Tuesday, August 30, 2005

War News for Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bring ‘em on: US airstrikes near Qaim kill seven people identified by the US military as terrorists. Police in Baghdad report that 56 civilians were killed in the attacks.

Bring ‘em on: At least 35 people killed and ‘dozens’ wounded in fighting between pro and anti-government tribes in the Qaim area.

Bring ‘em on: One US soldier killed and one wounded when their helicopter was shot down in the area of Tal Afar. Fifteen Iraqis killed by unknown gunmen between Samarra and Ramadi. Iraqi Lt. General in the Interior Ministry killed in Baghdad attack. Brother of Baghdad’s governor killed in Baghdad. Two Iraqi police injured while trying to defuse a bomb. Seventeen persons detained by the US military in Mosul.

Bring ‘em on: One Oil Ministry employee wounded in rocket attack on Oil Ministry building. Italian armored vehicle hit by US fire on Baghdad’s airport road.

Bring ‘em on: Two Iraqi police colonels killed in separate attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk. Two police officers killed in a suicide car bombing in Samarra.

Taking it to the streets: After battling over Iraq's draft constitution for months in the halls of government, Iraq's Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds prepared yesterday to take their fight over the charter to the streets, mosques and airwaves ahead of a nationwide referendum on the document.

As many as 6 million copies of the draft are being printed for distribution to Iraqi citizens before the Oct. 15 vote. Kurdish and Shiite politicians, who finalized the text over the weekend despite the objections of Sunni Arabs, vowed to make a strong push for passage.

"We will use everything," said Jawad Maliki, a Shiite politician who helped draft the charter. "We will use mosque preachers. We will even use Christian churches. We will use everything we need to make a great campaign for this constitution."

But Sunni Arabs, bitterly opposed to a document they view as a recipe for dismembering Iraq into semi-autonomous regions, vowed to oppose the constitution in the courts, through international forums, and in the voting booth, even though some doubt they can beat the powerful Shiites and Kurds at the polls.

But what about the final, final, final draft?: The U.S. ambassador suggested Tuesday there may be further changes to the draft constitution in order to win Sunni Arab approval, saying he believed a "final, final draft" had not yet been presented.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad spoke two days after Shiite and Kurdish negotiators bypassed Sunni Arab negotiators and finished the draft, despite Sunni objections to federalism, references to former president Saddam Hussein's Baath party and the country's identification as an Islamic but not Arab state.

However, influential Shiite legislator Khaled al-Attiyah, a member of the constitution drafting committee, insisted that "no changes are allowed to be made to the constitution" except for "minor edits for the language."

Demonstration: Thousands of Sunni demonstrators rallied in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on Monday to denounce Iraq's new constitution a day after negotiators finished the new charter without the endorsement of Sunni Arabs. Sunni leaders have urged their community to defeat the charter in a nationwide referendum on Oct. 15, saying it had been rammed through the drafting committee by the dominant Shiite Arab and Kurdish alliance.

The absence of Sunni endorsement, after more than two months of intensive negotiations, raised fears of more violence and set the stage for a bitter political fight ahead of the referendum. A political battle threatened to sharpen communal divisions at a time when relations among the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds appear to be worsening.

Warning: Thousands of Arab Sunnis took to the streets of Iraq yesterday to demonstrate against the country's draft constitution - but a moderate Sunni group hinted it might back the constitution in a referendum due in October.

On Sunday, Shia and Kurdish negotiators gave up trying to win over the Sunnis and endorsed a constitutional text that will be presented to voters on October 15.

The Sunni delegates said it was a recipe for breaking up Iraq into autonomous regions, diminishing its Arab heritage, alienating Sunnis and facilitating Iranian meddling.

Yesterday, however, the Iraqi Islamic party, a moderate group, said that although the draft did not represent its hopes and aspirations, there was still room for negotiation.

"We might say yes to the constitution if the disputed points are resolved," it said.

Some observers interpreted this as a veiled plea for a yes vote. With 5m copies to be printed this week, changes to the draft are unlikely.

A senior western diplomat said some moderates saw the constitution as balanced - albeit flawed - thanks to eleventh-hour changes that deferred contentious details to the next parliament. But they did not dare speak out openly. One politician has received a warning note that included the line: "Regards to your two daughters."

Recipe: Parts of the Iraqi draft constitution are a "recipe for chaos", Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa has said.

He told the BBC the Arab League shared Sunni Muslim concerns over federalism and the fact the charter does not identify Iraq as an Arab country.

The US and UK have played down Sunni leaders' rejection of the text, which will go to a referendum by 15 October.

