Friday, June 30, 2006
I Hope This Is Not True
BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 30 — The United States military said Friday that it was investigating whether American soldiers had killed a family of four Iraqi civilians in March in their home south of Baghdad, adding another inquiry to a growing list of cases where Americans are accused of fatally shooting unarmed Iraqis.So far these allegations are just allegations. But good god, if they're true...
The investigation is being overseen by the highest levels of the American command, and was ordered by the general commanding the Fourth Infantry Division, which is assigned to control the capital and areas immediately to the south, a military spokesman said.
The Associated Press reported today that the investigation involved five soldiers from a unit of the 502nd Infantry Regiment, which was attached to the Fourth Infantry Division though it is formally part of a different division, the 101st Airborne.
Early reports indicate that soldiers may have raped a woman, burned her body and killed the woman's family in a "crime of opportunity,", the news agency reported, citing an unnamed American official. The A.P. recently had a reporter embedded with the 502nd Infantry Regiment.
Kerik Pleads Guilty
From the NY Times:
Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, pleaded guilty today to two misdemeanor charges as the result of accepting tens of thousands of dollars of gifts and a loan while he was a city official in the late 1990's.
He entered the pleas, one to a violation of the city charter and the other of the city administrative code, in a Bronx courtroom before Justice John P. Collins and was sentenced to a total of $221,000 in fines. He was accompanied by three lawyers and three supporters for the proceeding, which lasted about 10 minutes.
City officials insisted that Mr. Kerik received no special treatment. "He was arrested and booked," said Rose Gill Hearn, the city's investigations commissioner. "He was fingerprinted and photographed like every other perp who gets arrested and processed."
One of Mr. Kerik's lawyers, Joseph Tacopina, disputed this account. He said Mr. Kerik was not arrested or processed in central booking like a common criminal. He was instead afforded the opportunity to be processed at the district attorney's office and allowed to walk to court. He was fingerprinted in the executive wing, Mr. Tacopina said.
Robert T. Johnson, the Bronx district attorney, noted that the grand jury considered and rejected more serious charges of bribery. He termed the outcome "fair and just" based on the evidence and circumstances and questions about how the statute of limitations applies to public officials.
Outside the court, Mr. Kerik said he should have been more "focused and sophisticated" in dealing with contractors who worked on his Bronx apartment.
"From this moment on, it's back to work," he said before getting into a black B.M.W. and driving south on the Grand Concourse toward Manhattan
Kerik's going back to work? As what, a two-bit Mafia thug? Now that Kerik's access to power has been pretty much cut off by his criminal past, what the hell else can he do? I would think the appearances on Hardball and The Situation Room are over for now.
BTW, I can't wait to see the Rudy/Bernie stories that start to surface in 2008 as America's mayor runs for president. I bet Bernie isn't the only one with criminal exposure in that duo.
POSTSCIPT: Rudy Giuliani often gets the credit for reducing crime in NYC and two of his crony police commisioners, Howard Safir and Bernie Kerik, often also take credit for the reduction. But the real crime fighter in NYC was Rudy's first police commisioner, William Bratton. Bratton ran the department for just 27 months until Rudy canned him because Bratton was giving too many press conferences at One Police Plaza and ruining Rudy's p.r. game. But felony crime was reduced by 39% and murder by 50% while Bratton ran the NYPD. That's a pretty impressive record and many crime experts credit Bratton's development of CompStat:
CompStat is a multilayered dynamic approach to crime reduction, quality of life improvement and, personnel and resource management. CompStat employs Geographic Information Systems to map crime, detect patterns, hot spots, and identify problems. In weekly meetings, ranking NYPD executives meet with local precinct commanders from one of the eight patrol boroughs in New York City to discuss the problems. They devise strategies and tactics to solve problems, reduce crime, and ultimately improve quality of life in their assigned area.
It's a shame Rudy won't share the credit with Bratton for the initial reduction of crime in NYC. But that's Rudy for you. If you kiss his ass, the way Safir and Kerik did, you're all right (even if you're a crook like Bernie.) But if you steal the spotlight from Rudy, you'd better watch out...
Figured Out My Computer Problem...Microsoft Sucks!!!
Well, once the WGA Validation tool failed to install correctly, my system started to crash and burn on a regular basis. I informed Microsoft about the problem and spent four weeks trying to get the problem fixed through email with two different Microsoft tech guys. Neither was able to help me. Finally on Monday, my system completely crashed and I had to bring it to somebody who could do a full destructive recovery, take down Windows, and put Windows back up (I wish I had been savvy enough to do this, but I felt like my lack of computer expertise had been part of the problem with the WGA Validation issue, so I went to somebody with more computer expertise.)
To make a long story short, I went to the Windows Security Update site this morning because my computer informed me that I was missing critical security updates. I was concerned that the WGA Validation tool would download again but I also knew that I couldn't NOT download and install security fixes from Microsoft ever again either. So I allowed the system to download the "critical security updates," and sure enough, the computer tried to download and install the Validation tool again. And once again, my system locked up and crashed.
So here I am, with a Windows system that will not download and install security updates without the WGA Validation tool but won't download and install the Validation tool properly. I checked on the Internet and it turns out that Microsoft's Validation tool has created problems for some other Windows users as well. Here's NeoSecurityteam.net on the "controversy" over the WGA Validation tool and the way Microsoft chose to send it out to its customers:
Microsoft released a new version of Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications on Tuesday and detailed how to remove the controversial antipiracy software.
The updated WGA Notifications package includes changes that respond to criticism Microsoft has faced over the software, the company said. It no longer checks in with Microsoft after each restart, for example.
WGA Notifications displays alerts on systems running a pirated copy of Windows and includes a separate tool called WGA Validation that runs a piracy check.
Microsoft has faced a lot of heat over WGA Notifications--in particular, because it delivered a prerelease version of the tool alongside security fixes, perhaps turning Windows users into unsuspecting guinea pigs. Also, WGA Notifications was found to ping a Microsoft server after each system restart, a behavior the company did not disclose.
While Microsoft is responding to some of the criticism, it said it will continue to distribute WGA Notifications via the Automatic Updates feature in Windows as a "high priority" update, even though it is not a security update. Some critics had argued that Microsoft should find another way to distribute the tool. Automatic Updates is a service intended to keep users secure by delivering software updates and drivers that help protect against the latest publicly known security threats and reliability issues.
"By using Automatic Updates, Microsoft is able to reach the greatest number of PC users," a representative of the software company said. "Microsoft believes it has a right to know whether systems using a service intended for licensed customers are in fact licensed systems."
I don't mind that Microsoft wants to know "whether systems using a service for licensed customers are in fact licensed." I do have a problem with them treating their customers as guinea pigs. I have spent countless hours on this problem, some bucks, and the short of it is this - the problem is with the Microsoft Validation tool, not my computer. The Microsoft tech guys would not tell me this, of course. They also couldn't fix the problem either. But I can see from reading around the Net that other people have had problems with the WGA Validation tool and until Microsoft fixes the problem (if they ever do), some computer users are going to have issues with the WGA Validation tool.
As I said before, I am done with PCs and Microsoft. I will look at Linux today, but I doubt I will go that route. I don't have the time or energy to become Linux savvy. Frankly, all I want is a computer that works the way it is supposed to. When I went to the Apple website this morning, I saw this piece of advertising copy:
Your toaster doesn’t crash. Your kitchen sink doesn’t crash. Why should your computer? Think of the countless hours you would save if your PC worked on your time — not the other way around. Then think about a Mac.
If you spend more of your precious time figuring out why your PC crashes than you spend taking out the garbage every week, you need a Mac. Still not convinced? Just ask the millions of people who use and love a Mac why it’s become such an integral part of their lives, and most will tell you the same thing: it just works. Letting them do what they want to do. When they want to do it. All the time.
That’s because a Mac offers absolutely flawless integration of hardware and software. Only with a Mac do you get a system built by the same people who make the OS, applications, and the computer itself.
Take a Mac out of its box and you experience that hand-and-glove fit from the get-go. Plug it in. Turn it on. And you’re ready for anything. With a Mac, you’ll find all of the essentials built right in. USB. FireWire. Ethernet. Every new Mac comes with built-in antennas for wireless networks, so getting on the Internet from anywhere is a mere matter of turning on your Mac. No reconfiguring your network settings. No plugging in some clunky wireless card.
