- Signs of the Times for Thu, 16 Mar 2006 -

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Kenya, John Kerry, Diamonds and Mossad

Joe Quinn
Signs of the Times
Now and again, a story pops up that reminds us that, even in the more liberal mainstream press, nothing is ever as it seems and real investigative jounalism simply doesn't exist (if it ever did).

Charges in Kenya corruption scandal

Jeevan Vasagar in Nairobi
Thursday March 16, 2006
The Guardian

Kenya's attorney-general yesterday signalled his willingness to tackle the country's biggest corruption scandal by charging five men, including the former governor of the central bank, with fraud.

The "Goldenberg" scandal was made public 14 years ago and cost Kenyan taxpayers £400m, but no one has been found guilty and no politician has faced charges.

The scandal involved the payment of massive cash subsidies for fictitious exports of gold and diamonds by a firm called Goldenberg International.

"If you look at the list what you see is civil servants taking the fall," said Mwalimu Mati, executive director of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International. "Politicians, as in all other corruption scandals, are left untouched. These people had a role to play but they surely can't have been the only ones involved. There were people involved in facilitating the money coming out of the treasury, and people involved in the political cover-up."

Of the five men indicted, three have faced charges before: the former deputy governor of the central bank, Eliphaz Riungu, the former treasury permanent secretary, Wilfred Karunga Koinange, and Kamlesh Pattni, who was a director of Goldenberg International.

Their cases never came to a full trial and proceedings were halted after the president, Mwai Kibaki, came to power in December 2002. Mr Kibaki set up an inquiry which reported last month. The inquiry said former president Daniel arap Moi must have been aware of the scam and urged the attorney-general to consider pressing charges against George Saitoti, a former finance minister. Mr Saitoti, an education minister in the new government, resigned from the cabinet last month, but denies involvement.

The two new names on the list are Eric Kotut, the central bank governor under Mr Moi, and James Kanyotu, a former intelligence chief who was a director of the firm.

At a time when Kenya faces a severe drought, the scandal is a reminder of the sleaze and economic stagnation of the Moi years. The former president denies involvement.

The hardship suffered by herdsmen in Kenya's arid north is partly blamed on neglect by the failure of successive governments to build roads or help develop the region.

The charges over Goldenberg, a scandal which epitomised the corruption of the Moi government, come at a time when the new government is reeling from its own corruption scandal.

Mr Kibaki's finance minister and justice minister resigned after being named in connection with the Anglo Leasing scandal, in which millions of pounds were looted from the treasury in dodgy contracts for police and military equipment.

Foreign donors and Kenyans have been appalled by the government's heavy-handed treatment of the press. Earlier this month armed police shut a TV station and burned copies of an opposition newspaper after the arrest of three of its journalists over a story about a secret meeting between the president and an opposition leader. The IMF has reportedly postponed a decision on loans to Kenya because of worries over corruption.

Reading the above we are obviously meant to come away with the idea that the long-running "Goldenberg scandal" is simply a Kenyan affair. We could be wrong, but the name "Goldenberg international" doesn't exact sound Kenyan to us. Bear with us while we take you on a trip down memory lane to a time when, for a few days, it seemed like former Presidential candidate John Kerry was about to suffer the horrors of a Clintonesque nightmare...

Alex Polier, 24 was alleged to have had an affair with John Kerry

'This won't go away. What happened is much nastier than is being reported'

By Adrian Blomfeld in Nairobi and Andrew Alderson

Alex Polier, the twenty-four year old journalist who could end Senator John Kerry's hopes of becoming the next president of the United States is alleged to have had a two-year affair with the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Last night the rumours were in danger of becoming a full-blown scandal.

"This is not going to go away," one American friend of Miss Polier said yesterday. "What actually happened is much nastier than is being reported."

The allegations come at a crucial time for the senator. Polls showed him leading Mr Bush by 52 per cent to 42 per cent, and aides will be anxious to see if the apparent scandal affects his standing among voters.

Miss Polier, a former intern who also spent some time in 1998 doing work experience at the Houses of Parliament in London, is in Kenya staying with Yaron Schwartzman, her fiance and a member of the country's fashionable young set. The couple have refused to make any comment on her alleged links with Senator Kerry, who is married to Teresa Heinz Kerry, an heiress to the food empire.

Senator Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran dubbed the new JFK, has vehemently denied any relationship with Miss Polier, and shrugged off allegations that he had a two-year affair with her from 2001. "I just deny it categorically. It's rumour. It's untrue. Period," he said.

Mr Kerry, 60, has won 12 out of the 14 Democratic primaries and has looked all but certain to seal the nomination to take on President George W. Bush in November's elections.

His aides have blamed a dirty tricks campaign for bringing the allegations about Miss Polier into the public eye; they first surfaced last week on a Right-wing internet site, the Drudge Report, which famously first broke the news of Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. [...]

The above mentioned Yaron Schwartzman, with whom Miss Polier 'went to ground' in Kenya, is of the infamous Kenyan Schwartzman family. Mr Joseph Schwartzman of the same family is a business partner of Naushad N. Merali of the Kenyan Sameer group.

Kenyan investors impressed with the investment climate in Rwanda

Kenyan investors have expressed confidence in the investment climate in Rwanda. A team from the Sameer Group of Companies expressed confidence in the country's leadership and investment climate, and said they were interested in investing in the tea, banking, construction and energy sectors.

Speaking after they paid a courtesy call on the President of the Republic of Rwanda, H.E. Paul Kagame, Mr. Joseph Schwartzman said, "We are have come from Kenya to look at investment in various sectors including tea, banking, construction and energy. We are very impressed with the leadership of this country, and have all the confidence and positive attitude which investors need. "

Mr. Schwartzman was accompanied by Mr. Naushad N. Merali and Ambassador Hameed A. Kidwai, both senior directors with the Sameer Group.

Both Mr. Schwartzman and Mr. Merali are close business associates of Nicolas Biwott, minister for tourism under ex-Kenyan President and dictator Moi. Mr. Biwott was at the time widely recognised as one of the most corrupt politicians of his day.

Back in August 2000, there was the death of a catholic missionary priest in Kenya, Father Kaiser.

Kenya - Kaiser's death: Is there a cover-up?

Human Rights
by Special Correspondent

The Kenyan media's coverage of the last days and hours of Mill HillMissionary Fr. John Kaiser's life paint the picture of a very erratic and
irrational priest. Investigators may use this "suicide" theory to cover up who really was behind the murder. [...]

Fr. Kaiser, meanwhile, was to be a witness in an upcoming court case in England charging Moi and members of his government with genocide for their role in ethnic clashes during the 1990s, claims Gachoka. And the September 15 Finance reports that Fr. Kaiser was also on his way to Arusha, Tanzania, to hand to a aide of U.S. President Bill Clinton sensitive documents about Ouko's murder and details of the causes and perpetrators of ethnic clashes in Kenya last decade. Other reports indicated that Fr. Kaiser had more information of rapes committed by senior government officials such as MP Julius ole Sunkuli. If this is true, and if the U.S. is indeed consolidating its interests in Kenya, that might account for the apparent "suicide" campaign to explain Fr. Kaiser's death.

And exactly who ordered the execution - and pulled the trigger - is even bigger speculation. The October 4 edition of the daily The People reports that the government hired seven death row convicts to carry out the crime in exchange for freedom that would be granted through a prison escape. Unfortunately, as media headlines screamed on September 5, six of these were "gunned down" - later, they were discovered to have their heads smashed in and their eyes gouged out - as they tried to escape. The September 4-17 issue of Newsline opines that it is too obvious to blame Fr. Kaiser's death on President Moi, Sunkuli or Cabinet Ministers Nicholas Biwott and William ole Ntimama (who Fr. Kaiser had testified sent Kenyan youth to Israel for commando training during the ethnic clashes), especially because Fr. Kaiser's death conveniently occurred just before Clinton's trip to Tanzania. Newsline attributes the killing to a "third force working deep within the political establishment to rock the boat right from within."

Whatever the explanations of who murdered Fr. Kaiser, how, and why, one fact must remain high in peoples' minds: throughout his mission, Fr. Kaiser had always risked his comfort, security, and, indeed life, to speak the truth. His testimony to the Akiwumi Commission on Tribal Clashes on how the government caused the clashes and evicted Kiisi and Kuria people from Trans Mara District, his rape evidence against Sunkuli, and his other activities all point to a person who loved the truth and was willing to risk all to be a voice for the voiceless. We must act on the information Fr. Kaiser has made public, and thus fulfil the statement Bishop Tonucci made at Fr. Kaiser's funeral: "If somebody thought that through his physical elimination, the embarrassing questions raised by his presence could be silenced once and for all, his calculation was completely wrong."

So at the time of his murder, the late Father Kaiser was on his way to reveal to President Clinton the identities of the perpetrators of ethnic clashes in Kenya. Notice above the mention of a "third force working deep within the political establishment." What group are we aware of that works in secret and by way of deception, to ensure it's agenda is met? It appears that the so called "ethnic clashes" in Kenya were manipulated, with the control of land (and the diamonds and gold it contains) being at least one of the real reasons.

In the next article, we get a better idea of exactly what the unfortunate Fr. Kasier knew about the possible identity of the mysterious "third force".

Biwott, Ntimama 'sent youths for military training'

Wednesday, February 3, 1999

A Catholic priest yesterday told the Akiwumi Commission that Cabinet Ministers Nicholas Biwott and William Ole Ntimama sent some youths for commando training in Israel.

The youths were later used in the eviction of Kisii and Kurias from Trans Mara District, he said.

The priest said the evictions started in 1989 after the then Rift Valley PC, Mr Mohamed Yusuf Haji, visited Lologorian area and gave a quit order to the non-Maasai.

When the non-Maasai failed to leave the area, they were evicted by administration policemen who set their houses on fire.

Father Kaiser said the PC was nick named "Pole Musa", by the local people after he said to them "Pole Musa, the non-Maasai will have to go".

The witness said he could make available hundreds of witnesses who attended the PC's baraza (meeting) to confirm his evidence.

Father Kaiser was being cross-examined by Mr Ndubi for the LSK.

Ndubi: Did you ever establish the reasons for the eviction of people from Enoosupukia?

Kaiser: There is a universal consensus on why people were evicted. I have read so much about the reasons given for eviction. All I have heard about the water catchment area being the cause is nonsense. I have never believed what Hon Ntimama says about Enoosupukia water catchment area. There is a lot of environmental degradation taking place in Mr Ntimama's area and he does not speak about it. Bulldozers are destroying the place and he has been keeping quiet, yet he has been shouting about Enoosupukia water catchment area.

Ndubi: I am asking you to relate the issue of evicting people from Enoosupukia with the government's decision to resettle some of the victims at Moi Ndabi area. Isn't the government legitimising the evictions?

Kaiser: I thought the government was behind the evictions. I do not think ordinary Maasai were involved. I think some powerful people wanted to exploit the area like the colonialists did. All big people in the government are involved in land grabbing in the Rift Valley Province. This is also the case in Trans Mara. It had nothing to do with the Kikuyu or Kisii occupying catchment areas. [...]

Ondeyo: Why didn't you inform the police that some officers were burning houses?

Kaiser: Because those burning houses were following orders from above. The DO and the chief were supervising the burning of Kurias' and Kisiis' houses. I believe they were trained and also hired to do so.

Ndubi: You have referred to the issue of training of people who evicted others. Where did the training take place?

Kaiser: I have hearsay evidence. Somebody else will come and give that evidence. I was told that some Kalenjin and Maasai were taken for overseas training by some ministers in the government. They trained and came back.

Ndubi: Tell us what you were told.

Kaiser: Nobody can convince me that a local Maasai can rise against the Kisii. These were trained people. They were trained in Israel and some within Kenya.

Ndubi: Would you know who made this arrangement for training?

Kaiser: This is general knowledge among the people in Trans Mara. It is Minister William Ole Ntimama and Mr Nicholas Biwott.

Ndubi: Were you told when the training took place?

Kaiser: No, but it is around the time evictions were taking place. [...]

Fr. Kaiser was murdered on Aug 23 2000. In the above article local news reporters referred to a "third force" that was behind Fr. Kasier's death, and that it was done just before Kaiser was scheduled to hand information to Clinton in Tanzania about the source and reason for ethnic clashes in Kenya. This information, on Kaiser's own admission in the interview above, would at the very least contain proof that Biwott, the partner of Schwartzman (former Kerry intern Miss Polier was "hiding out" with the Schwartzmans), had sent Kenyans to Israel for training and brought Israeli groups to come to Kenya for training purposes. He claimed that the reason for the creation of these fake "ethnic clashes" was because certain people wanted to exploit the area in question.

In an interesting synchronicity, less than one month after the murder of Father Kaiser, there was a strange attack on the car that was carrying the grandson of Mr. Biwott. The attack was strange in that it seems that the car was deliberately singled out for the attack. The final comment in the article below is left hanging. No reason is given for the immediate departure to Israel of Mr. Biwott and his wife, or who they were going to see.

Horror of city hijack

Thursday, September 21, 2000

Two men died protecting a grandson of Cabinet Minister Nicholas Biwott.

