Tuesday, January 03, 2006

War News for Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Bring ‘em on: Iraq's industry minister, Usama al-Najafai, survived a roadside bomb attack, no word on other casualties. Three bodies were found Monday south of Baghdad. The bodies had their hands tied behind their backs; there were gunshot wounds and signs of torture. There were no signs of identification.

Bring ‘em on: Last Saturday in Khalis, north of Baghdad, a bomb killed five members of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni political party that defied insurgent threats and fielded candidates in the Dec. 15 election. Since 2003, at least 75 party members have been killed. In central Baghdad, a roadside bomb struck an Iraqi police patrol, killing two officers.

Bring ‘em on: The Beiji oil refinery was closed for nearly two weeks because of insurgent threats to kill drivers of fuel trucks. It reopened Sunday.

Bring ‘em on: Gunmen raided a house south of Baghdad, killing five members of a Sunni Arab family.

Bring ‘em on: An Iraqi civilian was seriously wounded when a makeshift bomb targeting a U.S patrol in Kirkuk exploded.

Bring ‘em on: A U.S. air strike killed up to 14 members of a single family and wounded at least two people in an attack on a house in Baiji. Police in nearby Tikrit put the death toll at six. The U.S. military, responding to an inquiry, said aircraft had targeted a house after three men suspected of planting a roadside bomb were seen entering the building. They gave no death toll. A senior official in a government auditing body was killed in Baghdad when gunmen opened fire on his car as he headed to work. Tahsin Hadi Ali was the third senior official from the body to be killed, they said. U.S. soldiers detained six known insurgents in southern Baghdad on Monday, U.S military said in a statement. Five Iraqi policemen were wounded when a makeshift bomb went off near their patrol in Samarra.

Bring ‘em on: Another four houses were hit and two people were injured in the Monday night air raid cited in the entry above.

Bring ‘em on: Iraqi militants are negotiating with the Jordanian government about the fate of a hostage they threatened to kill unless Amman freed a failed woman suicide bomber. Al Arabiya said it had received a new video from the little-known group, the Falcons Brigade, in which the militants said they were holding talks with Jordan's government about embassy driver Mahmoud Saedat. Al Arabiya had said the group set a three-day deadline for Rishawi's release.

Bring ‘em on: In eastern Baghdad gunmen killed five people at a butcher shop and a bomb killed two police officers at a gas station. Two more Iraqis were slain and five wounded by gunfire at a Sunni mosque in southern Baghdad, while a Shiite sheik was fatally shot at a market in the same part of the city. About a dozen gunmen attacked a police checkpoint in Mosul, killing a bystander and wounding three policemen. Eight car bombs exploded in Baghdad and wounded a total of 11 people. Officers later destroyed a ninth car bomb that failed to go off. A suicide car bomber near Tikrit injured six civilians, and in Kirkuk a bomb aimed at an Iraqi police convoy wounded three civilians. Car bombings in the northern city of Kirkuk and in Muqdadiyah caused no injuries.

Statistics: At least 844 American service members were killed in Iraq in 2005, nearly matching 2004's total of 848, according to information released by the United States government and a nonprofit organization that tracks casualties in Iraq.

The deaths of two Americans announced by the United States military on Friday - a marine killed by gunfire in Falluja and a soldier killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad - brought the total killed since the war in Iraq began in March 2003 to 2,178. The total wounded since the war began is 15,955.

From Jan. 1, 2005 to Dec. 3, 2005, the most recent date for which numbers are available, the number of Americans military personnel wounded in Iraq was 5,557. The total wounded in 2004 was 7,989.

Giving in: Six kidnapped employees of Sudan's embassy have been released following the Sudanese government's pledge to close its embassy in Baghdad, a Sudanese official said Sunday. The Sudanese Foreign Ministry reported on Dec. 24 that six of its embassy employees had been kidnapped _ including the mission's second secretary. Al-Qaida in Iraq had set a Saturday deadline for Sudan to "announce clearly that it is cutting its relations" with the Iraqi government, or it would kill the hostages. Sudan said Friday it would close its embassy in Baghdad in an effort to win their release.

Civil war?: Fourteen members of a Shiite Muslim family are slaughtered in their home. Days later, masked gunmen invade a Sunni household, killing five people. Organized political killing proceeds, as if there had not been elections two weeks ago.

