Thursday, March 31, 2005

War News for Thursday, March 31, 2005 Bring ‘em on: One US soldier, two Iraqi civilians killed in Mosul car bomb attack. Bring ‘em on: One US soldier killed in Baghdad patrol ambush. Bring ‘em on: One US Marine killed by land mine near Qaim. Bring ‘em on: Three Romanians, one US citizen taken hostage in Baghdad. Bring ‘em on: Shiite pilgrims attacked by gunmen near Mahaweel. Bring ‘em on: Shiite pilgrims attacked by gunmen near Latifiyah. Bring ‘em on: One Iraqi soldier killed, 10 wounded in car bomb attack near Kirkuk. Bring ‘em on: US convoy attacked by car bomb near Abu Ghraib. Bring ‘em on: Six Iraqis killed in attack on police checkpoint near Mosul. Bring ‘em on: Seven Iraqis killed in ambush of US patrol in Mosul. Bring ‘em on: Iraqi police captain assassinated in Mosul. Bring ‘em on: Two Iraqi soldiers killed in car bomb attack near Samarra. Bring ‘em on: Three Shiite pilgrims killed, 19 wounded by car bomb near Tikrit. Bring ‘em on: Six Iraqi policemen wounded in car bomb ambush near Basra. Torture policy. “The Iraqi government's unprecedented admission that its police tortured and killed three Shi'ite Muslim militiamen while they were in custody has set off angry complaints from newly elected Shi'ite legislators who are engaged in a political battle for control of the police. Shi'ite leaders have beamed gruesome images of the dead men to Iraqi television sets, displaying their bruised, scarred bodies as an argument for radically reshaping the police force, which is crucial to the fight against the country's bloody insurgency.” Sunni cleric sounds off. “But in a rare interview, conducted Monday through an interpreter in his office at the mosque, Mr. Dari made clear that he would continue to view the armed resistance as legitimate until the American military offered a clear timetable for its withdrawal - a condition very unlikely to be met. ‘We ask all wise men in the American nation to advise the administration to leave this country,’ he said. ‘It would save much blood and suffering for the Iraqi and American people.’ The courting of Mr. Dari is part of a broad effort to engage the Sunni Arabs, who make up a fifth of Iraq's population and supplied its ruling class under Mr. Hussein. The Shiite and Kurdish leaders who dominate the new national assembly and are now struggling to form a governing coalition say part of the delay has been caused by negotiations over which ministries should be granted to Sunnis.” This is progress? “Malnutrition rates in children under five have almost doubled since the US-led invasion - to nearly 8% by the end of last year, it says.” Thanks to alert reader Mark. Tony Blair, you’ve been Google-bombed. (Via Bloggerheads.) Commentary Opinion: “The tension between Rumsfeld and the uniformed military has been an open secret in Washington these past four years. It was compounded by the Iraq war, but it began almost from the moment Rumsfeld took over at the Pentagon. The grumbling about his leadership partly reflected the military's resistance to change and its reluctance to challenge a brilliant but headstrong civilian leader. But in Iraq, Rumsfeld has pushed the services -- especially the Army -- near the breaking point. The military is right that the next chairman of the JCS must be someone who can push back.” The article also contains this revelation: “Critics think Myers sometimes erred in sounding too dutifully supportive, as in comments he made during an April 2004 visit to Iraq. The insurgency had exploded so violently then that there was contingency planning to evacuate the Green Zone.” (Emphasis added.) Thanks to alert reader go long into the day. Opinion: “In 1944, the GI Bill was viewed as an investment in our future -- and what an investment it proved to be. Eight million veterans tapped educational benefits, and their impact on the colleges and the nation's economy as they poured into the workforce was phenomenal. The home loan guarantees had a similar impact on the economy and society in general. It makes no sense at all that Congress votes all the money the Defense Department asks for to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but is cheap when it comes to the young men and women who wear the uniform and risk their lives for our country. It is high time for Congress to draft a new GI Bill for this new generation of war veterans who are just as deserving of our support as were their grandfathers and fathers in their day.” Sorry, vets, our Republican Congress is too busy sucking up to crazy right-wing religious loons to worry about upgrading your GI Bill benefits. Opinion: “Yet, since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the ability of the Iraqis to shape their own political destiny has been compromised by U.S. interventions. While hawking democracy, the Americans have not trusted Iraqis to choose the right leaders or to enact the right laws. Hence, their endless tinkering with the machinery of governance, their unilateral promulgation of 100 laws under the Coalition Provisional Authority, and their imposition of an ‘interim constitution’ that now constrains political life. In recent months, the American press has barely mentioned this ‘interim constitution’ or Transitional Administrative Law, signed in March 2004. Written behind closed doors by American legal experts and handpicked Iraqis, it is this document that has complicated the efforts of elected Iraqi representatives to choose a Presidency Council. The relevant provision requires that the new president and the two deputies must be chosen by two-thirds of the National Assembly.” Opinion: “When U.S. service members are accused of wrongdoing, they are investigated and, if necessary, court-martialed. That's not the case with civilians who are generally not covered by the laws of their home countries for crimes committed abroad. The Iraqi legal system could hold them to account, but in practice Baghdad won't do anything that might lead to an exodus of foreign firms. Dozens of U.S. and British soldiers have been prosecuted for misconduct in Iraq — but not a single contractor. A lack of accountability leads to occurrences such as those described by four former Custer Battles employees who claim that poorly trained Kurds on the firm's payroll killed innocent motorists. In one incident, a guard supposedly fired his AK-47 into a passenger car to clear a traffic jam. In another, an aggressive driver in a giant pickup truck allegedly pulverized a sedan with children inside. When true (the firm denies any wrongdoing), such incidents only create more insurgent recruits.” Casualty Reports Local story: Four Mississippi Guardsmen wounded in Iraq.


Wednesday, March 30, 2005

War News for Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Bring ‘em on: One person killed and seventeen others wounded, five seriously, in Kirkuk car bombing targeting a Kurdish official. Another Kurdish official escaped an assassination attempt on Saturday.

Bring ‘em on: Three Iraqi soldiers injured in car bombing east of Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Two Iraqi soldiers and four guerillas killed in two hour firefight in Al-Touz. Three Iraqi truck drivers executed by guerilla group, video of killings released. US Embassy in Bucharest announces that it has received report that an American was kidnapped along with the three Romanian journalists mentioned yesterday. Director of South Oil Company survived an assassination attempt in Basra. One Iraqi contractor killed and his driver injured east of Balad. Three farmers injured in roadside bombing in Al-Is’haqi.

Bring ‘em on: Four civilians killed in bomb attack aimed at a US Humvee on a bridge in Mosul, no word on US casualties. Convoy of security forces ambushed in Mosul, police claim they killed 17 attackers and captured 14.

“Non-hostile”: One US Marine killed in a “non-hostile incident” in Iraq. The statement said the soldier died "in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom."

Executions: A video surfaced Tuesday on the Internet showing three drivers who said they worked for a Jordanian trucking company being shot by gunmen claiming to belong to a militant Islamic group in Iraq.

The three men were shown being shot in the back of the head in a desert-like area. The identities and nationalities of the men were unclear due to the poor quality of the tape, but their accents appeared to be Iraqi.

"We don't see any difference between them and the Americans," a statement attached to the video said. "On the contrary, they work night and day in aiding the Americans to find the houses and locations of the mujahedeen (holy warriors)."

Kidnapping: One of three Romanian journalists abducted Monday night near their Baghdad hotel later sent a text message to her newsroom saying, "Help, this is not a joke, we've been kidnapped." Petre Mihai Bacanu, managing editor of Romania Libera, said the three had disappeared shortly after interviewing interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Bacanu said no group had claimed responsibility and no ransom demand had been made.

