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December 24, 2007
U.S. Officials See Waste in Billions Sent to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — After the United States has spent more than $5 billion in a largely failed effort to bolster the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, some American officials now acknowledge that there were too few controls over the money. The strategy to improve the Pakistani military, they said, needs to be completely revamped.

In interviews in Islamabad and Washington, Bush administration and military officials said they believed that much of the American money was not making its way to frontline Pakistani units. Money has been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding that the United States has paid tens of millions of dollars in inflated Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs.

“I personally believe there is exaggeration and inflation,” said a senior American military official who has reviewed the program, referring to Pakistani requests for reimbursement. “Then, I point back to the United States and say we didn’t have to give them money this way.”

Pakistani officials say they are incensed at what they see as American ingratitude for Pakistani counterterrorism efforts that have left about 1,000 Pakistani soldiers and police officers dead. They deny that any overcharging has occurred.

The $5 billion was provided through a program known as Coalition Support Funds, which reimburses Pakistan for conducting military operations to fight terrorism. Under a separate program, Pakistan receives $300 million per year in traditional American military financing that pays for equipment and training.

Civilian opponents of President Pervez Musharraf say he used the reimbursements to prop up his government. One European diplomat in Islamabad said the United States should have been more cautious with its aid.

“I wonder if the Americans have not been taken for a ride,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Lawmakers in Washington voted Thursday to put restrictions on the $300 million in military financing, and withheld $50 million of that money until Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certifies that Islamabad has been restoring democratic rights since Mr. Musharraf lifted a state of emergency on Dec. 16. The measure had little effect on the far larger Coalition Support Funds reimbursements.

While it was a modest first step, any new conditions in aid could have a major effect on relations between the United States and Pakistan. Pakistan’s military relies on Washington for roughly a quarter of its entire $4 billion budget.



Last week, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino attempted to defend President Bush's lie about when he first learned that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program.

On Wednesday night last week, Perino conceded he was told in August that Iran's program "may be suspended." Perino first tried to claim that when Bush said he didn't know what the information was, he actually meant that "he didn't get any of the details of what -- what the information was, in terms of what the actual raw intelligence was."

Perino added, "I can see where you could see that the president could have been more precise in that language. But the president was being truthful."

The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh said that Bush spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert about the NIE on Monday, Nov. 26.

CNN's Ed Henry asked Perino, "How could he brief Olmert on Monday about a report that he found out about on Wednesday?" Perino responded, "I don't -- I will check...it's possible that he knew that there was information coming."



In an interview with the Politico last Thursday, Vice President Dick Cheney said that by Jan. 2009, he is "confident" Iraq will be in "good" enough shape that the White House will be able to look back and say, "That was the right decision. It was a sound decision going into Iraq."

By 2009, it would be clear "we have in fact achieved our objective in terms of having a self-governing Iraq that's capable for the most part of defending themselves, a democracy in the heart of the Middle East."

Cheney has been pledging such a development for the past five years. In June 2005, he asserted, "We will succeed in Iraq. ...We will stand up a new government under an Iraqi-drafted constitution...it will be an enormous success story."

Cheney also promised, "The victory of freedom in Iraq will inspire democratic reformers in other lands." Despite Cheney's assurances, the White House is quietly scaling back its "expectation of quickly achieving major steps toward unifying the country," and in July, Gen. David Petraeus warned that the fight against insurgents in Iraq could take "decades."

Everyone of Cheney's predictions since the War began have been WRONG. I find it disgraceful for him to say that Iraq will be able to Govern it's self on the eve of Bush and Cheney's departure from the WhiteHouse...


$1B In Military Equipment Missing In Iraq

WASHINGTON,(CBS)-Tractor trailers, tank recovery vehicles, crates of machine guns and rocket propelled grenades are just a sampling of more than $1 billion in unaccounted for military equipment and services provided to the Iraqi security forces, according to a new report issued today by the Pentagon Inspector General and obtained exclusively by the CBS News investigative unit. Auditors for the Inspector General reviewed equipment contracts totaling $643 million but could only find an audit trail for $83 million.

The report details a massive failure in government procurement revealing little accountability for the billions of dollars spent purchasing military hardware for the Iraqi security forces. For example, according to the report, the military could not account for 12,712 out of 13,508 weapons, including pistols, assault rifles, rocket propelled grenade launchers and machine guns.

The report comes on the same day that Army procurement officials will face tough questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding their procurement policies. One official, Claude Bolton, assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology has already announced his resignation on the heels of sharp criticism of army contracting. Bolton’s resignation is effective Jan. 2, 2008. The Army has significantly expanded its fraud investigations in recent months.


Sadr tells Bush To Get Out Of Iraq

Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr last week blasted US President George W. Bush for signing a deal with Baghdad that ensures a long-term American military presence in Iraq.

"I say this to the evil Bush - leave my country," Sadr said in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

"We do not need you and your army of darkness," he said.

"We don't need your planes and tanks. We don't need your policy and your interference. We don't want your democracy and fake freedom. Get out of our land."

Sadr's salvo comes a week after the US president and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced a deal ensuring a long-term presence of US forces in the country.

Mr Bush and Mr Maliki decided to end the UN mandate for foreign troops' presence in Iraq in 2008 and replace it with a bilateral pact between the two countries for an American military presence beyond 2008.

Sadr, known for his anti-American stance, also criticised the other top Shiite parties in Iraq, Mr Maliki's Dawa and the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC).

"Where is Dawa? Where are the brothers of Badr?" he asked, referring to the SIIC militia.

"Iraqi parliament and the government ... you must demand that the occupant leave. Today the Sadrists are oppressed and by our brothers as well as the occupant," the cleric said.

Sadr's political bloc recently walked out of the governing Shiite alliance because of differences with the coalition partners.


Declaration Of 'Enduring' Presence

Last Monday, President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki signed a non-binding "Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship" that will set the parameters for negotiating an "enduring" political, economic, cultural, and security relationship between the United States and Iraq.

In the agreement, the two heads of state agreed to "extend the mandate of the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter" for one final year, which will give the two countries "another year to negotiate our bilateral arrangement" that will address "issues such as what mission U.S. forces in Iraq will pursue, whether they will establish permanent bases, and what kind of immunity, if any, should be granted to private security contractors."

The statement envisions that by the end of President Bush's term, Iraq will be removed from its Chapter 7 U.N. designation "as a threat to international peace and security," which it has been under since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. The underlying deal of the agreement, according to "two senior officials," is "a long-term troop presence in Iraq and preferential treatment for American investments in return for an American guarantee of long-term security including defense against internal coups."

The "shape and size" of the long-term commitment of troops is yet to be determined, according to White House war czar Gen. Doug Lute, but it will be "a key part of the negotiations" that occur over the next year.


In the security section of the agreement, the United States commits in concept to help "deter foreign aggression against Iraq" as well as "combat all terrorist groups, at the forefront of which is Al-Qaeda, Saddamists, and all other outlaw groups regardless of affiliation."

The White House will not say definitively whether such a security guarantee will require permanent bases for American troops. In a press briefing last Monday, Lute said that bases are "another dimension of continuing U.S. support to the government of Iraq, and will certainly be a key item for negotiation next year."

In June, Bush administration officials told The New York Times that they envision "maintaining three or four major bases in the country." Maliki's administration has given unclear and at times conflicting accounts of his position on permanent bases. Haidar Abadi, a Shiite parliament member who serves as an adviser to al-Maliki, told Tribune Newspapers that "no military bases will be offered for long terms like in South Korea," but in a conference call with reporters, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, refused to rule out the possibility of bases, saying only that it "is going to be discussed with the political parties."

Iraq's National Security Adviser Mowaffak Al-Rubaie has previously told the White House that there should be "no military bases for Iraq."


According to Lute, the bilateral arrangement that will be worked out over the next year is not intended to "lead to the status of a formal treaty," but will establish more of a status of forces agreement (SOFA), which is "the basic document for garrisoning U.S. forces on foreign soil."

"We don't anticipate now that these negotiations will lead to the status of a formal treaty which would then bring us to formal negotiations or formal inputs from the Congress," said Lute. If the Bush administration wants "to commit the United States to the long-term security of Iraq without a word of discussion with Congress" through a status of forces agreement, then it will be in accord with "historical practice," according to Peggy McGuinness, a former State Department official and current law professor at the University of Missouri, because "a SOFA is usually a purely executive agreement."

The agreement's lack of congressional input was blasted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) office, who said that "President Bush is now trying to unilaterally negotiate an agreement with Iraq on security -- an area where the President has absolutely zero credibility."

The situation is quite different, however, in Iraq. The Iraqi constitution requires that the Iraqi parliament ratify "international treaties and agreements by a two-thirds majority." The approval of the agreement by Iraq's parliament is in no way guaranteed, considering that in May, 144 out of 275 parliamentarians signed a petition calling for a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces. In fact, the agreement is already drawing criticism from various sections of the Iraqi parliament.


Biden's Warning To Bush: Bomb Iran And Face Impeachment
By: David Edwards and Nick Juliano

Sen. Joe Biden, the loquacious long-shot Democratic presidential candidate, warned President Bush Thursday that he would move for impeachment if the president unilaterally authorized a military strike against Iran.

"The President has no authority to unilaterally attack Iran and ... if he does, as foreign relations committee chairman and former chairman of judiciary, I will move to impeach him," Biden told a crowd of about 100 potential voters at a campaign stop in New Hampshire.

Biden said he is meeting with constitutional law experts and plans to send Bush a legal memo formally outlining his warning, according to Seacoast Online, which reported his comments.

The senior Delaware senator told the crowd that calls for Bush's immediate impeachment were valid but may not have enough constitutional support to make them viable. He added that Bush wasn't the only White House figure who deserves to be booted.

"If you're going to impeach George Bush, you better impeach Cheney first," Biden said, garnering applause from the crowd.

On MSNBC's Morning Joe Friday, host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, criticized Biden's proposal.

"It is so unfortunate, that this is how we campaign now, talking about impeachment," Scarborough said, "when you have [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad talking about obliterating Israel, talking about obliterating the United States, talking about building nuclear weapons, how we can't stop him. Saying just absolutely horrendous crazy things, sending Iranian forces into Iraq to kill American troops.

"And Joe Biden, who I like and respect, talking on the campaign trail about impeaching a commander in chief because of a decision that he may make against a madman," he continued. "And everybody knows that Ahmadinejad is a madman, and that Iran is one of the most dangerous planets on Earth."

One assumes Scarborough meant to say "most dangerous countries on Earth."


Pakistan: U.S. Brought 'Nothing New'
Musharraf's government dismisses America’s call to end emergency rule

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -(AP) President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s government dismissed a last-ditch U.S. call to end emergency rule, leaving the Bush administration with limited options Sunday in steering its nuclear-armed ally back toward democracy.

Pakistan said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte brought no new proposals on a make-or-break visit, and received no assurances after urging Musharraf to restore the constitution and free thousands of political opponents.

“This is nothing new,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq told The Associated Press. “The U.S. has been saying this for many days. He (Negroponte) has said that same thing. He has reiterated it.”

Locked in a battle with increasingly powerful Islamist militants, Pakistan is seen as a key front in the war on terror. U.S. officials are clearly fearful that the emergency rule imposed more than two weeks ago could lead to a potentially destabilizing round of political turmoil.

Envoy urged end to crackdown

In an early morning news conference before departing Pakistan, Negroponte said he hoped that the president listened to his appeal to end a crackdown on opponents before legislative elections scheduled for January.

“I urged the government to stop such actions, lift the state of emergency and release all political detainees,” Negroponte told reporters at the U.S. Embassy. “Emergency rule is not compatible with free, fair and credible elections.”

But Musharraf has appeared intent on setting his own pace despite warnings from Washington, which has been hesitant to match criticism with actions such as cutting military aid.

Militant gains have raised U.S. concerns about Pakistan’s ability to combat militancy and flush out remnants of al-Qaida and the Taliban believed to be sheltering in the country’s rugged northwestern tribal areas.

Pakistani army helicopter gunships strafed militant positions in the northwest on Sunday, hitting a valley where fighters loyal to a pro-Taliban cleric have been battling security forces for months, the army said.

Soldiers also fired artillery and mortar shells at militants in Swat, inflicting “many casualties,” the army said. It did not offer any specific casualty figures.

Fighting in Swat, a former tourist destination about 100 miles northwest of Islamabad, has turned parts of the region into a no-go zone for journalists, and the army claims could not be independently verified. The rebels could not be reached comment.

Fighters loyal to Maulana Fazlullah, a rebel cleric who wants to impose Islamic rule, have steadily advanced down the Swat valley since July, taking over towns and driving back government forces.

Full Story



The Washington Post reports last week that senior military commanders in Iraq are expressing "growing concern over the Iraqi government's failure to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians."

The commanders now "portray" the lack of political progress "as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than Al-Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias."

As Center for American Progress Action Fund President John Podesta and senior fellows Lawrence Korb and Brian Katulis argue in the Post's opinion pages, the lack of political progress is being overshadowed by a strategic drift in America's domestic debate on Iraq, with "both political parties" seemingly "resigned to allowing the Bush administration to run out the clock on its Iraq strategy and bequeath this quagmire to the next president."

As they point out, the continued U.S. presence in Iraq makes Iraqi national reconciliation more difficult because "as long as U.S. forces remain in Iraq in significant numbers, regional powers feel free to meddle, knowing that America must bear the consequences." Read their full memo here and more from Katulis here and here.


Taliban Kill Afghan Boy For Teaching English
Teen dragged out of school in southeastern Afghanistan and shot dead

KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters)- Taliban militants shot dead a teenage boy in southeastern Afghanistan for teaching English to his classmates, police said on Thursday.

Taliban militants have killed a number of teachers and students in recent years for attending government-run schools, taking part in classes for girls or what the hardline Islamist militants consider un-Islamic subjects.

Armed men arrived at the school in the Sayed Karam district of Paktia province and grabbed a 16-year-old student and dragged him outside.

"Taliban militants took the boy out and killed him outside the school just because he was teaching English to his classmates," said General Esmatullah Alizai, the police chief of Paktia province.

Police arrived on the scene and in the ensuing gun battle, two policemen and two militants were killed, he said.

A Taliban spokesman denied the group was involved in the killing. The militants often deny carrying out unpopular actions. The Taliban are divided into a number of factions with no unified command and individual units act with a high degree of autonomy.

Afghanistan has suffered from two years of steadily rising violence as the Taliban have reignited their campaign to overthrow the pro-Western Afghan government and eject foreign troops.

Taliban insurgents suffer heavy casualties whenever they engage with foreign troops, but there are few signs they are suffering from a shortage of recruits. Both the number of clashes and their geographical range has gone up this year.

Helmand fighting

Meanwhile, U.S.-led coalition forces killed several militants in clashes in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said on Thursday, and an explosion killed a British soldier in the troubled region.

The latest clashes came in the Garmser district of Helmand province, where mostly British and U.S. troops are battling to extend Afghan government authority to a string of towns along the fertile Helmand River that cuts through the barren desert.

"During a search of compounds in the district, coalition forces encountered armed militants in multiple buildings on the compounds," a U.S. military statement said.

"Coalition forces responded with a combination of small-arms fire; accurate, conventional munitions and precision-guided munitions killing several militants during the engagement," the statement added.

Precision munitions normally refer to weapons launched in air strikes, but can be ground-launched weaponry.

"Precision munitions were also used to kill several other militants who were attempting to use a tree line outside one of the compounds as cover to engage coalition forces," it said.

There was no immediate comment from the Taliban.

In a separate incident, a British soldier was killed in an explosion in the Sangin district, further north in Helmand province on Wednesday, the British Defence Ministry said.

More than 7,000 people have been killed in that period, the bloodiest since Afghan and U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban for refusing to give up al-Qaida leaders in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.


2007 Deadliest Year For US In Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Six U.S. troops were killed when insurgents ambushed their foot patrol in the high mountains of eastern Afghanistan, officials said Saturday. The attack, the most lethal against American forces this year, made 2007 the deadliest for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.

The troops were returning from a meeting with village elders late Friday afternoon in Nuristan province when militants attacked them with rocket propelled grenades and gunfire, Lt. Col. David Accetta told The Associated Press.

"They were attacked from several enemy positions at the same time," said Accetta, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force and the U.S. military. "It was a complex ambush."

The six deaths brings the total number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this year to at least 101, according to a count by the AP. That makes this year the deadliest for Americans here since the 2001 invasion, a war initially launched to oust Taliban and al-Qaida fighters after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, but one that has evolved into an increasingly bloody counterinsurgency campaign.


2007 Deadliest Year For US Troops In Iraq

Baghdad, Iraq (AP) - The U.S. military announced six new deaths Tuesday, making 2007 the bloodiest year for American troops in Iraq despite a recent decline in casualties and a sharp drop in roadside bombings that Washington links to Iran.

With nearly two months left in the year, the annual toll is now 853 — three more than the previous worst of 850 in 2004.

But the grim milestone comes as the Pentagon points toward other encouraging signs as well — growing security in Baghdad and other former militant strongholds that could help consolidate the gains against extremists.


Bush Defends World War Three Comments On Iran

BERLIN (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush defended in a television interview last Wednesday his recent comments suggesting Iran's nuclear ambitions might trigger World War Three and insisted he wanted a diplomatic solution.

Bush told a news conference last month that preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons would be a means of avoiding a new global conflict.

"The reason I said that is because this is a country that has defied the IAEA -- in other words, didn't disclose all their program -- have said they want to destroy Israel," Bush said in the interview with German broadcaster RTL.

"If you want to see World War Three, you know, a way to do that is to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon," Bush added. "And so I said, now is the time to move. It wasn't a prediction, nor a desire."

Asked whether there was a point when the United States would decide military action was the only possible option for dealing with Iran, Bush said: "I would never say that."

"I would say that we would always try to try diplomacy first," he said. "In other words, I -- I've committed our troops into harm's way twice, and it's not a pleasant experience because I understand the consequences firsthand.

"And so I owe it to the American people to say that I've tried to solve this problem diplomatically. And that's exactly what I intend to do. And I believe we can do it, so long as the world works in concert."

Iran says its atomic work is to make electricity, not bombs.

The interview was conducted on Tuesday and RTL released the quotes on Wednesday ahead of a visit to Bush's Texas ranch by German Chancellor Angela Merkel later this week.


Experts: Danger Of Nuclear-Armed Iran May Be Hyped

Warren P. Strobel | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — A hostile country led by anti-American ideologues appears close to developing its first nuclear weapon and, as a U.S. election approaches, the president and his advisers debate a pre-emptive military strike. Newspaper columnists demand action to stop the nuclear peril.

The country was China, the year was 1963 and the president was Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Now it is Iran that is said to may be bent on acquiring nuclear arms, and President Bush who has declared that "unacceptable." Some U.S. officials and outside commentators are again pushing for a pre-emptive attack.

But the White House and its partisans may be inflating the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran, say experts on the Persian Gulf and nuclear deterrence. While there are dangers, they acknowledge, Iran appears to want a nuclear weapon for the same reason other countries do: to protect itself.

Bush, by contrast, has suggested that a nuclear-armed Iran could bring about World War III. The president and his top aides, along with hawkish commentators, have suggested that Iran might launch a first strike on Israel or the United States, or hand nuclear weapons to terrorist groups Tehran supports.

There is "only one terrible choice, which is either to bomb those (Iranian nuclear) facilities and retard their program or even cut it off altogether, or allow them to go nuclear," Norman Podhoretz, a foreign policy adviser to GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, said last month.

"Would I like Iran to have a nuclear bomb? No," said Robert Jervis, a Columbia University professor of international politics who has written widely on nuclear deterrence. But, "the fears (voiced) by the administration and a fair number of sensible people as well, just are exaggerated. The idea that this will really make a big difference, I think is foolish."

Even some commentators in Israel, whose leaders see themselves in Iran's crosshairs, present a more nuanced view of the potential threat than the White House does.

An Iranian nuclear bomb could present Israel "with the real potential for an existential threat," Ephraim Kam of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv wrote in February.

But Kam noted that Israel has its own unacknowledged nuclear deterrent — estimated at 100 to 200 warheads — larger than anything Iran could marshal for years to come.

Despite Iran's "messianic religious motivations," he wrote, "it is highly doubtful that Tehran would want to risk an Israeli nuclear response" by attempting a first strike.

Moreover, Iran, which says its nuclear research is aimed at generating electric power, is not thought to be close to having a nuclear weapon. In the worst-case scenario, it could have enough highly enriched uranium, a basic weapon ingredient in weapons, in two to three years.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is due to report next week on whether Iran has cleared up questions about its past nuclear work. The IAEA's judgment will influence whether the U.N. Security Council imposes new sanctions on Iran for failing to suspend uranium enrichment.

Bush administration officials insist that Iran is different from other countries that have sought and acquired nuclear weapons.


Pakistani Police Detain 500 Activists
Police Hold 500 Pakistani Activists After Emergency Rule Imposed; Vote Could Be Delayed 1 Year

Islamabad, Pakistan (AP)-Police and soldiers emboldened by state of emergency powers swept up hundreds of activists and opposition members on Sunday, dragged away protesters shouting "Shame on you!", and turned government buildings into barbed-wire compounds.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf's government said parliamentary elections could be delayed up to a year as it tries to stamp out a growing Islamic militant threat effectively linking two of the greatest concerns of Pakistan's biggest international donors: the United States and Britain.

Increasingly concerned about the unfolding crisis, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington was reviewing billions of dollars in aid to its close terrorism-fighting ally. Britain is also examining its assistance.

"Some of the aid that goes to Pakistan is directly related to the counterterrorism mission," Rice told reporters traveling with her. "We just have to review the situation."

But, she said, she did not expect the U.S. "to ignore or set aside our concerns about terrorism."

Scores of paramilitary troops blocked access to the Supreme Court and parliament. Streets in the capital appeared largely calm, with only a handful of demonstrations. But one, attended by 40 people at the Marriott Hotel, was broken up by baton-wielding police.

"Shame on you! Go Musharraf go!" the protesters shouted as officers dragged some out of the crowd and forced them to the ground. Eight were taken away in a van.

Others were apathetic. Standing at on a dusty street corner in Islamabad, Togul Khan, 38, said he didn't care about the emergency declaration.

"For us, life stays the same, even when politicians throw Pakistan into the sky, spin it around and watch as it crashes back down to earth," the day laborer said as he waited for work.

In an address to the nation late Saturday, Musharraf said the growth of a militant Islamic movement and a court system that hindered his powers forced him to declare a state of emergency, despite the urging of Western allies against authoritarian measures.

Less than 24 hours after the order was issued, militants in the Afghan border freed 211 captured Pakistani soldiers in exchange for the army's decision to free 28 insurgents, including some allegedly connected to suicide attacks, officials said.

Though they gave no explanation for the decision, it appeared to fly in the face of Musharraf's claims that emergency rule was needed to make sure terrorists dozens of whom he says have been freed by Pakistani courts stay off the streets.

Critics say Musharraf, a 1999 coup leader who had promised to give up his army post and become a civilian president this year, imposed emergency rule in a last-ditch attempt to cling to power.

His leadership is threatened by the Islamic militant movement that has spread from border regions to the capital, the reemergence of political rival and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and an increasingly defiant Supreme Court, which was expected to rule soon on the validity of his recent presidential election win. Hearings scheduled for next week were postponed indefinitely.

Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum denied claims by Bhutto and others that Musharraf had imposed martial law direct rule by the army under the guise of a state of emergency. He noted the prime minister was still in place and that the legislature would complete its term next week.

Crucial parliamentary elections had been scheduled for January, but Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the polls could be delayed up to a year. He said the extraordinary measures would be in place "as long as it is necessary."

In Islamabad, phone service that was cut Saturday evening appeared to have been restored by Sunday morning, but television news networks other than state-controlled Pakistan TV remained off the air.

Aziz said up to 500 people were detained nationwide in 24 hours.

Among them were Javed Hashmi, the acting president of the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; cricket star-turned politician, Imran Khan; Asma Jehangir, chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; and Hamid Gul, former chief of the main intelligence agency and a critic of Musharraf.

Around 200 police with assault rifles and sticks stormed the rights commission's office in the eastern city of Lahore, breaking up a meeting and arresting about 50 members, said Mehbood Ahmed Khan, legal officer for the activists.

"They dragged us out, including the women," he said from the police station. "It's inhuman, undemocratic and a violation of human rights to enter a room and arrest people gathering peacefully there."

Bhutto, who narrowly escaped assassination in an Oct. 18 suicide bombing that killed 145 others, scoffed at claims that Musharraf imposed the emergency measures to fight Islamic militants even though Muslim insurgents were widely blamed for the attempt on her life.

"Many people in Pakistan believe that it has nothing to do with stopping terrorism, and it has everything to do with stopping a court verdict that was coming against him," she told the weekend edition of ABC News' "Good Morning America."