The boy's bodyguard and driver were shot in their Landcruiser by three gangsters who had earlier robbed a bank at Wilson Airport, Nairobi, of Sh2.2 million.

The three who were trying to hijack the Landcruiser opened fire as the bodyguard reached for his semi-automatic pistol to protect seven-year-old Victor Jacobson.

They also fired eight bullets into the driver as he got out of the car with his hands raised in surrender.

Terrified Victor dived under the rear seat as the bullets flew. The driver died at the scene and the guard in hospital yesterday. As a crowd gathered the gangsters made off without taking the vehicle.

Victor had just been collected from the Swedish School, in Makini Road, across the city from the airport, where he is a pupil.

Another parent with a child at the same school who was also driving home rescued the youngster and took him home to Riverside Drive.

When he arrived only the house helps were present but they quickly called the little boy's parents who were still at work.

They are Mr Biwott's eldest daughter, Rhoda, who manages the Yaya Centre, and her husband Mr Pierre Jacobson, the international exports manager with Kenol Kobil, in which Mr Biwott is the majority shareholder.

Mrs Jacobson fainted when first told of the attack by askaris at the Yaya Centre. Yesterday, Victor who is the second born in a family of three, did not attend school and neither did the parents go to work.

"They were traumatised ... they are in a state of shock," said close family friends.

Mr Biwott and his wife, Hannie, were reported to have left for Israel on Monday.

The attack on the Israeli owned "Paradise Hotel" in Mombassa, Kenya, bore all the hallmarks of a Mossad "false flag" operation. The details are discussed here, and we refer our readers to page 287 of Victor Ostrovsky's book on the Mossad "By way of deception" for a more detailed analysis of the type of turn key business fronts that the Mossad operate.

Kerry intern hiding in Kenya

By NATION Reporter and Agencies
Monday, February 16, 2004

The young intern at the centre of a furore involving United States presidential hopeful John Kerry is hiding out in Kenya.

Alex Polier, 24, has been in the country for the past few weeks visiting her fiancee, Mr Yaron Schwartzman, who works with FilmStudios, along Nairobi's Ngong Road.

Ms Polier, who could end Senator John Kerry's hopes of becoming the next president of the United States, is alleged to have had a two-year affair with the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

"This is not going to go away," one American friend of Ms Polier said yesterday. "What actually happened is much nastier than is being reported."

The allegations come at a crucial time for the senator. Polls showed him leading Mr Bush by 52 per cent to 42 per cent, and aides will be anxious to see if the apparent scandal affects his standing among voters.

Ms Polier, a former intern who also spent some time in 1998 doing work experience at the Houses of Parliament in London, is in Kenya staying with Mr Schwartzman.

It was not immediately clear what Mr Schwartzman does at FilmStudios. Efforts to contact the family home in the leafy suburb of Lavington were fruitless.

Miss Polier and her fiance were believed to be hiding at the Nairobi home of Mr Schwartzman's parents, who moved to Kenya from Israel.

Mr Joseph Schwartzman is the chairman of the H Young group of companies. His wife, Hannah, is described by friends to be a devout Jew who was hoping to see her future daughter-in-law convert to Judaism before the wedding ceremony planned for some time later in the year.

The Nation has established, however, that the couple were students together at Columbia University in New York. [...]

The following is an excerpt from Victor Ostrovsky's book "By way of Deception" on the Mossad. Ostrovsky was a Mossad agent and in his book he details the type of operations conducted by the Mossad. It includes everything from arms and money laundering to "repatriation" of Jews from around the world to Israel. In one account entitled "Operation Moses" he states:

Operation Moses

They were all there: foreign diplomats escaping the oppressive heat of Khartoum; tourists from right across Europe anxious to learn diving techniques in the Red Sea, or enjoy escorted tours of the nubian desert; and senior Sudanese officials, all relaxing in the newly constructed tourist resort 75 miles north of Port Sudan across the sea from Mecca.

How were they to know it was a Mossad front? Indeed on the morning in early July 1985, when the 50 or so customers woke up to find the staff had vanished - except for a few locals left behind to serve breakfast - they still didn't know what had happened. Few people know even today. As far as legitimate tourists were concerned, the resort's European owners had gone bankrupt, as the notes left behind claimed, though they were assured of a full refund. The staff, either Mossad or Israeli navy workers, had disappeared during the night, some by boat, others by air. But what had happened at this camp is one of the great mass escape stories of history, a story only partially known to the world as Operation Moses. [...] The resort was constructed in about a month. Besides the main buildings for the tourists, the kitchen, the bedrooms and so on, there were several sheds to house communication equipment and weapons...They also sneaked in all the gear needed for lighting up impromptu airfields in the desert [...]

The above is part of the account of the "rescue of 18,000 black Ethiopian Jews or Falashas from Ethiopia to Israel". The account is particularly interesting when looked at in the aftermath of the attack on the Mombasa paradise Hotel in Kenya in late November 2002. Many aspects of both cases are similar.

Kenyan hotel staff unpaid

Thursday, 5 December, 2002

The attack left hotel workers jobless

Former staff at Kenya's Paradise Hotel, which was blown up last week, complain that they have not been paid.

Nine of their colleagues were killed in the suicide attack on the Israeli-owned hotel near the coastal resort of Mombasa.

The hotel was completely destroyed by the attack, leaving the staff jobless.

Israeli manager Yehuda Sulami said he was not sure if the hotel would be rebuilt because "terrorist" attacks were not covered in the insurance policy.

He tried to calm tempers during a demonstration and promised they would be paid soon. Reuters news agency reports that staff booed him as he spoke.

Some claimed they had received just 2,000 Kenyan shillings ($25) for a year's work at the Paradise.

They say the managers repeatedly promised to pay them, but the promises were never kept.

"We depended on tips from the guests which was not enough," said Josephine Mbuli, 23, who worked as a hairdresser for three years to support her eight siblings and mother.

"There's no question that November salaries have not been paid," Mr Sulami told reporters. "Some we also have to pay for September. But there's no question their salaries will be paid as soon as possible."

But Paradise Hotel staff say they are used to hearing promises.

Human resources manager Valentina Sapaya, who had only been working there for a few months, said many people had told her that their wages had not been paid, despite repeated management pledges.

"They are very patient," she said. "They were hoping to get paid any time. The owner kept on promising, then they were living in hope."

The BBC's Gray Phombeah says that Paradise Hotel was the only Israeli-owned hotel in the Mombasa area.

So, like "Operation Moses", the "owners" of the hotel had apparently disappeared leaving the "manager" to pick up the pieces, although it appears that an effort was made to extort up to $2,000,000 from the "time share owners" after the hotel had been destroyed. Just who the beneficiaries of this money were is not clear.

Mombassa hotel demands $2,000 from time-share owners

David Hayoun
17 Dec 02

Sources inform “Globes” that the owners of the Paradise Hotel, where three Israelis were killed in a terrorist attack, have recently demanded $2,000 from the Israeli owners of time-sharing units in the hotel. The hotel owners said the money was needed “in order to cover the expenses of renovating the hotel, which was severely damaged in the attack.”

The time-share owners have already paid $7,000-10,000 in recent years for the right to use the unit for one week a year.

The demand stunned many of the time-share owners, some of whom had only just finished paying for their units. Some of them believe the demand is not legitimate, and the hotel owners should finance the renovations either from the insurance money, or out of pocket. Others agree the demand is legitimate, since the hotel is not insured against terrorism.

Adv. Yigal Cohen, trustee for the time-sharing units in the hotel purchased by Israelis, told “Globes”, “The requests were sent to the 1,000 Israeli unit owners. The demand is reasonable, given the fact that the hotel is not insured against terrorist attacks. Had the attacks occurred in Israel, property taxes would have covered the damage.

”I looked for a similar institution in Kenya, but there is none, so the hotel owners have to bear the expense. For the time-sharing unit owners the payment is for maintenance, which they would have had to pay later in any case. At the same time, I’m checking whether Israeli government agencies will participate in the added cost, and I’ve also contacted the property tax department. I’m waiting for answers.” Cohen also contacted the Kenyan ambassador to Israel.

It should be emphasized that Cohen is not a party to the $2,000 demand, which comes from the hotel owners. Cohen formally holds the time-sharing units for the Israeli purchasers, since the right to use them for one week a year cannot be registered in the land registry, and a trustee is required.

Cohen added a warning note for the units, through a Kenyan company under his management. He said that the unit owners had already begun negotiating with the hotel owners over the $2,000 demand, and various means of compensating the unit owners were under consideration, including the granting of an additional week of use.

To our knowledge the Mombassa Paradise hotel remains in ruins to this day. As to whether the $2,000 per "time share holder" was ever paid we do not know.

Yet the question remains, if the Mobassa paradise hotel was a Mossad front, just what was it being used for? We know that Israel, as a state, has very expensive tastes, especially in terms of armaments. Just where does the little piece of land in the Middle East that is Israel, with no oil or gas reserves to speak of, get all its money from? We realise that it is massively subsidised by the US, but even that, we think, is not enough to fill the Israeli government's monetary needs and those of its clandestine organisations. What if this time, instead of exporting people, the Israeli front that was the Mombassa Paradise Hotel was used in the export of something altogether more mundane. Perhaps we can call it "Operation Goldmine"?

Money, power and the winded path of Goldenberg's deals

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

What is 'Goldenberg'? How did the scheme work and who did it benefit? As the newly appointed commission prepares to examine the biggest cash scandal in Kenya's history, the Nation presents the second part of research by Peter Warutere, International Development Research Council (IDRC) and the Kenya Leadership Institue, entitled Corruption and Elite Wealth

Goldenberg was a neatly packaged conduit of plundering public funds. Its roots have over the years been traced right to the most powerful people running the government during the tenure of President Daniel arap Moi.

It all began with a businessman called Kamlesh Pattni registering a company, Goldenberg International Limited, that offered an alternative source of foreign exchange earnings from gold and diamond jewellery exports.

Mr Pattni exploited the fact that the government was experiencing a serious foreign exchange crisis due to suspension of balance of payments aid and insufficient earnings from the export sector. Moreover, President Moi and Kanu were desperate for money to finance the elections and now that the bilateral donors were pressing for democratic reforms, they were not likely to fund Mr Moi’s campaign like they had done before.

Kamlesh Mansukhlal Damji Pattni was a little known messenger in downtown Nairobi peddling gold bracelets and rings. At the age of about 27, he registered Goldenberg as a gold and export jewellery firm. He came from a family that was in small time jewellery business and could not even be compared with his cousins, Nagin Pattni, who was running bigger businesses in Nairobi. Kamlesh was the chairman of Goldenberg while his elder brother, Rohit Pattni, was the managing director (chief executive). How Mr Pattni got connected to the ruling elite remains unclear but by 1990, it was apparent that he had succeeded in selling a multi-million dollar scheme to the Kenyan authorities.

The scheme, evidence shows, was sanctioned by the Office of the President by an inter-ministerial committee, but the principal architect was Mr Hezekiah Oyugi, the permanent secretary in the President’s office in charge of internal security.

Mr Oyugi was an all-powerful personality who was so close to President Moi that for a time he rivalled Mr Nicholas Biwott — the President’s most trusted aide and a powerful political operator. Mr Oyugi was implicated in a series of high corruption deals, including the Nyayo Bus Corporation (which eventually collapsed).

There was also another significant dimension to Goldenberg. Besides Pattni, the only other original subscriber was Mr James Kanyotu, the head of Kenya’s dreaded security intelligence, then known as the Special Branch (now the National Security Intelligence Service). Mr Kanyotu, a fearsome policeman, was listed as a farmer in the original registration documents filed with the Registrar of Companies at the Attorney-General’s office, while Mr Pattni was listed as a director of China Trade Ltd.

Mr Kanyotu did not disclose that he was also a director of Firestone East Africa, a tyre business substantially owned by Mr Naushad Merali, believed to be the President’s proxy and business associate. Mr Merali’s holding company, Sameer Investments Limited, owns a large number of profitable business enterprises, a good number of them bought out from American investors in mind-boggling deals. Mr Kanyotu was also a director of First American Bank, also part of Sameer. It could well then have been no coincidence that Goldenberg operated its first account at this bank.

The Goldenberg inquiry has been ongoing for many years in Kenya and is the biggest financial scandal in the country's history. It involved the laundering and exporting of hundreds of millions of dollars to, as yet, undisclosed parties. The commodities were allegedly gold, diamonds and rubies from more than one African nation. Using the network established by Mr Merali and Mr Schwartzman, which apparently involved the entire Kenyan cabinet under President Moi, the con job was made exceedingly easy.

Notice in the above the names associated with the owner of "Goldenberg International Limited"; Mr. Merali, the business associate of Mr. Schwartzman with whom the Miss Polier, "Kerry's intern" was residing. It appears then that even with the change of government, certain groups still hold enough influence to scupper an investigation that would surely uncover facts that would expose more than just Kenyan officials.

Parliament okeyed payment, Goldenberg Inquiry told

By Standard Correspondents

The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Goldenberg Affair today heard how the money paid to the company as export compensation was so much that Parliament had to introduce a vote to "illegally" pay it.

