Saturday, March 31, 2007

Ex-Aide Details a Loss of Faith in the President


AUSTIN, Tex., March 29 — In 1999, Matthew Dowd became a symbol of George W. Bush’s early success at positioning himself as a Republican with Democratic appeal.

A top strategist for the Texas Democrats who was disappointed by the Bill Clinton years, Mr. Dowd was impressed by the pledge of Mr. Bush, then governor of Texas, to bring a spirit of cooperation to Washington. He switched parties, joined Mr. Bush’s political brain trust and dedicated the next six years to getting him to the Oval Office and keeping him there. In 2004, he was appointed the president’s chief campaign strategist.

Looking back, Mr. Dowd now says his faith in Mr. Bush was misplaced.

In a wide-ranging interview here, Mr. Dowd called for a withdrawal from Iraq and expressed his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s leadership.

He criticized the president as failing to call the nation to a shared sense of sacrifice at a time of war, failing to reach across the political divide to build consensus and ignoring the will of the people on Iraq. He said he believed the president had not moved aggressively enough to hold anyone accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and that Mr. Bush still approached governing with a “my way or the highway” mentality reinforced by a shrinking circle of trusted aides.

“I really like him, which is probably why I’m so disappointed in things,” he said. He added, “I think he’s become more, in my view, secluded and bubbled in.”

In speaking out, Mr. Dowd became the first member of Mr. Bush’s inner circle to break so publicly with him.

He said his decision to step forward had not come easily. But, he said, his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s presidency is so great that he feels a sense of duty to go public given his role in helping Mr. Bush gain and keep power.

Mr. Dowd, a crucial part of a team that cast Senator John Kerry as a flip-flopper who could not be trusted with national security during wartime, said he had even written but never submitted an op-ed article titled “Kerry Was Right,” arguing that Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and 2004 presidential candidate, was correct in calling last year for a withdrawal from Iraq.

“I’m a big believer that in part what we’re called to do — to me, by God; other people call it karma — is to restore balance when things didn’t turn out the way they should have,” Mr. Dowd said. “Just being quiet is not an option when I was so publicly advocating an election.”

Mr. Dowd’s journey from true believer to critic in some ways tracks the public arc of Mr. Bush’s political fortunes. But it is also an intensely personal story of a political operative who at times, by his account, suppressed his doubts about his professional role but then confronted them as he dealt with loss and sorrow in his own life.

In the last several years, as he has gradually broken his ties with the Bush camp, one of Mr. Dowd’s premature twin daughters died, he was divorced, and he watched his oldest son prepare for deployment to Iraq as an Army intelligence specialist fluent in Arabic. Mr. Dowd said he had become so disillusioned with the war that he had considered joining street demonstrations against it, but that his continued personal affection for the president had kept him from joining protests whose anti-Bush fervor is so central.

Mr. Dowd, 45, said he hoped in part that by coming forward he would be able to get a message through to a presidential inner sanctum that he views as increasingly isolated. But, he said, he holds out no great hope. He acknowledges that he has not had a conversation with the president.

Dan Bartlett, the White House counselor, said Mr. Dowd’s criticism is reflective of the national debate over the war.

“It’s an issue that divides people,” Mr. Bartlett said. “Even people that supported the president aren’t immune from having their own feelings and emotions.”

He said he disagreed with Mr. Dowd’s description of the president as isolated and with his position on withdrawal. He said Mr. Dowd, a friend, has “sometimes expressed these sentiments” in private conversation, though “not in such detail.”

During the interview with Mr. Dowd on a slightly overcast afternoon in downtown Austin, he was a far quieter man than the cigar-chomping general that he was during Mr. Bush’s 2004 campaign.

Soft-spoken and somewhat melancholy, he wore jeans, a T-shirt and sandals in an office devoid of Bush memorabilia save for a campaign coffee mug and a photograph of the first couple with his oldest son, Daniel. The photograph was taken one week before the 2004 election, and one day before Daniel was to go to boot camp.

Over Mexican food at a restaurant that was only feet from the 2000 campaign headquarters, and later at his office just up the street, Mr. Dowd recounted his political and personal journey. “It’s amazing,” he said. “In five years, I’ve only traveled 300 feet, but it feels like I’ve gone around the world, where my head is.”

Mr. Dowd said he decided to become a Republican in 1999 and joined Mr. Bush after watching him work closely with Bob Bullock, the Democratic lieutenant governor of Texas, who was a political client of Mr. Dowd and a mentor to Mr. Bush.

“It’s almost like you fall in love,” he said. “I was frustrated about Washington, the inability for people to get stuff done and bridge divides. And this guy’s personality — he cared about education and taking a different stand on immigration.”

Mr. Dowd established himself as an expert at interpreting polls, giving Karl Rove, the president’s closest political adviser, and the rest of the Bush team guidance as they set out to woo voters, slash opponents and exploit divisions between Democratic-leaning states and Republican-leaning ones.

In television interviews in 2004, Mr. Dowd said that Mr. Kerry’s campaign was proposing “a weak defense,” and that the voters “trust this president more than they trust Senator Kerry on Iraq.”

But he was starting to have his own doubts by then, he said.

He said he thought Mr. Bush handled the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks well but “missed a real opportunity to call the country to a shared sense of sacrifice.”

He was dumbfounded when Mr. Bush did not fire Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld after revelations that American soldiers had tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Several associates said Mr. Dowd chafed under Mr. Rove’s leadership. Mr. Dowd said he had not spoken to Mr. Rove in months but would not discuss their relationship in detail.

Mr. Dowd said, in retrospect, he was in denial.

“When you fall in love like that,” he said, “and then you notice some things that don’t exactly go the way you thought, what do you do? Like in a relationship, you say ‘No no, no, it’ll be different.’ ”

He said he clung to the hope that Mr. Bush would get back to his Texas style of governing if he won. But he saw no change after the 2004 victory.

He describes as further cause for doubt two events in the summer of 2005: the administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and the president’s refusal, around the same time that he was entertaining the bicyclist Lance Armstrong at his Crawford ranch, to meet with the war protester Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq.

“I had finally come to the conclusion that maybe all these things along do add up,” he said. “That it’s not the same, it’s not the person I thought.”

He said that during his work on the 2006 re-election campaign of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, which had a bipartisan appeal, he began to rethink his approach to elections.

“I think we should design campaigns that appeal not to 51 percent of the people,” he said, “but bring the country together as a whole.”

He said that he still believed campaigns must do what it takes to win, but that he was never comfortable with the most hard-charging tactics. He is now calling for “gentleness” in politics. He said that while he tried to keep his own conduct respectful during political combat, he wanted to “do my part in fixing fissures that I may have been part of.”

His views against the war began to harden last spring when, in a personal exercise, he wrote a draft opinion article and found himself agreeing with Mr. Kerry’s call for withdrawal from Iraq. He acknowledged that the expected deployment of his son Daniel was an important factor.

He said the president’s announcement last fall that he was re-nominating the former United Nations ambassador John R. Bolton, whose confirmation Democrats had already refused, was further proof to him that Mr. Bush was not seeking consensus with Democrats.

He said he came to believe Mr. Bush’s views were hardening, with the reinforcement of his inner circle. But, he said, the person “who is ultimately responsible is the president.” And he gradually ventured out with criticism, going so far as declaring last month in a short essay in Texas Monthly magazine that Mr. Bush was losing “his gut-level bond with the American people,” and breaking more fully in this week’s interview.