The real secret behind the Mac’s crash-resistant performance lies deep within the operating system itself. Beneath the surface of Mac OS X lies an industrial-strength UNIX foundation hard at work to ensure that your computing experience remains free of system crashes and compromised performance. Time-tested security protocols in Mac OS X keep your Mac out of harm’s way. Most Fortune 500 companies, governments and universities rely on UNIX for their mission-critical applications. And now, so can you.
Of course, should you happen to experience the occasional hiccup with your Mac, you won’t get the runaround. Because Apple makes the whole enchilada, one phone call — or better yet, one visit to the friendly Genius Bar at your local Apple Store — can solve both hardware and software problems in one fell swoop. And when you add the AppleCare Protection Plan, you extend your support options to include three full years of free telephone help and comprehensive repair coverage. That ought to save you some time and sanity, too.
I'll tell you what - I usually don't post free advertising for companies on my website, but this Apple ad campaign I have posted above particularly resonates with me today. I don't know when I'm going to buy a Mac. I will probably take down the Windows system on my computer again this weekend, put it back up and see if I can live without the security updates for a while until Microsoft fixes the problem, if they ever do.
But when I am ready to buy a new computer, it is going to be an Apple.
Bye-bye, Microsoft...and good riddance.
UPDATE: Went to the Apple store on Fifth Avenue today. I looked at a Macbook Pro. I think it has what I want, it's small enough and light enough to carry around with enough power to do what I need it to do. And most importantly, for an extra $239 (30% off for educators), I'll be able to get a 3 year warranty that will allow me to take the computer into the Apple store if something goes wrong with it and get them to fix it.
I want to get another 7 months or so out of what I'm running now and then I'll buy the Macbook Pro. I wish I could get more out of my current system (AMD FX-55, 2 GB RAM, ATI Radeon x8500 Platinum, Sound Blaster Audigy 2.) I haven't had any problems with the hardware and I really do like the computer. It's the goddamned operating system that's causing all the problems. Unfortunately, even if the current problem with the WGA Validation tool gets solved (which is doubtful), there will just be another nightmare problem coming down the Microsoft road next. It's time to move on from Windows and I am more than ready.
Thanks to everyone who offered empathy and suggestions. I appreciate the help and commiseration. I know that this computer thing is really just a luxury problem. I have watched all these folks who have been flooded out this week here on the East Coast (some very close to where my sister lives in Pennsylvania) and I have realized what I'm dealing with is nothing but a little frustrating. I feel the same way when I think about all the soldiers over in Iraq and Afghanistan and all of their families who are here at home. And then, of course, there are those soldiers who won't be coming home anymore. Those are really problems.
Anyway, will be offline for awhile until I get this problem completely fixed. The problem is not the hardware. That's been checked and it comes out OK. The problem is the software, either with the Windows install itself or with the Update. Even the Microsoft tech guys are completely baffled by the issue. I got an email form one today and he basically said "I dunno what the problem is..."
Perhaps I will do another full destructive recovery of the hard drive and put Linux on the system. Maybe staying as far away from Microsoft products as I can will solve the problem.
Next time I buy an Apple. I am done with PCs. I am done with Microsoft. That step toward a Microsoft boycott will almost certainly solve the problem.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
So Much For Securing The Border With National Guard Troops
Unfortunately for the administration, the National Guard Bureau spokesman couldn't respond to the Associated Press because he's in Iraq.
SACRAMENTO — The Bush administration has been unable to muster even half the 2,500 National Guardsmen it planned to have on the Mexican border by the end of June, officials in the border states said. The head of the National Guard Bureau disputed that tally and said the goal would be met by Friday.
As of Thursday, the next-to-last day of the month, fewer than 1,000 troops were in place, according to military officials in Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona.
President Bush's plan called for all 50 states to send troops. But only 10 states — including the four border states — have signed commitments.
Some state officials have argued that they cannot free up Guardsmen because of flooding in the East, wildfires in the West or the prospect of hurricanes in the South.
"It's not a combat priority. It is a volunteer mission," said Kristine Munn, spokeswoman for the National Guard Bureau, an arm of the Pentagon, "so it's a question of balancing the needs of the Border Patrol with the needs of 54 states and territories, and all those balls roll in different directions."
Bush's plan called for 2,500 troops to be on the border in support roles by June 30, and 6,000 by the end of July. But officials in the border states said the Guard won't reach the 2,500 target until early to mid-July and will likely need longer to meet the 6,000 mark.
"The magical numbers coming out of Washington are not going to happen, definitely not by Friday," said Maj. Paul Ellis, a spokesman for the Arizona National Guard.
A White House spokesman declined to comment, referring questions to the National Guard Bureau.
Can't wait to hear what Lou Dobbs has to say about this story tomorrow on CNN.
Supreme Court Slaps Administration
The Supreme Court today delivered a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration over its plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions, ruling that the commissions violate U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of war prisoners.
In a 5-3 decision, the court said the trials were not authorized by any act of Congress and that their structure and procedures violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion in the case, called Hamdan v. Rumsfeld . Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. recused himself.
The ruling, which overturned a federal appeals court decision in which Roberts had participated, represented a defeat for President Bush, who had ordered military trials for detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base. About 450 detainees captured in the war on terrorism are currently held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. Trying them before military commissions would place them under greater restrictions and afford them fewer rights than they would get in federal courts or regular military courts.
Bush said he would consult with Congress to seek "a way forward" after the ruling, which reversed the appeals court ruling on statutory grounds, avoiding major constitutional issues.
Answering questions at a news conference with the visiting Japanese prime minister, Bush said, "The American people need to know that this ruling, as I understand it, won't cause killers to be put out on the street. . . . I'm not going to jeopardize the safety of the American people. . . . I will protect the people and at the same time conform with the findings of the Supreme Court."
The Court is not saying Bush has to let "killers...out on the streets". The Court is saying the Gitmo detainees cannot be tried in military star chambers. According to Hamdan's attorney, this decision means that if the government wishes to try Mr. Hamdan, they will have to do it in either a federal court or before a properly constituted court martial. A dissenting opinion written by Justice Pubic Hair said the Supreme Court's willingness "to second-guess the determination of the political branches that these conspirators must be brought to justice is both unprecedented and dangerous." Justice Stevens, however, wrote in the majority opinion
that although the Detainee Treatment Act implicitly recognizes the existence of the military commissions, it "contains no language authorizing that tribunal or any other at Guantanamo Bay." Moreover, neither the act nor a congressional authorization for the use of military force against terrorists in 2001 "expands the president's authority to convene military commissions."
In other words, these detainees have the right to a fair trial.
What a novel idea - forcing the Bush administration to abide by the law. Unfortunately there are four wankers on this Suprme Court ready, willing and able to give the Bush administration all the authority it wants to tear up the constitution, subjugate the other two branches of government and establish any old authoritarian precedents it wants in the name of the "war on terror." And the only thing standing in between those four wankers (Scalia, Scalito, Pubic Hair, and the Chief Justice) are Justice Stevens, Justice Souter, Justice Kennedy, Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg. If one of those five should go in the next two years and half years...
Monday, June 26, 2006
Going Away For A Few days
I hope the nation will be safe from the commie pinko terrorist-loving traitors at the NY Times by the time I get back, so let's get to prosecuting them for those national security leaks.
On a serious note, I do hope the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan do not continue to worsen. The Washington Post reports that Maliki has announced his 24 point plan for reconciliation in Iraq while the Post reports this about Afghanistan this morning:
KABUL, Afghanistan, June 25 -- Many Afghans and some foreign supporters say they are losing faith in President Hamid Karzai's government, which is besieged by an escalating insurgency and endemic corruption and is unable to protect or administer large areas of the country.
As a sense of insecurity spreads, a rift is growing between the president and some of the foreign civilian and military establishments whose money and firepower have helped rebuild and defend the country for nearly five years. While the U.S. commitment to Karzai appears solid, several European governments are expressing serious concerns about his leadership.
"The president had a window of opportunity to lead and make difficult decisions, but that window is closing fast," said one foreign military official in Kabul who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
"This is a crucial time, and there is frustration and finger-pointing on all sides," the official said. "President Karzai is the only alternative for this country, but if he attacks us, we can't help him project his vision. And if he goes down, we all go down with him."
In markets and mosques across the country, Afghans are focusing discontent on Karzai, 48, the amiable, Western-backed leader whose landslide election in October 2004 appeared to anchor a process of political reconstruction and stability that began with the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001.