Iraqi security forces: Over the past 18 months, Washington's estimate of the number of trained Iraqi security forces has gyrated up and down as if it were a stock market index.

In April of 2004, for instance, the Defense Department estimated that 206,000 Iraqi security forces were in place. But that number simply reflected personnel on the payroll - many of whom were either administrative officials, or otherwise unprepared to fight. So a year ago the Pentagon revised its Iraqi force figure downward, to 132,000.

By September of 2004, the number had crept back up to 160,000. But further investigation proved that this figure included substantial numbers of people who protect facilities - in essence, night watchmen. In addition, some trained forces did not have equipment rendering them able to fight.

So last fall the number was revised downward again, to 90,000, Rear Adm. William Sullivan, Vice Director for Strategic Plans and Policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a House hearing. "We are just now beginning ... a qualitative assessment of how the various Iraqi security forces are doing, modeling it after the kinds of systems we use for our own military to measure unit readiness," said Adm. Sullivan.

Due to missteps and a misjudgment about the strength of the insurgency at its onset, the US really did not begin a concerted training effort until 10 months ago, said Cordesman. "The Iraqis actually involved in shaping Iraq's new forces are not pessimistic," he noted. "Most believe that Iraqi forces are growing steadily better with time, will acquire the experience and quality to deal with much of the insurgency during 2005, and should be able to secure much of the country by 2006." Fundamentalists: Celia Garabet thought students were roughhousing. Sinan Saeed was sure a fight had erupted. Within a few minutes, on a sunny day at a riverside park, they realized something different was afoot. A group of Shiite Muslim militiamen with rifles, pistols, thick wire cables and sticks had charged into crowds of hundreds at a college picnic. They fired shots, beat students and hauled some of them away in pickup trucks. The transgressions: men dancing and singing, music playing and couples mixing.

That melee on March 15 and its fallout have redrawn the debate that has shadowed Iraq's second-largest city since the U.S. invasion in 2003: What is the role of Islam in daily life? In once-libertine Basra, a battered port in southern Iraq near the Persian Gulf, the question dominates everything these days, from the political parties in power to the style of dress in the streets. Iraqi Politics

Crisis: Iraq's parliament erupted in acrimony at only its second sitting on Tuesday and journalists were thrown out after legislators berated leaders for failing to agree on a new government, two months after elections.

When parliamentarians were told that despite last-minute talks that delayed the session no agreement had been reached, even on the post of parliamentary speaker, several stood up to say leading politicians were letting down the Iraqi people.

"The Iraqi people who defied the security threats and voted -- what shall we tell them?" Hussein al-Sadr, a politician in the bloc led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, asked the assembly before the news blackout.

As the meeting grew heated, the interim speaker ordered journalists to leave and Iraqi television abruptly switched to Arab music. Allawi walked out of the session shortly afterwards.

"You can say we are in a crisis," Barham Salih, a leading Kurdish politician, told reporters.

Allawi walks out: Prime Minister Iyad Allawi walked out of a meeting of Iraq's parliament on Tuesday after angry scenes erupted, with assembly members berating Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders for failing to agree on a government.

The speaker of parliament ordered journalists to leave and declared the meeting would be held in secret, after politicians -- one of them a leading member of Allawi's bloc -- denounced a failure to reach agreement two months after the historic Jan. 30 polls.

Deadlines move back: At immediate issue was the appointment of a speaker for the 275-member parliament. But the broader concern was the failure to form a transitional government and start work on a new Iraqi constitution.

With the setback yesterday, the seating of a government remains several days if not weeks away. And leading officials admitted that a mid-August deadline for the writing of the constitution now seems impossibly optimistic.

Instead, they predicted, the assembly ultimately would have to invoke a clause in the transitional law giving it an extra six months to work. That would delay full elections for a permanent government, perhaps until June 2006.

"Realistically you cannot write a constitution in three and a half months," said Hajem al-Hassani, the interim minister of industry and minerals who is a member of the largest — with only five seats — Sunni bloc in the assembly. "Some people say we have lots of things in common, but I think this is just wishful thinking. It is going to be very difficult. There are going to be lots of negotiations."

Writing the constitution is expected to be a far thornier process, with far greater implications, than setting up an interim government that is scheduled to hold office only until the end of 2005. Yet the Shiites and Kurds have spent weeks negotiating and renegotiating issues of authority, territory and money.

Public reaction: After a chaotic session yesterday that was delayed for nearly three hours, then abruptly closed to the public, the Sunni Arab minority – dominant under former dictator Saddam Hussein and believed to be the backbone of the insurgency – was given until Sunday to come up with a candidate to serve as speaker.

“We saw that things were confused today, so we gave (the Sunnis) a last chance,” said Hussein al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric and member of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s coalition. “We expect the Sunni Arab brothers to nominate their candidate. Otherwise, we will vote on a candidate on Sunday.”

Iraqis, already frustrated with drawn-out negotiations, were angered by the meeting.

“They haven’t been able to even name a parliament speaker, so how will they rule Iraq when they’re only after their personal interests and gains?” said 35-year-old Sunni Sahib Jassim, a college student. “They don’t care about the Iraqi people.”

More public reaction: Iraqi voters aren't happy. They don't care that some of the biggest political changes ever to happen in their lifetime are going on in their country. All they know is that the electricity still is off for hours every day, the water doesn't always flow out of the faucets, there are still long gas queues at the stations, and the situation still seems pretty lawless in the streets.

"We're very disappointed," said Hathem Hassan Thani, 31, a political science graduate student at Baghdad University. "Some personalities are trying to make the political operation fail, and they don't want to give positions to the Sunni Muslims."

"The Iraqi people are very itchy. The street is very nervous," said Saad Jawar Qindeel, a spokesman for the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of two dominant religious-based parties that won the United Iraqi Alliance ticket. "There's a lot of talk of people ready to protest."

Commander Codpiece weighs in: President Bush, on a day of political turmoil in Baghdad, acknowledged Tuesday that Iraqis are divided over the future of their country but said the differences "will be resolved through debate and persuasion instead of force and intimidation."

In Baghdad, the fledgling parliament failed to agree on who would be its speaker in a chaotic session that exposed deep divides among the National Assembly's Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish members who were elected Jan. 30.

Bush called Tuesday's session "another step on the road to a free society" and said the United States looks forward to working with the government that emerges.

So exactly why is it that the Iraqis must settle their internal differences through debate and persuasion but we got to settle our differences with Iraq through force and intimidation?

Our new model for the Arab world: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has alarmed many reformist Arabs with comments suggesting a new U.S. approach that promotes rapid political change without regard for internal stability.

Rice said in an interview with the Washington Post last week the Middle East status quo was not stable and she doubted it would be stable soon. Washington would speak out for "freedom" without offering a model or knowing what the outcome would be.

"This a very dangerous scheme. Anarchy will be out of control," said Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science at Cairo University and an advocate of gradual change.

A liberal Arab diplomat, who asked not to be named, said: "They seem to be supporting chaos and instability as a pretext for bringing democracy. But people would rather live under undemocratic rule than in the chaotic atmosphere of Iraq, for example, which the Americans tout as a model."

Helena Cobban, a writer on Middle East affairs based in the United States, said: "She (Rice) reveals a totally cavalier attitude to the whole non-trivial concept of social-political stability in Middle Eastern countries."

"So it looks as though Arc of Instability may now actually be the goal of U.S. policy, rather than its diagnosis of an existing problem," she added.