In a speech delivered as Iraqis prepared to go to the polls, President Bush said he didn't believe a civil war would break out. But some observers believe it has begun — a quiet and deadly struggle whose battle lines were thrown into sharp relief by the highly polarized results of that vote.

On any given day, a group of Shiite police officers might be hit with a Sunni suicide attack or ambush. A militiaman in the Shiite-dominated Iraqi security services might arrest, torture and kill a suspected Sunni insurgent. Or a Kurdish official in the new government might be gunned down between home and office.

Unless the assassination target is prominent, or the number of victims rises to at least the high single digits, such events barely rate a mention in Western news reports. Yet the most reliable estimates are that about 1,000 Iraqis have been dying each month, most of them killed by fellow Iraqis.

Definitely: James Fearon, a Stanford University political scientist and an authority on modern conflicts, believes Iraq's civil war began almost as soon as Saddam Hussein was ousted, and that it is disguised and partly held back by the presence of foreign forces.

"I think there is definitely a civil war that has been going on since we finished the major combat operations," Fearon said. "When people talk about 'Will there be a civil war?' they are really talking about a different type of civil war."

The kind of civil war emerging in Iraq, characterized by guerrilla attacks, kidnappings, assassinations and "ethnic cleansing," is typical of modern civil wars, Fearon said.

Don’t forget about Poland: In his first foreign policy decision, Poland’s new conservative president Lech Kaczyński approved the maintenance of Polish troops in Iraq for another year. The decision reverses the previous leftist government’s plan to withdraw all Polish forces next month. As defence minister Radosław Sikorski just announced, the successive rotation of Polish troops will begin at the end of this month. The government has decided to keep troops in Iraq until the end of the year but the size of the contingent will be cut from the present total of 1,500 soldiers to 900 in March. Defence minister Sikorski told me that the move is a natural continuation of Poland’s support for the United States and its efforts to restore democracy to Iraq.

The war that would pay for itself: Iraq's oil exports hit their lowest level since the war, according to figures released on Monday, heightening a sense of crisis as fuel supplies grow scarce and political leaders struggle to form a government.

Iraq exported 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil in December, a senior official said -- less than any month since exports resumed in mid-2003 after the U.S. invasion and about half the level seen during sanctions under Saddam Hussein.

Sabotage is damaging plants and blocking investment, keeping exports at a fraction of targets officials say should be met if Iraq's vast reserves are to provide its people with the prosperity that might draw the sting of civil conflict.

Iraqi Politics

Hope for a coalition government?: Iraq's main Sunni Arab group made an unprecedented trip north to see the Kurds and agreed Monday for the first time on broad outlines for a coalition government — possibly opening a way out of the political turmoil that has gripped the country since disputed elections.

As part of the bargaining for a new coalition government, President Jalal Talabani assured Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari that his fellow Kurds would not object if the United Iraqi Alliance — the Shiite religious bloc that won the most votes in the election — again nominates him for the post.

But it was the agreement struck Monday by Kurdistan regional President Massoud Barzani and representatives of the main Sunni Arab Iraqi Accordance Front that opened the way for a new broad-based government. It also drew the ire of minority parties and secular groups.

But it’s the excluded guys that have all the bombs: Araji and other negotiators from the main Shiite slate spent much of Monday night engaged in talks with the National Accordance Front, a Sunni Arab coalition led by Islamists and clerics. The president of the northern Kurdish region of Iraq, Massoud Barzani, embraced Sunni Arab leaders there. The emerging political alliances put Shiites, Kurds and Islamist Sunni Arabs on one side, excluding secular Iraqis, hard-core Sunni Arab nationalists and those sympathetic to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

And the coalition guys aren’t exactly committed either: Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.

Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren't gaining traction. Instead, some troops that are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.

The soldiers said that while they wore Iraqi army uniforms they still considered themselves members of the Peshmerga - the Kurdish militia - and were awaiting orders from Kurdish leaders to break ranks. Many said they wouldn't hesitate to kill their Iraqi army comrades, especially Arabs, if a fight for an independent Kurdistan erupted.

The bad penny cat: Even though Ahmad Chalabi apparently lost badly in last month's parliamentary election here, the former Pentagon favorite is still likely to be a big player in the next Iraqi government.

The Dec. 15 vote went largely to ethnic and sectarian coalitions at the expense of secular slates, including his, preliminary returns indicate. That could leave him without a seat in parliament.