Musharraf replaced the chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who had emerged as the main check on the his power. Aitzaz Ahsan, a lawyer who represented the judge, also was arrested.

The U.S. has provided about $11 billion to Pakistan since 2001, when Musharraf made a strategic shift to ally with the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks. Rice told reporters that Washington would review its aid in light of the new emergency measures, though the Pentagon earlier said the emergency rule would not affect its military support to the Muslim nation.

Britain also said it was examining if Musharraf's steps would affect the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid it has pledged to the south Asian nation.

Musharraf's emergency order suspended the 1973 constitution. Seven of the 17 Supreme Court judges immediately rejected the order, and only five agreed to take the oath of office under the new provisional constitution.

Musharraf issued two ordinances toughening media laws, including a ban on live broadcasts of "incidents of violence and conflict." Also, TV operators who "ridicule" the president, armed forces, and other powerful state bodies face up to three years in jail.

Associated Press writers Khalid Tanveer in Multan; Matthew Pennington, Zarar Khan, Sadaqat Jan, Munir Ahmad and Alisa Tang in Islamabad; and Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.


Times: Bush Plans To Keep Pakistan From being Mockery Of Democracy 'Fell Apart Spectacularly'
Filed by John Byrne

In a somewhat sharply worded news analysis in Sunday's editions of The New York Times, the paper of record takes the president to task on his seeming failure to maintain order in Pakistan.

"For more than five months the United States has been trying to orchestrate a political transition in Pakistan that would manage to somehow keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf in power without making a mockery of President Bush’s promotion of democracy in the Muslim world," pens the Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Helene Cooper.

"On Saturday, those carefully laid plans fell apart spectacularly," they continue. "Now the White House is stuck in wait-and-see mode, with limited options and a lack of clarity about the way forward."

Musharraf declared emergency rule Saturday evening, putting the Army in charge of Islamabad. Most of the Supreme Court was disbanded after they refused to certify his decision; Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry was placed under house arrest. Telephone lines were cut and critical media outlets shuttered.

The Times said Pakistan was close to a Bush administration nightmare -- an "American-backed military dictator who is risking civil instability in a country with nuclear weapons and an increasingly alienated public"

Stolberg and Cooper also note that top Al Qaeda leaders and Osama Bin Laden are "believed to be hiding out in the mountainous border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan."

Taken together, these statements could indicate a greater threat to the United States' security than Iran: an "American-backed military dictator who is risking civil instability in a country with nuclear weapons and an increasingly alienated public" on whose border Osama Bin Laden and top Al Qaeda leaders are "believed to be hiding out."

Musharraf was one of Bush's chief allies in the region, despite his all-but-dictatorship. The US has given Pakistan more than $10 billion in aid -- "mostly to the military, since 2001."

Now that military is patrolling the streets of Islamabad, cutting off phone lines and critical media outlets and placing opposition leader Imran Khan under house house arrest.

After Musharraf's decision to suspend the constitution, the Times notes: "there was no immediate action by the [Bush] administration to accompany the tough talk."

Tough talk?

"Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, traveling in the Middle East, called Mr. Musharraf’s move 'highly regrettable,' while her spokesman, Sean D. McCormack, said the United States was 'deeply disturbed.'"

Teresita Schaffer, an expert on Pakistan at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington told the paper Musharraf’s decision was “a big embarrassment” for the administration.

“There’s going to be a lot of visible wringing of hands, and urging Musharraf to declare his intentions,” Schaffer remarked. “But I don’t really see any alternative to continuing to work with him. They can’t just decide they’re going to blow off the whole country of Pakistan, because it sits right next to Afghanistan, where there are some 26,000 U.S. and NATO troops.”



In his speech at the Heritage Foundation last Thursday, President Bush attacked critics of the term "war on terror," saying that "people who deny we are at war are either being disingenuous or naive." He added, "We are at war -- and we cannot win this war by wishing it away or pretending it does not exist."

Numerous people in the Bush administration, however, have admitted that using the term "war on terror" was a mistake. In September, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen banned the phrase "Global War on Terror" from "any future correspondence."

Both former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers have stated that the "global war on terror" is misnamed.

In 2004, Bush himself admitted the term was a mistake, stating, "We actually misnamed the war on terror, it ought to be the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world."


NBC: Feds Investigate Blackwater Silencer Smuggling
By Paul Kiel

Time to update the ol' Blackwater investigation tally. NBC reports that federal investigators are probing the company's exportation of "dozens" of silencers to Iraq and elsewhere. It's illegal to do so without permission from the State Department.

NBC reports that a whole bevy of agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the State Department are in on the investigation, which appears to be related to the broader federal criminal investigation for arms smuggling by Blackwater guards led by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Raleigh, N.C.

Intriguingly, NBC reports that "experts say it is not clear why Blackwater guards would need them for missions such as personal protection of diplomats."


Diplomats ‘Upset Over Forced Postings To Iraq.’

In a “contentious” hour-long “town hall meeting”, several hundred U.S. diplomats “vented anger and frustration last Wednesday about the State Department’s decision to force foreign service officers to take jobs in Iraq, with some likening it to a ‘potential death sentence.’” The AP reports on the exchange:

“Incoming is coming in every day, rockets are hitting the Green Zone,” said Jack Crotty, a senior foreign service officer who once worked as a political adviser with NATO forces.

“It’s one thing if someone believes in what’s going on over there and volunteers, but it’s another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment,” Crotty said. “I’m sorry, but basically that’s a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?”

“You know that at any other (country) in the world, the embassy would be closed at this point,” Crotty said to loud and sustained applause from the about 300 diplomats who attended the meeting in a large State Department auditorium.


Terror Watch List Swells To More Than 755,000
By Mimi Hall

WASHINGTON — The government's terrorist watch list has swelled to more than 755,000 names, according to a new government report that has raised worries about the list's effectiveness.
The size of the list, typically used to check people entering the country through land border crossings, airports and sea ports, has been growing by 200,000 names a year since 2004. Some lawmakers, security experts and civil rights advocates warn that it will become useless if it includes too many people.

"It undermines the authority of the list," says Lisa Graves of the Center for National Security Studies. "There's just no rational, reasonable estimate that there's anywhere close to that many suspected terrorists."

The exact number of people on the list, compiled after 9/11 to help government agents keep terrorists out of the country, is unclear, according to the report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Some people may be on the list more than once because they are listed under multiple spellings.

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who plans a hearing on the report today, says "serious hurdles remain if (the list) is to be as effective as we need it to be. Some of the concerns stem from its rapid growth, which could call into question the quality of the list itself."

About 53,000 people on the list were questioned since 2004, according to the GAO, which says the Homeland Security Department doesn't keep records on how many were denied entry or allowed into the country after questioning. Most were apparently released and allowed to enter, the GAO says.

Leonard Boyle, director of the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, which maintains the list, says in testimony to be given today that 269 foreigners were denied entry in fiscal 2006.

The GAO report also says:

•The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) could not specify how many people on its no-fly list, which is a small subset of the watch list, might have slipped through screening and been allowed on domestic flights.

•TSA data show "a number of individuals" on the no-fly list passed undetected through screening and boarded international flights bound for the United States. Several planes have been diverted once officials realized that people named on the watch lists were on board.

•Homeland Security has not done enough to use the list more broadly in the private sector, where workers applying for jobs in sensitive places such as chemical factories could do harm.

Boyle also urges that the list be used by for screening at businesses where workers could "carry out attacks on our critical infrastructure that could harm large numbers of persons or cause immense economic damage."

But the sheer size of the watch list raised the most alarms.

"They are quickly galloping towards the million mark — a mark of real distinction because the list is already cumbersome and is approaching absolutely useless," said Tim Sparapani of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, says "creating and maintaining a comprehensive terrorist watch list is an enormous endeavor fraught with technical and tactical challenges."

The report, she says, "underscores the need to make the watch lists more accurate, to improve screening procedures at airports and the ports of entry, and to provide individuals with the ability to seek redress if they believe they have been wrongfully targeted."



The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported yesterday that "total spending for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other activities related to the war on terrorism would amount to between $1.2 trillion and $1.7 trillion for fiscal years 2001 through 2017." With $705 billion in interest, the cost of the wars could amount to $2.4 trillion -- with $1.9 trillion in Iraq.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino attacked the report as "a ton of speculation." "It's a hypothetical. ... What I can tell you is I'm not worried about the number," she said.

The CBO's projection is not "pure speculation." In fact, the report considers a range of predictions about the U.S. military presence in Iraq, consistent with the administration's desire for a Korea-like, "enduring" occupation of Iraq. "It's clear under analysis that the nation is on an unstable fiscal path," CBO Director Peter Orszag told Congress yesterday.

The "higher debt and interest costs, is going to cause severe economic dislocation, which are exacerbated by war costs." Orszag also said yesterday that the real costs of the war could be higher than anticipated.


House Appropriations Chair Not Backing Down In Fight To End 'Misbegotten, Stupid' War
Filed by Jason Rhyne

A Democrat with a spine?

Obey was 'thunderstruck' at Bush arrogance

The Democratic chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee is prepared to play hardball with President Bush over funding the war in Iraq.

Rep. David Obey (D-WI), who has pledged to sideline the latest Pentagon funding request until next year in addition to proposing a tax hike to finance the war, says he's not letting anything -- even Democratic leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- get in his way.

Obey, who told the Washington Post that he hates the "misbegotten, stupid, ill-advised" war, pushed past Speaker Pelosi's objections to his plan to levy a tax to pay for the war, the paper reports.

"I went to Nancy a week before we did it, and I told her: 'Nancy, I'm gonna do two things,'"said Obey, according to in the Post. "One of them you're gonna like, and one of them you're not."

Pelosi, who favored Obey's idea of not addressing war funding this year, took issue with his war tax plan.

"Just as I have opposed the war from the outset ... I am opposed to a war surtax," she said of the plan at the beginning of the month, and more recently stated that she didn't think that "an across-the-board tax was a fair one...we don't go forward lightly when we're talking about a tax on all the American people."

Undaunted, Obey will introduce the bill next week with Reps. John Murtha (D-PA) and Jim McGovern (D-MA). The measure proposes adding two percent to the taxes of most Americans, and up to a 15 percent increase for wealthier tax payers, according to AP.

The chairman is also using the war to put in perspective what he views as comparatively inexpensive appropriations bills that are working their way through Congress.

"Obey views the $22 billion in extra domestic spending Democrats want as a drop in the bucket compared with the cost of the war," the paper reports. "He calls Bush's philosophy 'an obscenity.'"

The Congressman is taking a hard line against a president he says is a non-negotiator himself.

Citing an experience he had discussing homeland security spending with President Bush following the Sept. 11 attacks, Rep. Obey told the Post that the president said at the time that "if you appropriate a dollar more than I've asked for homeland security, I'll veto the bill...I've got time for four or five comments, and I'm out of here."

"I cannot tell you what a profound effect that meeting had on me," Obey said. "I was absolutely thunderstruck at the arrogance."


US Army Officer In Iraq Accused Of Aiding al Qaeda
By Mussab Al-Kharailla

BAGHDAD, (Reuters) - A senior U.S. army officer in Iraq faced court martial accusations on Friday of aiding al Qaeda and illegally possessing secret documents that could have been used "to the injury of the United States".

Lieutenant-Colonel William Steele, 52, is a former military police commander at Camp Cropper, a U.S. detention facility near Baghdad airport where he oversaw the detention of Saddam Hussein in the days before the Iraqi leader's execution on Dec. 30.

"Lieutenant-Colonel Steele aided the enemy, al Qaeda in Iraq is the enemy, there's no question," prosecutor Captain Michael Rizzotti told the final day of Steele's court martial at Camp Liberty, a U.S. military base near the airport.

Steele is charged with aiding the enemy, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, illegally possessing classified information and maintaining an inappropriate relationship with a woman interpreter.

He is the highest-ranking U.S. officer to face a charge of aiding the enemy since Captain James Yee, a Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo Bay, was charged in September 2003. The army eventually dropped the case.

Steele is accused of allowing detainees at Cropper to use his mobile phone. His defence team argues that he did this as a humanitarian gesture. Steele himself has opted not to testify.

"He did have interaction with detainees, treating them with dignity and respect. Let's not confuse that with sympathising with the enemy," defence counsel Major David Barrett said in his closing argument.



Rizzotti said Steele had allowed an al Qaeda detainee, identified only as ISN 2184, "responsible for hundreds of deaths of coalition forces" to make a five-minute unmonitored telephone call in Arabic.

"We'll never know who was called, we'll never know what was said. ... It's the equivalent of putting an AK-47 in his hand. He aided the enemy," he said.

"Did he do it once? Did he do it twice? Nine soldiers saw him do this."

Prosecutor Rizzotti said nearly 12,000 secret documents had also been found in a search of Steele's living quarters in Camp Victory, the main U.S. base in Baghdad.

"(They were) documents that if fallen into the wrong hands could be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of a foreign nation. He did not get authority to take these documents," he said.

Much of the trial was held in closed session because of the sensitive nature of the documents, but reporters were given a glimpse of one which contained aerial photographs of Kandahar airbase and Bagram airfield in Afghanistan.

The court also heard how Steele sent intimate emails to his interpreter Bahar al-Suseyi, including one saying "there are a few things I need to do with you/to you" and planned to take her with him on a trip to Qatar.

Rizzotti said it was inappropriate behaviour for the married camp commander, whose wife Judith has been attending the sessions. It is still unclear what sentence Steele faces on this charge if he is found guilty.



A report released last Thursday by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) found that "attempts by American-led reconstruction teams to force political reconciliation, foster economic growth, and build an effective police force and court system in Iraq have failed to show significant progress in nearly every one of the nation's provincial regions and in the capital."

Examining all 32 provincial reconstruction teams (PRT) in Iraq, the report "pieced together an almost encyclopedic view that has been sorely lacking" and found that progress will require "years of steady engagement."

"If the story of Iraq reconstruction tells anything, teaches any lesson, it is that the U.S. government was not well structured and was not well poised in 2003 to engage in the kind of post-conflict relief and reconstruction operations we have faced," SIGIR Stuart Bowen told a House panel.

The counselor for public affairs at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad "said that the embassy had some reservations about the way Mr. Bowen's office had gauged progress by the P.R.T.'s in Iraq."



Last week, the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution by a vote of 395-21 criticizing the State Department for refusing to answer questions about corruption in the Iraqi government.

Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Tierney (D-MA) introduced the bill last week after holding hearings at which State Department officials refused to respond to allegations made by federal investigators of "widespread corruption" in Iraq.

The resolution condemns the State Department for "withholding from Congress and the American people information about the extent of corruption in the Maliki government...for retroactively classifying documents that had been widely distributed previously as unclassified, and for directing its employees not to answer questions in an open forum."

Previously, several House chairmen wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling for "honest answers" about corruption in Iraq. The resolution garnered broad, bipartisan support, with 171 Republicans voting in favor it. "The vote is purely symbolic, but the lopsided tally represents a stark departure for President Bush's most loyal constituency in Washington."


Bush, Cheney And Intel Agencies Morphed Iraqi Defector's Lies Into A War in Iraq
Filed by David Edwards and Muriel Kane

Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Drogin, who first broke the story of "Curveball," the Iraqi defector who provided much of the false information about WMD's that was used to justify the US invasion of Iraq, appeared on CNN Wednesday to discuss his new book on the subject.

Drogin explained to CNN that Curveball was merely an Iraqi engineer who went to Germany in 1999 and started spinning stories about Saddam Hussein's fleet of mobile biological weapons laboratories. His claims couldn't be verified, but "the Bush administration believed it, even though the CIA had never talked to him." According to Drogin, Curveball was lying to the Germans and inflating his own importance because "he was trying to get asylum" and wanted "to basically jump the line."

Drogin said the real problems arose not from anything Curveball did, but with what became of his stories after they reached the US. "It was analysis that was being passed from one agency to another agency and it kept changing, it kept morphing as it went. So he told one story and by the time Colin Powell is up at the United Nations ... it was like it had gone to Walt Disney or something."

Dorgin primarily blames the intelligence agencies -- and particularly George Tenet -- for the failure to detect Curveball's lies, writing in his book that "Time and again, bureaucratic rivalries, tawdry ambitions and spineless leadership proved more important than professional integrity."

"People who tried to raise warnings, tried to raise red flags, were pushed aside, were cast out, were treated like heretics," Dorgin told CNN. "It's really sort of bizarre. It's a cult over there."


Post Editor Says Bush, Gonzales Should Be Tortured
Filed by Nick Juliano

An associate editor and columnist for the Washington Post says that until George W. Bush and others in his administration endure the "harsh" treatment to which terrorism suspects are subjected, then Bush "will be remembered as the president who tried to justify torture."

Saying his proposal is a "serious" alternative to Jonathan Swift's "modest proposal," the Post's Eugene Robinson says Bush should endure the same detainee treatment he authorized, which "international conventions deem torture."

"My proposal on torture is serious," Robinson wrote on a washingtonpost.com discussion board Sunday. "Let me know if you agree: Bush administration officials who claim the "harsh" interrogation techniques being used on terrorism suspects are not torture should have to undergo those same techniques. Personally. Repeatedly."

The New York Times revealed last week that secret Justice Department documents explicitly authorized "a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures." Bush repeated denials that the US does not torture prisoners, although he has not discussed what specific tactics are used.

"Clearly, he is using a narrow definition of torture: If we haven't actually put anybody on the rack or pulled out his fingernails, we haven't committed torture," Robinson writes. "Until George W. Bush can say, 'Hey, I've been waterboarded, and it wasn't so bad,' or Alberto Gonzales can say, 'To tell the truth, spending those three days naked in a freezing-cold cell wasn't painful or anything,' then I'll continue to believe that history will condemn this administration for a shocking lapse of moral judgment. Bush will be remembered as the president who tried to justify torture."


Democrats Pass Bipartisan Bill To Stop War Profiteering

By a vote of 375-3, the House has passed the War Profiteering Prevention Act, H.R. 400. The bill makes war profiteering a felony. If this legislation becomes law, anyone found guilty of profiting excessively from military action or reconstruction may be subject to 20 years in prison and fines up to $1 millionor as much as twice the illegal profits of their crime.

Last week, the Democratic Congress also passed legislation that would bring all United States government contractors in the Iraq war zone under the jurisdiction of American criminal law. The measure would require the F.B.I. to investigate any allegations of wrongdoing.

Both bills are spurred by the ongoing investigation of Blackwater USA. A private mercenary firm that operates in Iraq, Blackwater is under investigation for a September 16 incident in which as many as 17 Iraqi civilians may have been killed. Following the incident, the Iraqi government expelled Blackwater from the country.


Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez Says Iraq is "a nightmare with no end in sight"

A former US military chief in Iraq has condemned the current strategy in the conflict, which he warned was "a nightmare with no end in sight".

Retired Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez also labelled US political leaders as "incompetent" and "corrupted".

He said they would have faced courts martial for dereliction of duty had they been in the military.

The best the US could manage under the current approach in Iraq was to "stave off defeat", Gen Sanchez warned.

"There is no question that America is living a nightmare with no end in sight," he said, addressing journalists at Arlington, near Washington.


A catalogue of political misjudgements had paved the way for the insurgency after the fall of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, according to Gen Sanchez.

He blamed the US disbanding of the Iraqi military as well as the failure to set up swiftly civilian government and cement ties with tribal leaders.

The White House this year injected an extra 30,000 US troops into Iraq in the hope of stemming sectarian violence and sowing some political stability.

But Gen Sanchez branded this so-called "surge" strategy a "desperate attempt" to make up for years of shortcomings.

"The best we can do with this flawed approach is stave off defeat," he warned.

The White House responded by pointing to the report by current commander Gen David Petraeus and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who said the situation was difficult but marked by gradual improvements.

White House spokesman Trey Bohn said: "We appreciate his (Gen Sanchez's) service to the country... As General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have said, there is more work to be done, but progress is being made in Iraq."

Gen Sanchez was commander of coalition forces in Iraq for a year from mid-2003.

He retired last year in the aftermath of the scandal over detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. He was cleared of any wrongdoing.


Navy veteran questions why six nuclear missiles were flown on combat aircraft to staging area for Middle East
Filed by John Byrne

A retired lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve who served with the Navy's Supervisor of Salvage questioned in a little-noticed editorial Sunday why six active nuclear armed cruise missiles were being transferred to an active bomber base that "just happens to be the staging area for Middle Eastern operations."

"The United States also does not transport nuclear weapons meant for elimination attached to their launch vehicles under the wings of a combat aircraft," Navy veteran Robert Stormer wrote in the Texas-based Star-Telegram. "The procedure is to separate the warhead from the missile, encase the warhead and transport it by military cargo aircraft to a repository -- not an operational bomber base that just happens to be the staging area for Middle Eastern operations."

Six nuclear W80 nuclear-armed cruise missiles were flown to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana where they sat for ten hours undetected.

"Press reports initially cited the Air Force mistake of flying nuclear weapons over the United States in violation of Air Force standing orders and international treaties, while completely missing the more important major issues, such as how six nuclear cruise missiles got loose to begin with," writes Stormer.

"Let me be very clear here: We are not talking about paintball cartridges or pellet gun ammo. We are talking nuclear weapons."

Stormer doesn't buy reports that the missiles were simply lost. The title of his piece is "Nuke transportation story has explosive implications."

"There is a strict chain of custody for all such weapons," he said. "Nuclear weapons handling is spelled out in great detail in Air Force regulations, to the credit of that service. Every person who orders the movement of these weapons, handles them, breaks seals or moves any nuclear weapon must sign off for tracking purposes."

"All security forces assigned are authorized "to use deadly force to protect the weapons from any threat. Nor does anyone quickly move a 1-ton cruise missile -- or forget about six of them, as reported by some news outlets, especially cruise missiles loaded with high explosives.

"This is about how six nuclear advanced cruise missiles got out of their bunkers and onto a combat aircraft without notice of the wing commander, squadron commander, munitions maintenance squadron (MMS), the B-52H's crew chief and command pilot and onto another Air Force base tarmac without notice of that air base's chain of command -- for 10 hours."

At the end of his editorial, he poses the following questions.

The questions that must be answered:

1 Why, and for what ostensible purpose, were these nuclear weapons taken to Barksdale?

2 How long was it before the error was discovered?

3 How many mistakes and errors were made, and how many needed to be made, for this to happen?

4 How many and which security protocols were overlooked?

5 How many and which safety procedures were bypassed or ignored?

6 How many other nuclear command and control non-observations of procedure have there been?

7 What is Congress going to do to better oversee U.S. nuclear command and control?

8 How does this incident relate to concern for reliability of control over nuclear weapons and nuclear materials in Russia, Pakistan and elsewhere?

9 Does the Bush administration, as some news reports suggest, have plans to attack Iran with nuclear weapons?

10 If this was an accident, have we degraded our military to a point where we are now making critical mistakes with our nuclear arsenal? If so, how do we correct this?


House Backs Law to Prosecute Iraq Contractors

On Capitol Hill, the House has overwhelmingly approved a measure that would subject private military contractors in Iraq to prosecution in U.S. courts.

The move comes on the heels of last month’s killing of up to twenty-eight Iraqi civilians by guards working for the private military firm Blackwater USA.

The bill would not be retroactive -- meaning Blackwater guards would still likely avoid prosecution.

The final vote was three hundred-eighty nine to thirty. If the measure attracts the same support in the Senate, Congress would have enough votes to override a Presidential veto.

Pentagon: Blackwater Guards Fired Unprovoked

Meanwhile evidence continues to emerge the Blackwater shooting was unprovoked.

A newly-disclosed Pentagon report from the attack scene says Blackwater guards were the first to fire and used excessive force.

The reports follow evidence showing the Blackwater guards opened fire in another attack just minutes after the first shooting. Iraqi witnesses say Blackwater operatives fired into a group of cars just one-hundred fifty yards away from the first shooting at Nisoor Square. At least one person was killed and two injured.


Soldier warned family: Investigate if I die
Filed by David Edwards and Nick Juliano

Ciara Durkin warned her family before returning to Afghanistan, "If anything happens to me, you guys make sure it gets investigated."

What seemed a joke at the time could have been eerily prescient as Durkin, a National Guard specialist, was found dead, shot once in the head, within the fortified walls of Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. The Pentagon is releasing no details aside from confirmation that Durkin's was a "non-combat" death.

"We just want full disclosure," Durkin's sister Deirdre said on CBS's Early Show Thursday.

Now Durkin's family is demanding an independent investigation and has enlisted the help of Sens. John Kerry and Edward Kennedy, who represent their home state of Massachusetts.

Although Durkin was gay, her family does not believe her death had anything to do with that. But Durkin, who worked in a finance office, told her family that she had uncovered some information that would upset other military officials.