“If the American public says they’re done with something, our leaders have to understand what they want,” Mr. Dowd said. “They’re saying, ‘Get out of Iraq.’ ”

Mr. Dowd’s friends from Mr. Bush’s orbit said they understood his need to speak out. “Everyone is going to reflect on the good and the bad, and everything in between, in their own way,” said Nicolle Wallace, communications director of Mr. Bush’s 2004 campaign, a post she also held at the White House until last summer. “And I certainly respect the way he’s doing it — these are his true thoughts from a deeply personal place.” Ms. Wallace said she continued to have “enormous gratitude” for her years with Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bartlett, the White House counselor, said he understood, too, though he said he strongly disagreed with Mr. Dowd’s assessment. “Do we know our critics will try to use this to their advantage? Yes,” he said. “Is that perfect? No. But you can respectfully disagree with someone who has been supportive of you.”

Mr. Dowd does not seem prepared to put his views to work in 2008. The only candidate who appeals to him, he said, is Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, because of what Mr. Dowd called his message of unity. But, he said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if I wasn’t walking around in Africa or South America doing something that was like mission work.”

He added, “I do feel a calling of trying to re-establish a level of gentleness in the world.”

U.S. March Death Toll Nearly Twice Iraq Forces

BAGHDAD - The U.S. military death toll in March, the first full month of the security crackdown, was nearly twice that of the Iraqi army, which American and Iraqi officials say is taking the leading role in the latest attempt to curb violence in the capital, surrounding cities and Anbar province, according to figures compiled on Saturday.

The Associated Press count of U.S. military deaths for the month was 81, including a soldier who died from non-combat causes Saturday. Figures compiled from officials in the Iraqi ministries of Defense, Health and Interior showed the Iraqi military toll was 44. The Iraqi figures showed that 165 Iraqi police were killed in March. Many of the police serve in paramilitary units.

According to the AP count 3,246 U.S. service members have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

At least 83 American forces died in January and 80 in February, according to the AP tabulation.

The Iraqi figures were gathered from officials who released them on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give out the numbers.

Additionally, the Iraqi ministry figures listed 1,872 Iraqi civilian deaths for the month, about 300 more than the AP tabulation, which is mainly gathered from daily police reports nationwide.

The civilian death toll for the month was down significantly from 2,172 in December, the highest month casualty figure since the AP began keeping records of civilian deaths in April 2005.

However, the number of civilians killed in March was in the same range as for the first two months of this year; 1,604 in January and 1,552 in February, according to the AP count.

Nearly a third of the Iraqi civilian deaths, more than 500 people, where killed in three big bomb attacks in the last week of the month and revenge killings of Sunni men in Tal Afar the night after a Shiite market was bomb in the northwest Iraqi city.

Monica Goodling, One of 150 Pat Robertson Cadres in the Bush Admin

by Max Blumenthal

"Monica Goodling, a previously unknown Justice Department official who served as liaison to the White House, has become a key figure in the Attorneygate scandal. When newly released emails revealed the prominent role Goodling played in engineering the firing of seven US Attorneys, Goodling pled the Fifth Amendment, refusing to testify under oath.

Josh Marshall writes that Goodling may be "afraid of indictment for perjury because she has to go up to Congress and testify under oath before the White House has decided what its story is."

Goodling's involvement in Attorneygate is not the only aspect of her role in the Bush administration that bears examination. Her membership in a cadre of 150 graduates of Pat Robertson's Regent University currently serving in the administration is another, equally revealing component of the White House's political program.

Goodling earned her law degree from Regent, an institution founded by Robertson "to produce Christian leaders who will make a difference, who will change the world." Helping to purge politically disloyal federal prosecutors is just one way Goodling has helped fulfill Robertson's revolutionary goals.......

GOP Lawmaker Urges Gonzales to Resign

WASHINGTON - A Republican congressman on Saturday urged Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign, citing what he said were Gonzales' contradictory statements about his role in the firing of eight federal prosecutors.

"I trusted him before, but I can't now," said five-term Rep. Lee Terry, whose district includes metropolitan Omaha.

Gonzales' credibility took a blow this past week during testimony by his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sampson, who resigned March 12, said the attorney general was regularly briefed about plans to fire the prosecutors and was involved with discussions about "this process of asking certain U.S. attorneys to resign."

Lawmakers impatient to hear Gonzales' side of the story said the embattled attorney general needed to explain himself quickly or risk more damage to his department. Gonzales is to testify on Capitol Hill on April 17.

"My views were was that this was Democrat posturing and a witch hunt," Terry said. "My trust in him in that position has taken a hit because of these contradictory statements by him."

2 Judges, Attorney Convicted of Bribery

JACKSON, Miss. - A prominent attorney and two former judges he was accused of lavishing gifts and money on in exchange for favorable rulings were convicted of bribery.

Paul Minor, who amassed a fortune from asbestos, tobacco, medical malpractice and car safety litigation, was found guilty of all 11 counts against him, which ranged from racketeering to bribery. He faces up to 95 years in prison.

The jury found former Circuit Judge John Whitfield and former Chancellor Wes Teel guilty of bribery and mail fraud. Whitfield could get a 50-year jail term and Teel could get 25 years.

Sentencing for all three was set for June 14.

All three had pleaded not guilty, and their attorneys vowed to appeal Friday's ruling.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Fulcher said during closing arguments that Minor guaranteed $140,000 in loans to Whitfield in 1998, then used cash, a third party and a backdated promissory note to try to conceal the fact that Minor paid off the loan. Whitfield awarded Minor $3.6 million in a lawsuit, Fulcher said. The Mississippi Supreme Court later reduced the award to $1.6 million.

Fulcher said Minor guaranteed a loan to Teel for $24,500 the same year. Teel "forced through" a $1.5 million settlement in one of Minor's cases before his court, he said.

Minor acknowledged guaranteeing loans for the judges but claimed he was only helping friends who had fallen on hard times and expected nothing in return.

Besides Whitfield and Teel, Minor was also accused of bribing Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr.

The four were tried in U.S. District Court in Jackson last year. A jury cleared Diaz of all charges and deadlocked on some charges against the other three.

Iraqi Government Backs Relocation Plan

BAGHDAD - The Iraqi government has endorsed a decision to relocate and compensate thousands of Arabs who moved to the northern city of Kirkuk as part of Saddam Hussein's campaign to push out the Kurds, the justice minister said Saturday. The decision was a major step toward solidifying the status of the disputed oil-rich city.

A series of bombings and attacks, meanwhile, killed at least 17 people around the country, including nine construction workers who died when gunmen opened fire on their bus. The violence capped a week in which more than 500 people have died in sectarian violence.

Justice Minister Hashim al-Shebli said the Cabinet agreed on Thursday to a committee's February recommendation that Arabs who moved to Kirkuk from other parts of Iraq after July 1968 would be returned to their original towns and given monetary compensation in exchange for the voluntary moves.

Al-Shebli, a Sunni Arab, also confirmed that he offered his resignation on Thursday, citing differences with the government and his own political group, the secular Iraqi List, which joined Sunni Arab lawmakers in opposing the Kirkuk decision. He said he would remain in office until the Cabinet approved his resignation.

"I have differences with the government on one side and with my parliamentary bloc on another," al-Shebli said, without elaborating.

The Iraqi List, which is led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, holds 25 seats in the 275-seat parliament.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, could not be reached for comment. Government adviser Sami al-Askari said he had no information about the resignation.

White House anger over Syria trip


The speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is to visit Syria early next week despite objections by the White House.

Ms Pelosi will lead a delegation from US Congress for talks with officials.

She will be the most senior member of Congress to visit Syria since relations between the two countries soured.

Washington withdrew its ambassador to Damascus two years ago after the murder of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri, in which Syria denies any involvement.

The BBC's Vanessa Heaney in Washington says Nancy Pelosi's second trip to the Middle East this year shows she has no intention of letting President Bush dominate foreign policy.

Syria's embassy in Washington described the trip as "momentous" and expressed hopes it may change strained relations with the United States, AFP news agency reported.

Diplomatic initiatives

President Bush has consistently refused to engage with Syria. On Friday, the White House denounced Ms Pelosi's plan, calling it "a really bad idea".

