Wednesday, May 31, 2006

U.N., Swiss Call Small-Arms Meeting, U.S. Not Invited

The United Nations and the Swiss government said on May 31 they were calling a high-level international meeting next week on armed violence and development -- but the United States was not invited.

The gathering of ministers and senior representatives from some 48 countries aims to launch a world-wide effort to cut the gun crime and conflict hitting the economies of poorer nations, U.N. and Swiss officials told a news conference.


But the United States -- which has backed U.N. efforts to control the global trade in illicit weaponry but had stood aloof from other recent arms control pacts including one on land mines -- was not on the list of invitees, he told the news conference.
Invitations had gone out, he said, "to all those countries very committed to addressing this issue."

"But," he added, "I think ultimately that is why the United States is not invited -- it has to be countries that have shown a commitment on these issues ... We want to create this dynamic core group that can take this issue forward."


Bush Upset With Iraq Killings Reports

WASHINGTON - President Bush promised on Wednesday that any Marines involved in the alleged murders of Iraqi civilians will be punished. A senior officer said the case could undermine Iraqis' support for the presence of American troops.

President Bush pauses as he listens to a reporter's question during his meeting with Rwanda's President Paul Kagame in the Oval Office of the White House Wednesday, May 31, 2006, in Washington. CHARLES DHARAPAK

I am troubled by the initial news stories," Bush said in his first public comments about the deaths of about two dozen civilians at Haditha last November. "I'm mindful that there's a thorough investigation going on. If in fact, laws were broken, there will be punishment."

Military investigators have evidence that points toward unprovoked murders by Marines, a senior defense official said last week.

The shootings came after a bomb rocked a military convoy on Nov. 19, killing a Marine. Residents of Haditha said Marines then went into nearby houses and shot members of two families, including a 3-year-old girl.

At first, the American military described what happened as an ambush on a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol, with a roadside bombing and subsequent firefight killing 15 civilians, eight insurgents and a Marine. The statement said the 15 civilians were killed by the blast, a claim the residents strongly denied.

With some in Congress alleging a cover-up, the Bush administration offered assurances the facts will be made public.

Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, urged patience as the Marines conduct what he called a vigorous investigation. He said a report will come out in "a matter of weeks, not a matter of months" and include public release of photographic evidence. "We're going to see everything," Snow said.

Once that investigation is completed, a senior Marine commander in Iraq will decide whether to press charges of murder or other violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

U.S. Troops Kill Pregnant Woman in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. forces killed two Iraqi women - one of them about to give birth - when the troops shot at a car that failed to stop at an observation post in a city north of Baghdad, Iraqi officials and relatives said Wednesday. Nabiha Nisaif Jassim, 35, was being raced to the maternity hospital in Samarra by her brother when the shooting occurred Tuesday.

Jassim, the mother of two children, and her 57-year-old cousin, Saliha Mohammed Hassan, were killed by the U.S. forces, according to police Capt. Laith Mohammed and witnesses.

The U.S. military said coalition troops fired at a car after it entered a clearly marked prohibited area near an observation post but failed to stop despite repeated visual and auditory warnings.

"Shots were fired to disable the vehicle," the military said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press. "Coalition forces later received reports from Iraqi police that two women had died from gunshot wounds ... and one of the females may have been pregnant."

Jassim's brother, who was wounded by broken glass, said he did not see any warnings as he sped his sister to the hospital. Her husband was waiting for her there.

"I was driving my car at full speed because I did not see any sign or warning from the Americans. It was not until they shot the two bullets that killed my sister and cousin that I stopped," he said. "God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here. They have no regard for our lives."

U.S. probe finds unprovoked killings in Haditha

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A preliminary military inquiry found evidence that U.S. Marines killed two dozen Iraqi civilians in an unprovoked attack in November, contradicting the troops' account, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

President George W. Bush said he was troubled by news stories on the November 19 killings of men, women and children in the town of Haditha, and a general at the Pentagon said the incident could complicate the job for the 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. "Allegations such as this, regardless of how they are borne out by the facts, can have an effect on the ability of U.S. forces to continue to operate," Army Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, deputy director for regional operations for the military's Joint Staff, told a Pentagon briefing.

Forensic data from corpses showed victims with bullet wounds, despite earlier statements by Marines that civilians were killed by a roadside bomb that also claimed the life of a Marine from El Paso, Texas, Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, a defence official said. "The forensics painted a different story than what the Marines had said," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

The official said there were wounds that would not have been caused by an improvised explosive device. "Did someone shoot somebody just for the sake of taking him out?" the official said. "Bad things happened that day, and it appears Marines lied about it." ...

Afghanistan wants U.S. troops prosecuted

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's parliament has approved a motion calling for the government to prosecute the U.S. soldiers responsible for a deadly road crash that

The assembly passed the nonbinding motion Tuesday, after debating Monday's crash in which a U.S. truck plowed into a line of cars, killing up to five Afghans and sparking citywide, anti-foreigner riots, said Saleh Mohammed Saljuqi, an assistant to the parliamentary speaker.

"Those responsible for the accident on Monday should be handed over to Afghan legal authorities," Saljuqi cited the motion as saying.

A U.S. military spokeswoman, Lt. Tamara D. Lawrence, said she had not seen the motion and declined to comment......

Maureen Dowd: Live From Baghdad: More Dying

Even with constricted coverage, the tally of journalists killed in Iraq is now 71, more than the number killed in Vietnam or World War II. Several teams of doctors have been fighting to save the life, and the legs, of Kimberly Dozier, the CBS correspondent who was hurt by the roadside bomb. The single 39-year-old was a headlong, generous reporter who had spent years covering Iraq and Afghanistan.

Doctors said that her heart had stopped beating and her blood pressure had plummeted. But somehow, with the help of blood donations from those in the combat hospital, they stabilized her. (Soldiers dragged Mr. Douglas away from the burning vehicle and put a tourniquet on one of his legs that had been blasted off, but it was too late to save him.)

The administration and some right-wing commentators have blamed the press for not reporting positive news in Iraq. The radio host Laura Ingraham has suggested that the press is 'invested in America's defeat' and has mocked TV journalists for 'reporting from hotel balconies about the latest I.E.D.'s going off.'

Conservative chatterers have parroted President Bush's complaint that 'people resuming their normal lives will never be as dramatic as the footage of an I.E.D. explosion.'

But now two network personalities — Ms. Dozier and Bob Woodruff — have been severely injured by roadside bombs while embedded with the military, trying to do the sort of stories the administration wants.

'One thing I don't want to hear anymore,' Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, told The Times's Bill Carter, 'is people like Laura Ingraham spewing about us not leaving our balconies in the Green Zone to cover what's really happening in Iraq.'

Even with constricted coverage, the tally of journalists killed in Iraq is now 71, more than the number killed in Vietnam or World War II. (This war is now six months short of the United States involvement in World War II, but at least then we knew we were winning by this point.)

Shaken by the CBS losses, networks were reassessing how to cover a story with such excruciating risks. Journalists in Iraq are hamstrung in Iraq just as the troops are, struggling, with ever greater frustration and higher costs, to do the job they were sent in to do.

As the CBS war correspondent Lara Logan told CNN recently, American officials often reject her requests for optimistic stories, saying:

"Oh, sorry, we can't take you to that school project, because if you put that on TV, they're going to be attacked, the teachers are going to be killed, the children might be the victims of attack.

"Oh, sorry, we can't show this reconstruction project because then that's going to expose it to sabotage."

An American soldier was killed in the blast that killed the CBS cameraman and soundman and injured Ms. Dozier. But more than a day after we knew everything about the CBS victims, no information had been released about him.

There is a tragic anonymity about this war. Kids die but we don't know who they are, other than their names, which turn up in small print.

They do not touch everyone's lives because, without a draft, they are not drawn from every part of American society.

The administration tries to play down any sense of individual loss; the president has not attended a single funeral, and the government banned pictures of their returning coffins. The Iraqi civilians who die don't even get their names in the small print.

Journalists die and we know who they are. We know they liked to cook and play Scrabble. But we don't know who killed them, and their killers will never be brought to justice. The enemy has no face, just a finger on a detonator.

Maureen Dowd @ NYT

Jury retires in Abu Ghraib trial


A military jury has began mulling its verdict in the trial of a US Army dog handler accused of abusing inmates at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
The jury of seven must decide whether Sgt Santos Cardona, 32, was guilty of playing vicious games or was just following orders.

Sgt Cardona is accused of several charges including aggravated assault, for letting his dog harass detainees.

If convicted he faces up to 16 years behind bars.

The prosecution has described Sgt Cardona as one of a group of "corrupt cops" who tormented Iraqi prisoners for fun.

But the defence has argued that the accused was only obeying orders from senior officers.

US to publish Iraq deaths probe


The US government has promised to make public all the details of inquiries into the alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians by US marines last November.
Washington made the pledge following claims that the killings of 24 people in the town of Haditha were covered up.