The provision was sneaked in to parliament by the Ministry of Finance and it was baptised as "Customs Refund".

Former Deputy Commissioner of Customs and Excise Mr Philip Muli Mulili, said that the amounts of money being paid to Goldenberg International Limited were too huge that the Treasury had to seek the money through voting in Parliament.

He said it was only when Goldenberg International Limited came into the scene that the export compensation payment had to be tabled in parliament for the allocation of money to pay the company.

"In the beginning the normal 20 percent export compensation was paid without voting," Mulili told the Commission during an examination in Chief by Lead Counsel Dr John Khaminwa.

The money parliament voted to pay Goldenberg International was however paid by the Treasury instead of the normal channel of payment through the Commissioner of Customs and Excise.

Mulili had explained that parliament voted for the payment after the Ministry of Finance withheld information about the illegality of the move.

However the Commissioner of Customs and Excise Mr Cheruiyot and Mulili came under intense criticism by Commission chairman Justice Samuel Bosire for paying Goldenberg money without confirming from the Central Bank of Kenya that foreign exchange was received legally.

"Why didn't you check with the Central Bank of Kenya to ensure the foreign exchange came in the normal way?" Bosire questioned Mulili.

Bosire said it was upto the Customs department to ensure that foreign exchange was received in Kenya by the authorised dealers who were the Commercial Banks.

Mulili tried to explain that they were satisfied with information they received from the Commercial Banks and overlooked the possibility that the money could have been obtained from the local black market.

The Customs Department was further accused of laxity when did not ensure that the boxes used by Goldenberg International Limited to export gold and diamond jewellery were temper proof.

It came to light later on that the company was not only using wax seals on the metal boxes which could be tampered with but also used only a single seal number for a number of boxes.

The Commission said that the Commissioner of Customs and Excise could have investigated, required the production of relevant books and even made arrests when he discovered something was wrong or illegal somewhere.

The Commission heard that Goldenberg allegedly appeared to comply with the law but it was not.

Mulili however said that the Department of Mines and Geology did not reveal to them that they were not using the tamper proof seals.

He said they could not carry out investigations on officers who chose not to use tamper seal on the boxes containing gold and diamond jewellery for export as he only learnt about it when he appeared as a witness at the Commission.

The Customs Department also came under criticism for allegedly working with the Mines and Geology department to turn a blind eye to smuggling of diamonds and gold into the country.

The comment above about the wax seals on the cases containing gold and diamonds is interesting. It would seem to suggest that some or all of the contents of the cases went missing. We wonder where they ended up.

Information on the owners or founders of "Goldenberg International Limited" is difficult to come by. It appears that it is another more complex "front" for various businesses and banking institutions, some leading to Switzerland.

They Used My Name- Goldenberg Witness

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

335 million shillings worth of non-existent gold and diamonds were exported out of the country by Goldenberg International to a fictional Swiss company.

At the Goldenbery Inquiry, Swiss businessman Bernard Metzger said this amount was bought by Servino Securities and the company used his address and name in Switzerland.

But he claimed he was not a beneficiary of the deal, despite the fact that he had a personal account with Exchange Bank and received about 1 million shillings from companies related to Pattni.

He said this money was the proceeds from the sale of airline tickets in Nairobi.

The commission was not convinced by his answers and he was given time to present evidence showing why he received huge sums of money from Pattni.

Pattni, Kanyotu, three others owned aircraft

Plane was used to ferry gold from Zaire

Reports by Eliud Miring’uh and Biketi Kikechi
Tuesday, December 2, 2003

An aircraft used to ferry smuggled gold from Zaire by businessman Kamlesh Pattni in 1990 was co-owned by former Director of Intelligence James Kanyotu and three other tycoons.

Kanyotu, teaming up with businessman Naushad Merali, Mr M H Da Gama Rose, and Sheriff K Sheriff, had imported two aircraft from the United States in 1989 without paying duty following a letter of exemption issued by then Vice-President and Finance Minister, Prof George Saitoti.

Again, there is undoubtedly more to this story than any of us will ever know. We find it very interesting that the Mombasa Paradise hotel was attacked and destroyed just days before the corrupt President Moi stepped down as Kenyan leader. Perhaps realising that their days of stealing from Kenya to finance Israel were over, the Mossad decided to use their Kenyan front in one last act of service to Israel. The faked "terrorist" attack and destruction of the Mombasa Paradise hotel served well to increase even further the hype and fear that Osama really is under all our beds. It also served well to further the myth that ordinary Jews are at risk given that the target was an Israeli business and at the time was packed with Israeli tourists. 13 kenyans died, along with 2 Israeli children, yet when your motto is "by way of deception thou shalt do war" those deaths are, it seems, acceptable collateral damage in the greater war that Israel is determined to fight to prove to the world that everyone hates the Jews. Of course this is simply not the case. With leaders that are prepared to sacrifice even their own people to achieve their goals, as always, it is the ordinary Jewish citizen that we feel compelled to protect, if only by sounding the alarm over the actions of their so-called leaders.

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Editorial: The Devil Rides Out

Joe Quinn
Signs of the Times
She-devil Condolezza Rice is currently on a PR trip to OZ. Speaking to students at the University of Sydney's Conservatorium of Music, Condi waxed duplicitous on how "Iraqis will triumph" and that "we will win in Iraq but we must be patient with these people".

Soon after she began her speech, two members of the audience shouted:

"Condoleezza Rice you are a war criminal" and "Iraqi blood is on your hands and you cannot wash that blood away" - which was the only truth uttered during the entire speech.

Unfazed by this truth and the accusation made against her (which we conclude is due to the fact that she simply does not care about Iraqi blood, regardless of whose hands it is on), Condi immediately shot back that she was "glad democracy was alive at the university, where she said people were free to speak their minds". The problem, however, was that, as she was saying these words, the two audience members were being dragged uncerimoniously out of the auditorium. Does anyone see anything wrong with that picture?

The Princess of Darkness then completed her counter attack with:

"I am also especially glad to note that democracy will now also be alive and well at the University of Kabul and the University of Baghdad."

Sadly, under Condi's definition of "free speech" the two protestors did not get a chance to respond. If they had, they might have mentioned that the most notable thing about the University of Baghdad is that a shocking number of academics, 300 to be exact, who should be teaching there have been murdered by assassination squads working from within the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi puppet regime. As for Kabul; with alleged Taleban chief, Mullah Mohammad Omar, recently promising "unimaginable violence" in Afghanistan this spring and summer, Kabul University, or anywhere else under the purview of U.S. puppet Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, might not be the safest place to send your kids.

About 15 minutes later, another dissenter interrupted Condi's speech when she referred to "freedom":

"What kind of freedom are you talking about, you are a murderer," queried the dissenter, who, like the other two, did not get a chance to continue the discussion with the freedom-loving Dr. Rice.

The bleeding-heart commies gone, the remaining renta-crowd audience settled down to listen in peace and comfort to the remainder of Rice's fairy tales of how the Bush government really is making the world a safer place, and not even the sharp-shooters positioned on surrounding buildings and security forces looking on from boats in Sydney Harbor, could dispel such a wonderful illusion.
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Editorial: US Military Murders Eleven Members of an Iraqi Family - Five Children Four Women and Two Men

By Amer Amery
Wed Mar 15, 2006
TIKRIT, Iraq - Eleven members of an Iraqi family were killed in a U.S. raid on Wednesday, police and witnesses said. The U.S. military said two women and a child died during the bid to seize an al Qaeda militant from a house.

Television pictures showed 11 bodies in the Tikrit morgue -- five children, two men and four women. A freelance photographer later saw the bodies being buried in Ishaqi, the town 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad where the raid took place.

The U.S. military said in a statement its troops had attacked a house in Ishaqi early on Wednesday to capture a "foreign fighter facilitator for the al Qaeda in Iraq network".

"Troops were engaged by enemy fire as they approached the building," U.S. spokesman Major Tim Keefe said. "Coalition Forces returned fire utilising both air and ground assets.

"There was one enemy killed. Two women and one child were also killed in the firefight. The building ... (was) destroyed."

Keefe said the al Qaeda suspect had been captured and was being questioned.


Major Ali Ahmed of the Ishaqi police said U.S. forces had landed on the roof of the house in the early hours and shot the 11 occupants, including the five children.

"After they left the house they blew it up," he said.

Another policeman, Major Farouq Hussein, said all the bodies had gunshot wounds to the head.

Pictures of the house targeted in the raid showed it had been reduced to rubble, while next to it lay the burnt-out wreckage of a truck.

Iraqi police said the U.S. military had asked for a meeting with local tribal leaders.

Photographs of the funeral showed men weeping as five children were wrapped in blankets and then lined up in a row next to freshly dug graves.

Police in Salahaddin province, a heartland of the Sunni Arab insurgency and the home region of Saddam Hussein, have frequently criticised U.S. military tactics in the area.

In January a U.S. air strike on a house in Baiji, further north, killed several members of a family. In December U.S. fighter jets dropped two 500-pound bombs on a village, also in the region, killing 10 people. The U.S. military said the people targeted had been suspected of planting roadside bombs.

Flashback:'The Salvador Option'

The Pentagon may put Special-Forces-led assassination or kidnapping teams in Iraq<

AP Jan. 14, 2005

What to do about the deepening quagmire of Iraq? The Pentagon’s latest approach is being called "the Salvador option"—and the fact that it is being discussed at all is a measure of just how worried Donald Rumsfeld really is. "What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are," one senior military officer told NEWSWEEK. "We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing." Last November’s operation in Fallujah, most analysts agree, succeeded less in breaking "the back" of the insurgency—as Marine Gen. John Sattler optimistically declared at the time—than in spreading it out.

Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
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Amerika the Beautiful

US fails to quash new UN rights body

By Mark Coultan, New York
March 17, 2006

THE United Nations has voted overwhelmingly to establish a new body to promote human rights, despite strong opposition from the US.

Australia was one of the 170 countries that supported the new body, the Human Rights Council, to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission.

The council will meet regularly through the year, including special sessions to deal with a crisis. The old commission met only a few weeks a year.
The council, one of the more important reforms of the UN that Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been calling for, came out of the summit of world leaders last September.

Mr Annan had condemned the old Human Rights Commission, saying it had been discredited by human rights abusers joining it in order to protect themselves from criticism or in order to criticise another country.

Countries such as Sudan and Burma were able to be elected because of a system of bloc or regional voting. The new body will be elected by the entire General Assembly.

The US, one of four countries to oppose the new body, demanded that each country's vote be recorded. Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau also voted against it.

US ambassador John Bolton said the council did not represent sufficient improvement on the old commission. He railed against compromises agreed to in order to get majority support for the council.

"We must not let history remember us as the architects of a council that was a compromise and merely the best we could do," Mr Bolton said.

But the president of the General Assembly, Sweden's Jan Eliasson, refused to reopen negotiations, fearing that would open a Pandora's box.

Countries such as Russia, Cuba, Pakistan and some Arab states were reported to have been ready to try to impose their own ideas on the council if it had been reopened for negotiation.

Mr Bolton said the United States objected to the dropping of a proposal to require two-thirds of the countries in the General Assembly to support a country in order for it to be elected to the council. Council members will instead be elected by a simple majority.

Countries subject to sanctions for human rights abuses or for supporting terrorism should be barred, he said, and there should not be a two-term limit on council membership.

Australia, in a joint statement with New Zealand and Canada, said they would have preferred a two-thirds requirement for membership, along with tougher provisions for preventing abusers of human rights being elected, but voted for the new body anyway. The three countries vowed not to vote for any country that abuses human rights. The first vote for the council will be in May.

Mr Bolton said the 47-member body, a reduction from the 53-member commission, was still too large and should be reduced to 30.

Though the new body was not everything that Mr Annan wanted, he welcomed its establishment, but cautioned: "The true test of the council's credibility will be the use that member states make of it."

Surprisingly, Cuba voted for the new council, but said it had serious reservations, including whether the new body would be able to investigate United States abuses of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison or other detention centres.

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Prosecutors Seek to Revive Moussaoui Case

Associated Press
March 16, 2006

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Fighting for the death penalty in a 9/11 sentencing trial, prosecutors are beseeching a federal judge to reconsider her decision to exclude half the government's case against confessed al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

They acknowledge their only hope of obtaining the death penalty for the 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent is to persuade U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema she punished the government too harshly for tampering with trial witnesses and lying to defense attorneys.
Brinkema did not immediately respond to the motion for reconsideration that prosecutors filed Wednesday evening. But she had indicated earlier she had time available Thursday to hear such a motion if it were filed.

The jury has been sent home until Monday to give prosecutors time for their next step.

Brinkema barred prosecutors from submitting any witnesses or exhibits about aviation security. Prosecutors responded in their motion that this evidence "goes to the very core of our theory of the case."

At the very least, the prosecutors argued, they should be allowed to present a newly designated aviation security witness who had no contact with Carla J. Martin, the Transportation Security Administration lawyer responsible for the government's misconduct. This would "allow us to present our complete theory of the case, albeit in imperfect form."

"The public has a strong interest in seeing and hearing it (aviation security evidence), and the court should not eliminate it from the case, particularly not ... where other remedies are available," they wrote Brinkema.

