Friday, April 06, 2007


Based in reality

by David Neiwert at Orcinus

Gavin at Sadly, No! has a little fun with Michelle Malkin's latest demand that local government officials adhere to right-wing dogma in education. What's Malkin outraged about? Well:
Here's an update to the whitewashing of jihad at Burlington Township High School. The district has released a statement about its mock terrorism drill, arguing that it really didn't mean Christian terrorists when it used "right wing fundamentalists" to portray the hostage-takers:


The fact that other public school districts have conducted similar mock terrorism drills, devised by emergency management officials singling out right-wing Christian fundamentalists, suggests that the district's statement is disinge[n]uous at best.

It’s not "insensitivity" that's the problem. It's willful ignorance. If the school district is truly committed to preparing its students for a terrorist attack, base it on reality, not P.C.

Actually, Malkin is just acting out the right-wing version of political correctness here: the only real terrorists, in her book[s], are foreign ones.

The "reality" that Malkin directs us to is a feverish Investor's Business Daily editorial imagining that Muslims are even now plotting to kill our children in their schools -- without even a shred of evidence that this is the case.

In the meantime, one might direct Malkin and the IBD to some actual reality:
In the 10 years since the April 19, 1995, bombing in Oklahoma City, in fact, the radical right has produced some 60 terrorist plots. These have included plans to bomb or burn government buildings, banks, refineries, utilities, clinics, synagogues, mosques, memorials and bridges; to assassinate police officers, judges, politicians, civil rights figures and others; to rob banks, armored cars and other criminals; and to amass illegal machine guns, missiles, explosives, and biological and chemical weapons.

As I explained awhile back:
It's true that, generally speaking, domestic terrorists are neither as competent nor as likely to pose a major threat as most international terrorists, particularly Al Qaeda. And the belief systems that feed the domestic terrorists have not become pervasive in popular Western culture the way Al Qaeda and Wahhabism generally have insinuated themselves in the Islamic world (though there has been an increasing blurring of the lines between the mainstream and extremist right in recent years).

Nonetheless, given the right actors, the right weapons, and the right circumstances, they remain nearly as capable of inflicting serious harm on large numbers of citizens as their foreign counterparts. This is especially true because they are less likely to arouse suspicion and can more readily blend into the scenery.

Most of all, what they lack in smarts or skill, they make up for in numbers: Since the early 1990s, the vast majority of planned terrorist acts on American soil -- both those that were successfully perpetrated and those apprehended beforehand -- have involved white right-wing extremists. Between 1995 and 2000, over 42 such cases (some, like Eric Rudolph, involving multiple crimes) were identifiable from public records.

Some of these were potentially quite lethal, such as a planned attack on a propane facility near Sacramento that, had it been successful, would have killed several thousand people living in its vicinity. Krar's cyanide bomb could have killed hundreds. Fortunately, none of these plotters have proven to be very competent.

The rate has slowed since 2000, but the cases have continued to occur. And someday, our luck is going to run out. Certainly, if we are counting on their incompetence, the fact that the anthrax killer (whose attacks in fact were quite successful in their purpose) has not yet been caught should dampen any overconfidence in that regard. Likewise, if Al Qaeda attacks again, that will likely signal a fresh round of piggybacking.

Of course, confronting this reality severely undermines the Islamophobic populist campaign that Malkin has specialized in recent months, and the conservative approach to the "war on terror" in general:
Making the public aware of the threat from domestic terrorists, especially as part of a real war on terrorism, would require getting the public to confront the reality that the "axis of evil" comprises not merely brown-skinned people with turbans and fanatical gleams but also that surly white guy next door with the pipe-bomb arsenal in his basement.

No wonder Malkin wants schoolkids to have terrorism drills about evil Muslims -- that makes recruiting for the "John Doe" movement that much easier.

It won't do a damned thing to make us safer. In fact, by blinding kids to the real nature of terrorism, it will just make them more vulnerable to harm.

[More on domestic terrorism here, here, and here. Also, a gallery of right-wing terrorists.]

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The American media's fringe ideological view of Pelosi's trip

by Glenn Greenwald

The media's hysteria-driven coverage of Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria is a real clarifying moment. As Greg Sargent notes (with video), it actually prompted CNN's increasingly absurd Suzanne Malveaux to ask: "And, Nancy Pelosi in Syria and in the crosshairs of Vice President Cheney. Is she on her way to becoming the most controversial House Speaker yet?" For doing what?