Spokeswoman Dana Perino said the House speaker "should take a step back and think about the message that it sends".

"This is a country that is a state sponsor of terror, one that is trying to disrupt the Siniora government in Lebanon and one that is allowing foreign fighters to flow into Iraq from its borders."

Syria has denied it allows insurgents to cross from its territory into Iraq, saying Iraq and the US have not done enough to police the border.

There have been recent calls in the US to engage, rather than isolate Syria.

Earlier this year, a bipartisan US commission recommended the Bush administration launch diplomatic initiatives with both Syria and Iran - something President Bush has refused to do.

Ms Pelosi is currently in Israel where she is expected to meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, before travelling to the West Bank to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In late January, she led a delegation of House members to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and other neighbouring countries.

Senator demands AG clear Iglesias' name

WASHINGTON - A New York senator is demanding a retraction from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on behalf of New Mexico's former U.S. attorney, who was fired along with seven other prosecutors last year.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote Gonzales on Friday demanding that the attorney general clear David Iglesias' name. Schumer's letter came the day after Gonzales' former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, testified before Congress that in hindsight, he would not have recommended Iglesias for dismissal.

Sampson orchestrated the firings for department officials as part of a plan to replace some prosecutors in President Bush's second term. He added Iglesias' name late in the process but on Thursday said he couldn't remember exactly why.

"In light of these startling admissions by your former chief of staff, it is imperative that you restore Mr. Iglesias' tarnished reputation by confirming that his performance as a U.S. attorney did not warrant dismissal," Schumer wrote to Gonzales.

Iglesias has repeatedly said that he wants a written retraction from the Justice Department stating that performance had nothing to do with his dismissal.

Muqtada al-Sadr calling for a mass demonstration April 9

BAGHDAD (AP) - The radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr issued a scathing attack on the United States on Friday, following one of the country's bloodiest days, blaming Washington for Iraq's troubles and calling for a mass demonstration April 9 - the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.

As al-Sadr's remarks were read in a mosque, Shiites in Baghdad loaded wooden coffins into vans and shoveled broken glass and other debris into wheelbarrows in the aftermath of a double suicide bombing at a marketplace. At least 181 people were killed or found dead Thursday as Sunni insurgents apparently stepped up their campaign of bombings to derail the seven-week-old security sweep in Baghdad.

Violence has increasingly erupted outside the capital in recent weeks, as insurgent fighters take their fight to regions where U.S. and Iraqi forces are thinly deployed.

``There is a race between the government and the terrorists who are trying to make people reach the level of despair,'' said Sami al-Askari, an aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. ``But the government is doing its best to defeat terrorists and it definitely will not be affected by these bombings.''

The U.S. military and its diplomats have voiced cautious optimism about the sweep that began Feb. 14 and emphasized that the full American surge force would not be in place until June.

But sectarian tensions also were heightened earlier this week by a devastating bombing followed by a shooting rampage by Shiite militiamen and police seeking revenge in Tal Afar.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, said the carnage showed al-Qaida was continuing to display ``their total disregard for human life, carrying out barbaric actions against innocent Iraqi citizens in an effort to reignite sectarian violence and to undermine recent Iraqi and coalition successes in improving security in Baghdad.''

Al-Sadr's statement was his first since March 14, when he urged his supporters to resist U.S. forces in Iraq through peaceful means. Al-Sadr has been said by U.S. and Iraqi officials to be in neighboring Iran, but his aides insist he is still in Iraq.

The latest statement was read to worshippers during Friday prayers at a mosque in Kufa, a Shiite holy city south of Baghdad where al-Sadr frequently led the ritual.

``I renew my call for the occupier (the United States) to leave our land,'' he said in the statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. ``The departure of the occupier will mean stability for Iraq, victory for Islam and peace and defeat for terrorism and infidels.'' .......

Friday, March 30, 2007

Gen. Tried to Warn Bush on Tillman

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Just seven days after Pat Tillman's death, a top general warned there were strong indications that it was friendly fire and President Bush might embarrass himself if he said the NFL star-turned-soldier died in an ambush, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press.

It was not until a month afterward that the Pentagon told the public and grieving family members the truth - that Tillman was mistakenly killed in Afghanistan by his comrades.

The memo reinforces suspicions that the Pentagon was more concerned with sparing officials from embarrassment than with leveling with Tillman's family.

n a memo sent to a four-star general a week after Tillman's April 22, 2004, death, then-Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that it was "highly possible" the Army Ranger was killed by friendly fire. McChrystal made it clear his warning should be conveyed to the president.

"I felt that it was essential that you received this information as soon as we detected it in order to preclude any unknowing statements by our country's leaders which might cause public embarrassment if the circumstances of Cpl. Tillman's death become public," McChrystal wrote on April 29, 2004, to Gen. John Abizaid, head of Central Command.....

The Most Hated Family in America


They call themselves the most hated family in the US and they picket funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. So what did Louis Theroux make of the Phelpses after three weeks?

In any country, let alone one as patriotic as the US, few actions are as provocative as protesting at a soldier's funeral.

The Phelps family pickets mourners across the country, to mark what it describes as God's revenge on the US for tolerating homosexuality.

Their actions are in the name of the Westboro Baptist Church, which numbers 71 and is headed by "Gramps", preacher Fred Phelps. The church, which is based in Topeka, Kansas, mostly comprises his extended family.

Louis Theroux, himself no stranger to people with unconventional views, says the Phelpses are the most extreme people he has ever met. But in the following interview, he reveals how three weeks with them left him perplexed by their motivation.

The Magazine: How well known are they in the US?

Louis Theroux: They're well known because of these pickets which they've been doing for at least 15 years now. The pickets weren't always of soldiers' funerals, but it got more extreme as it went on. Originally it started as pickets of places where gay people congregated - a local park becoming a cruising area which they objected to, and then when Aids came along they said it was punishment for homosexuality and they began picketing Gay Pride parades and marches and also then the funerals of people who died of Aids. And they didn't originally use offensive words like "fag". They would say "homosexuality", but then it just escalated.

You say that in America the media tries not to give them the coverage, but aren't you just giving them a voice over here?

Viewers will have to see the show and judge for themselves how these people come across. Certainly this group view it as a platform and that's why they agreed to do the show. But I think what we did was something more than that. What we did, I think, was try to understand how a group like this operates; its group psychology, the way the beliefs are passed down the family, and how those beliefs can be held by very urbane, intelligent, professional people. So when you cover a group like this, you take a gamble that you will be able to get under its skin and reveal something about it, and something about us all as people, and I think we managed to do that.

They don't separate their children from the real world either, do they?

They go to school; you can have normal conversations with these people. They're intelligent, high achieving, have good jobs, and they're kind, for the most part, when they're not on pickets. They're easy to communicate with and deal with too. It's just this one area - their pickets. They will even - so I'm given to understand and I have no reason to doubt it - work alongside gay people very happily in the work place. If a gay person goes along to talk to them outside the church or if a gay person even turned up to the church to attend a service, they wouldn't humiliate them or be rude to them; they'd shake their hand and welcome them in.

Do all the children follow this Church?

Gramps, the pastor, who's the head of the whole ministry, he's had about 13 children. But four fell away. You could say that for only four to fall away shows that you can escape from it but then you can also say how amazing that nine of them stayed in it. That there are 71 of them in total is a testament to how powerful an effect your upbringing has on you.

Are the ones who left, ostracised from the whole family now?

Yes. Once you leave, that's it, there's no going back and if you're still in the group you're not allowed to "fellowship" with an ex-member. That's a no-no.

They're relatively "normal" apart from this obsession with the pickets?