Yet the former exile who helped spur the U.S.-led invasion by feeding false intelligence to Washington about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction, and who returned to Iraq after Saddam's fall to craft himself into a political leader, still has more cards to play. Characteristically, Chalabi, 61, could land on his feet in a high government post even though he failed to win even a minimum of votes from the Iraqi people.

Oh, and by the way, the election still isn’t finalized: Final results from Iraq's Dec. 15 parliamentary elections may not be announced for two more weeks, an election official said Tuesday, a day after Iraq's main Sunni Arab group agreed for the first time on broad outlines for a coalition government.

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq has completed its investigation of almost 2,000 election complaints and will announce the findings on Wednesday, commission member Hussein Hindawi told The Associated Press.

US Military News

Who needs a bigger army when you can just keep the soldiers in for seven tours?: The Pentagon expects to face many Iraq-type conflicts in the coming years, wars that involve battling insurgents and restoring stability. As a result, a debate is beginning to churn in defense policy circles: Should the government enlarge the military so it can more easily fight these wars? Or should the government alter its policies, so as not to fight such wars as often, at least not alone?

Senior Pentagon officials argue that neither shift is necessary, that reorganizing the Army's existing combat units into stronger, faster and more flexible brigades will have the same effect as adding more soldiers. But some analysts doubt these adjustments alone will go far enough.

Lawrence Korb, who was assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs in the Reagan administration, states the issue baldly: "We cannot fight a long, sustained war without a larger ground force." He defines a "long war" as lasting two years or more. The Iraq war has gone on now for nearly three.

Watch all the warbloggers call him a coward: Rep. John Murtha, a key Democratic voice who favors pulling U.S. troops from Iraq, said in remarks airing on Monday that he would not join the U.S. military today.

A decorated Vietnam combat veteran who retired as a colonel after 37 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Murtha told ABC News' "Nightline" program that Iraq "absolutely" was a wrong war for President George W. Bush to have launched.

The bastion is crumbling: While President Bush remains more popular within the military than outside it, support for him, and for the war in Iraq, "has slipped significantly in the last year among members of the military's professional core," according to the Military Times, analyzing its annual year-end poll. The Military Times Media Group is made up of the Army Times, Air Force Times, Navy Times and Marine Times. Approval of the president's Iraq policy fell 9% from 2004; a bare majority, 54%, now says they view his performance on Iraq favorably. Support for his overall performance fell 11 points, to 60%, among readers of the Military Times newspapers (85% of those polled are on active duty).

A "nontraditional state": U.S. airmen are increasingly on the ground in Iraq, driving in convoys and even working with detainees - a shift in the Air Force's historic mission that military officials call necessary to bolster the strapped Army.

The main aerial hub for the war in Iraq has 1,500 airmen doing convoy operations in Iraq and 1,000 working with detainees, training Iraqis and performing other activities not usually associated with the Air Force, said Col. Tim Hale, commander of the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing.

"Every one of us has learned that we are in a nontraditional state in our armed forces," he said, standing outside an auditorium at an air base in Kuwait.

The dangers of the new roles were highlighted when the expeditionary wing lost its first female member in the line of duty in Iraq. Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Jacobson, 21, was killed in a roadside bombing while providing convoy security in September near the U.S. detention center at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.

Homefront debate: Scott Cameron never imagined his modest memorial to American troops in Iraq would transform a quiet street here into the latest staging of the nation's tense debate about the war in Iraq.

His sign tallying the war's dead and wounded rests feet from the local Army recruiting office, and Cameron's refusal to take it down despite Army requests has drawn national attention. The fuss is giving the Vietnam veteran a chance to air a view he wishes he'd expressed long ago.

''The way veterans have been treated in this country is shameful," Cameron said last week.

Just put it on the card: South Carolina National Guard units that deployed to Iraq last year had to leave $50 million in equipment behind and they aren't sure when the items will be returned or even replaced.

Colonel Ronald Huff is the Guard's deputy chief of staff for logistics. Huff says South Carolina's units were asked to leave 24 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and 169 heavy transport trucks and Humvees.

They also left hundreds of radios, weapons, tools and other equipment.

Censorship: Letters home filled with tales of death and danger, bravery and boredom are a wartime certainty. And now, as hundreds of soldiers overseas have started keeping Internet journals about the heat, the homesickness, the bloodshed, word speeds from the battlefront faster than ever. More and more, though, U.S. military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan are clamping down on these military Web logs, known as milblogs.