The American media, taking its cues from the Limbaugh/Cheney/AEI faction -- the world in which negotiating with a country like Syria is some sort of radical and highly "controversial" idea -- simply does not recognize how isolated and on the fringe this right-wing faction is, a fact which even the faction itself is beginning to acknowledge. Today, National Review's Rich Lowry warns of what he says is a scary group that is "on the verge of becoming the most significant force in the West, one that perhaps will shape our world for years, even decades, to come":

It is the Capitulation Caucus.

Its membership consists of most nationally elected Democrats in the United States, much of the American foreign-policy elite, the balance of the U.S. media, most international bureaucrats and nongovernmental organizations, and the European political elite.

They are loosely united around their beliefs that the Iraq War is lost or not worth trying to win, that we have to accommodate ourselves to anti-Western thugs in the Middle East and that the United States today is a reckless, malign influence in the world.

It sounds like the Capitulation Caucus pretty much includes everyone other than Sean Hannity, Dick Cheney, Michael Ledeen and Lowry. And Lowry forgot one other part of the Capitulation Caucus: the majority of the American people, who clearly share the subversive Capitulation agenda.

Lowry's colleague, Cliff May, this week had what he complained was a day-long exchange with readers of this blog over his false statements about American public opinion regarding foreign policy. But to May's credit, he now consequently seems to have recognized the reality which the American media is apparently incapable of ingesting -- namely, that it is May and his warmongering comrades who are the fringe. May -- citing the polling data (i.e., reality) with which he was bombarded this week -- acknowledged in his latest Townhall column (h/t sysprog):

We like to think of our politicians as leaders but most are followers: They do what they think the voters want them to do (that's the smoothest path to political power), and they divine the will of those voters by reading polls.

Back in November, even after the Democrats bested Republicans in the elections, it was assumed that most Americans would be furious over any attempt to de-fund troops engaged in combat. But recent polls, taken by such organizations as Pew, CNN and the Washington Post suggest that a substantial number of voters no longer see it that way: Confidence in the possibility of salvaging a successful outcome in Iraq is running low; support for Congress legislating a specific date when American troops will come home is running high.

The warmongering Right that the American media venerates and depicts as the mainstream is, in reality, an ever-shrinking fringe group. Other than the right-wing spectrum in Israel, their mentality and worldview really does not really exist anywhere else in the world, certainly not to any meaningful degree. It is a way of thinking that is widely scorned and discredited around the world -- that our country has been ruled by them is precisely why America's standing in the world is at an all-time and dangerous low point -- and their mindset really is confined strictly to (shrinking) right-wing elements in the U.S. and Israel (along with the Australian Prime Minister).

The idea that we should use military force against Iran, or simply refuse to negotiate with Iran and Syria, or stay in Iraq indefinitely and continue to wage war there, or that a visiting politician's decision to wear culturally appropriate clothing when visiting a mosque is a sign that we are about to live under Islamic law and submit to our new Al Qaeda Rulers -- those ideas come from a fringe and radical group which lies outside of mainstream thought both in the West and around the world, yet those are the ideas that comprise the American media's dominant narrative.

A very astute blogger recently travelled abroad for the first time in several years, and was in England during the time Iran was detaining the British sailors. She sent me an e-mail which included this observation, one which is indisputably true for anyone who pays substantial attention to foreign media:

Even though I didn't bring a laptop and I was sightseeing and visiting as many museums and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, etc ... as I could, I still couldn't help hearing the news about the soldiers. It was unavoidable.

What I did not hear was anything resembling the bloodthristy right-wing rantings I (correctly) imagined were being broadcast over here. Perhaps if I paid closer attention to the news while I was there I would have heard something unreasonable, but in my limited exposure to the television, it was nothing -- nothing -- like what you were probably hearing.

This cheap, artificial, mindless Charles Krauthammer/Bill Kristol/Ann Coulter/Dick Cheney chest-beating faux-warrior-against-the-world mentality is now really a distinctly fringe American phenomenon. It does not even exist to any substantial degree in one of America's closest allies, Britain, the country historically most closely aligned with American political thought.