Brinkema ruled Tuesday that Martin violated federal rules when she sent trial transcripts to seven aviation witnesses, coached them on how to deflect defense attacks and lied to defense lawyers to prevent them from interviewing witnesses they wanted to call. The judge said Martin's actions and other government missteps had left the aviation evidence "irremediably contaminated."

Martin has been placed on administrative leave from her
TSA job, agency spokeswoman Yolanda Clark said Thursday.

The only person charged in this country in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Moussaoui pleaded guilty in April to conspiring with al-Qaida to fly airplanes into U.S. buildings. But he denies any involvement in 9/11, saying he was training for a possible future attack.

This trial is to decide whether he is executed or spends life behind bars.

Prosecutors said the excluded evidence "is one of the two essential and interconnected components of our case."

The prosecution's case is based on offensive and defensive measures they argue the government would have taken if Moussaoui had not lied to FBI agents about his terrorist connections when arrested in Minnesota three weeks before al-Qaida flew jetliners into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on 9/11.

They say offensive steps by the FBI to locate 9/11 hijackers in advance and defensive airport security measures by federal aviation officials would have combined to prevent at least one death that day. To get a death penalty, prosecutors must show beyond a reasonable doubt that an action of Moussaoui's - his lies, in this case - led directly to at least one 9/11 death.

As a compromise, prosecutors offered to drop arguments that the Federal Aviation Administration would have barred small knives, like those used by the hijackers, from planes and would have altered its terrorist screening profiles to catch the attackers.

Instead, they would call one witness, whom they did not identify, who worked at the FAA in August 2001 and could discuss the government's use of "no-fly" lists to bar named terrorists from planes and how those lists evolved. They said Martin had no contact with this witness.

"We don't know whether it is worth us proceeding at all, candidly, under the ruling you made today," Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Spencer said in an unusually blunt assessment during a conference call Tuesday. Spencer added that continuing under these conditions would "waste the jury's time and the court's time, and we're all mindful of the expense of this proceeding."

If Brinkema refuses to budge, it's not clear what appeals remain open. Defense attorney Edward MacMahon said the government can't appeal Brinkema's ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond now that the trial is under way.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said prosecutors might ask the appeals court for a rarely used common law relief order called a writ of mandamus, but such orders are granted only in extraordinary circumstances.

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State to study depleted uranium

March 15, 2006

Washington would become the third state to study the effects of depleted uranium on returning National Guard troops under a budget proviso state legislators approved last week.

Some veterans are worried about the effect of depleted uranium on troops returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, citing anecdotal reports from Iraq and higher cancer rates in Europe's Balkan war zones after uranium 238-enhanced munitions were used there in the early 1990s.

The budget puts $150,000 toward studying the problem of exposure to radioactive materials used in munitions, as well as to set up a registry of Washington National Guard personnel who might have been exposed to hazardous materials.
The budget awaits Gov. Chris Gregoire's signature.

Ken Schwilk of Olympia, who attended legislative hearings on the subject, said Tuesday that he and other veterans were pleased "to see that the issue is being addressed at some level by the state Legislature. We hope to be able to work as activists ourselves with the military affairs people. We plan to try to set up some meetings with them to talk about some of the concerns we have as this moves forward."

Depleted uranium was used for munitions in the Gulf War and to improve the armor on some Abrams tanks. Gases given off by the firing of the ammunition have been said to create a mist or fog of radioactive material that can be inhaled and absorbed into the body, where bone, lymph, liver and other tissues store it, and some activists fear it could be the "Agent Orange" of this generation.

"I think everyone is trying to understand the issue," said Col. Ron Weaver, the joint chief of staff to the general who commands the state Military Department, which is heading up the study and has no evidence yet of exposure to the materials by any state Guard troops.

"We're going to meet in the near future; we'll go about and request that someone do the study. We haven't decided how we're going to do that or where," Weaver said.

Part of the agency's internal discussion is how to make a registry part of the study, Weaver said. He had testified in favor of waiting until studies in Louisiana and Connecticut were finished before launching into work in Washington.

Roger Kluck, a lobbyist with Friends Committee on Washington Public Policy, a Quaker group, said activists are working with lawmakers to ask the Military Department to consult independent health experts for any study or report they produce.

"Certainly the Europeans have done some good stuff. We're just hoping the consultant and the process are set up to bring in as much information as possible," Kluck said, noting that the state Department of Health and the University of Washington have personnel with expertise. He said they also want to see the hearings by a joint legislative committee on veterans and military affairs, which is scheduled to receive the depleted uranium report by Oct. 1.

Democratic Reps. Brendan Williams of Olympia and Rosa Franklin of Tacoma sponsored companion bills in the House and Senate that called for the study and creation of a task force and registry, but both measures died in committee. Activists later worked through budget committees and even enlisted the help of the governor's husband, Mike Gregoire, to secure the funding by means of the budget proviso.

"This appropriation is a tribute to the hard work of local veterans' activists like Jerry Muchmore and Ken Schwilk. They deserve thanks for bringing attention to health issues surrounding depleted uranium use in war," Williams said this week by e-mail.

Other bill signed

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law a bill that protects
advocate-helpers for victims of sexual assault from divulging in court the communications they have with victims.

House Bill 2454 passed unanimously in the Senate and by
96-2 in the House. Olympia Democratic Rep. Brendan Williams sponsored it, calling it one of his session's top priorities.

"This will strengthen the privilege between sexual-assault advocates and victims," said Christi Hurt of the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs based in Olympia. She attended Tuesday's bill signing.

Victims' statements had been sheltered previously, but Hurt said the new law goes further to ensure a safe, confidential and supportive environment for those traumatized by sexual assaults.

Comment: $150,000! They must be really concerned about the effects of DU, especially considering that the total Iraq war budget has run into the hundreds of billions of dollars...

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Feingold Accuses Democrats of 'Cowering'


WASHINGTON - Wisconsin Sen. Russell Feingold accused fellow Democrats on Tuesday of cowering rather than joining him on trying to censure President Bush over domestic spying.

"Democrats run and hide" when the administration invokes the war on terrorism, Feingold told reporters.
Feingold introduced censure legislation Monday in the Senate but not a single Democrat has embraced it. Several have said they want to see the results of a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation before supporting any punitive legislation.

Republicans dismissed the proposal Tuesday as being more about Feingold's 2008 presidential aspirations than Bush's actions. On and off the Senate floor, they have dared Democrats to vote for the resolution.

''I'm amazed at Democrats ... cowering with this president's numbers so low,'' Feingold said.

The latest AP-Ipsos poll on Bush, conducted last week, found just 37 percent of the 1,000 people surveyed approving his overall performance, the lowest of his presidency.

Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., tried to hold a vote Monday on Feingold's resolution but was blocked by Democrats. He said Tuesday that Feingold should withdraw the resolution because it has no support.

''If the Democrats continue to say no to voting on their own censure resolution, then they ought to drop it and focus on our foreign policy in a positive way,'' Frist said in a statement.

Feingold's resolution condemns Bush's ''unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining the court orders required'' by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The only president ever censured by the Senate was Andrew Jackson, in 1834, for removing the nation's money from a private bank in defiance of the Whig-controlled Senate.

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U.S. Meddling in Peruvian Presidential Race?

Written by Jeremy Bigwood
Wednesday, 15 March 2006

Something smells funny about the recent denunciation of maverick Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta Humala for alleged human rights violations. Before the accusations, Humala was riding high as the leading candidate in Peru's presidential elections. Investigations illustrate that Humala's accusers are subsidized by the US Government funded Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Washington may be interfering in this election to protect its own interests.
The former army officer heads a nationalist and anti-neoliberal coalition between his new Peruvian Nationalist Party and the ten-year-old center-left Union for Peru party. Humala, a mestizo, was never part of Lima's white ruling elite which has traditionally run the major institutions of the country. He is often derided for being an upstart "cholo" (indigenous), which sheds light on the colonial racism still inherent within Peruvian society. So much of Humala's support comes from the impoverished non-white majority who has suffered from the "neoliberal reforms" of the unpopular sitting president Alejandro Toledo.

Humala has met with Evo Morales, Bolivia's recently-elected indigenous president. Like Morales, Humala supports the commercialization and expanded international marketing of coca leaf products while at the same time being strongly against the cocaine trade. He also favors greater control by Peru over the exploitation of its natural resources. In the case of its large natural gas fields, he would demand that the government receive at least 49 percent of the profits and has made similar proposals for Peru's mining industry. He has also promised to hold a national referendum on the recently-signed free trade deal with the United States, which is widely believed to favor U.S. corporate interests over those of Peru.

This type of talk has not only scared Peruvian elites and multinational business interests, but has also drawn the ire of influential policy wonks of the neoliberal "Washington Consensus," who fear of another country going to a left-talking "anti-imperialist" populist candidate-especially after the spectacular December victory of Morales in neighboring Bolivia. Yet unlike Bolivia's Morales, Humala is a relative newcomer to politics, which has lead some people to fear that if elected he could turn out to be a disappointment in the mold of Ecuador's discredited Lucio Gutiérrez, another army officer who sold himself as a populist during elections. Regardless, even "liberals" and academics have joined the right-wing chorus in Washington of professing a preference for an electoral victory by right-wing candidate Lourdes Flores Nano over Humala. Washington was unified. Humala had to go.

Humala has also met with Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez. Both were military officers who led failed military uprisings against their respective presidents – Chávez in 1992 and Humala in 2000. But unlike Chavez's Venezuela, Peru has no major oil deposits.

On Feb. 15, Humala was accused of a series of war crimes. The charges included forced disappearance, torture and attempted murder that are alleged to have taken place when he commanded a jungle counterinsurgency base in 1992 at the height of the bloody civil war with the extremist Maoist Shining Path and Guevarist MRTA that engulfed Peru through much of the 1980s and 1990s. It is a charge that Humala vehemently denies, but it is a charge that has stuck and rapidly knocked him down to second place in the polls.

The "non-governmental organization" (NGO) that led the charge against Humala was the National Coordinator for Human Rights, the umbrella organization for several human rights groups commonly known as the "Coordinadora." Whether or not the Coordinadora's charges are true or fabricated, nobody in the press has investigated its history or who backs it. Is the Coordinadora merely a disinterested and neutral human rights organization doing its job, or was this denunciation the result of another more nefarious hidden agenda?

To anyone following Latin America recently, it should come as no surprise that the accuser, the Coordinadora is an "NGO" that has been funded by the U.S. government for years.

Although it is not mentioned in the Coordinadora's "official history" written by the Washington, D.C. based nonprofit called the Washington Office on Latin America, it has been funded by both the Agency for International Development (USAID) and the smaller National Endowment for Democracy (NED) on and off for more than a decade. While both USAID and NED are civilian entities, they are largely controlled by the State Department and are indispensable instruments of U.S. foreign policy.

Does U.S. funding of a foreign "NGOs" affect their behavior? Andrew Natsios, USAID's former head, stated unequivocally in a widely distributed 2003 speech that even foreign USAID-funded contractors and NGO's "are an arm of the U.S. government." And the role of the much smaller NED was made clear when Allen Weinstein, one of its founders stated in a 1991 Washington Post article that, "a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA."

During some of the years that USAID funded the Coordinadora, the money passed through the USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) in Lima. USAID's OTI offices – just as their name indicates – are devoted to "political transitions" and are temporarily located only in countries where the U.S. government has an interest in either "regime change" or in politically and economically shoring up its allies.

OTI offices exist or have existed in several Latin American and the Caribbean countries, including Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Haiti. Not surprisingly, the biggest OTI office worldwide is in Iraq. In both Venezuela and Haiti over the last few years, USAID's OTI has contributed far more money to "NGOs" working for the U.S.'s political and economic interests than the more notorious yet much smaller meddler, the NED.

According to an email from the USAID's press officer, USAID has given the Coordinadora some $762,750.00. But Francisco Soberón, the Coordinadora's director, told Upside Down World that such grants have "happened in the past-but right now for us at the Coordinadora there is nothing at all." But he later said that "some [of the] other organizations that are members of the Coordinadora have received or are presently receiving" funding. One of these, APRODEH, received at least $53,246.39 from USAID. One-year-old Freedom of Information Act requests to USAID to determine the exact amounts of all of the grants have not yet been answered.

Soberón denied that the Coordinadora has received funding from NED, but the NED's own website lists it under their list of grantees and former grantees. However, there is no indication of how much it received or when. At the time of this writing, telephone requests to NED's press officer Jane Riley Richardson for information on the exact amount of funding have not been answered. Neither have a series of FOIA requests to NED been responded to. However, if Venezuela and Haiti are any guides, NED funding of the Coordinadora has probably been considerably less than that of USAID.

What has been the Coordinadora's role vis a vis the U.S. Embassy? According to a declassified State Department response to the Freedom of Information Act, as early as 1993, Coordinadora officers were debriefing the U.S. embassy in Lima about their trips to the conflictive areas of Peru where insurgents were still active. Given the U.S. government's assistance to the Peruvian government during the counterinsurgency war, such debriefings could have been considered as spying.