The Allies

Australia: Voter support for John Howard's decision to go to war in Iraq is in freefall, with even Coalition supporters who backed the 2003 invasion now questioning the value of the protracted conflict. Fewer than half of Coalition supporters now believe the Iraq war was worth it, according to a Newspoll conducted exclusively for The Weekend Australian.

In total, two-thirds of Australians, about 66 per cent, now believe it was not worth going to war, up from 58 per cent a year ago. Just 27 per cent believe it was worth it, compared with 32per cent a year ago.

Among Coalition voters, only 43 per cent believe it was worth going to war, a sharp drop from 50 per cent last December and 63 per cent early last year.

Western Europe: The cases of Abu Omar, a radical Muslim snatched by the CIA under the noses of the Milan police and flown secretly to Egypt, and Khalid el-Masri, a German national forcibly transported by that same agency from Macedonia to an Afghan prison by mistake, have propelled what once seemed a settled debate over human rights to the center of the European political stage. It is difficult to name a Western European nation that has not announced some kind of investigation into whether the U.S. has been using its airports or airspace to ferry terrorist suspects to countries such as Egypt, Syria and Jordan for interrogations. "Renditions," as the CIA calls that practice, have become an incendiary issue in Sweden, Norway, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal and even tiny Malta. A report that the CIA secretly detained high-level Al Qaeda operatives in Eastern Europe has caused additional turmoil in Poland and Romania, considered the most likely host nations.


Tom Engelhardt: The newly minted "Complete Victory" Award, known in previous years as the "Mission Accomplished" Award, goes to President George W. Bush. It was bestowed to honor his sudden declaration on November 30, 2005, against a backdrop of "Plan for Victory" signs, that we would settle for nothing less than the whole shebang in Iraq, right down to the unconditional surrender of whomever it was we were fighting. The President drove home his point by using the word "victory" a record-breaking 15 times in that speech and once in its title ("President Outlines Strategy for Victory in Iraq"); meanwhile, the administration issued a 35-page "strategy document," supposedly from the Pentagon, on how to successfully fight the insurgency. The document was, in fact, written by Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University specialist on wartime public opinion, and as Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post commented, was "principally designed to prove" that Bush had a strategy. All this left our heads spinning! The citation for this award – that accompanied the traditional winged plastic turkey statuette – was written for our judges by an Iraqi commentator, Ghassan Attiyah, who summed up their feelings in a single mission-accomplished sentence: "In two and a half years Bush has succeeded in creating two new Talibans in Iraq." And Ghassan, ever modest, didn't mention the half of it. After all, in the same blindingly short period, our President managed to spread democracy to the Middle East by opening the way for a Shiite theocratic government in Baghdad guaranteed to be closely aligned with the theocratic government of Iran whose shaky leader recently declared the Holocaust to be a figment of the modern Jewish and European imagination! Congratulations, George. And it all comes from skipping the frills and emphasizing the fundamental(ism)s!

Interview with Kristina Borjesson: What's interesting is that there's a pattern to the coverage whenever we go to war. Before the war, everybody is gung-ho, because the PR machine is in full swing [and] everybody wants to get behind the president. Really, if you want to be re-elected, start a war, because people don't like to change presidents.

And then you go to war, and there's bang-bang footage and it's all exciting. And the people start to die, and now you're into the everyday flogging of the war. It's the same stuff all the time, so people get tired of that.

But as the casualties start to rise, that's when the reporting starts getting critical, because it's hitting a critical mass with the public that their kids are dying. Once a critical mass of kids start arriving home in coffins, the reporting starts to change, because journalism is not proactive, it's reactive.

In the case of this war, there is another added element to that. People have discovered, way before the war is over, [that] the president's reasons for going to war turned out to have no basis. That creates questions in people's minds, too.

But again, you're constantly swimming against the PR machine that comes out with, "You're not supporting the troops if you're critical. We're going to win this war; it's important -- the Iraqi people are behind it." Our tax dollars are being used to blow smoke at us. That is profoundly troubling.