Louis: Yes. In some ways they're a model family. All these things that you associate with the breakdown of families, like the dad's gone to the pub all the time or they just watch TV and the parents don't talk to the kids, well you can't put that on this family. They spend all their recreational time together and they all look out for each other. They don't really have friends outside the church because all their best friends are in the church. It's important to recognise the good qualities of the family as it helps explain why so many of them have stayed in it and embraced the hateful stuff.

Were there any other aspects of the family that intrigued you?

Louis: I first saw the family through reading about them and on their website but now, having met them, the most incongruous thing about them is how they look. What I mean is, for example, many of the women are these nice-looking young ladies whose beliefs are so old-fashioned in some ways so you'd think they're kind of like the Amish or something and wear head dresses and long skirts and dirndls. Instead, they're all wearing shorts and T-shirts. They're all-American girls with long hair and good teeth and looking tanned and relaxed, playing volleyball and laughing and joking around and that is, for me, a totally new kind of experience. Dealing with these people with, like, Palaeolithic beliefs but hearing them coming from fresh-faced teenagers and women who you think you'd run into at the mall.

Isn't what they're doing just the ultimate in free speech and democracy?

Well yes, in the sense that they have a right to their beliefs. Although I don't think they have a right to invade someone's funeral, they have a right to hold their signs on street corners. I don't think they should be stopped from doing that. I still think it's a pretty weird thing to do and quite a horrible one.

What else do you tackle in the film?

What we're trying to do in the documentary is look at an activity that is so antisocial, so strange, so futile and at its worst, so cruel, and we're saying "Why? Why do that?", especially when you seem to be, for the most part, kind and sensitive people. We're exploring what is cruelty, trying to explain how something that really does very often just amount to cruelty could be perpetuated and passed down in a family. Why would nice people do such horrible things?

Do you think you've come to an answer?

Yes, I think we do. I think that the pastor is not a very nice person. I think he's an angry person who's twisted the Bible and picked and chosen verses that support his anger, that sort of justify his anger, and he's instilled that in his children and they've passed it on to their children. Although the second and third generation are by and large quite nice people from what I saw, they still live under the influence of their Gramps.

It shows you what strange avenues the religious impulse can take you down. I think another part of the answer is that parts of the Christian Bible are pretty weird. There's a lot of weird stuff in there and when you take that and you add this angry, domineering kind of a father figure, which is Gramps, and you add that he has sort of separated them off from other people, other families and driven them to achieve a lot, and he was kind of a charismatic guy, and still is up to a point. He was a very verbal, very persuasive, an extremely compelling speaker. All these things added together combined to make a powerful influence.

Louis Theroux: The Most Hated Family in America is on Sunday at 2100BST on BBC Two

Panel Asks Rove for Information on '08 Election Presentation

By Scott Higham and Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 30, 2007; Page A05

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sought more information yesterday about a presentation by a White House aide given to political appointees at the General Services Administration that discussed targeting 20 Democratic congressional candidates in the next election.

In a letter to White House political affairs director Karl Rove, the committee chairman, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), asked about the Jan. 26 videoconference by Rove deputy J. Scott Jennings, which was directed to the chief of the GSA and as many as 40 agency officials stationed around the country.

Jennings's 28-page presentation included 2006 election results and listed the names of Democratic candidates considered beatable and Republican lawmakers thought to need help. At a hearing Wednesday about the GSA, Waxman said the presentation and follow-up remarks allegedly made by agency chief Lurita Alexis Doan may have violated the Hatch Act, a law that restricts federal agencies and employees from using their positions for political purposes.

In yesterday's letter, Waxman asked Rove who prepared the presentation and whether Rove or Jennings consulted with anyone about whether it might be in violation of the Hatch Act. Waxman also asked whether Rove or any members of his staff have given the same or similar PowerPoint presentations to political appointees at other government agencies.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

CLYDE HABERMAN: How to Tell a Billionaire From a Bomber

The Billionaires, with a capital B, were delighted to hear that there are more superrich New Yorkers than they had thought.

Several Billionaires were sitting in Union Square Park the other day, and one of them remarked to us that 45 billionaires, small B, call New York home. Actually, we said, there are 50, judging from the latest Forbes magazine list.

Well, that touched off so many high-fives and shouts of “All right!” that you’d have thought the incredible had happened, like world peace or the Knicks making the playoffs.

“Ka-ching,” said an exultant Andrew Boyd, also known as Phil T. Rich. Marco Ceglie, who at times calls himself Monet Oliver DePlace, had something of an “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment. “Every time there’s a new billionaire,” he said, “a devil gets a new pitchfork.”

All in all, they had to concede, these are not bad times for the rich and mighty, normally as unappreciated a minority as we have.

Speaking up for that put-upon class is a mission of the Billionaires, whose full name is Billionaires for Bush. You may have seen them in the streets, decked out in tuxes and gowns, praising Big Oil, proclaiming à la Leona Helmsley that only little people pay taxes and organizing events like Dick Cheney Is Innocent Day. In New York, they have circulated petitions demanding limousine lanes, freed “from the clutches of bicycles.”

They are, as should be obvious, a band of satirists who don’t think much of President Bush (or, for that matter, the never-met-an-unwelcome-developer climate of the Bloomberg City Hall).

They are also one of the many political groups that the New York Police Department spied on in advance of the Republican National Convention held here in 2004.

That the authorities have conducted covert operations in the wake of Sept. 11 is neither a surprise nor, many would say, a problem. These are dangerous times. Most New Yorkers probably accept that it would be derelict of the police not to keep tabs on potential threats, be they rampaging anarchists or — worse — terrorists. Courts have thus far agreed.

The only goal of the pre-convention surveillance was to keep the city safe, the mayor insisted this week. “We were not keeping track of political activities,” he said. “We have no interest in doing that.”

But as a report in The New York Times has disclosed, the spied-upon included many groups that, agree with their views or not, engaged purely in political activity; they had no history of violence and no agenda other than a constitutional right to oppose the government. The Billionaires are a good example. The only bomb that they’ve been known to throw is a joke that falls flat.

“Not only did we not do violence,” Mr. Boyd said, “we did not profess doing violence or even pretend to profess doing violence. We see ourselves as a calming presence in demonstrations, getting out of that normal confrontational protest/police mode.”

Melody Bates, a member whose nom de rire is Ivy League-Legacy, called humor one of the more effective ways to make a point. “A good joke is in essence a gift,” she said, “and when you open with a gift, people are more receptive.”

The question is whether City Hall and the police have struck a reasonable balance between security needs and the imperatives of free expression, or whether the authorities, in Mr. Ceglie’s words, suffer from a post-9/11 case of “not knowing when to stop.”

It isn’t as if New York hasn’t rethought other policies that were deemed absolutely essential in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks. With municipal blessing, hideous concrete barriers rose in front of one building after another across town. In recent months, most have finally been torn down — recognition that Fortress New York doesn’t cut it.

Similar questions have been raised about the refusal of the National Park Service, in the name of security, to allow tourists to climb to the crown of the Statue of Liberty. Such a restriction at this potent symbol of American freedom has been strongly criticized by the likes of Senator Charles E. Schumer and Representative Anthony D. Weiner, who hardly see themselves as soft-on-terror types.

When the police spy on law-abiding groups, “it’s hard not to feel that it is an attempt to discourage free speech,” said Elissa Jiji, a k a Meg A. Bucks.

And Mr. Boyd drew lessons from the past. “It’s like that famous quote,” he said. “First, they came for the billionaires, and nobody said anything. …”


THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN: Many Plans, No News

In the Middle East today, home of the invention of algebra, a new math seems to have taken over. It is subtraction by addition. It goes like this: Add more trips to the region by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — who doesn’t seem to have any coherent strategy — to an emotionally stale, restated Saudi peace overture to Israel, and combine it with a cynical Hamas-Fatah cease-fire accord and an Israeli prime minister so unpopular his poll ratings are now lower than the margin of error, and you’ll find that we’re actually going backward — way back, back to the pre-Oslo era.

