Saturday, July 29, 2006


US in quiet U-turn on Iraq troop numbers

By Edward Luce and Caroline Daniel in Washington

Published: July 28 2006 22:04 | Last updated: July 28 2006 22:04

The US administration has quietly reversed its goal from whittling down troop numbers in Iraq before the mid-term congressional elections in November.

A Pentagon spokesman on Friday confirmed that US troop levels in Iraq rose to 132,000 during the past week – the highest since late May – from 127,000 at the start of the week. The spokesman said troop numbers often fluctuated and “there might be temporary spikes during periods of troop rotation”.

However, analysts said an increase in troop numbers was more likely than a reduction because the number of sectarian killings in Iraq had almost doubled since the start of the year. The rise will prompt fears that the US is becoming increasingly bogged down in an unwinnable conflict.

On Thursday, the Pentagon said it would extend for up to 120 days the 3,700-strong deployment of the 172nd Stryker brigade in Iraq, among other rotations. There were 3,169 Iraqis killed in June, compared with 1,778 in January.

Richard Armitage, who was US deputy secretary of state until January 2005, said: “The US has almost totally reversed the troop situation from two months ago. The danger is that this is too little and too late and that the US will turn into a bystander in an Iraqi civil war it does not have sufficient resources to prevent.”

The rise in US troop levels comes as the world’s attention is on Lebanon but also coincides with a reported upsurge in anti-US sentiment in Baghdad’s Shia neighbourhoods following the launch of the US-backed Israeli campaign against Hizbollah.

This week Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi prime minister, agreed to a joint US-Iraq military operation to regain control of Baghdad.

George W. Bush, US president, also faces growing difficulties with Iraq’s new government, which is making anti-US noises to shore up its credibility with Iraqis. Mr Maliki is under domestic pressure to demand that trials of US soldiers take place in Iraq. The US says this is not possible.

However, US officials deny that the new campaign to stabilise Baghdad undermines Mr Bush’s promise that “as the Iraqis stand up we will stand down” – a phrase he has almost stopped using. In a departure from Mr Bush’s normally upbeat language, he this week said the violence in Baghdad was “terrible”.

Although the violence has shifted from an anti-US insurgency to a sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia groups, Iraq experts fear Shia militias will see US troops as an easy target. There are also concerns that the combined US-Iraqi force of 75,000 will be insufficient to regain control of Baghdad.

Kenneth Pollack, a former US National Security Council official, said: “The numbers should probably be roughly double what they are. We are seeing the right plan but completely inadequate resources to make it work.”


Banking on Poverty: Payday Lending is South Carolina's Growth Industry

Seth, over at Samaritanity has a great post about some of the reasons the poor stay poor. Like those handy rent-to-own stores with "No Credit Check" where you pay 1200 bucks for a $200 television. Or the economic risk assessment that's driving auto insurance premiums for the poor. Or my own favorite: the ubiquitous Payday Lenders.

Unlike our more enlightened northern neighbor, South Carolina has decided that the payday lending should be the century's growth industry. In fact, Loan Sharking is big business here with some of the country's biggest usurists setting up fancy corporate headquarters, like Advance America in Spartanburg. If you want to see how this new version of the Mafia's old business model works, just drive around any small town in South Carolina and look at the type of businesses hanging up their shingle in strip malls and abandoned ice cream shops.

In Greenwood, for example, an Upstate manufacturing town of 35,000 that lost a great deal of its job base when manufacturers left for El Salvador or Indonesia, I once counted 65 payday lenders inside the highway loop that surrounds the city. They've got names like Payday Advance and Title Max (where they loan you money on the old heap that you just paid off at the buy-here-pay-here dealer). According to The State: "The number of S.C. payday stores grew by 14 percent last year. Locations in the border counties of York and Lancaster grew by 25 percent. There are now about 1,100 of them in our state. In the 12 months ending August 2004, payday lenders collected more than $150 million in fees on almost 4.4 million loans."

I once asked a local Greenwood banker about why his company, which prides itself on being the "community's bank," wasn't interested in working with me to throw these bums out. After all, they were taking his business, keeping people from opening accounts at his bank. "Hell," he laughed, "those guys give loans to people we'd never touch." When I mentioned the conversation to a friend who is a passionate advocate for the poor, he remarked, "They probably own a few themselves." Probably so.

And that's the problem. The banking industry often forms partnerships with these companies, who, under South Carolina law, can charge up to 459% on a 14 day loan. (And you thought your new ARM rate was high!) It's called "sub-prime lending" in banking parlance. In an article on, not exactly your left-wing anti-capitalist rag, they tag the practice "loan sharking." They also talk about the Palmetto State Star Loan Shark, Advance America.

"Advance America CEO William Webster, who served as chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley from 1993 to 1994, didn't return telephone calls seeking comment. In the first three quarters of 2004, the company earned $69 million on $350 million in net revenue. Its net income has soared 12-fold since 1999. In July 2004, Wachovia Corp., the No. 5 U.S. bank, and Bank of America Corp., the No. 3 U.S. bank, co-arranged a $265 million syndicated credit line for Advance America, according to SEC documents. Two months later, Advance America announced an IPO to raise $183 million." According to its website, South Carolina's Advance America earnings continue to soar.

The poor don't have the economic savvy to realize that a $15 "fee" on a $100 cash advance for two weeks is a mind-boggling 390% APR. Sometimes they take out loans to pay off their other loans (the poor's version of refinancing your mortgage to pay off your credit card debt), and they end up in a mess from which there's no escape.

Rebekah O'Connell, a consumer credit counselor at Triangle Family Services, (a United Way agency in Raleigh, N.C.) commented, "It'd be great if it was the middle class and it was just the plumber and all they need is $200 this one time to get them by. But that’s just not the reality. These are people who are really not making it. . . .They’re not fixing a blown tire or a pipe—they’re paying the rent.[Payday lenders are] taking advantage of people in time of need . . . .We’ve got to get some controls on the interest rates. Three, four hundred percent? There ought to be a law."

There ought to be. But there isn't.


Passion of the Reich

Gibson's Anti-Semitic Tirade -- Alleged Cover Up

TMZ has learned that Mel Gibson went on a rampage when he was arrested Friday on suspicion of drunk driving, hurling religious epithets. TMZ has also learned that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's department had the initial report doctored to keep the real story under wraps.

TMZ has four pages of the original report prepared by the arresting officer in the case, L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy James Mee. According to the report, Gibson became agitated after he was stopped on Pacific Coast Highway and told he was to be detained for drunk driving Friday morning in Malibu. The actor began swearing uncontrollably. Gibson repeatedly said, "My life is f****d." Law enforcement sources say the deputy, worried that Gibson might become violent, told the actor that he was supposed to cuff him but would not, as long as Gibson cooperated. As the two stood next to the hood of the patrol car, the deputy asked Gibson to get inside. Deputy Mee then walked over to the passenger door and opened it. The report says Gibson then said, "I'm not going to get in your car," and bolted to his car. The deputy quickly subdued Gibson, cuffed him and put him inside the patrol car.

TMZ has learned that Deputy Mee audiotaped the entire exchange between himself and Gibson, from the time of the traffic stop to the time Gibson was put in the patrol car, and that the tape fully corroborates the written report.

Once inside the car, a source directly connected with the case says Gibson began banging himself against the seat. The report says Gibson told the deputy, "You mother f****r. I'm going to f*** you." The report also says "Gibson almost continually [sic] threatened me saying he 'owns Malibu' and will spend all of his money to 'get even' with me."

The report says Gibson then launched into a barrage of anti-Semitic statements: "F*****g Jews... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Gibson then asked the deputy, "Are you a Jew?"

The deputy became alarmed as Gibson's tirade escalated, and called ahead for a sergeant to meet them when they arrived at the station. When they arrived, a sergeant began videotaping Gibson, who noticed the camera and then said, "What the f*** do you think you're doing?"

A law enforcement source says Gibson then noticed another female sergeant and yelled, "What do you think you're looking at, sugar tits?"

We're told Gibson took two blood alcohol tests, which were videotaped, and continued saying how "f****d" he was and how he was going to "f***" Deputy Mee.

Gibson was put in a cell with handcuffs on. He said he needed to urinate, and after a few minutes tried manipulating his hands to unzip his pants. Sources say Deputy Mee thought Gibson was going to urinate on the floor of the booking cell and asked someone to take Gibson to the bathroom.

After leaving the bathroom, Gibson then demanded to make a phone call. He was taken to a pay phone and, when he didn't get a dial tone, we're told Gibson threw the receiver against the phone. Deputy Mee then warned Gibson that if he damaged the phone he could be charged with felony vandalism. We're told Gibson was then asked, and refused, to sign the necessary paperwork and was thrown in a detox cell.