Mark LeVine: It is true that the rhetoric and tactics surrounding US foreign policy have changed dramatically in the four years since September 11. Yet at the much more important substantive level it remains grounded in the Cold War paradigm that supported -- and often necessitated -- the violence, authoritarianism and corruption that helped foster today's terrorist menace. The most honest and straightforward expression of this paradigm was given in a 1948 State Department memorandum by Director of Planning George F. Kennan: "We have fifty percent of the world's wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population. Our real task in the coming period is to...maintain this position of disparity."

The policies advocated by Kennan reflected the United States' adoption of the strategic imperatives upon which decades (in some cases, more than a century) of European imperialism in the Muslim world were founded. The peripheralization of much of the region they reflected was cemented during the Cold War; today this condition is exacerbated by a set of policies, tellingly labeled the "Washington Consensus," that have further marginalized the majority of Muslims from the world economy. As for the Middle East's emerging globalized elite, their integration into the global ecumene is being paid for by increasing poverty, inequality and cultural violence across their societies.

In this context, President Bush's December 18 speech to the nation celebrating the Iraqi elections betrayed both a disquieting ignorance of the history, time line and impact of American foreign policy in the Middle East. Perhaps more troubling, it reflected a weak grasp of the complex roots of the violence that has defined his presidency.

Scott Ritter: With the advent of a New Year, the buzz term being bandied about throughout America by politicians and media pundits regarding Iraq is "Democracy." The year 2005 witnessed three "historic" elections in Iraq, the accumulated result of which is ostensibly a new, democratic Iraq capable not only of self-governance, but also self-defense, thereby reducing the burden imposed on the US military in the aftermath of the March 2003 invasion which toppled the distinctly non-democratic government of Saddam Hussein, and the subsequent occupation which oversaw Iraq's dark slide into chaos and anarchy.

The democratic process that transpired in 2005 was in and of itself a by-product of this chaos and anarchy. The January 2005 election of an interim governmental authority responsible for raising a national assembly whose job it was to draft a new Iraqi Constitution was a slip-shod affair, the timing of which was driven by American political imperative as opposed to representing the will and desire of an Iraqi electorate. In fact, the most telling outcome of that election was that while Iraq had a mass of people who were brave enough to face down terrorist attacks to make their way to the polling places to cast a vote, Iraq did not have an informed and organized electorate capable of defining and declaring core values upon which they selected candidates for national representative government.

What the January 2005 elections in Iraq showed more than anything is that an election does not certify a democracy; only a democracy can certify an election, and Iraq is, after 30 some-odd years of totalitarian rule, certifiably not prepared to organize itself and function as a free and democratic state run on principles of secular rule of law and human rights agreed upon by the majority of the Iraqi people.

Michael Schwartz: The Washington Post, quoting U.S. military sources, reported that the number of U.S. air strikes increased from an average of 25 per month during the Summer, to 62 in September, 122 in October, and 120 in November.

There are several aspects to this new strategy that we need to keep in mind.

First, this is an attempt to lessen the strain on U.S. troops – the U.S. military in Iraq is in grave danger of collapsing, as it did in Vietnam. So the new strategy seeks to reduce the number of patrols (which are the most grueling and dangerous missions American soldiers undertake) and compensate with more air raids. The hope is that this switch in emphasis will make it possible for U.S. troops to endure more tours of duty in Iraq. But probably this won’t work. Here is what one military officer told Hersh: "if the President decides to stay the present course in Iraq some troops would be compelled to serve fourth and fifth tours of combat by 2007 and 2008, which could have serious consequences for morale and competency levels."

We should not lose track of the importance of this comment. The U.S. military cannot sustain the war at its current level of intensity. As Representative John Murtha commented in his press conference calling for U.S. withdrawal, "Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course." In a very real sense, then, this change in strategy is an act of desperation.

Second, this change in strategy is an attempt to find a better way to fight the resistance, since the search and destroy operations have failed miserably, even while they have inflicted incredible destruction and carnage in the cities under attack. But it also means a more explicit use of state terror. The U.S. cannot occupy a city with air power. As a military officer told Hersh: "Can you put a lid on the insurgency with bombing? No. You can concentrate in one area, but the guys will spring up in another town." The logic of air power (since Guernica in the Spanish Civil War) has always involved a predominant element of "bombing the population into submission." The U.S. military leadership hopes to so injure the population that it cries "uncle," delivers resistance fighters to the Occupation, and begins cooperating with the Occupation – all in order to stop the punishment. With 500- and 2000-pound bombs that destroy everything – buildings and people – in up to a 700-foot diameter area, air power does have a powerful terrorizing effect, and it is altogether plausible that such a strategy could work. Even U.S. military reports of recent air attacks give a sense of the brutality involved, as independent reporter Dahr Jamail recently documented. And Washington Post reporter Ellen Knickmeyer recounted chilling accusations from medical personnel and local civilians as a result of the American offensive in early November, including 97 civilians killed in Husaybah, 40 in Qaimone, 18 children in Ramadi, with uncounted others in numerous other cities and towns in Western Anbar province.

