Saturday, August 05, 2006
"I Thought They Were All Muslims?" -- President Bush prior to Invasion of Iraq. No wonder this Moron lead us to defeat and the Iraqi's to Civil War.
Iraqi Civil War has Already Begun, US Troops Say
by Tom Lasseter
BAGHDAD, Iraq - While American politicians and generals in Washington debate the possibility of civil war in Iraq, many U.S. officers and enlisted men who patrol Baghdad say it has already begun.
Army troops in and around the capital interviewed in the last week cite a long list of evidence that the center of the nation is coming undone: Villages have been abandoned by Sunni and Shiite Muslims; Sunni insurgents have killed thousands of Shiites in car bombings and assassinations; Shiite militia death squads have tortured and killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Sunnis; and when night falls, neighborhoods become open battlegrounds.
"There's one street that's the dividing line. They shoot mortars across the line and abduct people back and forth," said 1st Lt. Brian Johnson, a 4th Infantry Division platoon leader from Houston. Johnson, 24, was describing the nightly violence that pits Sunni gunmen from Baghdad's Ghazaliyah neighborhood against Shiite gunmen from the nearby Shula district.
As he spoke, the sights and sounds of battle grew: first, the rat-a-tat-tat of fire from AK-47 assault rifles, then the heavier bursts of PKC machine guns, and finally the booms of mortar rounds crisscrossing the night sky and crashing down onto houses and roads.
The bodies of captured Sunni and Shiite fighters will turn up in the morning, dropped in canals and left on the side of the road.
"We've seen some that have been executed on site, with bullet holes in the ground; the rest were tortured and executed somewhere else and dumped," Johnson said.
The recent assertion by U.S. soldiers here that Iraq is in a civil war is a stunning indication that American efforts to bring peace and democracy to Iraq are failing, more than three years after the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein's regime.
Some Iraqi troops, too, share that assessment.
"This is a civil war," said a senior adviser to the commander of the Iraqi Army's 6th Division, which oversees much of Baghdad.
"The problem between Sunnis and Shiites is a religious one, and it gets worse every time they attack each other's mosques," said the adviser, who gave only his rank and first name, Col. Ahmed, because of security concerns. "Iraq is now caught in hell."
U.S. hopes for victory in Iraq hinge principally on two factors: Iraqi security forces becoming more competent and Iraqi political leaders persuading armed groups to lay down their weapons.
But neither seems to be happening. The violence has increased as Iraqi troops have been added, and feuding among the political leadership is intense. American soldiers, particularly the rank and file who go out on daily patrols, say they see no end to the bloodshed. Higher ranking officers concede that the developments are threatening to move beyond their grasp.
"There's no plan - we are constantly reacting," said a senior American military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "I have absolutely no idea what we're going to do."
The issue of whether Iraq has descended into civil war has been a hot-button topic even before U.S. troops entered Iraq in 2003, when some opponents of the war raised the likelihood that Iraq would fragment along sectarian lines if Saddam's oppressive regime was removed. Bush administration officials consistently rejected such speculation as unlikely to come to fruition.
On Thursday, however, two top American generals told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iraq could slip into civil war, though both stopped well short of saying that one had begun.
Political sensitivity has made some officers here hesitant to use the words "civil war," but they aren't shy about describing the situation that they and their men have found on their patrols.
"I hate to use the word `purify,' because it sounds very bad, but they are trying to force Shiites into Shiite areas and Sunnis into Sunni areas," said Lt. Col. Craig Osborne, who commands a 4th Infantry Division battalion on the western edge of Baghdad, a hotspot of sectarian violence.
Osborne, 39, of Decatur, Ill., compared Iraq to Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of people were killed in an orgy of inter-tribal violence in 1994. "That was without doubt a civil war - the same thing is happening here.
"But it's not called a civil war - there's such a negative connotation to that word and it suggests failure," he said.
On the other side of Baghdad, Shiites from the eastern slum of Sadr City and Sunnis from the nearby neighborhood of Adhamiyah regularly launch incursions into each other's areas, setting off car bombs and dragging victims into torture chambers.
"The sectarian violence flip-flops back and forth," said Lt. Col. Paul Finken, who commands a 101st Airborne Division task force that works with Iraqi soldiers in the area. "We find bodies all the time - bound, tortured, shot."
The idea that U.S. forces have been unable to prevent the nation from sliding into sectarian chaos troubles many American military officials in Iraq.
Lt. Col. Chris Pease, 48, the deputy commander for the 101st Airborne's brigade in eastern Baghdad, was asked whether he thought that Iraq's civil war had begun.
"Civil war," he said, and then paused for several moments.
"You've got to understand," said Pease, of Milton-Freewater, Ore., "you know, the United States Army and most of the people in the United States Army, the Marine Corps and the Air Force and the Navy have never really lost at anything."
Pease paused again.
"Whether it is there or not, I don't know," he said.
Pressed for what term he would use to describe the security situation in Iraq, Pease said: "Right now I would say that it's more of a Kosovo, ethnic-cleansing type thing - not ethnic cleansing, it is a sectarian fight - they are bombing; they are threatening to get them off the land."
A human rights report released last month by the United Nations mission in Baghdad said 2,669 civilians were killed across Iraq during May, and 3,149 were killed in June. In total, 14,338 civilians were killed from January to June of this year, and 150,000 civilians were forced out of their homes, the report said.
Pointing to a map, 1st Lt. Robert Murray, last week highlighted a small Shiite village of 25 homes that was abandoned after a flurry of death threats came to town on small pieces of paper.
"The letters tell them if they don't leave in 48 hours, they'll kill their entire families," said Murray, 29, of Franklin, Mass. "It's happening a lot right now. There have been a lot of murders recently; between that and the kidnappings, they're making good on their threats. ... They need to learn to live together. I'd like to see it happen, but I don't know if it's possible."
Riding in a Humvee later that day, Capt. Jared Rudacille, Murray's commander in the 4th Infantry Division, noted the market of a town he was passing through. The stalls were all vacant. The nearby homes were empty. There wasn't a single civilian car on the road.
"Between 1,500 and 2,000 people have moved out," said Rudacille, 29, of York, Pa. "I now see only 15 or 20 people out during the day."
The following evening, 1st Lt. Corbett Baxter was showing a reporter the area, to the west of where Rudacille was, that he patrols.
"Half of my entire northern sector cleared out in a week, about 2,000 people," said Baxter, 25, of Fort Hood, Texas.
Staff Sgt. Wesley Ramon had a similar assessment while on patrol between the Sunni town of Abu Ghraib and Shula, a Shiite stronghold. The main bridge leading out of Shula was badly damaged recently by four bombs placed underneath it. Military officials think the bombers were Sunnis trying to stanch the flow of Shiite militia gunmen coming out of Shula to kill Sunnis.
"It's to the point of being irreconcilable; you know, we've found a lot of bodies, entire villages have been cleared out, we get reports of entire markets being gunned down - and if that's not a marker of a civil war, I don't know what is," said Ramon, 33, of San Antonio, Texas.
Driving back to his base, Johnson watched a long line of trucks and cars go by, packed with families fleeing their homes with everything they could carry: mattresses, clothes, furniture, and, in the back of some trucks, bricks to build another home.
"Every morning that we head back to the patrol base, this is all we see," Johnson said. "These are probably people who got threatened last night."
In Taji, an area north of Baghdad, where the roads between Sunni and Shiite villages have become killing fields, many soldiers said they saw little chance that things would get better.
"I don't think there's any winning here. Victory for us is withdrawing," said Sgt. James Ellis, 25, of Chicago. "In this part of the world they have been fighting for 3,000 years, and we're not going to fix it in three."
Having an "Oil Man" in the White House Pays Off, for Big Oil. Republican Controlled Congress Remains Silent.