"She was in the finance unit and she said, 'I discovered some things I don’t like and I made some enemies because of it.' Then she said, in her light-hearted way, 'If anything happens to me, you guys make sure it gets investigated,'" Durkin's older sister, Fiona Canavan, told The Patriot Ledger. "But at the time we thought it was said more as a joke."

Durkin died last Friday of a single gun-shot wound, but the Army has not said whether a weapon was found near her body. The Defense Department says it is investigating the incident, according to reports.

The family told Television interviewers that they didn't believe Durkin killed herself because she seemed upbeat on a recent trip home. Only hours before her death, Durkin left her brother a cheerful voicemail and sang happy birthday to him, the family told ABC News.

“(The military) is definitely holding back,” Canavan told the Boston Herald. “As to why we can only speculate.”



In a hearing before the House Oversight Committee last week on corruption within the Iraqi government, "a senior State Department official responsible for Middle East policy said neither he nor other diplomats working in Iraq would discuss corruption by Iraqi officials in public."

"Where revelation of information would damage bilateral relationships, it is intended to be kept confidential," deputy assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Lawrence Butler said.

Recently, Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) said that the State Department had given "instruction to its officials that they cannot communicate with the Committee about corruption in the Maliki government."

Government Accountability Office Comptroller David Walker criticized this lack of transparency, saying he knew of multiple "highly questionable" instances of "retroactive" classification.

Waxman added that the State Department has prevented its employees from even mentioning corruption in the Iraqi government. "Secretary Rice is going to have a confrontation with this committee," Waxman declared.




Turning Success Into Failure


This past Sunday marked the sixth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. Following the 9/11 attacks, President Bush promised the country "sustained, comprehensive and relentless operations to drive terrorists out and bring them to justice."

Six years later, both Osama bin Laden and his number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have yet to be captured. The Taliban and al Qaeda, once virtually destroyed in Afghanistan, "have reconstituted their capabilities and command structure along the Afghan-Pakistan border, again posing a threat to the national security of the United States."

Despite promises from the administration that it is committed to fighting insurgents in Afghanistan, it has "not provided the necessary resources, troops, and leadership to keep Afghanistan on the path to stability."

The country has less and less to show for the sacrifices made by the 443 Americans killed in Afghanistan, as strides made following the invasion have largely been allowed to lapse under the administration's watch.

The Center for American Progress has produced a video commemorating the anniversary of the invasion, which outlines how the situation has deteriorated and the steps that must be taken to rectify it. Watch it here.


While Bush focuses his attention on Iraq, "Afghanistan is currently suffering its most violent year since the 2001 U.S.-led intervention." A recent report from the United Nations showed that violence in Afghanistan has spiked over 30 percent in the last year alone.

Particularly troubling is the importation of tactics from Iraq, specifically suicide bombings and roadside bombs. Previously unknown in Afghanistan, suicide bombings have soared in frequency recently, with a "69 percent increase" in the first nine months of this year.

The Taliban's ability to finance these attacks is mainly derived from its operations in illegal drug trafficking, and Afghanistan produced "record levels of opium" in 2007. Recently, "traffickers have opened more labs that process raw opium into heroin, vastly increasing its value." These drug revenues bring in "anywhere from tens of millions of dollars to $140 million" for the Taliban.


Despite overwhelming evidence that things are heading in the wrong direction in Afghanistan, the Bush administration continues to spout rhetoric claiming progress.

Former Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld recently told GQ that Afghanistan has "been a big success!" Bush touted progress just last week, claiming that "Afghanistan is becoming a safer, more stable country."

The only administration official that seems to understand the severity of the situation in Afghanistan is Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who "told a group of U.S. House Democratic lawmakers that the multinational mission in Afghanistan is suffering from a lack of resources." Gates specifically cited "the war in Iraq and the reluctance of U.S. allies to contribute more troops" as contributors to this shortage. 


Although the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated recently, experts agree that the window for success has not completely closed. Afghanistan has a functioning and legitimate government, led by Hamid Karzai that is representative of its people. We also have a legitimate coalition of forces in Afghanistan, with 36 countries contributing troops.  

Finally, polling of the Afghan people shows support for an international troop presence and little support for the Taliban. Ambassador Jawad concluded, "Afghanistan is winnable and achieving victory in Afghanistan is easy. The people are your partners. All we need to do is invest in building the capacity of the Afghans to defend their own country."


Huckabee Rips President Bush's Foreign Policy
Steven Thomma | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee ripped the Bush administration's war against terrorism Friday, delivering a bold and potentially risky speech that could establish the former Arkansas governor as the maverick among top Republican candidates and test his party's loyalty to President Bush.

"This administration's bunker mentality has been counterproductive both at home and abroad," Huckabee said in opening a broad indictment of Bush's style and policy.

The speech came after several top Republican candidates started distancing themselves from Bush, vowing change on such issues as illegal immigration and federal spending even as they endorsed Bush's foreign policy.

By going much further than his rivals have in attacking Bush, Huckabee could draw attention to a campaign that's inched up in polls in recent months but still lacks the money and organization that can compete head-on with better-known, better-financed candidates such as Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson.

In first-to-vote Iowa, for example, an average of four recent polls put Huckabee fourth among Republican candidates with 10.3 percent, ahead of John McCain and within five points of Giuliani and Thompson, but far behind front-runner Romney, according to RealClearPolitics.com.

His strong stand also could give him the kind of maverick image that McCain courted in 2000, which appeals to independent voters in states such as New Hampshire, where they can vote in the Republican primary.

But it also could turn off the majority of Republicans who still like Bush.

"He's trying to carve out a responsible alternative to the administration's foreign policy," said Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Iowa. "But I don't know that it will do him any good in the Republican Party. While there is a lot of grumbling in the Republican Party about Bush, they're still pretty loyal."

On one hotly debated issue, Huckabee endorsed Bush's surge of troops into Iraq, urging more time for that to work and criticizing Democratic proposals to get troops out as an invitation to chaos.

But beyond that, he differed with Bush across the map, using language more often heard from Democrats. He accused the administration of shunning allies and turning world sentiment against the United States.

"They've done a poor job of communicating and consulting countries much as they have, frankly, the American people," Huckabee told about 150 people at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a center-right think tank in Washington. "Our prestige in the world has been marred."

On Iran, he said Bush blew a chance to improve relations right after the 2001 terrorist attacks and that the United States should be talking to Iran today.

"When we first invaded Afghanistan, Iran helped, especially in dealings with their ally, the Northern Alliance," he said. "They wanted to join us in fighting al Qaida. ...The CIA and State Department supported a partnership. Some in the White House and beyond did not. And when President Bush included Iran in the axis of evil, everything went downhill pretty fast."

Even with today's sour relations, he said the United States should talk to Iran and use the promise of better relations and increased trade as well as the threat of economic isolation to persuade the country to abandon its nuclear program.

"The administration has quite properly said it will not take the military option off the table. But if we don't put some other options on the table, eventually the military option becomes the only viable one. Right now we're proceeding down only one track," he said.

He all but echoed Democrat Barack Obama in opening the door to strike al Qaida in Pakistan even without that government's approval, saying the Bush administration has a "muddle of policy" there.

He questioned whether Bush was in charge at a critical point in the hunt for al Qaida. He said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called off a 2005 raid into Pakistan to nab Osama bin Laden's top deputy because the mission had grown just large enough that he thought it would need the Pakistan government's approval.

"Why did Rumsfeld call it off and not President Bush? Did the president even know about it? ...When I'm president, I will make the final call on such action, not my secretary of defense."



Last Thursday, the House Oversight Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) accused Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of "interfering" with the committee's investigation into corruption in Iraq.

State Department officials refused to allow any potentially negative comments about the Maliki government in Iraq to be made public.

"The scope of the prohibition is breathtaking," Waxman wrote, alleging that State seems to view criticism of the government as "a national security secret." "It means that unless the Committee agrees to keep the information secret from the public, the Committee cannot obtain information from officials...about whether there is corruption within the Iraqi ministries."

Waxman also pressed Rice about his committee's investigation into Blackwater USA, a private security firm that was allegedly involved in a shooting incident that left 11 Iraqis dead.

The State Department has instructed Blackwater not to provide the Committee


Three Cheers for the Red White and Blue Republicans…

Senate Republicans blocked votes that show their total disregard for the Troops…These Republicans should be tried for Treason…

In the last few days the Republican Party has shown more of their lack of support for our troops in harm’s way with threat after threat of a filibuster…

This past Friday the Republican Party blocked a vote in the Senate that would have set a timeline for our troops to start coming home…

This past Thursday, the Republican Senate blocked a vote that would have made it mandatory for our troops to spend as much time with their family and loved ones as they do in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Secretary of Defense Bill Gates earlier this year extended the tours of Duty from 12 to 15 months. Gates also said that between deployments each soldier would have 12 months back here at home. Well the extended tours have been in place for some time now, but the troops were only getting at the most 10 months back here with their families.

So anyhow, this past Thursday there was a bill from Senator Webb (D-VA) that was blocked by the Republicans that would have given each soldier as much time here at home as they spent on deployment…But the Republicans who have some warped idea on how to support the troops, blocked the bill from coming to a vote…

The Republicans also blocked a bill that would have restored habeas corpus rights to military detainees and given them “the right to protest their detention in federal court.

Senators have been taking advantage of filibusters for generations, but we’ve never had a Senate minority that is as reckless and obstructionist as Senate Republicans in 2007.

Yoda’s World…


Blackwater working again in Iraq


The US security firm Blackwater has resumed limited operations in the Iraqi capital Baghdad four days after a deadly shootout involving the company.

The company provides security to all US state department employees in Iraq.

It had been ordered by the Iraqi government to halt operations while a joint US-Iraqi inquiry was held.

A US embassy spokeswoman said the decision to allow Blackwater to resume work had been taken in consultation with the Iraqi government.

The spokeswoman, Mirembe Nantongo, said Blackwater operations would be limited to essential missions only outside Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone.

'A separate Iraqi interior ministry investigation has found that Blackwater was "100% guilty" of the incident in which 11 Iraqi civilians were killed.


Founded in 1997 by a former US Navy Seal

Headquarters in North Carolina

One of at least 28 private security companies in Iraq

Employs 744 US citizens, 231 third-country nationals, and 12 Iraqis to protect US state department in Iraq

Provided protection for former CPA head Paul Bremer

Four employees killed by mob in Falluja in March 2004

Blackwater says its guards acted in self-defence, but this has been disputed by Iraqi eyewitnesses.

The interior ministry report, based on testimony from witnesses, concluded that Blackwater guards in Baghdad's Nisour Square started shooting after two mortar rounds landed nearby.

"They started shooting randomly from four positions in the square, killing 11 civilians and injuring 12 others," said interior ministry spokesman Maj Gen Abdul-Karim Khalaf.

"The first one who was killed was a driver who failed to stop and then his wife," Maj Gen Khalaf said.

The report also calls for the lifting of legal immunity for foreign security companies operating in Iraq.

The US embassy said it would not comment on the Iraqi report while its own investigation is under way.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has described the shooting as a "criminal act" and vowed not to tolerate it.


How George Bush became the new Saddam

COVER STORY: Its strategies shattered, a desperate Washington is reaching out to the late dictator's henchmen

By: Patrick Graham


It was embarrassing putting my flak jacket on backwards and sideways, but in the darkness of the Baghdad airport car park I couldn’t see anything. “Peterik, put the flak jacket on,” the South African security contractor was saying politely, impatiently. “You know the procedure if we are attacked.”

I didn’t. He explained. One of the chase vehicles would pull up beside us and someone would drag me out of the armored car, away from the firing. If both drivers were unconscious—nice euphemism—he said I should try to run to the nearest army checkpoint. If the checkpoint was American, things might work out if they didn’t shoot first. If it was Iraqi
he didn’t elaborate.

Arriving in Baghdad has always been a little weird. Under Saddam Hussein it was like going into an orderly morgue; when he ran off after the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003 put an end to his Baathist party regime, the city became a chaotic mess. I lived in Iraq for almost two years, but after three years away I wasn’t quite ready for just how deserted and worn down the place seemed in the early evening. It was as if some kind of mildew was slowly rotting away at the edges of things, breaking down the city into urban compost.

Since 2003, more than 3,775 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, while nearly 7,500 Iraqi policemen and soldiers have died. For Iraq’s civilian population, the carnage has been almost incalculable. Last year alone, the UN estimated that 34,500 civilians were killed and more than 36,000 wounded; other estimates are much higher. As the country’s ethnic divisions widen, especially between Iraq’s Arab Shia and Arab Sunni Muslims (the Kurds are the third major group), some two million people have been internally displaced, with another two million fleeing their homeland altogether. Entering Baghdad I could tell the Sunni neighborhoods, ghettos really, by the blasts in the walls and the emptiness, courtesy of sectarian cleansing by the majority Shias. The side streets of the Shia districts seemed to have a little more life to them.


The Full Story at Macleans.ca


Israel seized North Korean nuclear material from Syria: report

Elite Israeli forces seized North Korean nuclear material during a raid on a secret military site in Syria before Israeli warplanes bombed it September 6, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Sunday Times quoted well-placed sources as saying the commandos seized the material from a compound near Dayr az-Zwar in northern Syria and that tests of it in Israel showed it was of North Korean origin.

Israel had been surveying the site for months, according to Washington and Israeli sources quoted by the newspaper which gave no date for the commando raid or details about the material seized.

An unidentified senior American source quoted by The Sunday Times added that the US government sought proof of nuclear-related activities before allowing the air strike by F-151 warplanes to go ahead.

The raid by the elite Sayeret Matkal was personally directed by Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister who once commanded the unit, the newspaper said.

It said he had been preoccupied with the site since assuming his post on June 18.

The White House insisted Friday that it was "clear-eyed" about North Korea as it stonewalled questions about an Israeli strike allegedly sparked by nuclear cooperation between Pyongyang and Syria.

If true, transfers of atomic technology from the Stalinist state would cast a dark cloud over US policy towards North Korea, which US President George W. Bush, weighed down by the unpopular war in Iraq, has hailed as a success story.

North Korea has angrily denied sharing atomic know-how with Damascus, and some news reports have suggested that Israel's target was actually tied to missile exports from the cash-strapped regime to Syria.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino flatly refused to confirm or deny media reports that Israel struck a nuclear site but sharply rejected suggestions that the incident showed Washington had been naive about Pyongyang's intentions.

'Dozens Died In Syria-Iran Missile Test'

Proof of cooperation between Iran and Syria in the proliferation and development of weapons of mass destruction was brought to light Monday in Jane's Defence Weekly, which reported that dozens of Iranian engineers and 15 Syrian officers were killed in a July 23 accident in Syria.

According to the report, cited by Channel 10, the joint Syrian-Iranian team was attempting to mount a chemical warhead on a Scud missile when the explosion occurred, spreading lethal chemical agents, including sarin nerve gas.

Reports of the accident were circulated at the time; however, no details were released by the Syrian government, and there were no hints of an Iranian connection.

The report comes on the heels of criticism leveled by the Syrians at the United States, accusing it of spreading "false" claims of Syrian nuclear activity and cooperation with North Korea to excuse an alleged Israeli air incursion over the country this month.

According to globalsecurity.org, Syria is not a signatory of either the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), - an international agreement banning the production, stockpiling or use of chemical weapons - or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Syria began developing chemical weapons in 1973, just before the Yom Kipper War. Globalsecurity.org cites the country as having one of the most advanced chemical weapons programs in the Middle East.




The Center for American Progress has released a new report outlining the cost of implementing the new long-term war plan proposed by President Bush in his speech last Thursday. Bush endorsed Gen. David Petraeus's plan for an "enduring relationship," which will mean staying in Iraq for at least nine to 10 years in Iraq, while also extending the escalation until next year.


American Progress experts put the cost of this plan between $659 billion and $1.1 trillion. This total does not include the $450 billion already spent on the war, or the human costs, which the report estimates at "between 8,220 and 11,167 additional deaths" and potentially 59-80,000 wounded over the next 10 years.


Additionally, if significant numbers of troops remain in Iraq until FY2017, the total cost of the war would exceed $1 trillion. While Bush alleged a reduction in force levels, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) clarified the President's rhetoric: "The Bush-Petraeus plan of 130,000 Americans in Iraq for 10 more years is not a reduction in our footprint; it is an insult to the intelligence of the American people to call that a new direction."

White House: little Iraqi progress on benchmarks

Renee Schoof | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — In sharp contrast to the sunny tone that President Bush struck in his address to the nation Thursday night, the White House reported Friday that Iraq's leaders had made little headway over the past two months toward meeting 18 key benchmarks for progress aimed at ending high levels of sectarian violence.

Bush said Thursday that emerging success in Iraq had made it possible for him to start to withdraw troops, beginning with 5,700 who will leave Iraq by December. The president acknowledged that Shiite Muslim Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's government had failed to achieve national reconciliation, but he said progress in local politics would lead to improvements at the national level.

The administration said in July — in the first of two reports required by law — that Iraq had made satisfactory progress toward eight benchmarks, unsatisfactory progress on another eight and the remaining two couldn't be judged because conditions weren't ripe.

In Friday's second report, it found new progress as of Sept. 1 on one of the goals, making progress satisfactory on nine, unsatisfactory on seven and the same two still impossible to judge.

That scorecard sounded more optimistic than one that the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan auditing arm of Congress, issued last week, although the reports had different approaches. The Bush administration's report judged whether progress was being made toward meeting the goals; the GAO assessed whether the goals had been met. It found three met, four partially met and 11 not met.


The sole improvement the White House reported since July was based on an agreement by leaders of Iraq's main sects to support a law that would let former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party work for the government. Similar agreements have broken down. Even if this one holds, it still must pass Iraq's Council of Representatives.

Sunni Muslims dominated the Baath Party, and many lost jobs in the military, schools and government when it fell. The new White House report said a law to bring them back fully into Iraqi life was "potentially the most emotional issue being discussed by the government of Iraq."

The White House report said that one goal for which progress remained unsatisfactory was ending the political intervention that blocked Iraqi security forces from going after extremists.

It also said the Iraqi army had made progress toward being evenhanded in enforcing the law, but "much remains to be done in this area." The Iraqi national police, dominated by Shiites, hasn't made progress in rooting out sectarian bias, it said.

Violence between Sunnis and Shiites remains at high levels. Tens of thousands of members of both sects have been forced to flee mixed neighborhoods and settle outside the country or in barricaded communities of their own groups.

In a statement issued with the report, the White House said there were signs of progress on problems that would need national laws passed to achieve the benchmarks, even though the laws hadn't passed. The central government has distributed oil revenues to the provinces, provincial governments are functioning and the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad has granted immunity to "many former insurgents" and brought them into the security forces, it said.

In another development Friday, the State Department's annual report on religious freedom cited barriers to practicing religion in Iraq, including sectarian violence, the fleeing of Christians and other minorities, and the domination of the security services by Iraq's Shiite majority.

"Some government institutions continued their long-standing discriminatory practices" against conservative Sunnis as well as those of the Baha'i faith, the report said. It also cited instances of Christian women wearing Islamic head coverings for fear of punishment if they didn't.

The White House report came out a day after the president said that even success in Iraq would require U.S. diplomatic, economic and military engagement beyond the end of his presidency. He said he'd draw down U.S. forces below what they were in January as conditions improved.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Friday's White House report showed Bush's surge "is not working" and "it certainly does not justify keeping 130,000 soldiers mired in an open-ended civil war as the president has chosen to do."

Senate Democrats plan to propose legislation next week aimed at speeding the withdrawals, including a measure that would lengthen the time that troops must spend in the United States after war duty before they can be sent back. Another measure would limit the mission of American forces largely to training Iraqis and counter-terrorism.


Protestors Meet Outside White House Demanding End To Iraq War

Thousands of protestors gathered in a park outside the White House Saturday demanding an end to the war in Iraq, the return of US troops, and the impeachment of President George W. Bush.

The crowd of protesters, numbering between 4,000 and 6,000, then marched under a clear sky toward the US Capitol building. Many waved placards that read "Support our troops, stop the war," and "Impeach Bush."

Phil Aliff, 21, marched wearing his camouflage uniform jacket as part of a group called Iraq Veterans Against the War. Aliff first arrived in Iraq in July 2006.

"I stayed there for a year, in Abu Ghraib and outside Fallujah. When we arrived, we were told we were here to bring stabilization to the country," said Aliff.

"But we were not rebuilding anything. The Iraqis had only two hours of electricity. And I saw the atrocities committed by the Americans there."

Aliff spoke days after the top US general in Iraq, David Petraeus, testified before Congress, giving an optimistic report on conditions in Iraq and the effectiveness of the US president's "surge" strategy of adding more US troops to the fight.

"General Petraeus's report is incredibly far from the reality on the ground," said Aliff.

Another marcher, Diane Santoriello, held a photograph of her 25-year-old son Neil, lost in Iraq on August 13, 2004. "I am here to get Congress to defund the war," she said.

"The vast majority of Iraqi people want the US and other foreign forces out of the country," said Brian Becker with the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War End Racism) coalition, the group organizing the march.

"The vast majority of the people in the US want the war ended and the troops brought home now," he added.


McCain: Bush Was Unrealistic About War


ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Saturday that voters are frustrated with the war in Iraq because of the Bush administration's unrealistic projections early in the conflict.

The Arizona senator told reporters he was pleased with Gen. David Petraeus' testimony before Congress this past week because it "did not present this totally rosy scenario. That's why Americans are frustrated today."

He blamed "different administration officials" for that. "It's all the president's responsibility," McCain said, but those reporting to him were also responsible.

Earlier in the day, McCain was critical of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, saying his failings "frustrated and saddened" the American people.

McCain was in the midst of the South Carolina leg of his "No Surrender" tour, a trip that took him from Rock Hill in the Upstate to Little River along the coast near Myrtle Beach. At each of four speeches, he urged voters to pressure Congress to stay the course in Iraq. And he told reporters that Democrats are heading down a "blatantly unconstitutional" path on the war.

He drew crowds of 200 or better at each stop as he urged people to write lawmakers, including wavering Republicans, and "stand up for these young men and women" in uniform.

Between stops, McCain told reporters that Democrats, including presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, plan to overstep the role of Congress by trying to specify how long troops should stay in action.

"Where in the Constitution of the United States does it say that the Congress decides how long people spend on tours of duty and how long they would spend back in the United States? It's blatantly unconstitutional," McCain said.


Petraeus and Crocker Face Hume Humiliation (Limerick)
By Madeleine Begun Kane

Gen. Petraeus and Crocker on Fox
(Not exactly the school of hard knocks)
Where they weave and they spin
And avow “We must win,”
While Brit Hume bows and kisses their socks.


Iran Leader: Bush Will Be Tried

Top Iranian Leader Predicts Bush Will Be Tried Like Saddam for Iraq 'Catastrophes'


The Associated Press


President Bush and other American officials will one day face trial just like deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for "the catastrophes they caused in Iraq," Iran's supreme leader said Friday.

Speaking to thousands of worshippers during the first Friday prayer of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Bush will be called to account for the U.S.-led invasion.

"A day will come that the current U.S. president and officials will be tried in an international supreme court for the catastrophes they caused in Iraq," he said.

"Americans will have to answer for why they don't end occupation of Iraq and why waves of terrorism and insurgency have overwhelmed the country," he added. "It will not be like this forever and some day they will be stopped as happened to Hitler, Saddam and certain other European leaders."

Bush painted quite a different picture Thursday, describing an Iraq on the mend.

"One year ago, much of Baghdad was under siege," Bush said in a televised speech from the Oval Office. "Today, most of Baghdad's neighborhoods are being patrolled by coalition and Iraqi forces who live among the people they protect. ... Sectarian killings are down. And ordinary life is beginning to return."

But Khamenei mocked the U.S., describing the recent congressional testimony of the top American officials in Iraq as a sign of weakness and the failure of American policy in the war torn country.

"More than four years have passed since the occupation of Iraq and today everyone knows that America has failed and is frantically looking for a way out," he said.

In their testimony Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker raised allegations denied by Iran of Iranian meddling in Iraq by financial and military support of militias and insurgent groups. They warned that the U.S. was already embroiled in a proxy war with the Islamic republic.

Despite U.N. sanctions and efforts to isolate Iran internationally, the country is flourishing, maintained Khamenei.

"Today we are in a better political position compared to four to five years ago," he said. "We have moved forward economically and the spiritual preparedness and happiness of our nation has improved."

"A nation like ours, without an atomic bomb and not as wealthy as these other powerful governments, has foiled a whole series of their conspiracies and forced them to give up and withdraw," he added.

The U.S. accuses Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and has called for further international sanctions against the country. Iran denies the charge.

Iran and the U.S. have not had diplomatic relations since Washington cut its ties with Tehran after Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy there in 1979.