A White House spokesman said President George W Bush was concerned by the reports, but wanted the military to complete their inquiries first.

The Iraqi prime minister said earlier Baghdad would investigate the claims.

Nouri Maliki told Reuters news agency there was "a limit to the acceptable excuses" for civilian casualties.

The Pentagon is close to ending its two separate inquiries into the killings and the cover-up in Haditha, initially attributed to a clash with militants.

According to initial US military reports, 15 civilians and eight insurgents died after a bomb killed a marine in Haditha, a militant stronghold in Anbar Province.

But the army now says it is investigating a total of 24 deaths.

Observers say the incident on 19 November could deal a more serious blow to US standing than the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.

U.S. Accepts Draft on Iran That Omits Use of Force


WASHINGTON — The Bush administration, seeking to enlist Russian support for a United Nations Security Council resolution on Iran, has agreed to language ruling out the immediate threat of military force, American and European officials said Tuesday.

The American agreement has improved the chances that the Russians will go along with the resolution, European diplomats said.

The resolution is to call on Iran to suspend various nuclear activities that are viewed in the West as part of a clandestine weapons program, but that Iran maintains are peaceful in nature.

President Bush called President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, President Jacques Chirac of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to press for agreement on a Security Council resolution demanding that Iran stop enriching uranium or face possible punitive action.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's office announced that Ms. Rice would fly to Vienna on Wednesday for more talks on Iran with top Russian, Chinese and European envoys. The American goal is to get an agreement on a Security Council resolution this week, for possible approval in June.

Also being negotiated are a package of benefits in nuclear energy, economic activities and security to be offered Iran if it cooperates in ending its nuclear activities. The Europeans are to offer this package with American support, but the Bush administration has quietly expressed misgivings about some of its possible elements.

"I think that we could safely say at this point that we feel like we're in good shape heading into Vienna," Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said at a department briefing.

Iran Wants to Talk

NYT Editorial

If things keep going as they are going now, Iran is likely to have nuclear weapons sometime during the next decade. That is a truly chilling prospect if Iran continues to be ruled by fanatics committed to exporting Islamic revolution, destroying Israel and settling scores with the West.

Yet none of the strategies now being discussed internationally seem likely to get Iran to change course. The incentives that Europe can offer on its own appear too limited to tempt Iran into giving up its nuclear plans. The mild sanctions that seem to be the most Russia and China are willing to consider at this point are too painless to make much of an impression. And the few military options realistically available are likely to do more harm than good.

This bleak outlook for addressing a problem that is far too serious to be ignored argues for exploring a radically different approach: direct talks between Washington and Tehran in which Iran would be offered a wide-ranging package of economic inducements and security assurances in exchange for completely and verifiably abandoning all programs capable of producing nuclear bomb fuel. Some Iranian officials are now seeking such talks, yet Washington, perversely, seems uninterested.

The Bush administration's resistance to direct talks could prove very costly to America's long-term interests. With Iran's uranium enrichment programs moving forward, time is not on Washington's side. Direct talks with Iran may fail to produce an acceptable agreement. But by testing Iran's willingness to bargain seriously, America could put itself in a far stronger diplomatic position to seek more effective international sanctions later.

Washington's current efforts to achieve a meaningful United Nations resolution do not seem to be getting anywhere. A meeting was held in London last week to move the five permanent members of the Security Council closer to agreement, but served mainly to underscore their differences. China and Russia still argue that diplomatic options are not exhausted and so it is premature to discuss punitive sanctions. Even European allies like Germany believe that direct talks between Washington and Tehran could lead to a breakthrough.

Without Russian and Chinese support in the Security Council, the United States is limited to taking symbolic steps like joint American and European banking restrictions. These are not likely to make much of an impression on a country that is raking in some $300 million a day in oil revenues.

The only sanctions that stand a serious chance of moving Tehran would be a worldwide ban on buying Iranian oil. It could be a lot easier to persuade Russia and China to enforce such a ban if Washington agreed to hold direct talks with Iran and it was Iranian intransigence that made them break down. Even better, the talks just might succeed.

Unless the Bush administration eases its stubborn opposition to direct talks, it is hard to see what is going to stop the eventual emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Police find 42 bodies dumped in Baghdad

The Age - Australia

Forty-two dumped bodies have been found in different parts of Baghdad over the last 24 hours - many of them shot, bound and showing signs of torture, police sources said.

Most of them were found in eastern Baghdad, the sources added.

Twelve were in one place in the Baladiyat district and eight in the nearby Sadr City area of the capital.

The discovery of dumped bodies is common in Iraq, especially since the February bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in the city of Samarra which touched off a wave of sectarian killings and revenge attacks sparking fears of a full-blown civil war.

The new Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed to rein in violence that has killed thousands of people since the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Panel wants Gonzales to testify on FBI

The Hill

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) announced yesterday that he would invite Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller to testify before his committee about the search of Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) congressional office.

In addition, House General Counsel Geraldine Gennet sent a letter to the Justice Department yesterday recommending a meeting next week to work out procedures that both sides could agree on for federal investigators to search congressional offices.

Sensenbrenner made his announcement during a committee hearing yesterday morning to discuss the constitutionality of the FBI’s late-night raid earlier this month of Jefferson’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building.

“This is a constitutional issue that is a matter of grave concern,” Sensenbrenner said during his closing remarks.

The hearing, which featured a one-sided panel of legal experts and one former member, highlighted the ways in which Sensenbrenner says federal prosecutors violated the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution by seizing protected documents as part of their investigation into charges that the Louisiana lawmaker was bribed.......

More splits in House GOP ranks

The Hill

As the midterm elections loom and concern about maintaining their majority hold on the House increases, rank-and-file Republicans have grown more and more combative with their leaders and themselves.

In the past two weeks, Republican House members have sparred openly on the House floor and have criticized their Speaker behind closed doors.

With immigration reform, an update of the Voting Rights Act and a series of appropriations bills among the few big-ticket items remaining on this year’s legislative calendar, it is unlikely these intraparty squabbles will die down any time soon, particularly as vulnerable Republicans seek to distance themselves from their party and their president.

While bickering is a constant on Capitol Hill, the recent rancor illustrates the election-year self-interest of individual members that could make it increasingly difficult for leaders to tackle controversial legislation. In turn, the growing discord could help paint the GOP as divided.

With all eyes on immigration, spending restraint continues to be the quiet issue that divides congressional Republicans this year. Members were forced to postpone a vote on the supplemental spending bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq until after the Memorial Day recess because House and Senate negotiators were unable to settle on a final bill.......

Losing its wars, U.S. needs to regroup

The Providence Journal

.. we need to look again at the central military doctrines of our time: The Powell Doctrine, which shaped the first Gulf War, is in eclipse. That called for exhaustive diplomacy and then, only as a last resort, the use of overwhelming conventional force. Now we have what could be called the Rumsfeld Doctrine: an impatience with diplomacy and a readiness to deploy U.S. power solo and often, but with light, highly mobile, often unconventional forces that move in fast and then withdraw, leaving others to rebuild.

Today, we see these issues playing out in three conflicts. The United States is fighting two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a third conflict, which President Bush terms a war but is in fact an amalgam of warfare, diplomacy, intelligence, police action, and economic effort: the struggle against Muslim extremists. The United States is losing in all three cases.

At the same time, the administration has instructed the Defense Department to develop plans for air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities. This report is not denied by the administration; the plans are detailed. They are not, as claimed, the usual contingency plans that end up filed in Pentagon desk drawers.

The parallels with 2002-03 and the run-up to the Iraq war are deeply disturbing. And the silence in Congress and among the political chattering classes is deafening ..

Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and militiamen are revivified by the furor over illegal immigration


Pugnacious anthems and racist diatribes have never been in short supply at Nordic Fest, an annual white-power Woodstock held over the Memorial Day break near the former mining town of Dawson Springs, Ky. And this past weekend was no exception. On the agenda were a Triumph of the Will--themed running event and a cross "lighting" sponsored by the Imperial Klans of America. But something new did arise at Nordic Fest this year: bellicose talk and plans of action against illegal immigrants. Among the scheduled guest speakers was Hal Turner, a New Jersey Internet radio talk-show host who recently instructed his audience to "clean your guns, have plenty of ammunition ... and then do what has to be done" to undocumented workers.

New Iraqi Ambassador Claims US Marines "intentionally' killed cousin"

The new Iraqi ambassador to the United States has accused US Marines of "intentionally" killing a cousin in the Iraqi town of Haditha last year. Speaking only hours after presenting his credentials to President George W Bush at the White House, Ambassador Samir al-Sumaidaie said his relative was shot dead five months before the killing of 24 civilians in the town in November that is now the subject of a controversial inquiry.