Whether or not the targets were insurgents, the disregard for the lives of civilians trapped inside the buildings demolished by air attacks is part of a larger pattern articulated by an American officer to NY Times reporter Dexter Filkins early in the war: "the new strategy must punish not only the guerrillas, but also make clear to ordinary Iraqis the cost of not cooperating."

Reasonable Veteran: As a war veteran who deeply appreciates the value of freedom, here is my New Year's Day resolution:

Peacefully overthrow the unelected executive.

Although this proposal sounds shocking, my resolution remains protected as free speech under our U.S. Constitution.

With great seriousness, I believe it is time for me to exercise that right today, so we and our children may live with liberty and pursue happiness.

Toward that end, here's an idea free people should ponder: Exercising our civil liberties on a massive scale on Friday, January 20, 2006.

That day will mark five years since our last properly elected president departed the White House and the disturbing downward spiral toward dictatorship began.

On January 20, 2006, free-thinking citizens in the United States should take one hour from work, school, or play in order to exercise our freedoms.

We should call it "Freedom Hour."

This means using one hour, at any time of the day, to remember the meaning and value of freedom. Some may choose to take time from work. Others may choose to walk out of class. And others may decide to assemble in public, as is our right under our U.S. Constitution.

People should bring with them one of these three great works to share.

"Common Sense," by Thomas Paine

"Declaration of Independence," by Thomas Jefferson

"U.S. Constitution," by James Madison

I'm suggesting we peacefully exercise our rights on January 20 because our Nation is facing a very serious Constitutional crisis due illegal domestic spying, questionable elections, and an endless pursuit of war using fear and lies.

Tim Abbott: When I think of Bush, I do not think of liberty and courage, compassion and justice. No, I think of arrogance, greed and lies. He is a thug, a buffoon and a coward. Not only is he incompetent, he is corrupt.

He is of a kind with the dictators; a strutting, sanctimonious buffoon who talks democracy but acts like Saddam Hussein. Bush might differ in degree from Hussein, not having been in power as long, but in behavior, with torture and the corruption of government, they are of a kind.

While al-Qaida is an enemy of the values and principles of the United States and Western civilization and must be confronted, it can do no more than kill people and destroy property.

Bush can subvert our principles and institutions. He is the greater enemy.

Jonathan Schell: When the New York Times revealed that George W. Bush had ordered the National Security Agency to wiretap the foreign calls of American citizens without seeking court permission, as is indisputably required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), passed by Congress in 1978, he faced a decision. Would he deny the practice, or would he admit it? He admitted it. But instead of expressing regret, he took full ownership of the deed, stating that his order had been entirely justified, that he had in fact renewed it thirty times, that he would continue to renew it and--going even more boldly on the offensive--that those who had made his law-breaking known had committed a "shameful act." As justification, he offered two arguments, one derisory, the other deeply alarming. The derisory one was that Congress, by authorizing him to use force after September 11, had authorized him to suspend FISA, although that law is unmentioned in the resolution. Thus has Bush informed the members of a supposedly co-equal branch of government of what, unbeknownst to themselves, they were thinking when they cast their vote. The alarming argument is that as Commander in Chief he possesses "inherent" authority to suspend laws in wartime. But if he can suspend FISA at his whim and in secret, then what law can he not suspend? What need is there, for example, to pass or not pass the Patriot Act if any or all of its provisions can be secretly exceeded by the President?

Bush's choice marks a watershed in the evolution of his Administration. Previously when it was caught engaging in disgraceful, illegal or merely mistaken or incompetent behavior, he would simply deny it. "We have found the weapons of mass destruction!" "We do not torture!" However, further developments in the torture matter revealed a shift. Even as he denied the existence of torture, he and his officials began to defend his right to order it. His Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, refused at his confirmation hearings to state that the torture called waterboarding, in which someone is brought to the edge of drowning, was prohibited. Then when Senator John McCain sponsored a bill prohibiting cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, Bush threatened to veto the legislation to which it was attached. It was only in the face of majority votes in both houses against such treatment that he retreated from his claim.