Only the bad guys make history in the Middle East today. Only the bad guys have imagination and resolve. Arab, Palestinian and Israeli “moderates” are just watching. Their leaders have never been weaker, and America has never been more feckless in framing clear choices to spur them to action.

We could be and should be doing better. Nearly seven years ago, President Bill Clinton put forward something called the “Clinton plan” for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. For the first time, the U.S. laid out its own detailed design of a fair deal between the parties. That plan called for Israel to give up 95 percent of the West Bank, Gaza and Arab East Jerusalem; for Palestinian refugees to be able to return to Palestinian areas but not to Israel; for the most populated Jewish settlements around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to remain in place and the others to be removed; and for Palestinians to be compensated for those settlements with land swaps and other arrangements from Israel.

Yes, Yasir Arafat rejected it at the time, and even the Israelis never fully embraced the plan as it was, but everyone knew then and knows now that the Clinton plan is the only realistic framework for peace. The Bush team took the view that since Arafat wouldn’t accept it, the Clinton plan was a dead letter and therefore could be and should be forever sidelined. They also put themselves on the sidelines of Arab-Israeli diplomacy for six years, rather than sell anything with the name “Clinton” on it.

So instead of constantly telling the parties that the Clinton plan was the only viable basis for peace, and that U.S. diplomacy would be devoted to building a context for Palestinians and Israelis to act on that plan and a U.S. team to execute it, President Bush gave us scattershot visits by his secretaries of state and minimalist, stopgap measures to engineer cease-fires or talks about talks. Who can name them? “The Mitchell plan,” “the quartet,” “the Zinni mission,” “the Tenet plan,” “the road map,” the “two plus four plus four framework” and soon the “six plus two” framework.

You can make fun all you want of Bill Clinton’s “naïve” Middle East peace passion, notes Mr. Clinton’s top negotiator, Dennis Ross, but the fact is four times more Israelis and Palestinians died fighting each other during the “realistic,” “pro-Israel,” sideline-sitting Bush years of 2001 to 2005 than in the “naïve” decade of intense U.S. peacemaking — dominated by President Clinton — from Madrid to Oslo, 1991 to 2000.

Had the Bush-Rice team stuck with the Clinton plan, today, at a minimum, it would have been locked in as the only acceptable formula for peace, and at a maximum we might have gotten there. But the Bush philosophy seems to have been: “A.B.C. — anything but Clinton,” said Gidi Grinstein, who heads Reut Institute, Israel’s premier strategy policy group. “But by not endorsing the Clinton parameters, we are back with plans that are much worse.”

Indeed, all that is on the table now is the restated Saudi peace initiative, calling for full peace with Israel after full withdrawal and justice for Palestinian refugees — with no maps, details or Arab plan for how to pursue it with Israel. And we have the Saudi-brokered Mecca peace accord between Hamas and Fatah, which doesn’t even acknowledge Israel.

If you read the Mecca agreement, said Mr. Ross, “Israel appears only as an adjective, not as a noun. Israel only appears in the agreement modifying words like ‘aggression’ and ‘occupation,’ but never appears as a noun — much less as a state to be recognized.”

That is what happens when America leaves a vacuum. Others fill it with peace plans that fit their needs first and the needs of a real peace second.

The Bush team reminds me of someone who buys a rundown house that comes with remodeling plans by Frank Lloyd Wright, but insists instead on using drawings submitted by the next-door neighbors. You get what you pay for. Or what you don’t pay for.

Gates: Congress should find way to shut Guantanamo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday Congress should look for ways to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, but said any solution must ensure some detainees would remain incarcerated for life.

"Is there a way statutorily to address the concerns about some of these people who really need to be incarcerated forever but that doesn't get them involved in a judicial system where there is the potential of them being released, frankly?" Gates said at a congressional hearing.

"I just don't know the answer," he said.

Gates called for Congress and the White House to discuss the issue.

The United States has faced international criticism over its continued detention of about 385 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba.

Iraq admits police behind sectarian massacre

MOSUL, Iraq (AFP) - Iraq's government admitted on Thursday that policemen were behind the vengeful slaughter of 70 Sunni Arabs in a northern town, heightening concern about its complicity in sectarian killings.

Around 13 policemen have been arrested in connection with Tuesday's killing spree in Tal Afar, a mixed Sunni-Shiite town in northern Iraq that has been devastated by the nation's worst bout of sectarian violence in months


Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ordered a full investigation into the shootings and Interior Minister Jawad Bolani confirmed Wednesday that the perpetrators were policemen, of whom an overwhelming majority are Shiites.

"We will take legal action against a group of them after the prime minister ordered an investigation," Bolani, an independent Shiite in Maliki's Shiite-dominated government, told Iraqiya television.

Video of US-Mexico border shooting appears to back immigrants' story

TUCSON, Arizona: A grainy surveillance video taken as a Border Patrol agent fatally shot an illegal immigrant from Mexico appears to lend credence to the surviving immigrants' accounts of what happened.

The Cochise County attorney released the video clips and documents this week after public records requests by The Associated Press and two newspapers. The shooting has drawn condemnation from the Mexican government and spurred an FBI civil rights investigation.

Border Patrol agent Nicholas Corbett encountered a group of four immigrants among a larger group of border crossers whom he and other agents were rounding up on Jan. 12 near Naco. The group included three brothers and one man's wife.

Corbett has declined to be interviewed by investigators but told other agents that he came around the front of his SUV, saw a man with a rock in his hand close to the rear of the vehicle and fired when the man moved to throw it.

The witnesses said the agent came from behind the victim, and the video appears to support that version.

Increase May Mean Longer Army Tours


Sustaining the U.S. troop increase in Iraq beyond this summer will not be possible without keeping some Army combat brigades in the war zone for up to 16 months -- much longer than the standard year-long tour, a top U.S. general in charge of the military's rotation plans said yesterday.

Air Force Gen. Lance Smith, head of U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, also said that if the increase of more than 28,000 combat and support troops continues until February, there is a "high probability" that some Army units would have less than a year at home between combat rotations, further compressing the limited time to train and reconnect with families.

"It will be very difficult" to sustain the increase past the summer, Smith told defense reporters. "The challenges are really in trying to allow a unit to have enough time at home to train, reset and reinvigorate themselves, and to not have to extend them too long in Iraq beyond the one year boots on the ground."

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said this month that he is looking at the possibility of continuing the increase beyond the summer to reinforce early progress in Baghdad. Some U.S. commanders there say they think it will be necessary to keep troop levels elevated at least until February, while others are warning their troops to be prepared to stay in the country for up to 18 months. So far, the longest that a combat brigade has been extended in Iraq for the increase is four months, in the case of the Minnesota National Guard's 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Man Gets 10 Years in Thai Graffiti Case

CHIANG MAI, Thailand - A Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday for spray-painting graffiti over images of Thailand's revered king, the first conviction of a foreigner in at least a decade under strict Thai laws protecting the monarchy.

Oliver Rudolf Jufer, 57, who had pleaded guilty to five counts of lese majeste, or insulting the monarchy, had faced a maximum sentence of 75 years in prison.

Judge Phitsanu Tanbukalee said Jufer was given a reduced sentence since he had admitted his wrongdoing.

His court-appointed lawyer, Komkrit Kunyodying, called the penalty "appropriate for the crime he has committed," adding he did not yet know if his client planned to appeal.

The Swiss Embassy issued a tempered criticism.

"We respect the Thai justice system," said Jacques Lauer, deputy chief of mission at the embassy in Bangkok. "However, we consider the implementation of the Thai penal code regarding lese majeste cases a tough one."

Jufer was caught by surveillance cameras on Dec. 5 spray-painting black paint over five outdoor posters of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where he lived, police and prosecutors said. His lawyer said he was intoxicated during the act.