Exxon Mobil profit tops $10 billion
By Deepa Babington / Reuters
NEW YORK - Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's largest public oil company, on Thursday reported quarterly profit surged 35 percent to more than $10 billion, driven by yet another quarter of sharply higher oil prices.
It was the second-largest quarterly operating profit ever posted by a U.S. company, just shy of the Texas behemoth's own record fourth quarter profit reported in January.
The results sailed past Wall Street forecasts and sent its shares to an all-time high, but triggered a fresh bout of outrage from U.S. lawmakers and consumer groups angry at Big Oil's handsome profits in the midst of high gasoline prices.
"While American families get tipped upside down and have their savings shaken out of their pockets at the gas pump, the Bush-Cheney team devises even more ways to line Big Oil's pockets," Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement on Exxon's profits. He is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.
Exxon expects the attacks from politicians to continue as U.S. mid-term elections come up later in the year, Ken Cohen, its public affairs vice president told a conference call.
The oil industry has been waging an aggressive public relations campaign against the backlash, and ran full page advertisements playing down the size of the profits in newspapers like the New York Times on Thursday.
In a surprise move, Exxon -- notorious for rarely changing its plans no matter how high oil prices are -- boosted its capital spending forecast for the year to $20 billion, citing fresh exploration and production opportunities.
The company, the world's largest by market capitalization, also said it planned to increase its already hefty stock buyback program to $7 billion in the third quarter to make use of its ballooning hoard of cash.
Soaring prices, stronger refining margins and higher oil and gas production all combined to boost Exxon's second-quarter earnings to $10.36 billion, or $1.72 a share.
That is up from $7.64 billion, or $1.20 a share a year earlier, and above the average Wall Street forecast of $1.64 a share, according to Reuters Estimates.
Revenue jumped 12 percent to $99.03 billion -- bigger than the economies of many small countries -- from $88.57 billion a year earlier but below the Reuters Estimates' forecast of $104.26 billion.
BUMPER QUARTER ... AGAIN
Exxon, like its peers, has enjoyed another in a string of bumper quarters as crude oil prices hovered at historic highs. Oil prices, on a steady rise in recent years because of growing Asian demand and fears of supply disruptions, hit a record high of $78.40 a barrel two weeks ago on anxiety over Middle East supplies.
"They're just benefiting from a strong commodity cycle and doing a very good job of it," said Lysle Brinker, analyst with energy research firm John S. Herold. "But they don't operate in a vacuum and they realize that. They're going to get tons of spears and blow darts from political and consumer groups."
Exxon is the latest oil major to report blockbuster profits this quarter, coming on the heels of Royal Dutch Shell Plc's (RDSa.L) 36 percent profit rise earlier on Thursday, and a 65 percent profit surge reported by No. 3 U.S. oil company ConocoPhillips on Wednesday.
Exxon's oil and gas production jumped 6 percent on higher volumes in West Africa and Qatar, partly offset by maturing fields. Excluding divestments and the impact of high oil prices on production-sharing contracts, total output grew 9 percent.
Analysts said that healthy spurt in production accounted for much of the company's stronger than expected profit.
"The rate of Exxon's upstream production growth had arguably been a cause for concern among some investors," J.P. Morgan analysts said in a research note. "However, today's results should give investors more confidence in Exxon's ability to grow volumes.
The company's new capital spending forecast of $20 billion this year is up from a previous estimate of roughly $19 billion. Exxon said less than a third of the hike was due to higher costs sweeping across the industry and that the bulk of the rise was due to increased drilling in places like Nigeria.
Exxon shares rose less than 1 percent, or 51 cents, to $67.06 on the New York Stock Exchange in afternoon trade after touching an all-time high of $67.65 earlier in the day.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
By Michael Scherer
Aug. 02, 2006 | Retired Navy pilot Mike Cronin knows enough about torture to know it doesn't work. After being shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, he spent six years enduring interrogations in the Hanoi Hilton, the notorious holding block for American prisoners of war. His neck and ankles were bound together with rope, causing him to lose consciousness. The nerves and bones in his wrists were crushed. His shoulder was ripped out of its socket. He was forced to talk, but he never gave the North Vietnamese the information they wanted.
"I told lies," explained Cronin, 65, in a telephone interview from Cape Cod, Mass., where he is spending the summer. "When you put people in that position, the information you get is not reliable."
After the war ended, Cronin returned home to become a commercial pilot for American Airlines -- and a deep believer in the laws of war. He came to see the Geneva Conventions, which bar torture and "humiliating and degrading treatment," as a bedrock of the international military code. He was amazed to discover that as late as the 1990s, there was no law enabling U.S. courts to try violators of the Geneva Conventions. "I was shocked," he said. "I just thought that was wrong."
So Cronin changed the legal landscape. Thanks to his persistent lobbying, Congress passed the War Crimes Act of 1996 with overwhelming bipartisan support. For the first time, U.S. courts were granted authority to convict any foreigner who commits a war crime against an American, or any American who commits a war crime at all. At the time, nobody could have predicted that a decade later a U.S. administration, with the explicit consent of the president and the attorney general, would be accused of systematic war crimes.
But that is precisely the accusation that President George Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales now face. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Bush administration wrongly denied Geneva Convention protections to prisoners suspected of ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban, a policy that allowed for harsh and possibly illegal interrogation methods to be used against them. As a result, U.S. personnel, given their treatment of these prisoners, could become subject to prosecution under the law that Cronin, a former prisoner of war, lobbied to pass.
In fact, from the early days of the war on terror, the Bush administration was concerned about the War Crimes Act. Publicly released memos show that as far back as Jan. 25, 2002, Gonzales, then the White House counsel, worried that the president's policies could trigger prosecution under the act. That led the White House to declare, over the objection of the State Department, that al-Qaida was not protected by the conventions. In the memo, Gonzales argued that the president could create "a solid defense against any future prosecution" by declaring that the Geneva Conventions did not apply.
But with the Supreme Court ruling, that defense no longer stands, leaving the administration in a legally vulnerable position. At a recent congressional hearing, Maj. Gen. Jack L. Rives, the Air Force judge advocate, testified that "some techniques that have been authorized" violated the Geneva Conventions. To preempt any prosecution, administration officials are now quietly circulating legislation to change the statutory interpretation of the War Crimes Act of 1996. In short, the legislation would make it difficult to prosecute U.S. personnel for the harsh interrogation methods authorized by President Bush and the Justice Department.
Cronin, an active Republican, sees the proposed changes, which have not yet been spelled out publicly, as an attempt by the civilian leadership to cover its tracks. "These guys are talking about trying to protect soldiers in the field. I think they are lying through their teeth," Cronin said. "They are talking about trying to protect themselves."
Cronin is not alone. Some Democrats have promised to push back against the proposed changes and have focused their initial ire on Gonzales. "The highest law enforcement officer in the country is leading an effort to undercut the rule of law," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, on the Senate floor last week. "We cannot credibly ask others to meet standards we are unwilling to meet ourselves." On Wednesday, the committee is scheduled to discuss the issue of war crimes prosecution.
Because the War Crimes Act is a criminal statute that requires a federal prosecutor, it is unlikely that any charges against the American civilian leadership will be filed in the next two years. But charges could be filed by the next administration or by appointment of a special prosecutor, say legal experts.
"What the administration is afraid of is that someday, presumably in a Hillary Clinton administration, Justice Department investigators will go back to 2002 and 2003, when the CIA was interrogating senior leaders of al-Qaida with guidelines from the Justice Department and the White House," said Tom Malinowski, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. He said the effort to change the interpretation of the War Crimes Act is focused on protecting those outside the military chain of command who may have committed war crimes or ordered war crimes to be committed. "If I were in the armed forces," Malinowski said, "I would be worried that the administration is selling out the armed forces for the CIA."