Is the U.S. getting anything out of this funding? The Coordinadora's Soberón responds with an emphatic "no," adding that "we do not accept conditions from anyone." But with the denunciation of Humala and his resultant drop in the polls, it looks like the U.S. may have gotten a lot for its money.

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The failure of Hugo-bashing

By Mark Weisbrot, MARK WEISBROT is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.
March 9, 2006

IT WAS YET ANOTHER public relations coup for Venezuela: Vila Isabel, the samba club sponsored mainly by the Venezuelan government, won the parade competition in Rio de Janeiro's Carnaval last week. A float with a giant likeness of Simon Bolivar, combined with thousands of ornately costumed participants parading down the avenue, trumpeted the winning theme: Latin American unity.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just last month called for "a united front" against Venezuela, continuing a long-term policy of trying to isolate the country. But Washington has been spitting into the wind. Venezuela's influence in the hemisphere has continued to rise while the U.S. has succeeded only in isolating itself more than at any time in at least half a century. It might be worth asking why.

First, Venezuela is a democracy - despite the best efforts of the Bush team to use President Hugo Chavez's close relations with Cuba's Fidel Castro as evidence to the contrary. Its elections are transparent and have been certified by observers from the Organization of American States, the Carter Center and the European Union. Freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly and of association prevail, at least as compared with the rest of the hemisphere.

In fact, most of the media remains controlled by the opposition, which attacks the government endlessly on all the major TV channels. It is the most vigorous and partisan opposition media in the hemisphere, one that has not been censored under Chavez.

Like all of Latin America, Venezuela has governance problems: a weak state, limited rule of law, corruption and incompetent government. But no reputable human rights organization has alleged that Venezuela under Chavez has deteriorated with regard to civil liberties, human rights or democracy, as compared with prior governments. Nor does the country compare unfavorably on these criteria with its neighbors in the region. In Peru, the government has shut down opposition TV stations; in Colombia, union organizers are murdered with impunity.

From a Latin American point of view, Venezuelans should have the right to choose their own president - even one who sometimes insults the American president - without interference from the United States. And Chavez's anger at Washington, from Latin Americans' point of view, appears justified. U.S. government documents released under our Freedom of Information Act indicate that Washington not only supported but was involved in the military coup that temporarily overthrew Venezuela's elected government in April 2002. Here in Washington, there is a "Monty Python" attitude toward the coup: "Let's not argue about who killed who." But in Latin America, a military coup against a democratically elected government is still considered a serious crime. To top it off, Washington continued to finance efforts to recall Chavez and, having failed miserably, still regularly presents him as a threat to democracy in the region.

With oil at nearly $60 a barrel, Venezuela has used its windfall proceeds to win friends in the hemisphere, providing low-cost financing for oil to Caribbean nations. When Argentina needed loans so that it could say goodbye to the International Monetary Fund, Venezuela committed $2.4 billion. Venezuela bought $300 million in bonds from Ecuador. Washington has historically had enormous influence over economic policy in Latin America through its control over the major sources of credit, including the IMF, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Venezuela's role as a new "lender of last resort" has reduced that influence.

Chavez's opposition to the "Washington consensus" on economic policy has fallen on sympathetic ears in a region that - since 1980 - has suffered its worst long-term economic failure in a century. Over the last 25 years, income per person in Latin America has grown by a meager 10%, according to the IMF. This compares with 82% from 1960 to 1980, before most of Washington's economic reforms were adopted. And Venezuela's government has kept its promise to share the oil wealth with the poor. The majority of the country now has access to free healthcare and subsidized food, and education spending has increased substantially.

Meanwhile in the U.S., while Vila Isabel was winning the Rio Carnaval, Connecticut became the eighth American state to participate in the program by which Citgo Petroleum Corp. provides discounted heating oil for poor people. Citgo is owned by the Venezuelan government. In the contest for the hearts and minds of the hemisphere, Venezuela is clearly winning.

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San Diego NCAA arena evacuated on bomb scare

Thu Mar 16, 2006 1:34 PM ET

LOS ANGELES - Police evacuated a San Diego college arena on Thursday, hours before a first-round NCAA championship basketball game, after a bomb-sniffing dog signaled a potential problem at a hot dog stand.
Cox Arena at San Diego State University was cleared while police tried to determine if there was an explosive device in the hot dog stand, college spokesman Jack Beresford said.

He said it was not immediately clear how many people were inside the building at the time but that the teams had not yet arrived.

"A bomb-sniffing dog noticed something in a hot dog cart," Beresford said. "They got a hit on something that was in the cart itself.

Comment: My god, those dastardly terrorists are using hotdogs as bombs!!

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Three die in Denny's shooting


LOS ANGELES - A man opened fire with a pair of handguns at a central California Denny's restaurant at lunchtime on Wednesday, killing two people and wounding two others before apparently taking his own life, police said.

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US says launches biggest air assault in Iraq

By Michael Georgy
Thu Mar 16, 2006 01:22 PM ET

BAGHDAD - The U.S. military said on Thursday it launched its biggest air offensive in Iraq since the 2003 invasion to root out insurgents near a town where recent violence raised fears of civil war.

Announced with media fanfare just hours after Iraq's parliament held a brief first meeting that did nothing to end a political stalemate over forming a government, the U.S. military said 50 aircraft were taking part in the raids north of Baghdad.
The U.S. military released to the media photographs of troop-carrying Black Hawk helicopters lined up in a row for the offensive. There were no pictures of warplanes.

A defense official at the Pentagon, who asked not to be named said it was a relatively large, but sought to downplay the scale of the operation. "It's not precision bombs and things like that," the official said.

Another official said it was "predominantly" a helicopter operation that involved UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and other aircraft and the insertion of ground forces.

A military statement said "Operation Swarmer" involved more than 1,500 Iraqi and U.S. troops and 200 armored vehicles targeting insurgents active near Samarra, 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad.

A defense official in Washington said 600-700 of the troops involved were Iraqi government forces. The rest were Americans.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said the offensive showed Iraqi forces, some facing accusations of cooperating with the rebels, are increasingly capable of securing the country.


The U.S. military has launched several major offensives against Sunni Arab insurgents since the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, including one involving several thousand soldiers that captured the former rebel stronghold of Falluja.

There were also a series of assaults in the rebel heartland in western Iraq's Anbar province which failed to hurt the insurgency and infuriated Iraqis who dug their loved ones out of the rubble after U.S. air strikes.

Comment: How exactly did we go from:
"Look, everything's fine in Iraq. There isn't going to be any civil war. The country is perfectly safe and stable!"
"Hit 'em with everything we've got!"

As with most other U.S. military "offensives", innocent civilians will pay the heaviest price for being an Iraqi in an Iraqi town when trigger-happy U.S. military grunts come knocking on doors.

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Iraqis Say 11 People Killed in U.S. Raid

By ZIAD KHALAF, Associated Press WriterWed Mar 15, 2:16 PM ET

U.S. forces flattened a house during a raid north of Baghdad early Wednesday, killing 11 people - mostly women and children, while insurgent attacks elsewhere left five dead, police and relatives said.
The U.S. military acknowledged the raid and said it caught one insurgent. It took place near Balad, about 50 miles north of the capital. But the military said only four people were killed - a man, two women and a child.

Political leaders, meanwhile, remained deadlocked on the composition of a new government on the eve of parliament's first session since the Dec. 15 elections. At 8 p.m., a driving ban came into effect in the capital that will last until 4 p.m. Thursday, which has been declared a public holiday.

Authorities in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, imposed their own six-day driving ban to protect pilgrims from a wave of sectarian killing.

The U.S. command announced the deployment of a battalion of at least 700 soldiers to Iraq from their base in Kuwait to provide extra security in the coming days for the pilgrimages connected to the holiday of Ashura and the convening of parliament. Tens of thousands converge for the religious commemorations, which drew increased attacks in 2004 and 2005.

Monday marks the end of the 40-day mourning period after the death of Imam Hussein in A.D. 680, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. The day also marks the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion.

The decision to add the armored unit, perhaps for as little as 30 days, is in contrast to the Bush administration's hopes to substantially draw down the U.S. military presence in Iraq. There are about 133,000 troops here.

Police Capt. Laith Mohammed, in nearby Samarra, said American warplanes and armor flattened the house and killed the 11 people inside.

An AP reporter in the area said the roof collapsed. Eleven bodies, wrapped in blankets, were taken to the Tikrit General Hospital, relatives said.

Associated Press photographs showed the bodies of two men, five children and four other covered figures at the hospital accompanied by grieving relatives. The victims were covered in dust and bits of rubble.

Riyadh Majid, who said he was the nephew of the killed head of the family - Faez Khalaf - told AP that U.S. forces landed in helicopters and raided the home. Khalaf's brother, Ahmed, said nine dead were residents of the house and two were visitors.

"The killed family was not part of the resistance, they were women and children," Ahmed Khalaf said. "The Americans have promised us a better life, but we get only death."

The U.S. military said it was targeting and captured an individual suspected of supporting foreign fighters for the al-Qaida in Iraq terrorist network.

"Troops were engaged by enemy fire as they approached the building," said Tech. Sgt. Stacy Simon. "Coalition forces returned fire utilizing both air and ground assets."

Bombs killed four more people and injured dozens Wednesday.

Three explosions hit Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. A suicide bomber on a bicycle missed a police patrol, killing two civilians and injuring six others, police said.

Later, an explosion in a cell phone shop killed two more people and injured 12, while another bomb targeting a police patrol injured two officers, police said.

A car bomb targeting a police patrol exploded in western Baghdad, killing at least one person and injuring 15, said police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud.

Late Tuesday, a roadside bomb exploded as an official with the Shiite Badr group, drove through Tuz Khormato, 130 miles north of Baghdad, killing the official's son and injuring nine other people, said police Brig. Sarhad Qadir. The Badr group is linked to a Shiite militia accused of widespread abuses by Sunni Muslims.

The deaths of 87 men were blamed on deepening sectarian violence in recent days - most of them shot to death execution-style. Their timing linked much of the bloodshed to revenge slayings for a bomb and mortar attack in a Baghdad Shiite slum that killed 58 and wounded more than 200 on Sunday.

On Tuesday, the U.S. command reported two more soldiers died in fighting in Anbar province, raising the death toll of U.S. military members killed since the start of the war in March 2003 to 2,310, according to an AP count.

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American arrested with weapons in Iraq

By Reuters

BAGHDAD - An American described as a security contractor has been arrested by police in a northern Iraqi town with weapons in his car, said a provincial official.

Abdullah Jebara, the Deputy Governor of Salahaddin province, told Reuters the man was arrested in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on Monday.

The Joint Coordination Center between the U.S. and Iraqi military in Tikrit said the man it described as a security contractor working for a private company, possessed explosives which were found in his car. It said he was arrested on Tuesday.

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British soldiers disguised as Iraqis try to plant bomb


British soldiers disguised as Iraqis try to plant bomb by "Islamic Party" headquarters in al-Basrah, in further apparent effort to spark sectarian civil war in Iraq.

The Iraqi puppet police in the southern Iraqi city of al-Basrah arrested three British soldiers disguised as Iraqis who were trying to plant explosives near the headquarters of the collaborationist so-called Islamic Party of Iraq, a Sunni party that was formed after the US occupation on the basis of the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood organization. The arrest took place on Thursday night, 9 March 2006, according to the al-Basrah correspondent for Quds Press.
Iraqi puppet security sources said that a patrol of Iraqi puppet police arrested three individuals who were planting an explosive device near the headquarters of the so-called Islamic Party. After an investigation of the men it was determined that they were British troops disguised in Arab dress. The source added, "British forces then arrested that Iraqi group that had the three Britons with them. The British troops released their own men but kept the Iraqi puppet police patrol in British custody," Quds Press reported.

The incident brought to mind a similar event that also took place in al-Basrah on an earlier occasion when a number of British troops disguised as Iraqis were caught by local puppet police on 19 September 2005 while trying to plant a bomb at a Shi'i shrine in the city.

Such attacks, and others where the perpetrators are unknown but the targets are civilian Sunni or Shi'i Iraqis, are widely viewed as a part of an Anglo-American effort to rescue their failing fortunes in Iraq by sparking a sectarian civil war in the country enabling them to fulfill their plans of partitioning the Iraq along ethnic and religious lines.

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Baghdad lockdown as new parliament sworn in

12:45 p.m. ET March 16, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Three months after elections, Iraq's new parliament was sworn in Thursday with parties still deadlocked over the next government, vehicles banned from Baghdad's streets to prevent car bombings and the country under the shadow of a feared civil war.

But the long-awaited first session had hardly begun when it was indefinitely adjourned for lack of agreement on a permanent speaker for the legislature.

The whole business lasted slightly more than 30 minutes, just long enough for the members to pledge to "preserve the independence and the sovereignty of Iraq and to take care of the interests of its people."
The head of the committee that drafted the country's new constitution, Humam Hammoudi, then stood up and protested two words had been changed in the oath. After brief consultations, judicial officials agreed the wording was acceptable and the session adjourned until further notice.

Adnan Pachachi, the senior politician who administered the oath, spoke of a country in crisis.