Yes, that’s the same Helena who regularly graces our comments section. Kudos to her for being a voice of sanity. We might add to her analysis that that the interim rules established by the CPA all but guarantee a deadlock in forming a permanent Iraqi government and there are also credible reports that the Shiite votes were deliberately undercounted to ensure that they couldn’t muster a majority without a coalition, thus rendering the whole situation even more unstable.

Traitor Bob explains: Determination high in the Bush administration to begin irreversible withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq this year is reinforced by the presence at the State Department of the most dominant secretary since Henry Kissinger three decades ago. Condoleezza Rice is expected to support administration officials who want to leave even if what is left behind does not constitute perfection.

Amid the presidential campaign's furious debate over Iraq, I reported last Sept. 20 ("Quick exit from Iraq is likely") about strong feeling in the policymaking apparatus to get out of Iraq in 2005 even if democracy and peace had not been achieved there. My column evoked widespread expressions of disbelief, but changes over the last six months have only strengthened the view of my Bush administration sources that the escape from Iraq should begin once a permanent government is in place in Baghdad.

Traitor Robert Novak is a revolting excuse for a human being and he belongs in prison but he does have excellent sources throughout the Bush administration. This column is worth a read to help put the above articles into a perspective. It would be just like the Busheviks to declare victory and pull out enough troops to make it look credible just in time for the 2006 elections. You can’t get more cynical than this crew. Weapons of Mass Destruction

It’s final – it’s all the CIA’s fault: The final report of a presidential commission studying U.S. intelligence failures regarding illicit weapons includes a searing critique of how the CIA and other agencies never properly assessed Saddam Hussein's political maneuverings or the possibility that he no longer had weapon stockpiles, according to officials who have seen the report's executive summary.

The report particularly singles out the Central Intelligence Agency under its former director, George Tenet, but also includes what one senior official called "a hearty condemnation" of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, two of the largest intelligence agencies.

The report particularly ridicules the conclusion that Mr. Hussein’s fleet of “unmanned aerial vehicles,” which had very limited flying range, posed a major threat. All of those assertions were repeated by Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior officials in the prelude to the war. To this day, Mr. Cheney has never backed away from his claim, repeated last year, that the “mobile laboratories” were probably part of a secret biological weapons program, and his office has repeatedly declined to respond to inquiries about whether the evidence has changed his view.

But does the report address the pressure put on intelligence agencies by the administration? Does it discuss Cheney’s multiple completely unprecedented visits to CIA headquarters in the run up to the war? Does it address the stovepiping of overhyped intelligence from little Dougy Feith’s office to the highest levels? For that matter, does it even mention the construction of parallel intelligence analysis operations in the Pentagon intended to counter the conclusions of legitimate intelligence agencies? Preconceived conclusions: The report examines factors that might have led to errors, the official said, such as whether policy-makers were seeking preconceived conclusions, whether foreign intelligence agencies had reached similar conclusions and whether analysts had little information to work with.

The panel considered a range of intelligence issues going beyond Iraq, including congressional oversight, satellite imagery and electronic snooping. Among numerous soft spots, officials familiar with the findings say "human intelligence" — the work of actual operatives on the ground — is lacking.

New doubts: A presidential commission that's investigating U.S. intelligence failures in Iraq has concluded that many of the same weaknesses that plagued American efforts to investigate Saddam Hussein's regime are preventing the United States from collecting accurate intelligence on Iran's and North Korea's nuclear programs.

One official who's intimately familiar with the commission's work described the report as "unusually blunt." It's expected to raise new doubts about the reliability of U.S. intelligence on North Korea and Iran, in addition to those already prompted by the lack of evidence to substantiate many of the Bush administration's charges about Iraq's weapons programs and ties to terrorism.

We lost the real ones: The world now knows that Iraq had no threatening WMD programs. But two years after US teams began their futile hunt for weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has something else: a landscape of ruined military plants and of unanswered questions and loose ends, some potentially lethal, a review of official reporting shows.

''There is nothing but a concrete slab at locations where once stood plants or laboratories," the Iraq Survey Group said in its final report. But that report from inside Iraq, 986 pages thick, is at times thin on relevant hard information and silent in critically important areas.

Days after the report was issued last fall, for example, news leaked that tons of high-grade explosives had been looted a year earlier from the Iraqi complex at Al-Qaqaa. It was a potential boon to Iraq's car bombers, but the US document did not report this dangerous loss.

Similarly, the main body of the US report discusses Iraq's al-Samoud 2, but it does not note that many of these ballistic missiles have not been found. Only via an annex table does the report disclose that as many as 36 Samouds may be unaccounted for in the aftermath of the US-led invasion.

Speaking of hacks – Judith Miller: Bonnie Powell of the university’s news center reported that Miller acidly proclaimed journalists “are not perfect. We’re not saints. But try running a functioning democracy without a free press.” And who better to make the case regarding non-sainthood, following her dangerously wrong 2002-2003 reporting on WMD in Iraq, which at times was based on outright collusion with confidential sources in and out of government who had wanted the United States to invade Iraq?

She repeated several times at Berkeley (I have watched the video) her excuse that “you go with what you’ve got,” when referring both to her WMD sources and the unidentified leakers she is now protecting in the Plame case. Miller carries on with her now-tired argument that if she was duped by her unnamed sources on WMD, well, so was the Bush Administration.

Despite her eloquent passion in defense of freedom of the press, her historical revisionism on the WMD story, when passing off such falsehoods, boggles the mind.

Creeping Stalinism

Not further substantiated: U.S. officials say one terror suspect imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay is a former Iraqi soldier and al-Qaida member who plotted with an Iraqi intelligence agent in August 1998 to attack the American and other foreign embassies in Pakistan with chemical weapons.

There is no public record of such an attempt being made, although the Islamabad embassy staff was reduced that month amid heightened security concerns following the Aug. 7 truck bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

These accusations are contained in a two-page "summary of evidence" presented to the Iraqi for his appearance before a Combatant Status Review Board at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba late last year. The evidence was meant to convince the three-member review board — which has heard all 558 detainee cases at Guantanamo Bay — that the government properly classified him as an "enemy combatant."

The assertion that the Iraqi was involved in a plot against embassies in Pakistan is not further substantiated in the document. It states only that he traveled to Pakistan in August 1998 with a member of Iraqi intelligence "for the purpose of" striking at embassies with chemical mortars.

The proof keeps piling up – this is official policy: The top U.S. commander in Iraq authorized prisoner interrogation tactics more harsh than accepted Army practice, including using guard dogs to exploit "Arab fear of dogs," a memo made public on Tuesday showed.

The Sept. 14, 2003, memo by Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, then the senior commander in Iraq, was released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which obtained it from the government under court order through the Freedom of Information Act.

"The memo clearly establishes that Gen. Sanchez authorized unlawful interrogation techniques for use in Iraq, and in particular these techniques violate the Geneva Conventions and the Army's own field manual governing interrogations," ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh said in an interview.

Freedom of the Press

We don’t kill journalists and when we do it’s an accident: The US military has acknowledged it was responsible for killing two journalists working for Dubai-based satellite channel al-Arabiya who were shot close to a checkpoint in the Iraqi capital earlier this month.

Al-Arabiya cameraman Ali Abd al-Aziz died on 18 March from a gunshot wound to the head. Correspondent Ali al-Khatib died from his wounds in hospital the next day. Both were Iraqis.

Colleagues said US troops fired on their car near a checkpoint in central Baghdad. The US military initially said it was unlikely its bullets had killed them.

On Monday, a US military official said an investigation into the deaths showed troops were responsible, but had acted "within the rules of engagement".