Since then, public confidence in his leadership has soured with reports of highway police robbing travelers, government jobs sold to the highest bidder, drug traffic booming and aid money vanishing. There are no public opinion polls here, but several dozen Afghan and foreign observers expressed similar views.
Since April, an aggressive Taliban offensive across the south has resulted in the deaths of 600 people. In the past four days, more than 150 insurgents have been reported killed in battles with Afghan and foreign troops in the southern provinces of Uruzgan and Kandahar.
Late last month, a riot in Kabul, in which protesters attacked foreign facilities for hours as police vanished from the streets, raised concerns among many people here that the government is too weak to protect even the capital.
It seems both Karzai in Afghanistan and Maliki in Iraq have just a little time left to take charge of the situations in their respective countries. Here's wishing them luck and good fortune in their endeavors.
Now let's keep this nation safe from flag-burning, okay!!!
Sunday, June 25, 2006
Questioning The Flypaper Strategy
Here's a question on the "flypaper strategy" a competent reporter might ask President Bush at the next opportunity, or Tony Snow at Monday's press gaggle: "This administration often claims that we're fighting in Iraq so we won't have to fight terrorists here. In light of the arrests of seven men in Miami for allegedly planning domestic terrorism and seeking ties to al-Qaeda, why has the war in Iraq failed to make us safer here despite your promise that it would do so?"
Take it away, Carl Cameron....
A good question.
Even though these guys were clearly inept (they wanted boots, uniforms and walkie-talkies to fight jihad!!!), I'm glad that they're under arrest. Nonetheless, the fact that homegrown radicals (can't say Muslims because these guys hadn't even converted yet!!!) wanted to destroy parts of American infrastructure and kill their own countrymen is quite troubling for the overall war on terror. In the Madrid bombings, the London bombings, the arrests of a homegrown Canadian terrorist cell in Toronto last month and the arrrests of the Seven Stooges down in Miami, we are seeing an increase in terrorists or terrorist wanna-be's being radicalized by the Iraq war and trying to wage war against the West as a result. It is quite clear, whether the administration wants to admit it or not, that the Flypaper Strategy is now inoperative.
Today, however, the NY Times says the top commander in Iraq, General Casey, has drafted a plan to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq in September of this year. The plan is contingent upon conditions on the ground in Iraq, of course, including "the development of competent Iraq security forces, a reduction in Sunni Arab hostility toward the new Iraqi government and the assumption that the insurgency will not expand beyond Iraq's six provinces."
The withdrawl will begin two months before the November midterm elections, a date which leads many to believe the administration is planning the troop withdrawl more for political expediency than the political realities in Iraq. This article from the NY Daily News underscores that point:
A leaked memo signed by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and sent to the State Department on June 6 warns that "Islamist" militias increasingly rule the streets and the new Iraqi government is powerless to stop them.
It also reveals how isolated the embassy is - and how reliant it is on Iraqi workers to tell them what's going on outside the fortified Green Zone.
As an indication of the Iraqis' growing fears, the memo said, "We have begun shredding documents printed out that show local staff surnames. In March a few staff approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate."
The worried workers also don't trust the Iraqi guards manning the checkpoints into the Green Zone, claiming that they have become "more militia-like."
"One employee asked us to explore getting her press credentials because guards had held her embassy badge up and proclaimed loudly to nearby passersby 'Embassy' as she entered," the memo says. "Such information is a death sentence if overheard by the wrong people."
Asked about the memo, which was leaked to The Washington Post, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said,"I think it's no secret that Iraqis who work for foreign elements in Iraq have for some time been the targets of those who would seek to take Iraq backward."
Titled "Snapshots From the Office - Public Affairs Staff Show Strains of Social Discord," the memo describes the daily trials of the embassy's nine Iraqi workers.
"Some of our staff do not take home their American cell phones, as this makes them a target," it states. "Planning for their own possible abduction, they use code names for friends and colleagues and contacts entered into Iraq cell phones."
The cable makes clear that America has not won the hearts and minds of even the embassy workers' families. Fearing retribution from relatives, some of the workers have kept their employment by the U.S. Embassy a secret.
In the case of a Sunni Arab female employee, "mounting criticism of the U.S. at home among family members also makes her life difficult. She told us in mid-June that most of her family believes the U.S. - which is widely perceived as fully controlling the country and tolerating the malaise - is punishing populations as Saddam did."
Their resolve has been sapped further by the difficulties of living in the middle of a guerrilla war. "One colleague told us he feels 'defeated' by circumstances," the memo says.
The cable also suggests Iraq is coming under the control of Islamic fundamentalists who are terrorizing the country's mostly secular society.
Two of the three female Iraqi workers reported an increase since May of "harassment over proper dress and habits" and warnings not to drive or use cell phones. "Some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative," the memo says.
Women aren't the only targets of prudish militiamen. "It is now dangerous for men to wear shorts in public; they no longer allow their children to play outside in shorts," according to the memo.
The leaked Khalilzad memo makes quite clear conditions on the ground are getting worse, not better, in Iraq in the short term.
So how does the administration and its GOP compatriots plan to square the Casey troop withdrawl plan that is contingent upon progress in Iraq with the Khalilzad memo that says things are deteriorating without being called "cut-and-runners"?
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Buchanan: A Textbook Example of Why We Are Hated in The Arab World
“Why do they hate us?” So stunned Americans asked, after 9/11, when we learned that across the Arab world, many were saying, “The Americans had it coming.”
For a textbook example of why we are hated, consider Gaza and the West Bank. There, a brutal Israeli/U.S.-led cutoff in aid has been imposed on the Palestinians for voting the wrong way in a free election.
Immediately after Hamas’s victory, Israel halted the $55 million a month the Palestinian Authority received as its share of tax and customs revenue. Israel demanded Europe and the U.S. also end all aid to the PA until Hamas renounces terror, recognizes Israel, and disarms.
President Bush, though he was conducting a worldwide crusade for democracy and had urged that the Palestinian elections be held and Hamas participate, obediently complied. For months now, U.S. and European aid to the PA, half its budget, has been halted.
The early returns are in. “Surgeons at Gaza’s biggest hospital,” says the Financial Times, “have suspended non-essential surgery for lack of sutures, laboratory kits and anesthetics.” Environmental protection agency workers have no money for petrol to monitor sewage and industrial waste entering the water supply. Some 150,000 civil servants, 60,000 of them armed security personnel, have gone unpaid for months.
Woodrow Wilson called sanctions “the silent, deadly remedy.” Its victims are always the sick, the elderly, the women, and the children.
In March, the World Bank predicted the aid cutoff would lead to a 30 percent fall in average personal incomes among the Palestinians. The bank now considers that prediction “too rosy” and expects “the worst year in the West Bank and Gaza’s recent dismal economic history.”
Already, violent clashes have broken out between Hamas and Fatah. There is a danger of collapse of the Palestinian Authority, chaos, and a need for the Israeli army to intervene anew to restore order. Finally, May 9, under European pressure, the U.S. relented and a trickle of aid began to flow.
Query: who, besides al-Qaeda and recruiters of suicide bombers, can conceivably benefit from persecuting the Palestinian people like this? Does President Bush or Condi Rice think the Palestinians will respect an America that did this to their children, after we urged this election, called for Hamas to participate, and preached our devotion to democracy?
“The aid cut-off appears to be increasing anti-U.S. sentiment here,” writes the Post’s Scott Wilson, quoting 33-year-old pharmacist Mustafa Hasoona: “The problem is the West, not us. If they don’t respect democracy, they shouldn’t call for it. We are with this government we elected. I voted for it.”
According to the Financial Times, Hamas is winning converts for refusing to buckle. Said Khalil Abu Leila, a Hamas leader, “They have misunderstood the Arab mentality. As long as the pressure increases on Hamas, the more popular it will become.”
The White House says we don’t negotiate with terrorists. But when we had to, we did. FDR and Truman summited with Stalin at Yalta and Potsdam. Nixon met with Mao in Beijing. Kissinger negotiated with the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese at Paris. Bush I allied with Assad in the Gulf War. Clinton had Arafat to the White House too many times to count.
Rabin and Peres shared a Nobel Prize with Arafat. Netanyahu gave him Hebron. Barak offered him 95 percent of the West Bank.
Bush’s agents negotiated with the architect of the Lockerbie massacre to persuade Colonel Khaddafi to give up his WMD. In 2004, Bush’s men called it a victory for Bush diplomacy. Khaddafi’s regime had been at the top of the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror.