Bhumibol, the world's longest serving monarch, is greatly loved by Thais and regarded by some as semi-divine. He is protected from reproach by strict laws that forbid any criticism of the monarchy.

Prosecutors Assail Gonzales During Meeting


WASHINGTON — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales endured blunt criticism Tuesday from federal prosecutors who questioned the firings of eight United States attorneys, complained that the dismissals had undermined morale and expressed broader grievances about his leadership, according to people briefed on the discussion.

About a half-dozen United States attorneys voiced their concerns at a private meeting with Mr. Gonzales in Chicago.

Several of the prosecutors said the dismissals caused them to wonder about their own standing and distracted their employees, according to one person familiar with the discussions. Others asked Mr. Gonzales about the removal of Daniel C. Bogden, the former United States attorney in Nevada, a respected career prosecutor whose ouster has never been fully explained by the Justice Department.

While Mr. Gonzales’s trip was part of a long-scheduled tour, he has been meeting in recent days with prosecutors in an effort to repair the damage caused by the dismissals. President Bush has backed Mr. Gonzales, but his tenure at the Justice Department may still be in peril as lawmakers in both parties have called for his resignation, questioned his credibility and raised doubts that he can lead the department.

Brits in the Gulf and a doctored British Map ?

Former British Ambassador Craig Murray is now challenging the legitimacy of the map just published by the British government in the current dispute with Iran over those 15 captured British sailors and marines.

"Fake Maritime Boundaries

"I have been unpopular before, but the level of threats since I started blogging on the captured marines has got a bit scary. It is therefore with some trepidation that I feel obliged to point this out.

"The British Government has published a map showing the coordinates of the incident, well within an Iran/Iraq maritime border. The mainstream media and even the blogosphere has bought this hook, line and sinker.

"But there are two colossal problems.

"A) The Iran/Iraq maritime boundary shown on the British government map does not exist. It has been drawn up by the British Government. Only Iraq and Iran can agree their bilateral boundary, and they never have done this in the Gulf, only inside the Shatt because there it is the land border too. This published boundary is a fake with no legal force.

"B) Accepting the British coordinates for the position of both HMS Cornwall and the incident, both were closer to Iranian land than Iraqi land. Go on, print out the map and measure it. Which underlines the point that the British produced border is not a reliable one.

"None of which changes the fact that the Iranians, having made their point, should have handed back the captives immediately. I pray they do so before this thing spirals out of control. But by producing a fake map of the Iran/Iraq boundary, notably unfavourable to Iran, we can only harden the Iranian position."

When I spoke with the former Ambassador he told me how dumbfounded he is by the way in which the mainstream media continues to treat this dispute.

The BBC for instance has already interviewed a supposed expert regarding the map, who vouched for its authenticity. But the point is, as Craig Murray, points out, how can such a map exist if the subject of boundaries has never been settled between Iraq and Iran? Turns out the expert had been referred to the BBC by the British Ministry of Defense--who also turned out the plan.

Abramoff Emails Raise New Questions in Attorney Firings

t r u t h o u t | Report

A Congressional probe into the dismissals of eight US attorneys last year has raised new questions about the role that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff played in the 2003 demotion of Frederick Black, the former US attorney in Guam.

Many of the White House and DOJ officials currently under scrutiny in the US attorney firings played a role in Black's replacement, including then Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales, his former Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson and President Bush.

However, letters sent Monday by Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to the RNC regarding White House officials' use of outside email accounts to conduct official administration business call into question the conclusions of the inspector general's report.

Waxman's letter included documentary evidence that a former aide to Karl Rove and Abramoff used an RNC email account to communicate with the convicted lobbyist about official government business in order to avoid leaving a paper trail of their exchanges.

BOB HERBERT: The D.C. Tea Party


Larry Chapman is a firefighter, and during an interview the other day I couldn’t help but notice the burns from a recent fire that circled both of his wrists. He shrugged them off. Part of the job.

He and I were talking about something that bothered him a lot more. He’s an American citizen, lives in the nation’s capital, has kept his nose clean his entire life and has always had a strong interest in national politics and government.

So why, he wanted to know, should he be denied the right to be represented in Congress?

President Bush was on television yesterday explaining why he feels it’s so important to keep fighting the war in Iraq. Nearly 12 million Iraqi citizens showed up to vote, he said, “to express their will about the future of their country.”

Supporting that effort, in Mr. Bush’s view, is an important enough reason to send Americans off to fight and die in Iraq.

But in Washington, D.C., which has more than a half million residents, American citizens are denied the right “to express their will about the future of their country” by voting for members of Congress. And Mr. Bush has not only opposed their effort to right this egregious wrong, he has threatened to veto legislation that would give these D.C. residents — hold your breath — one seat in the House of Representatives.

Someone please explain why the president is sending young Americans to fight and die for democracy abroad while working vigorously to deny the spread of democracy to American citizens here at home.

“Just because I live here,” said Mr. Chapman, “I’m denied the fundamental rights of every other American in the United States. That is messed up.”

The slogan on license plates in the district is “Taxation Without Representation.”

There’s a poster in wide circulation in the city, put out by DC Vote, a group that has campaigned hard for an expansion of voting rights. It shows two firefighters in full gear. One is Mr. Chapman, and the other is Jayme Heflin, who lives in Maryland. The poster says:

“Both will save your life. Only ONE has a vote in Congress — Washington D.C.’s nearly 600,000 residents include firefighters, nurses, teachers and small business owners. They pay federal taxes like all Americans, but are denied representation in Congress. That’s taxation without representation — and it’s still wrong.”

This denial of a fundamental voting right is especially significant at this moment in history. The executive branch is under the control of a belligerent and often amateurish group that has hacked away at civil liberties and is adamant about pursuing a war that neither Congress nor the public wants.

The rest of the nation’s business, including the economy, which looks increasingly like it may be going south, has been neglected. Nothing was more basic to the establishment of a co-equal legislative branch than the idea that it would serve as a check on a runaway executive.

And yet the residents of Washington (who can vote for president) are prevented from having any real say in the business of the legislature. (Eleanor Holmes Norton serves as a nonvoting delegate from the District.) There are, in fact, some Republicans who have stepped up valiantly on behalf of voting rights for the District. Representative Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, has been a leader in the fight to have a Congressional seat established.

But President Bush and some of his mean-spirited, antidemocratic allies are determined at all costs to prevent this expansion of the franchise to decent, honorable Americans.

The threat of a presidential veto was already in the air as the House moved close to a vote last week on legislation to create the Congressional seat. And then the entire process was sabotaged when the sleazoids from the gun lobby, acting with their usual hypocrisy and bad faith, tried to insert language that would demolish the District’s gun control laws.

The legislation was pulled, to the delight of the mischief-makers. Democrats said they will try to bring the matter up for a vote again soon, without the offending language.

This is another example of serious matters not being taken seriously in this country. President Bush and the bozos in the gun lobby probably got a chuckle out of their last-minute legislative maneuver. So clever of them.

But the real issue is the continued denial of a vote — something of tremendous value — to men and women who want and deserve more of a say in the important matters facing their country.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia : American occupation of Iraq was illegal

NYT - King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia told Arab leaders on Wednesday that the American occupation of Iraq was illegal and warned that unless Arab governments settled their differences, foreign powers like the United States would continue to dictate the region’s politics.

The king’s speech, at the opening of the Arab League meeting here, underscored growing differences between Saudi Arabia and the Bush administration as the Saudis take on a greater leadership role in the Middle East, partly at American urging.

The Saudis seem to be emphasizing that they will not be beholden to the policies of their longtime ally.

They brokered a deal between the two main Palestinian factions last month, but one that Israel and the United States found deeply problematic because it added to the power of the radical group Hamas rather than the more moderate Fatah. On Wednesday King Abdullah called for an end to the international boycott of the new Palestinian government. The United States and Israel want the boycott continued.