US soldiers were aiming at a different car, a white Volvo that had driven through the checkpoint at high speed, the investigation said.

Or it’s their own damn fault: Amid the furor over the incident in which U.S. troops wounded an Italian reporter and killed an Italian intelligence agent, the Pentagon has appointed a brigadier general to head an investigation and says the Italians can participate in it. The results are expected in three to four weeks. Not all run-ins between the military and the press get that kind of attention.

On April 8, 2003, a U.S. tank shell hit Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, where many reporters were staying. Two cameramen were killed. In the immediate aftermath, the military said insurgents had been firing from the hotel. The story changed in the official investigation four months later, which said troops fired at an enemy spotter seen at the hotel. "They fired a single round in self-defense in full accordance with the rules of engagement," the report found, adding, "Baghdad was a high-intensity combat area, and some journalists had elected to remain there despite repeated warnings of the extreme danger of doing so."

But studies of the incident by both Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists found that the military failed to alert troops to who was in the hotel. The CPJ report wonders how the tank crew managed to see the glint of binoculars—which the troops suspected were being used to spot them—but not the numerous TV cameras set up on the hotel's balconies.

Main Battle Tank

Eighty? Wow…: The U.S. military's Abrams tank, designed during the Cold War to withstand the fiercest blows from the best Soviet tanks, is getting knocked out at surprising rates by the low-tech bombs and rocket-propelled grenades of Iraqi insurgents.

In the all-out battles of the 1991 Gulf War, only 18 Abrams tanks were lost and no soldiers in them killed. But since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, with tanks in daily combat against the unexpectedly fierce insurgency, the Army says 80 of the 69-ton behemoths have been damaged so badly they had to be shipped back to the United States.

At least five soldiers have been killed inside the tanks when they hit roadside bombs, according to figures from the Army's Armor Center at Fort Knox, Ky. At least 10 more have died while riding partially exposed from open hatches.

The Price

Homeless vet: When "Iraqi Freedom" began, Private First Class Herold Noel was a soldier in the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, pounding a path into Baghdad. "I fought for this country," he said. "I shed blood for this country. I watched friends die." And like so many, Herold Noel came home a hero, but he wound up homeless.

Lost opportunity: Matthew Brown has wanted to be a police officer since he was 8 years old.

He came within 10 days of fulfilling that dream in December 2003, but his Army Reserve unit was called to duty in Iraq before he was sworn in to the Peoria Police Department.

Brown, serving as a first lieutenant with the Bartonville-based 724th Transportation Company, earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for leadership in Iraq.

But the 26-year-old also lost his left eye during an ambush last year that killed two other members of his unit. As a result, he will never get a police badge in Peoria; the department requires officers to have vision in both eyes.

Dying for Halliburton: Tony Johnson died in a gun battle near Baghdad International Airport. But Johnson was not a soldier; he was a truck driver for Halliburton. His family claims he died because the company decided to endanger his life in its pursuit of profit.

On Tuesday, nearly one year after his death, Johnson's ex-wife and daughter brought a federal lawsuit against Halliburton. It is just the first of what is expected to be a string of lawsuits to be filed against the Houston-based company by families of the men who lost their lives on one fateful day in April, 2004.

Johnson was one of 19 truck drivers carrying fuel for the United States military from Camp Anaconda to the airport. The convoy soon drove straight into a major gun battle on what has become the world's most dangerous highway. Two hours later six drivers were dead, one had been kidnapped and one had disappeared. Only 11 made it to their destination alive.

Johnson's daughter April and ex-wife Kim want the world to know that these men were willfully misled by Halliburton, both about the dangers of working in Iraq and their rights to protect their own lives.

Female soldiers: Death has claimed a record number of female soldiers serving in the U.S. military in the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Despite rules that have prohibited women from fighting on the front lines, female soldiers in these conflicts are facing virtually the same risks as men because of the nature of these missions and because of overall troop shortages in Iraq, some military analysts say. In light of this -- and in response to charges that the military has failed to adequately protect its female soldiers -- the House Armed Services Committee is preparing a report on the feasibility of assigning women to combat-related positions.

The report -- due this spring -- has stirred debate on how female soldiers should serve alongside men and whether the military can and should uphold rules meant to minimize women's risks.

This Is Pathetic

We got a “D”: Since 1977, the United States State Department has issued an annual global report card called the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

The document has long been a thorn in the side of authoritarian governments, including China's, which responds with a nettled review of its own, called "The Human Rights Record of the United States," the 2004 version of which was recently released.

China's assessment, unlike the sober State Department tome, is a frank indictment and draws a picture of America that approaches caricature. But that doesn't mean it won't buttress the negative image of the United States held by its critics around the world.

This is revolting. The bloody-handed perpertrators of the Teineman Square massacre can castigate the US for human rights violations and it's actually credible. This is where George Walker Bush has brought us.


Comment: At the end of this week’s edition of ABC’s “This Week,” in a discussion that felt like the discussion the week before and the week before that, it was noted that the Hill seems strangely silent in protesting the war.

In fact, as an InterPress Service report noted, “No leading politician from the opposition Democratic Party participated in the anti-war protests, nor made any speeches at the rallies. The event was organized by a nationwide coalition representing an array of grassroots community peace and social justice groups.”

Not surprisingly, the absence of members of the political elite in the streets was mirrored by the paucity of coverage in the elite press- which is not particularly partial to covering grass roots activism. The New York Times focused on one small civil disobedience protest at a military recruiting office in Times Square, just down the street from the Times office. A protest at the Times itself may have made real news.

There were more anti-war actions in more cities than ever but that proliferation of protest or the presence of military families at the protests seemed not too newsworthy. A media that routinely plays down the size of all protests in this case seemed to be obsessed with nothing more than their size, as in the protests were “smaller than ever.” What were they saying?

Editorial: News coverage of the unfortunate Florida woman sidelined all major stories — the war in Iraq, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the Lebanon-Syria crisis and even a coup in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan — all took second place.

And fact should raise concerns among people who expect the US to remain focused on international issues. American foreign policy has consistently been accused of suffering from attention deficit disorder.

Those who rely on the support of the US around the world worry that domestic issues may, at a moment’s notice, derail the attention needed, as is currently the case in the Middle East. Palestinians worry that the US could be sidetracked from the peace talks, during which time the Israelis would try and put through plans for additional housing units in the West Bank, as is happening in Maaleh Adoumim. Or, as some Lebanese worry, that pressures on Syria to continue its withdrawal might abate

In the midst of the current turmoil in Iraq, Lebanon and other parts of the world, where a discreet mix of American political pressures and nudges are needed, fears of sudden American abandonment resulting from other issues grabbing Washington’s interest has many people worried.

Book review: Not since Vietnam has foreign policy been at the center of political debate in America in the way that it is now. For two years, the U.S. has been divided by passionate arguments about whether the Iraq war was morally justifiable or politically wise. Meanwhile, the unsettled aftermath of the U.S. occupation ensures that these debates are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

Strikingly, the debate over Iraq - and about President Bush's international policies in general - has scrambled some traditional (albeit simplistic) assumptions about ideology and foreign policy. Since the time of Woodrow Wilson, moral idealism in foreign policy has generally been seen as a Democratic position. But it is a Republican president who now purports to espouse an idealistic approach to world affairs, seeking to establish a new international order on the basis of ending tyranny and advancing freedom. In pushing the expansion of democracy, Bush said in his recent inaugural speech, "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one."