The purpose of U.S.-Israeli policy today is to punish the Palestinians for how they voted and to force Hamas to yield or to collapse its government. How does such a policy win hearts and minds for America?
Terrorism has been described as waging war on innocents to break their political leaders. Is that not a fair description of what we are doing to the Palestinians? No wonder they hate us.
The more you watch the Bush administration work its brand of foreign policy magic in the world, the more you have to wonder whether they really are trying to win the hearts and the minds of the Arab world (and thus the war on terror) or if they're really just happy to have some generational conflict to replace the Cold War (and thus enrich themselves and their military-industrial complex buddies as well as win at the ballot box by using fear.)
I'm starting to think Bush, Cheney, Rummy et al. are in it for the money and the political benefits. Certainly Karl Rove is. But actually trying to win the hearts and minds of the Arab world in the war on terror? Not so much for that.
Constitutional Abuses and Political Expediency
The National Security Agency has been tracking the calls of millions of Americans and constructing the “largest database ever assembled in the world,” USA Today revealed on May 10. The nation’s biggest telephone companies have apparently turned over masses of personal records to the feds, allowing Uncle Sam to build up a database of the phone numbers of incoming and outgoing calls of Americans. The revelations blew to smithereens the Bush administration’s story that only international calls were being tapped without a warrant as part of its so-called “terrorist-surveillance program.”
Bush announced on the day the story came out, “The intelligence activities I authorized are lawful.” However, this may be the result of Cheney logic—that the Supreme Commander has the right to do whatever he feels necessary to protect the public. (The New York Times noted that Cheney and his top aides had been the most aggressive advocates of warrantless wiretaps and rounding up Americans’ phone data.)
In his weekly radio address two days later, Bush sought to quell the controversy: “This week, new claims have been made about other ways we are tracking down al-Qaeda to prevent attacks on America.” Yet unless one considers every American presumptively an al-Qaeda accomplice, the domestic phone intercepts have nothing to do with tracking down al-Qaeda. Bush also declared, “We are not trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.” Unless the vast majority of Americans are guilty, there is no way to assert that the feds are not trolling through millions of innocent people’s lives.
The administration’s credibility is also undermined by its tactics to suppress independent evaluation or investigation of its surveillance. The White House has continuously insisted that its terrorist-surveillance program has been thoroughly reviewed by the Justice Department to determine its legality. (Prior to the Bush administration, the courts, not federal agencies, were supposed to be arbiters of the lawfulness of agencies’ actions.) But on May 10, Congress was notified that the Bush administration had effectively scuttled an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), the agency’s watchdog, into “whether DOJ lawyers had behaved unethically by interpreting the law too aggressively—by giving a legal green light to coercive interrogations and warrantless eavesdropping,” as Newsweek reported. The Bush administration thwarted the investigation by refusing to grant security clearances to the lawyers investigating the department’s actions. Attorney General Gonzales announced that the OPR investigation was unnecessary because the department had already decided the warrantless wiretaps were legal—despite the objections of Deputy Attorney General James Comey and at least one Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge. Gonzales explained, “We don’t want to be talking so much about the program that we compromise the effectiveness.” He offered no evidence that the OPR had been infiltrated by al-Qaeda.
The Bush team is counting on the “national security” invocation to provide a get-out-of-jail card for any abuses. The Justice Department sought to get a federal judge to dismiss much of the EFF lawsuit, claiming that “the lawfulness of the alleged activities cannot be determined without a full factual record, and that record cannot be made without seriously compromising U.S. national security interests.” Thus, it is no longer safe to permit Americans to know what the government is up to. National security requires that the government have unlimited right to deceive the American people about how far it is intruding into their lives. EFF lawyer Kevin Bankston observed that the feds are “basically saying that no one could ever go to court to stop illegal surveillance so long as they claim it’s for national security. It leaves them completely unaccountable and leaves the communications companies that are colluding with them unaccountable.”
It is amusing to see Republican stalwarts and media stooges pooh-pooh concerns about the feds tracking each citizen’s phone calls. But how would the White House react if someone acquired and published all the records of incoming and outgoing calls to Karl Rove? Creating a database of all the phone calls made and taken by members of Congress could be helpful in future bribery and corruption scandals. Yet there is no chance in Hades that representatives and senators would ever permit other Americans to see such personal data—while many congressmen sneer at citizens who don’t want the feds to have such data on them.
Unfortunately, most Americans seem incapable of recognizing the danger of permitting politicians and government agents to compile dossiers on their personal lives.
Americans do not understand the implicit Miranda warning on any such surveillance scheme: any information the feds stockpile can be used against people the government does not like—or people the government seeks to silence or suppress. If Americans acquiesce to the feds warehousing their phone-call data, this will simply encourage the seizure of far more personal information. (The NSA indicated that the calling data is being shared with other federal agencies.)
The media reaction has been short and relatively mild. This is appalling, considering that the FBI appears to be using National Security Letter subpoenas (authorized by the Patriot Act) to round up the calling data of journalists suspected of having received leaks on CIA abuses. ABC News reporter Brian Ross suggested on his blog that the feds are tracking the calls of numerous newspaper and TV reporters to determine who was receiving leaks from government officials. Perhaps some journalists are afraid to criticize the government or perhaps they fear losing access to government officials—or perhaps they simply don’t give a damn.
The latest revelations are not the end of the story. Instead, they are simply one in a series of revelations of the feds ignoring both the statute book and the Constitution. Former NSA intelligence officer Russ Tice warned that people “are only seeing the tip of the iceberg” of domestic-surveillance abuses. Seymour Hersh reports in the new issue of The New Yorker that a government consultant informed him that “tens of thousands have had their calls monitored in one way or the other,” including the use of computers to listen for key words in their conversations.
The roundup of domestic calling records is part of a pattern of aggressive seizures of information by the Bush administration, which successfully pressured America Online and MSN to turn over the records of how millions of people had used their computer search engines. Google resisted similar federal demands, but the feds recently turned up the heat. The Justice Department claims the information is necessary to produce evidence to justify reintroducing the Child Online Protection Act, which has been struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Technology expert John Dvorak suggests that it is plausible that the government is gathering up the search histories for purposes unrelated to child-porn crackdowns.
The combination of the phone-call data and the online-search records would go a long way to creating Total Information Awareness (TIA). When the Bush administration first pushed TIA as a ticket to safety in 2002, a public uproar awoke Congress and forced the administration to formally shelve efforts to track almost every area of people’s lives. But the feds apparently ignored any congressional orders to cease and desist.
The terrorist surveillance program is the result of a personal edict issued by the president. What other National Security Presidential Directives might Bush have issued? How many laws must be violated before citizens recognize that the government is fundamentally lawless?
I say again: if this were the Clinton administration aggressively collecting phone call records, online search records, and financial transactions of millions and millions of Americans and suppressing any kind of independent review of those programs, the very members of the GOP now declaring these Bush administration programs legal and necessary would be screaming "Unconstitutional!!!" and "Black Helicopters!!!"
The GOP defense of these programs is both cynical and hypocritical and it all comes down to "Whatever my party's preznit does is okay by me as long as it helps my incumbency."
And that's why it is so refreshing to read The American Conservative magazine. As a progressive, I do not always agree with the points of view expressed in the magazine. But I do appreciate the intellectual honesty and the principled stands taken by the editorial staff and the writers in the magazine.
At least they stand for something other than political expediency.
BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 23 — At least 12 worshipers died Friday as they left prayers at a Sunni mosque when a bomb exploded in Hibhib, the northern town where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed on June 7 by a pair of 500-pound bombs dropped by American warplanes.
Neither eyewitnesses nor an Interior Ministry official who confirmed the bombing could say if there was any connection to Mr. Zarqawi. But officials have warned of increased violence in the aftermath of his death.
The bombing came as the Iraqi government declared an afternoon curfew that nearly emptied the streets of cars, after gun battles in central Baghdad among local militias and Iraqi and American forces.
At least four Iraqis were killed in that fighting, the official said.
Deadly violence also reached the Iraqi south, when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a line of people buying gasoline near a police station in Basra, killing four others, police officials there said. It was the fifth suicide bombing in Basra, a formerly placid port city, since the American-led invasion, and the second this month.