Deputy Mee then wrote an eight-page report detailing Gibson's rampage and comments. Sources say the sergeant on duty felt it was too "inflammatory." A lieutenant and captain then got involved and calls were made to Sheriff's headquarters. Sources say Mee was told Gibson's comments would incite a lot of "Jewish hatred," that the situation in Israel was "way too inflammatory." It was mentioned several times that Gibson, who wrote, directed, and produced 2004's "The Passion of the Christ," had incited "anti-Jewish sentiment" and "For a drunk driving arrest, is this really worth all that?"

We're told Deputy Mee was then ordered to write another report, leaving out the incendiary comments and conduct. Sources say Deputy Mee was told the sanitized report would eventually end up in the media and that he could write a supplemental report that contained the redacted information -- a report that would be locked in the watch commander's safe.

Initially, a Sheriff's official told TMZ the arrest occurred "without incident." On Friday night, Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore told TMZ: "The L.A. County Sheriff's Department investigation into the arrest of Mr. Gibson on suspicion of driving under the influence will be complete and will contain every factual piece of evidence. Nothing will be sanitized. There was absolutely no favoritism shown to this suspect or any other. When this file is presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney, it will contain everything. Nothing will be left out."

Gibson's rep Alan Nierob tells TMZ: "We are unaware of any of the information you mentioned in your email pertaining to a police report."

Click to see portions of the original report.


Audit Finds U.S. Hid Actual Cost of Iraq Projects

BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 29 — The State Department agency in charge of $1.4 billion in reconstruction money in Iraq used an accounting shell game to hide ballooning cost overruns on its projects there and knowingly withheld information on schedule delays from Congress, a federal audit released late Friday has found.

The agency hid construction overruns by listing them as overhead or administrative costs, according to the audit, written by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent office that reports to Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department.

Called the United States Agency for International Development, or A.I.D., the agency administers foreign aid projects around the world. It has been working in Iraq on reconstruction since shortly after the 2003 invasion.

The report by the inspector general’s office does not give a full accounting of all projects financed by the agency’s $1.4 billion budget, but cites several examples.

The findings appeared in an audit of a children’s hospital in Basra, but they referred to the wider reconstruction activities of the development agency in Iraq. American and Iraqi officials reported this week that the State Department planned to drop Bechtel, its contractor on that project, as signs of budget and scheduling problems began to surface.

The United States Embassy in Baghdad referred questions to the State Department in Washington, which declined to comment immediately.

In March 2005, A.I.D. asked the Iraq Reconstruction and Management Office at the United States Embassy in Baghdad for permission to downsize some projects to ease widespread financing problems. In its request, it said that it had to “to absorb greatly increased construction costs” at the Basra hospital, and that it would make a modest shift of priorities and reduce “contractor overhead” on the project.

The embassy office approved the request. But the audit found that the agency interpreted the document as permission to change reporting of costs across its program.

Referring to the embassy office’s approval, the inspector general wrote, “The memorandum was not intended to give U.S.A.I.D. blanket permission to change the reporting of all indirect costs.”

The hospital’s construction budget was $50 million. By April of this year, Bechtel had told the aid agency that because of escalating costs for security and other problems, the project would actually cost $98 million to complete. But in an official report to Congress that month, the agency “was reporting the hospital project cost as $50 million,” the inspector general wrote in his report.

The rest was reclassified as overhead, or “indirect costs.” According to a contracting officer at the agency who was cited in the report, the agency “did not report these costs so it could stay within the $50 million authorization.”

“We find the entire agreement unclear,” the inspector general wrote of the U.S.A.I.D. request approved by the embassy. “The document states that hospital project cost increases would be offset by reducing contractor overhead allocated to the project, but project reports for the period show no effort to reduce overhead.”

The report said it suspected that other unreported costs on the hospital could drive the tab even higher. In another case cited in the report, a power station project in Musayyib, the direct construction cost cited by the development agency was $6.6 million, while the overhead cost was $27.6 million.

The result is that the project’s overhead, a figure that normally runs to a maximum of 30 percent, was a stunning 418 percent.

The figures were even adjusted in the opposite direction when that helped the agency balance its books, the inspector general found. On an electricity project at the Baghdad South power station, direct construction costs were reported by the agency as $164.3 million and indirect or overhead costs as $1.4 million.

That is just 0.8 percent overhead in a country where security costs are often staggering. A contracting officer told the inspector general that the agency adjusted the figures “to stay within the authorization for each project.”

The overall effect, the report said, was a “serious misstatement of hospital project costs.” The true cost could rise as high as $169.5 million, even after accounting for at least $30 million pledged for medical equipment by a charitable organization.

The inspector general also found that the agency had not reported known schedule delays to Congress. On March 26, 2006, Bechtel informed the agency that the hospital project was 273 days behind, the inspector general wrote. But in its April report to Congress on the status of all projects, “U.S.A.I.D. reported no problems with the project schedule.”

In a letter responding to the inspector general’s findings, Joseph A. Saloom, the newly appointed director of the reconstruction office at the United States Embassy, said he would take steps to improve the reporting of the costs of reconstruction projects in Iraq. Mr. Saloom took little exception to the main findings.

In the letter, Mr. Saloom said that his office had been given new powers by the American ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, to request clear financing information on American reconstruction projects. Mr. Saloom wrote that he agreed with the inspector general’s conclusion that this shift would help “preclude surprises such as occurred on the Basra hospital project.”

“The U.S. Mission agrees that accurate monitoring of projects requires allocating indirect costs in a systematic way that reflects accurately the true indirect costs attributable to specific activities and projects, such as a Basra children’s hospital,” Mr. Saloom wrote.


Detainee Abuse Charges Feared

Shield Sought From '96 War Crimes Act

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 28, 2006; A01

An obscure law approved by a Republican-controlled Congress a decade ago has made the Bush administration nervous that officials and troops involved in handling detainee matters might be accused of committing war crimes, and prosecuted at some point in U.S. courts.

Senior officials have responded by drafting legislation that would grant U.S. personnel involved in the terrorism fight new protections against prosecution for past violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996. That law criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if U.S.-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment.

In light of a recent Supreme Court ruling that the international Conventions apply to the treatment of detainees in the terrorism fight, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has spoken privately with Republican lawmakers about the need for such "protections," according to someone who heard his remarks last week.

Gonzales told the lawmakers that a shield is needed for actions taken by U.S. personnel under a 2002 presidential order, which the Supreme Court declared illegal, and under Justice Department legal opinions that have been withdrawn under fire, the source said. A spokeswoman for Gonzales, Tasia Scolinos, declined to comment on Gonzales's remarks.

The Justice Department's top legal adviser, Steven G. Bradbury, separately testified two weeks ago that Congress must give new "definition and certainty" to captors' risk of prosecution for coercive interrogations that fall short of outright torture.

Language in the administration's draft, which Bradbury helped prepare in concert with civilian officials at the Defense Department, seeks to protect U.S. personnel by ruling out detainee lawsuits to enforce Geneva protections and by incorporating language making U.S. enforcement of the War Crimes Act subject to U.S. -- not foreign -- understandings of what the Conventions require.

The aim, Justice Department lawyers say, is also to take advantage of U.S. legal precedents that limit sanctions to conduct that "shocks the conscience." This phrase allows some consideration by courts of the context in which abusive treatment occurs, such as an urgent need for information, the lawyers say -- even though the Geneva prohibitions are absolute.

The Supreme Court, in contrast, has repeatedly said that foreign interpretations of international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions should at least be considered by U.S. courts.

Some human rights groups and independent experts say they oppose undermining the reach of the War Crimes Act, arguing that it deters government misconduct. They say any step back from the Geneva Conventions could provoke mistreatment of captured U.S. military personnel. They also contend that Bush administration anxieties about prosecutions are overblown and should not be used to gain congressional approval for rough interrogations.

"The military has lived with" the Geneva Conventions provisions "for 50 years and applied them to every conflict, even against irregular forces. Why are we suddenly afraid now about the vagueness of its terms?" asked Tom Malinowski, director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch.

Since the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, hundreds of service members deployed to Iraq have been accused by the Army of mistreating detainees, and at least 35 detainees have died in military or CIA custody, according to a tally kept by Human Rights First. The military has asserted these were all aberrant acts by troops ignoring their orders.