By contrast, the Democratic candidate in last year's presidential election, Senator John Kerry, emphasized primarily the costly and counterproductive nature of the war in Iraq, describing it as an unnecessary distraction from the more important objective of defeating Al Qaeda. In contrast to Bush, Kerry took a position closer to the foreign policy tradition of realism - an outlook which aims at the promotion of national security, wealth, and power through conventional diplomatic means. Realists, who distrust talk of a world order based on values like democracy or self-determination, have more often been associated with the Republican political tradition.

Of course, many people opposed the war in Iraq precisely because they thought it was immoral - thus adopting an idealist anti-war view. But at a minimum, the national debate over Bush's global policies illustrates how contested the notions of national interest and morality in foreign policy have become.

Book review: Inside the Pentagon Papers tells a wonderful story, and it is a significant book today. For the effects that the Pentagon Papers controversy had on some institutions in our society seem to have worn off.

The press, for one, has retreated from the boldness it showed in 1971. The New York Times and The Washington Post have apologized for having failed adequately to examine the government's claims in the run-up to the Iraq war. The press was slow to give serious coverage to the Bush administration's assaults on civil liberty, such as the claim that the President can imprison American citizens indefinitely as alleged "enemy combatants" without trial or access to counsel. (Newspapers have more recently emerged from their torpor, for example in vigorously reporting the widespread torture of prisoners held by the US in Iraq, Guantánamo, and Afghanistan, and the Bush administration's legal memoranda that opened the way to torture. Even there, though, some of the breakthrough reporting came from Seymour Hersh and Jane Mayer in The New Yorker.)

The crucial lesson of the Pentagon Papers and then Watergate was that presidents are not above the law. So we thought. But today government lawyers argue that the president is above the law—that he can order the torture of prisoners even though treaties and a federal law forbid it. John Yoo, a former Justice Department official who wrote some of the broad claims of presidential power in memoranda, told Jane Mayer recently that Congress does not have power to "tie the president's hands in regard to torture as an interrogation technique." The constitutional remedy for presidential abuse of his authority, he said, is impeachment. Yoo also told Ms. Mayer that the 2004 election was a "referendum" on the torture issue: the people had spoken, and the debate was over. And so, in the view of this prominent conservative legal thinker, a professor at the University of California law school in Berkeley, an election in which the torture issue was not discussed has legitimized President Bush's right to order its use.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Fort Carson, CO, honors two soldiers killed in a vehicle accident in Beiji.

Local story: Jefferson City, TN, soldier killed in Kirkuk.

Local story: Seneca, PA, holding memorial service to honor local soldiers who have died in Iraq.

Local story: Watsonville, CA, native soldier killed in Ramadi, to be interred in Tulsa City, OK.

Local story: Dallas, TX, high school honors a graduate Marine killed in Iraq.

Local story: Natchitoches, LA, soldier killed in Iraq.

Local story: Summersville, WV, Marine killed in Al-Anbar province.

Medal Awarded

Local story: Tampa, FL, soldier to receive posthumous Medal of Honor.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005

War News for Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Mortar rounds land on bank of Tigris river just outside of Green Zone. One pilgrim killed and two wounded in bombing at shrine compound in Khalis.

Bring ‘em on: Three Romanian journalists feared kidnapped in Iraq.

Bring ‘em on: Seven Shiite pilgrims killed and nine wounded in car bombing on the road to Karbala.

Bring ‘em on: Suicide car bomber killed when he detonated his vehicle in the path of an American convoy in Mosul, no word on US casualties.

Bring ‘em on: A policeman and a road cleaner killed by roadside bomb in Baghdad. One policeman killed, body received by Yarmuk hospital. Two Shia pilgrims gunned down in Mahawil. Two policemen killed, ten wounded in bombing in Mussayib. Iraqi Major shot dead by US troops on highway between Najaf and Diwaniyah. One Iraqi soldier killed trying to defuse a roadside bomb in Mushahda. One person killed and another wounded in Balad when an Iraqi army unit fired on their car, suspecting they had dropped a bomb on the highway. One man shot dead and his son wounded by soldiers at a joint US/Iraqi checkpoint. One woman killed in roadside bombing in Baiji. Iraqi businessman working with US forces gunned down in Baiji.

Bring ‘em on: Iraqi driver killed when he pulled in front of a US tank in Ad Duluiyah, incident under investigation. Two Iraqi army soldiers injured when attackers opened fire on their car in Mosul. One university professor shot to death in Mosul.

Iraqi Politics

The ink's wearing off their fingers: Iraqi politicians delayed the start of a session of parliament on Tuesday for last-minute talks to try to overcome an impasse over forming a government two months after historic elections.

Officials said the sitting, the second since the assembly was elected, would now start at midday (4 a.m. EST) after talks to try to reach a deal on who would be parliament speaker.

The Shi'ite Islamist alliance that came top in the election and the Kurdish coalition that came second have been haggling for weeks over cabinet posts and the principles that should guide the new government, but little progress has been made.

Officials had hoped at least to appoint a speaker and two deputies on Tuesday, a basic step that would allow the parliament to start discussing issues even if no government was in place. But consensus was still proving elusive.

Job opening: Help wanted: A prominent Sunni Arab to take on the risky job of leading the new National Assembly — and joining the fight against Iraq's mainly Sunni insurgency. The search for a parliament speaker came up empty-handed again Monday, on the eve of only the second meeting of legislators since they were elected nearly two months ago. Negotiators left it up to Sunni politicians to come up with a candidate by noon Tuesday. If that fails, the Shiite and Kurdish political coalition will find a Sunni on their own, said Abdul-Karim al-Anzi, an official with the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance.

A prediction: It may take a few years, but Iraq will be cut up into two, possibly three, countries – and the Kurds will be the first to go.

Already, northern Iraq is hardly one with the rest of the country. In the provisional capital of Arbil, the red, green, and white Kurdish flag is everywhere; the Iraqi flag is nowhere to be seen. Signs on buildings proclaim: "Kurdistan Health Ministry" and "Kurdistan Education Ministry." The streets are patrolled – not by American soldiers in Humvees and tanks – but by Kurdish peshmerga guerillas with AK-47s. If they see someone who even looks Arab, they stop him as a suspected terrorist.

Iraqi Kurds are hardly happy with this arrangement, though. Whatever the result of negotiations over Iraq's new government, Kurds are poised to push hard for independence.

Kurds feel the United States will support them, because they continue to support the U.S. military presence in Iraq. As pressure grows for American soldiers to leave the center and south, they figure, the Bush administration will be forced to support an independent Kurdistan as the price of keeping U.S. troops, peacefully, in the north.

Security's not so hot but free enterprise is thriving: While Westerners are transfixed by the occasional kidnapping of one of their own here, Iraqis are far more vulnerable. As many as 5,000 Iraqis have been kidnapped in the last year and a half, according to Western and Iraqi security officials.

Some of the kidnappings are of Iraqis who work with Westerners, said Col. Jabbar Anwar, head of a major crimes unit in Baghdad that works extensively with American intelligence groups on kidnapping cases. But ransom is a far greater motive than intimidation, he said: the threat of death for collaboration is usually just a way to drive up the price of freedom.

Scattered anecdotal evidence suggests that the epidemic of kidnapping, especially of children, is a force like no other in driving from Iraq the educated professionals who are critically needed for the rebuilding of the country. As stoic as Iraqis often are about the perils they face in their daily lives, kidnapping contributes to the national sense of instability and fuels mutual distrust - particularly because many kidnappings rely on people close to the target who pass information on net worth, daily habits and other matters of interest to hostage takers.

The head of the office of kidnapping in the major crimes unit, Col. Faisel Ali, called kidnapping "the first and biggest problem in Iraq."

This should go over well with the Sunnis: US soldiers have stormed a women and children's hospital in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, a hospital director says.