At first glance, Cronin appears to be an unlikely critic of the Bush administration. He identifies firmly with the military. He served nearly two years in Vietnam, flying A-4 Skyhawks off aircraft carriers over North Vietnam. He was shot down in January 1967, just before the end of his tour of duty. A registered Republican, Cronin voted for President Bush in each of the past two elections. In 2004, he even joined other prisoners of war in supporting Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the partisan nonprofit group that attacked the Vietnam service and antiwar activities of Democratic candidate John Kerry. One of his closest friends, a fellow American Airlines pilot, was in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
But today, Cronin says he is no longer certain he can support Bush. As he put it, "I have had some doubts about the wisdom of this administration."
The story of the War Crimes Act began by accident. In the 1990s, worried that his job as a commercial pilot might not be secure, Cronin enrolled at Georgetown Law School, studying nights while continuing his full-time job as a pilot. At Georgetown, he discovered that Congress had never enacted a law to enforce the Geneva Conventions, even though the conventions were ratified shortly after World War II. After graduating, he was asked by the Allied Pilots Association, his union, to help represent his colleagues on Capitol Hill. He made it a point to lobby members of Congress about the lack of war crimes enforcement as well. "I made it my hobby to discuss the issue with senators and congressmen," Cronin said. "I hit a brick wall. There was no interest until I met Congressman Jones."
In 1995, Rep. Walter Jones was a newly elected Republican from North Carolina who represented a military district that includes Camp Lejeune, a major Marine base. Jones took an immediate interest in Cronin and made the War Crimes Act his first legislative initiative. "This whole issue came to me by accident," Jones said. "It was my third month in Congress."
At the time, war crimes focused on acts by foreign adversaries, like the North Vietnamese, who had tortured Cronin. But when the bill passed into law, it applied equally to Americans. It passed the House by a voice vote, earned unanimous support in the Senate and was promptly signed by President Bill Clinton. Even right-wing conservatives supported it. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., said the bill would "close a major gap in our federal law." Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said the bill was "something that should have been done some 40 years ago."
In practice, the law made little difference for enlisted soldiers and officers, who were already subject to military law, which prohibits the abuse of prisoners. But for the first time, the War Crimes Act provided a way to prosecute U.S. civilians, including intelligence officers, contractors and government officials who order war crimes.
In the current proposals, which have been reported by the Washington Post and the New York Times, the administration is seeking to make Geneva Convention enforcement in the United States subject to domestic interpretation, not international standards. The slight technical change could have a huge practical impact. Legal experts say this would give some flexibility to the Justice Department to define certain interrogation techniques as legal in U.S. courts, even if the rest of the world considers them violations of the conventions.
"They want retroactive immunity," said Mary Ellen O'Connell, a professor of international law at Notre Dame, who has been critical of the Bush administration's detention policies. "Have you known of any other time in our history when we have tried to immunize public officials against crimes after they have committed the crimes?"
The Bush administration, Cronin said, is simply unaware of the realities of war. "The vast majority of them never served a day in the military, even though almost all of them were of military age at the time of the Vietnam War," Cronin said. "The opposition to the administration's policy of detainment has come, to their great credit, entirely from the professional military."
Cronin, on the other hand, has been there. He is a victim of war crimes. And, as it stands, he no longer believes that the president and his aides have the nation's best interests at heart. "From day one," he said, "the total motivation of these people seems to have been, How can we protect ourselves?"
-- By Michael Scherer
A few years ago, I read the landmark biography of Fidel Castro by New York Times reporter Tad Szulc. That by no means makes me a Castro or Cuba expert - but it does hammer home to even the casual reader that Castro's primary tool in holding onto power ha been his ability to pump up the threat of what he portrays as U.S. imperial ambitions and a supposedly corresponding threat to Cuban sovereignty. His basic line has been, "Keep me in power and the Revolution going so as to prevent the U.S. from invading, or exerting total control over Cuba." This manipulative message is nationalist to its core - he is saying that Cuba can only hold onto its distinct cultural, historic and economic roots if America is prevented from overrunning the country. Now, with news of Castro's illness and feverishg talk that his reign may finally be ending, the question of how to deal with and debunk his message becomes critical to whether we will see a democratic Cuba or not.
Let's be clear: Castro is a dictator who has used horrific acts to hold onto power, and a democratic Cuba is in the long-term interests of the Cuban people, the United States and the world - that is not up for debate. But whether you agree with Castro's fundamental nationalist message about U.S. imperial ambitions or not, it's clear that he has been effective in using it to keep power. And thus, that begs a very important question: why is the Bush administration walking right into his trap?
Open today's New York Times, and you will see that the Bush administration is now publicly bragging that once Castro dies, America is planning for a full-on take over of Cuba. In one story, we find out that "Sean McCormack, a State Department spokesman, made it clear on Tuesday that the United States would take an active role in shaping events on the island if the Cuban leader dies." That is the kind of declaration easily interpreted/spun by anti-democratic forces in Cuba as no-holds-barred diplomat-ese for the very imperialism Castro has been warning his people about for the last half century.
In another story, we discover that the administration is now announcing that if Castro dies, "the United States would also send special monitors and advisers to Cuba in the weeks after a full transition began." In the wake of the Vietnam War, which infamously started out with U.S. military "advisers," again - this is clearly fodder that could be easily spun to confirm Castro's own message. And it is especially stupid and destructive to our long-term goals/credibitlity when, at the same time our government is haughtily strutting around making these proclamations, the White House is also saying "it viewed attempts by Venezuela or other countries to influence the transition in Cuba as unwarranted intervention."
In political campaigns, the worst thing a candidate can do is publicly walk into their own stereotype. If, for instance, there are unconfirmed rumors out there that a candidate is a philanderer and is too-slick by half, the worst thing that candidate can do is get caught philandering and then lying about it, because it confirms the negative suspicions the public may have already had. If there are suspicions out there that a candidate waffles or stands for nothing, the worst thing that candidate can do is publicly waffle on a big issue (think John Kerry's "I was for it before I was against it" line on Iraq).
The same thing goes in the situation with Cuba. The stupidest thing American officials can do is publicly walk into Castro's portrayal of our ambitions. By doing that, we are confirming the negative suspicions that many Cubans must have, considering they've been hearing about it over and over and over again for the last 50 years.
Here's the thing - obviously, it is in America's interest to see a truly democratic Cuba, and our government should support that wholeheartedly. But there's a way to do support Cuba's transition to democracy that doesn't VERY PUBLICLY walk into Castro's caricature, and that actually respects the will of the Cuban people, instead of attempting to impose whatever will we have on them. As Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) said earlier this week, "Should Fidel Castro ultimately be unable to continue to lead Cuba, we must leave the transition to the Cubans… The Cubans themselves must make decisions about their future, free of threats and intervention from abroad."
Right now, the Bush administration is bragging about its efforts to make sure the opposite happen, and in doing so, the White House is PUBLICLY walking into Castro's own well-honed message, showing just how utterly arrogant and incompetent the people running our country really are. Our government is quite literally giving Castro (if he survives) and those around him fodder to say: "See, we told you so, so keep us in power, because we have been right." Put another way, the administration's arrogance could very well imperil a transition to democracy in Cuba, because it is very publicly giving anti-democratic forces in Cuba a rhetorical weapon to hang onto power.
As I've written before - Iraq has shown that the definition of "strength" when it comes to national security is not being a politician sitting in a comfortable air-conditioned Washington office and flippantly putting American troops in danger by calling in airstrikes or invasions half way around the globe. Similarly, the situation in Cuba should remind us that "strength" is not a politician puffing out his chest and pigheadedly walking into the very caricatures our enemies have been peddling, so as to potentially alienate indigenous populations that may have otherwise been sympathetic to our goals. That's what's called "weakness" - and the more such weakness is peddled as "strength" by politicians and the media elite, the worse off America will be.