Congressman's letter to US Attorney said to violate House ethics rules


A letter sent by a Republican Congressman to Carol Lam, former US Attorney for the Southern District of California, appears to violate the Ethics rules established by the House of Representatives, RAW STORY has learned

However, another attorney who specializes in Congressional ethics said that although rules may have been violated, there were mitigating factors.

When RAW STORY brought Issa's letter to the attention of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, they confirmed that it appeared in violation of the same ethical rules that had prompted them to file complaints against two additional Congress members earlier in the month.

"CREW will be sending an ethics complaint to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct regarding Rep. Issa’s letter to former U.S. Attorney Carol Lam," Naomi Seligman Steiner, the group's Deputy Director, confirmed to RAW STORY this afternoon.

Breaking News : Britain Freezing All Ties With Iran, British Foreign Secretary Says


LONDON, March 28 — Britain today escalated its dispute with Iran over the capture of 15 British naval personnel by revealing charts, photographs and previously secret navigational coordinates purportedly proving that the British sailors were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters when they were seized six days ago.

“It is now time to ratchet up international and diplomatic pressure” on Iran to demonstrate its “total isolation,” Prime Minister Tony Blair told parliament after the Royal Navy made public details of what it said was the sailors’ position when they were apprehended.

The Royal Navy rejected two sets of coordinates provided by Iran as evidence of Teheran’s claim that the British sailors had strayed into its territorial waters.

The publication of the British data followed a warning by Mr. Blair on Tuesday that the dispute would enter a “different phase” if the sailors were not released.

In Contrast to His Previous Views, Retired General Writes of 'Strategic Peril'

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 28, 2007; Page A11

An influential retired Army general released a dire assessment of the situation in Iraq, based on a recent round of meetings there with Gen. David H. Petraeus and 16 other senior U.S. commanders.

"The population is in despair," retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey wrote in an eight-page document compiled in his capacity as a professor at West Point. "Life in many of the urban areas is now desperate."

McCaffrey is widely respected in the military, having fought in the Vietnam War, commanded a division in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and later served as the commander for U.S. military operations in Central America and South America. After retiring, he became President Bill Clinton's director of drug policy.

McCaffrey, who has met twice with President Bush to discuss the war, most recently in December, was scheduled to brief White House officials on his conclusions late yesterday.

Deal to aid Iraq's ex-Baathists imperiled


The plan to provide jobs or pensions angers Shiites who recall the victims of Hussein's party.

BAGHDAD — Before the ink was dry Tuesday on a compromise to allow former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to get government and military jobs, opposition erupted that could jeopardize the measure, one of the "benchmarks" for U.S. troop withdrawal.

The reaction to the proposal to revise one of the laws that has most infuriated Sunni Arabs suggested that the measure could face stiff opposition in the Shiite Muslim-dominated parliament.

"Our opinion is that this is an attempt to return Baathists into the highest echelons of power within the coming six months … without taking into account the many innocent victims who suffered from the Baathists," said Ali Lami, a member of the heavily Shiite commission charged with removing ranking Baath members from government.

"I think there will be great opposition within the parliament concerning this law," Lami added.

The Bush administration considers reform of the so-called de-Baathification process one of the most important steps the Iraqi government can take to reconcile Sunni Arabs with the country's new Shiite leaders and halt deadly sectarian fighting.

Iraq: Policemen go on killing spree


Security and police officials said off-duty Shiite policemen enraged by massive bombings in the northern town of Tal Afar went on a revenge killing spree there Wednesday, gunning down an unspecified number of Sunni residents.

They said the policemen began roaming the town's Sunni neighborhoods early in the morning, shooting at Sunni residents and homes.

Dozens of Sunnis were killed or wounded, they said, but they had no precise figures. The shooting continued for more than two hours, the officials said.

Army troops later moved into the Sunni areas to stop the violence, said the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Hicks' plea 'a way to get home'


The father of David Hicks, the first terror suspect to plead guilty before a court at Guantanamo Bay, says his son did it so he could return to Australia.

Terry Hicks said the plea - to a charge of providing material support for terrorism - was "a way to get home".

The US and Australia had agreed that the 31-year-old Muslim convert could serve out his sentence in his homeland.

Lawyers for David Hicks, meanwhile, met prosecutors on Tuesday to finalise details of his plea bargain.

Hicks pleaded guilty to the charge on Monday at the opening hearing into his case at the detention camp in Cuba.

The hearing was the first under a new military tribunal system introduced for the detainees, a system which has been condemned by human rights groups.

'Absolute hell'

The Australian, who has been in the camp for five years, was accused of attending al-Qaeda training camps and fighting with the Taleban.

Before the hearing began, lawyers for Hicks had suggested that he did not believe he would get a fair trial and that he was considering a plea bargain to expedite his return home.
His father said that was what had happened.

"It's a way to get home, and that's what he's told us," Terry Hicks told Radio Australia.

"He's had five years of absolute hell, and I think anyone in that position, if they were offered anything, they would possibly take it."

But the chief prosecutor, Colonel Morris Davis, told ABC radio that Hicks would have to set out his guilt in a further hearing.

"He'll have to acknowledge that he's in fact guilty and that he's pleading guilty voluntarily and for no other reason," he said.

Jail sentence

This will not take place until both sides agree on the details of the plea bargain, including the sentence.

Col Davis told ABC that prosecutors could seek 20 years, but that time Hicks had already spent in detention would be subtracted from this. He did not yet have a precise number, he said.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said he welcomed the progress towards the resolution of Hicks' case, although he expressed concern over the amount of time it had taken.

But the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many of the detainees, condemned the proceedings.

"Hick's guilty plea should not be seen as legitimising in any way an utterly illegal system of off-shore penal colonies, abuse, and trials that violate fundamental due process rights," it said in a statement.

The US has said it plans to use the new tribunal system to prosecute about 80 of 385 prisoners remaining at the camp.

US warns China on Iran arms sales


China must stop selling weapons to Iran and do more to block Iranian weapons proliferation, a senior US state department official has said.

Thomas Christensen, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, told US legislators that the Bush administration was also concerned about Chinese investments in Iran's oil and gas sector.

"We have made clear to Beijing that these types of investments, along with continued arms sales, send the wrong signal to the Iranian regime and raise serious concerns under US law," he told the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia.

China deserved praise for its efforts in securing the recent six-nation deal on North Korea's nuclear programme, Christensen said.

But, he said, Beijing needed to take a stronger stand on a range of the other international issues that affected US interests.


Christensen also noted China's considerable influence in Sudan and said the US expected Beijing to use the leverage gained from its imports of Sudanese oil to persuade Khartoum to accept a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur.

China, "with some justification, is seen as Khartoum's patron and benefactor", he said.

Christensen's comments are the latest words of concern from the Bush administration over China's growing influence on the world stage.

Last month Dick Cheney expressed worries over Beijing's military build-up, saying China's recent anti-satellite weapon test raised the prospect of an arms race in space.

Cheney's comments echoed earlier remarks from Condoleeza Rice, the US secretary of state, who said China's military activities were "outsized for China's regional and even global interests".


In his testimony on Tuesday Christensen also raised concerns over China's growing military arsenal facing Taiwan, "as well as Beijing's refusal to renounce the use of force against Taiwan".

"We believe these circumstances constitute important factors for instability in cross-Strait relations," he added.

US officials say China has hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949.

Since then, the Communist mainland has repeatedly threatened to attack if Taiwan makes its de facto independence permanent.

Washington has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan but maintains extensive unofficial relations and has pledged to see that Taiwan has the means to defend itself.

Gunmen kill dozens in Iraqi town - officials

BAGHDAD, March 28 (Reuters) - Gunmen stormed a Sunni district in the northwestern Iraqi town of Tal Afar overnight, killing dozens in apparent reprisal for truck bombings in a Shi'ite area, Iraqi officials said on Wednesday.