A report released Wednesday by a 20-member commission, headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones, reported that it will be at least 12 to 18 months before Iraq’s army and police can take charge. Though "allies of the White House are likely to point to the report as evidence" that the U.S. presence in Iraq should continue, a closer inspection of the report reveals that the Jones commission is hardly in favor of maintaining the escalation in Iraq. 

On page 128, the report explicitly warns that the "massive" U.S. military occupation of Iraq is conveying the impression of "permanence." The report goes on to recommend "significant reductions" in the "size of our national footprint in Iraq." 

The recommendations of Gen. Jones echo the comments made by White House "war czar" Gen. Doug Lute prior to his appointment, when he said: "You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq. It's very difficult to do that when you have 150,000-plus, largely western, foreign troops occupying the country."

Disregarding the advice and concerns of these generals, Bush has said he plans to largely maintain troop levels, and the White House has aggressively pursued the construction of an "embassy-fortress."



Last week, Gen. David Petraeus alleged a 75 percent reduction in "sectarian violence" in Iraq and is expected to say the same before Congress. In contrast, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office recently reported that daily attacks in Iraq have "remained unchanged" throughout the escalation.

The Washington Post reports today that national security analysts are questioning the military's statistics. National Intelligence Estimate authors, Iraq Study Group members, intelligence officials, and academics now "accuse the military of cherry-picking positive indicators."

Brookings Institution analyst Michael O'Hanlon, however, attacked the GAO and lauded the Pentagon's distortions. In an analysis only he could offer, O'Hanlon rips the GAO report for being both "overly rigorous" and "flat-out sloppy."

Ironically, while O'Hanlon bashes the GAO when he doesn't like what it says, his very own Iraq Index borrows heavily from GAO research to report on the situation on the ground. A senior military intelligence official attributed the Pentagon's citation of the drastic reduction in violence "to a desire to provide Petraeus with ammunition for his congressional testimony."


Pentagon Draws 'Three-Day Blitz' Plan For Iran

A national security expert revealed to The London Times that the Pentagon has "drawn up plans for massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians’ military capability in three days."

Speaking at a meeting organized by the conservative foreign policy journal The National Interest, Alexis Debat -- director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center -- said the U.S. military had concluded: "Whether you go for pinprick strikes or all-out military action, the reaction from the Iranians will be the same." It was, he added, a "very legitimate strategic calculus."

According to the paper, one Washington source said the "temperature was rising" to launch an Iranian attack inside the Bush administration. This information comes on the heels of reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency last week that cited "significant cooperation" with Iran over its nuclear program, including the slowing of uranium enrichment.

Israel, a close ally of the United States, has warned it will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, making its own preparations for air strikes. If the United States back downs, it is said to be "ready to attack."

The entire article can be read HERE.


200 Media Employees Killed In Iraq Since 2003

At least 200 journalists and media workers have been killed in Iraq since the March 2003 US-led invasion of the country, Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders said in a statement on Friday.

The murder this week of Anwar Abbas Lafta, an interpreter working for the US network CBS, brought the toll of media employees killed in Iraq to 200, the statement said.

Lafta's body was found on Monday five days after he was abducted in Baghdad.

At least 49 journalists and media workers have been killed since the start of 2007, the organisation said.

It said 73 percent of journalists killed were directly targeted.

"This is much higher than in previous wars, in which journalists were above all the victims of collateral damage and stray bullets," the watchdog said.

It said 80 percent of those killed were Iraqi journalists who were singled out by armed groups. Most of the victims worked for foreign news organisations.

The Iraqi journalists were killed by insurgent groups or militias angered by their coverage or ideologically opposed to their employers. Others were caught in crossfire.

"Most of the 200 media fatalities have taken place in Baghdad (110 cases) or near the capital (34 cases). Another 45 cases have taken place in the north of the country, above all in the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk," it said.

More journalists have also been taken hostage in Iraq than anywhere else in the world, it said.

A total of 84 journalists and media workers -- 64 percent of them Iraqis -- have been kidnapped in the past four years, it said, adding that only about half of them have been freed.

At least 27 have been the victims of execution-style murders, and 14 are still being held by their abductors.


Poll: Majority mistrustful of upcoming Iraq report

  • Story Highlights
  • Fifty-three percent say they don't trust military assessment of situation in Iraq
  • Forty-three percent say they do trust report by U.S. Army's top general in Iraq
  • CNN polling director thinks mistrust is directed at Bush administration
  • About half think military making progress; a quarter think Iraqi government is

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A majority of Americans don't trust the upcoming report by the Army's top commander in Iraq on the progress of the war and even if they did, it wouldn't change their mind, according to a new poll.

President Bush frequently has asked Congress -- and the American people -- to withhold judgment on his so-called troop surge in Iraq until Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, issue their progress report in September.

But according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Thursday, 53 percent of people polled said they suspect that the military assessment of the situation will try to make it sound better than it actually is. Forty-three percent said they do trust the report.

CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said he doesn't think the mistrust is directed at Petreaus as much as it is what he represents.

Holland said, "I suspect most people are hearing the words 'general' and 'Iraq' and that's what they're basing their opinion on."

He added, "It does seem to indicate that anyone associated with the Bush administration may be a less than credible messenger for the message that there is progress being made in Iraq."

Another interesting thing about the poll, Holland said, is that it indicates that about half of those surveyed -- 47 percent -- feel that the military is making progress in Iraq, although slightly more -- 49 percent -- do not.

White House press secretary Tony Snow reacted to the poll, saying that he hoped that "people do not try to engage in personal attacks on Gen. Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker."

"David Patraeus is basically the guy who's written the manual on counterinsurgency, and the one thing that you see with returning Democratic and Republican congressman is that something very significant has taken place," Snow said.

How the report is phrased also might determine how it is received, Holland said. If the report details military progress, that might be better received than what political progress the Iraqi government is making.

Twenty-six percent of those polled feel that the Iraqi government is making progress, while 69 percent said that it wasn't.

"We haven't done a lot of polling about the Iraqi government," Holland said, "but the numbers we have seem to indicate that people are pretty skeptical of any government official in Iraq."

The poll indicates that most of America's mind is made up about the war -- 72 percent said the report will have no effect on their view of the war.

Of those opposed to the war, 47 percent said Petreaus' report could not change their mind while 17 percent said it could.

Thirty-three percent said they support the war.

The poll was based on interviews of 1,029 Americans by telephone between August 6 and 8. The sampling error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, except for the questions based on the respondents' support or lack of support of the war, which was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.


US Government, complicit in Iraq corruption, helps punish whistleblowers

Raw Story

People who have brought war-related fraud and corruption to the attention of law enforcement suffer horribly as a result, reports the Associated Press Saturday.

The article profiles people who have filed lawsuits on behalf of the American taxpayer after witnessing misuse of funds and materials at the hands of private contractors. After blowing the whistle on his employer at the time, Shield Group Security Co., Navy Veteran Donald Vance, in his suit, says he and a colleague were held in an American military prison for over three months and subject to harsh interrogation tactics "reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants."

Employees of the Federal Government and private military contractors are shown to have faced demotion, detention, shunning by colleagues, and a destroyed family life as consequences of reporting corruption.



“If you do it, you will be destroyed,” said William Weaver, professor of political science at the University of Texas-El Paso and senior advisor to the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.

“Reconstruction is so rife with corruption. Sometimes people ask me, ‘Should I do this?’ And my answer is no. If they’re married, they’ll lose their family. They will lose their jobs. They will lose everything,” Weaver said.

“The only way we can find out what is going on is for someone to come forward and let us know,” said Beth Daley of the Project on Government Oversight, an independent, nonprofit group that investigates corruption. “But when they do, the weight of the government comes down on them. The message is, ’Don’t blow the whistle or we’ll make your life hell.’


The entire article can be read at MSNBC.com.


Abu Ghraib Abuse Just Tip Of The Iceberg

Those people truely to blame for the degrading treatment of Iraqi prisoners in Baghdad's infamous Abu Ghraib jail remain in the shadows, while such abuses continue unchecked and unseen.

That's the view of American author Tara McKelvey, who sought to uncover the truth behind the 2004 scandal in her book "Monstering: Inside Americas Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War."

Asked who was really responsible ahead of the trial of the only US military officer charged with tormenting Iraqis at the jail, McKelvey replied: "That's the million dollar question. That's what everyone wants to know."

Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan, 51, goes on trial on Monday on charges which include cruelty and mistreatment of detainees, making false statements, obstruction of justice and disobeying orders.

McKelvey hopes the hearing will provide some answers as to why US soldiers forced their Iraqi prisoners to strip, form naked human pyramids, parade on all fours with leashes chains on their necks, and threatened them with dogs.

"These court-martials have been very useful in the sense that they allow people to ask questions. And they forced people to account for their behavior when they were at the prison," she told AFP.

"They are one of the few venues where things things are out in the open."

So far attempts to the blame the affair on US President George W. Bush, who ordered the invasion of the Iraq in March 2003, his Vice President Dick Cheney or former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the main architects of the war, have come to nothing.

"People try to blame Bush, they blame Cheney, they blame Rumsfeld. But chasing that chain of command is difficult, partly because so much of these documents and the photographs have been withheld from the public," said McKelvey.

She added the "smoking gun" in the scandal could lead to John C. Yoo, who was a lawyer in the office of legal counsel at the Justice Department, and was one of the authors of a key departmental memo.

"In that memo, he defines torture to allow all sorts of abuse and techniques, and that was one of the key points in this entire debate," McKelvey said.

"People say often: torture and abuse have taken place in every war. And it's true, if you look at My Lai or some of the incidents in Vietnam that were horrific.

"But the difference now is that this is codified. There have been allowances made for these things to occur."

The Abu Ghraib scandal first came to light in 2004 when photographs the grinning soldiers had taken of themselves dishing out the abuse to their prisoners shot round the world.

But McKelvey believes the abuse was more widespread than was ever revealed and is probably still continuing in other places and situations.

"It's true you can say the scandal exists because of the photographs, but what you saw on the pictures was really only a fraction of the abuse that was taking place. And certainly not the worst of it," she said.

"There is no question in my mind that the extent was far greater than it was acknowledged at that time. In December 2003, there was something like 12,000 detainees in Iraq," she said.

But there were thousands who were never registered and held in short-term facilities such as schools or police stations, she added.

"Today, polls show that a sizable number of soldiers think that torture is OK in certain conditions, that they won't report abuse if it takes place.

"And I think the sad truth is that these things are still taking place but the difference between now and April-May 2004 is that people aren't taking pictures."


Contractors in Iraq Have Become U.S. Crutch

By Walter Pincus

When years from now historians and government officials reexamine precedents set by the U.S. experience in
Iraq, many "firsts" are likely to pop up.

One still playing out is the extraordinarily wide use of private contractors. A Congressional Research Service report published last month titled "Private Security Contractors in Iraq: Background, Legal Status, and Other Issues," puts it this way: "Iraq appears to be the first case where the U.S. government has used private contractors extensively for protecting persons and property in potentially hostile or hostile situations where host country security forces are absent or deficient."

Only estimates are available for the total employment by contractors in Iraq that perform "functions once carried by the U.S. military," according to the study. Testimony at an April 2007 congressional hearing gave the impressive figure of 127,000 as the number working in Iraq under Defense Department contracts. Breakdowns don't exist, but one Pentagon official said less than 20 percent were American.

CIA and the Pentagon intelligence agencies have hired contractors in Iraq, but the tasks and the funds involved are secret.


National Intelligence Estimate Lacks Supporting Evidence, Possibly Politicized, Intelligence Officials Say

Filed by Larisa Alexandrovna

Iran may be focus of Hezbollah spotlight

Current and former intelligence officials say the Bush Administration's National Intelligence Estimate regarding terrorist threats to the United States does not provide evidence to support its assertions and may have inflated the domestic threat posed by the Lebanese political and military group Hezbollah, perhaps because it receives financial support from Iran.

According to the report, Hezbollah – a Shi'a Muslim group with ties to Iran that has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United States – may target the US domestically if the US poses a serious threat to Iran. But sources say the allegations about Hezbollah were simply "thrown in."

Speaking under condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, several intelligence officers asserted that the report was sloppy and lacked supporting evidence. "The NIE seems… fiddled [with]," regarding Hezbollah, one high-ranking CIA official said. "Whether it is or isn't is not really the point. The point is that nobody is ready to believe it."

"As regards to the Hezbollah 'threat,'" the official added, "they just threw that in. "Nobody in CIA talks to Hezbollah, and they're living off their assessments from back in the 80s, which they really never got right anyway."

An individual close to the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research told RAW STORY the document's assertions are not backed up by empirical or external evidence even in the classified version. In addition, this official explained, the information lacks context and does not prioritize threats.

Released last week, the NIE is a consensus view from all sixteen intelligence agencies and departments, compiled by the National Intelligence Council and signed off on by the agencies involved as well as by the Director for National Intelligence. The document represents the "official" intelligence community view on any issue related to national security.

Intelligence officials would not confirm whether the classified version contained dissenting views. However, several expressed concern that parts of the report may have been politicized.


US Plans Massive Arms Deal For Saudis

Filed by RAW STORY

Congress will be asked by the Bush Administration to approve $20 billion in advanced weapons and planes for Saudi Arabia, at the same time that Israel, along with Congress, are nervous about Saudi Arabia's role in the war effort, the New York Times will report Saturday.

The US hopes to have assuaged this by offering Israel an aid package totaling $30.4 billion over the next ten years.



But administration officials remain concerned that the size of the package and the advanced weaponry it contains, as well as broader concerns about Saudi Arabia's role in Iraq, could prompt Saudi critics in Congress to oppose the package when Congress is formally notified about the deal this fall. In talks about the package, the administration has not sought specific assurances from Saudi Arabia that it will be more supportive of the U.S. effort in Iraq as a condition of receiving the arms package, the officials said.

The officials said the plan to bolster the militaries of Persian Gulf countries is part of a U.S. strategy to contain the growing power of Iran in the region and to demonstrate that, no matter what happens in Iraq, Washington remains committed to its longtime Arab allies in the region.

"The role of the Sunni Arab neighbors is to send a positive, affirmative message to moderates in Iraq in government that the neighbors are with you," a senior State Department official told reporters in a conference call on Friday. More specifically, the official said, the United States wants the Gulf states to make clear to Sunni Arabs engaged in violence in Iraq that such actions are "killing your future."


The entire New York Times article can be read HERE.


Embassy of Oppression

The U.S. embassy in Iraq is set to open this fall. Projected to cost $592 million, the embassy will employ a staff of 4,000 people and assume operating costs totaling $1.2 billion a year.

It will be a 104-acre complex -- the size of approximately 80 football fields -- and the largest U.S. embassy in the world. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked for an additional $50 million in May "to to add more structures" to the embassy. "It's all for them [the U.S], all of Iraq's resources, water, electricity, security," observed an Iraqi.

"It's as if it's their country, and we are guests staying here." In building this lavish symbol of occupation, the United States subsidized the company First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting (FK), a foreign contractor with egregious labor abuses.

In a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday, several former managers and employees of FK reported on the conditions at the embassy, which ranged from "deplorable" living conditions to "kidnapping" of employees.

Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) responded, "If what you are telling us is right, something appears to be seriously wrong with the management and oversight of this project."


Last weeks hearing confirmed the serious abuses that have been reported for nearly two years. Because of the U.S. refusal to employ Iraqis inside the Green Zone, "most of the laborers were from such countries as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Sierra Leone, the committee was told." FK lied to the workers, as "all of our tickets said we were going to Dubai," testified an embassy technician, "adding that an FK manager instructed him not to tell any of the Filipinos that they were going to Baghdad."

Rory Mayberry, a former subcontract employee of the FK, told the Committee: "Let me spell it out clearly: I believe these men were kidnapped by First Kuwaiti to work at the U.S. Embassy."

One worker signed up be a "telephone repair man," and when workers discovered they were headed to Baghdad en route, an FK manager waved an MP5 gun in the air to "settle down" the employees.

In Baghdad, workers toiled for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and for as little as $10 a day, according to John Owens, former FK manager. If a construction worker needed new shoes or gloves, he was told "No, do with what you have" by FK managers, Owens testified. "When drinking water was scarce in the blistering heat, coolers were filled on the banks of the Tigris, a river rife with waterborne disease, sewage and sometimes floating bodies."


The planning for the embassy has been marked by a veil of secrecy by the State Department. In May, architectural firm Bergine Define Yaeger posted pictures of the embassy's design online, but two days later, the Department ordered the pictures removed, alleging a "security risk" for "our employees overseas."

In his efforts to obtain information from the Department about the embassy, Waxman "said that for two weeks he was unable to get documents and cables he had requested. Some were delivered only Thursday in response to a subpoena, he said."

But a Nov. 2005 State Department Inspector General (IG) report curiously found no evidence of abuse. The IG even alleged that employees "sought" overtime work. "No interviewee was aware of any worker who had been mistreated," the IG reiterated yesterday, dismissing the allegations.


The United States is largely is responsible for FK's rise. "The company was a $35 million firm in early 2003 and now holds nearly $2 billion in contracts; largely U.S. funded and related to Iraq," reports CorpWatch.

When originally contracted, FK's human rights abuses were well-documented, and the company had "little experience in projects on the scale envisioned for the embassy."

Furthermore, there were several lower bidders than FK, including "one award-winning American company, Framaco, which offered to do the job for as much as $70 million less than First Kuwaiti."

Why a Kuwaiti company?

Some of have alleged that its work as a subcontractor under Halliburton may explain its rise in Iraq. Additionally, Kuwait was the only country bordering Iraq that staged U.S. troops before the invasion.

President Bush ordered 100,000 troops to Kuwait to be "ready to conduct an operation" in February 2003; subsequently, some have alleged the contract may be a reward for Kuwait's pre-war support.


Freshmen Senate Democrats seek panel to probe Iraq contracting

By David Goldstein | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Summoning the ghost of Harry Truman, the Senate's freshman Democrats on Wednesday called for the creation of an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate wartime profiteering in Iraq.

Truman was a freshman senator from Missouri in 1941 when he led an inquiry into waste and abuse in government contracting during World War II.

Under the 2007 version of his effort, spearheaded by Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jim Webb of Virginia, the proposed commission would investigate the mismanagement of private contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has resulted in $9 billion in taxpayer dollars unaccounted for.

McCaskill, a former state auditor who uses Truman's old Senate desk, said at a press conference of freshmen lawmakers, "I realized we had the same problem in this war that Harry Truman found in World War II, except that it's on steroids. It's out of control."

Truman subsequently became vice president and the nation's 33rd president in 1945 upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Webb said the plan to revive the Truman committee's work would create an eight-member Commission on Wartime Contracting, which would focus on the government's increasing reliance on private contracting during war.

He said it wouldn't create a new bureaucracy but would expand the role of the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction by adding oversight of Afghanistan reconstruction and private contracts for security and logistical support to its portfolio.

The commission would issue a report after one year, a final report after two and then shut down.

The Los AngeIes Times reported this month that Iraq has more private contractors than U.S. troops. More than 180,000 individuals are working under Department of Defense and State Department contracts, compared with 160,000 members of the military.

McCaskill noted that even the security detail guarding Gen. David Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq, was composed of private contractors.

Between 2003 and 2006, the United States spent more than $300 billion to help stabilize and reconstruct Iraq, according to the Government Accountability Office.

"Government accountability was a major issue in all of our campaigns," Webb said of the freshmen lawmakers. "There's been remarkably little accountability. We'd like to help the taxpayers of this country get their money back."

The freshmen had planned to attach the legislation to the defense authorization bill the Senate has been debating for two weeks. But the Democratic leadership withdrew the bill Wednesday after an unsuccessful all-night debate to add an Iraq troop withdrawal amendment.

With the backing of several senior Democratic lawmakers, the freshmen intend to introduce it as a separate bill and hope to attract Republican support.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a freshman Democrat from Minnesota, said that as a former prosecutor, her office motto was "follow the money and you'll find the bad guys. That's what we're trying to do with the legislation."


'Difficult' For Al-Qaeda To Export Violence: US General
The second-highest ranking US general in Iraq said on Thursday it would be "difficult" for Al-Qaeda in Iraq to export violence outside the country despite expressed concerns by US intelligence.

"Al-Qaeda in Iraq, I think, is struggling with its mission here in Iraq," said general Raymond Odierno, who spoke to reporters via teleconference from Iraq.

"Currently I think it would be very difficult for them to export any violence outside of Iraq," he said.

Nevertheless, Odierno said Al-Qaeda was attempting to set up a training base inside Iraq, and he acknowledged that some foreign fighters could be learning tactics there and using them elsewhere.

"There is an attempt here by the leadership of Al-Qaeda to create a training area and a place when they can recruit and train people in the Middle East. That's why they would like us to fail here so they can use Iraq," he said.

"There might be some things they have done here in Iraq that people might be learning from. There might be people who have been coming here for short periods of time, foreigners, that might try to conduct some attacks."

A US intelligence report on Tuesday warned that Al-Qaeda had regrouped in its Pakistani "safe haven" and was determined launch fresh attacks on the United States.


War Games Show Bush Wrong On Iraq Pullout; Qaeda Unlikely To Succeed

By: David Edwards and Will Menaker


Supporters of the war in Iraq -- including President George W. Bush -- claim that a withdrawal of US forces would lead to an al Qaeda takeover of Iraq. Yet according to Pentagon war games, this scenario is highly unlikely.

On Wednesday's Countdown Keith Olbermann interviewed Washington Post correspondent Thomas Ricks who discussed his article on Pentagon war gaming for a post-US Iraq.

Pentagon simulations on US withdrawal find the most likely scenario would be a three-way split of the country between Kurds, Shias, and Sunnis. Ricks warns while the breakup would be "very ugly," with possibly "tens of thousands of people dying," an al Qaeda takeover of Iraq would not be possible by "any stretch of the imagination."

In addition, the war games also found Iran would not benefit from US withdrawal, and in fact would be sucked in to the same kind of destabilizing sectarian conflict the US finds itself embroiled in.

Olbermann asked Ricks whether it is fair to draw the conclusion that the best way to stop Iran from interfering in Iraq is to leave, to which Ricks responded, that while there are no "good answers" left in Iraq, leaving would make it significantly easier to deal with Iran.

Ricks noted that while these lessons appear to be taken to heart by members of the military, it is ultimately up to them to convince the White House come September, when this war will become "General Petraeus' war" just as much as it is Bush's.


GOP Sen. Gordon Smith calls war in Iraq 'insane'


Filed by David Edwards and Muriel Kane

Fox News, reporting Tuesday on the increasing number of Republicans in Congress criticizing the Iraq War, interviewed Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR), cosponsor of a resolution for withdrawal.

Smith is known for a speech last December in which he stated, "I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal."

Smith told Fox, "If I could do anything over, I would – in that speech I gave – I would replace the word 'criminal' with the word 'insane.'" He suggested that the "surge" might have had a chance of working four years ago, but said, "On my numerous visits to Iraq ... each time I go, the government seems more and more dysfunctional. And all we're doing is depending on them to step up and govern."

Smith went on to explain the legislation he is sponsoring, saying, "There's nothing in this amendment that says we withdraw from the war on terror." When Fox host Shepard Smith pressed him on whether there might be a civil war in Iraq that is indistinguishable from the war on terror, the senator denied both points. "It may become a full-blown civil war," he acknowledged, "but the point is, it's not ours, it's theirs. It's not something we can win. ... I'm just tired of American kids dying for that."


Veteran Republicans put Bush on notice on Iraq

In the clearest sign yet of Republican anxiety over Iraq, two party elder statesmen Friday urged President George W. Bush to begin pulling US troops out of the sectarian cross-fire by the end of the year.

A new blueprint by Senators Richard Lugar and John Warner was similar to many plans from anti-war Democrats to get troops out of Iraq, with an important difference -- it did not include a hard date for a withdrawal to be complete.

The plan was released a day after Bush rejected any changes to the war plan until US commander in Iraq General David Petraeus gives a definitive report on progress of the current troop surge strategy in two months.

"We are attempting to ensure that US military and diplomatic policy is prepared for change when the Petraeus report arrives in September," Lugar said.

"We are hopeful that regardless of where Senators stand on surge versus withdrawal, they will find our amendment to be a constructive bipartisan attempt to prepare for whatever policy follows in the coming months."

The legislation, which appears designed to unite those Republicans who have broken with Bush on the war with anti-war Democrats, calls for a new plan to be delivered to Congress by October 16.

The President should be ready to start carrying it out by the end of this year, the amendment, to a defense policy bill said.

It called for US troops to be transitioned from "policing the civil strife or sectarian violence in Iraq" and their redeployment as "conditions permit."

US forces should then be focused on security Iraq's borders, denying a safe haven to terrorists, battling Al-Qaeda and training and equipping Iraqi forces.

Lugar sent reverberations through Washington on June 25, with a speech on the Senate floor calling for a change in the US approach in Iraq, saying the surge strategy was unlikely to achieve its objectives.