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 3, 2006; A11
The military's top uniformed lawyers, appearing at a Senate hearing yesterday, criticized key provisions of a proposed new U.S. plan for special military courts, affirming that they did not see eye to eye with the senior Bush administration political appointees who developed the plan and presented it to them last week.
The lawyers' rare, open disagreement with civilian officials at the Pentagon, the Justice Department and the White House came during discussions of proposed new rules for the use of evidence derived from hearsay or coercion and the possible exclusion of defendants from the trials in some circumstances.
The administration has said such juries -- to be established within a new system of military "commissions" tailored for trying war crimes in an age of terrorism -- are the only appropriate forum for bringing to justice members or associates of terrorist groups and those accused of anti-U.S. acts in conjunction with such groups.
The draft legislation debated yesterday would create military commissions to replace the ones struck down in June by the Supreme Court, which ruled that an earlier plan, imposed by the Defense Department without congressional authorization, was unconstitutional. The new proposal seeks to expand the authority of the courts by including defendants who are not members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban and not directly involved in acts of international terrorism.
Some independent experts and human rights groups have criticized the plan because defendants would be denied many protections guaranteed by the civilian and traditional military criminal justice systems.
The proposed legislation has not been formally released because of the administration's inability to persuade the military lawyers to accept it, even after two meetings with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
The basis for the lawyers' concerns about administration policy, which they first articulated in private memos in 2002 and 2003 for top Defense Department political appointees, is that weak respect for the rights of U.S.-held prisoners eventually could undermine U.S. demands for fair treatment of captured U.S. service personnel.
"The United States should be an example to the world, sir," Maj. Gen. Scott C. Black, judge advocate general of the Army, told Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. "Reciprocity is something that weighs heavily in all of the discussions that we are undertaking as we develop the process and rules for the commissions, and that's the exact reason, sir. The treatment of soldiers who will be captured on future battlefields is of paramount concern."
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a reserve Air Force appellate judge who has repeatedly expressed support for the military lawyers' viewpoint, elicited the affirmations of general dissent when he asked the lawyers if "there are still areas of disagreement" with provisions in the administration's working draft.
Perhaps the sharpest point of disagreement concerned a provision that would allow a military judge to decide that classified evidence could be used at the trials by providing it to a military defense lawyer but not to defendants. Maj. Gen. Jack L. Rives, the Air Force's judge advocate general, said: "It does not comport with my ideas of due process for . . . defense counsel to have information he cannot share with his client." The other lawyers agreed with Rives.
Black also suggested that lawmakers consider eliminating a provision that would establish a new system of appeals for defendants convicted by the military commissions. Under the provision, a special military court -- staffed by military lawyers appointed by the secretary of defense -- would be empowered to review only legal issues, not the validity of a defendant's sentence.
An appeal could then go only to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a conservative bench that has sided twice with the government in detainee cases in the past two years and has been overruled by the Supreme Court.
Black said that keeping the existing appellate process for military courts-martial, which allows for an earlier review of a defendant's sentence, is "certainly worth considering," adding, "We have extraordinarily competent and talented judges at our appellate levels throughout the services." Navy Rear Adm. Bruce McDonald said the existing process could be kept, although Rives and Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Kevin M. Sandkuhler indicated that they favor the proposed method.
Black also took issue with a provision in the draft that would allow the use of evidence collected during coercive interrogations. "Sir, I don't believe that a statement that is obtained under coercive -- under torture, certainly, and under coercive measures should be admissible," he told Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).
McDonald, Rives and Sandkuhler each separately said they agreed. But they said later that they could accept a procedure in which a presiding military judge would decide whether coercion occurred.
The administration's plan, in contrast, is to let the judge decide whether to admit evidence obtained by coercion by considering whether it is reliable and necessary to prove a point. Gonzales embraced this more flexible approach at an Armed Services Committee hearing on the same topic yesterday when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked whether statements obtained through "illegal, inhumane treatment should be admissible."
Gonzales said: "The concern that I would have about such a prohibition is what does it mean [and] how you defined it. I think if we could all reach agreement about the definition of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, then perhaps I could give you an answer. . . . Depending on your definition of something as degrading, such as insults, I would say that information should still come in."
McCain called this "a radical departure" from past U.S. practice.
Gonzales also confirmed a report last week in The Washington Post that the administration plans to include language in the legislation designed to protect service personnel and civilians from domestic war-crimes prosecutions for any violations of the international laws of war that are committed under administration policies that have been withdrawn or ruled illegal.
"It seems to us it is appropriate for Congress to consider whether or not to provide additional protections for those who've relied in good faith upon decisions made by their superiors," Gonzales said.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Wednesday, August 2, 2006; Page A04
A draft Bush administration plan for special military courts seeks to expand the reach and authority of such "commissions" to include trials, for the first time, of people who are not members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban and are not directly involved in acts of international terrorism, according to officials familiar with the proposal.
The plan, which would replace a military trial system ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June, would also allow the secretary of defense to add crimes at will to those under the military court's jurisdiction. The two provisions would be likely to put more individuals than previously expected before military juries, officials and independent experts said.
The draft proposed legislation, set to be discussed at two Senate hearings today, is controversial inside and outside the administration because defendants would be denied many protections guaranteed by the civilian and traditional military criminal justice systems.
Under the proposed procedures, defendants would lack rights to confront accusers, exclude hearsay accusations, or bar evidence obtained through rough or coercive interrogations. They would not be guaranteed a public or speedy trial and would lack the right to choose their military counsel, who in turn would not be guaranteed equal access to evidence held by prosecutors.
Detainees would also not be guaranteed the right to be present at their own trials, if their absence is deemed necessary to protect national security or individuals.
An early draft of the new measure prepared by civilian political appointees and leaked to the media last week has been modified in response to criticism from uniformed military lawyers. But the provisions allowing a future expansion of the courts to cover new crimes and more prisoners were retained, according to government officials familiar with the deliberations.
The military lawyers received the draft after the rest of the government had agreed on it. They have argued in recent days for retaining some routine protections for defendants that the political appointees sought to jettison, an administration official said.
They objected in particular to the provision allowing defendants to be tried in absentia, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to describe the deliberations. Another source in contact with top military lawyers said, "Their initial impression is that the draft was unacceptable and sloppy." The source added that "it did not have enough due-process rights" and could further tarnish America's image.
The military lawyers nonetheless supported extending the jurisdiction of the commissions to cover those accused of joining or associating with terrorist groups engaged in anti-U.S. hostilities, and of committing or aiding hostile acts by such groups, whether or not they are part of al-Qaeda, two U.S. officials said.
That language gives the commissions broader reach than anticipated in a November 2001 executive order from President Bush that focused only on members of al-Qaeda, those who commit international terrorist acts and those who harbor such individuals.
Some independent experts say the new procedures diverge inappropriately from existing criminal procedures and provide no more protections than the ones struck down by the Supreme Court as inadequate. John D. Hutson, the Navy's top uniformed lawyer from 1997 to 2000, said the rules would evidently allow the government to tell a prisoner: "We know you're guilty. We can't tell you why, but there's a guy, we can't tell you who, who told us something. We can't tell you what, but you're guilty."
Bruce Fein, an associate deputy attorney general during the Reagan administration, said after reviewing the leaked draft that "the theme of the government seems to be 'They are guilty anyway, and therefore due process can be slighted.' " With these procedures, Fein said, "there is a real danger of getting a wrong verdict" that would let a lower-echelon detainee "rot for 30 years" at Guantanamo Bay because of evidence contrived by personal enemies.