Recent days have been particularly bloody for the American military, which reported five more deaths on Friday, for a total of nine in two days. Two soldiers were killed Friday morning when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb southeast of Baghdad, the military said, and two marines died in combat in the western desert, in Anbar Province. One soldier died in an episode not related to combat, the military said.
Also on Friday, five bodies found floating in the Tigris River at Baghdad were determined to be the first confirmed deaths from the kidnapping on Wednesday of 50 to 100 people from a factory in Taji, a town just north of Baghdad.
Hope had risen when the kidnappers released some of the captives, and Iraqi police officers found 17 more alive during a raid on a farm. Dozens of others remain missing.
In addition, the Times reports that an affluent neighborhood in Baghdad analogous to the Upper East Side in Manhattan has been invaded by insurgent violence. The Times says the insurgent violence, once centered in Western Baghdad, is now spreading across the city:
BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 23 — Mansour is Baghdad's Upper East Side. It has fancy pastry shops, jewelry stores, a designer furniture boutique and an elite social club.
But it is no longer the address everyone wants.
In the past two months, insurgents have come to Mansour to gun down a city councilman, kidnap four Russian Embassy workers, shoot a tailor dead in his shop and bomb a pastry shop.
Now, Mansour, a religiously mixed area just three miles from the fortified Green Zone, feels more like wartime Beirut than Park Avenue, and its affluent residents worry that the wave of violence that has devoured large swaths of Baghdad has begun encroaching on them.
"It's falling to the terrorists," said Hasaneen F. Mualla, director of the Hunting Club, Mansour's social center. "They are coming nearer to us now. No one is stopping them."
For most of the past six months, Iraq drifted without a government and its security forces largely stood by and watched at crucial moments, like the one in February when Shiite militias killed Sunnis after the bombing of a sacred shrine.
Now, as Iraqi leaders in the Green Zone savor their recent successes — the naming of the first full-term government since the fall of Saddam Hussein and the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Iraq's most wanted guerrilla leader — Iraqis outside its walls are more frightened than ever. Neighborhood after neighborhood in western Baghdad has fallen to insurgents, with some areas bordering on anarchy. Bodies lie on the streets for hours. Trash is no longer collected. Children are home-schooled.
The paralysis that shut down life in western Baghdad is creeping ever closer to the heart of the city, and Iraqis in still-livable areas are frantic for the government to halt its advance, something the new leadership pledged to do when it started its new security plan for Baghdad last week.
"It's like a cancer, spreading from area to area," said a guard at Delta Communications, a Mansour cellphone shop that has been shuttered since a bomb blast in front of it last month.
The administration and the Maliki government have been desperate to build on the Zarqawi killing and the naming of the first full-term Iraqi government. The Maliki government in particular has taken extraordinary steps to bring security to troubled areas of Iraq by adding thousands of Iraqi troops to the areas and imposing curfews and limits on vehicular traffic.
The scary thing is, the steps may be coming too late. While the Iraqi government and the Bush administration understandably try to spin the conditions in country as "progress," articles like the two posted above seem to belie those claims.
According to the London Times, the Maliki government is reportedly set to offer Sunni insurgents a 28 point"peace plan" that offers inclusion into the political process and "amnesty" for if insurgents agree to lay down arms and renounce violence. If Sunni insurgents agree to the plan, the government will also offer:
a finite, UN-approved timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq; a halt to US operations against insurgent strongholds; an end to human rights violations, including those by coalition troops; and compensation for victims of attacks by terrorists or Iraqi and coalition forces.
It will pledge to take action against Shia militias and death squads. It will also offer to review the process of “de-Baathification” and financial compensation for the thousands of Sunnis who were purged from senior jobs in the Armed Forces and Civil Service after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
The idea behind the offer is to separate Sunni insurgents from the Al Qaeda terrorists and jihadis and help forge a fragile coalition that could end the majority of the sectarian violence in the country. The plan may be the best, last-ditch effort to generate a positive outcome in Iraq.
The sticking point is the amnesty part of course, since it would also include amnesty for Sunni insurgents who have killed American soldiers during the war and occupation. And the amnesty plan should be a sticking point to this plan. While I can intellectually understand why it is essential to offer amnesty to Sunni insurgents, I cannot support it. Forget the political implications for a minute (and you can bet if a Democratic administration were set to offer amnesty to insurgents who have killed American soldiers during a war/occupation, Karl Rove and the GOP would use that repeatedly during the next six election cycles.) Just on a practical level, what message do you send to the rest of the terrorists in the world by rewarding insurgents who have killed American soldiers in Iraq with amnesty? Isn't that a mixed message that suggests terrorists can be rewarded for their crimes under certain circumstances?
In my opinion, the Maliki government and the Bush administration are going to have to figure out some other plan to Sunni insurgents that does not contain amnesty. And if the Bush administration insists that it must reward insurgents for killing American soldiers during the war in order for the plan to work, than they will have to be made to pay at the ballot box.
Which means both the Maliki government and the Bush administration still have their work cut out for them if they want to bring Sunni insurgents into the political process and end much of the sectarian violence across the country.
A Perfect Mid-Term Election Year Speech for Democrats...
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Republicans intent on safeguarding power in Washington have drifted from the values of the Reagan presidency and ushered in an era of reckless spending and government growth that threatens to drive them from office, U.S. Sen. John McCain said in prepared remarks Friday.
"Why has our party, the party of small government, lately adopted the practices of our opponents who believe the bigger the government the better? I'm afraid it's because at times we value our incumbency more than our principles," the Arizona Republican said in a speech to be delivered at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
"We came to office to reduce the size of government. Lately, we have increased the size of government in order to stay in office," McCain said. "Soon, if we don't remember what we were elected to do, we will lose both our principles and our office and we will leave as part of our legacy a mountain of debt and bankrupt entitlement programs that our children's grandchildren will be suffering from."
McCain's obviously trying to make points with conservatives for 2008 here, but his speech at the Reagan library, with just a minor revision or two, could be used by Democrats as the perfect indictment of one-party GOP rule.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Beheadings and Other Violence in Afghanistan
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — A purported spokesman for the Taliban said Friday that the militant group had beheaded four Afghans it accused of spying for U.S.-led forces.
The men were abducted at gunpoint by armed men and their headless bodies were dumped in the southern province of Zabul and found Thursday and Friday, said Ali Khail, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
A man who identified himself as a Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousof Ahmadi, contacted The Associated Press by telephone and said the Taliban beheaded the four men because they had been spying for Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces. Khail denied the victims were spies, saying they were civilians with no links to the Afghan government or coalition forces.
Beheadings are not common in Afghanistan. The headless bodies of three police officers were found in late May in the south, several weeks after the decapitated body of an abducted Indian engineer was dumped by a road.
In northeastern Afghanistan, a Danish military convoy ferrying the Scandinavian country's defense chief was hit by a roadside bomb, the Danish army said. No one was wounded, but the blast lightly damaged an armored vehicle carrying the country's army chief, who was visiting a Danish unit.
Afghanistan is in the grips of its deadliest spate of violence since the Taliban's ouster in 2001. President Hamid Karzai has decried the intense violence in the south, which since May has left more than 600 people dead, mostly militants.
Afghanistan is an awful lot like Iraq junior these days, isn't it?
State of Emergency in Baghdad
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- The Iraqi government declared a state of emergency in Baghdad Friday, the prime minister's office said, after clashes broke out in a central district.
It also imposed a 2 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew, sending residents of the capital scrambling to get home before it took effect.
The prime minister's office did not immediately give more details about the state of emergency, but it was announced after police said gunmen opened fire on a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol in the Shwaka district of central Baghdad.
The patrolling forces returned fire and sealed off the area as they clashed with the gunmen, Iraqi army Maj. Ihssan Abdul Hamza said.
Can martial law be far behind?
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Irony of the Day
WASHINGTON (AP) - The government agency charged with fighting identity theft said Thursday it had lost two government laptops containing sensitive personal data, the latest in a series of breaches encompassing millions of people.
The Federal Trade Commission said it would provide free credit monitoring for 110 people targeted for investigation whose names, addresses, Social Security numbers - and in some instances, financial account numbers - were taken from an FTC attorney's locked car.
The car theft occurred about 10 days ago and managers were immediately notified. Many of the people whose data were compromised were being investigated for possible fraud and identity theft, said Joel Winston, associate director of the FTC's Division of Privacy and Identity Theft Protection.