Most Foreign Insurgents In Iraq Are Saudis

Most foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq come from Saudi Arabia, despite attempts by US officials to portray Syria and Iran as the main culprits of violence, a US newspaper reported Sunday.

Citing an unnamed senior US military officer and Iraqi lawmakers, the Los Angeles Times newspaper said about 45 percent of all foreign militants targeting US troops and Iraqi security forces were from Saudi Arabia, 15 percent from Syria and Lebanon, and 10 percent from North Africa

Official US military figures made available to The Times also show that nearly half of the 135 foreigners in US detention facilities in Iraq are Saudis, the report said.

Fighters from Saudi Arabia are thought to have carried out more suicide bombings than those of any other nationality, the paper said.

The senior US officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said 50 percent of all Saudi fighters in Iraq come as suicide bombers, The Times pointed out.

The situation has left the US military in the awkward position of battling an enemy whose top source of foreign fighters is a key ally that at best has not been able to prevent its citizens from undertaking bloody attacks in Iraq, and at worst shares complicity in sending extremists to commit attacks against US forces, Iraqi civilians and the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, the paper said.


Failure in Afghanistan risks rise in terror, say generals

Military chiefs warn No.10 that defeat could lead to change of regime in Pakistan

Nicholas Watt and Ned Temko

Britain's most senior generals have issued a blunt warning to Downing Street that the military campaign in Afghanistan is facing a catastrophic failure, a development that could lead to an Islamist government seizing power in neighbouring Pakistan.

Amid fears that London and Washington are taking their eye off Afghanistan as they grapple with Iraq, the generals have told Number 10 that the collapse of the government in Afghanistan, headed by Hamid Karzai, would present a grave threat to the security of Britain.

Lord Inge, the former chief of the defence staff, highlighted their fears in public last week when he warned of a 'strategic failure' in Afghanistan. The Observer understands that Inge was speaking with the direct authority of the general staff when he made an intervention in a House of Lords debate.

'The situation in Afghanistan is much worse than many people recognise,' Inge told peers. 'We need to face up to that issue, the consequence of strategic failure in Afghanistan and what that would mean for Nato... We need to recognise that the situation - in my view, and I have recently been in Afghanistan - is much, much more serious than people want to recognise.'

Inge's remarks reflect the fears of serving generals that the government is so overwhelmed by Iraq that it is in danger of losing sight of the threat of failure in Afghanistan. One source, who is familiar with the fears of the senior officers, told The Observer: 'If you talk privately to the generals they are very very worried. You heard it in Inge's speech. Inge said we are failing and remember Inge speaks for the generals.'

Inge made a point in the Lords of endorsing a speech by Lord Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader, who painted a bleak picture during the debate. Ashdown told The Observer that Afghanistan presented a graver threat than Iraq.

'The consequences of failure in Afghanistan are far greater than in Iraq,' he said. 'If we fail in Afghanistan then Pakistan goes down. The security problems for Britain would be massively multiplied. I think you could not then stop a widening regional war that would start off in warlordism but it would become essentially a war in the end between Sunni and Shia right across the Middle East.'

'Mao Zedong used to refer to the First and Second World Wars as the European civil wars. You can have a regional civil war. That is what you might begin to see. It will be catastrophic for Nato. The damage done to Nato in Afghanistan would be as great as the damage done to the UN in Bosnia. That could have a severe impact on the Atlantic relationship and maybe even damage the American security guarantee for Europe.'

Ashdown said two mistakes were being made: a lack of a co-ordinated military command because of the multinational 'hearts and minds' Nato campaign and the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom offensive campaign against the Taliban. There was also insufficient civic support on, for example, providing clean water.

Ashdown warned: 'Unless we put this right, unless we have a unitary system of command, we are going to lose. The battle for this is the battle of public opinion. The polls are slipping. Once they go on the slide it is almost impossible to win it back. You can only do it with the support of the local population.

'There is a very short shelf life for an occupation force. Once that begins to shift against you it is very very difficult to turn it round.'

The warnings from Ashdown and the generals on Afghanistan will be echoed in a report this week by the all-party Commons defence select committee. MPs will say that the combination of civilian casualties, war damage and US-led efforts to eradicate lucrative poppy crops risk turning ordinary people towards the Taliban.

Stepped-up reconstruction efforts are essential, the MPs will suggest, in order to ensure local residents understand the longer-term aim of the British-led Nato mission - a point echoed, during the committee hearings on Afghanistan earlier this year, by returning British commander General David Richards.

The report is also expected to criticise some Nato members for failing to provide sufficient troops or other support for the Afghan mission.

Adam Holloway, a Tory member of the committee who is a former Grenadier Guards officer, said: 'We are getting to the point where it will be irretrievable. That's where we are now. We are in danger of a second strategic failure [after Iraq], which we cannot afford.'


Thousands in U.S., abroad speak out on war
Story Highlights
• NEW: Counterdemonstrators rip up protester's peace sign
• Cindy Sheehan likens Pentagon to movie's 'Death Star'
• Rally in Washington and Virginia ends after three hours
• Thousands also protest in other cities, countries as war enters 5th year

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Thousands of anti-war demonstrators and supporters of the U.S. policy in Iraq shouted at each other Saturday from opposite sides of a street bordering the National Mall as protesters formed a march to the Pentagon to denounce a war entering its fifth year.

The anti-war group carried signs saying "U.S. Out of Iraq Now," "Stop Iraq War, No Iran War, Impeach" and "Illegal Combat." The other side carried signs saying "Peace Through Strength," "al Qaeda Appeasers On Parade" and "We Are At War, Liberals Root For the Enemy."

Police on horseback and foot separated the demonstrators, who were on opposite sides of Constitution Avenue in view of the Lincoln Memorial. Barriers also kept them apart.

But war protester Susanne Shine of Boone, North Carolina, found herself in a crowd of counterdemonstrators. She came out in tears, with her sign in shreds.

"They ripped up my peace sign," she said.

Thousands crossed the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial to rally loudly but peacefully near the Pentagon.

"We're here in the shadow of the war machine," said anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, whose soldier son was killed in Iraq.

"It's like being in the shadow of the Death Star," she said, referring to the planet-sized warship in the movie "Star Wars." "They take their death and destruction and they export it around the world. We need to shut it down."

Speakers blamed congressional Democrats, too, for refusing to cut off money for the war.

"This is a bipartisan war," New York City labor activist Michael Letwin told the crowd. "The Democratic Party cannot be trusted to end it." Letwin said the key to ending the war soon is to bring more troops and their families into the protest movement.

An hour into the three-hour rally, with the temperature near freezing, fewer than 1,000 protesters were left.

Police reported no arrests Saturday, after more than 200 Friday night.

People traveled from afar in stormy weather to join the march.

"Too many people have died and it doesn't solve anything," said Ann Bonner, who drove through snow with her husband, Tom O'Grady, and two children, 13 and 10, from Athens, Ohio. "I feel bad carrying out my daily activities while people are suffering, Americans and Iraqis."

Veteran says he's conflicted
Saturday's march was the main event in anti-war demonstrations around the country.

Rallies also took place in Los Angeles, California; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Hartford, Connecticut; Lincoln, Nebraska; and other cities.

In Los Angeles, Vietnam veteran Ed Ellis, 59, hoped the demonstrations would be the "tipping point" against the war.

"It's all moving in our direction, it's happening," he said. "The administration, their get-out-of-jail-free card, they don't get one anymore."

In Washington, war supporters played "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"; the anti-war crowd danced to Stevie Wonder's "Superstition."

Veterans, some from the Rolling Thunder motorcycle group, lined up at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

"I'm not sure I'm in support of the war," said William "Skip" Publicover of Charleston, South Carolina, who was a swift boat gunner in Vietnam and lost two friends whose names are etched on the memorial's wall.

"I learned in Vietnam that it's difficult if not impossible to win the hearts and minds of the people."

Retired Marine Jeff Carroll, 47, an electrician in Milton, Delaware, held a sign saying: "Proud of our soldiers, ashamed of our president."

Carroll said he served in Lebanon when the Marine barracks was bombed in a deadly attack in 1983, and thinks the United States should be focusing on Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden instead of Iraq.

"We're fighting the wrong country," he said.

But Larry Stimeling, 57, a Vietnam veteran from Morton, Illinois, said the loss of public support for the Iraq war mirrors what happened in Vietnam and leaves troops without the backing they need.

"We didn't lose the war in Vietnam, we lost it right here on this same ground," he said, pointing to the grass on the National Mall. "It's the same thing now."

Park Police Lt. Scott Fear said more than 200 people were arrested from a crowd of several thousand protesters who marched to the White House on Friday night after a peace service at the Washington National Cathedral.

Overseas Saturday, at least 20,000 demonstrators rallied against the war in Madrid, Spain; more than 6,000 in Istanbul, Turkey; 1,000 in Athens, Greece; and several hundred in Copenhagen, Denmark.


U.S. Border Agents Sent To Patrol Iraqi Border
Napolitano: Hirings conflict with homeland security effort
Matthew Benson

Wanted: current and former U.S. Border Patrol agents to train others in border enforcement.

Good pay and benefits, room and board included. Exotic locale: Iraq.

That's essentially the pitch a Virginia-based military contractor made in Tucson this week as it recruited people with Customs and Border Enforcement experience for a new mission in the Middle East. The company, DynCorp, has been asked by the U.S. State Department to find 120 people to train Iraqis in the security of their country's border. advertisement 
But the recruiting drive comes as the United States wrestles with its own border security. Calling the DynCorp hirings a contradiction of that effort, Gov. Janet Napolitano wrote President Bush this week to say the deal "makes no sense."

DynCorp has contracted with the State Department since 1994 and already has 700 police trainers for local security in Iraq. The request for border security trainers was made in late March and comes amid growing concerns that the country's porous border is allowing a free flow of terrorists, insurgents and weapons that pose a threat to U.S. troops.

DynCorp spokesman Gregory Lagana said the company is offering $134,100 for a one-year stay, plus a $25,000 signing bonus. The first $90,000 in income is tax free, and housing and food are free.

Border Patrol agents with at least two years' experience make roughly $55,000.

Napolitano worries that the DynCorp effort is distracting from another mission: the security of the U.S. border.

"We should be focused on supporting our nation's security efforts along the Mexican and Canadian border instead of hampering (Customs and Border Patrol) by sending our best agents to a war zone in Iraq," Napolitano, along with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, wrote Bush.

Lagana, who was unsure how many people were recruited in Tucson, brushed aside those concerns. Twenty-three of the 30 recruits who have already deployed for Iraq were former Border Patrol agents.

Agent Shannon Stevens, a Border Patrol spokeswoman, noted that the number of personnel sought by DynCorp is "a very small number compared to the agents we have."

Arizona's Tucson sector alone employs 2,600 agents, and there are more than 13,350 nationwide.

"The issue isn't the numbers," Napolitano spokeswoman Jeanine L'Ecuyer said. "(DynCorp) basically has a contract to skim off Border Patrol agents."

With the launch of Operation Jump Start last spring, the president announced the deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops to the border and pledged that they'd be replaced within a few years by an equal number of new Border Patrol agents.

But just one year later, half of those National Guard troops will soon be pulled from border duty, and fewer than 350 new agents have been hired.



Speaking Thursday at a town hall meeting with constituents, Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), who is currently under investigation for his "association with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff," called the war in Iraq a "quagmire." Doolittle argued, "We've got to get off the front lines as soon as possible. ... In my mind, that means something like the end of the year."

"I am increasingly convinced that we never are going to succeed in actually ending people dying in Iraq. I think it's going to be a constant conflict...and if that is going to happen...it needs to be the Iraqis dying and not the Americans," he said further.

Noting the growing number of prominent conservatives -- including Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) -- who have rejected the Bush administration's failed stay-the-course strategy in Iraq, Doolittle said, "My belief is that the majority of my colleagues on the Republican side have become skeptical of all of this. ... And that's a big change."

Further, Doolittle predicted that the "anticipated September report by Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, will indicate that a long-term U.S. presence is needed despite the recent troop surge."

Despite his supposed commitment to ending the war, Doolittle was careful to remind the Sacramento Bee that he -- like Lugar -- "opposes setting a timetable to withdraw forces from Iraq."

Further, despite Lewis "Scooter" Libby lying to a grand jury during an investigation of a key aspect of the Bush administration's justification for the war in Iraq, Doolittle remarked, "I thought the commutation was the president's right to do. I don't know why he didn't just pardon him outright."



The "sprawling, 21-building embassy" compound in Iraq is roughly the size of Vatican city, projected to cost $592 million to construct and $1.2 billion per year to run. The embassy has been plagued by accusations that it is being "built with coerced labor," its staff is "too young" and "not qualified," and reports that the embassy compound is already too small to accommodate the extremely large embassy staff.

Last Thursday the Washington Post reports that a "toughly worded cable sent from the embassy to State Department headquarters on May 29" reveals that such problems continue to grow. According to the cable, as "the kitchen staff tried to cook the inaugural meal" in a new facility designed to "house the security guards protecting the embassy," they discovered that "some appliances did not work," "workers began to get electric shocks," and a "burning smell enveloped the kitchen as the wiring began to melt."

When further "wiring problems, fuel leaks and noxious fumes" were discovered, the embassy was left "with no recourse but to shut the camp down." The cable stated that work completed by the firm in charge of constructing most of the embassy compound, First Kuwaiti General Trade and Contracting Co., "fails to meet basic safety standards."

James L. Golden, managing director of the embassy's construction wrote a "stinging response" to the cable in which he "berated personnel in Baghdad for sending their message over an open embassy system, rather than keeping the complaints in-house." Further, he "accused the embassy...of making false claims to deflect attention from their own errors." Until the problems are resolved, the embassy guards must stay in what was referred to in the cable as "tents and deplorable living conditions."


Defense Sect. Gates Fires Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Pace Says He Refused To Quit Voluntarily
AP Military Writer

In his first public comments on the Bush administration's surprise decision to replace him as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace disclosed that he had turned down an offer to voluntarily retire rather than be forced out.

To quit in wartime, he said, would be letting down the troops.

Pace, responding to a question from the audience after he spoke at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va., on Thursday evening, said he first heard that his expected nomination for a second two-year term was in jeopardy in mid-May. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on June 8 announced Pace was being replaced.

"One thing that was discussed was whether or not I should just voluntarily retire and take the issue off the table," Pace said, according to a transcript released Friday by his office at the Pentagon.

"I said I could not do that for one very fundamental reason," which is that no soldier or Marine in Iraq should "think - ever - that his chairman, whoever that person is, could have stayed in the battle and voluntarily walked off the battlefield.

"That is unacceptable as a leadership thing, in my mind," he added.

Pace, whose current term ends Oct. 1, said he intended to remain on the job until then. Navy Adm. Michael Mullen has been announced as President Bush's choice to succeed Pace, who is the first Marine ever to hold the military's top post.

The decision to drop Pace has fed the political debate in Washington over the Iraq war. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid caused a stir when he said Pace had failed in his job of providing Congress a candid assessment on the war. Democrats typically have shied from stinging comments about military officers, instead focusing criticism on Bush and administration policies in Iraq.

Asked for comment on Reid's statement, a spokeswoman for Pace, Marine Col. Katie Haddock, said Pace "is focused on his duties as chairman and is not going to respond to press reports on who's saying what. He will let 40 years of service speak for itself."

A Vietnam veteran, Pace indicated in his Norfolk comments that his experience in that war colored his decision not to quit voluntarily.

"The other piece for me personally was that some 40 years ago I left some guys on the battlefield in Vietnam who lost their lives following 2nd Lt. Pace," he said. "And I promised myself then that I will serve this country until I was no longer needed - that it's not my decision. I need to be told that I'm done.

"I've been told I'm done.

"I will run through the finish line on 1 October, and when I run through the finish line I will have met the mission I set for myself," he said.

Pace was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the run-up to the Iraq war and during the early years of a conflict that has dragged on far longer than the administration foresaw. In October 2005 he succeeded Air Force Gen. Richard Myers as Joint Chiefs chairman, and until recently had largely been spared the war-related criticism that senior civilian officials attracted.

The decision to sideline Pace came as a surprise, since Gates had previously indicated privately that he intended to recommend that the president re-nominate him. In his remarks in Norfolk, Pace confirmed that Gates had told him he preferred to keep him as chairman but in mid-May began to see signs of opposition on Capitol Hill.

When he announced the decision last Friday, Gates said that after consulting with members of the Senate he concluded that sticking with Pace would risk a Senate confirmation struggle focusing on the Iraq War.

"It would be a backward-looking and very contentious process," Gates said. At the same time, he made clear he had made his decision with reluctance, saying he wished it had not been necessary.

"I am no stranger to contentious confirmations, and I do not shrink from them," Gates said. "However, I have decided that at this moment in our history, the nation, our men and women in uniform and General Pace himself would not be well served by a divisive ordeal. ..."

In his remarks in Norfolk, Pace said Gates had accurately portrayed what transpired.

"He brought me in the office and sat me down and said 'Pete, this is what's happening. I want to re-nominate you. I want you to know that this is what I'm beginning to hear, this is what I'm going to go do, this is how I'm going to go do it.'"

"He went out and did exactly what he said on television, and exactly what he's been saying in his interviews, which is he went out and pulsed various members of Congress and he heard back from them the things that he said that he heard," Pace said.

At that point, Pace said, he assured Gates that he was willing to go through even a contentious confirmation process.

"I also told him that what he needed to do, in my opinion, was what was best for the institution, and whatever he and the president decided was going to be best for the institution was what Pete Pace was going to do," he said. "Oh and by the way, I can read the Constitution, which says the president gets to nominate and the Senate gets to confirm, or not, and neither one of those two things is going to happen, therefore I'm not staying."



The Pentagon last week released its first quarterly report assessing President Bush's escalation strategy, confirming that overall levels of violence in the country actually "increased throughout much of Iraq in recent months," as attacks "shifted away from Baghdad and Anbar" and into "cities and provinces that had been relatively peaceful before the Bush administration's troop buildup."

Political reconciliation has almost entirely stalled, suicide bombings "more than doubled" from January to April, sectarian deaths have increased beyond pre-escalation levels, and U.S. troop deaths are spiking. 

During his press briefing last Thursday, White House spokesman Tony Snow said the increasing chaos was a positive sign. The new levels of attacks "fit a pattern that we see throughout the region," he said, "which is that when you see things moving towards success, or when you see signs of success, that there are acts of violence." 

Also, Snow downplayed the importance of the September Iraq report from top U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus.

Just last month, Bush said September would be an "important moment" in the war because "Petraeus says that's when he'll have a pretty good assessment as to what the effects of the surge has been." 

Snow described Petraeus's report as merely a "first opportunity" to "have a little bit of a metric" to "see what happens when you have all the forces in place for the Baghdad security plan." 


Early last week, the Pentagon delivered to Congress its "first comprehensive statistical overview of the new U.S. military strategy in Iraq." Citing "uneven cooperation" and little "concrete progress," the report concluded that "reconciliation between Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni factions" remains "a serious unfulfilled objective."

Furthermore, the report found that suicide bombings across Iraq have doubled since January, overall violence "has increased in most provinces," and "civilian casualties rose slightly, to more than 100 a day."

Last Thursday, however, the President attempted to dismiss the report's conclusions, saying that it is still "too early to judge the results of this new strategy" by repeating the myth that U.S. forces "haven't even started the full surge yet."

The President is wrong -- it is not "too early to judge" the results of his escalation in Iraq.

As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained nearly six months ago at the start of the escalation plan, "we'll have pretty good early indications of their performance" before "very many American soldiers have been sent to Iraq": "Well, as I indicated, we're going to know pretty early on whether the Iraqis are meeting their military commitments, in terms of being able to go into all neighborhoods, in terms of the Iraqis being in the lead and carrying out the leadership and the fighting, and for there not to be political interference in the military operations that are going forward," Gates said.

Furthermore, the President's assertion that U.S. forces "haven't started" the surge yet becomes almost laughable as the Washington Post reported on Friday that with an additional 28,500 U.S. troops "now posted in the country," a military spokesman said yesterday that the "Iraq troop surge [is] complete."


Preparing for September

With the Iraq supplemental debate behind them, both Democrats and Republicans have begun rallying around a September deadline to reassess President Bush's escalation strategy. The make-it or break-it moment will come in the form of a status report by Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq. He "has said that by then he will have a handle on whether the current troop increase is having any impact on political reconciliation between Iraq's warring factions."

When he appears on Capitol Hill, Petraeus will face lawmakers who are increasingly uniting around the strategic need to begin the redeployment of U.S. troops. "You know what's going to happen in September? They'll bring General Petraeus back and he'll say, 'Just give me until the end of the year. I think things are turning around.' And then we'll be out of session, come back in late January, February, and the fact is a thousand troops will lose their lives in a situation that doesn't make any sense," said Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) last week.

"By September, when General Petraeus is to make a report, I think most of the people in Congress believe, unless something extraordinary occurs, that we should be on a move to draw those surge numbers down," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) recently.

Come September, Petraeus will be at the center of the most contentious political debate in the nation. While Petraeus can and should lay out the facts on the ground as he sees them, as a career military man charged with executing the administration's strategy, he cannot be expected to give the policy guidance needed to determine whether we continue an open-ended commitment in Iraq or whether we begin extricating ourselves from the middle of a bloody civil war.


In Jan. 2007, as "part of a broad revamping of the military team that will carry out the administration's new Iraq strategy," Bush named Petraeus to replace Gen. George W. Casey Jr. as the top American military commander in Iraq.

Casey, who had publicly expressed doubt about the wisdom of any short-term increase in troops in Iraq, had his expected departure "moved up several months from the originally anticipated shift in spring or summer," in order to make way for Petraeus and the "surge."

As soon as Petraeus was named, Bush's supporters in Congress began touting him as the savior of American strategy in Iraq. "He's the General Grant of the surge," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) at the time. "He's our last best chance as a military commander to bring about a change on the ground."

As the Washington Post noted at the time, Petraeus, who was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, also became "the last best chance for Bush allies to head off a resolution rejecting the troop increase or at least keep many Republicans from supporting it." His testimony in September may be the administration's "last best chance" to head off a long-overdue redeployment of U.S. troops.


Bush used the confirmation of Petraeus as a cudgel to coerce senators to support his "surge" plan. "The Senate overwhelmingly supported his nomination to be the new general in command of Iraq," Bush said on Fox News in February. "The fundamental question is: Will they back him up? They voted for him. Will they back him up?"

Following Congress's approval of the troop increase, the administration has continued to rely on Petraeus to support its political aims. In April, while Congress was preparing to vote on its Iraq timeline legislation, the administration brought Petraeus back to the United States for a rare visit, a tactic that was slammed by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) as "purely a political move."

In a speech arguing for his strategy in Iraq in early May, Bush mentioned Petraeus by name no fewer than 12 times, at one point even acknowledging that "the best messenger, by the way, for us is David Petraeus."

Petraeus has allowed himself to be used as a "political prop" to support the White House's war czar nominee. He has also echoed Bush's line that al Qaeda, not sectarian civil war, is the greatest threat in Iraq -- an assessment that contradicts the intelligence



According to President Bush, incoming war czar Army Lt. Gen. Doug Lute "will be the full-time manager for the implementation and execution of our strategies for Iraq and Afghanistan."

During his confirmation hearing last Thursday, Lute clarified that his new authority means that National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley's portfolio will no longer include Iraq and Afghanistan.

Shocked by the revelation, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) argued Hadley should be fired if he's taken a hands-off approach to the most important national security issues: "Frankly, Afghanistan, Iraq, ... Iran, are the most critical foreign policy problems we face. And the national security adviser to the United States has taken his hands off that?"

When Lute answered, "Sir, that's the design, yes," Reed responded, "Well, then [Hadley] should be fired, because, frankly, if he's not capable of being the individual responsible for those duties and they pass it on to someone else, then why is he there?"

After a short recess, Lute returned with a prepared statement -- likely communicated to him by the White House -- in which he backpedaled from his earlier claim that Hadley is now irrelevant on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hadley's "role is not diminished by this appointment," Lute clarified. It is unclear exactly how Hadley and Lute are to share responsibility.

Previously, Lute has rebuked Hadley's often inaccurate statements about the war in Iraq. For example, Hadley has falsely claimed that Iraq is not in a civil war, that the Iraq Study Group supported Bush's escalation, and defended Vice President Cheney's claim that the insurgency was in its "last throes."

Lute, however, has suggested that "reduction in force structure would undercut insurgent propaganda," warned against fostering a "dependency syndrome" in which "Iraqis would be content to stand by and watch if the Americans continued providing for their security," and stated that there is "no evidence" to suggest that debating timelines for redeployment from Iraq "undercuts" U.S. troop morale.


U.S. Freezes Assets Of 4 Iranian Companies
AP Economics Writer

The Bush administration moved Friday to financially clamp down on four Iranian companies suspected of connections to Tehran's nuclear program.