Defense attorneys for many of those accused of involvement have alleged that their clients were pursuing policies of rough treatment set by officials in Washington. That claim is amplified in a 53-page Human Rights Watch report this week that quoted interrogators at three bases in Iraq as saying that abuse was part of regular, authorized procedures. But this argument has yet to gain traction in a military court, where U.S. policy requires that active-duty service members be tried for any maltreatment.

The War Crimes Act, in contrast, affords access to civilian courts for abuse perpetrated by former service members and by civilians. The government has not filed any charges under the law.

The law's legislative sponsor is one of the House's most conservative members, Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.). He proposed it after a chance meeting with a retired Navy pilot who had spent six years in the notorious "Hanoi Hilton," a Vietnamese prison camp. The conversation left Jones angry about Washington's inability to prosecute the pilot's abusers.

Jones's legislation for the first time imposed criminal penalties in the United States for breaches of the Geneva Conventions, which protect detainees anywhere. The Defense Department's deputy general counsel at the time declared at the sole hearing on it in 1996 -- attended by just two lawmakers -- that "we fully support the purposes of the bill," and urged its expansion to cover a wider range of war crimes. The Republican-controlled House passed the bill by voice vote, and the Senate approved it by unanimous consent.

The law initially criminalized grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions but was amended without a hearing the following year to include violations of Common Article 3, the minimum standard requiring that all detainees be treated "humanely." The article bars murder, mutilation, cruel treatment, torture and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." It applies to any abuse involving U.S. military personnel or "nationals."

Jones and other advocates intended the law for use against future abusers of captured U.S. troops in countries such as Bosnia, El Salvador and Somalia, but the Pentagon supported making its provisions applicable to U.S. personnel because doing so set a high standard for others to follow. Mary DeRosa, a legal adviser at the National Security Council from 1997 to 2001, said the threat of sanctions in U.S. courts in fact helped deter senior officials from approving some questionable actions. She said the law is not an impediment in the terrorism fight.

Since September 2001, however, Bush administration officials have considered the law a potential threat to U.S. personnel involved in interrogations. While serving as White House legal counsel in 2002, Gonzales helped prepare a Jan. 25 draft memo to Bush -- written in large part by David Addington, then Vice President Cheney's legal counsel and now Cheney's chief of staff -- in which he cited the threat of prosecution under the act as a reason to declare that detainees captured in Afghanistan were not eligible for Geneva Conventions protections.

"It is difficult," Gonzales said in the memo, "to predict the motives of prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to bring unwarranted charges." He also argued for the flexibility to pursue various interrogation methods and said that only a presidential order exempting detainees from Geneva protections "would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution." That month, Bush approved an order exempting those captured in Afghanistan from these protections.

But the Supreme Court's ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld effectively made Bush's order illegal when it affirmed that all detainees held by the United States are protected by Common Article 3. The court's decision caught the administration unprepared, at first, for questions about how its policy would change.

On July 7, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England signed a memorandum ordering all military departments to certify that their actions in the fight with al-Qaeda comply with Article 3. Several officials said the memo, which was reviewed by military lawyers, was provoked by the renewed threat of prosecution under the War Crimes Act.

England's memo was not sent to other agencies for review. Two White House officials heavily involved in past policymaking on detainee treatment matters, counsel Harriet Miers and Addington, told friends later that they had not been briefed before its release and were unhappy about its language, according to an informed source. Bradbury and Gonzales have since drafted legislation to repair what they consider the defects of the War Crimes Act and the ambiguities of Common Article 3.

Several officials said the administration's main concerns are Article 3's prohibitions against "outrages upon personal dignity" and humiliating or degrading treatment. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters on July 12 that he supported clearing up ambiguities so that military personnel are not "charged with wrongdoing when in fact they were not engaged in wrongdoing."

Several advocates and experts nonetheless said the legal liability of administration officials for past interrogations is probably small. "I think these guys did unauthorized stuff, they violated the War Crimes Act, and they should be prosecuted," said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based group that has provided lawyers for detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Ratner said authorized interrogation techniques such as stress positions, temperature extremes and sleep deprivation are "clearly outlawed" under Common Article 3. But he added that prosecutions are improbable because the Justice Department -- which has consistently asserted that such rough interrogations are legal -- is unlikely to bring them. U.S. officials could argue in any event, Ratner said, that they were following policies they believed to be legal, and "a judge would most likely say that is a decent defense."

Some officials at the Pentagon share the view that illegal actions have been taken. Alberto J. Mora, the Navy's general counsel from 2001 until the end of last year, warned the Pentagon's general counsel twice that some approved interrogation methods violated "domestic and international legal norms" and that a federal court might eventually find responsibility "along the entire length of the chain of command," according to a 2004 memo by Mora that recounted the warnings. The memo was first obtained by the New Yorker magazine.

At a July 13 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Air Force's top military lawyer, Maj. Gen. Jack L. Rives, affirmed that "some of the techniques that have been authorized and used in the past have violated Common Article 3" of the Geneva Conventions. The top military lawyers for the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, who were seated next to Rives, said they agreed.

Researchers Julie Tate and Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.


Welcome to the Police State: Bush submits new terror bill

by BruinKid

A new AP report shows that Bush has now submitted a new terror bill which now says any U.S. citizen "suspected" of terror ties can now be held "indefinitely". Forget the Bill of Rights. Forget due process. Forget the courts of law. Welcome to our own Guantanamo Bay, right here inside the United States.

This is more in Bush and Rove's playbook to step around the ruling of Hamdan, rendering the Supreme Court irrelevant (when Scalia's opinion isn't in the majority).

WASHINGTON - U.S. citizens suspected of terror ties might be detained indefinitely and barred from access to civilian courts under legislation proposed by the Bush administration, say legal experts reviewing an early version of the bill.

A 32-page draft measure is intended to authorize the Pentagon's tribunal system, established shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks to detain and prosecute detainees captured in the war on terror. The tribunal system was thrown out last month by the Supreme Court.

Welcome to your new police state.

Legal experts are obviously not happy with this legislation.

Legal experts said Friday that such language is dangerously broad and could authorize the military to detain indefinitely U.S. citizens who had only tenuous ties to terror networks like al Qaeda.

"That's the big question ... the definition of who can be detained," said Martin Lederman, a law professor at Georgetown University who posted a copy of the bill to a Web blog.

Scott L. Silliman, a retired Air Force Judge Advocate, said the broad definition of enemy combatants is alarming because a U.S. citizen loosely suspected of terror ties would lose access to a civilian court -- and all the rights that come with it. Administration officials have said they want to establish a secret court to try enemy combatants that factor in realities of the battlefield and would protect classified information.

The administration's proposal, as considered at one point during discussions, would toss out several legal rights common in civilian and military courts, including barring hearsay evidence, guaranteeing "speedy trials" and granting a defendant access to evidence. The proposal also would allow defendants to be barred from their own trial and likely allow the submission of coerced testimony.


Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Friday he expects to take up the detainee legislation in September.

Who's on the Armed Services Committee? Here are the Senators along with their offices' phone numbers.

John Warner, Chairman (Virginia): (202) 224-2023
John McCain (Arizona): (202) 224-2235
James Inhofe (Oklahoma): (202) 224-4721
Pat Roberts (Kansas): (202) 224-4774
Jeff Sessions (Alabama): (202) 224-4124
Susan Collins (Maine): (202) 224-2523
John Ensign (Nevada): (202) 224-6244
James Talent (Missouri): (202) 224-6154
Saxby Chambliss (Georgia): (202) 224-3521
Lindsey Graham (South Carolina): (202) 224-5972
Elizabeth Dole (North Carolina): (202) 224-6342
John Cornyn (Texas): (202) 224-2934
John Thune (South Dakota): (202) 224-2321

Carl Levin, Ranking Minority Member (Michigan): (202) 224-6221
Edward Kennedy (Massachusetts): (202) 224-4543
Robert Byrd (West Virginia): (202) 224-3954
Joe Lieberman (Connecticut): (202) 224-4041
Jack Reed (Rhode Island): (202) 224-4642
Daniel Akaka (Hawaii): (202) 224-6361
Bill Nelson (Florida): (202) 224-5274
Ben Nelson (Nebraska): (202) 224-6551
Mark Dayton (Minnesota): (202) 224-3244
Evan Bayh (Indiana): (202) 224-5623
Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York): (202) 224-4451

Who determines the level of suspicion necessary to jail U.S. citizens? Given all that we know about what the Bush administration has already done, the possibility of jailing innocent U.S. citizens under this bill seems almost a guarantee. Don't let Bush and Alberto Gonzales get away with this.


Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part VI

by Mahanoy

Welcome to this sixth installment of my series on the Dominionists. As we have seen in the previous installments, the Dominionists desire nothing less than an American theocracy, the application of biblical law to every aspect of American society and government.