But Kris Kobach, a senior Justice Department lawyer in Bush's first term who now teaches at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, said he believes that the draft strikes an appropriate balance between "a fundamentally fair trial" and "the ability to protect the effectiveness of U.S. military and intelligence assets."
Administration officials have said that the exceptional trial procedures are warranted because the fight against terrorism requires heavy reliance on classified information or on evidence obtained from a defendant's collaborators, which cannot be shared with the accused. The draft legislation cites the goal of ensuring fair treatment without unduly diverting military personnel from wartime assignments to present evidence in trials.
The provisions are closely modeled on earlier plans for military commissions, which the Supreme Court ruled illegal two months ago in a case brought by Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni imprisoned in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "It is not evident why the danger posed by international terrorism, considerable though it is, should require, in the case of Hamdan, any variance from the courts-martial rules," the court's majority decision held.
No one at Guantanamo has been tried to date, though some prisoners have been there since early 2002.
John Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer who helped draft the earlier plan, said Bush administration officials essentially "took DOD regulations" for the trials "and turned them into a statute for Congress to pass." He said the drafters were obviously "trying to return the law to where it was before Hamdan " by writing language into the draft that challenges key aspects of the court's decision.
"Basically, this is trying to overrule the Hamdan case," said Neal K. Katyal, a Georgetown University law professor who was Hamdan's lead attorney.
The plan calls for commissions of five military officers appointed by the defense secretary to try defendants for any of 25 listed crimes. It gives the secretary the unilateral right to "specify other violations of the laws of war that may be tried by military commission." The secretary would be empowered to prescribe detailed procedures for carrying out the trials, including "modes of proof" and the use of hearsay evidence.
Unlike the international war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the commissions could rely on hearsay as the basis for a conviction. Unlike routine military courts-martial, in which prosecutors must overcome several hurdles to use such evidence, the draft legislation would put the burden on the defense team to block its use.
The admission of hearsay is a serious problem, said Tom Malinowski, director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch, because defendants might not know if it was gained through torture and would have difficulty challenging it on that basis. Nothing in the draft law prohibits using evidence obtained through cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that falls short of torture, Malinowski said.
The U.S. official countered that a military judge "would look hard" at the origins of such evidence and that defendants would have to count on "the trustworthiness of the system."
To secure a death penalty under the draft legislation, at least five jurors must agree, two fewer than under the administration's earlier plan. Courts-martial and federal civilian trials require that 12 jurors agree.
By ROBERT BURNS
The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 2, 2006; 12:50 PM
WASHINGTON -- Evidence collected on the deaths of 24 Iraqis in Haditha supports accusations that U.S. Marines deliberately shot the civilians, including unarmed women and children, a Pentagon official said Wednesday.
Agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service have completed their initial work on the incident last November, but may be asked to probe further as Marine Corps and Navy prosecutors review the evidence and determine whether to recommend criminal charges, according to two Pentagon officials who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity.
The decision on whether to press criminal charges ultimately will be made by the commander of the accused Marines' parent unit, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, Calif. That currently is Lt. Gen. John Sattler, but he is scheduled to move to a Pentagon assignment soon; his successor will be Lt. Gen. James Mattis.
Investigators conducted a wide range of interviews but did not obtain permission to exhume the bodies of the 24 who were killed, one official said.
The case is one of several involving alleged unjustified killings of Iraqi civilians that have emerged this year, damaging the military's reputation for humane treatment of civilians and triggering calls by some Iraqi leaders to end the arrangement under which U.S. troops are immune from prosecution by Iraqi authorities.
The Marines initially reported after the Nov. 19, 2005 killings at Haditha that 15 Iraqi civilians had been killed by a makeshift roadside bomb and in crossfire between Marines and insurgent attackers. Based on accounts from survivors and human rights groups, Time magazine first reported in March that the killings were deliberate acts by the Marines.
A criminal investigation was then ordered by the top Marine commander in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer.
A parallel investigation is examining whether officers in the Marines' chain of command tried to cover up the events. The probe, which has not been made public, faults some officers for failing to pursue obvious discrepancies in the initial reports about what happened in Haditha and for not launching an early investigation.
Public attention on the Haditha case grew after Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a former Marine, asserted publicly on May 17 that he had learned from Marine Corps officials that innocent Iraqis had been killed "in cold blood."
Lawyers for Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, one of the Marines under investigation, argued in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court that Murtha falsely accused Wuterich of murder and war crimes. The suit maintains that Pentagon officials "who have briefed or leaked information to Mr. Murtha deliberately provided him with inaccurate and false information" and that the congressman subsequently "has made repeated statements .... that are defamatory" to Wuterich and his fellow Marines.
Among the other cases of alleged deliberate killings of Iraqi civilians, seven Marines and one Navy corpsman have been charged with premeditated murder and other criminal acts in connection with the killing of an Iraqi man in Hamdania on April 26. Also, five soldiers and a former soldier have been charged in the March 12 rape-slaying of a young Iraqi woman and the killings of her relatives in Mahmoudiya.
By Dan Eggen
Wednesday, August 2, 2006; Page A03
Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded that the Pentagon's initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public rather than a reflection of the fog of events on that day, according to sources involved in the debate.
Suspicion of wrongdoing ran so deep that the 10-member commission, in a secret meeting at the end of its tenure in summer 2004, debated referring the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation, according to several commission sources. Staff members and some commissioners thought that e-mails and other evidence provided enough probable cause to believe that military and aviation officials violated the law by making false statements to Congress and to the commission, hoping to hide the bungled response to the hijackings, these sources said.
In the end, the panel agreed to a compromise, turning over the allegations to the inspectors general for the Defense and Transportation departments, who can make criminal referrals if they believe they are warranted, officials said.
"We to this day don't know why NORAD [the North American Aerospace Command] told us what they told us," said Thomas H. Kean, the former New Jersey Republican governor who led the commission. "It was just so far from the truth. . . . It's one of those loose ends that never got tied."
Although the commission's landmark report made it clear that the Defense Department's early versions of events on the day of the attacks were inaccurate, the revelation that it considered criminal referrals reveals how skeptically those reports were viewed by the panel and provides a glimpse of the tension between it and the Bush administration.
A Pentagon spokesman said yesterday that the inspector general's office will soon release a report addressing whether testimony delivered to the commission was "knowingly false." A separate report, delivered secretly to Congress in May 2005, blamed inaccuracies in part on problems with the way the Defense Department kept its records, according to a summary released yesterday.
A spokesman for the Transportation Department's inspector general's office said its investigation is complete and that a final report is being drafted. Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said she could not comment on the inspector general's inquiry.
In an article scheduled to be on newsstands today, Vanity Fair magazine reports aspects of the commission debate -- though it does not mention the possible criminal referrals -- and publishes lengthy excerpts from military audiotapes recorded on Sept. 11. ABC News aired excerpts last night.
For more than two years after the attacks, officials with NORAD and the FAA provided inaccurate information about the response to the hijackings in testimony and media appearances. Authorities suggested that U.S. air defenses had reacted quickly, that jets had been scrambled in response to the last two hijackings and that fighters were prepared to shoot down United Airlines Flight 93 if it threatened Washington.
In fact, the commission reported a year later, audiotapes from NORAD's Northeast headquarters and other evidence showed clearly that the military never had any of the hijacked airliners in its sights and at one point chased a phantom aircraft -- American Airlines Flight 11 -- long after it had crashed into the World Trade Center.
Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold and Col. Alan Scott told the commission that NORAD had begun tracking United 93 at 9:16 a.m., but the commission determined that the airliner was not hijacked until 12 minutes later. The military was not aware of the flight until after it had crashed in Pennsylvania.