It marked the government's latest move to put the financial squeeze on Iran, a country the United States accuses of fostering terrorism and whose nuclear ambitions have drawn international rebuke.

The Treasury Department's action is against Pars Tarash, Farayand Technique, Fajr Industries Group and Mizan Machine Manufacturing Group.

The action means that any bank accounts or other financial assets belonging to these three companies found in the United States must be frozen. Americans also are forbidden from doing business with them.

"So long as Iran continues to pursue a nuclear program in defiance of the international community's calls to halt enrichment, we will continue to hold those responsible to account for their conduct," said Stuart Levey, the department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The action comes as leaders of the world's eight major industrial powers, meeting in Heiligendamm, Germany, on Friday, sent a warning to Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

The group said it would support "adopting further measures" if Iran fails to suspend enriching uranium, which can produce fuel for civilian energy or material for a bomb. The statement was a sign of support for U.N. Security Council moves to discuss a third set of sanctions against Iran.

The Treasury Department alleges that Pars Tarash and Farayand Technique are owned or controlled or act on behalf of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran or its subsidiary, the Kalaye Electric Co.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, or AEOI, manages Iran's overall nuclear program and reports directly to Iran's president, the department said. It is Iran's main research and development facility for nuclear technology, the department said.

The department alleges that Fajr Industries and Mizan Machine are owned or controlled or acting on behalf of Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization. That group is a subsidiary of Iran's defense ministry and is the overall manager and coordinator of Iran's missile program, Treasury said.



Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) is a program designed to train U.S. soldiers to withstand torture if they are ever captured as prisoners of war.

Developed during the Cold War, U.S. solders are subjected to techniques based "on how the Soviet Union and its allies were believed to treat prisoners," including "prolonged use of stress positions, exposure to heat and cold, sleep deprivation and even waterboarding."

A recently declassified investigation from the Department of Defense's Inspector General confirms "how the military training was 'reverse engineered' for use by American interrogators," training them on more "effective" ways to elicit information.

"On at least two occasions, the JTF-170 (interrogators) requested that Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (the agency conducting SERE training) instructors be sent to Guantanamo to instruct interrogators in SERE counter resistance interrogation techniques," the report noted.

Those practice also migrated to Iraq: "In September 2003...Joint Personnel Recovery Agency sent an interrogation assessment team to Iraq to provide advice and assistance to the task force interrogation mission."

Because the techniques were so extreme, several intelligence officers "vehemently objected to the use of the techniques, but their protests were ignored." Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said he found the Pentagon report "very troubling" would hold hearings on how the SERE training methods "migrated" into Iraq and Guantanamo as the basis for interrogation. "They were put to a purpose that was never intended," he said.


Pentagon Concedes A 'Tough' Month In Iraq 
The Pentagon admitted Wednesday that May has been "tough" for US forces in Iraq, with no fewer than 113 soldiers killed over the course of the month.

"First and foremost, it's been a tough month," Brigadier General Perry Wiggins, deputy director of regional operations with the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a Defense Department briefing.

May has been one of the deadliest months for US troops in Iraq. The deadliest was November of 2004, when 137 US troops died in Iraq, followed by April 2004 with 135.

Wiggins said that the higher casualties were not entirely unexpected, given the "operational risks" associated with President George W. Bush's "surge" of thousands of additional American troops into some of Iraq's most dangerous hotspots.

"We're moving into places where we haven't been, not necessarily before," Wiggins said. "We're having more contacts with the enemy."

At least 3,465 US forces have died in Iraq since the March 2003 US-led invasion, many while fighting the ongoing insurgency there.



With threats to the troops as his sole remaining argument, President Bush won one more round for his failed Iraq strategy. The House and Senate "bowed to President Bush" and passed a war-spending bill that places only mild accountability over the course in Iraq.

The final bill omitted a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, but established "a series of goals for the Iraqi government to meet...although Bush retains the authority to order that the funds be spent regardless of how the Baghdad government performs."

Bush cheered the compromise legislation, claiming that it provides "a clear road map on the way forward." Just four weeks ago, on May 1 -- the fourth anniversary of "Mission Accomplished" -- the President vetoed a bill that would have conditioned funding for Iraq on a phased redeployment.

Since that time, the White House has remained stubbornly intractable, claiming that if it did not receive the funding entirely on its own terms, "the troops in Iraq will be stranded."

Faced with this proposition, congressional leaders asserted a higher responsibility over the forces on the ground. Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) explained why he supported the bill: "There is a point when the money for our troops in Iraq will run out, and when it does, our men and women serving courageously in Iraq will be the ones who will suffer, not this president."

Last week’s passage sets up future confrontations with Bush over the course in Iraq, requiring the administration to present progress reports in July and September. "This is not the end of the debate," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who voted against the bill. Congressional leaders promised "to renew the push for a withdrawal in future bills on Pentagon spending and policy."


Both Democrats and Republicans have begun rallying around a September deadline to reassess Bush's Iraq strategy. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who sobbed uncontrollably during the House floor debate last week, said recently, "By the time we get to September or October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B?"

Murtha echoed the sentiment, arguing, "While we don't have the votes right now to change the president's policy, I believe that come September we will have the votes." The success of a September reassessment is conditioned upon a forthcoming and candid report from Gen. David Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq.

But recently, Petraeus has suggested that his report will not say "anything definitive." Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb writes, "Petraeus is not a reliable source for an unbiased assessment."

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) predicted, "You know what's going to happen in September? They'll bring General Petraeus back and he'll say, Just give me until the end of year, I think things are turning around. And then we'll be out of session, come back in late January, February, and the fact is a thousand more troops will lose their lives in a situation that doesn't make any sense and it is hurting our military, hurting our country." The proper course for Congress to take, Korb argues, "is to have an independent assessment by an outside group."


Last Thursday, the House passed a comprehensive $646 billion defense spending bill by an overwhelming vote of 397-27. The bill authorizes "more than $100 billion in military procurement. That includes money to buy new protective vehicles and body armor for troops, and an additional $142 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

But the White House is threatening to veto the bill because it objects to, among other things, a recommended 3.5 percent military pay raise for 2008, with further increases in 2009 through 2012.

The increases are "intended to reduce the gap between military and civilian pay that stands at about 3.9 percent today." Even after the proposed increases, the gap will still remain at 1.4 percent.

In a statement of administration policy released Wednesday, White House budget officials said the administration "strongly opposes" the pay raise provision because, according to them, extra pay increases are "unnecessary."

The White House is also objecting to a $40 monthly allowance for military survivors, additional benefits for surviving family members of civilian employees, and price controls for prescription drugs under Tricare, the military's health care plan for military personnel and their dependents. Bush's veto threat is holding captive all the funding contained in the bill.


"This is a strong bill that addresses our military's critical readiness needs, supports our troops in the field and at home and protects the American people," said Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Veterans groups and members of Congress are rightly outraged at the administration's callous veto threat. "The president just vetoed legislation so he would be able to send more troops into the middle of the Iraqi...civil war -- without end, mind you -- but is against increasing benefits to the spouses of those lost, or a pay increase for those who are serving," wrote Jon Soltz, the co-founder of VoteVets.org.

"If there's a more fitting definition of 'outrage,' I'd love to see it." Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) said, "The President is a lot of talk when it comes to supporting the troops and their families. ... But actions matter and when it comes to the treatment of our troops and their families, our resources must match our rhetoric."


In April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that he was "extending the tours of duty for active duty Army troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from 12 to 15 months." To no surprise, many soldiers reacted to the forced extensions with "anger," "frustration," and a "collective groan." 

The White House is now facing increased pressure "to ease the strain on the lives of military families suffering as a result of the extended tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and frequent redeployment."

Estrangement from family back home is one of the more significant problems for soldiers facing extended tours. The divorce rate of active-duty soldiers has risen sharply with increased deployments. In 2004, 7,152 enlisted personnel's marriages ended in divorce, up 28 percent from 2003 and 53 percent from 2000; the rate is still increasing.

A recent Pentagon report also found that the more soldiers are deployed, the more likely they are to "suffer mental health problems such as combat trauma, anxiety and depression," contributing to increased problems at home.

A provision in the defense bill passed by the House last Thursday, aimed at helping soldiers struggling with divorce at home, preventing them from "permanently losing custody of their children because of the absence." But with Bush's veto threat, that legal relief is now in jeopardy.


The Army began the Iraq war with an estimated $56 billion equipment shortage. Since then, soldiers and their families have been complaining that troops on the ground have not been provided with the protective gear and equipment they need.

In 2004, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was famously confronted at a townhall discussion by an active-duty soldier in Kuwait, who asked him, "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up armor our vehicles?"

As recently as February, U.S. Army units in Iraq and Afghanistan lacked more than 4,000 of "the latest Humvee armor kit, known as the FRAG Kit 5," which is specifically "designed to reduce U.S. troop deaths from roadside bombs...that are now inflicting 70 percent of the American casualties" in Iraq.

Shortages in body armor for troops have also been a constant problem, forcing many families to buy the armor on their own, "despite assurances from the military that the gear will be in hand before they're in harm's way."

A Defense Department audit released in January found that many soldiers have been sent to Iraq "without enough guns, ammunition, and other necessary supplies to 'effectively complete their missions' and have had to cancel and postpone some assignments while waiting for the proper gear."

Even the Army's so-called "ready brigade" has found that with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sapping resources, they are no longer quite so ready. For decades, a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division has been ready to respond to a crisis anywhere in 18 to 72 hours, but now, its soldiers are not fully trained and much of it's equipment, including the cargo aircraft that is supposed to carry it to emergency, is disbursed elsewhere.


The Bush administration's military priorities were clear the moment former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took control of the Pentagon. Barely six months into their Department of Defense tenure, Rumsfeld and his aides sought "deep personnel cuts to the Army, Navy and Air Force in order to pay for new high-tech weaponry and missile defenses."

The belief in technology over manpower has resulted in policies that ignore the real human concerns of those who wear the uniform. In Aug. 2003, just six months after the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon sought to deny the 157,000 troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan a promised pay increase of "$75 a month in 'imminent danger pay' and $150 a month in 'family separation allowances.'" 

The Defense Department at the time defended cutting the added benefits, "saying its budget can't sustain the higher payments amid a host of other priorities." The proposed cuts angered military families and veterans' groups and even received an editorial attack in the Army Times.

The editorial noted that "Bush's tax cuts have left little elbow room" in the federal budget "and the squeeze is on across the board." Though Congress ultimately approved of the pay increase the Bush administration backpedaled in its opposition.



On April 11, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that tours of duty for the Army would be extended from 12 months to 15 months, effective immediately.

In exchange for the extensions, soldiers would receive at least a year home between deployments. This rest time was intended to "provide some long-term predictability for the soldiers and their families...particularly guaranteeing that they will be at home for a full 12 months," Gates added.

But Gates has not kept his promise. Last Thursday, Stars and Stripes reported, "Members of the 1st Armored Division's 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, Company A, learned Tuesday that they are scheduled to head back to Iraq in November, just nine months after the 150-soldier company left the combat zone in February after a 13-month deployment."

A recent Pentagon report concluded that soldiers on extended and repeated deployments "were more likely to suffer acute stress, and that mental health problems correlated with higher rates of battlefield misconduct."

When asked about this nine-month deployment, Gates simply replied, "I'll be very interested in finding out more about that."

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman's response was that "there are some people, just by the nature of transferring units and things like that may not end up with the full 12 months." According to Whitman, the 12-month rest period between deployments "is a goal," not a guarantee.



Roll Call executive editor and Fox News contributor Mort Kondracke wrote that if President Bush's escalation plan doesn't work, his Plan B should be "winning dirty," which involves "accepting rule by Shiites and Kurds, allowing them to violently suppress Sunni resistance and making sure that Shiites friendly to the United States emerge victorious." Kondracke explained that "winning dirty" entails ethnic cleansing: "Winning will be dirty because it will allow the Shiite-dominated Iraqi military and some Shiite militias to decimate the Sunni insurgency.

There likely will be ethnic cleansing, atrocities against civilians and massive refugee flows." He revealed that at least one member of Congress agrees with his plan. "No one has publicly advocated this Plan B, and I know of only one Member of Congress who backs it -- and he wants to stay anonymous," Kondracke wrote. "But he argues persuasively that it’s the best alternative available if Bush's surge fails."


Iraqi Lawmakers Call for U.S. Troops to Leave

Radical Shiite politicians pressed Thursday for legislation demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops and a freeze on the number of foreign forces already in the country - even as the U.S. Congress debates the fate of the troubled mission.

The proposed Iraqi legislation, drafted by the parliamentary bloc loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, was signed by 144 members of the 275-member house, according to parliamentary officials.

The Sadrist bloc, which holds 30 parliamentary seats and sees the U.S.-led forces as an occupying army, has pushed similar bills before, but this would be the first time it persuaded a majority of lawmakers to sign on.


Gen. Petraeus Warns Troops Not To Torture Iraqis
The commander of US forces in Iraq warned his soldiers Friday not to abuse Iraq detainees after a survey found that one third of US troops approve of torture as a method of gathering intelligence.

"Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong," General David H. Petraeus said in a letter to the troops.

"Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they often are neither useful nor necessary," he added.

A survey carried out by the army's mental health advisory team, released last week, found that more than a third of US combat troops deployed in Iraq condone torture to obtain important information from an insurgent.

Nearly one in 10 of those surveyed acknowledged personally mistreating civilians or damaging their property unnecessarily.

The study found continuing problems with morale and said acute mental health issues were more prevalent among troops with extended tours, or on their second or third deployment to Iraq.

Petraeus, in an open letter to his force that was published on a military website, acknowledged the report's findings that the stress of combat drove some soldiers over the edge.

"I fully appreciate the emotions that one experiences in Iraq," Petraeus said in his letter. "Seeing a fellow trooper killed by a barbaric enemy can spark frustration, anger, and a desire for immediate revenge."

But he called on US troops to treat detainees with "dignity and respect."

"In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also human beings."

The team surveyed 1,320 soldiers and 447 marines between August and October 2006 in Iraq. Although the report was completed in November, it was released on May 4 in censored form after its findings began to leak to the press.



In the wake of President Bush's veto of the $124 billion Iraq war supplemental bill, congressional war critics have begun negotiations on new legislation that would pressure Bush to place benchmarks on Iraq.

Currently under consideration is a proposal by Rep. David Obey (D-WI) suggesting the House guarantee funding of the war through July and give Congress the power of the purse to deny those funds if the Iraqi government does not meet certain benchmarks.

"Leaders in the House are considering a proposal that would pay for the Iraq war at least through July but could cut off funding after that if the Iraqi government does not meet certain political and security goals."

Another proposal would fund the war through September. "Further funding would come only after Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, briefed Congress on military progress and the progress of the Iraqi government in achieving a set of benchmarks, such as quelling sectarian violence, disarming militias and adopting changes to the Iraqi constitution to guarantee equality among ethnic and religious groups." 

The compromise is stirring up debate on Capitol Hill, as several conservatives have indicated a divide over Iraq policy in the wake of Bush's veto. In a meeting at the White House, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) "pushed a hard line, demanding that Democrats give Bush a funding bill stripped of war policies and extraneous spending.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) sounded more conciliatory," emphasizing that they would accept benchmarks "tied to nonmilitary assistance and that Republicans be prepared to compromise."

In the meantime, the White House remains steadfast in its opposition to any compromise with teeth, ruling out "linking U.S. troop deployments to such benchmarks, administration officials said. Those officials said they would be open to a measure holding Iraqis accountable for political reconciliation as long as it is flexible and not framed as overly punitive."


In a letter released last week by the Service members Legal Defense Network, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) expressed his support for the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that bans lesbians, gays, and bisexuals from serving openly in the military.

McCain said he staunchly opposes openly gay service members, asserting that “open sexuality within military presents an intolerable risk to morale, cohesion and discipline” and national security. McCain’s personal beliefs are antiquated and ill informed.

The overwhelming majority of the military supports equal rights for all service members. Last December, a poll of service members in Iraq and Afghanistan found that 73 percent were “comfortable with lesbians and gays.”

A 2004 poll found that a majority of junior enlisted service members believed gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military, up from 16 percent in 1992.

Furthermore, 55 percent of Americans believe “gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military.” Since Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was instituted, at least 11,000 service members, hundreds of whom had with key speciality skills such as training in Arabic, have left the military. The military could attract as many as 41,000 new recruits if gays could serve openly.



The Senate passed legislation ordering the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by Oct. 1. President Bush has promised to swiftly veto the bill, which will reach him on Tuesday, the fourth anniversary of his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech.

In last Thursday’s press briefing, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino called it a "ridiculous P.R. stunt" that "is the height of cynicism, and absolutely so unfortunate for the men and women in uniform and their families who are watching the debate."

She added, "And I would just remind you that I know that our opponents for years have tried -- have misconstrued that speech. ... The President never said 'mission accomplished' in his speech."

In January, spokesman Tony Snow also tried to claim, "The president, on that very speech, said just the opposite, didn't he?" Despite these statements, the President's U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln speech on May 1, 2003, was a public relations stunt announcing the end to "major combat operations in Iraq."

He called the "battle of Iraq" a "victory." In his radio address shortly after the speech, Bush boasted, "I delivered good news to the men and women who fought in the cause of freedom: their mission is complete and major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

Additionally, as Bob Woodward reported in Oct. 2006, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had to pressure the White House to take out of the speech the actual phrase "Mission Accomplished," but he couldn't "get the sign down."

Four years ago, the Boston Globe also reported that the Bush administration extended by one day the deployment of the sailors aboard the Lincoln -- which had already been at sea for 10 months, the longest by carrier in 10 years -- as part of its public relations stunt:

"The carrier was just 30 miles from shore by the time he arrived, and officials said it had slowed down so that Bush could spend the night on board before the USS Abraham Lincoln docks today."



In an interview with PBS's Charlie Rose last Tuesday, President Bush discussed what an "acceptable level of violence" would be in Iraq. When pushed by Rose on whether it was possible to create zero violence in Iraq, Bush retorted, "if the standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory."

He added later that people who "judge the administration's escalation plan" based on such acts of violence "have just given Al Qaeda or any other extremist a significant victories."

Bush said that these images of brutal violence on television are "one of the problems I face in trying to convince the American people" that the war is worthwhile. One reason Bush is hesitant to talk about suicide bombings is because they have increased 30 percent over the past six weeks despite the escalation, according to U.S. military data.

The administration clearly considers the rash of suicide bombings in Iraq to be a public relations problem. Perhaps, in response, it has been intentionally underreporting the toll bomb attacks are having on the Iraqi population.

McClatchy reported that "car bombs and other explosive devices have killed thousands of Iraqis in the past three years, but the administration doesn't include them in the casualty counts it has been citing as evidence that the surge of addition U.S. forces is beginning to defuse tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims."

Experts contend that not counting bombing victims skews the evidence of how well the "surge" is protecting Iraqi civilians. "Since the administration keeps saying that failure is not an option, they are redefining success in a way that suits them," said Jeames Denselow, an Iraq specialist at Chatham House.




The AP put out a report confirming that President Bush has been hyping a false Iraq spending deadline.


For weeks, Bush has been trying to force Congress to abandon its support for an Iraq withdrawal timeline by claiming that a "clean" Iraq spending bill must be signed by mid-April or U.S. troops will suffer.


The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report showing that the Army actually has enough money in its existing budget to operate through June.


The Bush administration and its conservative allies disputed the CRS's findings. But now, the CRS numbers have been confirmed by the Pentagon.


"The Pentagon says it has enough money to pay for the Iraq war through June, despite warnings from the White House that troops are being harmed by Congress' failure to quickly deliver more funds," according to the AP's report.


"The Army is taking a series of  'prudent measures' aimed at making sure delays in the bill financing the war do not harm troop readiness, according to instructions sent to Army commanders and budget officials April 14."



"The situation for civilians in Iraq is 'ever-worsening,' even though security in some places has improved as a result of stepped-up efforts by U.S.-led multinational forces," the International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday in a report entitled Civilians Without Protection: The Ever-worsening Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq

The Red Cross is one of the few major international humanitarian groups to maintain a presence throughout Iraq as security has deteriorated. The report states that "hospitals were stretched to the limit by daily mass casualties, malnutrition was on the rise and power shortages were becoming more frequent around the country. ... Thousands of Iraqis continued to be forced out of their homes owing to military operations, generally poor security and the destruction of houses."

Furthermore, unemployment and hardship levels have been rising as an estimated one-third of the population is now living in poverty. Despite the current U.S. troop escalation, said Pierre Kraehenbuehl of the Red Cross, "We're certainly not seeing an immediate effect in terms of stabilization for civilians currently.

That is not our reading." The Red Cross report starkly contrasts with rhetoric from members of Congress, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who in a recent visit to Baghdad said that "you and I could walk through those neighborhoods [in Baghdad] today." 

Kraehenbuehl "said it was so dangerous for Red Cross workers to move around in Baghdad that 'we don't have on a day-to-day basis a full picture of absolutely every situation.'" "The outlook is bleak, particularly in Baghdad and other areas with mixed communities, where the situation is likely to worsen," the Red Cross added.

Bush to Lose Top Iraq Adviser
US President George W. Bush is losing his top day-to-day adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan, Meghan O'Sullivan, in the coming months, the White House confirmed Friday.

In a resignation letter to Bush national security adviser Stephen Hadley, O'Sullivan called her job "appropriately all-consuming" and expressed optimism that the new US-led security crackdown in Iraq would pay off.

"After four years -- and now with the policy on new and promising footing -- I am looking forward to tending to other aspects of my life," O'Sullivan said in the letter, which the White House released.

O'Sullivan, 37, did not set a departure date, and the White House said she stay on for some time. She has been working full-time on Iraq since the March 2003 US-led invasion.

"Meghan has done a great job. She has served this President with real distinction during a critical time in Iraq," Hadley said. "Meghan has shown unfailing commitment and worked hard to implement the president's vision for a peaceful, stable and secure Iraq."

Bush's senior national security council director for Iraq, Kevin Bergner, is going to Baghdad. Brett McGurk, who also works on Iraq at the national security council, will be acting senior director in Bergner's absense.


Saddam's Officers to Receive Pensions
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government has ordered that senior officers of Saddam Hussein's military receive pensions and requested that lower-ranking soldiers be allowed to serve again as part of a sectarian reconciliation plan, the government said Friday.

Al-Maliki's office said the decision was made during a Cabinet meeting late last month.

Many former top intelligence, security and military officials are believed to have joined the Sunni insurgency after L. Paul Bremer, the former U.S. administrator, disbanded Iraq's 350,000-member military on May 23, 2003, a month after Saddam's regime was ousted.

The al-Maliki statement said any former officer above the rank of major would be given a pension equal to that of officers now retiring. Former officers above major who wanted to rejoin the army were encouraged to check with the military command to learn if they were acceptable in the Iraqi army that is being rebuilt by American forces.

Those who had the rank of major or lower may voluntarily return to the army and will be guaranteed a place.

Lower ranking officiers and enlisted men with scientific or medical training would be given jobs in an appropriate government ministry, the statement said.

Al-Maliki, who is the supreme commander of the armed forces, issued a 24-point reconciliation plan shortly after taking power last year. Though never put into place, it was seen at the time as an attempt to draw disaffected Sunnis into the political fold.

The prime minister and President Jalal Talabani were expected to introduce legislation in parliament last week that would allow former members of Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath party — including those in the feared security and paramilitary forces — to regain government jobs.

The measure still has not reached the floor, a delay that reflects heavy opposition to the measure among Shiite and Kurdish officials whose people were oppressed by Saddam.

The Bush administration has set out several benchmarks for al-Maliki's government. One is passage of the de-Baathification law to encourage Sunnis to rejoin the political process.


IRAQ Escalation's Reality

Three months into the President Bush's Iraq escalation strategy, the American people have continued to lose "faith in [his] conduct of the war."

Just last week, the House passed legislation calling for a major withdrawal of troops, and the Senate passed similar legislation. But Bush continues his defiant support of the escalation plan, ignoring the calls for change from both the American and international communities.

In a speech on the Iraq war last Thursday, Bush extolled his own policies. "American forces are now deployed 24 hours in these neighborhoods, and guess what's happening. The Iraqi people are beginning to gain confidence," he said.

But a BBC/ABC News poll this month revealed that only 18 percent of Iraqis have confidence in the U.S.-led coalition troops and almost 90 percent "say they live in fear that the violence ravaging their country will strike themselves and the people with whom they live."

On the domestic front, support for the escalation has dropped to new lows. A new Gallup poll shows that only 29 percent of Americans believe the escalation is working. "In addition, fully 80 percent of Americans 'endorse a requirement that U.S. troops meet strict readiness criteria before being deployed to Iraq,' while 60 percent 'favor a timetable for withdrawing all U.S. troops from' Iraq by fall 2008.'"