In this installment we will consider another essay by Thomas Wang, the editor of the booklet America, Return to God!. This essay, entitled "Ambush Alert: The Barbarians are Here" traces the history of America's spiritual decline through the great intellectual movements of the past 600 years, framed in the context of the cosmic battle between God and Satan.

Thomas Wang, "Ambush Alert: The Barbarians are Here"

As we have seen in the last few installments, the Dominionists have declared war against the forces of secularism, religious pluralism, and liberalism. Wang takes this declaration one step further: the so-called "culture war" is nothing other than a proxy war between God and Satan, the most recent battle in the ancient Manichaen struggle between Good and Evil. There is no room for ambiguity in this worldview; the Dominionists alone stand on the side of God and the Good, while all others - liberals, secularists, humanists, adherents of anything other than their brand of Christianity - fight on the side of Satan, the Great Evil.

Wang suggests that the West is being "secularized and paganized" by the forces of Satan, and no institution is exempt - including the churches. Secular humanists, atheists, and liberals systematically undermine the authority and superiority of biblical Christianity in order to defeat God and hand their nations over to the Evil One.

Often these systematic efforts are couched in progressive language and undertaken concurrently with progressive intellectual movements, beginning with the renaissance and ending today with post-modernism:

Ever since the Renaissance, humanism has been gradually but persistently on the rise. Nothing in human nature is more readily and easily used by the Adversary than human pride.

  • Renaissance: 14th-16th centuries. Thought pattern: "Man, the measure of all things."

  • Enlightenment: 17th, 18th centuries. Thought pattern: "Man has come of age and is no longer in need of God."

  • Modernism: 19th, 20th centuries. Thought pattern: "Man overcomes nature (heaven)."

  • Post-modernism: 20th, 21st centuries. Thought pattern: "Man not only is independent from God but man is God."

This was the way Adam and Eve fell. This was the way the Devil himself fell... This is also the way Satan has been enticing mankind into self-exaltation against their Creator throughout history. (Wang, 103)

Wang's descriptions of these great intellectual movements of the past 600 years fail to account for the diversity of thought within those movements as well as the developments within Christianity itself corresponding to these movements.

The Renaissance was literally a "rebirth," as its name suggests. Its motto was Ad fontes! ("To the sources!"), a reference to the golden ages of classical Greece and Rome. In all areas of culture and scholarship, representatives of the Renaissance sought a return to the classical Greek and Latin roots of European civilization. The Renaissance was characterized by an explosion of humanistic scholarship in literature, architecture, art, philosophy, and the sciences.

Wang suggests that this humanistic "turn toward the subject" is antithetical to Christianity. This is, of course, untrue. The Renaissance produced important theologians and biblical scholars, the most famous of which is Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam. Erasmus, who remained a Catholic priest for his entire life, was highly critical of the excesses of late medieval Catholicism and served as one catalyst for the Reformation of the 16th century. Above all, Erasmus considered himself an independent scholar. He prepared a new Latin and Greek edition of the New Testament, the latter of which served as the basis for Luther's German translation of the New Testament. He called for a systematic liberalization of the medieval church, and his most famous work, The Praise of Folly, was a scathing critique of the superstitions and corruptions he observed within medieval Catholicism. It has been argued by many historians and theologians that the 16th-century Protestant Reformations owed part of their success to the intellectual foundations of the Renaissance. To suggest, as Wang does, that the Renaissance represents a wholesale rejection of Christianity fails to account for the important continuities between the Renaissance and the Reformation.

Wang often criticizes the Enlightenment as another step away from Christianity. Again, this is a simplistic and unsubtle judgment. Many Enlightenment figures were certainly hostile to religion, Christianity in particular. These figures were reacting to the horrors of the religious wars of the 17th century, particularly the 30 Years War between Protestant and Catholic territories in northern Europe. They sought to replace religious authority with the authority of reason in all matters of life. As many Enlightenment thinkers acknowledged, however, there need not be any fundamental conflict between religious faith and reason. German Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment figures such as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Gottfried von Herder, and Immanuel Kant were very critical of "traditional" Christianity and advocated for a thoroughly rational Christianity. (See, for example, Kant's Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason.) Kant was especially significant in the later history of Protestant theology, influencing most of the German Protestant theology of the 19th century.

Wang's critique of the modern "thought pattern" is curious, particularly in terms of his identification of nature with heaven - a move no modern thinker would ever have made. Wang is most likely referring here to Romanticism, sometimes called the "Counter-Enlightenment." The Romantics (represented by such diverse figures as the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, the British poets Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Percy Bysshe Shelly, the French authors Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo, the Germans Franz Schubert, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the Americans Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, and William Cullen Bryant) share a profound reverence for nature, a desire to balance the faculties of reason and emotion, and a preference for imagination and intuition over against rational speculation and deduction. Many of the Romantics were more favorable toward religion than their Enlightenment predecessors, and the so-called "Father of Modern Theology," Friedrich Schleiermacher was profoundly influenced by his time spent in the Berlin Salons frequented by many prominent German Romantics. Schleiermacher's first major publication, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, represents the young Schleiermacher's attempt to demonstrate the compatibility of modern Protestantism and German Romanticism. And in Schleiermacher's most famous work, The Christian Faith, he defines the essence of religion as "the feeling of absolute dependence," and he defines God as the "whence" of this feeling - these definitions are clearly rooted in the Romantic primacy of feeling over against pure speculative reason.

The modern period of Protestant theology was marked by a deep respect for the sciences, critical biblical scholarship, increased attention to history, and engagement in the political life of the nation.

For Wang, each of these movements tends toward the ultimate rejection of God and religion in Postmodernism, when, as he puts it, "man is God." Postmodern philosophers are especially interested in critical theory (originating in its current form in the Frankfurt School) and deconstruction (a method developed by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida). Although Postmodernism as a philosophy defies a simple definition, it is generally marked by a critical attitude toward the Western philosophical tradition itself. It is marked, above all, by criticism and skepticism. Protestant theologians have also turned to the methods of Postmodern philosophy in their work and have adopted much of the same criticism and skepticism toward the Western theological tradition. (For an excellent compendium of Postmodern theological thought, see The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology.)

If we consider some common themes of these intellectual movements taken as a whole, we begin to understand why the Dominionists find them so dangerous. Philosophy and "liberal" theology (I use this term not in its technical sense but as the opposite of conservative theology) since the medieval period has been characterized by critical scholarship and dialogue with other academic disciplines (especially the social and natural sciences), and both are marked by a rejection of traditional authorities. Dominionism relies on uncritical acceptance of authority and uncritical use of Scripture - any skepticism, doubt, or criticism is regarded as a lack of faith and a grave sin against God. To emphasize this point, such critical attitudes are traced to the influence of Satan and are described as weapons in Satan's battle against Christianity. Liberal theologians are particularly dangerous because they function as "wolves in sheep's clothing," masquerading as Christians while serving the Devil and his aims to overthrow the true church.

We have once again arrived at the metaphor of war. Dominionists consider themselves to be at war with the forces of secularism, humanism, and liberalism that threaten to destroy America and the true church. Wang lists seven "fronts" of this religious war (which he takes from Carl Henry's book, Twilight of a Great Civilization: The Drift Toward Neo-Paganism):

  1. Today's West, characterized by atheism, secularism, humanism, and post-modernism.

  2. Today's America, which is drifting away from God. Wang refers to a Newsweek cover (without citation) with the headline, "The American century is over; the world order is changing." Wang appears to be suggesting (as he has done explicitly elsewhere) that the shifting global landscape is a direct result of America's loss of faith in God.

  3. Today's Culture, marked by radical relativism in all areas of life.

  4. Today's Society, infected with the "disease of atheism" and headed toward outright paganism. (Unfortunately Wang never defines what he means by "paganism." It is clear, however, that he is not using the term Paganism as it is commonly used by scholars of religion.)

  5. Today's Faith, which is a pale imitation of true biblical faith, thanks to religious pluralism, which, in turn, is only a few short steps from atheism.

  6. Today's Marriage, under threat from homosexuality and sexual promiscuity (which Wang relates to abortion).

  7. Today's Church, weakened by a rejection of biblical inerrancy and the failure of its members to tithe.

Together, these seven fronts necessitate a theory of Total War in which Dominionists are called to devote all of their resources to total destruction of the above-listed enemies:

Our warfare today includes the battle of good and evil, man's will, Christian mind-set, Christian values, Christian leadership in education, media, art, politics and other arenas of life.