Dr Ahmad Ibrahim, the assistant director of the city's paediatric hospital, told Aljazeera on Saturday that the soldiers entered the hospital on Friday after an explosion on Ramadi's main road. The soldiers ordered medical staff and patients to leave, he said, before destroying the hospital's doors and detaining members of staff.

The assistant director also said US troops raided Ramadi and Haditha general hospitals a few days ago, and questioned whether doctors had become military targets and if the raids were aimed at closing hospitals.

Women's rights: Female students strolled in the balmy spring afternoon through the grounds of the humanities faculty at Baghdad University yesterday oblivious to the watching man in black.

"There is a fire inside me when I see them. You could throw ice into my chest and still you would not cool it down," said Thi al-Faqar Jassim, 25, his eyes following women with uncovered heads.

He did not know who they were but knew what they were: flouters of his strict version of Shia Islam. "It is not right, they should wear the headscarf."

Mr Jassim, a third-year student of physical education, spoke not just for himself but for the conservative Shias who hope to transform the university and, eventually, Iraq.

Religious minority rights: There is another war going on today in Iraq about which little is heard. It is a war against Christianity. Christians in Iraq are a comparatively small, windling minority: fewer than 800,000, merely 3 percent out of a population of 26 million.

Though Iraqi Christians are a minuscule minority, they suffering unrelenting Muslim persecution. The Iraqi Christian population, once was more than 15 percent, decreases daily due to emigration to safety in Western countries.

Last August, five churches in Baghdad and four in Mosul were hit in a single day's attacks that killed 12 people. In October, five churches in Baghdad were hit on the first day of the Muslim month of Ramadan. In November, eight people were killed in two church bombings.

No doubt this will fuel the fires of the 'clash of civilizations' fools...

Falah al-Naqib Speaks

An optimist: As Iraqi lawmakers got ready for the second meeting of the new National Assembly since it was elected nearly two months ago, interim Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib outlined progress by the country's fledging security forces, predicting that U.S. troops would be able to slowly begin pulling out of parts of the country and that, ''hopefully, within 18 months at the most we will be capable of securing Iraq.'' ''We hope that next summer, there will be a huge reduction in the numbers of multinational patrols,'' he said. ''In some cities, there will be no foreign troops at all.''

He said Iraqi police have better intelligence on local insurgents and criminal gangs that have flourished since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion, helping reduce the number of causalities caused by car bombs and other attacks. ''I think it will collapse very soon,'' he said of the insurgency. At the same time, al-Naqib warned Iraqis to expect violence aimed at today's gathering.

How can you be two places at once when you’re really nowhere at all?: The interior minister added that Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, "has been surrounded in more than one area, and we hope for the best."

We shot them so the terrorists wouldn't blow them up: Iraq's interior minister warned citizens Monday not to hold protests, saying the gatherings were an invitation for a large-scale terrorist attack. His comments came a day after government bodyguards opened fire on a group of employees demanding higher wages, killing one person.

Interim Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, likely to be out of job once the new government takes over, said the protest was among "attempts to destabilize the situation" in Iraq. He accused the protesters of trying to enter the office of Science and Technology Minister Rashad Mandan Omar and said the bodyguards where just doing their job by protecting the official.

Haithem Jassim, one of three people injured in the melee, said the demonstrators were unarmed.

First We Exported Freedom To Iraq And Now They're Exporting Stuff Too

Another big surprise: Over the last three years, starting even before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the Jordanian terrorist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi and groups close to him developed a sort of underground railroad to smuggle zealous fighters from Europe through Turkey and Syria into Iraq—and home again, if they survived. Now those recruits have been joined by a stream of young Islamists from Western Europe who are making their own way to the battlefield. Some are looking for Paradise as "martyrs," some just for street cred back home and some for serious combat experience in urban warfare. "Those who don't die and come back will be the future chiefs of Al Qaeda or Zarqawi [groups] in Europe," says French terrorism authority Roland Jacquard.

"We're watching very closely," says Gijs de Vries, the European Union's counterterrorism coordinator. "It only takes one or two dedicated individuals to create serious damage." All over Europe, in fact, investigators now face the threat of terrorists who are virtually self-taught, organized in groups with little or no central command and united by their obsession with the jihad against Americans in Iraq. "It has become a battle cry for Islamists around the world," says Michael Taarnby, author of a report on terrorist recruiting for the Danish Justice Ministry.

Another Rhetorical Question

How many guys like this: Cpl. Isaiah Ramirez endured the rigors of Marine Corps basic training and two tours of high-risk duty in Iraq.

But since his lower right leg was shot off in January, Ramirez says he'll be happy just to walk again.

Ramirez was on foot patrol in Ramadi on Jan. 11 when he was hit above his right ankle by an anti-tank round. He said he was alert while a combat medic quickly performed a crude amputation on the city street.

"I've learned that I've got to stop thinking about the things I could have done," said Ramirez, who had planned to be a career Marine. "I'm just glad to be here."

Came to this place: The Air Force Theater Hospital, located 50 miles north of Baghdad at Balad Air Base, plays a central role in the treatment of combat trauma in Iraq. The hospital, part of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group, is a provisional structure of ventilated tents set on a cement foundation, powered by rumbling generators and fortified by sandbags and towering concrete blast walls. Many of the hospital's staff members had not treated combat trauma before arriving in Iraq; they typically spent their careers as medical professionals performing procedures like hip replacement and kidney-stone removal.

Now they handle deep flesh wounds, burst eardrums, shattered teeth, perforated organs, flash burns to the eyes, severed limbs. In addition to tending to American soldiers, the hospital treats many Iraqi National Guard members, Iraqi civilians and insurgents.

Over four days last November, when these photographs were taken, doctors and staff members at the 332nd saw a flood of injuries and casualties from counterinsurgency operations in Falluja and insurgent strikes elsewhere in the country. That month, the hospital cared for 620 patients and performed 510 operations, a 65 percent increase from the previous two months. ''These young kids are heroes,'' says Col. Joseph Brennan, a head and neck surgeon. ''Somebody's got to pay the price. And these kids are paying the price.''

A very good photo gallery with this article. I’m surprised the Pentagon let it be published.

Because of this?: In June 2003, the U.S. Army realized that it didn't have enough armored Humvees in Iraq to protect soldiers from a growing number of attacks by insurgents. By Friday, officials expect to correct that problem by having almost 22,000 armored Humvees in Iraq - up from 235 when the war began.

Why did it take the government almost two years to remedy a deficiency that the Army acknowledges was costing soldiers' lives?

An examination of Army records, correspondence with members of Congress and Pentagon documents shows that the military repeatedly underestimated the need for more armored Humvees. Even after recognizing its miscalculations, the Army was slow to order more armored Humvees, and then transported them to Iraq from its existing worldwide supply in fits and starts. Officials also failed to take full advantage of a defense contracting firm that says it could have increased production to meet the Army's needs.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has suggested the lack of armored Humvees was simply beyond the Pentagon's control.

Rumsfeld declined to comment for this story.

But it’s not his fault!: Newsweek: Do you take responsibility for any mistakes made in planning for the war in Iraq, and what do you see as the key mistakes? Dissolving the Army?

Paul Wolfowitz: There's so much finger-pointing that goes on. It's a long exercise to dissect all the things that are wrong [in what has been] said about why this has proven to be difficult. And the notion that there was no planning is simply wrong.

Now, Paul, we're not claiming there was no planning, we're just saying that the planning you did do was a miserable failure. It doesn't take long to dissect at all.