Even the hallmark of Bush's Iraq strategy -- the transfer of power from U.S. forces to Iraqi security forces -- is collapsing. In hearings before the House Armed Services Committee last week on the training of Iraqi security forces, one witness said, "I have seen us rush under-trained, under-equipped, and inexperienced [Iraqi] units into combat and missions for which they were not ready. I have seen us basically create a force that can sometimes win, but is not ready to hold, and is certainly not ready to build."

On the ground, the escalation has caused a displacement in violence to new areas of the country. With a failing strategy that costs the United States more and more each day, the case for strategic redeployment has never been stronger.


Despite Bush's calls for optimism, an administration official has acknowledged that "there is no trend" showing that the troop escalation is working. In fact, violence is only being displaced.

"Deaths of Iraq civilians and U.S. troops have increased outside the capital. ...

If violence is down in Baghdad, analysts said, it is likely because the Shiite militias operating there are waiting out the buildup in U.S. troops, nearly all of whom are being deployed in the capital.

At the same time, Sunni insurgents have escalated their operations elsewhere." Tal Afar, a northwest Iraq town, is a microcosm for the deadly results of the U.S. troop escalation. Just this week, two massive truck bombs "ripped through markets on Tuesday, killing at least 48 people and wounding dozens, police said, as violence surged outside the Iraqi capital."

In retaliation, "Shiite militants and police enraged by the massive truck bombings went on a revenge spree against Sunni residents, killing as many as 60 people. ... The carnage was the worst bloodshed in a surge of violence across Iraq as militants on both sides of the sectarian divide apparently have fled to other parts of the country to avoid a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown, raising tensions outside the capital."

With the troop escalation underway, "the U.S. military has warned that insurgents are adopting new tactics in a campaign to spread panic."

Last Thursday, suicide bombers detonated highly toxic chlorine bombs -- the eighth such attack since Jan. 28 -- in Fallujah, wounding 15 U.S. and Iraqi security forces. Suicide car bombers "continue to devastate Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods [in Baghdad], often under the noses of reinforced American patrols."

The number of car bombs in Baghdad "reached a record high of 44 in February" and 77 nationwide. Since January, eight U.S. helicopters have been shot down as "Iraqi insurgents...are learning that downing a U.S. helicopter serves as powerful propaganda -- an underdog's blow against the technical prowess of the American Goliath."

Furthermore, three months into the escalation, there is no clear decrease in U.S troop deaths; between 80-90 U.S. troops have died per month since January

Pork Goes to War
Op-Ed Contributor
NY Times

EMERGENCY spending bills are called “Christmas trees,” for the unrelated “ornaments” that are added by members of Congress. (They are exempt from budget rules and are almost never vetoed, making them magnets for pork.) The nickname is usually not literal, but the Senate’s version of the fiscal 2007 supplemental appropriations bill that passed yesterday includes, among scores of other nonessential items, money for Christmas-tree growers.


Behind all their lofty rhetoric about the Iraq war and bringing home the troops, members of the House and Senate were busy tacking on $20 billion and $18.5 billion respectively in unrelated spending to President Bush’s $103 billion request. (He intends to veto the bill.)


Despite their campaign talk about earmark reform last fall, the new Democratic leadership shamelessly used pork to buy votes — before the vote, Representatives Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Peter DeFazio of Oregon acknowledged that add-ons for their districts would influence their decisions.


The heavyweights also led by example: the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, added $20 million to eradicate Mormon crickets, and David Obey of Wisconsin, the House Appropriations Committee chairman, came away with $283 million for the Milk Income Loss Contract Program.


This chart (PDF), which is a partial list of some of the most egregious earmarks, shows that the new bosses are already feeding at the trough, and “war pork” threatens to sink their fiscal credibility.


Thomas Schatz is the president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonprofit group in Washington.



Last week, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah denounced the "American military presence in Iraq as an "illegitimate foreign occupation" and called on the West to end its financial embargo against the Palestinians."

The Bush administration responded with shock to Abdullah’s declaration. “We were a little surprised to see those remarks,” said Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns. White House spokesman Dana Perino went so far as to claim, “It is not accurate to say that the United States is occupying Iraq.”

Abdullah's remarks were just the latest instance of the Saudi's public distancing from the Bush administration. The Washington Post's Jim Hoagland reported that the Saudi government rejected an offer to attend a White House state dinner with President Bush.

Prince Bandar, “the Saudi national security adviser, flew to Washington last week to explain to Bush that April 17 posed a scheduling problem. ‘It is not convenient’ was the way it was put, says one official.” "I think he was concerned that he was seen too much as Bush's friend," said Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Saudis have expressed repeated concerns over Bush's Iraq policy. The day after last year's Thanksgiving, Vice President Cheney was "summoned" to Saudi Arabia to "read him the riot act." The Saudis expressed their concerns that the United States might take the Shiite side in Iraq's civil war, disregarding the safety of the Sunni Arab community.

House To Bush; Bring the Troops Home

WASHINGTON -- A sharply divided House voted Friday to order President Bush to bring combat troops home from Iraq next year, a victory for Democrats in an epic war-powers struggle and Congress' boldest challenge yet to the administration's policy.

Ignoring a White House veto threat, lawmakers voted 218-212, mostly along party lines, for a binding war spending bill requiring that combat operations cease before September 2008, or earlier if the Iraqi government does not meet certain requirements.

Voting for the bill were 216 Democrats and two Republicans ‹ Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland and Walter Jones of North Carolina. Of the 212 members who opposed the bill, 198 were Republicans and 14 were Democrats.

Democrats said it was time to heed the mandate of their election sweep last November, which gave them control of Congress.

"The American people have lost faith in the president's conduct of this war," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "The American people see the reality of the war, the president does not."

The bill marks the first time Congress has used its budget power to try to end the war, now in its fifth year, by attaching the withdrawal requirements to a bill providing $124 billion to finance military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the rest of this year.

Excluding the funds in the House-passed bill, Congress has so far provided more than $500 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including about $350 billion for Iraq alone, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. More than 3,200 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since war began in March 2003.


GAO: Looted Iraqi Munitions Pose New Threat, Some Sites Still Not Secure
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) Explosives looted from Iraq munitions sites probably will continue to support terrorist attacks throughout the region, a congressional report said last Thursday. It said some sites were still not secure more than 3 1/2 years after the war started.

Failure to guard the sites "has been costly," the Government Accountability Office report said, noting looted munitions are being used to make roadside bombs, the No. 1 killer of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Quoting from previous Defense Department reports, the study says widespread looting occurred after the fall of Baghdad in early 2003 because war planners did not put enough troops into the country to secure weapons depots and because officials incorrectly assumed Iraqi soldiers would surrender and help with security.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters Thursday that large amounts of unexploded munitions continue to be a huge problem in Iraq.

"Fundamentally, the entire country was one big ammo dump. And there were thousands of these sites," Gates said. "We're doing our best to try and find them but, given the expanse of the country and all the other tasks that the military is trying to carry out there, it's a huge task."

The report recommended that the Pentagon do an Iraq-wide survey of unsecured sites and factor already identified lessons learned into future war planning.

In the report, the Defense Department said that commanders are aware of the problem, have done similar surveys over the past three years and lack the manpower for a new one without harming the war effort.

The report is an unclassified version of a classified study compiled from November 2005 through October 2006. At the time it was completed, U.S. commanders in Iraq "stated that some remote sites have not been revisited to verify if they pose any residual risk, nor have they been physically secured."

"Estimates indicate that the looted munitions will likely continue to support terrorist attacks throughout the region," the report said. The military "has taken many actions" in response to the problem but they're only "good first steps" that need to be encased in procedures for the future, it said.



Gen. David Petraeus "has requested another Army brigade, in addition to five already on the way, as part of the controversial 'surge' of American troops designed to clamp down on sectarian violence and insurgent groups," the Boston Globe reports.

The appeal "would involve between 2,500 and 3,000 more soldiers and dozens of transport helicopters and powerful gunships," bringing the "planned expansion of U.S. forces to close to 30,000 troops."

The Globe also reports that "military spokesmen in Baghdad have already reported that the number of sectarian killings and insurgent attacks have dropped significantly in the four weeks since US and Iraqi troops began to move into neighborhoods plagued by militias and gangs."

But as the Washington Post reported, "Sectarian attacks in Baghdad are down at the moment, but the deaths of Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops have increased outside the capital." Moreover, analysts say that if violence is down in Baghdad, "it is likely because the Shiite militias operating there are waiting out the buildup in U.S. troops, nearly all of whom are being deployed in the capital.

At the same time, Sunni insurgents have escalated their operations elsewhere." The Post also reported that many of President Bush's recent rosy claims about the escalation have been skewed or flatly false.


Beginning Of The End

Thursday, just two months after taking power, House and Senate leadership released binding plans to redeploy U.S. forces out of Iraq as soon as March 2008, refocusing America's security posture on international terrorist networks and the war in Afghanistan.

Within hours, White House officials issued a rare veto pledge aboard Air Force One, demonstrating President Bush's deep ideological commitment to his open-ended Iraq policy. But as the Los Angeles Times notes, "in one stroke" progressive leaders in Congress "have transformed a many-sided debate about the conflict into a sharp-edged argument about the endgame."

The new legislation offers Americans a clear choice: "Follow the president's plan to use U.S. combat troops indefinitely, or shift American soldiers to a secondary role and begin withdrawing them." The country's preference has long been clear.

A USA Today/Gallup poll released this week again shows that most Americans (60 percent) favor setting a deadline for U.S. troops to leave by the end of next year.

Another poll released Thursday shows that "a majority of Americans in competitive, conservative-leaning House districts" -- 70 percent of which were won by Bush in 2004 -- "approve of setting a date for troops to withdraw from Iraq."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was dismissive of Bush's veto threat. "Never confine your best work, your hopes, your dreams, the aspirations of the American people to what will be signed by George W. Bush, because that is too limiting a factor."


Under the House plan, Congress would "institute the same tough benchmarks for the Iraqi government that Bush detailed in a national address in January."

It works like this: in July and then again in October, Bush "will be asked to certify that the Iraqi government is showing progress and has met political and military benchmarks.

If at either point Mr. Bush can't meet the certification requirements, the bill calls for withdrawal within 180 days.

If the requirements are met, more time is allowed, but in any case, withdrawal would begin next spring with the goal of having most forces out of Iraq by the end of August." Under all scenarios, U.S. troops will be redeployed out of Iraq by August 2008.


The additional funds in the $120-billion-plus House bill are "heavily tilted toward defense, veterans and homeland-security priorities." The plans provide full funding to U.S. forces in Iraq, including the resources they need to redeploy safely.

The plan introduced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) includes $3.5 billion for improving military hospitals and veterans hospitals, and provides additional funds for veterans suffering with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, or severe burn scarring.

It also forces Bush to acknowledge and justify the U.S. military's readiness crisis. If Bush chooses to violate the military's basic guidelines and send U.S. soldiers into combat without proper training and equipment, he must sign a waiver and explain his actions to the country.

In a speech Thursday at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) announced a new G.I. Bill to help returning service members adapt to civilian life, fix the process that determines medical compensation for injured troops, and increase aid to families and children who have lost a loved one. Clinton told The Progress Report that Bush has "in a very deliberative way created conditions that are straining our military."


House Democrats push to Stop the DoD from selling F-14 parts to Iran 
Associated Press Writer

An effort to bar the Pentagon from selling surplus parts for the F-14 fighter jet — a plane now flown only by Iran — will be introduced in the House.

An Arizona Democrat said Thursday she will make it her first proposal as a congresswoman.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (news, bio, voting record), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, called her bill "a commonsense piece of legislation."

"I don't believe most Americans are aware of the fact that the Iranians do have a fleet of F-14s and that we sold them to them," Giffords said. "I hope that this legislation is just one step in what will be many to be able to keep better control over our equipment and to make sure that we are not helping to militarize the Iranians."

Giffords' Tucson-based district includes one of the military's biggest retirement homes for aircraft. She planned to introduce legislation Friday similar to a Senate bill that would permanently ban the Defense Department from selling surplus F-14 parts. Republican Rep. Steve Pearce (news, bio, voting record) of New Mexico signed on Thursday afternoon as a co-sponsor.

Sen. Ron Wyden (news, bio, voting record), D-Ore., sponsored the "Stop Arming Iran Act" in January after The Associated Press reported that buyers for Iran, China and other countries had taken advantage of weaknesses in Pentagon surplus-sale security to acquire sensitive military equipment, including missile components and parts for F-14 "Tomcats" and other aircraft. Law enforcement officials know of at least one instance in which a surplus purchase made it to Iran.

The U.S. military retired its F-14s last year, leaving Iran the only country still trying to keep the jets airworthy. The United States allowed Iran to buy the Tomcats back in the 1970s when the countries were friendly.

The Pentagon's surplus division originally planned to sell thousands of spare F-14 parts, but after the AP's report, it temporarily halted the sales and began conducting a full security review of the jet components.

Investigations continue into Pentagon surplus that may have gone astray. Just this week, federal agents seized four F-14s sold in California.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators say an officer at Point Mugu Naval Air Station authorized the sale of the four retired Tomcats for $2,000 to $4,000 each, none of them demilitarized — rendered useless for military purposes — as Navy rules required. The money went to the "VX-9 (Squadron) Morale Welfare and Recreation" fund, a court document shows.

Three were purchased in April 1999 by a scrap dealer and ultimately wound up at air museums in Chino, Calif., in one case with the engine and afterburners intact. The fourth was sold to Paramount Pictures for use in the TV series "JAG" and later resold to the owner of Aviation Warehouse in El Mirage, Calif., according to a customs agent affidavit filed in federal court in Los Angeles last week.

No charges have been filed. "There is no evidence any of the parts on these planes got to enemy hands," Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Wednesday. "But it certainly poses a security risk."


Cheney: Dems must back troop surge
Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Vice President Dick Cheney demanded Thursday night that the Democratic-controlled Congress support President Bush's military buildup "on time and in full."

Cheney said that a too-soon withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq could send victorious militants spreading out, with some flocking to Afghanistan to fight alongside a regrouping Taliban.

Speaking before a receptive audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the vice president — just back from a trip that included unannounced stops in Afghanistan and Pakistan — sharply criticized efforts by some Democrats to restrict funds for additional troops.

Though noting that the House had already passed a nonbinding resolution voicing opposition to Bush's Iraq policy, Cheney said that "very soon both houses of Congress will have to vote on a piece of legislation that is binding." The legislation would help pay for the additional 21,500 troops Bush is sending to Iraq.

"I sincerely hope the discussion this time will be about winning in Iraq, not about posturing on Capitol Hill. Anyone can say they support the troops, and we should take them at their word. But the proof will come when it's time to provide the money and the support," Cheney said. "We expect the House and the Senate to meet those needs on time and in full."

Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders, party officials said Thursday, have coalesced around legislation that would require troops to come home from Iraq within six months if that country's leaders fail to meet promises to help reduce violence.

The plan would retain a Democratic proposal prohibiting the deployment to Iraq of troops with insufficient rest or training or who already have served there for more than a year. Under the plan, such troops could only be sent to Iraq if Bush were to waive those standards and report to Congress each time.

The proposal is the latest attempt by Democrats to resolve divisions within the party on how far to go to scale back U.S. involvement in Iraq. Rep. James Moran, D-Va., said the latest version has the support of party leadership and he believes it has the best chance to attract broad support.


Most Guard units rated 'not ready'
Report: Equipment shortage means 90% of units ill-prepared
Washington Post

WASHINGTON - Nearly 90 percent of Army National Guard units in the United States are rated "not ready" - largely because of shortfalls in equipment worth billions of dollars - jeopardizing the Guard's ability to respond to crises at home and abroad, according to a congressional commission that released a preliminary report on the state of U.S. military reserve forces.

The commission found that heavy deployments of the National Guard and Reserves since 2001 for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other anti-terrorism missions have deepened shortages, forced the military to cobble together units and hurt recruiting. The problems threaten to undermine the nation's 830,000-strong selected reserves, the commission said.

"We can't sustain the (National Guard and Reserve) on the course we're on," said Arnold Punaro, chairman of the 13-member Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, established by Congress in 2005.

The commission report criticized the Pentagon for the "flawed assumption" that as long as the military is prepared to fight a major war, it is ready to respond to a disaster or emergency at home.

Army National Guard units in the United States have on average about 50 percent of their authorized stock of dual-use equipment, meaning gear needed both for fighting wars and domestic missions, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report. The National Guard estimates it would require $38 billion for equipment to restore domestic Army and Air units to full readiness. The Army has budgeted $21 billion to augment Guard equipment through 2011.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the use of U.S. military reservists has escalated sharply, from about 12.7 million days of service in 2001 to an estimated 63 million in 2006. The increase of U.S. troops in Iraq is expected to require the accelerated call-up of as many as four National Guard combat brigades beginning early next year as part of an effort to relieve the strain on active-duty brigades, which are spending as much time in combat as at home.

But while the selected reserves make up more than one-third of the total U.S. military, they receive only 3 percent of the equipment funding and 8 percent of the Defense Department budget, the report said.

National Guard units deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been required to leave behind large quantities of gear in the combat zone.

Partly as a result, Guard units in the United States grew increasingly hollow, with 88 percent now so poorly equipped that they are rated "not ready" to deploy, the report said, citing Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau. A National Guard chart showed that 45 percent of the Air National Guard also is "not ready."


A way out of Iraq:

Americans are looking for a way out of Iraq. Sixty-three percent of the public want all U.S. troops home from Iraq by the end of 2008. Another 54 percent said they would vote to cut off funding for the escalation if they were in Congress.

With the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) has laid out a plan that would both increase support for the overstretched U.S. military and block Bush's Iraq buildup.

Conservatives have swiftly attacked Murtha's proposal, which will he will likely introduce next month, claiming that it is a "slow-bleed" plan that hurts the troops and aids the terrorists.

But as Americans now recognize, the real injury to our forces comes from sending them into a brutal civil war with inadequate equipment and extended deployments.

This week, the Senate will attempt to "repeal the 2002 resolution authorizing the war in Iraq in favor of narrower authority that restricts the military's role and begins withdrawals of combat troops." It also plans to incorporate some of Murtha's proposals, such as ensuring that all combat troops are proper equipment.

The Washington Post accused Murtha of "cynicism" and "an alarming ignorance about conditions in Iraq." But it is the Bush administration that has chosen to ignore the situation on the ground in order to push a dangerous, unpopular policy.


Conservative lawmakers have already blasted Murtha's plan, charging that it is a "slow-bleed" strategy. "While American troops are fighting radical Islamic terrorists thousands of miles away, it is unthinkable that the United States Congress would move to discredit their mission, cut off their reinforcements and deny them the resources they need to succeed and return home safely," said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH).

But U.S. troops are already being denied resources by the Bush administration; Murtha's plan would ensure that they have them. His plan would restrict the $93.4 billion in new combat funds that Bush has requested -- requiring that they be used to increase troop readiness.It would bar a buildup in Iraq until all troops are "fully combat ready."

A recent audit by the Pentagon's Inspector General showed that U.S. soldiers have had to go without the necessary weapons, armor, vehicles, and equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Additionally, the military lacks equipment and resources for Bush's escalation plan. The Army and Marine Corps "are short thousands of vehicles, armor kits and other equipment needed to supply" the extra 21,500 troops Bush plans to send to Iraq.

"It's inevitable that that has to happen, unless five brigades of up-armored Humvees fall out of the sky," one senior Army official said. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "the military has about 41,000 armored vehicles in Iraq -- fewer than will be needed 'to cover all of the troops that are deploying.'"

Last week, military officials gave "Congress a long list of equipment and reconstruction needs totaling nearly $36 billion, denied earlier by the administration in its $481 billion defense appropriations request for the new fiscal year." Among those requests included "more than 5,000 armored vehicles, another $153 million for systems that defend against the deadly improvised explosive devices in Iraq and $13 million in language translation systems."


The Wall Street Journal reports, "In his latest remarkable political reincarnation, onetime U.S. favorite Ahmed Chalabi has secured a position inside the Iraqi government that could help determine whether the Bush administration's new push to secure Baghdad succeeds."

The vaguely defined position will allow Chalabi to serve "as an intermediary between Baghdad residents and the Iraqi and U.S. security forces mounting an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign across the city."

Created by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the position "is meant to help Iraqis arrange reimbursement for damage to their cars and homes caused by the security sweeps in the hope of maintaining public support for the strategy."

Chalabi has had a sordid history with the U.S. involvement in Iraq. He was paid by administration intelligence agencies to provide evidence for the Iraq war, nearly all of which turned out to be false.

Among Chalabi's questionable activities, he provided dubious Iraqi sources to the administration in the run-up to the war, he helped plant fabricated news stories about Iraq's weapons, and he was accused of passing U.S. secrets to Iran.

In the Dec. 2005 Iraqi elections, Chalabi's political party failed to win a single parliamentary seat. He has remained, however, "an active behind-the-scenes player in Iraq's chaotic political scene." A senior American official said, "The question is whether he is really doing this to help, or whether he's trying to build himself a new political base in Baghdad or carry water for the Shiites. And we simply don't know the answer to that yet."


Terrorism suspect is Republican donor
By Aaron Blake
A New York man who pleaded not guilty last week to charges of supporting terrorism contributed about $15,000 to the House Republicans' campaign committee and claimed to be involved with the Senate Republicans' campaign committee in recent years.

Abdul Tawala Ibn Ali Alishtari, also known as Michael Mixon, donated almost all of the money to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) during the 2004 election cycle and listed on his résumé that he was an "Inner Circle Life Member" with the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the Associated Press reported.

The NRSC website says people can become "Inner Circle Life Members" by being nominated by a selection committee and donating $15,000 per person or $20,000 per couple.

An indictment states Alishtari accepted money to send $152,000 to Afghanistan and Pakistan to support a terrorist training camp. He is charged with terrorism financing, material support of terrorism and money laundering, and faces 95 years in prison.

Democrats are asking how much access Alishtari had with Republicans and whether the NRCC would return the money.

"We are extremely concerned and disturbed by these charges, but we need to be careful not to rush to judgment as the judicial process moves forward," NRCC spokeswoman Jessica Boulanger said. "If the individual in question is found guilty of a crime, it is our intent to donate the money to charity."

The NRSC did not comment by press time.




Last week, the Bush administration finally presented its long-delayed intelligence briefing on Iranian arms shipments into Iraq. Prior to the presentation, a U.S. official told the New York Times that it had been delayed because they were "trying to scrub" the intelligence, adding "the last thing we want to be accused of is cherry-picking."


While much of the information had previously been known, the highlight of the presentation -- as reported by ABC World News -- was that it was "the first time military officials...made the link to the highest level of Iran's government."


But the briefing "offered no evidence" to substantiate that claim. After coming under intense scrutiny for an intelligence presentation that was approved by the highest levels of the administration, the White House has slowly backed off its claims of Iranian government involvement.

Avoiding The Hard Truths

Last week, the public learned that the Bush administration will go to exceeding lengths to avoid leveling with the American people about the difficulties in Iraq.

In its early stages, the Bush escalation plan has encountered many "glitches," and yet the administration claims "so far, so good."

This week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that the escalation could be twice as large as President Bush has claimed, stating that the 21,500 troops that will be sent to Iraq need to be accompanied by as many as 28,000 support troops.

The White House responded that the additional troops won't need additional support.

The administration also stated that it could not project the amount of funding that Iraq will require past 2009. Yet the CBO was able to estimate that the cost for Bush's plan would be $919 billion over the next ten years.

In the wake of the recent spate of U.S. helicopter downings in Iraq, the administration has decided, according to one journalist, to keep information about the incidents "close to the vest."

For an unpopular president trying to execute an unpopular strategy, a more candid and honest approach is needed.




In this month's issue of Vanity Fair, Craig Unger writes that the same neoconservative advisers who advocated for the Iraq war are now recycling the same tactics to push for the bombing of Iran.


But he also notes that many of President Bush's key conservative allies are not pleased with the administration's course on Iran. "Everything the advocates of war said would happen hasn't happened," says the president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, an influential conservative who backed the Iraq invasion.


"And all the things the critics said would happen have happened. [The president's neoconservative advisers] are effectively saying, 'Invade Iran. Then everyone will see how smart we are.'"


 In addition, Richard Perle, a former Bush administration official, has said, "I have very little doubt" that Bush would order "necessary military action" against Iran.


"Make no mistake, President Bush will need to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities before leaving office," wrote American Enterprise Institute analyst Joshua Muravchik. Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi said, "I've heard from sources at the Pentagon that their impression is that the White House has made a decision that war is going to happen."


Last Wednesday night on Hardball, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) echoed Unger's conclusions, saying he was "very worried" that the administration's actions toward Iran might "set something off" in the Persian Gulf.


Escalation is Doubled

A report released last Thursday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CB) shows that the real troop increase associated with President Bush’s escalation policy could be as high as 48,000, more than double the 21,500 soldiers that Bush has claimed.