May God protect America from Satan's ambushes! And, may America walk not in the path of Sodom and Gomorrah, or the steps of the liberal philosophers, or deviant Western Europe, but in the way of the Lord and follow Him to the end. (Wang, 105)

Wang and the Dominionists have declared war on the very principles of American secular democracy and on the entire Western intellectual tradition. It is time for us to recognize the stakes of this war and join the battle that has been pitched. The future of our nation, and of our world, is at stake.

Previous Installments

Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part I

Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part II

Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part III

Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part IV

Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part V

Related Post: Dominionism in Action. Reminder: America is NOT a Christian Nation!

Originally Posted at Little Blue


Abu Says - When in doubt, Make War Crimes Legal

by Vyan

That's the new mantra coming from Alberto Gonzales and some Republicans on the hill as a result of the Hamdan (pdf) Decision which clearly laid reestablished the groundwork for soldiers, Pentagon Officials and even the President to be held accountable for violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996.

In 2002, fearing that the President policies might run afoul of this law, then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales recommended that "Enemy Combatants" be exempted from Geneva Protections.

Now that this view has been obliterated by the SCOTUS - Abu has taken a different tact. Create an immunity from War Crimes prosecution for those fighting the "War on Terror".

Which of course would cover - um - everyone in the Government since we don't have any other types of impending Wars right now.

Over a year ago Amnesty International called for the investigation, arrest and prosecution of George W. Bush and many of his senior staff including Gonzales and Rumsfeld for War Crimes Violations.

It's clear from Gonzales actions that the threat posed by Amnesty's allegations aren't something he considered to be simply "idle". And it's also clear from the 26 Detainee deaths-in-custody that have already been determined to be homocide due to cruel treatment - that this issue is not going away anytime soon.

From the Washington Post.

An obscure law approved by a Republican-controlled Congress a decade ago has made the Bush administration nervous that officials and troops involved in handling detainee matters might be accused of committing war crimes, and prosecuted at some point in U.S. courts.

Senior officials have responded by drafting legislation that would grant U.S. personnel involved in the terrorism fight new protections against prosecution for past violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996. That law criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if U.S.-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment.

In light of a recent Supreme Court ruling that the international Conventions apply to the treatment of detainees in the terrorism fight, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has spoken privately with Republican lawmakers about the need for such "protections," according to someone who heard his remarks last week.

So Gonzales previos attempts to end-run around Geneva have been thwarted by the Scotus and the War Crimes Act 18 USC § 2441 which documents War Crimes:

(1) as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party;

(2) prohibited by Article 23, 25, 27, or 28 of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV, Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, signed 18 October 1907;

(3) which constitutes a violation of common Article 3 of the international conventions signed at Geneva, 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party and which deals with non-international armed conflict; or

(4) of a person who, in relation to an armed conflict and contrary to the provisions of the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices as amended at Geneva on 3 May 1996 (Protocol II as amended on 3 May 1996), when the United States is a party to such Protocol, willfully kills or causes serious injury to civilians.

It seems that this Law really worries Gonzales, and just why would that be? More from Wapo:

Gonzales told the lawmakers that a shield is needed for actions taken by U.S. personnel under a 2002 presidential order, which the Supreme Court declared illegal, and under Justice Department legal opinions that have been withdrawn under fire [such as the Bybee memos], the source said. A spokeswoman for Gonzales, Tasia Scolinos, declined to comment on Gonzales's remarks.

The Justice Department's top legal adviser, Steven G. Bradbury, separately testified two weeks ago that Congress must give new "definition and certainty" to captors' risk of prosecution for coercive interrogations that fall short of outright torture.

But why are we back to this yet again? Didn't the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 essentially ban all cruel and unusual treatment of Detainees? Then again, maybe it didn't since the Graham-Levin Amendment to that law essential created a barrier between detainees and their ability to fight against poor treatment via the courts - a barrier that Hamdan ripped down with a back-hoe.

No matter what - these guys want the ability to torture people. That's the bottom line. Even when using such techniques have only brought us bad information, such as the claims of links between Saddam and Al Qaeda that we received from Ibn Sheik al-Libi at Gitmo which turned out to be completely false.

They just keep trying snake around the law. Geneva in the way? -- deny it applies. Supreme Court says it does? Rewrite the law -- even if you still have those pesky ex-post facto issues to iron out. But they still have one hurdle they can't easily jump and that is the 8th Amendment to the Constitution:

The Constitutionality of a Law that is specifically designed to allow for violations of the 8th Amendment is a non-starter. It's crazy. Looney-tunes. Insane in the membrane.

But here we are, with serious discussion of this very thing happening on Capitol Hill. How do we get back to sanity again?

Looking past Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram AFB to the actions of Task Force 6-26 which ran a torture operation right out of one of Saddam's old torture chambers - or the Rape and Murder of a 15-year old Iraq girl and her entire family by U.S. Troops - we need to find a way back, and soon.

Crosposted on Truth 2 Power


UN rights body urges D.C. vote in Congress

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United Nations Human Rights Committee on Friday urged U.S. lawmakers to give the District of Columbia a voting member of Congress, saying the lack of such representation appeared inconsistent with international law.

The rebuke came in a report released by the committee in Geneva on Friday which said residents of the U.S. capital deserved to take part in government affairs directly or through freely chosen representatives under the 1992 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The District of Columbia has been without a voting member of Congress since its founding as the national capital in 1790 because it was specified by U.S. Constitution as a federal district that was not part of any state.

D.C. residents were not allowed to vote in presidential elections until 1961, when a constitutional amendment was ratified.

Today the city's standard car license plates bear the slogan, "Taxation without representation." The U.S. Census Bureau recently revised its 2005 estimate for D.C.'s population upward to about 582,000 from 550,000, marking the first increase since 1950.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee said it "remains concerned that residents of the District of Columbia do not enjoy full representation in Congress, a restriction which does not seem to be compatible with article 25 of the Covenant."

"The State party (the United States) should ensure the right of residents of the District of Columbia to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives, in particular with regard to the House of Representatives," the panel said.

Voting and human rights advocates welcomed the statement and hoped it would boost support for a bill to give Washington a seat in the House of Representatives.

Timothy Cooper, executive director of Worldrights, said the statement also could provide the basis for legal challenges to the prohibition on voting representation.

"No longer can the U.S. hide from its international obligations," Cooper said. "It should act to right this human rights wrong without delay."

The House Judiciary Committee this week scheduled a September 14 hearing on a bill that would create two new House seats, one for heavily Democratic D.C. and one for Utah, the largely Republican state that was next in line for a new seat based on 2000 Census Bureau data.

The bill was overwhelmingly approved by the House Government Reform Committee in May but needs approval from the judiciary panel, where it faces a tougher fight, before it can advance to the House floor.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Bush to sign voting act that he once opposed