Meanwhile, In America

The costs spiral up: Despite the relatively small number of American armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan (140,000), the war effort is rapidly shaping up to be the third-most expensive war in United States history.

This conflict has already cost each American at least $850 in military and reconstruction costs since October 2001.

If the war lasts another five years, it will cost nearly $1.4 trillion, calculates Linda Bilmes, who teaches budgeting at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. That's nearly $4,745 per capita. Her estimate is thorough. She includes not only the military cost but also such things as veterans' benefits and additional interest on the federal debt.

But even in stripped-down terms, looking only at military costs and using current dollars, the war's cost for the US already exceeds that of World War I.

Desperate measures: Twelve 20th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operators here are preparing to leave in early September to support convoy operations in Southwest Asia.

These predominantly first-term airmen will undergo rigorous training at Camp Bullis, Texas, before immediately deploying for six to eight months with an Army truck company in Southwest Asia, said Capt. Whitney Sherrill, 20th LRS vehicle management flight commander.

Since 2003 when the Army chief of staff requested base operating support augmentation, airmen have been supporting convoy operations in the war on terrorism.

The Air Force pulling convoy detail...we're in worse shape than I thought.

Heartbreak high school: On the first day of school, students returned to Forest Park Senior High School yesterday and confronted war. Within two weeks, two members of the Class of 2000, both members of the well-regarded Junior ROTC program, died in combat - Army Spc. Toccara Renee Green in Iraq on Aug. 14 and Army Staff Sgt. Damion G. Campbell in Afghanistan on Friday. "All of this has made me think that I might not want to do it," said Ericka Wilson, 17, a senior and ROTC member. "I'm not so sure anymore." It was a day of reflection and sadness. Campbell, 23, died the same day that Green was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. "We just buried a beautiful young lady," said English teacher Joan Maurice. "These poor children go into the military to get some money for college and they are coming home in coffins."

But the mood is changing...: For Bush, the start of a two-day departure from his Texas vacation allowed him to refocus, however briefly, on domestic issues after peace demonstrations outside his ranch this month drew sustained attention to the Iraq war. But even on this day, he was not able to escape the topic.

Hundreds of protesters lined his motorcade routes in Arizona and California, holding up signs such as "Bush the Lying Turd" and "Chicken George," a reference to his refusal to meet again with Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who set up camp near his Texas ranch demanding an audience.

Constitution Commentary

More Bush lies and spin: The Bush administration has consistently portrayed Iraq's draft constitution as an all-important document that will help unite the fragmented nation, draw its disaffected Sunni Muslims into the political process, curb the violent insurgency and allow for the phased withdrawal of American troops beginning as early as next year.

President Bush praised the proposed charter, delivered to the country's National Assembly on Sunday, as "a document of which the Iraqis and the rest of the world can be proud."

But many analysts say the document, which is scheduled to go before a national referendum in less than two months, is anything but a step toward a safer, more stable Iraq.

A distinctly Islamic cast: It was a smart bit of spin by Jalal Talabani, Iraq's president, to say that apart from the holy Qur'an, there was no book that could not be amended. Thus, he implied, there was hope that the draft constitution agreed under US pressure, but crucially without the approval of the country's Sunni minority, could yet be improved. Anyone who wants to see a happy end to the tragedy of Iraq must certainly hope for a document that can command the widest possible support. But it is not cynical - more a recognition of bloody reality - to dismiss rhetoric from Washington about the constitution being a "beacon of freedom and democracy". It is terrific that 5m copies of the new text are to be distributed - but that is against a background of vicious and unrelenting violence as well as chronic shortages of water, electricity and jobs.

The draft does contain language guaranteeing freedom of religion, association, speech and conscience, and an independent judiciary. It refers to crimes against the Iraqi people during decades of Ba'athist tyranny. It establishes principles, of accountability and the separation of powers, which are taken for granted in the west but are still rare in the Arab world. But it also turns the Iraqi state moulded by Saddam Hussein from one with secular republican institutions controlled by a powerful central government to one with a weak central government and a distinctly Islamist cast that worries the secular-minded and women.

The American Taliban gets its knickers knotted: In an Aug. 18 statement, Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council, wrote on that group's Web site: "I have sent a letter to President Bush encouraging the Administration to redouble its efforts to ensure that the Iraq Constitution provides genuine religious freedom for all Iraqi citizens. An Iraqi Constitution that does not protect religious liberty will seriously undermine U.S. efforts in Iraq and the larger Middle East. The sons and daughters of Americans are not risking their lives to establish a theocratic government that denies its citizens the fundamental right of religious freedom."