"We have to prove to the world that a civil war is not and will not take place among our people," Pachachi told lawmakers. "The danger is still looming and the enemies are ready for us because they do not like to see a united, strong, stable Iraq."

As Pachachi spoke, he was interrupted from the floor by senior Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who said the remarks were inappropriate, to which he responded, "These are the duties of the Council" of Deputies - parliament's official name.

Afterward acting Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari told reporters that "if politicians work seriously, we can have a government within a month."

Political logjam over al-Jaafari

Al-Jaafari's candidacy for a second term as prime minister is at the center of the political logjam that delayed parliament's first session for over a month after the results of Dec. 15 elections were approved.

Under the constitution, the largest parliamentary bloc, controlled by Shiites, has the right to nominate the prime minister. Al-Jaafari won the Shiite nomination by a single vote last month.

Politicians involved in the negotiations have said part of the Shiite bloc, those aligned with al-Hakim, would like to see al-Jaafari ousted but fear the consequences, given his backing from radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and al-Sadr's powerful Mahdi Army.

Sunni, Kurdish and some secular Shiites argue al-Jaafari is too divisive and accuse him of not doing enough to contain waves of revenge killing after bombers destroyed an important Shiite shrine on Feb. 22 and ripped apart teeming markets in an al-Sadr stronghold in Baghdad on Sunday.

Police reported the discovery of 27 more bodies discarded in various parts of the Baghdad overnight and Thursday morning. The victims were all men, some with their hands bound, who had been shot execution-style and dumped in both Shiite and Sunni Muslim neighborhoods, said Interior Ministry official Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi.

A pianist played as representatives of the countries main ethnic and religious blocs - many in traditional Arab and Kurdish dress - filed into a convention center behind the concrete blast walls of the heavily fortified Green Zone for parliament's first meeting.

The inaugural session started the clock on a 60-day period in which parliament must elect a president and approve a prime minister and Cabinet.

But there was little sign of progress after a second full day of meetings Wednesday among leaders of the major political blocs. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad brokered the sessions, designed to speed agreement on the next government's shape.

"I expect that there still will be difficulties over choosing the prime minister," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish politician who was in Wednesday's session.

Khalilzad has been pressing political leaders to reach agreement on a national unity government, under which the country's majority Shiite Muslims would share Cabinet posts equitably with minority Sunnis and Kurds.

The Americans see that as the best way to blunt the Sunni-driven insurgency that has ravaged the country since 2003. If a strong central government were in place, Washington had hoped to start removing some troops.

The parliamentary session comes as the U.S. military braces for violence ahead of the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq on March 20,2003, which coincides with a major religious commemoration that came under attack in the two previous years.

The military dispatched a battalion of soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division - about 700 troops - to Iraq from its base in Kuwait to provide extra security as tens of thousands of pilgrims converged on Shiite holy cities.

Authorities in one of the cities, Karbala, imposed a six-day driving ban starting Thursday in a bid to protect pilgrims this year. [...]

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Lessons of Iraq War Start With US History

By Howard Zinn
The Progressive
Tuesday 14 March 2006

On the third anniversary of President Bush's Iraq debacle, it's important to consider why the administration so easily fooled so many people into supporting the war.

I believe there are two reasons, which go deep into our national culture.

One is an absence of historical perspective. The other is an inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism.
If we don't know history, then we are ready meat for carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and journalists who supply the carving knives. But if we know some history, if we know how many times presidents have lied to us, we will not be fooled again.

President Polk lied to the nation about the reason for going to war with Mexico in 1846. It wasn't that Mexico "shed American blood upon the American soil" but that Polk, and the slave-owning aristocracy, coveted half of Mexico.

President McKinley lied in 1898 about the reason for invading Cuba, saying we wanted to liberate the Cubans from Spanish control, but the truth is that he really wanted Spain out of Cuba so that the island could be open to United Fruit and other American corporations. He also lied about the reasons for our war in the Philippines, claiming we only wanted to "civilize" the Filipinos, while the real reason was to own a valuable piece of real estate in the far Pacific, even if we had to kill hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to accomplish that.

President Wilson lied about the reasons for entering the First World War, saying it was a war to "make the world safe for democracy," when it was really a war to make the world safe for the rising American power.

President Truman lied when he said the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima because it was "a military target."

And everyone lied about Vietnam - President Kennedy about the extent of our involvement, President Johnson about the Gulf of Tonkin and President Nixon about the secret bombing of Cambodia. They all claimed the war was to keep South Vietnam free of communism, but really wanted to keep South Vietnam as an American outpost at the edge of the Asian continent.

President Reagan lied about the invasion of Grenada, claiming falsely that it was a threat to the United States.

The elder Bush lied about the invasion of Panama, leading to the death of thousands of ordinary citizens in that country. And he lied again about the reason for attacking Iraq in 1991 - hardly to defend the integrity of Kuwait, rather to assert U.S. power in the oil-rich Middle East.

There is an even bigger lie: the arrogant idea that this country is the center of the universe, exceptionally virtuous, admirable, superior.

If our starting point for evaluating the world around us is the firm belief that this nation is somehow endowed by Providence with unique qualities that make it morally superior to every other nation on Earth, then we are not likely to question the president when he says we are sending our troops here or there, or bombing this or that, in order to spread our values - democracy, liberty, and let's not forget free enterprise - to some God-forsaken (literally) place in the world.

But we must face some facts that disturb the idea of a uniquely virtuous nation.

We must face our long history of ethnic cleansing, in which the U.S. government drove millions of Indians off their land by means of massacres and forced evacuations.

We must face our long history, still not behind us, of slavery, segregation and racism.

And we must face the lingering memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is not a history of which we can be proud.

Our leaders have taken it for granted, and planted the belief in the minds of many people that we are entitled, because of our moral superiority, to dominate the world. Both the Republican and Democratic Parties have embraced this notion.

But what is the idea of our moral superiority based on?

A more honest estimate of ourselves as a nation would prepare us all for the next barrage of lies that will accompany the next proposal to inflict our power on some other part of the world.

It might also inspire us to create a different history for ourselves, by taking our country away from the liars who govern it, and by rejecting nationalist arrogance, so that we can join people around the world in the common cause of peace and justice.

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Top Iraq war correspondents discuss risking their lives to tell a truth that few want to hear - or believe

By Bonnie Azab Powell, NewsCenter | 14 March 2006

BERKELEY – "I have lost all faith in the media," says the National Guardsman narrating "The War Tapes," the first war documentary to be filmed entirely by soldiers. A portion of the as-yet-unreleased film about the Iraq war was screened for a UC Berkeley audience last night (March 13) as part of a forum titled "Iraq: Reports from the Frontlines," introduced by San Francisco Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein. That soldier's sentiment was the backdrop for the discussion that followed among five influential journalists who have reported extensively on the Iraq war - and judging by occasional bitterness-tinged heckling, more than a few audience members shared the soldier's viewpoint.

The discussion centered on two deeply polarizing questions. Given the extreme danger of the situation in Iraq, are journalists in Iraq even able to cover the real story? And are they getting the story "right"? Responding to moderator Orville Schell, dean of Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and just back from a trip to Iraq, the four participants offered rather different perspectives on both questions. Meanwhile, two reporters who were not present cast long shadows over the journalistic exchange: the constant deadly threat faced by reporters was symbolized by Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor freelancer kidnapped in Baghdad in January and still missing, while the damage to journalistic reputations and credibility was embodied by controversial former New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

Straight from the fog of war

The segment of "The War Tapes" proved the perfect introduction to the evening's topic. According to forum participant John Burns, the New York Times' Baghdad bureau chief and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, this is "the single best document you could see. It captures, in ways we as embedded reporters could not, the misery and futility of this war."

Directed by Deborah Scranton via Internet uploads and instant-messaging, the film will be released to theaters in July; its producers are those behind "The Fog of War," the Errol Morris documentary about Robert McNamara. To create the film, five soldiers volunteered to bring small digital cameras with them on deployment, often mounting the cameras inside their HumVees and on tanks as they patrolled. (One of them was New Hampshire National Guard Sergeant Steve Pink, who joined Scranton to address last night's audience briefly.) The edited result of more than 100 hours of footage is a never-before-seen account of war from the warriors' perspective: at times terrifying, ribald, tedious, and heart-wrenching.

Training in cold New Hampshire before being deployed, troops in camouflage uniforms make angels in the snow as the cameraman giggles and jokes that of course "we're ready for the desert." Later, when mortars land at Baghdad's Camp Anaconda a little too close for comfort, both the camera and the soldier-narrator's voice shake from adrenaline as he tells how Anaconda is the most heavily attacked base in Iraq. An Iraqi selling a pornographic pin-up of a woman is asked if he has any "with farm animals." A Lebanese-born, Arabic-speaking National Guardsman, one of the cameramen, chats easily with the young boys who gather around the soldiers whenever they are out of their vehicles. The interview of that soldier's mother at home in the United States, and her tearful incomprehension of how she could have gotten her son out of a civil war zone to emigrate, only to have him volunteer to go fight in another such war, is one of the segment's most memorable.

The film's footage of the immediate aftermath of a car bomb near a checkpoint is visceral. Such bombs are a daily hazard in Iraq and dutifully noted in U.S. newspapers, but few Americans have seen the gruesome reality as revealed in "War Tapes." The camera pans slowly over the blackened shell of the vehicle and the charred upper torso of a man, head burned beyond recognition, lying halfway outside the open car door in a pool of blood. In numb tones, the soldier holding the camera tells us what that blood and flesh smells like and describes how crisped skin fragments are crunching under his feet.

A ticket to the adrenaline roller coaster

Watching the film gave the Berkeley audience the tiniest taste of what it feels like to be in Iraq right now: hearts taking off like jackrabbits when artillery fire suddenly pings the windshield right in front of you, stomachs turning at the sight of the remnants of violent death. And yet, "when you travel with the U.S. military you only get one part of the story," reminded participant Anna Badkhen, a Chronicle staff writer who has reported from wartime Chechnya, Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Iraq. "You can't say on a raid, 'Excuse me, I'm just going to talk to this person, can you wait 10 minutes' … We never find out what the Iraqis are feeling."

Jackie Spinner, Washington Post staff writer and author of "Tell Them I Didn't Cry," an account of a year spent in Baghdad starting in May 2004, disagreed that reporters in Iraq are prevented from telling both sides. "I think we're getting 90 percent of the story," she said. When disbelieving guffaws rang out from the audience, she retorted, "Excuse me, have you been there?" She went on to explain how when Washington Post reporters can't go out, "we rely on this whole cadre of Iraqi stringers and translators, who in the case of the Washington Post are Post-trained journalists."

Those skeptical of this reliance should take the time to read Spinner's book, which describes in detail the tight bond between the Post's Baghdad correspondents and the Iraqis who risk their lives to work for the bureau, often keeping their jobs a secret even from family members lest the insurgents kill them in retaliation. Before the situation in Iraq turned even more dangerous, Spinner - a UC Berkeley journalism alumna - would dress in a headscarf and full-length abaya and ride to the scene of an incident. There she would wait while her translator brought her an Iraqi who she could interview inside the tinted windows of the car. Later, she could not always go herself, but would be in constant contact with the Iraqi staff, guiding what questions they asked and pressing for details of the source's mannerisms, hesitations, and context.

And yet, "it's never quite the same as going yourself," admitted Burns. He invoked the Carroll kidnapping and reminded the audience that almost 70 journalists, the majority of them Iraqi, have already been killed in these three years of the Iraq war - roughly the same number as died during the decade-plus duration of the Vietnam War. (Three Iraqi journalists were shot dead just in the past seven days.) Explaining the bind he is in as bureau chief, deciding whether getting a particular story is worth the risk to his staff, he asked, "Am I going to commit my colleagues or myself into a situation which can very easily turn catastrophic for us? My pledge to my editors is that everyone who goes comes home safe, although it's more a prayer than an expectation at this point."

Mark Danner, a professor at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, was the most pessimistic of the group, although he tried to couch his disagreement respectfully. "I think it's important to distinguish between good journalism, which is being done there, and conditions that are overwhelmingly difficult," said Danner, who has made three trips to Iraq and is the author of 2004's "Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror" and "The Iraq War: The Secret Way to War," forthcoming this year.

"The story we're getting is very limited because the risks are so great," Danner concluded. "[The violence] has to have an effect, it has had an effect, and I think we should recognize that."

When no news is good-enough news

Whether journalists are getting even that limited story right depends on what "right" means to the reader. Most soldiers, including those who made "The War Tapes," and conservatives believe that the media focuses on the war's negative aspects, to the exclusion of all the good works being done in Iraq. When Schell, Burns, and Spinner were interviewed on KQED's Forum program the morning of the Berkeley talk, one caller to the program excoriated the media for failing to report sooner on the torture and degradation by U.S. soldiers of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, which he claimed were known about for a year beforehand.

Spinner defended her coverage, even in the face of e-mails like one she recalled receiving that told her she should have died that day in Fallujah, instead of the marine whose death she reported. "The Iraq war has so polarized this country. That's why you hear hisses and boos and claps, depending on what you're saying - people want to hear journalists reaffirm their previously held beliefs about the war," Spinner said. "And I don't do that. I simply speak what I see. And I'm sorry if that's offensive to people, but I'm a journalist."