By Stephen Dinan
Published July 27, 2006

With his signature today, President Bush will renew a key part of the Voting Rights Act that singles out 16 states as still practicing voting discrimination, including his state of Texas, where he was governor for six years, and part of Florida, where his brother is governor.
Less than a decade ago, Mr. Bush fought that exact part of the Voting Rights Act, with his appointed secretary of state, Antonio O. Garza Jr., calling the provisions a burdensome and unnecessary federal intrusion into Texas' affairs.
"The Bush administration has really done a flip-flop on this," said Edward Blum, a senior fellow at the Center for Equal Opportunity who has studied Texas voting and the Voting Rights Act. "This is not where he was, and this is not the kind of philosophy that then-Governor Bush had when it comes to getting Texas out from under the thumb of the federal government."
He said Mr. Bush has abandoned "the great color-blind ideals that conservatives believe in."
The key provision is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, designed to target six Southern states that had a history of discrimination against black voters. In the early 1970s, Section 5 was broadened to cover nine states -- Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia -- and parts of seven others -- California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota.
Those states and localities are deemed so discriminatory that they must get Justice Department approval every time they change voting laws or procedures -- right down to moving a polling location.
With Mr. Bush's signature, that requirement will last through 2032.
Mr. Bush says the Voting Rights Act has been a success, and last week, he told the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that he wanted it renewed "without amendment."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the law has "been an effective and important tool in assuring all Americans the right to vote," and she said it doesn't target Texas.
"Texas long ago came into compliance with the Voting Rights Act, and the newly reauthorized bill doesn't change that," she said.
Mr. Blum, though, said Section 5 clearly singles Texas out among its neighbors such as Oklahoma, Arkansas and New Mexico, which aren't covered.
"Are Texans so different in their racial attitudes and their behavior toward minorities that Texans require supervision, but not the legislatures of those surrounding states?" he asked.
As governor, Mr. Bush's administration agreed with that position.
"If Washington thinks we should keep putting up with such bureaucratic micromanagement like we have for the past 20 years, it can guess again. They're wrong. We don't need it," Mr. Garza, said in 1997 when he asked to exempt Texas from Section 5 requirements. Texas papers at the time reported that Mr. Bush shared Mr. Garza's view.
During Mr. Bush's time as governor, the Justice Department used Section 5 to object to three voting changes the state made and to six changes by cities, counties and school districts within Texas.
The Senate passed the renewed provisions 98-0. The House passed them 390-33, but only after defeating an amendment designed to update the list of places subject to Section 5.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican, who led an effort in the House this year to change the provisions, said he wants the act to apply wherever it is necessary. But other lawmakers told him that it was easier to vote to renew the bill than to rewrite it.
"As one congressman said to me, 'No matter how badly my state may need the requirements, explain to me again why I should vote for an amendment that subjects my state to all that mess you all have to go through?' I think that's what it comes down to," Mr. Gohmert said.
"I think there is still more to be done with the Voting Rights Act in Texas, to help Texas, but at the same time, it has helped Texas so much we are better than many jurisdictions that are not covered," he said. "So now the 41 states are saying, 'Here Texas, let us help you remove the speck from your eye,' never mind the log in your own."
Mr. Bush isn't the only former governor who finds himself urging passage of a bill that labels his state as discriminatory. Sen. George Allen, who was governor of Virginia from 1994 to 1998, also called for the provisions to be extended without amendment.
Mr. Allen's spokesman, David Snepp, said the senator sees his vote as a statement that the state is committed to minority rights.
"He doesn't think by voting to renew this act he is saying Virginia is one of these bad actors," Mr. Snepp said. "He is looking at it from a different perspective, and that is a commitment to make sure the voting rights of individual citizens is protected now and in the future."
During the House debate, Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, also tried but failed to change provisions that require many states and localities to print ballots in foreign languages.
Mr. Bush opposed those changes.
Mrs. Perino said Mr. Bush does think immigrants should learn English but said it can take some time.
"All Americans should be able to vote, and bilingual ballots help to ensure that even those who are not proficient in English can vote," she said.
But Mr. King said Mr. Bush failed the first test of his own immigration proposal, which urges immigrants to learn English as a key part of assimilation.
"Assimilation lost," Mr. King said. "Any argument that the president makes about the necessity for new immigrants to learn English has been contradicted by his support for the mandate for foreign-language ballots.
"I sit back here and I think America missed a chance to move forward, and we've been frozen in place and frozen in time for another 25 years," Mr. King said. "People who were labeled racist by 1964 standards, the people in those districts will still be labeled racist, by the actions of their grandparents and great-grandparents, in 2032."


'Waiting to Get Blown Up'

Some Troops in Baghdad Express Frustration With the War and Their Mission

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 27, 2006; A01

BAGHDAD, July 26 Army Staff Sgt. Jose Sixtos considered the simple question about morale for more than an hour. But not until his convoy of armored Humvees had finally rumbled back into the Baghdad military base, and the soldiers emptied the ammunition from their machine guns, and passed off the bomb-detecting robot to another patrol, did he turn around in his seat and give his answer.

"Think of what you hate most about your job. Then think of doing what you hate most for five straight hours, every single day, sometimes twice a day, in 120-degree heat," he said. "Then ask how morale is."

Frustrated? "You have no idea," he said.

As President Bush plans to deploy more troops in Baghdad, U.S. soldiers who have been patrolling the capital for months describe a deadly and infuriating mission in which the enemy is elusive and success hard to find. Each day, convoys of Humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles leave Forward Operating Base Falcon in southern Baghdad with the goal of stopping violence between warring Iraqi religious sects, training the Iraqi army and police to take over the duty, and reporting back on the availability of basic services for Iraqi civilians.

But some soldiers in the 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division -- interviewed over four days on base and on patrols -- say they have grown increasingly disillusioned about their ability to quell the violence and their reason for fighting. The battalion of more than 750 people arrived in Baghdad from Kuwait in March, and since then, six soldiers have been killed and 21 wounded.

"It sucks. Honestly, it just feels like we're driving around waiting to get blown up. That's the most honest answer I could give you," said Spec. Tim Ivey, 28, of San Antonio, a muscular former backup fullback for Baylor University. "You lose a couple friends and it gets hard."

"No one wants to be here, you know, no one is truly enthused about what we do," said Sgt. Christopher Dugger, the squad leader. "We were excited, but then it just wears on you -- there's only so much you can take. Like me, personally, I want to fight in a war like World War II. I want to fight an enemy. And this, out here," he said, motioning around the scorched sand-and-gravel base, the rows of Humvees and barracks, toward the trash-strewn streets of Baghdad outside, "there is no enemy, it's a faceless enemy. He's out there, but he's hiding."

"We're trained as an Army to fight and destroy the enemy and then take over," added Dugger, 26, of Reno, Nev. "But I don't think we're trained enough to push along a country, and that's what we're actually doing out here."

"It's frustrating, but we are definitely a help to these people," he said. "I'm out here with the guys that I know so well, and I couldn't picture myself being anywhere else."

'Never-Ending Battle'

After a five-hour patrol on Saturday through southern Baghdad neighborhoods, soldiers from the 1st Platoon sat on wooden benches in an enclosed porch outside their barracks. Faces flushed and dirty from the grit and a beating sun, they smoked cigarettes and tossed them at a rusted can that said "Butts."

The commanders in Baghdad and the Pentagon are "looking at the big picture all the time, but for us, we don't see no big picture, it's just always another bomb out here," said Spec. Joshua Steffey, 24, of Asheville, N.C. The company's commanding officer, Capt. Douglas A. DiCenzo of Plymouth, N.H., and his gunner, Spec. Robert E. Blair of Ocala, Fla., were killed by a roadside bomb in May.

Steffey said he wished "somebody would explain to us, 'Hey, this is what we're working for.' " With a stream of expletives, he said he could not care less "if Iraq's free" or "if they're a democracy."

"The first time somebody you know dies, the first thing you ask yourself is, 'Well, what did he die for?' "

"At this point, it seems like the war on drugs in America," added Spec. David Fulcher, 22, a medic from Lynchburg, Va., who sat alongside Steffey. "It's like this never-ending battle, like, we find one IED, if we do find it before it hits us, so what? You know it's just like if the cops make a big bust, next week the next higher-up puts more back out there."

"My personal opinion, I don't speak for the rest of anybody, I just speak for me personally, I think civil war is going to happen regardless," Steffey responded. "Maybe this country needs it: One side has to win. Be it Sunni, be it Shiite, one side has to win. It's apparent, these people have made it obvious they can't live in unity."

It was dark now save for one fluorescent light and the cigarette tips glowing red.

"I mean, if you compare the casualty count from this war to, say, World War II, you know obviously it doesn't even compare," Fulcher said. "But World War II, the big picture was clear -- you know you're fighting because somebody was trying to take over the world, basically. This is like, what did we invade here for?"

"How did it become, 'Well, now we have to rebuild this place from the ground up'?" Fulcher asked.

He kept talking. "They say we're here and we've given them freedom, but really what is that? You know, what is freedom? You've got kids here who can't go to school. You've got people here who don't have jobs anymore. You've got people here who don't have power," he said. "You know, so yeah, they've got freedom now, but when they didn't have freedom, everybody had a job."

Steffey got up to leave the porch and go to bed.

"You know, the point is we've lost too many Americans here already, we're committed now. So whatever the [expletive] end-state is, whatever it is, we need to achieve it -- that way they didn't die for nothing," he said. "We're far too deep in this now."

'Our Biggest Fear'

The largest risk facing the soldiers is the explosion of roadside bombs, known among soldiers as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, the main killer of U.S. troops in Iraq. Battalion commanders say they have made great strides clearing the main highways through their southern Baghdad jurisdiction, including the north-south thoroughfare they call Route Jackson, but insurgents continue to adapt.

"We do an action, he counters it. It's a constant tug of war," said Sgt. 1st Class Scott Wilmot, an IED analyst with the battalion. "From where I sit, the [number of] IEDs continually, gradually, goes up."

Each day, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers patrolling neighborhoods such as Sadiyah, al-Amil and Bayaa -- an area of about 40 square miles where about half a million people live -- encounter an average of one to two roadside bombs, often triggered remotely by someone watching the convoys, he said.

"Motorola radios, cellphones, garage door openers, remote-controlled doorbells. Anything that can transmit, they can, in theory, use," Wilmot said. "Anybody who thinks they're stupid is wrong."