The ambassador told how Mohammed al-Sumaidaie, a 21-year-old engineering student, was killed after opening the door of the family house to US Marines on June 25. "I believe he was killed intentionally. I believe he was killed unnecessarily," Mr Sumaidaie said on CNN television. "The Marines were doing house-to-house searches, and they went into the house of my cousin. He opened the door for them. His mother, his siblings were there. He let them into the bedroom of his father, and there he was shot."

At the time, Mr Sumaidaie was the ambassador to the United Nations and the US military agreed to investigate the death after he released a statement. Mr Sumaidaie said the investigation "concluded that there was no unlawful killing. I would like further investigation," he told CNN. The ambassador added that General George Casey, commander of US forces in Iraq, had rejected a first investigation into the death. Mr Sumaidaie said he was still waiting to see a copy of the report.

The ambassador said his family had been told his cousin was shot dead "in self-defence" but he could not believe this. "I know the boy. He was in second year engineering courses at the university. Nothing to do with violence. All his life has been studies and intellectual work." The ambassador added that he was also suspicious about the deaths of three other youths in Haditha shortly after that of his cousin. "They were in a car, they were unarmed, I believe, and they were shot."


Magistrate Rules That Government Must Reveal Monitoring


A federal magistrate in Brooklyn yesterday insisted that government lawyers defending former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top officials in a lawsuit brought by former immigrant detainees cannot dodge the plaintiffs' persistent and unwelcome question: Are members of the United States trial team and likely witnesses — including Mr. Ashcroft and Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director — aware of any secret government monitoring of communications between the plaintiffs and their lawyers?

"Plaintiffs' effort to learn whether their conversations with their attorneys were monitored by the government is not a mere fishing expedition based on unfounded speculation," the magistrate, Judge Steven M. Gold, wrote in an 11-page decision. The order rejected the government's request that he reconsider a similar order that he made orally on March 7.

He noted that "the government's electronic surveillance of individuals suspected of links to terrorism has received widespread publicity and has even been acknowledged by the president of the United States." And he cited findings by the inspector general that on more than 40 occasions, staff members of the Metropolitan Detention Center secretly video-recorded visits between lawyers and Muslim immigrants swept up and detained there after the Sept. 11 attacks, and later deported after being cleared of links to terrorism.

Stephen E. Handler, a Justice Department lawyer, had argued that confirming or denying such monitoring in one case and not another could "tend to reveal classified information." ...

Bush Learned of Haditha Deaths From Press

WASHINGTON -- President Bush learned of reports that U.S. Marines killed two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians only after reporters began asking questions, the White House said Tuesday.

Asked when Bush was first briefed about the events in Haditha, an insurgent stronghold in western Iraq, White House press secretary Tony Snow replied Tuesday: "When a Time reporter first made the call."

Time magazine was first to report, in March, that the U.S. military was investigating a dozen Marines for possible war crimes in the November incident. The killings, which included women and children, came after a bomb rocked a military convoy on Nov. 19, killing a Marine.

Marines then shot and killed unarmed civilians in a taxi at the scene and went into homes and shot other people, according to Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated Marine war veteran and prominent critic of Iraq policy who has talked with military officials.

Bush's New Policy Adviser Admits Altering Text


Karl Zinsmeister, President Bush's new domestic policy adviser, acknowledged he did something wrong when he took a newspaper profile of himself, altered quotes and text, and then posted it on a Web site without noting the changes.


In one example, the original article attributed to Zinsmeister this quote: "People in Washington are morally repugnant, cheating, shifty human beings."

But, on the institute site, it appeared as: "I learned in Washington that there is an 'overclass' in this country stocked with cheating, shifty human beings that's just as morally repugnant as our 'underclass.' "

Zinsmeister explained the change to The Washington Post by saying he has long studied issues of class and morality and he was confident he would have used the kind of specific language in the quote on the institute site rather than the more broad description in the original article.

Culture of Corruption: Former Ney aide names names in Abramoff Case

WASHINGTON — A former congressional aide and lobbyist described Tuesday how he obtained advice, insider information and help from Bush administration procurement chief David Safavian to advance two projects being promoted by Republican influence peddler Jack Abramoff.

The aide, Neil Volz, who was a partner of Abramoff's at the time, also outlined how they received assistance from several Republican congressmen including, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio

Murtha: It's Time to Redeploy

ABC News

The investigation into whether U.S. Marines killed 24 unarmed civilians — many of them women and children — in the Iraqi city of Haditha last November has broken the heart of a congressman, who wonders whether there was an attempted cover-up. "Eighty percent of the Iraqis want us out of there," said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated Marine veteran and prominent critic of U.S. policy in Iraq, on "Good Morning America." "Forty-seven percent say it's all right to kill Americans. Yet when we went in, they thought it was wonderful to topple Saddam Hussein. Now we've lost that war, and now it is time to redeploy." Murtha believes the United States can no longer win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

Car bombs, mortars leave 40 dead in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Car bombs and mortar attacks killed at least 40 people Tuesday across Iraq as the government struggled with deteriorating security, while a man who allegedly confessed to hundreds of beheadings has been captured, officials said.

On Monday, another 40 people were killed in various attacks, including two CBS journalists who died in a bombing that critically wounded a correspondent for the network.

Not including Tuesday's attacks, at least 4,066 Iraqis had been killed in war-related violence so far in 2006, according to Associated Press reports, which may not be complete because the reporting process does not cover the entire country. That figure includes 871 in May, surpassing the 801 killed in April.

Tuesday's deadliest bomb struck in a popular market during the evening in Husseiniyah, about 20 miles north of Baghdad, killing at least 25 people and wounding 65, said Lt. Colonel Falah al-Mohamedawi, an Interior Ministry spokesman.
"Glory Days"

Iraqi PM vows action on security jobs, Basra

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Tuesday he will overrule squabbling parties in his coalition and present parliament with his personal nominees for two key security posts if they fail to agree this week.

Maliki also told Reuters in an interview that he will fly to Iraq's second city Basra
on Wednesday to end faction fighting among fellow Shi'ites and that he is ready to use force against "gangs" holding crucial oil exports to ransom.


Intense wrangling forced him to leave the interior and defense ministry portfolios
temporarily vacant when he unveiled his cabinet, an early setback for his drive to crush the raging Sunni insurgency and bridge Iraq's ethnic and religious divide.


In one of several deadly incidents on Tuesday, two women employees of the Ministry of Interior were killed by a rocket which landed near the ministry, police said. A roadside bomb killed a police commando in southern Baghdad, and in the town of Hilla, a suicide bomber in a car killed at least eight people.

Iraq to probe US massacre claims


The official US version differs widely from that of locals and the media
Iraq will investigate allegations that US marines carried out a massacre of civilians in Haditha in November, the country's prime minister has said.

Nouri Maliki told Reuters news agency there was "a limit to the acceptable excuses" for civilian casualties.

The Pentagon is close to ending its own inquiries into the deaths, initially attributed to a clash with militants.

Observers say the incident could deal a more serious blow to US standing than the Abu Ghraib scandal.

According to initial US military reports, 15 civilians and eight insurgents died after a bomb killed a marine in Haditha, a militant stronghold in Anbar Province.

Convicted Lead figure in phone jam Crime to advise GOP contenders


A major figure in the Election Day phone-jamming scandal that embarrassed and nearly bankrupted the New Hampshire GOP is out of prison and back in the political game.

Charles McGee, the former executive director of the state Republican Party, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and served seven months for his part in the scheme to have a telemarketer tie up Democratic and union phone lines in 2002.

He's back at his old job with a Republican political marketing firm, Spectrum Monthly & Printing Inc., and will be helping out at the firm's "GOP campaign school" for candidates.

The news of McGee's role in the campaign school was seized on by Democrats, who have charged that Republicans in New Hampshire and Washington have not done enough to repudiate the jamming scheme's authors. Christy Setzer, a spokeswoman for a Democratic group called the Senate Majority Project, said Spectrum's clients include many of New Hampshire's most prominent Republicans.

"The very fact that they continue to associate with him and give him their money . . . speaks volumes," she said.

Iraq PM impatient with US troops killing civilians

BAGHDAD, May 30 (Reuters) - Iraq's prime minister said on Tuesday his patience was wearing thin with excuses from U.S. troops that they kill civilians by "mistake" and said he would launch an investigation into killings at Haditha last year.

"There is a limit to the acceptable excuses. Yes a mistake may happen but there is an acceptable limit to mistakes," Nuri al-Maliki told Reuters when asked about a U.S. investigation into the deaths of 24 Iraqis in the western town last November.

"We are worried about the increase in 'mistakes'. I am not saying that they are intentional. But it is worrying for us," he said in an interview in his offices in Baghdad.

Khan Nuclear Trafficking Probe Being Hampered by US

Washington's failure to respond to "multiple" Swiss appeals was revealed last week by former United Nations weapons inspector David Albright. He told a US hearing into the nuclear trafficking ring run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atom bomb, that he found the lack of cooperation by the US "frankly embarrassing".