Suck It Up

Suck it up, John: Sgt. John J. Savage III, an Army reservist, was about to climb onto a troop transport plane for a flight to Iraq from Fayetteville, N.C., when his wife called with alarming news: "They're foreclosing on our house."

Sergeant Savage recalled, "There was not a thing I could do; I had to jump on the plane and boil for 22 hours."

He had reason to be angry. A longstanding federal law strictly limits the ability of his mortgage company and other lenders to foreclose against active-duty service members.

But Sergeant Savage's experience was not unusual. Though statistics are scarce, court records and interviews with military and civilian lawyers suggest that Americans heading off to war are sometimes facing distracting and demoralizing demands from financial companies trying to collect on obligations that, by law, they cannot enforce.

Suck it up, Ali: Iraq war victim Ali Abbas is “feeling unhappy” after being told he will not receive backdated disability payments, the man who brought him to Britain said today.

Zafar Khan, chairman of the Limbless Association that arranged Ali’s treatment, said the 14-year-old was suffering for the Department for Work and Pensions’ “incompetence and negligence”.

Ali applied for Disability Living Allowance last October, Mr Khan said, but received a letter early this month saying he was not entitled to back payments because his disability could not be proved before that date.

You remember this kid…lost both arms and his whole family in an air raid…but hey, he’s getting almost 75 pounds a month disability - that's like 150 bucks American! - and his country is a thriving purple-fingered democracy now, so what’s he got to bitch about…

Oil And Money, Money, Money

Iraq and OPEC: However, in plotting the destruction of OPEC, the neocons failed to predict the virulent resistance of insurgent forces: the U.S. oil industry itself. Rob McKee, a former executive vice-president of ConocoPhillips, designated by the Bush Administration to advise the Iraqi oil ministry, had little tolerance for the neocons' threat to privatize the oil fields nor their obsession on ways to undermine OPEC. (In 2004, with oil approaching the $50 a barrel mark all year, the major U.S. oil companies posted record or near-record profits. ConocoPhillips this February reported a doubling of its quarterly profits.) In November 2003, McKee quietly ordered up a new plan for Iraq's oil. For months, the State Department officially denied the existence of this 323-page plan, but when I threatened legal action, I was able to obtain the multi-volume document describing seven possible models of oil production for Iraq, each one merely a different flavor of a single option: a state-owned oil company under which the state maintains official title to the reserves but operation and control are given to foreign oil companies. According to Ed Morse, another Hess Oil advisor, the switch to an OPEC-friendly policy for Iraq was driven by Dick Cheney.

Big bucks: The biggest oil price boom of a generation is under way, proving wildly wrong predictions by the U.S. Department of Energy last year that oil prices would decline to $23.57 a barrel.

Instead, prices hit all-time highs last week, with light crude topping $56.46 a barrel in New York — a whopping 50 percent increase from a year earlier — and some analysts are saying the days of $80-a-barrel may not be far off.

Every time motorists fill up at $2.15 a gallon in the United States, the swishing sound you hear in this desert kingdom is billions of fresh petrodollars pouring in. Oil profits are being spent with such abandon that Dubai's economy grew last year at a rate of 16.7 percent, compared with U.S. growth of 4.4 percent and China's 9 percent.

The ones who got caught: By many accounts, Custer Battles was a nightmare contractor in Iraq. The company's two principals, Mike Battles and Scott Custer, overcharged occupation authorities by millions of dollars, according to a complaint from two former employees. In the fall of 2004, Deputy General Counsel Steven Shaw of the Air Force asked that the firm be banned from future U.S. contracts, saying Custer Battles had also "created sham companies, whereby [it] fraudulently increased profits by inflating its claimed costs." An Army inspector general, Col. Richard Ballard, concluded as early as November 2003 that the security outfit was incompetent and refused to obey Joint Task Force 7 orders: "What we saw horrified us," Ballard wrote to his superiors in an e-mail obtained by Newsweek.

Yet when the two whistle-blowers sued Custer Battles on behalf of the U.S. government—under a U.S. law intended to punish war profiteering and fraud—the Bush administration declined to take part. In recent months the judge in the case, T. S. Ellis III of the U.S. District Court in Virginia, has twice invited the Justice Department to join the lawsuit without response. Even an administration ally, Sen. Charles Grassley, demanded to know in a Feb. 17 letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales why the government wasn't backing up the lawsuit. Because this is a "seminal" case—the first to be unsealed against an Iraq contractor—"billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake" based on the precedent it could set, the Iowa Republican said.

The administration's reluctance to prosecute has turned the Iraq occupation into a "free-fraud zone," says former CPA senior adviser Franklin Willis. "If urgent steps are not taken, Iraq ... will become the biggest corruption scandal in history," warned the anti-corruption group Transparency International in a recent report. Grassley adds that if the government decides the False Claims Act doesn't apply to Iraq, "any recovery for fraud, waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars ... would be prohibited."

(Many thanks to alert reader a fan of this site for the link.)

Britain and America

Documented lies: The Hutton inquiry and Lord Butler's review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction established beyond doubt that in the year before the invasion a tightly knit group at Downing Street controlled, finessed and manipulated the advice and information supplied by the executive to the Prime Minister, ostensibly so that he could decide whether to go to war.

In a country where legal advice on these matters still counts, Blair could not possibly have backed America without arguing that Britain was in some way menaced by Iraq. That case had to be proved and demonstrably ratified by the Secret Intelligence Service and the government's legal advisers before a vote in parliament.

This is where the issue of trust turns. In his desperate need to oblige America 'for what may indeed have been an honourable misconception of his country's interests' Blair bludgeoned the machinery around him until it gave him the answer he wanted.

The issue of Lord Goldsmith's advice is about the trustworthiness of the Prime Minister and not about the war. Though Blair is apparently bewildered by such accusations, the evidence accumulates that in the ruthless suppression of the Executive's prudence and wisdom, he betrayed our trust and his duty to good governance. That is an issue for all of us, and will remain so until Blair leaves Downing Street.

And the British people and media actually care about it!: Everything should be going so well for Tony Blair. The pre-election campaign seems mostly to be about the troubles in the Conservative camp, the opinion polls are favourable to Labour.

Yet decisions his government took more than two years ago, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, simply refuse to go away.

But in America it’s not worth an investigation: Last July the Senate Intelligence Committee released a much-anticipated report on the prewar intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The study concluded that the intelligence community -- led by the CIA--had "overstated" and "mischaracterized" the intelligence on Iraq's (nonexistent) WMDs. The massive report repeatedly detailed instances when the intelligence services botched the job by ignoring contrary evidence, embracing questionable sources and rushing to judgments that just happened to fit the preconceived notions of the Bush Administration. "What the President and the Congress used to send the country to war was information that was...flawed," declared Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the committee. Jay Rockefeller, the committee's senior Democrat, noted that the report outlined "one of the most devastating...intelligence failures in the history of the nation." But the committee's report did not cover a crucial area: how the Bush Administration used -- or abused -- the prewar intelligence to build support for the Iraq invasion. Roberts claimed his committee was hot on that trail: "It is one of my top priorities," he said. The problem, he explained, was that there was not enough time before the November election to complete the assignment. Rockefeller took issue with that and complained that the "central issue of how intelligence was...exaggerated by Bush Administration officials" was being relegated into a "Phase II" investigation that would not begin until after the election. A Democratic committee staffer said that such an inquiry could easily be completed within months. Now -- with Bush re-elected -- Roberts no longer considers Phase II a priority.

Why does Pat Roberts hate America?

