in the sense of actually having violated both statutes and the Constitution of the United States. This isn't some evil Sudoku puzzle, the legal issues aren't hard to solve. The law is clear--the President has committed a crime. He has committed it in the most abhorrent manner possible: by claiming to have the powers of a King.

This proposal leaves that claim of absolute power completely unchallenged. Even if it passes, the President still maintains that he has the power to IGNORE the law. With Yoo holding the knife, the President has castrated Congress, and instead of screaming out in pain and justice, the Republicans play around in a pool of their own blood. Republicans just don't get it; President Bush's radical theory of Executive power is killing Congress.

Every Senator that endorses this cover-up proposal thereby endorses the radical and undemocratic theory of the President as King. Do Senators Snowe and Hagel agree that the President can order the crushing of children's testicles? Do they agree that the President can order targeted assassinations on our own soil? Do they agree that the President can round up dissenters and lock them up if he thinks they're a threat to his precious War On Terror? Apparently so, because that is what President Bush's argument is all about: absolute, infallible Executive power.

America, behold. Feast your eyes on a Republican party filled with moral simpletons incapable of recognizing the depravity of this administration; it is a party filled partisan hacks too gutless to do anything but stand by with blank stares as the flickering flame of accountability dims in the shadow of this President, this King.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Bush Lies....To Himself

ReddHedd at Firedoglake makes the following observation:

When the President can't even be honest with himself about a grave error in judgment -- when he is too cowardly to even be honest with himself in his own heart, can he ever make a course correction for the better? Can he allow himself to say "I was wrong, and we need to do things differently?" (And nothing like having the Vice President threaten Iran with "meaningful consequences" to escalate tension in the region, eh? I'm just saying...)

If the President refuses to even be honest with himself, who will step in and make him see the need to do just that...before it is too late?


Bush Lies - Republicans Suck

McClellan Breaches Truth About Levee Failure

In today’s press briefing, a reporter challenges Bush’s assertion that there was no way to anticipate the levees breaching after Hurricane Katrina. McClellan’s response:

If you will recall, on August 29th, when the hurricane hit, and then it passed the New Orleans area, there were a number of reports, including media reports, saying that New Orleans had dodged the bullet, and there was some sense that the worst-case scenario did not happen. … We learned the next day — all of us learned — that, in fact, the levees had been breached and that there was a systemic failure in the levees. That was what was certain the next morning.

First, the media was not reporting that New Orleans had dodged a bullet. In fact, newspapers around the country were reporting on the “catastrophicdamage to the Gulf Coast.

Second, McClellan’s timeline is wrong. Katrina made landfall at 7 AM CDT on Aug. 29. As early as 7:30 AM CDT, the administration received word from New Orleans Homeland Security Director Col. Terry Ebbert that the levees in New Orleans had broken. By 11:13 AM CDT, the White House Homeland Security Council began circulating an internal memo called the “Katrina Spot Report,” reporting on the levee breach:

Flooding is significant throughout the region and a levee in New Orleans has reportedly been breached sending 6-8 feet of water throughout the 9th ward area of the city.

A total of 28 government agencies, including the White House, reported the levee breach on Aug. 29. Therefore, McClellan’s claim that the White House didn’t learn of the breach until Aug. 30 doesn’t hold water. Check out the right timeline here.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Bush, lies, and videotape

IF GEORGE W. BUSH were a character in a novel or a play, last week might have been the turning point in the narrative. He was shown on film being explicitly warned, just hours before Hurricane Katrina hit, that the levees in New Orleans were vulnerable.

But everyone knows that after the levees broke, he denied having been warned that such a thing was possible. The broadcast of the film amounted to a terrible epiphany: The president seemed caught in a lie. Grave questions had already been raised about his administration's manipulations of the truth, especially in relation to the war in Iraq. Does the truth matter in America any more?

Critics of the president (among whom I must be counted) might come to yet another swift judgment of him, finding further evidence of a disqualifying character flaw. Rumbles about impeachment can be heard, despite the unlikelihood of such an outcome, shy of still-fanciful Democratic victories in the fall elections.

But what if our concern with Bush was embedded in literature, not politics? In that case, the conflict we would care about is not the one between a public figure and his critics, but the struggle inside the man himself. Literature unfolds across an inner landscape, and on that terrain the character flaw is essential.