Coalition in Iraq Continues to Dwindle

VIENNA, Austria - It's a coalition of the dwindling. The U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq is losing two of its most important allies - Italy and South Korea - and up to half a dozen other members could draw down their forces or pull out entirely by the end of the year.

The withdrawals are complicating America's effort to begin extracting itself from the country, where a fresh onslaught of deadly attacks on coalition forces is testing the resolve of key partners such as Britain and Poland to stick with the mission despite the dangers.

Some observers say Iraq's deteriorating security situation is an argument for coalition forces to stay - not leave - and perhaps even deploy additional forces to help tamp down violence as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki works to shift all security duties to Iraqis over the next 18 months.

Underscoring the reality, the Pentagon said Tuesday it is shifting about 1,500 U.S. troops from a reserve force in Kuwait to western Iraq's volatile Anbar province to help the Iraqis establish order there.

Increased instability, violence and radical Islamism in Iraq could require "a larger role for overt, coordinated, multilateral intervention, involving the key regional powers, to stabilize the situation," defense analyst Christopher Langton of the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies warns in a new report, Military Balance 2006.

Giving airline data to US illegal: EU court

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union acted illegally when it agreed to transfer airline passenger data to the United States as part of U.S. efforts to fight terrorism, the bloc's highest court said on Tuesday.

Under a May 2004 EU-U.S. agreement, European airlines have been obliged to give U.S. authorities 34 items of information on passengers flying to the United States, including name, address, all forms of payment and contact telephone numbers.

The United States insisted the transfer of data was essential to fight terrorism following the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington by suicide plane hijackers.

The European Court of Justice said the agreement lacked an adequate legal basis.

Evidence of massacre by Marines caught on film

The Courier Mail

PHOTOGRAPHS taken by US military intelligence have provided crucial evidence that up to 24 Iraqis were massacred by marines in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha.

One photograph shows an Iraqi mother and young child, kneeling on the floor as if in prayer. They have both been shot dead at close range.

The pictures also show other Iraqi victims, shot execution-style in the head and chest in their ownhomes.

A US government official said the marines involved had "suffered a total breakdown in morality and leadership".

The killings are emerging as the worst known US atrocity of the Iraq war.

At least seven women and three children were among those killed in the massacre.

Witness accounts obtained by The Sunday Times suggest the number of children killed may be as high as six.

"This one is ugly," a US military official said.

In Britain, the chief of the defence staff, Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup, said at the weekend the "appalling" reports of the massacre could undermine British support for the war.

"This sort of accusation does make that harder to achieve," Air Chief Marshal said.

The pictures of the dead, which are being closely guarded by the US military criminal investigation service, were taken by a military photographer who is believed to have arrived on the scene moments after the shootings.

Many US forces are accompanied by photographers to gather intelligence and to shield soldiers from accusations of torture, intimidation and violence.

But the evidence in this case points to a murder rampage by the US marines.

The stain on the US military could prove harder to erase than the photographs of sadistic abuse and torture by US guards at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

Comparisons are being made to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1968, in which US troops slaughtered 500 villagers.

Up to a dozen marines may face criminal charges -- including murder, which carries the death penalty -- dereliction of duty and filing false reports.

Three marine commanders were suspended last month.

With a political storm brewing, the top US marine, General Michael Hagee, flew to Baghdad on Friday to tell his troops they must kill "only when justified".

The naval inquiry is focusing on the actions of a sergeant who may have been the leader of a four-man fire team.

Miguel Terrazas, 20, a lance-corporal from El Paso, Texas, was travelling in a convoy of four Humvees in Haditha just after 7am on November 19 last year when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle, killing him and wounding two others.

The events that followed are the subject of two military inquiries due to report soon: one into the facts of the case, the other into a cover-up.

One witness, Aws Fahmi, heard his neighbour, Yunis Salim Khafif, plead for his life in English, shouting: "I am a friend, I am good."

"But they killed him, his wife and daughters," Fahmi said.

Haditha, about 225km northwest of Baghdad, has long been considered a rebel stronghold. It is among a string of Euphrates Valley towns used by insurgents and foreign fighters to infiltrate from Syria to reach Baghdad and the Sunni heartland.

Lawmakers told to brace for Haditha fallout


Some members of Congress have been told to brace for the fallout from potential charges of murder and cover-up stemming from an inquiry into an alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines, sources say.

Military investigators strongly suspect that what happened in the western Iraqi city of Haditha last November was a rampage by a small number of Marines who snapped after one of their own was killed by a roadside bomb, the sources told CNN.

Pentagon sources told CNN that at least 24 Iraqis were killed.

Sources told CNN on Monday that the investigation is substantially complete, and that charges -- including murder charges -- could be filed sometime in June. And, sources said, investigators have concluded there was a cover-up -- but won't say if it is limited to the handful of Marines who did the killings.

The formal findings of investigations into the matter are several weeks away, said Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Pace cautioned against a rush to judgment.

"There are two ongoing investigations," he told CNN. "One has to do with what happened. The other investigation goes to why didn't we know about it sooner than we knew about it."

Pace said the investigations may not be complete for "a couple of weeks," adding, "We should not prejudge the outcome."

The U.S. military had previously refused to believe villagers who accused the Marines of murdering unarmed civilians, even when presented with credible evidence assembled by Time magazine for an article in March.

"They were incredibly hostile," said Time's Aparisim Ghosh. "They accused us of buying into enemy propaganda, and they stuck to their original story, which is that these people were all killed by the IED [improvised explosive device]."

Monday, May 29, 2006

Bloody Scenes (from Haditha) Haunt a Marine


HANFORD, Calif. — Lance Cpl. Roel Ryan Briones says he is tormented by two memories of Nov. 19, 2005, in Haditha, Iraq.

The first is of the body of his best friend and fellow Marine blown apart just after dawn by a roadside bomb. The second is of the lifeless form of a small Iraqi girl, one of two dozen unarmed civilians allegedly killed by members of his Camp Pendleton unit — Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

Briones, a wiry, soft-spoken 21-year-old interviewed Sunday at his family home in this Central Valley city, said he was not among the small group of Marines that military investigators have concluded killed the civilians, including children, women and elderly men.

However, Briones, who goes by Ryan, said he took photographs of the victims and helped carry their bodies out of their homes as part of the cleanup crew sent in late in the afternoon on the day of the killings.


Of the 12 Marines being investigated, three or four are thought to have done the killing, according to officials briefed on the investigation. The others are being investigated for failing to stop the killings or for not reporting the incident truthfully.

Briones is the first of his unit to speak publicly about the events. His account provides background on the atmosphere and activities that day in the Euphrates River town and the traumatic memories it left in its wake.

Paul Krugman: Swift Boating the Planet

Al Gore and others who hope to turn global warming into a real political issue are going to have to get tougher, because the other side doesn't play by any known rules.
A brief segment in "An Inconvenient Truth" shows Senator Al Gore questioning James Hansen, a climatologist at NASA, during a 1989 hearing. But the movie doesn't give you much context, or tell you what happened to Dr. Hansen later.

And that's a story worth telling, for two reasons. It's a good illustration of the way interest groups can create the appearance of doubt even when the facts are clear and cloud the reputations of people who should be regarded as heroes.

And it's a warning for Mr. Gore and others who hope to turn global warming into a real political issue: you're going to have to get tougher, because the other side doesn't play by any known rules.

Dr. Hansen was one of the first climate scientists to say publicly that global warming was under way. In 1988, he made headlines with Senate testimony in which he declared that "the greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now."

When he testified again the following year, officials in the first Bush administration altered his prepared statement to downplay the threat. Mr. Gore's movie shows the moment when the administration's tampering was revealed.

In 1988, Dr. Hansen was well out in front of his scientific colleagues, but over the years that followed he was vindicated by a growing body of evidence. By rights, Dr. Hansen should have been universally acclaimed for both his prescience and his courage.

But soon after Dr. Hansen's 1988 testimony, energy companies began a campaign to create doubt about global warming, in spite of the increasingly overwhelming evidence. And in the late 1990's, climate skeptics began a smear campaign against Dr. Hansen himself.

Leading the charge was Patrick Michaels, a professor at the University of Virginia who has received substantial financial support from the energy industry.

In Senate testimony, and then in numerous presentations, Dr. Michaels claimed that the actual pace of global warming was falling far short of Dr. Hansen's predictions.

As evidence, he presented a chart supposedly taken from a 1988 paper written by Dr. Hansen and others, which showed a curve of rising temperatures considerably steeper than the trend that has actually taken place.

In fact, the chart Dr. Michaels showed was a fraud — that is, it wasn't what Dr. Hansen actually predicted. The original paper showed a range of possibilities, and the actual rise in temperature has fallen squarely in the middle of that range.

So how did Dr. Michaels make it seem as if Dr. Hansen's prediction was wildly off? Why, he erased all the lower curves, leaving only the curve that the original paper described as being "on the high side of reality."