After the bombing in February of a golden-domed Shiite shrine in Samarra, sectarian killings between rival Shiite and Sunni Muslim factions exploded, and have continued to take thousands of Iraqi lives despite a security crackdown in Baghdad that started last month. U.S. military commanders in Baghdad say the killings extend beyond sectarian motives, to include tribal rivalries, criminal activity and intra-sect gang warfare. Most of the killing takes place out of sight of the Americans, commanders said.

"At this point, it's getting a little difficult to tell which groups are responsible," said Capt. Eric Haas of Williamsburg, Va., an intelligence officer for the 2nd Battalion. "Our biggest fear is this turning into a Bosnia-Kosovo situation" where the police are allowing the slaughter to take place.

"We're definitely making progress," he added. "It's going to take some time to get there."

Into this fray, day and night, come the U.S. soldiers. Each infantryman conducts an average of 10 patrols a week, for a total of 50 to 60 grueling hours, "and it is having an effect," said the battalion's executive officer, Maj. Jeffrey E. Grable.

"Sometimes it's not obvious, the fruit of their labor," said Grable. But the patrols have "a deterrent effect on sectarian violence. Unfortunately, we just cannot be everywhere all the time."

'Only Promises'

The patrol led by Capt. Mike Comstock, 27, of Boise, Idaho -- two Humvees and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle -- started at 1 p.m. on Saturday. At about 15 miles per hour, the patrol passed down blighted Iraqi streets with dozens of cars waiting in gas lines, piles of smoldering trash, rubble-strewn vacant lots and gaping bomb craters.

On one stop, the patrol pulled up to the Saadiq al-Amin mosque in the Bayaa neighborhood. Some mosques in the city have stockpiled weapons and been operations centers for insurgents -- used, said one officer, "like we use National Guard armories back home."

"How are you doing today, sir? A little hot?" Comstock asked Walid Khalid, 45, the second-ranking cleric of the Sunni mosque, who opened the gate wearing sandals and a white dishdasha , a traditional robe.

"Our imam was killed three weeks ago," Khalid said through an interpreter.

"This is actually the first I've heard about this," Comstock said, taking notes.

"The people around here are afraid to come here to pray on Fridays," Khalid said, going on to explain that the mosque didn't have water or electricity. He said that he was worried about corrupt Iraqi police attacking the mosque, and that he needed permits for the four AK-47 assault rifles he kept inside.

"Would it help if we brought the national police here so you could meet them?" Comstock asked. "Maybe you guys could start building trust together."

"We would like to cooperate, but sometimes those people come to attack us, and we want to defend the mosque," Khalid said. "Inside the mosque is our border. If they cross this line, we will shoot these guys."

Comstock's patrol stopped at Bayaa homes and shops to conduct a "SWET assessment": checking the sewage, water and electricity services available to residents. Most said the sewage service was adequate, but the electricity functioned no more than four hours a day. Some said they had little running water and dumped their trash along the main streets. Inner neighborhood roads were blocked with slabs of concrete and the trunks of palm trees. The most repeated concern among residents was a lack of safety.

"I can't fix electricity or sewers all the time. We recommend projects to be done," Comstock told Muhammed Adnan, a Bayaa resident. "Patrolling your neighborhood is one thing we can do. I hope that helps."

"We just receive promises around here, nothing else," Adnan, 40, told Comstock. "Three years, just promises, and promises and promises."

Comstock wrote down the words: "only promises."


Why Bolton’s First Year Was A Failure

While John Bolton has certainly proven to be an ineffective diplomat by souring relations with U.S. allies, his proponents claim that he deserves a permanent placement at the U.N. due to his record on the job. Heritage writes, “Over the past year, Bolton has proven a forceful advocate of American interests.”

While Bolton did successfully negotiate a “weakened resolution” to condemn the North Korean missile tests, Bolton’s tenure has been marked by gridlock and strife as U.N. member-states have sought to advance an agenda that Bolton has repeatedly obstructed. Here are some of the lowlights of Bolton’s first year at the United Nations.

Bolton isolated the U.S. from its allies on the Human Rights Council. Because Bolton was unable to negotiate favorable terms on the creation of a new Human Rights Council, the U.S. was one of four nations to oppose the creation of the Council, while 170 nations voted for it. Out of 30 or so negotiating sessions over the creation of the Council, Bolton attended just one.

Bolton blocked the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide from briefing the Security Council on Darfur. “Bolton said he had objected to the briefing to make the point the council should be ‘talking more about the steps it can take to do something about the deteriorating security situation’ in Darfur. [But] he gave no new proposals.”

Bolton unable to build consensus on U.N. reform. Kofi Annan’s deputy Mark Malloch Brown said that there is global consensus on the need for U.N. reform, but that international perception of U.S. motives are hindering those efforts. “There is currently a perception among many otherwise quite moderate countries that anything the U.S. supports must have a secret agenda aimed at either subordinating multilateral processes to Washington’s ends or weakening the institutions, and therefore, put crudely, should be opposed without any real discussion of whether they make sense or not,” he said. Bolton has not been able to breakthrough the deadlock, but has instead reinforced the perception.

Bolton blocked and delayed approval of funding for U.N. renovation plan. The United States was the lone holdout on a U.N. committee that tried to approve an estimated $1.6 billion renovation plan for the U.N. The U.N. building violates New York safety and fire codes; it is packed with asbestos, has no sprinkler system, and leaks about a quarter of its heating. Bolton’s position provoked “an America-versus-the-world standoff.” Ultimately, Bolton’s obstruction caused Louis Frederick Reuter, the official in charge of the renovation, to quit his post.

Bolton sought to undermine the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs aimed to convert rhetoric into hard numbers on such issues as reducing poverty and hunger, enrolling children in primary school, etc. Just days after he arrived in New York after a recess appointment, Bolton released over 700 edits to the draft document for the summit, excising all mentions of the MDGs. Bush and Rice later had to backtrack from Bolton, reassuring the U.N. of its commitment to the agreed upon goals.

Much more at The Washington Note.


VIDEO: Bolton More Committed To Right-Wing Think Tank Than Stopping Genocide

Today Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) questioned U.N. Ambassador John Bolton about his failure to attend the U.N. Security Council mission to Sudan in early June. Bolton responded that he had “ a personal commitment in the United Kingdom” and couldn’t “break the commitment” to address the ongoing genocide in Sudan. Watch it:

The “personal commitment in the United Kingdom” that kept Bolton from going to Sudan was actually a speaking engagement at the Centre for Policy Studies, a right-wing think tank in London. Most other nations, including the UK, China and France, viewed the Sudan trip as a priority and sent their top representatives.

Full transcript below:

FEINGOLD: Getting a U.N. peacekeeping mission into Darfur has been a high-level U.S. priority and I just want to ask why you didn’t travel with other Security Council members to Darfur when they went to Sudan earlier this year. Is that some indication of the importance of the issue to you? Could you say a bit about that?

BOLTON: Yeah, I had long before the timing of that mission was scheduled made a personal commitment in the United Kingdom. A lot of people had gone to a lot of effort to put that in place and I didn’t feel that I could break the commitment as a matter of my personal word. Instead, I sent our alternative representative to the Security Council, Ambassador Sanders, who was with the delegation through its entire trip in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Chad.

FEINGOLD: This thing was a personal commitment of a business nature. This was not a personal commitment in the sense of your own family.

BOLTON: Right, that’s correct.


Armitage Fears Bombing Campaign Will ‘End Up Empowering Hezbollah’

Richard Armitage dramatically broke ranks with his neoconservative allies yesterday, saying in a radio interview that he feared it was impossible to eliminate Hezbollah through airstrikes, and that by attempting to do so, “you’re going to end up empowering Hezbollah, and perhaps introducing an element into the body politic in Lebanon that will take some great period of time to recover from.” Armitage also criticized the Bush administration for refusing to talk directly to Syria.

According to a database search, no major media outlets have yet printed Armitage’s remarks. Listen:

Armitage was Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Reagan when the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon was bombed in 1983, and served as second-in-command at the State Department under President George W. Bush. In 1998, he signed the Project for a New American Century letter to President Clinton urging regime change in Iraq.

The Bush administration has thus far “giving a tacit blessing” to the escalating Mideast violence. During crisis talks in Rome yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice bucked the “entreaties of nearly all of her European and Arab counterparts” to push for a ceasefire.

Full transcript:

NPR: You were an assistant secretary of defense back in 1982, when a peacekeeping force was sent into Lebanon, a multinational force stationed there but ultimately forced to withdraw. Talk to us about that, and what we might draw from that.