Not just a journalist but an "old-school journalist," she clarified in response to Schell's first question about the evolutions of the panelists' views of the war. "I went to Iraq not because I was for or against it, but because there was a war," Spinner said, adding she believes it is inappropriate for journalists to take sides publicly, as they are supposed to write from a neutral stance.

The others were not so circumspect. "I've covered so many conflicts, and seen so many unnecessary deaths, and I thought this war could have been avoided," Badkhen answered Schell. Danner's quip that "I thought it was a terrible idea at the beginning, and then I really turned against it," got a big laugh and a round of applause, but he had the home-team advantage: many in the audience had likely attended his pre-invasion debate in January 2003 with hawkish journalist Christopher Hitchens over whether war with Iraq would make America safer.

Meanwhile Burns, who began reporting from Iraq long before the U.S.-led invasion, said that he had at first believed that Iraqis would be better off if the violent tyrant Saddam Hussein were toppled. He had been "mesmerized by Saddam Hussein's brutality into looking through a narrow glass," he admitted, and had "missed the fractured society beneath the tyranny," a society that is now looking as if it is about to degenerate into a bloody, decades-long, unresolvable civil war.

One would think that when Burns - with his 40-year career of reporting on wars - says somberly that this war does not look as if it's going to turn out well for either Iraq or America, that would be a somewhat persuasive message across political-party lines. And yet he too hears constantly that the New York Times is not reporting the "good news" coming out of Iraq. In that morning's KQED interview, he asked rhetorically whether Americans would prefer a "good-news newspaper," like the Soviet Union's Pravda was, before explaining that journalism's nature "inclines us somewhat more to look at things that go wrong than things that go right."

The torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib by U.S. soldiers was unarguably the biggest single story of the war today, Burns said, calling it "an arrow in the back of every American soldier who goes to Iraq." And yet the Abu Ghraib incidents are not representative of what the U.S. armed forces in Iraq do - building schools, repairing sewage lines, helping Iraqi victims of suicide bombings - and Americans have every reason to be deeply proud of their armed forces in Iraq, he emphasized. "Is that adequately reflected in what we write? I'm afraid to say it isn't…if 52 people get killed in a succession of bombings as they were yesterday in Sadr City in Baghdad, that's a major story. You can't ignore it. We have to dedicate resources to it," Burns explained. "Now, whilst that was going on I have no doubt that there were thousands of American troops doing things of direct and immediate benefit to the Iraqi people."

Weapons of mass distraction

Schell asked Burns if he thought whether the reporting done by fellow New York Times' reporter Judy Miller on Saddam's presumed weapons of mass destruction - reporting that was later shown to be based on manufactured and erroneous intelligence from sources with motives of their own - had overly greased America's path to war. Burns replied at length how Miller was not alone in being duped, that he too could not forgive himself for having failed "to follow through on my own precepts. I thought this man was … a trickster of the highest order," he said. "Why did it never cross my mind that he didn't have them but wanted us to believe that he did?"

Danner swooped in to suggest that the nonexistence of those WMDs had muddied the waters and caused people to forget the original argument, which was still worth debating: "The real question was whether [Saddam's] possession of those weapons justified the war to remove the regime," he argued, adding his contention, which he has held since before the invasion, that American security would almost certainly be degraded by a preemptive war. The WMDs "were in essence a pretext, a symbol," he said. "The war was not under debate" - only the reason for it was.

According to Danner, a government that wants to make a case for war based on classified intelligence is in a very powerful position, "because it can dole out those bits of information to a scoop-hungry press like little sweetmeats," Danner said, gesturing as if teasing a dog at a dinner table. "That's essentially what Judy Miller was made into, a kind of seal who jumped up for these tidbits." After the laughter subsided, Danner acknowledged that other journalists fell into the same subservient trap as Miller, and that she was simply the highest-profile seal.

Anger management

Schell's last question to the assembled journalists was which story from Iraq they would most like to cover if security were not an issue. Spinner quickly said that in an ideal world, she would like to get at the heart of the insurgency, that she cannot understand why the foreign fighters who come to Iraq are tolerated by the Iraqis. Nor can the Iraqis she interviews understand why the world's strongest military power has not yet vanquished the insurgents.

"That is the story," agreed Burns. "Three years into this war and we still don't know who the insurgents are or how they are structured."

Danner detoured back to answer a previous question of Schell's: whether the anger felt toward the media by the U.S. public - including some in the Berkeley audience - was displaced anger that "really wants to be directed at the government, but since the government isn't listening, it gets directed at journalists?"

Journalists, Danner argued, have indeed been getting enough of the story both in Iraq and in Washington, DC, and getting it right. "The conceptual problem has to do with information versus politics," he said.

His argument, essentially, was that the Bush Administration has hijacked reality, and that a confused and angry public has turned to shooting the messenger. Although almost as soon as the invasion commenced, journalists were reporting accurately that the military did not have enough troops to secure the cities - a fact later admitted by figures as high up as Paul Bremer, former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq - "the problem is that no consequences have flowed from that. No one's been fired, no more troops have been sent.…And that's true of torture, of a lot of other policy failures of this administration," said Danner. "We know about them, yet we keep looking to the press to say, 'You have to prove it, you have to prove it!'"

But not only does the public no longer trust that any such proof from the media can be conclusive, it also sees that nothing happens after it is published, rendering the "truth" of such proof impotent, Danner concluded. "The problem is that this next step after revelation, which is investigation and then punishment - or expiation and political change - hasn't happened."

The evening concluded on this glum note, as Schell deemed it too late to take any questions from the audience. The five journalists were thus left unasked whether they agreed with the spirit of this quotation from Spinner's book - "I didn't become a journalist to serve my country; I became a journalist to serve the story. Dying for my country was not as noble as dying for the truth" - or the follow-up question:

Is it worth risking your life for a truth your countrymen choose not to believe?

A full webcast of "Iraq: Reports from the Frontlines" will be available tomorrow; check back for a link. The forum was part of the Herb Caen/San Francisco Chronicle lecture series, presented by UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, The San Francisco Chronicle and The World Affairs Council.

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US Postwar Iraq Strategy a Mess, Blair Was Told

Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor
Tuesday March 14, 2006
The Guardian

Senior British diplomatic and military staff gave Tony Blair explicit warnings three years ago that the US was disastrously mishandling the occupation of Iraq, according to leaked memos.

John Sawers, Mr Blair's envoy in Baghdad in the aftermath of the invasion, sent a series of confidential memos to Downing Street in May and June 2003 cataloguing US failures. With unusual frankness, he described the US postwar administration, led by the retired general Jay Garner, as "an unbelievable mess" and said "Garner and his top team of 60-year-old retired generals" were "well-meaning but out of their depth".

That assessment is reinforced by Major General Albert Whitley, the most senior British officer with the US land forces. Gen Whitley, in another memo later that summer, expressed alarm that the US-British coalition was in danger of losing the peace. "We may have been seduced into something we might be inclined to regret. Is strategic failure a possibility? The answer has to be 'yes'," he concluded.

The memos were obtained by Michael Gordon, author, along with General Bernard Trainor, of Cobra II: the Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, published to coincide with the third anniversary of the invasion.

The British memos identified a series of US failures that contained the seeds of the present insurgency and anarchy.

The mistakes include:

· A lack of interest by the US commander, General Tommy Franks, in the post-invasion phase.

· The presence in the capital of the US Third Infantry Division, which took a heavyhanded approach to security.

· Squandering the initial sympathy of Iraqis.

· Bechtel, the main US civilian contractor, moving too slowly to reconnect basic services, such as electricity and water.

· Failure to deal with health hazards, such as 40% of Baghdad's sewage pouring into the Tigris and rubbish piling up in the streets.

· Sacking of many of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party, even though many of them held relatively junior posts.

Mr Sawers, in a memo titled Iraq: What's Going Wrong, written on May 11, four days after he had arrived in Baghdad, is uncompromising about the US administration in Baghdad. He wrote: "No leadership, no strategy, no coordination, no structure and inaccessible to ordinary Iraqis."

He said the US needed to take action in Baghdad urgently. "The clock is ticking." Both Mr Sawers, who is now political director at the Foreign Office, and Gen Whitley see as one of the biggest errors a decision by Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, and General Tommy Franks, the overall US commander, to cut troops after the invasion.

Mr Sawers advocated sending a British battalion, the 16th Air Assault Brigade, to Baghdad to help fill the gap. Although the US supported the plan, Downing Street rejected it weeks later.

The British diplomat is particularly scathing about the US Third Infantry Division, which he describes as "a big part of the problem" in Baghdad. He accused its troops of being reluctant to leave their heavily armoured vehicles to carry out policing and cites an incident in which British Paras saw them fire three tank rounds into a building in response to harmless rifle fire.

Mr Sawers, who had been British ambassador to Egypt before being sent to Iraq and is at present on a shortlist to be the next ambassador to Washington, sent the memo to Mr Blair's key advisers, including Jonathan Powell, the No 10 chief of staff, and Alastair Campbell, head of the Downing Street press operation at the time.

Mr Sawers, in later memos, welcomed the replacement of Gen Garner with Paul Bremer, a US diplomat. But in a memo written in June 25, Mr Sawyer concluded that, despite Mr Bremer's arrival, the situation was getting worse.

In that memo, Mr Sawers expressed opposition to further troop reductions. "Bremer's main concern is that we must keep in-country sufficient military capability to ensure a security blanket across the country. He has twice said to President Bush that he is concerned that the drawdown of US/UK troops had gone too far, and we cannot afford further reductions," Mr Sawers said.

Throughout his time in Iraq, however, Mr Sawers remained optimistic Mr Bremer would make a difference.

His views in the memo are echoed in a note by Gen Whitley, who says that while Gen Franks took credit for the fall of Baghdad, he showed little interest in the postwar period. "I am quite sure Franks did not want to take ownership of Phase IV," Gen Whitley wrote.

He added that Phase IV "did not work well" because the concentration was on the invasion. "There was a blind faith that Phase IV would work. There was a failure to anticipate the extent of the backlash or mood of Iraqi society."

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Around the World

Gunbattle erupts in Jenin, Israelis shot in W.Bank

Thu Mar 16, 1:39 AM ET

JENIN, West Bank - Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen fought each other in the West Bank city of Jenin on Thursday, hours after gunmen shot and wounded two Israeli motorists near a Jewish settlement.

The spike in violence followed the army's capture of six Palestinian militants in a West Bank prison raid on Tuesday. The captives included a faction leader accused of ordering the 2001 assassination of a far-right Israeli cabinet minister.
In Jenin, soldiers came under heavy fire from gunmen holed up in a house in the city during an operation to arrest them. The army declined to comment on whether there were Israeli casualties in the raid.

Palestinian residents said a fierce gun battle was under way at the house where a group of gunmen from the Islamic Jihad militant group were trading fire with troops surrounding the building.

Earlier on Thursday, Palestinian gunmen shot and wounded two Israeli motorists near a Jewish settlement in the northern West Bank. The Israelis were taken to hospital with light to moderate wounds, the army said.

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U.S. says worldwide child porn ring used Web

March 15, 2006, 11:27 AM PST

U.S. and Canadian law enforcement officials said Wednesday that they had cracked an international pornography ring that featured live molestations of children streamed over the Internet.

Twenty-seven people from nine U.S. states and Canada, Australia and Britain have been charged with possession, receipt, distribution and manufacture of child pornography, and all but one have been arrested, according to U.S. federal authorities and Canadian police.

One of those arrested has been held since January, while others were arrested as recently as Tuesday. The one who remains at large is considered a fugitive, officials said.
"This international undercover investigation revealed an insidious network that engaged in worldwide trafficking in child pornography, including live molestations of children transmitted over the Internet," U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in a statement released ahead of a visit to Chicago.

Authorities have identified seven child victims, including an infant whose molestation in April by a suburban Chicago man was transmitted live via an Internet chat room to a co-conspirator who used the screen name "Big_Daddy619."

Four of those charged allegedly molested the children, making the resulting images available in the chat room called "Kiddypics & Kiddyvids," that facilitated trading of thousands of images and videos, the statement said.

Manufacturing child pornography carries a minimum 15-year prison sentence, while the other charges call for minimum sentences of at least five years.

Comment: Don't miss our podcast "Sexual Exploitation as Control System".

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Biometrics unreliable, says EU privacy head

By Jo Best
CNET News.com
March 15, 2006, 10:37 AM PST

European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx criticized governments' fondness for biometrics to identify citizens and warned that greater interoperability of databases may have serious implications for people.

In response to a recent communication by the European Union on the interoperability of several databases, including the Visa Information System and Eurodac, Hustinx issued an opinion calling for a better analysis of the data protection implications.
"Interoperability is mentioned not only in relation to the common use of large-scale IT systems but also with regard to possibilities of accessing or exchanging data, or even of merging databases," according to the opinion. "This is regrettable since different kinds of interoperability require different safeguards and conditions."