The experts at, the go-to site for climate science, suggest that the smears against Dr. Hansen "might be viewed by some as a positive sign, indicative of just how intellectually bankrupt the contrarian movement has become." But I think they're misreading the situation.

In fact, the smears have been around for a long time, and Dr. Hansen has been trying to correct the record for years.

Yet the claim that Dr. Hansen vastly overpredicted global warming has remained in circulation, and has become a staple of climate change skeptics, from Michael Crichton to Robert Novak.

There's a concise way to describe what happened to Dr. Hansen: he was Swift-boated.

John Kerry, a genuine war hero, didn't realize that he could successfully be portrayed as a coward. And it seems to me that Dr. Hansen, whose predictions about global warming have proved remarkably accurate, didn't believe that he could successfully be portrayed as an unreliable exaggerator.

His first response to Dr. Michaels, in January 1999, was astonishingly diffident. He pointed out that Dr. Michaels misrepresented his work, but rather than denouncing the fraud involved, he offered a rather plaintive appeal for better behavior.

Even now, Dr. Hansen seems reluctant to say the obvious. "Is this treading close to scientific fraud?" he recently asked about Dr. Michaels's smear. The answer is no: it isn't "treading close," it's fraud pure and simple.

Now, Dr. Hansen isn't running for office. But Mr. Gore might be, and even if he isn't, he hopes to promote global warming as a political issue. And if he wants to do that, he and those on his side will have to learn to call liars what they are.

Bob Herbert: Consider the Living

Before you head out to the barbecue this afternoon, look in a mirror and ask yourself if Iraq is something you would be willing to die for.
Pretty soon this war in Iraq will have lasted as long as our involvement in World War II, with absolutely no evidence of any sort of conclusion in sight.

The point of Memorial Day is to honor the service and the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in the nation's wars. But I suggest that we take a little time today to consider the living.

Look around and ask yourself if you believe that stability or democracy in Iraq — or whatever goal you choose to assert as the reason for this war — is worth the life of your son or your daughter, or your husband or your wife, or the co-worker who rides to the office with you in the morning, or your friendly neighbor next door.

Before you gather up the hot dogs and head out to the barbecue this afternoon, look in a mirror and ask yourself honestly if Iraq is something you would be willing to die for.

There is no shortage of weaselly politicians and misguided commentators ready to tell us that we can't leave Iraq — we just can't. Chaos will ensue. Maybe even a civil war.

But what they really mean is that we can't leave as long as the war can continue to be fought by other people's children, and as long as we can continue to put this George W. Bush-inspired madness on a credit card.

Start sending the children of the well-to-do to Baghdad, and start raising taxes to pay off the many hundreds of billions that the war is costing, and watch how quickly this tragic fiasco is brought to an end.

At an embarrassing press conference last week, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain looked for all the world like a couple of hapless schoolboys who, while playing with fire, had set off a conflagration that is still raging out of control.

Their recklessness has so far cost the lives of nearly 2,500 Americans and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, many of them children.

Among the regrets voiced by the president at the press conference was his absurd challenge to the insurgents in 2003 to "bring 'em on." But Mr. Bush gave no hint as to when the madness might end.

How many more healthy young people will we shovel into the fires of Iraq before finally deciding it's time to stop? How many dead are enough?

There is no good news coming out of Iraq. Sabrina Tavernise of The Times recently wrote: "In the latest indication of the crushing hardships weighing on the lives of Iraqis, increasing portions of the middle class seem to be doing everything they can to leave the country."

The middle class is all but panicked at the inability of the Iraqi government or American forces to quell the relentless violence.

Ms. Tavernise quoted a businessman who is planning to move to Jordan: "We're like sheep at a slaughter farm."

Iraqis continue to be terrorized by kidnappers, roving death squads and, in a term perhaps coined by Mr. Bush, "suiciders."

The American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, acknowledged last week that even at this late date, there are parts of western Iraq that are not controlled by American forces, but rather "are under the control of terrorists and insurgents."

Now we get word that U.S. marines may have murdered two dozen Iraqis in cold blood last November.

No one should be surprised that such an atrocity could occur. That's what happens in war.

The killing gets out of control, which is yet another reason why it's important to have mature leaders who will do everything possible to avoid war, rather than cavalierly sending the young and the healthy off to combat as if it were no more serious an enterprise than a big-time sporting event.

Nothing new came out of the Bush-Blair press conference. After more than three years these two men are as clueless as ever about what to do in Iraq. Are we doomed to follow the same pointless script for the next three years? And for three years after that?

Leadership does not get more pathetic than this. Once there was F.D.R. and Churchill. Now there's Bush and Blair.

Reacting to the allegations about the murder of civilians, the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael Hagee, went to Iraq last week to warn his troops about the danger of becoming "indifferent to the loss of a human life."

Somehow that message needs to be conveyed to the top leaders of this country, and to the public at large.

There is no better day than Memorial Day to reflect on it. As we remember the dead, we should consider the living, and stop sending people by the thousands to pointless, unnecessary deaths.

The Top 10 Conservative Idiots, No. 245

May 29 ---- Chris Matthews has had his nose surgically attached to the president's buttcrack, George W. Bush gets dissed by Tony Blair of all people, and Ken Lay has been found very, very guilty.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Frank Rich: The Cannes Landslide for Al Gore

Let's hope Mr. Gore runs.

He may not be able to pull off the Nixon-style comeback of some bloggers' fantasies, but by pounding away on his best issues, he could at the very least play the role of an Adlai Stevenson or Wendell Willkie, patriotically goading the national debate onto higher ground.

Let it never be said that the Democrats don't believe in anything. They still believe in Hollywood and they still believe in miracles. Witness the magical mystery comeback tour of Al Gore.

Like Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" before it, Mr. Gore's new documentary about global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," has wowed the liberal caucus at Cannes (who needs landlocked Iowa?) and fueled fantasies of political victory back home.

"Al Gore Takes Cannes by Storm — Will the Oval Office Be Next?" Arianna Huffington asks on her blog, reporting that the former vice president was hotter on the Croisette than Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis and Penelope Cruz.

In a "fantasy" presidential poll on the liberal Web site Daily Kos, Mr. Gore racks up a landslide 68 percent, with the closest also-ran, Russ Feingold, at 15.

Liberal Washington pundits wonder whether the wonkishness that seemed off-putting in 2000 may actually be a virtue. In choosing a president, Margaret Carlson writes on, maybe "we should give a rest to that old saw about likeability."

Still, the unexpected rebirth of Al Gore says more about the desperation of the Democrats than it does about him. He is most of all the beneficiary of a perfect storm of events, the right man in the right place at the right time.

It was just after Mr. Gore appeared on "Saturday Night Live" to kick off his movie's publicity campaign that long-rumbling discontent with the party's presumptive (if unannounced) presidential front-runner, Hillary Clinton, boiled over.

Last week both New York magazine and The New Yorker ran lead articles quoting party insiders who described a Clinton candidacy in 2008 as a pox tantamount to avian flu. The Times jumped in with a front-page remembrance of headlines past: a dissection of the Clinton marriage.

If Senator Clinton is the Antichrist, might not it be time for a resurrected messiah to inherit (and save) the earth? Enter Mr. Gore, celebrated by New York on its cover as "The Un-Hillary."

There's a certain logic to this. Mrs. Clinton does look like a weak candidate — not so much because of her marriage, her gender or her liberalism, but because of her eagerness to fudge her stands on anything and everything to appeal to any and all potential voters.

Where once she inspired passions pro and con, now she often induces apathy. Her most excited constituency seems to be the right-wing pundits who still hope to make a killing with books excoriating her.

At least eight fresh titles are listed at, including my own personal favorite, "Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation From Mussolini to Hillary Clinton." (Why settle for Il Duce when you can go for Hitler?)

Since no crowd-pleasing Democratic challenger has emerged at this early date to disrupt Mrs. Clinton's presumed coronation, the newly crowned movie star who won the popular vote in 2000 is the quick fix. Better the defeated devil the Democrats know than the losers they don't.

Besides, there are at least two strong arguments in favor of Mr. Gore. He was way ahead of the Washington curve, not just on greenhouse gases but on another issue far more pressing than Mrs. Clinton's spirited crusade to stamp out flag burning: Iraq.

An anti-Hussein hawk who was among the rare Senate Democrats to vote for the first gulf war, Mr. Gore forecast the disasters lying in wait for the second when he spoke out at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Sept. 23, 2002.

He saw that the administration was jumping "from one unfinished task to another" and risked letting Afghanistan destabilize and Osama bin Laden flee.

He saw that the White House was recklessly putting politics over policy by hurrying a Congressional war resolution before the midterm elections (and before securing international support).

Most important, he noticed then that the administration had "not said much of anything" about "what would follow regime change."

He imagined how "chaos in the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam."