Police, military and health officials said as many as 50 men were killed in the attack on the Sunni district of al-Wahda in the volatile town, whose residents are a mixture of Shi'ites, Sunni Arabs and Turkmen, near the Syrian border,

"I wish you can come and see all the bodies. They are lying in the grounds. We don't have enough space in the hospital. All of the victims were shot in the head," a doctor at the main hospital told Reuters by telephone.

Powell: Like it or not, Iraq is a civil war

Sun Herald

Colin Powell, the former secretary of state who had the ear of several presidents, was on campus for a free evening lecture that drew more than 4,000 people to Alico Arena.

Whether those in the crowd described Powell, 69, as a leader they deeply respect, or as someone with wrong-headed views, many were there out of simple curiosity to hear what he had to say, especially about Iraq.

Powell did mention that country, and what he called the "civil war" there.

"The administration doesn't like me to say civil war, but I'm afraid that's the way it is," he said, but only after framing Iraq as one of many vexing problems he has seen over his long career and noting that many of those problems ended well.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN: How Many Scientists?

Sometimes you read something about this administration that is just so shameful it takes your breath away. For me, that was the March 20 article in this paper detailing how a House committee had just released documents showing “hundreds of instances in which a White House official who was previously an oil industry lobbyist edited government climate reports to play up uncertainty of a human role in global warming or play down evidence of such a role.”

The official, Philip A. Cooney, left government in 2005, after his shenanigans were exposed in The Times, and was immediately hired by, of course, Exxon Mobil. Before joining the White House, he was the “climate team leader” for the American Petroleum Institute, the main oil industry lobby arm.

The Times article, by Andrew Revkin and Matthew Wald, noted that Mr. Cooney said his past work opposing restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions on behalf of the oil industry had “no bearing” on his actions at the White House. “When I came to the White House,” he testified, “my sole loyalties were to the president and his administration.” (How about loyalty to scientific method?) Mr. Cooney, who has no scientific background, said he had based his editing on what he had seen in good faith as the “most authoritative and current views of the state of scientific knowledge.”

Let’s see, of all the gin joints. Of all the people the Bush team would let edit its climate reports, we have a guy who first worked for the oil lobby denying climate change, with no science background, then went back to work for Exxon. Does it get any more intellectually corrupt than that? Is there something lower that I’m missing?

I wonder how Mr. Cooney would have edited the recent draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, written and reviewed by 1,000 scientists convened by the World Meteorological Society and the U.N. It concluded that global warming is “unequivocal,” that human activity is the main driver, and that “changes in climate are now affecting physical and biological systems on every continent.”

I am not out to promote any party, but reading articles like the Cooney one makes me say: Thank goodness the Democrats are back running the House and Senate — because, given its track record, this administration needs to be watched at all times.

But I also say thank goodness for the way Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has built a Republican-Democratic coalition in California to blunt climate change. The governor is not only saving the Republican Party from being totally dominated by climate cranks, like Senator James Inhofe, and hacks-for-hire, like Cooney, but he also is creating a bipartisan template for dealing with climate change that will be embraced by Washington as soon as the Bush team is gone. I went out to Sacramento to interview the “Governator” a few weeks ago.

“The debate is over,” he said to me. “I mean, how many more thousands and thousands of scientists do we need to say, ‘We have done a study that there is global warming?’ ”

What is “amazing for someone that does not come from a political background like myself,” said Governor Schwarzenegger, is that “this line is being drawn” between Democrats and Republicans on climate change. “You say to yourself: ‘How can it be drawn on the environment?’ But it is. But the great thing is more and more Republicans are coming on board for this. Seeing how important this is. And more and more Democrats and Republicans are working together. … I said in my inaugural address: ‘There isn’t such a thing as Republican clean air or Democratic clean air. We all breathe the same air.’ Let’s get our act together, fix this problem and fight global warming.”

Last September, Governor Schwarzenegger signed the Global Warming Solutions Act, requiring California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020.

“Everybody recognized that it was so important that we should not argue over philosophy — that we Republicans believe in this and we Democrats believe in this and get nothing done,” he said. “We did it carefully. … We gave it enough ramp-up time to start in the year 2012 and by the year 2020 we want to hit that level. I am a business-friendly guy. I’m all about economic growth. I am not here to harm businesses. I am here to make businesses boom, but let’s also protect our environment. Let’s make our air clean. Let’s make our water clean. And let’s fight global warming because we know now that this is a major danger, that this is not a debate anymore.”

STANLEY FISH: Murder, I Read

You’re at the mystery section of an airport bookstore and the loudspeaker has just announced that your flight is in the late stages of boarding. You have maybe three or four minutes to make a choice. (That is your assignment, if you choose to accept it.) How do you go about deciding?

Look at the back cover? No, back-cover copy is written by an advertising flack who probably hasn’t read the book and is trying for something short and punchy like (and I will be making none of this up) “As unpredictable as trade winds” or “It couldn’t get any worse. Until it does.” Besides, rarely will the style of back-cover prose be anything like the style of the book itself, so reading it won’t tell you what you want to know. Depending on your taste, it might tell you something usefully negative. The moment I spot a reference to any country but this one, I move on. No international settings for me. Ditto for any promise that the book I am holding will be funny. Funny is for sitcoms and stand-up comedians. When it comes to mysteries, I’m a Matthew Arnold guy, all for high seriousness.

How about the blurbs, especially if a few of your favorites are touting the merits of an author new to you? I used to take direction from blurbs until I told a very famous mystery writer that he was right to have praised a book I had bought on his authority. He replied that he didn’t remember it, probably hadn’t read it, and was no doubt doing a favor for his publisher. Members of that club, it seems, pass blurbs out to each other like party favors.

The only thing left — and this is sure-fire — is to read the first sentence. The really bad ones leap out at you. Here’s one that has the advantage of being short (you can close the book quickly): “He cut through the morning rush-hour crowd like a shark fin through water.” Enough said. Here’s one that begins O.K., except for the heroine’s name, but then goes on a beat and a half too long: “Brianne Parker didn’t look like a bank robber or a murderer — her pleasantly plump baby face fooled everyone.” You don’t need the stuff after the dash. Brianne’s not looking like a murderer is the hook that draws you in to find out why she is one. The “pleasantly plump baby face” bit lets you off the hook and dumps you on a cliché, which might be all right if the author gave any sign of knowing that it was one. This guy is going to hit false notes for 300 pages, but I won’t be listening.

Sometimes a first sentence is bad because it’s pretentious. “Some stories wait to be told.” That’s an opening Tolstoy or Jane Austen might have considered (although they would have produced superior versions of it). But mystery writers usually aren’t Tolstoys or Austens, and a first sentence like this one is a signal (buyer beware) that the author is intent on contemplating his or her “craft” and wants you to contemplate it too. No thanks.

Time is running out, the doors will soon be closing. Here’s something much better: “Stromose was in high school when he met the boy who would someday murder his wife and son.” High marks for compression, information and what I call the “angle of lean.” A good first sentence knows about everything that will follow it and leans forward with great force, taking you with it. As you read this one you already want to find out (a) what was the relationship between the two in high school (b) what happened that turned a “boy” into a murderer, and (c) what sequence of events led to his murdering these particular people? The only thing wrong is that the author is as impressed with the sentence as he wants you to be; it is written with a snap and a click of self-satisfaction.

And here, finally, is the real thing, efficient, dense, and free of self-preening: “Joel Campbell, eleven years old at the time, began his descent into murder with a bus ride.” The name is nicely cadenced and sounds serious; “eleven years old at the time” takes the seriousness away, but it comes back with a vengeance and with a question: descent into murder, how did that happen? The answer — “with a bus ride” — only deepens the mystery, and we’re off. And look, the book is big and fat. Sold.