I have an idea: How about we stop putting confidential personal data onto fucking laptops. Laptops get stolen. PCs in government agencies, banks, and credit card companies rarely get
stolen. The info can get hacked or stolen via the Net, but a good security system ought to be able to prevent this from happening too often. Therefore, confidential personal information on pcs good, confidential personal information on laptops bad.
And I don't want to hear that people have to take this info on the road with them. If they can't protect the info on the laptops, then they shouldn't be given the priviledge of taking it with them.
It's called being responsible.
It's late and I'm tired, so I'm sure I'm missing a very good reason why confidential information has to be put on laptops. But I'm sick of hearing stories about people's info being stolen because of negligence.
Feds Checking Bank Data Without Warrants Or Subpoenas
WASHINGTON, June 22 - Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials.
The program is limited, government officials say, to tracing transactions of people suspected of ties to Al Qaeda by reviewing records from the nerve center of the global banking industry, a Belgian cooperative that routes about $6 trillion daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges and other institutions. The records mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas or into and out of the United States. Most routine financial transactions confined to this country are not in the database.
The program, however, is a significant departure from typical practice in how the government acquires Americans' financial records. Treasury officials did not seek individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas to examine specific transactions, instead relying on broad administrative subpoenas for millions of records from the cooperative, known as Swift.
That access to large amounts of sensitive data was highly unusual, several officials said, and stirred concerns inside the administration about legal and privacy issues.
"The capability here is awesome or, depending on where you're sitting, troubling," said one former senior counterterrorism official who considers the program valuable. While tight controls are in place, the official added, "The potential for abuse is enormous."
I want to ask one question from my right-wing friends about some of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism pograms: if this were the Clinton administration listening to domestic phone calls without warrants, tracking hundreds of billions of other phone calls and collating the info into one big-ass database, holding "terror suspects" in perpetuity without ever bringing charges against them, and tracking the financial information of Americans without warrants, would you still support these programs?
Increase In War Crimes Incidents in Iraq
WASHINGTON (AP) — Seven Marines and a sailor have been charged with murder in the April death of an Iraqi civilian, the Marine Corps said Wednesday.
All eight also were charged with kidnapping, according to a Marine statement issued at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Other charges include conspiracy, larceny and providing false official statements.
Separately, the U.S. military in Iraq announced that murder charges were filed against a fourth Army soldier in the shooting deaths May 9 of three civilians who had been detained by U.S. troops. Spc. Juston R. Graber, 20, of the 101st Airborne Division was charged with one count of premeditated murder, one count of attempted premeditated murder, one count of conspiracy to commit murder, and making a false official statement.
On Monday the military had announced that three soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division were charged with murder and other offenses in connection with the May 9 killings. It was not clear why charges against the fourth soldier were not announced until Wednesday.
In the case of the April killing of an Iraqi civilian, the allegation is that Marines pulled an unarmed man from his home on April 26 and shot him to death without provocation. Seven Marines and one Navy corpsman from the Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment were taken out of Iraq in late May and put in the confinement at Pendleton pending the filing of charges.
The case is separate from the alleged killing by other Marines of 24 Iraqi civilians at Haditha last November. A pair of investigations related to that case are still underway and no criminal charges have been filed.
Knight-Ridder war correspondent Joe Galloway said there are no bad soldiers in war, only bad leaders. The responsibility for these incidents lies with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the military brass.
Just like with Abu Ghraib.
The tone was set by the administration and the Pentagon that "harsh techniques" are okay as long as you don't get caught. We know Dick Cheney is a big fan of torture and mistreatment of "terror suspects" and suspected insurgents. Hell, Preznit Bush himself urged "harsh interrogation" of a prisoner at Gitmo. Do what you have to do, just be smart about it, right?
The only problem is, when the abuse incidents and killing of innocents start to mount and embarrass the United States, the administration and the Pentagon need to make a point by prosecuting a few marines and soldiers. That's what they're doing here.
But the people who set the tone and developed the policies?
There's no responsibility for them.
Iraq News: Hussein Lawyer Killed, Mass Kidnapping of Gov't Workers,
BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 21 — Saddam Hussein's trial on crimes against humanity was struck by new violence on Wednesday when a senior lawyer on his defense team was abducted, beaten and shot to death. The defense lawyer was the third to be killed since the trial began in October, and the 10th person associated with the court trying Mr. Hussein to be killed in the last 18 months.
According to his widow, the lawyer, Khamis al-Obeidi, 39, was asleep when at least 10 gunmen in civilian clothes stormed their home in the mostly Sunni Arab district of Slaikh at 7 a.m. and pulled him from bed within view of his three school-age children.
Witnesses said men linked to a Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, drove the lawyer through the streets of the Shiite slum of Sadr City shouting, "Terrorist!" before shooting him on a stretch of wasteland, then gathered around his corpse shouting, "Let Saddam save him now if he can!" and, "This is the fate of those who defend Saddam Hussein!"
Only hours after Mr. Obeidi's killing, an Islamic militant group said in a Web posting that it had killed four kidnapped Russian Embassy workers. The Mujahedeen Shura, or Council of Holy Warriors, a group that says it represents Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other insurgent groups in Iraq, said its Islamic court had "carried out God's judgment" and executed the men. Rita Katz, director of the SITE Institute, a Washington-based group that tracks Islamic militant Web sites, said the posting was characteristic of previous Qaeda announcements in Iraq and appeared authentic.
Also on Wednesday, as many as 50 armed men, some wearing police uniforms, abducted between 50 and 100 workers as they ended their day's work at a government-run industrial zone at Taji, a town on Baghdad's northwestern outskirts that is the site of a major American military base and an area where Qaeda groups have been active.
The Associated Press reports that 17 of the kidnapped workers were freed when Iraqi police stormed a farm where they were being held. As many as 30 others had been released earlier by the kidnappers. There is also some doubt about the Web posting announcing the death of the four Russians. As of mid-day, the AP reports there have been no major terrorist attacks or insurgent activity in Baghdad on Thursday.
That's the good news from Iraq today.
The bad news is the military announced the deaths of four marines in Anbar province on Tuesday and a soldier south of Baghdad on Wednesday. Coalition casaulties are actually down to less than 2 a day for the month of June. 40 coalition troops have been killed in Iraq this month. 38 have been Americans. 2,511 Americans have been killed since the war began.
The deaths continue to mount. The GOP parrotheads in Congress continue to read from the RNC talking points and talk about "Staying the Course," but "Staying the Course" is not changing conditions on the ground in Iraq. The situation is not getting better. Mike at Crest calls the current Iraq policy "Stand and Bleed". John Murtha calls it a "failed policy wrapped in illusion."
Whatever you want to call it, it certainly is bloody.
Afghanistan Continues To Head South
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged the international community to reassess its approach to the war on terror Thursday, saying the deaths of hundreds of Afghans in fighting with U.S.-led forces was “not acceptable.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced the deaths of four American soldiers in eastern Afghanistan.
A clearly frustrated Karzai said the approach being taken by coalition forces to hunt down militants does not focus on the roots of terrorism itself.
“I strongly believe ... that we must engage strategically in disarming terrorism by stopping their sources of supply of money, training, equipment and motivation,” Karzai said during a press conference.
In recent weeks, Afghan and coalition forces have launched a massive anti-Taliban operation across four southern provinces aimed at killing or capturing fighters blamed for an upsurge in violence.
More than 600 people, mostly militants, have been killed in recent weeks as insurgents have launched their deadliest campaign of violence in years. At least 14 coalition soldiers have been killed in combat since mid-May.
It seemed like this war was over at one time, didn't it? But it's not. As bad as Iraq is going, the United States can not afford to have a full-scale insurgency in Afghanistan. We're not there yet. But the situation in Afghanistan is not getting better right now.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Hagel: Cut Out The Catchy Political Slogans That Debase The Seriousness Of The War
Congress fails in its duty when we do not probe, when we fail, we do not ask tough questions, and we fail when we do not debate the gate issues of our day. There is no issue more important than war. The war in Iraq is the defining issue on which this Congress and the administration will be judged. The American people want to see serious debate about serious issues from serious leaders. They deserve more than a political debate. This debate should transcend cynical attempts to turn public frustration with the war in Iraq into an electoral advantage. It should be taken more seriously than to simply retreat into focus-group tested buzz words and phrases like “cut and run,” catchy political slogans that debase the seriousness of war. War’s not a partisan issue, Mr. President. It should not be held hostage to political agendas. War should not be drug down into the political muck. America deserves better. Our men and women fighting and dying deserve better.