And yet the crux of our American media is beholden to that group, takes its cues from it, and treats it like it defines the mainstream. Hence, Nancy Pelosi's belief in engaging the Syrians in dialogue -- a belief endorsed by, among others: (a) the uber-establishment Baker-Hamilton Commission, (b) the Israeli government, and (c) the vast majority of American people ("By 64% to 28%, respondents favored the group's recommendation to open direct talks with Iran and Syria") -- is, in American Media Land, depicted as some sort of radical and fringe idea, something which threatens to make Nancy Pelosi, two months after she took office, "the most controversial House Speaker yet."

Of course, the American media has been working overtime to depict Pelosi as a failed and weak joke before she even was inaugurated (recall the grave, grave crisis over whether Jane Harman would become Intelligence Committee Chair -- have any of the Very Serious Pundits who exploited that very grave matter to suggest that Pelosi's leadership was "crippled" even mentioned the name "Silvestre Reyes" a single time or written a word about the House Intelligence Committee, once the fun, gossipy, petty, manufactured "Pelosi scandal" over the Harman-Hasting drama went nowhere? Highly doubtful).

It is staggering just how out of touch and frivolous our media is. Just contemplate all the substantive scandals during the Bush presidency which they have all but ignored -- they could barely contain their scornful, bored indifference over the fact that the U.S. Attorney General repeatedly lied to Congress about why federal prosecutors were suddenly fired -- but they can hardly contain their giddiness and their compulsive and bizarre cattiness over an event (Pelosi's meeting with Syrian leaders) that, to the normal world, is completely natural and mundane. But the media lives in the Limbaugh/Hannity/Cheney world (Matt Drudge rules it), and in that world, what is in reality fringe and discredited is, to them, the barometer of mainstream.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007


Fox News Host Mark Williams called Islam "seventh-century death cult." Fox News is a Joke.

Fox News today, right-wing radio host Mark Williams attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for her trip to Syria. He said that she was “in Syria lip-locking with the king of terrorists” because Democrats have failed to recognize that we “have been attacked by a seventh-century death cult known as Islam.”

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Bush Cronies Continue To Fleece American Taxpayers. The Aristocracy of Pull.

Favoritism Shown Towards Wolfowitz's Girlfriend

by Murray Waas at Huffpo

Employees of the World Bank have been "expressing concern, dismay, and outrage" regarding favoritism shown by the bank and the Bush administration towards the one-time girlfriend of World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, according to an internal memo circulated within the bank by the World Bank Group Association, which represents the rights of the bank's 13,000 employees. Among other things, the April 3 memo alleges that Shaha Riza, Wolfowitz's romantic interest was given a "promotion [that] clearly does not conform" to bank procedures. Moreover, the memo alleges, she was then given a raise "more than double the amount allowed" by the bank's rules.

A copy of the memorandum was leaked to myself and other journalists Wednesday evening as World Bank employees have become more outspoken in their criticism of Wolfowitz's tenure as president of the bank.

Wolfowitz, who as Deputy Secretary of Defense was considered an architect of the U.S. war with Iraq, disclosed to bank board members that he had a romantic relationship with a senior bank communications officer, Shaha Riza, shortly after he was nominated to head the World Bank. Bank regulations disallow bank employees from supervising spouses or romantic partners, but Wolfowitz reportedly attempted to circumvent the rules so he would be able to continue to work with Riza. Informed by the bank's ethics officers that that would not be allowable, the problem appeared solved when Riza was detailed to work at the State Department's public diplomacy office in September 2005--even though her salary was still to be paid by the World Bank.

Before she was detailed over to the State Department, Riza was earning $132,660, according to the bank's payroll records obtained by the Governmental Accountability Project. Had the bank's board adhered to its ordinary rules, as Riza was shifted over to the State Department, she should have only been eligible for a raise of about $20,000. Instead she was given a raise of $47,340, whereupon her salary became $180,000. Then last year, she received yet another raise which brought her salary to $193,000. That salary increase not only meant that Riza earned more than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but apparently made her the single highest paid State Department official.

After GAP shared the records it obtained with the Washington Post's "In the Loop" columnist Al Kamen, and the New Yorker also mentioned the preferential treatment in a profile of Wolfowitz last week, the World Bank's Group Association was "inundated with messages from staff expressing concern, dismay, and outrage," according to the April 3 memo circulated by the association to the bank's rank and file employees.

"We call on Senior Management and the Board to clarify what appear to be violations of Staff Rules in favor of a staff member closely associated with the President," wrote Alison Cave, the chairman of the association.