At the time, the White House professed to ignore Mr. Gore's speech, but on cue in the next five days Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, Donald Rumsfeld and the president all stepped up the hype of what Mr. Rumsfeld falsely called "bulletproof" evidence of links between Saddam and Al Qaeda.

Democratic leaders in Congress, meanwhile, blew off Mr. Gore for fear that talk of Iraq might distract the electorate from all those compelling domestic issues that would guarantee victory in the midterms. (That brilliant strategy cost Democrats the Senate.)

On CNN, a representative from The New Republic, a frequent Gore cheerleader, reported that "the vast majority of the staff" condemned his speech as "the bitter rantings of a guy who is being politically motivated and disingenuous in his arguments."

But in truth, as with global warming, Mr. Gore's stands on Iraq (both in 1991 and 2002) were manifestations of leadership — the single attribute most missing from the current Democrats with presidential ambitions. Of the potential candidates for 2008, only Senator Feingold raised similar questions about the war so articulately so early.

The Gore stand on the environment, though still rejected by the president and his oil-industry base, has become a bipartisan cause: 86 evangelical Christian leaders broke with the administration's do-nothing policy in February.

If this were the whole picture, Mr. Gore would seem the perfect antidote to the Democrats' ills. But it's not.

The less flattering aspect of Mr. Gore has not gone away: the cautious and contrived presidential candidate who, like Mrs. Clinton now, was so in thrall to consultants that he ran away from his own administration's record and muted his views, even about pet subjects like science.

(He waffled on the teaching of creationism in August 1999, after the Kansas Board of Education struck down the teaching of evolution.)

That Gore is actually accentuated, not obscured, by "An Inconvenient Truth." The more hard-hitting his onscreen slide show about global warming, the more he reminds you of how much less he focused on the issue in 2000. Gore the uninhibited private citizen is not the same as Gore the timid candidate.

Though many of the rave reviews don't mention it, there are also considerable chunks of "An Inconvenient Truth" that are more about hawking Mr. Gore's image than his cause. They also bring back unflattering memories of him as a politician.

The movie contains no other voices that might upstage him, not even those of scientists supporting his argument.

It is instead larded with sycophantic audiences, as meticulously multicultural as any Benetton ad, who dote on every word and laugh at every joke, like the studio audience at "Live With Regis and Kelly."

We are also treated to a heavy-handed, grainy glimpse of Katherine Harris, Michael Moore-style, and are reminded that Mr. Gore is not a rigid blue-state N.R.A. foe (he shows us where he shot his rifle as a farm kid in Tennessee).

There's even an ingenious bit of fearmongering to go head to head with the Republicans' exploitation of 9/11: in a worst-case climactic scenario, we're told, the World Trade Center memorial "would be under water."

Given so blatant a political context, the film's big emotional digressions — Mr. Gore's tragic near-loss of his young son and the death of his revered older sister from lung cancer — are as discomforting as they were in his 1992 and 1996 convention speeches.

If "An Inconvenient Truth" isn't actually a test drive for a presidential run, it's the biggest tease since Colin Powell encouraged speculation about his political aspirations during his 1995 book tour.

Mr. Gore's nondenial denials about his ambitions (he has "no plans" to run) are Clintonesque.

Told by John Heilemann of New York magazine that his movie sometimes feels like a campaign film, Mr. Gore gives a disingenuous answer that triggers an instant flashback to his equivocation about weightier matters during the 2000 debates:

"Audiences don't see the movie as political. Paramount did a number of focus-group screenings, and that was very clear."

You want to scream: stop this man before he listens to a focus group again!

Even so, let's hope Mr. Gore runs. He may not be able to pull off the Nixon-style comeback of some bloggers' fantasies, but by pounding away on his best issues, he could at the very least play the role of an Adlai Stevenson or Wendell Willkie, patriotically goading the national debate onto higher ground.

"I think the war looms over everything," said Karl Rove this month in bemoaning his boss's poll numbers. It looms over the Democrats, too.

But the party's leaders would rather let John Murtha take the heat on Iraq; they don't even have the guts to endorse tougher fuel economy standards in their "new" energy policy.

While a Gore candidacy could not single-handedly save the Democrats from themselves any more than his movie can vanquish "X-Men" at the multiplex, it might at least force the party powers that be to start facing some inconvenient but necessary truths.

The Price of Iraq

NYT Editorial

When President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain talked about progress in Iraq at a joint news conference last week, one thing was evident. The two world leaders who plotted the original invasion have, at least, come a long way in realizing how many things have gone wrong. Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair, who have always been the cheerleaders for the Iraq initiative, seemed positively downbeat, even as they insisted that democratization would make everything right in the end.

Iraq now does have a constitutional government, elected by the Iraqis themselves. But that will make no difference at all unless that government can provide all its citizens with basic order and security.

Right now armed gangs of thugs, many of them wearing government uniforms, are spreading terror throughout the country. Some were trained by American forces to work for the Interior Ministry, but actually do the bidding of Shiite political and religious leaders. They harass, kidnap and murder people who follow different religious practices or support competing politicians, often with the help of weapons and equipment provided by an American government that had very different objectives in mind. The Times reported last week that Sunni forces working for the Ministry of Defense who were supposed to be guarding Iraq's oil pipeline were instead freelancing as death squads, assassinating people who cooperated with the same government that paid the gunmen's salaries.

Of all of George Bush's many arguments for the invasion, the only one that has survived exposure to reality is that Iraqis deserve something better than a brutal dictatorship. But right now the country appears on the way to a civil war among the armed groups competing to impose order on their own terms. To avoid repeating a very bad history, the nation's security forces must be brought under control by people who have both the will and the capacity to truly unite the nation.

The fact that the current government avoided naming any officials to the posts that control the military and internal security forces when it announced its first cabinet was a clear sign of how difficult that task would be. And coming up with acceptable nominees is just the first and easiest step. The current military and civilian police forces must be purged of their brutal and lawless elements, and the numerous private militias must be made to stand down and disarm.

American forces can never be a substitute for Iraqi soldiers and police officers who take seriously their duty to protect all the people, regardless of religion or ethnicity. Mr. Bush's premise that American troops should simply stay on the ground until Iraq gets things right and defeats all insurgent forces and terrorist groups, however long it takes, is flat wrong. The United States presence is dangerous — to the soldiers themselves, to American standing in the world, and most tellingly to large numbers of innocent Iraqis.

The currently emerging story about what happened last November in Haditha, where at least two dozen Iraqi men, women and children were apparently shot by a small group of American marines, is only the latest indication of what terrible things can happen when soldiers are required to occupy hostile civilian territory in the midst of an armed insurrection and looming civil war. A military investigation is currently deciding whether any of the marines should be charged with murder, and whether a cover-up took place. All these questions have awful resonance for those who remember Vietnam, and what that prolonged and ultimately pointless war did to both the Vietnamese and the American social fabric.

It was somewhat reassuring that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair have stopped trying to pretend that everything has gone just fine in Iraq, since most of the rest of the world already knows otherwise. But it was very disturbing to hear them follow their expressions of regret with the same old "stay the course" fantasy. It's time for Mr. Bush either to chart a course that can actually be followed, or admit that there is none.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

White House Wants NSA Lawsuits Nixed

CBS News

The Bush administration asked federal judges in New York and Michigan to dismiss a pair of lawsuits filed over the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program, saying litigation would jeopardize state secrets. In legal papers filed late Friday, Justice Department lawyers said it would be impossible to defend the legality of the spying program without disclosing classified information that could be of value to suspected terrorists.

National Intelligence Director John Negroponte invoked the state secrets privilege on behalf of the administration, writing that disclosure of such information would cause "exceptionally grave damage" to national security. The administration laid out some of its supporting arguments in classified memoranda that were filed under seal.


In New York, the Center for Constitutional Rights has asked a judge to stop the program, saying it was an abuse of presidential power. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have filed a similar lawsuit in Detroit.


Shayana Kadidal, an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, called the administration's motion "undemocratic." Ample safeguards could be put in place to allow the case to continue without disclosing classified information, he said. The Center has also argued that the court already has enough information in hand to decide whether the spying program was legal, based on admissions the administration has already made about the effort.

"The Bush administration is trying to crush a very strong case against domestic spying without any evidence or argument," he said in a written statement. "Can the president tell the courts which cases they can rule on? If so, the courts will never be able to hold the president accountable for breaking the law."

Russia to honour Iran arms deal


Iran's military plans are a matter of concern to Washington
Russia's defence minister has confirmed that Moscow intends to honour a controversial deal to supply Iran with surface-to-air missiles.

The contract for up to 30 missile systems would be fulfilled except in "extraordinary circumstances", Sergei Ivanov said, without elaborating.

He stressed that, because of their technical characteristics, the missiles could not be used by terrorist groups.

The $700m (£380m) deal, signed last year, has been condemned by the US.