More Weasel Wolfowitz

What a pud: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, 3/27/05:

[T]he real problem is that the conflict hasn’t ended…I think people shouldn’t have been surprised that a regime that had burrowed into Iraqi society over 35 years and killed and tortured and intimidated people so effectively didn’t quit just because they were driven out of Baghdad on April 9, 2003.

Uh, Paul...

Vice President Cheney, 3/16/03:

I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators…I think it will go relatively quickly…(in) weeks rather than months.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 2/7/03:

It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.

(This post swiped more or less intact from Think Progress. Thanks guys, I’d give you a trackback if I had any idea how to do it.)

Our Creeping Stalinism

We don’t need no stinking trials: Tonght's evening news broadcast on French public television carried an account of "Terror in the Hands of Justice," a series that is running twice a day on Al Iraqiya, the state-controlled television financed by the U.S., and operated under a contract to a major Republican party contributor. This is one of the most appalling TV shows one could possibly imagine, for it blatantly encourages lynch-mob justice and individual acts of revenge against alleged "terrorists"--who are presented as such without benefit of any trial or judicial proceeding.

However, it is the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund a TV show that encourages violent, extra-judicial revenge on people who have not been tried or convicted of any crime that stands in sharp contradiction of the Bush administration's claims to have successfully exported "democracy" to Iraq. CorpWatch detailed in December how Al Iraqiya TV is financed by the U.S. as part of a $96 million grant to the Australian-based Harris Corporation-- a high-tech defense contractor that has been a huge contributor to the Republicans

Or no stinking evidence neither: A federal judge has criticized a secret military tribunal for keeping a German national jailed in Guantanamo Bay indefinitely based on a flimsy unsigned memo, despite information suggesting he had no terror ties, the Washington Post reports. In a declassified portions of a January ruling obtained by the Post, the judge criticized the panel for ignoring the conclusions of U.S. military intelligence and German law enforcement authorities, in nearly 100 pages of documents, that Murat Kurnaz has no terrorist links. The panel instead based its decision on a brief, unsupported memo filed just before Kurnaz's hearing by an unnamed government official.

We don't need no stinking Geneva Convention: Government documents released last week say the abuse of prisoners in Iraq by US forces was more widespread than has been reported.

An officer found that detainees ''were being systematically and intentionally mistreated" at a holding facility near Mosul in December 2003. The 311th Military Intelligence Battalion of the Army's 101st Airborne Division ran the lockup.

Earlier records released by the Army have detailed abuses at Abu Ghraib and other sites in Iraq, as well as at sites in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The documents released Friday were the first to report abuses at the jail in Mosul, and are among the few to allege torture directly.

''There is evidence that suggests the 311th MI personnel and/or translators engaged in physical torture of the detainees," a memo from the investigator said.

And we don't need no stinking rule of law: The Bush administration is desperately trying to keep the full story from emerging. But there is no longer any doubt that prisoners seized by the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have been killed, tortured, sexually humiliated and otherwise grotesquely abused.

These atrocities have been carried out in an atmosphere in which administration officials have routinely behaved as though they were above the law, and thus accountable to no one. People have been rounded up, stripped, shackled, beaten, incarcerated and in some cases killed, without being offered even the semblance of due process. No charges. No lawyers. No appeals.

Arkan Mohammed Ali is a 26-year-old Iraqi who was detained by the U.S. military for nearly a year at various locations, including the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. According to a lawsuit filed against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Ali was at times beaten into unconsciousness during interrogations. He was stabbed, shocked with an electrical device, urinated on and kept locked -- hooded and naked -- in a wooden, coffin-like box. He said he was told by his captors that soldiers could kill detainees with impunity.

No charges were ever filed against Ali, and he was eventually released. But what should be of paramount concern to Americans is this country's precipitous and frightening descent into the hellish zone of lawlessness that the Bush administration, on the one hand, is trying to conceal and, on the other, is defending as absolutely essential to its fight against terror.

And no one's gonna be punished for it: When the world first saw photos of the sexual abuse and humiliation of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib, apologists for the US soldiers involved minimized the incidents by noting that the prisoners might have been on leashes or menaced by dogs but were not killed. Gradually, however, military investigators and journalists learned that US troops had, in fact, killed as many as 31 detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq in cases that are confirmed or suspected homicides.

This is a stain on the reputation of the US armed services. Any hope that commanders would vigorously prosecute all such cases to deter future deaths dimmed with last week's report from the Army that officers had decided not to bring charges against 17 soldiers implicated in three prisoner deaths in Iraq. Military investigators had recommended that the 17 be prosecuted. In some other cases of detainee deaths, the military has brought charges against US servicemen.

Of course, a serious crime is a different matter: Ten members of an Army military police unit should be disciplined for staging a mud-wrestling match at a U.S. military prison in Iraq, an investigation concluded. No detainees saw the episode last October at Camp Bucca, one of the largest U.S.-controlled detention centers in Iraq, officials said.


Not Iraq related but for some reason it made me think of Iraq: Before he saw the polls, Tom DeLay declared that "one thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America." Now he and his party, shocked by the public's negative reaction to their meddling, want to move on. But we shouldn't let them. The Schiavo case is, indeed, a chance to highlight what's going on in America.

One thing that's going on is a climate of fear for those who try to enforce laws that religious extremists oppose. Randall Terry, a spokesman for Terri Schiavo's parents, hasn't killed anyone, but one of his former close associates in the anti-abortion movement is serving time for murdering a doctor. George Greer, the judge in the Schiavo case, needs armed bodyguards.

Another thing that's going on is the rise of politicians willing to violate the spirit of the law, if not yet the letter, to cater to the religious right.

And the future seems all too likely to bring more intimidation in the name of God and more political intervention that undermines the rule of law.

Opinion: I can't tell whether America is in denial or despair over events in Iraq, but I suspect it's some of each. The denial comes amid a flurry of flag-waving that's followed Iraqi elections and the Bush administration's insistence that peace is breaking out all over because of its own aggressive actions. Conventional wisdom this month is that the president is right. Conventional wisdom has turned an already meek press corps into church mice. But conventional wisdom in this war has been wrong many times before.

The despair, I suspect, keeps many people who are bitterly opposed to this war at home - and deflates turnout at those underpublicized and undercovered antiwar rallies.

Americans, it seems, would just as soon ignore the fact that 150,000 of our troops remain stationed in Iraq; that tens of thousands of Iraqi men, women, and children have died in the crossfire; that some inadvertently have been gunned down at checkpoints where American troops - fearful, with good reason, of suicide attacks - sometimes shoot first and ask questions later; that the tens of billions of dollars we're investing there each year could handily cover health insurance for the millions of uninsured American children. And that even so, corruption in Iraq is rampant, unemployment stands near 50 percent, electricity is off more than on, and that nearly two years after the end of "major combat" reporters are still writing about the dangerous drive from the Baghdad airport to the Green Zone a few miles away.

If the US government has figured out an exit plan, it's not telling us what it is. No. The message is strictly hail to the chief and let freedom ring.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Two Louisiana soldiers, one from Natchitoches and one from New Orleans, killed in Baghdad in incident where two more Louisiana troops were wounded.

Local story: New Orleans, LA, soldier killed in Baghdad.

Local story: Sevier County, TN, soldier killed in Iraq.

Note to Readers: I'd like to take a moment from reading these depressing and discouragingly endless reports of mayhem and inhumanity to offer a salute to one of our long time loyal readers and commenters, Susan - USA. She is a voice of conscience and humanity and her focus on positive action is genuinely inspirational. Thanks, Susan, for the efforts you are making to restore justice and the rule of law to our country and for all you have given to us who come to this blog. And thanks for your loyalty - your regular remembrances of the badly missed Not Anonymous get me every time.



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