In the same memo, Cave went on to write: "This case sends the message to staff that the rules apply to everyone except those associated with the most senior levels of management. It also sends the message to managers that they may flout the Staff Rules with impunity. It is extraordinarily discouraging to staff who may have been denied promotions and/or who receive a minimal salary increase despite a stellar performance evaluation-- and to hardworking... staff whose entire annual salaries are less than Ms. Riza's promotion increase."

As to the romance between Wolfowitz and Riza, it is unclear where that stands. The Washington Examiner recently reported that the two had split up. But Wonkette reported earlier today that the two of them were recently spotted making out after a party at the Japanese ambassador's house.

And as to any internal probe taking place at the World Bank of any of this, no-one at the bank is expecting anything to happen anytime soon. The person who would conduct any such investigation, Suzanne Rich Folsom, is a Republican party activist and long-time friend of Wolfowitz's. In appointing Folsom to the position, Wolfowitz had disregarded the recommendations of an executive-search firm which after considerable expense and time recommended no less than nine qualified candidates for the position to Wolfowitz.

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Everybody Knows The Truth Takes Practice: Alberto Gonzales plans three days of Mock Testimony to prepare for his appearance before Congress.

Gonzales Prepares to Fight for His Job in Testimony
By Dan Eggen and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 5, 2007; A01

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has retreated from public view this week in an intensive effort to save his job, spending hours practicing testimony and phoning lawmakers for support in preparation for pivotal appearances in the Senate this month, according to administration officials.

After struggling for weeks to explain the extent of his involvement in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, Gonzales and his aides are viewing the Senate testimony on April 12 and April 17 as seriously as if it were a confirmation proceeding for a Supreme Court or a Cabinet appointment, officials said.

Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, and Timothy E. Flanigan, who worked for Gonzales at the White House, have met with the attorney general to plot strategy. The department has scheduled three days of rigorous mock testimony sessions next week and Gonzales has placed phone calls to more than a dozen GOP lawmakers seeking support, officials said.

Gonzales is seeking to convince skeptical lawmakers that he can be trusted to command the Justice Department after the prosecutor firings, which he initially described as an "overblown personnel matter." Subsequent documents and testimony from his former chief of staff have shown that Gonzales was regularly briefed on the process, revelations that have led to calls for his resignation.

Justice officials and outside experts said the effort is further hampered by legal conflicts among Gonzales and his senior aides. Top Democrats have also accused department officials of misleading Congress in previous testimony, leading Justice lawyers to insist on limiting contact between key players to avoid allegations of obstructing a congressional investigation, officials said.

As a result, Gonzales and senior Justice lawyers have so far received little assistance from the White House and cannot consult with some of his closest aides, including Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, officials said.

"We are hampered because some senior officials are not able to discuss the facts as they know them in the same room, for fears of additional accusations of misleading Congress," said one Justice official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) sent a letter to Gonzales on Tuesday, asking for "appropriate firewalls" between potential witnesses involved in the firings.

"Our question to you is: Who do we talk to at the Department of Justice?" Leahy and Whitehouse wrote. "The office of the Attorney General appears to be hopelessly conflicted."

Several central players in the prosecutor saga are out of the Justice Department building altogether. They include Gonzales's former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, who resigned last month, and senior counselor Monica M. Goodling, who is on indefinite leave and who yesterday reiterated her refusal to answer questions from Congress. Michael J. Elston, McNulty's chief of staff, also began a scheduled personal leave this week after submitting to six hours of congressional interviews last Friday, officials said.

"In a sense, this is even more difficult than a confirmation hearing, because you are defending a record that has been assailed publicly and it involves other members of Justice who are also going to be called," said former senator Daniel R. Coats (R-Ind.), who led confirmation preparations for Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers.

"It just compounds the difficulty facing any witness in this situation," Coats said. "You don't have the ability to coordinate with other organizations or individuals that are going to be testifying, and there will be a lot of people looking for inconsistencies. It is no small challenge for the attorney general."

Gonzales is getting little support from Republicans in Congress, according to several GOP aides. Gonzales is scheduled to testify next Thursday before the Senate Appropriations Committee on budget matters, and then on April 17 at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing focused on the prosecutor firings.

Aides said the tenor has been set on the GOP side by Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), the ranking Republican on the judiciary panel. Specter has told Gonzales in private that he should consider beginning his testimony with an apology.

In previous confirmation hearings -- including those for Gonzales in January 2005 and Alito and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. since then -- the White House, the Justice Department and Judiciary Committee Republicans closely coordinated their efforts.