Washington wants all countries to stop exporting weapons to Iran. Russia insists its short-range Tor-M1 system is purely defensive.

Secular Iraqis Unimpressed by New Government

San Francisco - Many secular Iraqis have been expressing their displeasure with the new Iraqi government that was sworn-in Saturday and introduced with much fanfare by politicians in Washington, Baghdad, and London this week.

"All Iraqis know this government is totally irrelevant to the realities that they're facing," said Houzan Mahmoud, the international representative of the left-wing Iraqi Freedom Congress, an umbrella organization of workers' and women's groups that opposes both the U.S.-led occupation and Islamist control of Iraq.

"It's a government of rightist militias who are terrorizing people on the ground," she added, noting the government is dominated by the same religious, Shi'ite, political parties that have been in power since 2005.


"It's hard to look at the situation in Iraq and feel any kind of hope at all," she added.

"But people in this country should know that there are people in Iraq besides the insurgents and people who are affiliated with the Islamic forces. There are people who care about genuine democracy and human rights and who are struggling against tremendous odds to build a future for their communities with a separation between mosque and state."

Grand jury eyes 9/11 hero Kerik


Bernard Kerik once enjoyed a national reputation as a brash, self-made law enforcer.

As police commissioner, he was at Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's side during the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. By late 2004, President Bush wanted him for homeland security chief.

Kerik's fame faded after allegations of ethical lapses doomed his nomination. His troubles, however, have endured.

A grand jury in the Bronx has been hearing testimony about a possible corruption case against Kerik involving reputed mob associates, alleged influence peddling and a questionable home-renovation project.

Iran minister thanks Iraqi cleric for unity efforts(Sistani)

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki met leading Iraqi cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on Saturday in one of Iraq's holiest cities and thanked him for promoting unity between Iraq's groups. The meeting with Sistani, who has emerged as perhaps the most powerful man in Iraq after Saddam Hussein's downfall, in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf was likely to fuel Sunni Arab fears that Shi'ite Iran was trying to gain influence in Iraq.

Mottaki, who had talks with Iraq's new, Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad on Friday, also visited another Shi'ite shrine city, Kerbala. Shi'ite shrines have been a particular target of groups trying to foment violence between the Shi'ite majority and the Sunnis, who dominated Iraq under Saddam. Sistani has repeatedly urged Shi'ites not to get sucked into sectarian conflict.

After meeting Sistani, Mottaki thanked the Shi'ite religious establishment, or Marjaiya, which Sistani heads. "I presented my gratitude to the Marjaiya for working for the unity of the Iraqi people," he told reporters. "This visit (to the holy cities) raises my spirits," he said. His comments were translated into Arabic. Mottaki's trip to Iraq was the second such visit from Iran since U.S.-led forces overthrew Saddam in 2003 and oversaw the election of an Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim leadership close to Iran.

The new national unity government of Shi'ite Islamist Nuri al-Maliki, sworn in on May 20, has vowed to rein in the violence that has killed thousands of Iraqis in the past three years. But the Sunni minority are suspicious of non-Arab Iran, against which Iraq fought a war in the 1980s. Sunni leaders accuse Tehran of fomenting unrest in Iraq to shackle U.S. military power in the region and of coveting oil reserves in Iraq's Shi'ite south.


Feds Ratchet Up Investigations of Congress


For Congress, the line that separates illegal conduct from business as usual may be shifting.

WASHINGTON — Forgive House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) for seeming a bit paranoid.

With grand juries convened around the country and hundreds of FBI agents on the case, Congress has become the focal point of the most aggressive investigations into federal corruption in decades.

One investigation has led to an eight-year prison sentence for former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a Republican from Rancho Santa Fe. And a bribery probe targeting Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) boiled into a constitutional confrontation this week after the FBI conducted an unprecedented search of his Capitol Hill office — and departed with two cartons of documents and extensive computer records.

After House leaders, including Hastert, demanded that the documents be returned, ABC News reported that Hastert was "in the mix" of another corruption investigation.

The speaker charged that the Justice Department was trying to intimidate him. The White House called his accusation "false, false, false," and the Justice Department denied it was looking into Hastert.

Almost lost in the recent flurry has been the investigation into former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty this year to conspiring to bribe members of Congress. Four Abramoff associates have pleaded guilty to crimes; a fifth is on trial in federal court.

Abramoff, the erstwhile intimate of top congressional Republicans, is talking to FBI agents looking for evidence that lawmakers took bribes. At the FBI, boxes are filling with letters and transcripts of e-mails from members, aides and lobbyists relating to trips, deals and political requests.

"It is certainly unprecedented in recent history," said Randall D. Eliason, a former chief of the public corruption unit in the U.S. attorney's office in Washington. "You have to go back to Abscam to think about a time when there were this many high-level public officials being looked at."

Eliason was referring to the case in the late 1970s and early 1980s in which several members of Congress were convicted on bribery charges after being caught on videotape accepting cash from FBI employees posing as Middle Eastern businessmen seeking political favors for a nonexistent sheik.

Even that scandal — which stemmed from a single FBI sting operation — pales in comparison to the latest bumper crop of investigations, Eliason said.

Maureen Dowd: Don't Become Them

The force that sacked Saddam to stop him from killing innocents is now accused of killing innocents.
When I started in newspapers, I shied away from police brutality stories, letting other reporters cover them.

I knew there were cops who had no right to be cops. But I also knew, because my dad was a detective, the sort of blistering pressure men and women in uniform were under as they made snap life-and-death decisions.

I'd cringed at the 60's refrain that the military and the police were "pigs."

After my dad killed a robber in self-defense — the man had tried to shoot him point-blank in the face, but that chamber of the gun was empty — he told a police psychologist that he could not swallow or eat because he felt as though he had fish bones in his throat.

So I felt sickened to hear about the marines who allegedly snapped in Haditha, Iraq, and wantonly killed two dozen civilians — including two families full of women and children, among them a 3-year-old girl.

Nine-year-old Eman Waleed told Time that she'd watched the marines go in to execute her father as he read the Koran, and then shoot her grandfather and grandmother, still in their nightclothes.

Other members of her family, including her mother, were shot dead; she said that she and her younger brother had been wounded but survived because they were shielded by adults who died.

It's a My Lai acid flashback. The force that sacked Saddam to stop him from killing innocents is now accused of killing innocents.

Under pressure from the president to restore law, but making little progress, marines from Camp Pendleton, many deployed in Iraq for the third time, reportedly resorted to lawlessness themselves.

The investigation indicates that members of the Third Battalion, First Marines, lost it after one of their men was killed by a roadside bomb, going on a vengeful killing spree over about five hours, shooting five men who had been riding in a taxi and mowing down the residents of two nearby houses.

They blew off the Geneva Conventions, following the lead of the president's lawyer.

It was inevitable. Marines are trained to take the hill and destroy the enemy. It is not their forte to be policemen while battling a ghostly foe, suicide bombers, ever more ingenious explosive devices, insurgents embedded among civilians, and rifle blasts fired from behind closed doors and minarets.

They don't know who the enemy is. Is it a pregnant woman? A child? An Iraqi policeman? They don't know how to win, or what a win would entail.

Gen. Michael Hagee, the Marine Corps commandant, who has flown to Iraq to talk to his troops about "core values" in the wake of Haditha and a second incident being investigated, noted that the effect of this combat "can be numbing."

A new A&E documentary chronicles the searing story of the marines of Lima Company, 184 Ohio reservists who won 59 Purple Hearts, 23 posthumously. Sgt. Guy Zierk recounts kicking in a door after an insurgent attack.

Enraged over the death of his pals, he says he nearly killed two women and a 16-year-old boy. "I am so close, so close to shooting, but I don't." he says. "It would make me no better than the people we're trying to fight."

Retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste, one of those who called for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, told Chris Matthews that blame for Haditha and Abu Ghraib lay with "the incredible strain bad decisions and bad judgment is putting on our incredible military."

While it was nice to hear President Bush admit he had made mistakes, he was talking mostly about mistakes of tone.

Saying he wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" would have been O.K. if he had acted on it, rather than letting Osama go at Tora Bora and diverting the Army to Iraq.

At his news conference with a tired-looking Tony Blair, Mr. Bush seemed chastened by Iraq, at least. But he continued to have the same hallucination about how to get out: turning things over to the Iraqi security forces after achieving total victory over insurgents and terrorists.

Stories in The Times this week show that Iraqi security forces are so infiltrated by Shiite militias, Sunni militias, death squads and officers with ties to insurgents that the idea of entrusting anything to them is ludicrous.

By ignoring predictions of an insurgency and refusing to do homework before charging into Iraq on trumped-up pretenses, W. left our troops undermanned, inadequately armored and psychologically unprepared.