Reached by phone on Thursday, Perkins said he wanted to make sure that the end result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq would not be the establishment of an Islamic state. And he questioned whether America's sacrifice would be worth it if it is.

"Let me speak as a veteran of the Marine Corps who has been supportive of the military action taken in Iraq. The idea has been to deliver the people from a [repressive] regime ... I think there are some who would question if we leave in place a structure that is less than sufficient in guaranteeing the freedom of the Iraqi people," Perkins said. "There are those who view that as less than successful."

I don’t know what amuses me more – the sight of the Bush wingnut coalition imploding or the pathetic attempt of whackjob Perkins to portray himself as a supporter of religious freedom.

Logic versus George Bush: The Iraqis are having a hard time pulling together a constitution quickly enough to meet President Bush's public-relations timeline. As I am not an Iraqi, I have no interest in meddling in the affairs of that troubled land. Of course, I would prefer that the Iraqis establish a system of self-governance that, like ours in the United States, seeks to erect a wall of separation between church and state, preserve the rights of small states and political minorities, protect against military and police abuses, and guarantee freedom of speech, freedom of the press and all the other basics of a functioning democracy. If I was really writing a wish list, I might also recommend that the Iraqis do a better job than we do of limiting the power of corporate monopolies, keep special-interest money out of their politics, treating healthcare and education as basic rights and establishing reliable electoral systems. But as an American, I should not be worrying about perfecting the Iraqi constitution before I go about the work of getting things right here at home. This seems like basic logic to me. But that logic escapes our president.


Torture: Last month, Americans were given a new and persuasive reason for objecting to the use of torture as a tool in administration policy; namely, its potentially harmful impact on any viable counterterrorism strategy that values information as essential in combating Islamic fundamentalist terror. This strategic concern was raised in a set of memos released by the government in its latest "dump" of documents into the public arena.

Since the spring of 2004, the government has been making public previously classified documents nearly weekly, often in response to Freedom of Information Act law suits (though the numbers of newly classified documents are increasing at a rate that more than nullifies any sense of transparency such releases might suggest). Many of these memos have been about torture—whether to use it; how to use it; and, most of all, how to protect government agents and agencies against prosecution for using it. Among these documents have been memos from the Judge Advocate General's Corps (or JAG), written by military lawyers from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines, and these constitute a welcome oasis of sanity in a desert of compliance with the government's decision to use torture as a weapon in its "war on terror."

First brought to public attention in Senate debate on July 25, 2005, these JAG memos have seen the light thanks to a request from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. They were written in February 2003 as recommendations to a Pentagon working group on "interrogation policy." Collectively, they express a clear opposition to the use of the sorts of harsh interrogation techniques that White House lawyers had not only recommended but declared legally viable. Indeed, by August of 2002, lawyers for the administration had infamously suggested, as a basis for reducing legal culpability for the mistreatment of detainees, that the definition of torture itself be narrowed to include only ""[p]hysical pain …equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

The JAG memos, on the other hand, warned that abusive interrogation techniques—contrary to the advice administration lawyers were generating—might well be found illegal in courts of law: As one put it, "Our domestic courts may well disagree with [the administration's lawyers'] interpretation of the law." The courts, the JAG memos warned, might find that the use of torture, however redefined by the administration, violated not just international law, but domestic criminal law and the laws of the Uniform Code of Military Justice as well.

These memos have earned praise from critics of the Bush administration and its war on terror, who have been pleased to discover strong organizational resistance to administration policy within the military. But the terms of the disagreement have been little explored. It's not just the fact of the dissent that is noteworthy, but its nature; for these documents provide us with something other than the usual notes of protest against torture that critics of the administration are wont to express. The JAG criticism is not so much moral as strategic. What the JAG lawyers suggest—and it is a position no less significant today than when it was shaped in 2003—is that a policy of torture is sure to constitute a fatal flaw in any war against jihadi terror.

Comment: In 1942, at the beginning of World War II, the Sullivan family of Waterloo, Iowa, lost all five of its sons when the ship on which they were serving in the Pacific was torpedoed. While the Sullivan boys became national heroes _ receiving numerous awards posthumously, including the naming of a destroyer after them _ Congress wisely passed a law preventing siblings from serving together on the same ship.

That generally became the practice on the ground as well as at sea, with commanders striving to protect mothers and fathers from the devastating loss of multiple sons or daughters in combat.