In the case of Roberts, Specter's chief counsel, Michael O'Neill, attended one of the mock testimony sessions known as "murder boards," according to a former GOP committee staffer, who requested anonymity to speak freely about internal panel activities. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) was in attendance to watch a similar session with Alito.

Gillespie, now head of the Virginia GOP, and Flanigan, who pulled out of contention in 2005 as Gonzales's pick for deputy attorney general, did not return telephone calls seeking comment on their recent discussions with him.

After traveling around the country much of last week in an attempt to shore up fractured relations with U.S. attorneys, Gonzales has spent this week sequestered in his fifth-floor office suite, poring over thousands of pages of documents related to his upcoming testimony. He canceled tentative plans for a family vacation this week to focus on the hearings, officials said.

"The attorney general is very focused and is spending extensive time preparing this week to testify before Congress," spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.

Top Democrats have focused in recent days on escalating their demands for testimony from Goodling, Gonzales's senior counselor and White House liaison. She has told Congress that she will assert her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to answer questions about the firings.

Leahy and Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, have questioned whether Goodling is attempting to hide criminal activity by refusing to answer questions.

Goodling's attorneys, John M. Dowd and Jeffrey King, responded in a letter yesterday that such allegations "are unfortunately reminiscent of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who infamously labeled those who asserted their constitutional right to remain silent before his committee 'Fifth Amendment Communists.' "

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Straight Out of the Karl Rove Playbook; Gonzales Aide Monica Goodling makes baseless allegations of McCarthyism to distract from the facts.

Attorneys for Gonzales Aide Criticize Congressional Democrats
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 4, 2007; 3:56 PM

Attorneys for Monica M. Goodling, a senior aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, fired back at House and Senate Democrats today, reiterating her intent not to cooperate with a probe into the firing of eight federal prosecutors and comparing lawmakers pursuing her to the Cold War ideologue, former senator Joseph McCarthy.

In a letter to House Democrats, Goodling's attorneys lambasted Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and his counterpart in the Senate, Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), for questioning whether Goodling was hiding criminal activity by refusing to testify before Congress.

Attorneys John M. Dowd and Jeffrey King wrote that Goodling's assertion of her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination "can in no way be interpreted to suggest that Ms. Goodling herself participated in any criminal activity."

"Your and Senator Leahy's recent suggestions to the contrary are unfortunately reminiscent of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who infamously labeled those who asserted their constitutional right to remain silent before his committee 'Fifth Amendment Communists,'" the attorneys wrote.

McCarthy served as a Republican senator from Wisconsin from 1947 to 1957, earning a reputation for unsubstantiated charges that large numbers of communists had infiltrated the federal government. He was ultimately censured by the Senate, and his name became synonymous with demagoguery.

The letter is the latest volley in a spirited war of words between Goodling's lawyers and congressional Democrats, who have demanded that Goodling answer questions about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year. Goodling, who is on leave from her job as one of Gonzales's top aides, has refused.

The dispute comes as House and Senate investigators continue setting up interviews with some of Gonzales's closest aides in preparation for testimony from the attorney general later this month. Lawmakers are investigating whether Gonzales or others at Justice sought to mislead Congress in previous testimony that obscured the White House's role in coordinating the prosecutor dismissals.

Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, who testified in the Senate in early February, has told Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) that he provided erroneous information to Congress in part because Goodling and other aides did not fully inform him of the details surrounding the firings. Goodling and her attorneys have pointed to that allegation as a central reason for her refusal to be questioned.

Conyers, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, and other Democrats have questioned Goodling's rationale for refusing to be interviewed, arguing that she must assert her Fifth Amendment right in answer to specific questions. The issue also came up at a hearing last week of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Leahy.

In their letter today, Goodling's attorneys left open the possibility that she would appear for testimony if subpoenaed, but would continue to assert her Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions.

Goodling worked closely with D. Kyle Sampson, Gonzales's former chief of staff, on preparations for the dismissals, according to Justice documents. Sampson, who resigned from Justice, testified last week that Gonzales was more involved in the firings than he has sometimes acknowledged.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Republicans Visit Iraq... Hear the Truth from Iraqi's... and come back and Lie about it to Americans.

April 3, 2007
McCain Wrong on Iraq Security, Merchants Say
by Kirk Semple

BAGHDAD, April 2 — A day after members of an American Congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain pointed to their brief visit to Baghdad’s central market as evidence that the new security plan for the city was working, the merchants there were incredulous about the Americans’ conclusions.