It was maddening to see the prime minister of Britain — of all places — express surprise at the difficulty of imposing a democracy on a country that has had a complex and ferocious tribal culture since the Gardens of Babylon were still hanging.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Filings in CIA Leak Case Paint Cheney as Determined to Counter Critic


A string of recent court filings in the CIA leak case provide new details of Vice President Cheney's role at the center of an administration effort to rebut an outspoken critic of the White House's rationale for the Iraq war in the summer of 2003. They include his repeated discussions of the issue with his top aide and his part in a counteroffensive that resulted in the unmasking of a CIA officer.


But Fitzgerald went out of his way to say in an April filing that Bush played no role in the leak of Plame's name. He did not similarly exonerate Cheney.


Cheney was upset, according to Libby's account in newly disclosed grand jury testimony, by language in the column that Cheney saw as a direct attack on his personal credibility.


Eight days later, columnist Robert D. Novak wrote that two senior administration officials told him that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA officer, had put him up to an investigation of Iraq's nuclear-related activities.

Pentagon Sources: Civilians likely killed without provocation

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An ongoing military investigation supports allegations that U.S. Marines in November killed 24 innocent Iraqi civilians without being provoked, senior Pentagon sources said Friday.

Charges, including murder, could soon be filed against Marines allegedly involved, the sources said.

The killings reportedly occurred while troops from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines were searching for insurgents who planted a roadside bomb that killed a member of the unit.

The Marines originally had reported that 15 civilians were killed by a roadside bomb in Haditha, a city along the Euphrates River in western Iraq. The Marines later suggested the civilians may have been caught in a firefight.

However, photographs being reviewed by investigators "are inconsistent with how the Marines claim the Iraqis died," according to a military source familiar with the investigation.

Eric Alterman: TIME magazine columnists are "obsessively abusive to liberals"

In recent years, Time, America's largest-circulation newsweekly, winner of the 2006 National Magazine Award for General Excellence, and undoubtedly the nation's most influential magazine, has morphed into a kind of glossy sibling to the Wall Street Journal. Like the Journal, its hard news pages remain home to generally reliable, often excellent (though sometimes frivolous) political reporting. But its opinion pages are filled with vitriol, anger and abuse, almost always directed at liberals.


Enron & Ken Lay started ripping off California within 72 hrs of Bush's inauguration

Fast-forward to January 2001. The George W. Bush administration, within 72 hours of his inauguration, issued an executive order lifting the Clinton Energy Department's effective ban on speculative trading in the California power market. The state was still in crisis, facing blackouts and 300 percent increases in power bills, the result of "deregulating" its electric system, as first suggested by Lay. Instead of a "free" market, California's electricity bidding system became a fixed casino where Lay's operatives and a tight-knit cabal of corporate cronies jacked up prices through such tricks as "death star," "ricochet" and "kilowatt laundering."

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Shots fired in Rayburn Building: police release video of possible suspect

New WH Policy Aide Changed Quotes In Article, Now Sounds Like a Slightly Different Kind of Jerk

By Justin Rood - May 26, 2006, 2:16 PM

The White House's replacement for accused kleptophile Claude Allen seems to have strange habits of his own. The New York Sun's Josh Gerstein reports that Karl Zinsmeister, Bush's pick to be his new domestic policy adviser, "altered his own quotes and other text" in a newspaper profile of him reprinted on his organization's web site.

In other words: He posted the profile -- with the reporter's byline, and a credit to the newspaper -- but changed his quotes and other details.

Culture of Corruption: 2 more Ney aides subpoenaed in Abramoff bribery case

Plain Dealer

Washington- Two more Capitol Hill aides who worked for U.S. Rep. Bob Ney have been caught up in the federal bribery investigation wrought by former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Paul Vinovich, who served as Ney's top aide with the House Administration Committee, and Will Heaton, Ney's current chief of staff, have received subpoenas to appear as witnesses and provide testimony, congressional records show.

But at least one, Vinovich, is exercising his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and won't testify at a trial that started this week involving favors allegedly given by Abramoff to a former government official.

Vinovich and Heaton accompanied Abramoff and Ney on an August 2002 golf trip aboard a private jet to Scotland, along with former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed and former Ney aide Neil Volz. David Safavian, then a General Services Administration official, also was on the trip.

Iran FM begins first Baghdad trip


Iran's Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, is due in Iraq for talks with top Iraqi officials.

He is the first senior Iranian to visit Iraq since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the newly-formed Iraqi government came to power.

The two nations fought an eight-year war in the 1980s and relations remain complex, despite improving dramatically since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Tehran is strongly opposed to the presence of US forces in Iraq.

Nevertheless it retains considerable influence there, partly due to historical ties with Iraq's Shia parties and groups, some of whom took refuge in Iran during Saddam Hussein's rule.

Little has been said about the agenda for these talks.

But Mr Mottaki's visit comes against a backdrop of increasing sectarian violence in Iraq and security issues are likely to be high on the priority list.

For Wiccan Nev. soldier, death brings fight

RENO, Nev. - Nevada officials are pressing the Department of Veteran Affairs to allow the family of a soldier killed in Afghanistan to place a Wiccan symbol on his headstone.

Federal officials so far have refused to grant the requests of the family of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, 34, who was killed in Afghanistan last September when the Nevada Army National Guard helicopter he was in was shot down.


The state's top veterans official said Thursday that he was "diligently pursuing" the matter in cooperation with Gov. Kenny Guinn, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev.

Stewart, of Fernley, who was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, was a follower of the Wiccan religion, which the Department of Veterans Affairs does not recognize.

Paul Krugman: A Test of Our Character

Are we ready for political leaders who don't pander, who are willing to talk about complicated issues and call for responsible policies?
That's a test of national character. I wonder whether we'll pass.

In his new movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore suggests that there are three reasons it's hard to get action on global warming.

The first is boiled-frog syndrome: because the effects of greenhouse gases build up gradually, at any given moment it's easier to do nothing.

The second is the perception, nurtured by a careful disinformation campaign, that there's still a lot of uncertainty about whether man-made global warming is a serious problem.

The third is the belief, again fostered by disinformation, that trying to curb global warming would have devastating economic effects.

I'd add a fourth reason, which I'll talk about in a minute. But first, let's notice that Mr. Gore couldn't have asked for a better illustration of disinformation campaigns than the reaction of energy-industry lobbyists and right-wing media organizations to his film.

The cover story in the current issue of National Review is titled "Scare of the Century." As evidence that global warming isn't really happening, it offers the fact that some Antarctic ice sheets are getting thicker — a point also emphasized in a TV ad by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is partly financed by large oil companies, whose interests it reliably represents.

Curt Davis, a scientist whose work is cited both by the institute and by National Review, has already protested.

"These television ads," he declared in a press release, "are a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate."

He points out that an initial increase in the thickness of Antarctica's interior ice sheets is a predicted consequence of a warming planet, so that his results actually support global warming rather than refuting it.

Even as the usual suspects describe well-founded concerns about global warming as hysteria, they issue hysterical warnings about the economic consequences of environmentalism.

"Al Gore's global warming movie: could it destroy the economy?" Fox News asked.

Well, no, it couldn't. There's some dispute among economists over how forcefully we should act to curb greenhouse gases, but there's broad consensus that even a very strong program to reduce emissions would have only modest effects on economic growth.

At worst, G.D.P. growth might be, say, one-tenth or two-tenths of a percentage point lower over the next 20 years. And while some industries would lose jobs, others would gain.

Actually, the right's panicky response to Mr. Gore's film is probably a good thing, because it reveals for all to see the dishonesty and fear-mongering on which the opposition to doing something about climate change rests.

But "An Inconvenient Truth" isn't just about global warming, of course. It's also about Mr. Gore. And it is, implicitly, a cautionary tale about what's been wrong with our politics.

Why, after all, was Mr. Gore's popular-vote margin in the 2000 election narrow enough that he could be denied the White House?

Any account that neglects the determination of some journalists to make him a figure of ridicule misses a key part of the story.

Why were those journalists so determined to jeer Mr. Gore?

Because of the very qualities that allowed him to realize the importance of global warming, many years before any other major political figure: his earnestness, and his genuine interest in facts, numbers and serious analysis.

And so the 2000 campaign ended up being about the candidates' clothing, their mannerisms, anything but the issues, on which Mr. Gore had a clear advantage (and about which his opponent was clearly both ill informed and dishonest).

I won't join the sudden surge of speculation about whether "An Inconvenient Truth" will make Mr. Gore a presidential contender. But the film does make a powerful case that Mr. Gore is the sort of person who ought to be running the country.

Since 2000, we've seen what happens when people who aren't interested in the facts, who believe what they want to believe, sit in the White House.

Osama bin Laden is still at large, Iraq is a mess, New Orleans is a wreck. And, of course, we've done nothing about global warming.

But can the sort of person who would act on global warming get elected? Are we — by which I mean both the public and the press — ready for political leaders who don't pander, who are willing to talk about complicated issues and call for responsible policies?

That's a test of national character. I wonder whether we'll pass.