One can only wonder why current military leaders would allow the possibility of the same tragedy occurring. Yet not only are four sons of Tammy Pruett of Pocatello, Idaho, serving in Iraq, another son and her husband have just returned. President Bush singled out Mrs. Pruett the other day while stumping in defense of his Iraq policy in the face of falling ratings over his handling of the situation. Certainly, Mrs. Pruett is a courageous woman who deserves the recognition. But why would the president of the United States use this mother's incredible contribution shamelessly to promote his own interests?

Gee, and it’s so out of character for him, too…


Dear Mr. Secretary:

We are writing to request that you investigate the Secretary of the Army's decision to remove Bunnatine Greenhouse, a career civil servant in the Senior Executive Service, from her position as principal assistant for contracting for the Army Corps of Engineers. The decision to remove Ms. Greenhouse from her position and demote her appears to be retaliation for her June 27, 2005 testimony before Congress.

In her June 27 testimony, Ms. Greenhouse detailed her objections to improper and potentially illegal conduct in the award of contracts for Iraq reconstruction projects. Specifically, Ms. Greenhouse objected to the contract awarded to a Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root, to restore Iraqi oil infrastructure. Ms. Greenhouse testified that the contract award process was compromised by improper influence by political appointees, participation by Halliburton officials in meetings where bidding requirements were discussed, and a lack of competition.

On July 14 - less than three weeks after her testimony - the Secretary of the Army approved Ms. Greenhouse's removal. The dismissal is to take effect on August 27, 2005.

Opinion: In September 2003, the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs constructed the Jordan International Police Training Center outside of Amman to train Iraq law enforcement personnel. Sixteen nations provide a total of 352 police trainers for the center. The camp has a capacity to train 3,000 Iraqi police recruits in an eight-week basic police skills course and graduate 1,500 new police every month. New Iraqi police come away with a coveted paycheck ($150) and sufficiently trained and equipped to counter foreign intelligence operations, pandemic lawlessness in an anarchic society, and insurgents who target US troops or collaborators.

In April 2005 I had the chance to visit the center, the world's largest international police training camp. I am a military officer and have been deployed throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, but this was one of the nicest training posts I have ever seen. However, the comprehensive training I witnessed was disheartening. The Iraq coalition constituency deserves to know why this mission is likely to fail.

There are three main reasons why these forces will never be ready to defend their country: The wary, uncommitted recruits are immature and lackadaisical about the mission; the parsimonious training is inadequate; and accountability once recruits return to Iraq is inconsistent at best and lacks the return on investment that one would expect.

Helen Thomas: It's time for the Democratic Party to take a courageous stand and call for the withdrawal of troops from the senseless war in Iraq. Its human cost and the billion-dollar-a-week tab in Iraq should give all Americans pause. Would the Republicans have hesitated to challenge the Democrats if the shoe was on the other foot? Did the opposition party give former President Bill Clinton any slack while he was in office? What is the logic of Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Joseph Biden, D-Del. and other so-called moderate Democrats still backing the unprovoked war in Iraq when they know they were sold a bill of goods? Furthermore, they are urging that more troops be sent to Iraq. And they are doing so at a time when the generals in Iraq are giving mixed signals. Some are talking about a draw down of troops in a year, others in four years. Are the Democratic leaders afraid to admit they were wrong? Does the credibility of the administration -- and therefore the country -- mean anything to them?

Editorial: The news media are failing to acknowledge their own responsibility for the invasion of Iraq, even as they report with glee Cindy Sheehan's antiwar protest outside George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford.

Americans are told all about Sheehan's son, Casey, a soldier killed in Iraq, and her call for the president to explain his reasons for invading Iraq and to outline his plan to leave.

But the news media ought to explain why they broke their moral covenant with the American people to provide complete, balanced, fair and accurate information about the charge to war.

Some editorial pages — such as those of The New York Times, the Houston Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times — did not take a pro-war stance. They called on the administration to do what Cindy Sheehan wants the administration to do now: tell why an invasion was necessary.

The sound journalism, however, was simply overwhelmed by the bad journalism.

Americans have a right to ask journalists how they intend to ensure that sound journalism prevails in the future for all kinds of news.

They have a right to ask what journalists will do the next time they get caught up in an administration's strategy to market a war or other action that can harm the American people.

Casualty Reports

Local story: East Tennessee soldier killed in Iraq laid to rest.

Local story: Centreville, MN, soldier killed in rollover accident between Mosul and Baghdad to be interred Friday.

Local story: Liberty, PA, soldier killed in Iraq, honored in ceremony at his former college.

Local story: Body of a Filipino worker, killed in a roadside bombing along with two Iraqis, recovered and will be returned to the Philippines.


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