“What are they talking about?” Ali Jassim Faiyad, the owner of an electrical appliances shop in the market, said Monday. “The security procedures were abnormal!”

The delegation arrived at the market, which is called Shorja, on Sunday with more than 100 soldiers in armored Humvees — the equivalent of an entire company — and attack helicopters circled overhead, a senior American military official in Baghdad said. The soldiers redirected traffic from the area and restricted access to the Americans, witnesses said, and sharpshooters were posted on the roofs. The congressmen wore bulletproof vests throughout their hourlong visit.

“They paralyzed the market when they came,” Mr. Faiyad said during an interview in his shop on Monday. “This was only for the media.”

He added, “This will not change anything.”

At a news conference shortly after their outing, Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, and his three Congressional colleagues described Shorja as a safe, bustling place full of hopeful and warmly welcoming Iraqis — “like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime,” offered Representative Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who was a member of the delegation.

But the market that the congressmen said they saw is fundamentally different from the market Iraqis know.

Merchants and customers say that a campaign by insurgents to attack Baghdad’s markets has put many shop owners out of business and forced radical changes in the way people shop. Shorja, the city’s oldest and largest market, set in a sprawling labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways, has been bombed at least a half-dozen times since last summer.

At least 61 people were killed and many more wounded in a three-pronged attack there on Feb. 12 involving two vehicle bombs and a roadside bomb.

American and Iraqi security forces have tried to protect Shorja and other markets against car bombs by restricting vehicular traffic in some shopping areas and erecting blast walls around the markets’ perimeters. But those measures, while making the markets safer, have not made them safe.

In the latest large-scale attack on a Baghdad market, at least 60 people, most of them women and children, were killed last Thursday when a man wrapped in an explosives belt walked around such barriers into a crowded street market in the Shaab neighborhood and blew himself up.

In recent weeks, snipers hidden in Shorja’s bazaar have killed several people, merchants and the police say, and gunfights have erupted between militants and the Iraqi security forces in the area.

During their visit on Sunday, the Americans were buttonholed by merchants and customers who wanted to talk about how unsafe they felt and the urgent need for more security in the markets and throughout the city, witnesses said.

They asked about our conditions, and we told them the situation was bad,” said Aboud Sharif Kadhoury, 63, who peddles prayer rugs at a sidewalk stand. He said he sold a small prayer rug worth less than $1 to a member of the Congressional delegation. (The official paid $20 and told Mr. Kadhoury to keep the change, the vendor said.)

Mr. Kadhoury said he lost more than $2,000 worth of merchandise in the triple bombing in February. “I was hit in the head and back with shrapnel,” he recalled.

Ali Youssef, 39, who sells glassware from a sidewalk stand down the block from Mr. Kadhoury, recalled: “Everybody complained to them. We told them we were harmed.”

He and other merchants used to keep their shops open until dusk, but with the dropoff in customers as a result of the attacks, and a nightly curfew, most shop owners close their businesses in the early afternoon.

“This area here is very dangerous,” continued Mr. Youssef, who lost his shop in the February attack. “They cannot secure it.”

But those conversations were not reflected in the congressmen’s comments at the news conference on Sunday.

Instead, the politicians spoke of strolling through the marketplace, haggling with merchants and drinking tea. “The most deeply moving thing for me was to mix and mingle unfettered,” Mr. Pence said.

Mr. McCain was asked about a comment he made on a radio program in which he said that he could walk freely through certain areas of Baghdad.

“I just came from one,” he replied sharply. “Things are better and there are encouraging signs.”

He added, “Never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today.”

Told about Mr. McCain’s assessment of the market, Abu Samer, a kitchenware and clothing wholesaler, scoffed: “He is just using this visit for publicity. He is just using it for himself. They’ll just take a photo of him at our market and they will just show it in the United States. He will win in America and we will have nothing.”

A Senate spokeswoman for Mr. McCain said he left Iraq on Monday and was unavailable for comment because he was traveling.

Several merchants said Monday that the Americans’ visit might have only made the market a more inviting target for insurgents.

“Every time the government announces anything — that the electricity is good or the water supply is good — the insurgents come to attack it immediately,” said Abu Samer, 49, who would give only his nickname out of concern for his safety.

But even though he was fearful of a revenge attack, he said, he could not afford to stay away from the market. This was his livelihood. “We can never anticipate when they will attack,” he said, his voice heavy with gloomy resignation. “This is not a new worry.”