ARMITAGE: It was a very troubled time, actually, and sooner rather than later we became involved — or were seen as taking sides — in someone else’s civil war. And ultimately we lost 241 Naval and Marine personnel.

NPR: In the bombing of the…

ARMITAGE: Yes, in the October ‘83 bombing.

NPR: Are there parallels between that peacekeeping force and now?

ARMITAGE: Well, I remember with stunning clarity one of our Israeli interlocutors sitting in my office, telling me that, “Don’t worry about this peace in Galilee operation. We understand our neighbors very well. We understand them better than anyone. We know all the dynamics of the situation in Lebanon.” And that turned out not quite to be the case.

I suspect that people in government now are also hearing that from Israel. Don’t get me wrong — if I thought that this air campaign would work, and would eliminate Nasrullah and the leadership of Hezbollah, I think it would all be fine. But I fear that you can’t do this from the sky, and that you’re going to end up empowering Hezbollah, and perhaps introducing an element into the body politic in Lebanon that will take some great period of time to recover from.

NPR: An element into the body politic that as yet we do not know?

ARMITAGE: I think we do not know. And we’re not, as far as I’m concerned, using all the levers that we have, such as having the Secretary of State talk to the Syrians. I think they want to get involved. I think they want to become more central to a solution, and you might as well give them the opportunity. If they step up to it, fine. If they don’t, we’ll know them for what they are.


LEAKED MEMO: Coal Industry Coordinating Propaganda Blitz Attacking Global Warming Science

A secret memo by the coal industry details a coordinated campaign to spread misinformation about global warming. The memo expresses fear that if the government addresses climate change — through a carbon tax or regulating greenhouse gasses — it will cut into their profits.

Their solution: “support the scientific community that is willing to stand up against the alarmists.” (The memo also refers to people who believe in global warming science as those “whose true motivation is to stop growth, develop renewable resources [and] discontinue the use of fossil fuels, especially coal.”)

But the coal utility ran up against a problem: there is no scientific community who agrees with them. The memo acknowledges almost everyone who disputes global warming science have no “involvement in climatology.” So they’ve decided to lavish funding on one climatologist who will do their bidding: Pat Michaels.

The memo describes how the coal-based utility contributed “$100,000 to Dr. Michaels this year.” It also “contacted all the [utilities] in the United States” asking for contributions to Michaels’ research and “obtained additional contributions.” Here are a few highlights from Michaels’ career:

– In 2003, Michaels famously “proved” that global warming was mostly hype by mixing up degrees and radians.

– In 2004, Michaels told Business Week, “We know how much the planet is going to warm. It is a small amount, and we can’t do anything about it.

– This year, Michaels completely misrepresented a study by Curt Davis to falsely claim that Antartica has been gaining ice in recent years.

In 2003, A Harvard scientist told the Senate Republican Policy Committee that Michaels has “published little if anything of distinction in the professional literature, being noted rather for his shrill op-ed pieces and indiscriminate denunciations of virtually every finding of mainstream climate science.”

Funding Michaels is part of a larger propaganda campaign, involving several industries, described in the memo. Other activities include bankrolling a movie that attacks An Inconvenient Truth, deceptive advertisements by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and aggressive lobbying. Corporations meet regularly with Michaels and CEI to discuss strategy.

You can read the memo here. Desmog blog has more.


Even neoconservatives now accepting defeat in Iraq

by Glenn Greenwald

David Frum was one of the leading neoconservative advocates of the invasion of Iraq. The former Bush speechwriter is a true believer, having co-authored a radical neoconservative book with Richard Perle entitled An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, which -- according to its publisher -- "calls for the United States to overthrow the government of Iran, abandon support of a Palestinian state, blockade North Korea, use strong-arm tactics with Syria and China, disregard much of Europe as allies, and sever ties with Saudi Arabia."

But in a strikingly candid essay on his National Review blog yesterday, Frum all but admits that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has been a failure, and says that the only realistic goal we can hope to achieve is preventing Iraq from becoming a training ground for Al Qaeda -- a goal which was already achieved, of course, prior to our invasion:

Hands up, everybody who believes that the "hundreds" of troops that the Pentagon plans to move from the rest of Iraq into Baghdad will suffice to secure the capital against the sectarian militias now waging war upon the civilian populations of the city? Anybody? No, I didn't think so.

To take back the capital from the militias that now terrorize it will take thousands, not hundreds, of American plus tens of thousands of Iraqis. . . . So a real plan for success in Baghdad will have to be built upon additional troops from out of area, potentially raising US troop levels back up to the 150,000 or so of late 2005.

Manifestly, neither the administration nor the Congress will contemplate such a move. Which means, most likely, continuing violence in Iraq and a continuing rise in the power of the militias, especially the Iranian-backed Shiite militias: the Hezbollah of Iraq.

Frum has been arguing for the last five years, at least, that Iran is an evil supporter of international terrorism and a monumental threat to the U.S. Indeed, Frum is credited with creating the phrase "axis of evil" when he was at the Bush White House, which famously included Iran, and even now is agitating for confrontation with Iran. And yet, by Frum's own admission, the invasion of Iraq which he and his comrades so desperately wanted, has delivered control of Iraq into the hands of our arch Iranian enemies, and Frum admits that the U.S. has no realistic hope of doing anything to reverse that result.

Frum now admits that the sectarian civil war will rage on until Shiites assert total dominion over Baghdad and all of Southern Iraq, at which point "Baghdad - and therefore central Iraq - will in such a case slide after Basra and the south into the unofficial new Iranian empire." About this result, Frum admits: "The consequences for the region and the world will be grim."

Admitting that the Bush administration, in an election year, will not deploy additional troops to Iraq, Frum says that the best we can hope for in Iraq is the essentially defeatist plan urged in a New York Times Op-Ed by Bill Clinton's Ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith. Galbriath points out that the Iraqi government actually governs nothing beyond the Green Zone in Baghdad and that -- as Frum accepts -- it is impossible for the U.S. to stop the civil war or re-take control from Shiite militias without substantially increasing our troop presence there.

With those premises in place, Galbriath advocates -- and, notably, Frum accepts -- that the U.S. military should withdraw entirely from the Sunni region and re-deploy as a small “over the horizon” force in Kurdistan. The rationale for Galbraith's plan is this:

Seeing as we cannot maintain the peace in Iraq, we have but one overriding interest there today — to keep Al Qaeda from creating a base from which it can plot attacks on the United States. Thus we need to have troops nearby prepared to re-engage in case the Sunni Arabs prove unable to provide for their own security against the foreign jihadists. . . .

Yes, a United States withdrawal from the Shiite and Sunni Arab regions of Iraq would leave behind sectarian conflict and militia rule. But staying with the current force and mission will produce the same result. Continuing a military strategy where the ends far exceed the means is a formula for war without end.

So that's what our mission in Iraq has been reduced to -- ceding most of Iraq to Iranian control and acknowledging that a civil war is now inevitable and we can do nothing to stop it. Worse, the only thing we can possibly hope to accomplish is to prevent Al Qaeda from turning Iraq into its new terrorist training ground, something it was entirely incapable of doing prior to our invasion.

Put another way, in exchange for the thousands of lives lost, hundreds of billions of dollars squandered, and destruction of U.S. credibility as a result of our invasion, the best we can hope for is what we already had -- a situation where Al Qaeda cannot run free in Iraq -- along with a vicious civil war and control by Iranian mullahs over most of Iraq. And that is what one of the leading neconservative advocates of the war is saying.

Americans have long ago recognized what even David Frum (though, notably, not Joe Lieberman) now admits -- that our invasion of Iraq will produce no real benefits and that our continued presence there can achieve nothing. The newly released NYT-CBS poll shows that a solid majority of Americans favor "a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq" -- precisely what the President most steadfastly refuses to accept. With even David Frum endorsing a close permutation of the "over the horizon" re-deployment which Jack Murtha months ago advocated, Democrats should have no trouble unifying on this issue and advocating that Republicans should be turned out of office for stubbornly and destructively clinging to the prosecution of a war which cannot possibly achieve any good.

When Howard Dean, in the wake of Saddam Hussein's capture, questioned whether the invasion of Iraq would make the U.S. "safer," he was ridiculed by virtually everyone as a radical and a lunatic, with the ridicule led by Joe Lieberman. But reality has become too overwhelming for all but the most manipulative political figures to deny. As a result, there are very few people left willing to defend the invasion and occupation as anything other than a disaster, but the remaining holdouts happen to be sitting in the White House (and in one of Connecticut's Senate seats). That discrepency is disastrous for American interests, but is an excellent opportunity for Democrats to finally make the case that this administration has been a failure on every level, not just including -- but especially -- in the area of national security.

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