Now tell that to Karl Rove, Jon Kyl, John Kerry, and some of the other schmucks looking to make political hay over the war with phrases like "Cut and Run" and "Lie and Die."
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
ABC News: "Full War" In Afghanistan
The United States military is quietly carrying out the largest military offensive in Afghanistan since U.S. troops invaded the country in 2001.
"The Taliban has made a comeback, and we have the next 90 days to crush them," said a senior U.S. military official.
The offensive, "Operation Mountain Thrust," involves almost 11,000 U.S. troops and is focused on four southern Afghanistan provinces.
The Taliban has re-emerged as the Afghan government "has created vacuums of power" says the official. Proceeds from the growing opium trade in the region has helped the Taliban obtain new weapons and pay local officials.
90 days to crush them. Gee, I hope the 11,000 U.S. troops are enough for the military to complete the mission. I bet the four southern Afghanistan provinces cover a lot of land.
Preznit Orders "Harsh Interrogation" of Mentally Ill Al Qaeda Figure Who Knew Nothing Of Major Terror Plots
Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" -- a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail "what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said." Dan Coleman, then the FBI's top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality."
Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics -- travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States." And over the months to come, under White House and Justice Department direction, the CIA would make him its first test subject for harsh interrogation techniques.
"I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety -- against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each . . . target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."
Oh, yeah - that story makes me feel safer in the battle against terrorism. I'm glad we tortured the crazy guy until he detailed a whole variety of imaginary terror plots that the Feds had to spend time, money and manpower checking out.
Listen, I'm not saying the administration shouldn't use some heavy-handed techniques to obtain usable intelligence against Al Qaeda and/or other terrorist organizations. But the above anti-terrorism technique seems a bit, uh, counterproductive.
Of course, they may not have cared much about getting usable (and real) intelligence out of Abu Zubaydah. Maybe Abu Zubaydah's primary value was as p.r. prop to show how well the war against terror was going.
As a New Yorker who lives near Times Square and the port where many of the ocean liners come in, I really am concerned about terrorism. I want the administration to take a strong tack against the terrorists. But often times, I feel like the "war on terror" is more about domestic politics than keeping the nation safe from terrorist attacks.
Let me give you an example: before the 2004 election, my girlfriend and I used to see helicopters flying by our windows hourly. I mean that quite literally. There was always an increased police presence wherever you went in the city and there seemed to be a new terror alert every couple of weeks. The biggest one I remember was the alert about the Citicorp Building on the East Side. It turned out later that the alert was b.s. The "intelligence" detailing a supposed Al Qaeda plot against the Citicorp Building and a few other places was more than 3 years old and dated back to before 9/11. Then, after the presidential election was completed and Bush was re-elected, the terror alerts stopped. So did the helicopter flights. The police presence was decreased too.
Now perhaps Al Qaeda only wanted to hit America before the 2004 Presidential Election, but I don't believe that. Perhaps the anti-terror personnel are still out and about in NY, but now they're incognito and undercover. I can believe that some of the police personnel are undercover (I saw a homeless guy chase a purse snatcher a while ago and thought there's something you don't see every day until I realized the "homeless guy" was an undercover cop.) But so many of them? And what happened to the helicopters and the terror alerts? The only terror alert we've had since the presidential election was called by Mayor Mike Bloomberg during his own re-election campaign last October and the Feds called that one bullshit themselves. And cutting the city's anti-terror funding by 40% is just insane. even the Republicans from the NY area, like Peter King, are outraged by that administration decision.
No, I really do feel less than safe from terrorism these days. The more I learn about how this administration fights the war on terror, the less safe I feel. I am pretty confident about the NYPD. I'm pretty confident about the Port Authority cops. Maybe that's because my dad was a PA cop and I knew a lot of those guys to be real pros.
But as for the administration...
UDATE: Andrew Sullivan on the revelationns Suskind's book that Bush ordered the torture of Abu Zubaydah, a mentally ill low-level Al Qaeda figure, then lied about it and covered it up:
I trusted this president after 9/11. How can anyone trust him if Ron Suskind's account is true? The president lied to the people of this country, and then tortured a mentally ill man for information he didn't have; and covered his tracks. This shallow, monstrous, weak, and petty man is still the president. God help us.
I didn't bother writing about my outrage over the torture order, the lying or the cover-up. I figured people already figure that's par for the course with the Preznit, the VP, and the rest, so why bother?
But it's nice to see some people outside of the left are still capable of outrage over this kind of shit. Not to mention that, as John McCain has said so amny times, harsh interrogation techniques and torture don't work precisely because the prisoner tells his captors exactly what he thinks they want to hear to get the pain and torture to stop. That seems to be exacly what Abu Zubaydah did. Which means the intelligence gathered is worse than worthless.
With US Bogged Down In Iraq, Taliban Wages "Full-Blown Insurgency" in Afghanistan
PANJWAI DISTRICT, Afghanistan — In their biggest show of strength in nearly five years, pro-Taliban fighters are terrorizing southern Afghanistan — ambushing military patrols, assassinating opponents and even enforcing the law in remote villages where they operate with near impunity.
"We are faced with a full-blown insurgency," says Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil & Fundamentalism in Central Asia.
Four and a half years after they overthrew the Islamic militia that had controlled much of Afghanistan, U.S.-led forces have been forced to ramp up the battle to stabilize this impoverished, shattered country. More than 10,000 U.S., Canadian, British and Afghan government troops are scouring southern and eastern Afghanistan in a campaign called Operation Mountain Thrust.
Even before fighting heated up this spring, Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, warned Congress that the insurgents "represent a greater threat" to the pro-U.S. government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai "than at any point since late 2001."
The article says the Taliban are not nearly strong enough to topple the Karzai government at this point in time, but a long-term insurgent war may be in the offing for the Karzai government and the NATO troops in Afghanistan. Given that the U.S. still has 130,000+ troops in Iraq, the Pentagon can't be thrilled by the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. Just how many tours of duty can the U.S. expect out of its all-volunteer army to handle these ongoing (and worsening) insurgencies?
Missing GI's Found Dead
BAGHDAD, July 20 -- Two U.S. soldiers missing since an attack on a checkpoint last week have been found dead near a power plant in Yusifiyah, south of Baghdad, according to U.S. officials, and Iraqi officials say the soldiers had been tortured.
Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Muhammed-Jassim, head of operations at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, said the soldiers had been "barbarically" killed. U.S. officials would not confirm or deny that the men, who were identified Monday as Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore., had been tortured by their captors.
"Coalition forces have in fact recovered what we believe to be the remains of our two soldiers," said Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, at a Baghdad news conference.
Caldwell said the bodies were found Monday night after dark but were recovered early Tuesday because of concern of makeshift bombs around the bodies.
Caldwell said the area was cordoned off overnight and explosive ordnance teams went in the next day to recover the remains. He said the remains have been taken to a U.S. base in Iraq and will be transported back to the United States for DNA verification and full autopsies.
I don't know what "barbarically killed" means exactly, but it sounds fucking horrific.
Monday, June 19, 2006
It's late and I'm brain dead from proctoring a four hour special education exam in a room that was 105 degrees and had only one working window, so I don't think I can pass judgment on the Truthout claim. I can say that something along the lines of "I wonder if Fitz threatened indictment of Rove in order to get cooperation out of him?" passed my mind before. After Luskin revealed that Fitz had announced to Rove that he wouldn't seek an indictment against him, I thought that sounded a little too convenient and the most likely explanation was that Rove had made a deal to cooperate against somebody else in the investigation. I still think, even after the denials from Rove's side about any deal between Rove and Fitz, that an informal deal could have been made between the two sides.
I will say it's awfully funny how Rove hasn't been jumping up and down criticizing Fitzgerald for hanging him by a thread all these months, the way J-Pod at National Review did last week. I'd bet Rove and his lawyer, Luskin, are being a little more circumspect because Rove knows he barely escaped indictment and he doesn't want to risk pissing Fitz off.
Insurgents Claim They Grabbed Two U.S. Soldiers
BAGHDAD, June 19 -- More than 8,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops scoured villages south of Baghdad on Monday for two soldiers missing since an attack four days ago, as an insurgent group linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed that it had abducted the Army privates.
The claim was made in an Internet posting by the Mujaheddin al-Shura Council and could not be verified. Maj. Todd Breasseale, a Marine spokesman in Baghdad, said that the soldiers' whereabouts remained unknown and that "there is no indication that any reports of a kidnapping are authentic."