These and other discrepancies did not become clear until the commission, forced to use subpoenas, obtained audiotapes from the FAA and NORAD, officials said. The agencies' reluctance to release the tapes -- along with e-mails, erroneous public statements and other evidence -- led some of the panel's staff members and commissioners to believe that authorities sought to mislead the commission and the public about what happened on Sept. 11.
"I was shocked at how different the truth was from the way it was described," John Farmer, a former New Jersey attorney general who led the staff inquiry into events on Sept. 11, said in a recent interview. "The tapes told a radically different story from what had been told to us and the public for two years. . . . This is not spin. This is not true."
Arnold, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, told the commission in 2004 that he did not have all the information unearthed by the panel when he testified earlier. Other military officials also denied any intent to mislead the panel.
John F. Lehman, a Republican commission member and former Navy secretary, said in a recent interview that he believed the panel may have been lied to but that he did not believe the evidence was sufficient to support a criminal referral.
"My view of that was that whether it was willful or just the fog of stupid bureaucracy, I don't know," Lehman said. "But in the order of magnitude of things, going after bureaucrats because they misled the commission didn't seem to make sense to me."
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The ABC television network has pulled a miniseries about the Holocaust it was developing with Mel Gibson's production company, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, quoting an unidentified representative for the network.
Gibson was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving early on Friday and was reported to have launched into a tirade against Jews, asking the arresting officer if he was a Jew and blaming the Jews for starting all wars.
The actor, who holds strong conservative Catholic religious and political views and whose father is a Holocaust denier, apologized on Saturday.
The incident has raised questions about the future of projects Gibson and his Icon Productions company are working on, like the ABC television miniseries based on a memoir about a Dutch Jew during World War II, the newspaper said.
An ABC representative told the paper, without elaborating, it has been two years and the network still has not seen a script, so the project is being pulled.
A spokesperson for ABC, which is owned by Walt Disney Co., could not be reached for comment.
Disney's movie studio arm still plans to release Gibson's self-financed Mayan-language movie "Apocalypto" on December 8, Hollywood's trade papers reported. The Web site Slate.com quoted Walt Disney Studios president Oren Aviv as saying he accepted Gibson's apology.
"Until civilians -- frankly, I'm not sure how many of them are actually just innocent little civilians running around versus active Hezbo types, particularly the men -- but until those civilians start paying a price for propping up these kinds of regimes, it's not going to end, folks. What do you mean, civilians start paying a price? I just ask you to consult history for the answer to that.”
On the Qana Massacre
July 31, 2006
"We declared jihad against the US government, because the US government is unjust, criminal and tyrannical. It has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous and criminal . . . As for what you asked regarding the American people, they are not exonerated from responsibility, because they chose this government and voted for it despite their knowledge of its crimes in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and in other places."
Osama bin Laden
On His Fatwa Against America
I've always wondered when Limbaugh would finally figure out which side he belongs on.
By Ely Portillo
WASHINGTON - Sham companies hiding the assets of super-wealthy Americans and corporations offshore are costing the U.S. Treasury as much as $100 billion a year in lost taxes, a Senate subcommittee will document on Tuesday.
Facilitated by willing lawyers and banks, elaborate semi-legal scams are used to hide cash overseas even as Americans access and use the funds while avoiding the IRS. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations will release a 370-page report at a hearing Tuesday detailing its yearlong investigation into these schemes.
"Neither their methods nor their purpose will stand the light of day," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., of the tax shelters, calling them a "total sham."
The Senate panel estimates that wealthy individuals avoid paying between $40 billion and $70 billion in taxes annually and corporations evade $30 billion in taxes a year by using these offshore companies. Some of those accused in the report have pleaded guilty to tax evasion, and others are under investigation.
"Let me be clear: The abuse of offshore tax havens raises the amount of taxes for you and me," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., chairman of the subcommittee.
The scams are extremely complicated by design. They involve dozens of corporations set up on paper in countries that have no tax laws and weak government oversight, such as the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean Sea, or the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. With no real assets, these companies' purpose is to disguise the source of money coming mainly from Americans.
Two primary tax-dodging ploys are cited. First, in order to cancel out capital gains and thus avoid paying taxes, offshore companies fake financial transactions to create fake capital losses.
Alternatively, Americans invest their money in overseas trusts that they appear to have no control over. Then those trusts invest the money, often using it to buy property or businesses. That's legally tax-free as long as the beneficiary has no control over the trust. However, the beneficiaries secretly control many of these trusts, according to the report.
The biggest example of the first kind of tax shelter was called POINT, or Personal Optimized INvestment Transaction, devised in 1999 by the Seattle-based firm Quellos LLC. According to the subcommittee, Quellos coordinated the sale of stocks between companies based on the Isle of Man. No money changed hands, but the deals were designed to look like they were losing money. American clients bought interests in the companies "losing" money, then claimed those paper losses as their own.
POINT erased $2 billion of real capital gains for clients with fake losses and cost the Treasury approximately $300 million in unpaid taxes. At one point, Quellos was picking names for its shell corporations from crayon colors, according to subpoenaed e-mails.
The Wyly family of Dallas used the second kind of tax shelter, giving $190 million in stock options to trusts on the Isle of Man in 1992. Those trusts took the money and lent it back to the Wylys' companies or bought them property, according to the report.
Since the Wylys maintained that the trusts were independent, they paid no taxes on most of the original money or the $720 million it generated over the next 13 years. However, the subcommittee alleges that they directed all of the trusts through go-betweens.
The Wylys maintain that their activities are legal.
Monday, July 31, 2006
The Flying Spaghetti Monster and The New York Dolls
The New York Dolls are back with a great new song and video.
At about 1:30 on Saturday morning, the House of Representatives approved a minimum wage increase that has little chance of survival in the Senate because it is coupled with huge tax cuts for the wealthiest estates in the country (8,200 of them would get an average $1.4 million each). Since Republicans control the House, this isn't a surprise - they've vigorously opposed a minimum wage increase for nearly a decade, apparently believing that $5.15 per hour is an acceptable wage for millions of American adults working full time.
The only way they were going to allow a minimum wage vote is if they knew the legislation wasn't likely to go anywhere.
Saturday's vote enables vulnerable Republican incumbents to spend their August break telling their constituents that they voted for a minimum wage increase, while allowing the rest of the Republican caucus to reassure their special interest friends that the wage increase is not likely to become law. I've been in public life for over 30 years, and while this may not rank as the most craven and cynical act of political deception I've ever seen, it's certainly up there.
There's one aspect of this charade that hasn't been discussed in the news over the last couple days, so I want to discuss it here. Last year, I offered legislation that, in addition to increasing the national minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25, would also extend it to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The Marianas are a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean where our federal labor laws don't apply. The result is widespread abuse and exploitation of workers, mostly poor women. (This spring, I introduced a bill that would not only bring the territory's wage up to U.S. standards, but would close immigration loopholes there too. See my past post on the issue).
For years, I've been fighting for basic labor protections in the Marianas, which former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) and disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff did everything they could to block. With DeLay gone, the House Republican leadership has simply picked up his mantle, keeping provisions that extend the minimum wage to the Marianas out of their own watered-down minimum wage legislation last week.
DeLay may be gone, but Republican leaders remain ready and eager to fight tooth and nail against basic human decency. Unfortunately, nothing is going to change that. But the voters can change Congress this November, and for sweatshop workers in the Marianas, they have got to.
If the votes in the Senate go as expected next month, on the peak of Mount Soledad in the City of San Diego there will be a spot of land topped by a twenty eight foot Cross that will be guarded by American soldiers. On this site there may be services given by military chaplains, that will extol and proselytize the religion symbolized by that cross. This will be a benchmark in the transformation of this secular country into a Christian nation.