But in the wiretapping matter, he has so far exhibited no such vacillation. Secret law-breaking has been supplanted by brazen law-breaking. The difference is critical. If abuses of power are kept secret, there is still the possibility that, when exposed, they will be stopped. But if they are exposed and still permitted to continue, then every remedy has failed, and the abuse is permanently ratified. In this case, what will be ratified is a presidency that has risen above the law.

The danger is not abstract or merely symbolic. Bush's abuses of presidential power are the most extensive in American history. He has launched an aggressive war ("war of choice," in today's euphemism) on false grounds. He has presided over a system of torture and sought to legitimize it by specious definitions of the word. He has asserted a wholesale right to lock up American citizens and others indefinitely without any legal showing or the right to see a lawyer or anyone else. He has kidnapped people in foreign countries and sent them to other countries, where they were tortured. In rationalizing these and other acts, his officials have laid claim to the unlimited, uncheckable and unreviewable powers he has asserted in the wiretapping case. He has tried to drop a thick shroud of secrecy over these and other actions.

There is a name for a system of government that wages aggressive war, deceives its citizens, violates their rights, abuses power and breaks the law, rejects judicial and legislative checks on itself, claims power without limit, tortures prisoners and acts in secret. It is dictatorship.

Casualty Reports

Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Van Der Horn

Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Christopher Dostie

Pvt. Jonathan R. Pfender

Spc.Richard Junior Degracia Naputi

Spc. Marcelino R. Corniel

1st Lt. Benjamin Thomas Britt

Two Christmases

USA: Celebrating Christmas for the first time since her oldest son, Army Pvt. Cory R. Depew, was killed in Iraq dredged up so much pain Ann May couldn't stay in her home.

Her youngest son, Elliot, asked Santa to bring Cory back. The pile of toys gift-wrapped under the family tree on Christmas morning did nothing to ease Elliot's heartbreak when Cory didn't return.

"He just started crying," May said, breaking into tears.

"It was a tough day. You can't buy happiness, and that is a perfect example. We had all kinds of toys under the tree, but that really wasn't what they wanted."

Iraq: Across from a wounded insurgent and a silent, bandaged Iraqi soldier stood a crib draped with a towel in a futile attempt to block the glow of fluorescent lights.

The towel began to sag, tugged by tiny hands wrapped in gauze to keep a restless 4-year-old from again pulling out the feeding tubes that run down his throat.

Lying by the crib, the boy’s father wore earplugs to block the noise of helicopters, arriving with their cargo of wounded, sick and dying at the stretch of interconnected tents that make up the largest U.S. military hospital in Iraq. He lay on his side and tried to sleep.

It was midnight in late December, and more than a week had passed since insurgents had fired mortar rounds at U.S. troops in Parwana, just outside the restive city of Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad.

The shells missed the Americans but landed near Adnan Ezaldeen’s home as he showered in preparation for Friday morning prayers at his local mosque. They killed two of his sons, who were in the fourth and fifth grades, and hit his 4-year-old namesake son with shrapnel in the legs, liver and stomach.

A Life, Wasted

Paul E. Schroeder: Two painful questions remain for all of us. Are the lives of Americans being killed in Iraq wasted? Are they dying in vain? President Bush says those who criticize staying the course are not honoring the dead. That is twisted logic: honor the fallen by killing another 2,000 troops in a broken policy?

I choose to honor our fallen hero by remembering who he was in life, not how he died. A picture of a smiling Augie in Iraq, sunglasses turned upside down, shows his essence -- a joyous kid who could use any prop to make others feel the same way.

Though it hurts, I believe that his death -- and that of the other Americans who have died in Iraq -- was a waste. They were wasted in a belief that democracy would grow simply by removing a dictator -- a careless misunderstanding of what democracy requires. They were wasted by not sending enough troops to do the job needed in the resulting occupation -- a careless disregard for professional military counsel.

But their deaths will not be in vain if Americans stop hiding behind flag-draped hero masks and stop whispering their opposition to this war. Until then, the lives of other sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers and mothers may be wasted as well.

This is very painful to acknowledge, and I have to live with it. So does President Bush.


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