Moreover, despite administration assertions that the escalation would cost $5.6 billion, the CBO report estimates that "costs would range from $9 billion to $13 billion for a four-month deployment and from $20 billion to $27 billion for a 12-month deployment."

The new facts about escalation come just as Congress is set to receive a long-delayed National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq, the first such document from the U.S. intelligence community since 2002.

According to the Washington Post, the NIE "outlines an increasingly perilous situation in which the United States has little control and there is a strong possibility of further deterioration."


Many U.S. troops short on crucial gear
Associated Press Writer

Hundreds of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have experienced shortages of key protective equipment including armored vehicles, roadside-bomb countermeasures and communications gear, a Pentagon survey released Tuesday shows.

The Defense Department Inspector General's Office polled roughly 1,100 service members and found they weren't always adequately equipped for their missions. The troops were interviewed in Iraq and Afghanistan last May and June.

Those surveyed reported shortcoming with vehicles outfitted with armor; "crew-served weapons," which are weapons it takes more than one person to handle, such as artillery or a large machine gun; electronic countermeasure devices, such as equipment designed to foil roadside bombs by interfering with cell-phone signals that may be used to detonate them; and communications equipment.

The survey found that those not getting needed gear include troops performing untraditional missions such as training, reconstruction, detainee operations and explosive ordnance disposal.

In some cases, they went ahead with the work anyway, used informal means to get what they needed or canceled or put off operations while waiting for equipment, the report summary said.

The report found the U.S. Central Command and the Army's internal equipment controls inadequate and recommends improvements.

Only a summary of the findings were made public; much of the report is classified.



The New York Times reports, "Statistics on a Pentagon Web site have been reorganized in a way that lowers the published totals of American nonfatal casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan."

On Monday, the Defense Department's website listed a total of 47,657 "nonmortal casualties" in Iraq.

But on Tuesday, "the same page no longer showed a total for nonmortal casualties. The bottom line is now 'total -- medical air transported,' and the figure is 31,493."

The new figure no longer includes minor injuries, gastrointestinal illnesses, or mental illnesses.

Paul Sullivan of Veterans for America "said the changes actually meant the Pentagon was trying to conceal the rising toll of injuries and illness."

Earlier this week, the Veterans Affairs Department also revised the casualty number on its website at the request of the Defense Department.


Afghan assembly grants immunity for war crimes
By Sayed Salahuddin

Afghanistan's parliament has granted immunity to all Afghans involved in the country's 25 years of conflict, lawmakers said on Thursday, despite calls by human rights groups for war crimes trials.

The decision passed on Wednesday in the lower house, Wolesi Jirga, would also cover fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who now heads his own militant group, critics and supporters of the move said.

Rights groups have strongly pressed the government to punish those guilty of abuses, including some members of parliament and senior government officials, saying justice was vital for peace.

But the national assembly said its motion would help reconciliation in a nation shattered by years of war and civil strife that have left almost no family untouched by tragedy.

"In order to bring reconciliation among various strata in the society, all those political and belligerent sides who were involved one way or the other during the two-and-half decades of war will not be prosecuted legally and judicially," the motion passed by the assembly says.

The Wolesi Jirga elected in late 2005 includes former senior communist officials, ex-Mujahideen (holy warrior) leaders who fought the Soviets and some former Taliban.

Dozens are accused of human rights abuses.

Several lawmakers said President Hamid Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since the Taliban was ousted in 2001, knew of the assembly's move in advance.

"In a way, this provides immunity for all," Shukria Barakzai, a leading woman activist MP, told Reuters. She was among a small group of delegates who left the session in protest.

Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, a former Mujahideen leader who was among the key legislators behind the amnesty, said it was in line with Karzai's efforts to push national reconciliation.

He also believed the immunity would cover Omar and Hekmatyar.

"This is a law and the law will be implemented on all individuals equally," he told Reuters.

The decision was approved days after Karzai again indicated he could consider talks with Taliban leaders to end the bloodshed after the country's most violent year since the Taliban's ouster.

One of Karzai's advisers on Wednesday clarified talks would not be held with the Taliban as a political, ideological or military group.


Sen. Clinton: Iran is a threat to Israel
Associated Press Writer

Calling Iran a danger to the U.S. and one of Israel's greatest threats, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that "no option can be taken off the table" when dealing with that nation.

"U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal: We cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons," Clinton told a crowd of Israel supporters. "In dealing with this threat ... no option can be taken off the table."

Clinton, D-N.Y., spoke at a Manhattan dinner held by the nation's largest pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Some 1,700 supporters applauded as she cited her efforts on behalf of the Jewish state and spoke scathingly of Iran's decision to hold a conference last month that questioned whether the Holocaust took place.

"To deny the Holocaust places Iran's leadership in company with the most despicable bigots and historical revisionists," Clinton said, criticizing what she called the Iranian administration's "pro-terrorist, anti-American, anti-Israeli rhetoric."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called the Holocaust a "myth" and said Israel should be "wiped off the map" and its Jews returned to Europe.

Iran insists its nuclear program is designed to produce energy, not weapons. Ahmadinejad said Thursday that his government is determined to continue with its nuclear program, despite U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel to generate electricity or for the fissile core of an atomic bomb.

Clinton, the front-runner for her party's presidential nomination, called for dialogue with foes of the United States, saying Iran "uses its influence and its revenues in the region to support terrorist elements."

"We need to use every tool at our disposal, including diplomatic and economic in addition to the threat and use of military force," she said.



Senate Intelligence Committee chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) said in an interview that Vice President Dick Cheney exerted "constant" pressure on the former chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), to stall an investigation into the Bush administration's use of flawed intelligence on Iraq.

The so-called Phase II report on the administration's use of pre-war intelligence was delayed for over two years. Two of its five portions were finally released in Sept. 2006.

Rockefeller said that he knew that the Vice President attended regular policy meetings in which he conveyed White House directions to conservative Capitol Hill staffers.

They "just had to go along with the administration," he said. During the course of the Phase II investigation, Roberts made numerous contradictory statements, stating early on, "It is a priority. I made my commitment and it will get done."

Later, he said it would be "a monumental waste of time to replow this ground any further."

In Nov. 2005, Roberts said the report would soon be released. But the former chairman delayed the release for nine more months before it was public.


Iraq Plan May Hamper Domestic Defense
Associated Press Writer

President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq and the demands of the four-year-old war are causing concern at the Pentagon that the conflict could hamper the military's response to domestic crises.

The head of the National Guard said Wednesday his troops lack the necessary equipment and that will hurt their ability to respond to natural or manmade disasters at home.

"I am not as comfortable as some others seem to be in accepting the low readiness levels here at home," Lt. Gen. Steven Blum said. "It creates a problem. It will cost us time and time will translate into lives."

Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. Northern Command, also said there may be "specific equipment shortfalls that, in the longer term, could have an impact on our ability to respond."

Keating also said that right now, "the analysis we've done does not indicate any significant degradation in our ability to respond" to a crisis at home.

Their comments came as opposition grew in Congress to President Bush's plan to send more than 21,000 additional troops to Iraq in the coming months.

The military leaders, in interviews with The Associated Press, echoed warnings from other military commanders about the buildup's potential effect on the readiness levels of forces at home.

Some at the Pentagon believe the training and equipment shortfalls affect homeland defense. Yet others believe the military is big enough and strong enough to respond to any crisis — but that response would not be as neat or as quick as it should be.

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, and Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, told the House Armed Services Committee that the buildup is putting more pressure on the military, and that the response to a crisis elsewhere probably would be slower and more risky.

Schoomaker said Army units moving into Iraq are fully trained, staffed and equipped. But, he said, "I have continued concerns about the nondeployed forces," as well as the "strategic depth of our Army and its readiness."

Army officials also say it will be a struggle to get all the equipment they need for the buildup. Some troops, they said, may not have all their equipment as they train for the mission, but would have it as they cross into Iraq from Kuwait.

Equipment and training are main concerns for the troops at home, particularly for National Guard units that have scrambled to get equipment. Units have resorted to swapping equipment among the states to ensure that trucks, helicopters and communications equipment are where they are needed most.

Noting the Guard was short on equipment before the war began, Andrew Feickert, national defense specialist with the Congressional Research Service, said deployed units then had to leave much equipment in Iraq.

"Units that have returned are trying to replace and repair their equipment," Feickert said.

"With this new situation, they might be called upon to come up with even more equipment to bring deploying units up to strength."

Keating said concerns focus more on whether the military has the training and equipment to respond to multiple situations at one time.

The military, he said, needs more training and equipment for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks, including chemical suits, medical equipment and treatment facilities.

He said he is working with Blum to ensure that specialized Guard units needed to respond to such incidents would be kept in the United States as much as possible.


General: Army increase will cost $70B
Associated Press Writer

Increasing the size of the Army, strained by America's two ongoing wars, will cost an estimated $70 billion, a top Army general said Tuesday.

And if yet another conflict were to develop before the force can be bolstered, it would take longer to fight and cost more American casualties than otherwise might be expected, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, a deputy chief of staff.

Reversing previous administration thinking, President Bush said last month that he wants a larger military. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this month recommended that the Army's troop strength be increased by 65,000 soldiers, to a total of 547,000 worldwide and the Marines be increased by 27,000 to 202,000. Almost half of that Army increase already has been achieved under a temporary program that Gates said would be made permanent; the full increase is to be achieved within five years.

The Army's preliminary estimate is that it would cost $70 billion to increase its size and the funds would be spread over budget years 2009 through 2013, Speakes told a defense writers group Tuesday .

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker has said that the service budget jumps $1.2 billion with each 10,000 soldiers that it recruits and trains. Speakes said the $70 billion figure includes everything — from equipment to pay to health benefits. No figure was immediately available for the increase in the Marine Corps.

"What we are asking is that Americans make a decision about priorities," he said of the huge new defense cost.

Meanwhile, he acknowledged, fighting the war in Iraq on top of the war in Afghanistan has left ground forces in a weakened state of readiness.

That is, some units are below the standard measure used to determine if they are ready to fight a conventional, high-intensity war. This is because they have substantial equipment shortfalls and their training is focusing on the low-intensity, counterinsurgency battle being fought in Iraq.

"What America needs to do is realize that we can fulfill the national strategy (of defending against another conflict simultaneously), but ... that it will take more time and it will also take us increased casualties to do the job," he said.

"We have an issue, and that's part of what, I think, the recent decisions by the president and secretary of defense have addressed," Speakes said. "We're going to build a more robust Army, we're going to continue to invest in a ground force that has the right capabilities, the right equipment, the right training to do it's job," he said, adding that enormous improvements in the quality of the Army have been made in recent years.

"This is a voyage in progress, it's being measured against the harsh litmus test of combat which has forced some grim realities on all of us," Speakes said.


Cheney denies GOP tension over Iraq

WASHINGTON (UPI) -- U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney denies that mistakes in Iraq have hurt the Bush administration's credibility with Republicans in Congress. 
Cheney, in an interview Wednesday with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, said the administration is committed to moving ahead with its plan to send more troops to Baghdad, even if Congress opposes it.

He said pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq "would simply validate the terrorists' strategy that says the Americans will not stay to complete the task."

Cheney told CNN the U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein has made the world "much safer."

"Saddam has been brought to justice and executed, his sons are dead, his government is gone. And the world is better off for it," he said.

Cheney, however, did acknowledge "ongoing problems" in Iraq.

"We still have more work to do to get a handle on the security situation, and the president's put a plan in place to do that," he said.


Escalation to Failure

Nearly seventy percent of Americans oppose Bush’s escalation plan, as do top military leaders, Bush’s staunchest international ally, and the Iraq Study Group. After four years in the shadows, Congress has begun to use its power as a co-equal branch of government to do something about the administration’s failed policies in Iraq. On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution condemning Bush’s escalation strategy. Americans are mobilizing against the president’s plan. A protest rally has been planned for this weekend in Washington, D.C., while other groups such as Americans Against Escalation in Iraq plan to lobby members of Congress “who have spoken out against the war, but who have so far declined to pledge support for a resolution denouncing Bush’s plan to increase the number of troops.”

  • Americans can support the troops by opposing the escalation plan. A recent Military Times poll of active-duty forces found 39 percent of those polled think troop levels should remain the same or should decrease. Only 38 percent support sending more troops into Iraq, with 13 percent supporting a complete withdrawal. Yet the administration and its conservative allies continue to push the false premise that opposition to the administration’s failed policies--which once again became painfully evident last Saturday--means a lack of support for the troops. “In Iraq, all of this undermines the morale of the military and makes their task that much harder on the ground,” The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page said about the ongoing debate.

  • There is another way: progressives across the country are calling for strategic redeployment. “It’s the only game in town,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said of escalation. Cheney claimed “the critics have not suggested a policy.” Tony Snow added: “If you’ve got a better proposal that will achieve success in Iraq, help Iraqis get swiftly into the lead, and will demonstrate support for American forces, let us hear it.” Listen closely, Tony. Over a year and a half ago, the Center for American Progress released a responsible Iraq strategy that called for comprehensive strategic redeployment. The strategy, which was updated in May 2006, calls for reducing U.S. troops to 60,000 in six months and to zero in 18 months, while redeploying troops to Afghanistan, Kuwait, and the Persian Gulf to contain the threat of global terror networks.

  • More and more conservatives are speaking out against the president. The White House is trying to downplay the growing discontent among conservatives about Bush’s policies. Fox News’ Chris Wallace asked Cheney recently if they were losing the support from conservatives. “Well, I don't think Chuck Hagel has been with us for a long time,” Cheney said. Asked for a comment on the escalation resolution, Tony Snow said there had been “no real surprises” because Hagel voted for it, ignoring the fact that Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) was the only member of the Foreign Relations Committee to express support for the president’s plan. Other influential conservative voices--including those of Sens. John Warner (R-VA), Norm Coleman (R-MN), and Sam Brownback (R-KS)--have said they will not support the plan. (See where all members of Congress stand HERE.)

AP Offers Scorecard on Reporters Who Will Testify at CIA Leak Trial 

WASHINGTON A list of potential journalist witnesses in the obstruction and perjury trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney follows.

Prosecution and defense lawyers are not required to provide lists of their witnesses. These names were drawn from court documents and gleaned from hearings on what evidence the two sides expect to present during the trial, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday.


JUDITH MILLER: A former New York Times reporter, Miller interviewed Libby three times in 2003 - June 23, July 8 and July 12. Prosecutors say Libby told Miller that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Miller fought efforts to have her testify before a grand jury investigating the leak, but yielded after serving 85 days in jail.

ARI FLEISCHER: The former White House press secretary is expected to be an important witness. Prosecutors say Libby told him on July 7, 2003, that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and that it was not widely known.

TIM RUSSERT: The Washington bureau chief for NBC News will be an important witness because Libby says Russert was the one who first informed him, on July 10, 2003, that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Prosecutors say Libby already knew that and it did not come up in the Russert conversation.

MATTHEW COOPER: A Time magazine reporter, Cooper interviewed Libby on July 12, 2003. During that interview, prosecutors say, Libby confirmed that he had heard Wilson's wife was involved in sending him to Niger.


REPORTERS: Defense lawyers plan to call as many as seven reporters to testify about their conversations with Libby. The reporters have not been identified.

BOB WOODWARD: An assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, Woodward tape-recorded a June 13, 2003, interview with Armitage in which Plame was identified as a CIA agent. The tape is likely to be entered into evidence. Woodward could testify that Plame's identity was disclosed as an aside, not as something of extreme importance.

ROBERT NOVAK: The syndicated columnist was the first reporter to disclose Plame's CIA job. Defense lawyers could call Novak to testify that Libby was not one of his sources, but it is unclear how much of that testimony the judge would allow.


Report: Cheney Rejected Iran Concessions
The Associated Press

LONDON -- An Iranian offer to help the United States stabilize Iraq and end its military support for Hezbollah and Hamas was rejected by Vice President Dick Cheney in 2003, a former top State Department official told the British Broadcasting Corp.

The U.S. State Department was open to the offer, which came in an unsigned letter sent shortly after the American invasion of Iraq, Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, told BBC's Newsnight in a program broadcast Wednesday night. But, Wilkerson said, Cheney vetoed the deal.

"We thought it was a very propitious moment" to strike a deal, Wilkerson said. "But as soon as it got to the White House, and as soon as it got to the vice president's office, the old mantra of 'We don't talk to evil' ... reasserted itself."

A spokesman for the State Department said Thursday he wasn't aware of any letter from the Iranians to the U.S. government in 2003.

"Far as I know, there's never been an offer from the Iranian Government on those kinds of concerns," said Tom Casey, the state department's deputy spokesman.

Wilkerson said that, in return for its cooperation, Tehran asked Washington to lift sanctions and to dismantle the Mujahedeen Khalq, an Iranian opposition group which has bases in Iraq.

Iran also offered to increase the transparency of its nuclear program, according to Wilkerson.

Wilkerson has been a frequent critic of the Bush administration in general and Cheney in particular, holding the vice president responsible for the mistreatment of detainees and the failure of Iraq's postwar planning.


Terrorists Take Over Google Earth
By Thomas Claburn

Terrorists in Basra, Iraq, have turned Google Earth into a tool for targeting attacks, according to The Daily Telegraph, a U.K. newspaper.

Citing unnamed British Army intelligence sources, the Telegraph said that documents recovered from the homes of insurgents included print-outs of Google Earth images with notations detailing the longitude and latitude of a British military camp.

The article quotes the unidentified intelligence officer as saying, "We believe they use Google Earth to identify the most vulnerable areas such as tents," and notes that one solider has been killed and several wounded in mortar attacks at the camp in question.

The implication is that Google Earth bears some measure of responsibility is dubious considering the mapping software has its limitations.

Google spokesperson Rachel Whetstone said she was unable to comment on whether or not Google had spoken with British military representatives about this issue. She did say however that Google was receptive to such concerns when raised.

This is not the first time that Google's avowed mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" has collided with the military need for secrecy.

In December 2005, the New York Times reported that the governments of India, Russia, and South Korea, among others, were concerned that Google Earth images might reveal too much about their military bases.

A complicating factor in this controversy is that Google isn't actually using satellites to spy on anyone. The company buys its images from the likes of DigitalGlobe, an imagery company based in Colorado.

Whetstone said many people were aware of this. "I think there is a very clear understanding that you can get the information on Google Earth from other sources," she said. "The information all comes from third parties. Google Earth imagery, on the whole is used for the purposes for which it was intended. Sadly, some things in life can be used for things we might not want them to be used for."



New reports show how President Bush plans to escalate the war in Iraq despite the U.S. military being overstretched around the globe. The Associated Press reports that the Pentagon "has abandoned its limit on the time a citizen-soldier can be required to serve on active duty, ...a major change that reflects an Army stretched thin by longer-than-expected combat in Iraq."

Until now, the Guard and Reserve policy "was that members' cumulative time on active duty for the Iraq or Afghan wars could not exceed 24 months. That cumulative limit is now lifted; the remaining limit is on the length of any single mobilization, which may not exceed 24 consecutive months."

Additionally, the Boston Globe reports that a U.S. Army battalion "fighting in a critical area of eastern Afghanistan is due to be withdrawn within weeks to deploy to Iraq."

The move comes despite "an urgent appeal" from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan for more forces. "Army Brigadier General Anthony J. Tata and other US commanders say [the diversion of forces from Afghanistan to Iraq] will happen as the Taliban is expected to unleash a campaign to cut the vital road between Kabul and Kandahar."



A day after President Bush announced an escalation plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq, he spoke to 300 soldiers in a "teary-eyed" address at Fort Benning, GA.

The Washington Post notes that the White House chose Ft. Benning hoping for "an unreservedly enthusiastic reception" to the President's speech, since military bases have usually been "reliable backdrop[s] for the White House."

But instead, soldiers gave him only a "quiet response." The Los Angeles Times added that he "received a less enthusiastic reception than has been the case on his past visits to military bases to promote his Iraq policy" and the New York Times observed that the soldiers "clapped politely but showed little of the wild enthusiasm that they ordinarily shower on the commander in chief."

Additionally, reporters were prohibited from talking to the soldiers -- many of whom will be deploying to Iraq soon -- after the speech, to "ensure that there would be no discordant notes."

Wall Street Journal reporter Yochi Dreazen wrote that "reporters were shooed out of the dining hall by White House aides and public-affairs personnel from the military base, who said that soldiers were now off-limits to the media."

Only hours later, after "an angry confrontation with both White House and Fort Benning media-affairs personnel," did the base offer to make a "small number" of selected soldiers available. Reporters, however, had to skip the opportunity because the press plane back to Washington was leaving in less than an hour.


AP poll: Americans pan Iraq troop surge

WASHINGTON — Seventy percent of Americans oppose sending more troops to Iraq, according to a new poll that provides a devastatingly blunt response to President George W. Bush's plan to bolster military forces there.

All sides in the Iraq debate are keenly aware of mounting public dissatisfaction with the situation: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday it is one thing on which all Americans – including administration officials – are united.

Yet the Associated Press-Ipsos poll found widespread disagreement with the Bush administration over its proposed solution, and growing skepticism that the United States made the right decision in going to war in the first place.

Just as 70 percent of Americans oppose sending more troops to Iraq, a like number do not think such an increase would help stabilize the situation there, the poll suggested. When asked to name the most important problem facing the U.S., 38 percent of those polled volunteered war, up significantly from 24 percent three months ago.

The AP-Ipsos telephone survey of 1,002 adults was conducted Monday through Wednesday night, when the president made his speech calling for an increase in troops. News had already surfaced before the polling period that Bush planned to boost U.S. forces in Iraq.

The public's concern over Iraq was a prominent topic in Congress on Thursday as legislators reacted to the president's plan to increase troop levels by 21,500.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden harked back to the Vietnam War as he warned Rice that any solution to the Iraq problem must have public support. "They've got to sign on," he told her.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, told Rice: "You are not listening to the American people. … And you wonder why there is a dark cloud of skepticism and pessimism over this nation."

But Republican Sen. John McCain said it would be an oversimplification to think that people just want the United States out of Iraq.

"They're understandably frustrated, they're understandably saddened," he said. "But if you can show the American people that there is a way forward to success, and also describe to them the consequences of failure, I believe this policy can be supported." Iraq is a drag on Bush's overall job approval rating, too. That rating is at 32 percent in the latest survey, a new low in AP-Ipsos polling.

Just 35 percent of Americans think it was right for the United States to go to war, another record low in AP polling and a reversal from two years ago.


Pakistan: U.S. hasn't shared information on al Qaeda

By Zeeshan Haider

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan said on Friday the United States had not given it any information about the presence of al Qaeda leaders, following remarks from U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte that they were holed up in Pakistan.

"We have no such information nor has any such thing been communicated to us by any U.S. authority," Pakistan's military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan told Reuters.

Washington's ally has always contended that Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahri could be either side of the rugged, porous border with Afghanistan.

But in an unusually direct statement, Negroponte on Thursday named Pakistan as the center of an al Qaeda web that radiated out to the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.

In a testimony to a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Negroponte wrote, without naming bin Laden or Zawahri, that al Qaeda leaders are holed up in a secure hide-out in Pakistan.

He said they were rebuilding a network that has been decimated by the capture or killing of hundreds of al Qaeda members since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Many security analysts suspect that bin Laden is likely to be hiding in Pakistan's tribal regions or neighboring districts of North West Frontier Province.

There has also been speculation that he may have died, though intelligence agencies say they have not picked up any supporting evidence.

A half-dozen audio tapes of bin Laden were circulated in the first half of 2006, but the al Qaeda leader last appeared in video tape in late 2004. Subsequent tapes released were identified as old footage.

Zawahri, meantime, has had several tapes released. On January 5, an audio-tape was posted on the Web by al Qaeda's media arm al-Sahab, exhorting Somalian Islamists to attack Ethiopia. The authenticity of the tape could not be verified, but correspondents familiar with Zawahri's voice said it was his.


In January last year CIA-operated drone aircraft carried out a missile strike on Pakistan's Bajaur tribal region based on information that Zawahri might be there.

The strike on Damadola village did not kill Zawahri, though it possibly eliminated a handful of al Qaeda militants. It killed 18 villagers.

Analysts say Pakistan's denials that it was informed of the strike beforehand were aimed at off-setting domestic criticism of its alliance with the United States.

Last October, around 80 men, some of them young boys, were killed in a missile attack on a madrasa in Bajaur, though this time the Pakistan military said it carried out the operation.

In his testimony, Negroponte acknowledged Pakistan's efforts in the fight against terrorism but said it was also a "major source of Islamic extremism".

He also noted President Pervez Musharraf was aware of the risk of sparking a revolt among ethnic Pashtuns living in the tribal belt straddling the border, as well as the political risks of a backlash from Islamist political parties, especially as national elections are due in Pakistan this year.



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