Ahmad Fadam and Wisam A. Habeeb contributed reporting.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Suspicion Of Cheney Intervention Surrounds Guantanamo Plea Bargain

In February, Vice President Cheney traveled to Australia to visit with his close ally Prime Minister John Howard. At the top of Howard’s agenda was a plea to release Australian Gitmo detainee David Hicks. Last Friday, Hicks became the first person to be sentenced by a military commission convened under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, accepting nine months of imprisonment and a gag order that will not allow him to discuss the case for 12 months.

Howard lobbied Cheney during the February visit for the trial to “be brought on as soon as humanly possible and with no further delay.” The plea bargain itself was brokered by Susan Crawford, the top military commission official and a former Department of Defense inspector general under then-Secretary of Defense Cheney, without the knowledge or input of the lawyers prosecuting Hicks. The lead prosecutor expressed shock over the light sentence.

Given the nature of the deal, suspicions are being raised that the plea agreement may have been an orchestrated gesture by Cheney to benefit Howard in his re-election fight. Howard, who is lagging behind Labor Party rival Kevin Rudd in the polls, faces a tough election contest in less than nine months. Now, legal experts on both continents are sounding alarms. Some examples:

Terry Hicks, David’s father, said in a statement that “it is clearly a political fix arranged between Mr. Howard and the Bush administration to shut up Hicks until after the election in November.”

Bob Brown of Australia’s Green party described the deal as a political “fix” meant to benefit Howard, saying that “the message has gone very clearly from Canberra to Washington to Guantanamo Bay: don’t allow Hicks to be released until after the elections and certainly don’t allow him to speak.

Lex Lasry, an Australian who observed the trial, remarked, “What an amazing coincidence that, with an election in Australia by the end of the year, he gets nine months and he is gagged for 12 months from talking about it.”

Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, said: “I’m not naive. I know that they probably worked out - I’m quite sure they worked out - a plea bargain, that would allow the United States to appear to have effected a reasonably fair proceeding, would allow David Hicks to return to Australia, and satisfy Prime Minister Howard’s needs.”

Andrew Sullivan emphatically states, “If you think this was in any way a legitimate court process, you’re smoking something even George Michael would pay a lot of money for. It was a political deal, revealing the circus that the alleged Gitmo court system really is.”

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Monday, April 02, 2007


McCain Strolls Through Baghdad Market, Accompanied By 100 Soldiers, 3 Blackhawks, 2 Apache Gunships

Sen. John McCain strolled briefly through an open-air market in Baghdad today in an effort to prove that Americans are “not getting the full picture” of what’s going on in Iraq.

NBC’s Nightly News provided further details about McCain’s one-hour guided tour. He was accompanied by “100 American soldiers, with three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships overhead.” Still photographs provided by the military to NBC News seemed to show McCain wearing a bulletproof vest during his visit.

McCain recently claimed that there “are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods, today.” In a press conference after his Baghdad tour, McCain told a reporter that his visit to the market today was proof that you could indeed “walk freely” in some areas of Baghdad.

Today, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) held a press conference in Iraq. Both McCain and Graham charged that the media are not giving the American people “the full picture of what’s happening here.” As evidence of progress, they spoke of the time they were able to spend in the Bab al-Sharqi market, at which 88 people died in suicide bomber attack on Jan. 22. “We went to the market and were just really warmly welcomed. I bought five rugs for five bucks. And people were engaging,” said Graham.

What McCain and Graham didn’t mention: CNN’s Bob Franken noted today that the senators’ press conference was “held in the very, very, very heavily secured Green Zone, the center city area of Baghdad.” Additionally, the “delegation was accompanied by heavily armed U.S. troops when they were not in the Green Zone, site of the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government. They traveled in armored military vehicles under heavy guard.”

Just last week, McCain told CNN that President Bush’s escalation is working so well, “Gen. Petraeus goes out there [in Baghdad] almost every day in an unarmed humvee.” CNN’s Iraq correspondent Michael Ware said the reaction to McCain’s claim among military sources was “laughter down the line.”

UPDATE: Newsweek’s Babak Dehghanpisheh writes: “In any case, it didn’t take the insurgents long to send their reply. Less then 30 minutes after McCain wrapped up, a barrage of half a dozen mortars peppered the boundaries of the Green Zone, where the senators held their press conference.”

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