Indeed, the character flaw of the hero is what enables a reader or playgoer to identify with him, even while passing judgment. Last week's videotape revelation raised public questions about the president's truthfulness, but the private question -- the one a man must face alone, in the crucible of conscience -- is a version of the question we all must ask of ourselves.

Consider the possibilities. The fictional character -- let's call him ''Bush" -- learns that his firm public statement about what he had been told is radically contradicted by incontrovertible evidence. What he told the nation at its moment of crisis was not true, and that contradiction is now exposed.

Learning this, in one narrative line, ''Bush" might feel deeply shamed to have laid bare what he has always known was a lie. The character flaw is deception. But in another narrative line, ''Bush" might be shocked to realize that, in the traumatic moments of the hurricane crisis, he had blocked all memory of the critical briefing. He hadn't consciously lied, but had constructed a new reality tailored to personal and political needs. The character flaw, in this case, is not deception, but self-deception.

Whatever ''Bush" did in the past, however, the drama that matters adheres in what he does now, at the moment of being exposed. Whether ''Bush" is a deceiver or a self-deceiver, the question is: What happens inside him at the terrible moment of judgment? In that instant, will he experience a transformation in awareness, as the truth of his condition shows itself? Or will he descend into a further circle of denial, deepening his predicament?

If this were a novel or a play, we would watch with a certain empathy, alert to revelations of our own inevitable implication in deception and self-deception. None of us is innocent, and it is to wrestle with that fact of our condition that we read books and buy theater tickets.

But the present American story is not a work of literature. From all appearances, the president is not a candidate for the role of ''Bush" because a narrative that unfolds across the terrain of an inner life requires an inner life, and Bush shows no sign of having one.

Even a character flaw presumes a depth of character that the president seems to lack. What interior conflict can there be for a man who attributes all failures, all mistakes, all crimes to those around him, as if he himself (alone of all humans) is blameless? Where there is no capacity for shame, there is none for insight, much less transformation. Without the secret struggle against the self, there can be no drama, only pathos.

As for us, the beholders of this narrative, there can be no suspension of disbelief, no identification, and no recognition of our own fate being rescued by a confrontation with the truth. On the contrary, since this is not literature but life, there is only the increased awareness of the danger into which the world is plunged by having such a hollow creature in the position of ultimate power.


Feds may soon check all workers' IDs

By Kathy Kiely, USA TODAYThu Mar 2, 7:02 AM ET

Congress is headed toward approving a plan that would require employers to check every worker's Social Security number or immigration work permit against a new federal computer database.

Critics see the move - aimed at stemming illegal immigration - as the beginning of a government information stockpile that could be used to track U.S. residents.

"We're getting closer and closer to a national ID card," says Tim Sparapani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Lawmakers such as conservative House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and liberal Sen. Edward Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), D-Mass., have signed on to the verification plan, which is included in some form in every immigration bill currently before Congress. The goal is to make sure everyone working in the USA is doing so legally.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which handles immigration, begins drafting its version of the bill today. The House bill passed in December.

The bills would require that a pilot program now used by 5,000 employers to check the legal status of job applicants be made mandatory. President Bush's 2007 budget includes $135 million to start expanding the verification system nationwide.

Proponents say new tools are needed to curb illegal immigration. There are now an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the USA. "If we're going to have any means of controlling our borders, you have to have a tamper-proof Social Security card and verification at the time of employment," says Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif.

Rep. Ken Calvert (news, bio, voting record), R-Calif., says "this is not a national ID system." But several bills authorize studies of "tamper proof" Social Security cards or their issuance. The cards would include some biometric data and would be harder to counterfeit.

During a debate in 1984, former representative Don Edwards, D-Calif., compared a proposed enhanced Social Security card to an "internal passport." Twelve years later, conservative GOP lobbyist Grover Norquist flooded Capitol Hill with activists wearing washable tattoos of an inventory bar code to show how a government clearinghouse could become a way to "track" Americans.

Both sides agree that Congress' willingness to consider such proposals represents a political shift. "They're talking about things that, if I had talked about, they would have burned my humble butt," says former GOP senator Alan Simpson, who helped write immigration laws passed in 1986 and 1996. He contends that Congress' past refusal to create a secure ID system to verify employment eligibility is a reason that neither law stemmed the flow of illegal immigrants.

Former Republican representative Bob Barr of Georgia, now on the ACLU's advisory board, agrees that attitudes have changed, but he doesn't think that is positive. "Far too many people have been swept into the post-9/11 system of fear that is the basis of all public policy these days," he says.

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