There are two bills that are making this happen, the first, H.R. 5683, to federalize this land and put it under control of the defense department passed the house last week and will be voted on by the Senate in the next couple of weeks. This was not a partisan bill, as over a hundred Democrats in the House voted for it, (Link to the bill lists them) and many Democratic Senators, including my two from California support it.
The second is a regulation to allow evangelical Chaplains to proselytize anytime, anyplace, even to audiences that are compelled to attend. This was inserted by the House in the Defense appropriations bill, that has just been approved by the Senate committee. Having heard nothing about any Senator taking a stand, I can only assume it is in the Senate version also.
That's the short of it. The rest of this diary is my essay on the meaning of the Mt. Soledad Cross. You can read more about the chaplain regulation here. There's a poll with this diary, that just could send a message to some wavering Senators
Perhaps It was an accident of history that those who wrote our Constitution knew that future leaders would be tempted to harness religion to amass personal power. Many of their forebears had come to this untamed land to escape religious persecution, not by heathens, not by moors, but by other Christians. The founders of our country were not only scholars, steeped in history, law and yes, religion; they were masters of the written word. In our constitution profound principles are routinely encapsulated in few words. They wrote, as the first words of the first amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free expression thereof."
All they could hope was that future generations would get it, that their political leaders would understand how the melding of religion with politics would ultimately be incompatible with liberty. They could only hope that future law makers would continue the spirit of enlightenment that defined their own times.
When George Washington wrote in the treaty Tripoli, " the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion " it was not a radical statement. Rather, it was what he knew his colleagues had sought to create, a nation with no entity on a higher plane than the sovereign citizens; where all religions, all visions of existence were protected, a secular government designed to protect a cauldron of diverse belief ideas and expression. And for centuries this ideal has endured.
It is the United States of America with this secular constitution that has nurtured the greatest numbers of citizens with a belief in God and the widest array of religions of all industrialized countries. But there was always the temptation of the power that would accrue to the person, or party, that tapped the passions of the majority religion, Christianity.
But since Christianity in all its forms was thriving, the only way to do this was to create an enemy, one that was so offensive, so threatening, that they could be the focus of hatred that would unite all of the diverse branches of the religion. And since this secular government had fostered such an acceptance of religion, the great irony is that this created enemy of religion was of the orientation most committed to the secular government that had nurtured the unfettered growth of religion, atheism.
Since our beginning there has always been skirmishes along the border between church and state. The key constitutional phrase actually creates the inherent tension, as unlimited "free expression" by a dominant religion with a the goal of universal conversion would lead to the very "establishment" of this religion that is proscribed.
One bright line rule has been that public property such as schools and memorials must be religiously neutral. This is not to be found in the Constitution, yet generations of Justices have seen this as flowing from the simple words that were written. Whenever there was a breach of this rule, it was up to individuals to use the courts to enforce it. So Congress passed a law that would compensate the legal expenses of those who enforce this constitutional principle. In 1989 a clear breach of this was evident in the Cross on the top of Mount Soledad on property owned by the city of San Diego.
It happened to be that the individual who challenged this illegal act was an atheist. It did not matter at all that his position was affirmed by several state and federal courts as being mandated by our constitution, the very document that has allowed religion to prosper. Each time a court confirmed the principle that he had sued to enforce, he was further vilified, he was labeled "Atheist" Philip Paulson. While a political leader who was true to the principles of our country could have accepted the decision and designed a different memorial that would have transcended sectarian identification, there were more tempting options.
It was so much more opportune to ratchet up the hate, and to defy the unanimous decision of a total of 44 federal district and appellate judges that supported the secular principles of our government. Removal of the cross was transformed into an attack on Christianity itself. And what a way to get the public's attention away from other activities, such as the city of San Diego promising pensions that were impossible to pay for. "Who will notice our bankrupting the city, when we are defending of the holy cross of our Savior against atheism?"
Seventeen years after the original law suit, we are entering a new and more momentous chapter. This time it is not a corrupt city that is trying to change the subject, rather it is our national government. Five years into the war against terror, the middle east in aflame, with war among countries and sects made more deadly by religious hatred. Two avowed national enemies are developing a nuclear capacity that our weakened diplomatic position and over extended military leaves us unable to address. With these daunting international issues, and a host of domestic challenges of equal moment, our political leaders desperately need an enemy that they can vanquish, an evil to prevail against, a piece of land that can be captured and occupied. And they have located it right in San Diego, on the summit of Mount Soledad.
The bill, H.R. 5683, just passed by the House of Representatives is just such a an operation. It will transfer the peak at Mount Soledad with its Cross to the federal government. After this conquest is achieved, with only token resistance by those whose only weapon is a now outdated copy of a document beginning, "We the people...." the occupation will be under control of the Secretary of Defense. This dovetails with another bill recently passed by the House, against the recommendation of the heads of the chaplain leadership, that would allow evangelical chaplains to proselytize in any venue, any time that they sees fit, including compulsory assemblages of troops.
When President Bush referred several times to our war on terror as a Crusade, he said it was a slip of the tongue, or a misconstrued figure of speech. With the signing of these two laws, and the possible affirmation by a newly constituted Supreme court, there will be no more illusions. Oh, the domestic cheerleaders on talk radio and cable news may manage to spin this transformation of our country into a victory against rampant atheism, but the rest of the world will know better. Our great nation, long the model of freedom, with acceptance of all beliefs, all religions, all views life, will begin to fade into history. We will have been transformed into just another country dominated and defined by its religious majority.If this bill to federalize Mount Soledad, or other ploys being contemplated to break the secular essence of this country succeeds, those who demanded "saving the cross" should enjoy their moment of victory. The great loss of a principle that has made our nation a beacon to the world will be felt for generations to come.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 30, 2006; A07
When angry Democrats briefly shut down the Senate last year to protest the slow pace of a congressional investigation into prewar intelligence on Iraq, Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) claimed a rare victory.
Republicans called it a stunt but promised to quickly wrap up the inquiry. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is overseeing the investigation, said his report was near completion and there was no need for the fuss.
That was nine months ago.
The Republican-led committee, which agreed in February 2004 to write the report, has yet to complete its work. Just two of five planned sections of the committee's findings are fully drafted and ready to be voted on by members, according to Democratic and Republican staffers. Committee sources involved with the report, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they are working hard to complete it. But disputing Roberts, they said they had started almost from scratch in November after Democrats staged their protest.
Roberts spokeswoman Sarah Ross Little said the slow pace is partially the result of Roberts's desire to give members a chance for input. She said Roberts will make public the two completed sections "when they are approved by the committee and have been declassified," rather than wait for the other three to be done, as well. If the sections are not approved by the committee next week, they will have to wait until members return from recess in September.
The section most Democrats have sought, however, is not yet in draft form and might not emerge until after the November election, staffers said. That section will examine the administration's deliberations over prewar intelligence and whether its public presentation of the threat reflected the evidence senior officials reviewed in private.
President Bush, Vice President Cheney and senior administration officials asserted before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 that Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear weapons program, had chemical and biological weapons, and maintained links to al-Qaeda affiliates that could use those weapons against the United States. Bush said it was on that basis that he ordered the invasion.
But when teams of U.S. troops and intelligence experts failed to find any such weapons, and numerous commissions proclaimed the intelligence had been deeply flawed, some Democrats who voted to support the war began to allege that administration officials had willfully exaggerated Iraq's capabilities and terrorism ties and that they had resisted inquiries into the intelligence failures.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the committee's ranking Democrat, began inquiring about the evidence against Iraq one week before U.S. troops invaded. His interest was sparked by revelations that the Bush administration passed on forged documents to U.N. weapons inspectors to support allegations that Iraq had sought uranium from the African nation of Niger.