The military identified the missing soldiers as Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore. They were attacked at a checkpoint near Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad. A third soldier, Spec. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., was killed in the incident.
Coming on the heels of the Zaraqwi killing, I really worry for what these fuckers might do to these two soldiers. If insurgents/terrorists really did capture them, they're going to want to make a point to the American public, and they're going to want to make it gruesome.
I hope the 8,000 troops looking for these soldiers find them soon.
Tony Snow's Battle of the Bulge
The president understands people's impatience — not impatience but how a war can wear on a nation. He understands that. If somebody had taken a poll in the Battle of the Bulge, I dare say people would have said, 'Wow, my goodness, what are we doing here?' But you cannot conduct a war based on polls.
Now here's Josh Marshall's response:
For those of you who aren't familiar with the reference, the Battle of the Bulge took place as the Allies were moving across France and Belgium several months after D-Day. The Germans launched a counter-offensive the strategic objective of which was to force the allies to give up their goal of unconditional German surrender and force them to come to some sort of negotiated peace. The German effort was initially successful, opening up a large salient or 'bulge' within the allied lines. But the allies eventually recovered the lost ground. And I believe the general consensus is that the whole battle greatly accelerated the Nazis' eventual collapse because they lost a lot of armor and other resources in the effort.
In any case, you don't need to know those details to understand one key fact. The Battle of the Bulge began in the middle of December 1944. And it was over by the end of January 1945. So the whole thing lasted less than six weeks. It must have been an eternity for the American and British soldiers in this incredibly hard-fought battle in sub-zero temperatures. But in terms of time, or what Snow terms 'impatience', it's simply not comparable to the last three years in Iraq.
As for polls, I don't know about public polls. But the US government kept very detailed tabs on public opinion and war morale through the war. So I suspect something at least analogous to Snow's hypothetical poll was done. And I'm confident that it showed very few if anyone saying anything like that.
Snow's point isn't just historically silly, it's morally obtuse and cynical. It shows as much contempt for the public as the White House seems to have for our soldiers in the field. For the United States, the situation in Iraq is close to unprecedented in the last century in terms of the duration of time an American president has left a war policy on autopilot while more and more evidence comes in that it's simply not working. Even in Vietnam, for all the mistakes the US made there, Richard Nixon kept escalating the conflict. There's at least some strategic movement on the policy brain scan. I'm not saying that's preferable. And I don't want to get into an argument about bombing Cambodia. But it is at least different from letting a flawed policy grind through money and men for three years because you don't have the moral courage to rethink it or adjust course. It's denial elevated to the level of high principle.
Remember what the president said: getting out of Iraq is something that's going to be up to the next president. He or she can get started in 2009.
The spin on Iraq is coming fast and furious from the administration and its apologists. They're trying desperately to show the Zarqawi killing and the forming of the Maliki government is major progress in the war and they're trying to wrest enough patience on the Iraq issue out of the American people to get them through the midterm elections.
These desperate moves aren't really about winning the war in Iraq, of course. As Josh Marshall notes, Preznit Bush has already decided that's going to be up to the next preznit (John McCain? George Allen? Mitt Romney?)
No, the administration and it's apologists need patience from the American people because they don't want to lose control of one or both houses of Congress in the November midterms.
In other words, this is all about domestic politics. Thus, the rhetorical excesses (i.e., the Iraq war is just like the Battle of the Bulge.)
It's so much more difficult to deal with a murderous insurgency during a long occupation than it is to invade a country and make it to Baghdad in a few weeks.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Missing GIs Likely Taken Hostage Says Iraqi Foreign Minister
BAGHDAD, June 18 -- Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Sunday that two U.S. soldiers missing after an insurgent attack south of Baghdad appeared to have been taken captive, while U.S. troops searched for their comrades for a second day.
"Hopefully they will be found and released as soon as possible," he said on CNN's "Late Edition."
The U.S. military said Saturday that soldiers at a checkpoint heard small-arms fire and explosions during an attack in the town of Yusufiyah at 7:15 p.m. Friday, and a quick-reaction force reached the scene within 15 minutes. The force found one soldier dead but no sign of the other two.
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, said blocking positions were established throughout the area within an hour of the attack to keep suspects from fleeing. He also said divers would search a Euphrates River canal near the attacked outpost.
All we can do is hope and pray this turns out all right for these two soldiers. Pat Buchanan said yesterday morning on MSNBC that if these two soldiers show up on Al Jazeera in shackles and orange jumpsuits with machete-wielding masked psychos above them, the administration is going to lose what little good will it got out of the Zaraqwi killing.
Clearly the administration is worried about just that. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow complained about the media coverage of the two missing soldiers on Fox News Sunday today (via Think Progress):
The thing is the way the war is being covered — and we’ve seen it right now, we have two U.S. servicemen, and god bless them, we hope they’re okay. We’re focusing on them and we forget that since Zarqawi was killed, hundreds of bad guys have been rounded up, there has been a lot of intelligence. The Iraqis have gone ahead mobilized 50,000 men going in the five Baghdad neighborhoods. There is a lot going on there.
Last week when the 2,500th U.S. military personnel was killed in Iraq, Snow said 2,500 was just "a number". Now Snow is complaining about the media coverage of the two missing soldiers. He would rather the media focus on administration-friendly numbers (READ: SPIN), like the alleged body count of insurgents the military has killed lately or the alleged number of Iraqi defense personnel mobilized in Baghdad. But the two missing soldiers and the number of American casualties (now 2,503) - that Snow would rather the media ignore.
Anyway, let's all think good thoughts for these two missing soldiers and their families tonight (as well as for all the other military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families here at home.)
And let's all think bad thoughts for Tony Snow, who would no doubt be Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person In The World" today if Olbermann were broadcasting tonight. Snow's even more evil and dehumanized than I remember him being on Fox News Sunday all those years ago before he was diagnosed with colon cancer and was forced to leave the show.
Cutting Through The Spin
And that's really the point about all of this: it's one big bullshit show. Rove's p.r. offensive calling the Dems "cut-and-runners," the "debate" held in the House this week on the Iraq war where Republicans thumped their chests and called Dems "defeatists" for not sticking by the preznit's "plan for victory" in Iraq, even the Zarqawi killing and the WH press offensive that came on the heels of that (including a visit to Baghdad by the preznit) all contribute to the perception that the WH and the GOP have turned things around, but the reality is much different.
The Zaraqawi killing didn't decrease the violence in Iraq. Despite new security measures implemented by the al-Maliki government, the number of terrorist suicide bomb incidents in Iraq remains high, the number of sectarian killings remains high, the carnage remains high. Just today, militants kidnapped 10 bakery workers in Baghdad and a militant group linked to Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the bombs that killed 43 people yesterday in Iraq. It is indicative that Bush's visit to Iraq had to remain secret and limited to deep in the Green Zone, just as in November 2003, because the insurgency would target him if they had known he was there. It is also no accident that two American soldiers were taken prisoner by insurgents after a surprise attack on their Humvee south of Baghdad just two weeks after Zarqawi was killed. It seems clear the insurgents in Iraq, both Al Qaeda and the homegrown Sunnis, are letting the U.S. and the Iraqi government know nothing has changed and they can attack and kill virtually at will.
Karl Rove's p.r. offensive to smear Democrats as "defeatists" may help the GOP retain power after the fall midterms. And we should certainly never underestimate the Democrats' ability to fuck things up. But no matter whether the GOP wins or loses in the November midterms, their p.r. offensives don't mean anything to the reality in Iraq. Reality cannot be manipulated. For three years now, the situation in Iraq has worsened. The Preznit's "Stay the course" policy has not worked. If the administration wishes to continue with the policy as is, they become the real "defeatists". Because as John Murtha said this morning on Meet The Press, the administration's Iraq policy is a "failed policy wrapped in illusion." You can fool people for a while with propaganda and p.r. offensives and other gimmicks. But at some point, the situation in iraq has to get better. At some point, the situation in Afghanistan also has to stabilize (2 more Americans were killed in Afghanistan yesterday and the U.S has carried out 340 airstrikes against Taliban insurgents over the past 3 months, more than double the number carried out in Iraq, as fighting with the Taliban intensifies.) And if those two things don't happen, then all the propaganda and p.r. offensives in the world won't save this preznit from being the guy who screwed up two wars. And currently, both these wars/occupations are becoming more unstable, not more stable.