Roberts resisted a full investigation for three months. But in June 2003, when it became increasingly apparent that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, the committee agreed to look into the intelligence cited in the administration's case for war.
A year later, the committee issued the first phase of its bipartisan report, which found that the U.S. intelligence community had assembled an exaggerated assessment of Saddam Hussein's weapons capabilities. The second phase was to focus on the Bush administration's use of intelligence and examine public statements made by key policymakers about the threat posed by Iraq. That is the phase that has been delayed.
Part of the investigation that focuses on the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, which was run by former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith, is on hold, staff members said, pending a separate inquiry by the Defense Department's inspector general.
The Special Plans office, which ran its own intelligence gathering operation with the help of Iraqi exiles, stopped cooperating with the Senate panel last year. Roberts said key officials hired lawyers and quit talking when Rockefeller suggested that laws may have been broken. But Democrats dismissed that as an excuse.
The intelligence community's warnings about the possibility of chaos and violence in post-invasion Iraq also are under review in a separate chapter, staff members said. "What we have so far makes clear the intelligence community was saying lots of things can go wrong here, and they were certainly right," one congressional source said.
The two drafted sections could be voted on by committee members as early as next week, two congressional aides said yesterday. Both chapters cover ground that has largely been explored by a presidential commission on weapons of mass destruction.
One completed section of the Senate effort compares prewar estimates on Iraq's alleged chemical, biological and nuclear programs with the findings of U.S. weapons hunters who wrapped up their work empty-handed in December 2004.
The other chapter examines what, if any, information provided by Iraqi exiles was used in official intelligence estimates. That chapter does not review the influence that exiles such as former deputy prime minister Ahmed Chalabi had on the intelligence community and administration officials.
Israeli missiles hit several buildings in a southern Lebanon village as people slept Sunday, killing at least 56, most of them children, in the deadliest attack in 19 days of fighting.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed "great sorrow" for the airstrikes but blamed Hezbollah guerrillas for using the area to launch rockets at Israel, and said he would not halt the army's operation.
The Lebanese Red Cross said the airstrike in Qana, in which at least 34 children were killed, pushed the overall Lebanese death toll to more than 500. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice postponed a visit to Lebanon in a setback for diplomatic efforts to end hostilities. She was to return to the U.S. Monday morning, abruptly breaking off her diplomatic mission in the Mideast.
Before the airstrike, Olmert told Rice he needed 10-14 days to finish the offensive in Lebanon, according to a senior Israeli government official. The two said they would meet again Sunday evening.
"We will not stop this battle, despite the difficult incidents this morning," Olmert said said during Israel's weekly Cabinet meeting, according to a participant in the meeting. "We will continue the activity and if necessary it will be broadened without hesitation."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called an emergency Security Council meeting Sunday at the request of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora
The council was expected to discuss a French-sponsored draft resolution spelling out a series of steps meant to resolve the crisis, including an immediate halt to fighting.
Rice said she had called Saniora to postpone her visit to Lebanon; angry Lebanese officials said it was their government that called off the meeting.
Israeli said it targeted Qana because it was a base for hundreds of rockets launched at Israeli, including 40 that injured five Israelis on Sunday. Israel said it had warned civilians several days before to leave the village.
"One must understand the Hezbollah is using their own civilian population as human shields," said Israeli Foreign Ministry official Gideon Meir. "The Israeli defense forces dropped leaflets and warned the civilian population to leave the place because the Hezbollah turned it into a war zone."
Rescuers aided by villagers dug through the rubble by hand. At least 20 bodies wrapped in white sheets were taken away, including 10 children. A row of houses lay in ruins, and an old woman was carried away on a plastic chair.
Villagers said many of the dead were from four families who had taken refuge in on the ground floor of a three-story building, believing they would be safe from bombings.
"We want this to stop!" shouted Mohammed Ismail, a middle-aged man pulling away at the rubble in search for bodies, his brown pants covered in dust. "May God have mercy on the children. They came here to escape the fighting."
"They are hitting children to bring the fighters to their knees," he said.
Rice said she was "deeply saddened by the terrible loss of innocent life" in Israel's attack. But she did not call for an immediate cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militias.
"We all recognize this kind of warfare is extremely difficult," Rice said, noting it comes in areas where civilians live. "It unfortunately has awful consequences sometimes."
"We want a cease-fire as soon as possible," she added.
The United States and Israel are pressing for a settlement that addresses enduring issues between Lebanon and Israel and disables Hezbollah — not the quick truce favored by most world leaders.
Saniora said Lebanon would be open only to an immediate cease-fire.
"There is no place at this sad moment for any discussions other than an immediate and unconditional cease-fire as well as international investigation of the Israeli massacres in Lebanon now," he told reporters Sunday.
More than 5,000 people protested in central Beirut, denouncing Israel and the United States, some chanting, "Destroy Tel Aviv, destroy Tel Aviv." A few broke car windows and tried briefly to break into the main U.N. building until political leaders called for a halt to damage.
Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr questioned Israel's claim that Hezbollah fired rockets from the village. "What do you expect Israel to say? Will it say that it killed 40 children and women?" he told Al-Jazeera television.
Qana, in the hills east of the southern port city of Tyre, has a bloody history. In 1996, Israeli artillery killed more than 100 civilians who had taken refuge at a U.N. base in the village. That attack sparked an international outcry that helped end an Israeli offensive.
Sunday's attack drew swift condemnation from several world leaders.
French President Jacques Chirac's office said "France condemns this unjustifiable action, which shows more than ever the need to move toward an immediate cease-fire."
Jordan's King Abdullah II condemned "the ugly crime perpetrated by Israeli forces in Qana."
Lebanese officials said most of their citizens slain in the conflict have been civilians. Thirty-three Israeli soldiers have died, and Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel have killed 18 civilians.
Fighting also broke out between guerrillas and Israeli soldiers in a zone called the Taibeh Project area, about 2 miles inside Lebanon. The Israeli army said one soldier was wounded. Hezbollah's al-Manar TV claimed two Israeli soldiers were killed.
Heavy artillery rained down on the villages of Yuhmor and Arnoun, close to Taibeh. In northern Israel, rockets fell on Nahariya, Kiryat Shemona and an area close to Maalot, the army said.
Israel has said it would launch a series of limited ground incursions into Lebanon to push back guerrillas, rather than carry out a full-fledged invasion. Israeli troops pulled back Saturday from the town of Bint Jbail, suggesting the thrust, launched a week ago, had halted.
But Lebanese officials reported a massing of troops and 12 tanks near the Israeli town of Metulla further to the northeast, on the tip of the Galilee Panhandle near the Golan Heights, suggesting another incursion could begin soon.
The Security Council has yet to take a stance on the fighting, in part because the United States has not called for a cessation of hostilities.
The French draft circulated also seeks a wide new buffer zone in south Lebanon free of Israeli and Hezbollah forces and monitored by international forces and the Lebanese army.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the strike on Qana was a "tragedy" but stopped short of calling for a cease-fire.
A peace package Rice brought to the region called for a U.N.-mandated multinational force that can help stabilize in the region, according to a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.
It also proposes: disarming Hezbollah and integrating the guerrilla force into the Lebanese army; Hezbollah's return of Israeli prisoners; a buffer zone in southern Lebanon to put Hezbollah rockets out of range of Israel; a commitment to resolve the status of a piece of land held by Israel and claimed by Lebanon; and the creation of an international reconstruction plan for Lebanon.
The latter two provisions resembled parts of a proposal by Lebanon's government. But they fell short of Hezbollah's demands, including a prisoner swap to free Lebanese held for years in Israeli prisons and the disputed land, known as Chebaa farms, put under U.N. supervision until its status can be resolved.