The supervisor is also a proponent of the introduction of a so-called purpose limitation principle, which would require data to be processed fairly and lawfully and for a legitimate purpose. New data protection safeguards are therefore needed, Hustinx added.

The supervisor also hit out at the use of biometrics as unique identifiers for European citizens within databases, saying that fingerprint or DNA identifications are too inaccurate and can facilitate the unwarranted interconnection of databases.

"It is regrettable that the protection of personal data has not been explored sufficiently as an inherent part of the improvement of the interoperability of relevant systems," Hustinx said.

"The EDPS suggests adding to this communication a more consistent analysis on data protection, including privacy-enhancing technologies to improve both effectiveness and data protection," he added.

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German firm says sorry as drug trial victims fight for life

Thu Mar 16, 2:44 AM ET

LONDON - A German drug company said it has apologised to the families of six men who were in hospital, two badly deformed and fighting for their lives, after a clinical trial in London went horribly wrong.

Thomas Hanke, chief scientific officer at TeGenero, also insisted that the trial to test a medicine for immunological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and certain cancers had met regulatory standards.

But senior doctors told The Times newspaper that the test at a research unit operated by US company Parexel International had failed to conform to best medical practices.
Two of the six patients were critically ill and the other four remained in serious condition in the intensive-care unit of Northwick Park Hospital, an official at the northwest London hospital said.

The men, who had all been healthy, were admitted on Wednesday evening after suddenly falling ill while taking part in the drug trial at the independent research unit in the hospital compound.

Doctor Hanke said TeGenero was "devastated" at the "shocking developments" in the testing of its drug, which the firm identified as TGN1412.

Asked by reporters whether the company had apologised to the men's families, he replied: "Yes."

Hanke also said the drug had shown no adverse side-effects previously and the testing had been done to regulatory standards.

Initial research into the new medicine started in 1997 and it had been in development since 2000 but testing had now been halted, Hanke added.

The Times said senior doctors were concerned that all six victims had been given the experimental drug at the same time.

The newspaper said this went against guidance in "The Textbook of Pharmaceutical Medicine", which advises that such practices can be "very difficult to manage" and "put subjects at unnecessary risk."

Two other men also participated in the clinical trial -- all eight men were paid volunteers -- but escaped unscathed after being given a placebo.

One of the survivors, Raste Khan, 23, described the horror that befell six of his fellow human guinea pigs.

"First they began tearing their shirts off complaining of fever, then some screamed out that their heads felt like they were going to explode," Khan told The Sun tabloid on Thursday.

"After that they started fainting, vomiting and writhing around in their beds," he recalled.

Relatives and girlfriends of the victims also revealed details about their loved-ones' ordeal as they prayed for their recovery.

Ryan Wilson, 21, begged doctors to put him to sleep because he was in so much pain, his sister-in-law Jo Brown, 24, told The Sun.

The trainee plumber suffered heart, lung and kidney failure.

"His head had swollen to nearly three times its normal size. His neck was the same. It was wider than his head and his skin had turned a dark purple," Brown said.

Myfanwy Marshall, 35, tearfully said her boyfriend, a 28-year-old barman whose name has not been revealed, looked like the "Elephant Man".

"They haven't got a cure," she told BBC News.

"This is a drug they have never tested on humans before so they don't know what they are dealing with. It's completely messed up their vital organs."

Britain's medicines watchdog halted the clinical trial on Wednesday and sounded an alert to its equivalent bodies across the
European Union.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is currently investigating what went wrong with help from the Metropolitan police.

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Spanish doctors cut 60-kilo tumour from woman

Mar 16 11:43 AM US/Eastern

Spanish doctors have removed a giant tumour weighing 60 kilograms (132 pounds) from a female patient at a hospital in the northern city of Cruces.
Surgeons had to remove a portion of the women's abdomen and perform reconstructive surgery in removing the tumour, the health officials in the northern region of Vizcaya said Thursday.

The patient, said to be clinically obese, was not identified.

Although weighing as much as a normal adult woman by itself, the tumour was less than half the size of the largest ever recorded to be removed intact.

In 1991, a surgeon at California's Stanford University Medical Center removed a multicystic ovarian mass weighing 302 pounds (138 kilograms), which Guinness World Records holds to be the biggest ever.

The woman survived and, according to Guinness World Records, she "left the operating theater on one stretcher and the cyst left on another."

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France braced for student protest

Thursday, 16 March 2006, 10:56 GMT

Tens of thousands of French students are expected to take to the streets across France to protest against a controversial new labour law.
Protesters object to new two-year job contracts for under-26s which employers can break off without explanation.

President Jacques Chirac has appealed for talks, but said the new law was important to fight unemployment.

Protests turned violent on Tuesday when police clashed with students holding a sit-in outside the Sorbonne University.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy met with police and the protest's organisers to try to ensure a peaceful march on Thursday, ministry officials said.

More demonstrations are planned for Saturday, with trade unions calling up to a million people to the streets.

Unemployment rates

Students fear the First Employment Contract (CPE), passed into law last week, will erode job stability, in a country where more than 20% of 18 to 25-year-olds are unemployed - more than twice the national rate.

President Chirac has called for dialogue between ministers and labour leaders, but union officials say they will not enter into talks until the CPE is suspended.

The government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin proposed the law to help youths in the French suburbs who took to the streets last year, many unhappy with the lack of employment opportunities.

If the recent troubles awaken memories of student demonstrations in May 1968, the scale, demands and context of these protests are rather different, says the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris.

Now it is the French middle-class, the country's future elite, expressing its fears about the present and the future.

However, the worry for the French government is that, as in May 1968, French students are expressing wider disenchantment with a government that is seen as remote and out of touch, our correspondent adds.

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Violence erupts in French student protests

By Kerstin Gehmlich and Anna Willard
Thu Mar 16, 2006 1:02 PM ET

PARIS - French police used teargas when violence erupted as students turned up the heat on Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin over a jobs law on Thursday, while his government struggled to defuse the crisis.

A kiosk was set on fire and some students threw stones at police at the end of a rally in Paris by several thousand university and high school students.

Protests across France have gathered in momentum since hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out on March 7 against the law, which critics say reduces job protection for young people. The protests have been largely peaceful so far.
Student leaders said more than 300,000 marched across France and that 64 of the country's 84 universities had been hit by the protests on Thursday. Officials reported lower numbers.

The protests could hurt the conservative Villepin's hopes of running for president in 2007. He says the law will help reduce unemployment among the young, now running at 22.8 percent, more than twice the overall national rate.

Street protests can make or break governments in France. Protests in 1995 badly undermined the then conservative Prime Minister Alain Juppe, who lost snap elections two years later.

Police fired teargas after 100 students briefly occupied a town hall in the western city of Rennes on Thursday. Thousands of students marched in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille and in Bordeaux in the southwest.

In Paris, police in riot gear fired teargas at several dozen youths pelting them with stones in a neighborhood dotted with government ministries. Student leaders said about 120,000 marched across the capital.


Nearby boutiques and the elite Sciences Po university closed as a precaution as the protests signaled hardening opposition.

Opinion polls show Villepin's popularity has tumbled during the biggest test of his 10 months in office.

"Chirac, Villepin, Sarkozy, your trial period is up!" read one banner in Paris, referring to President Jacques Chirac, his prime minister and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

"Of course we're against (the law). It will enable the bosses to fire people without any cause," said high school student Pedro Amorim, 17.

Some students with "anti-CPE" daubed on their faces, a reference to the so-called "First Job Contract" that allows employers to dismiss workers under 26 during a two-year trial period without having to give a reason.

Student and union leaders have spurned an offer of talks over the law from Villepin, who railroaded the measure through parliament. They say opposition will grow until the prime minister backs down.

"I am open to dialogue within the framework of the law and to improve the First Job Contract," said Villepin.

But Villepin has vowed to stand firm over the law. "I will do it to the end because I believe in this measure," Villepin said in an interview with Paris Match magazine.

With no end in sight to the standoff, ministers have offered six-monthly reviews of the law in an effort to defuse tensions.

"Perhaps it isn't the best solution, perhaps we could improve it, but at least we're moving forwards," Finance Minister Thierry Breton said on RMC radio.

Trade unions plan another day of action on Saturday and hope to top the one million protesters they estimated took part in the March 7 protests. Police estimates were half that figure.

Sarkozy, who took a tough line during suburban riots last year, warned when he met police and student leaders earlier this week that troublemakers could hijack the protests.

France's unemployment rate is one of the highest in Europe at 9.6 percent and more than twice that for under 25-year-olds. It tops 40 percent in some run-down neighborhoods.

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Ark's Quantum Quirks

Signs of the Times
March 16, 2006


Unrest in France

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House Cleaning

Scientists Closely Watch Augustine Volcano

KENAI, Alaska, Mar. 16, 2006

(AP) Recent changes with the Augustine Volcano indicate that the activity the volcano is exhibiting now is less explosive than what occurred in January.

Scientists, however, are continuing to keep an eye on the Cook Inlet volcano. Activity at the volcano climbed to a new level last week.
Measurements and observations made on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday show the nature of the activity is less hazardous than the explosive activity the volcano exhibited in mid-January.

Increased levels of carbon dioxide measured in emissions and overflight observations indicate recent seismicity is tied to dome building rather than explosions.

"Now we're in a period of big dome growth," said Peter Cervelli, a U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

Overflight observations and emissions measurements have found that the dome walls have accumulated more rock and that carbon dioxide levels have risen, indicating that the volcano is producing new magma. But new magma does not necessarily mean more explosions.

"Sometimes it comes out violently and sometimes it oozes out like a tube of toothpaste," Cervelli said. "And that's what it's doing right now."

The kind of lava that flows from Augustine tends to be cooler and thicker than the lava that flows from Hawaiian volcanoes.

Whether or not the volcano explodes or oozes depends on whether the path of the lava, and the gases contained in it, is obstructed.

"The system seems to be open and flowing now," said Rick Wessels, a research geophysicist for USGS and AVO.

The current toothpaste-like flow of lava from Augustine Volcano is building up the walls of the dome, causing occasional collapses and resulting in some of the increased seismic activity that has been measured over the course of the last couple of weeks.

Most of the recent low-elevation ash clouds can also be attributed to the collapses. The low-elevation ash clouds are not likely to travel far beyond the island.

Although explosive eruptive activity has not been ruled out for the near future, the volcano is likely to continue its current dome building activity for a couple of months, Cervelli said.

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Africa's New Ocean: A Continent Splits Apart

By Axel Bojanowski
Spiegel Online
March 15, 2006

Normally new rivers, seas and mountains are born in slow motion. The Afar Triangle near the Horn of Africa is another story. A new ocean is forming there with staggering speed -- at least by geological standards. Africa will eventually lose its horn.
Geologist Dereje Ayalew and his colleagues from Addis Ababa University were amazed -- and frightened. They had only just stepped out of their helicopter onto the desert plains of central Ethiopia when the ground began to shake under their feet. The pilot shouted for the scientists to get back to the helicopter. And then it happened: the Earth split open. Crevices began racing toward the researchers like a zipper opening up. After a few seconds, the ground stopped moving, and after they had recovered from their shock, Ayalew and his colleagues realized they had just witnessed history. For the first time ever, human beings were able to witness the first stages in the birth of an ocean.

Normally changes to our geological environment take place almost imperceptibly. A life time is too short to see rivers changing course, mountains rising skywards or valleys opening up. In north-eastern Africa's Afar Triangle, though, recent months have seen hundreds of crevices splitting the desert floor and the ground has slumped by as much as 100 meters (328 feet). At the same time, scientists have observed magma rising from deep below as it begins to form what will eventually become a basalt ocean floor. Geologically speaking, it won't be long until the Red Sea floods the region. The ocean that will then be born will split Africa apart.

The Afar Triangle, which cuts across Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, is the largest construction site on the planet. Three tectonic plates meet there with the African and Arabian plates drifting apart along two separate fault lines by one centimeter a year. A team of scientists working with Christophe Vigny of the Paris Laboratory of Geology reported on the phenomenon in a 2006 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research. While the two plates move apart, the ground sinks to make room for the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

Bubbling magma and the smell of sulphur

A third crevice cuts south, splitting not far from Lake Victoria. One branch of the rift runs to the east, the other to the west of the lake. The two branches of this third crevice are moving apart by about one millimeter a year.

The dramatic event that Ayalew and his colleagues witnessed in the Afar Desert on Sept. 26, 2005 was the first visual proof of this process -- and it was followed by a week-long series of earthquakes. During the months that followed, hundreds of further crevices opened up in the ground, spreading across an area of 345 square miles. "The earth has not stopped moving since," geophysicist Tim Wright of the University of Oxford says. The ground is still splitting open and sinking, he says; small earthquakes are constantly shaking the region.

Scientists have made repeated trips to the area since the drama of last September. Locals have reported a number of new cracks opening in the ground, says geologist Cynthia Ebinger from the University of London, and during each visit, new crevices are discovered. Fumes as hot as 400 degrees Celsius (752 degrees Fahrenheit) shoot up from some of them; the sound of bubbling magma and the smell of sulphur rise from others. The larger crevices are dozens of meters deep and several hundred meters long. Traces of recent volcanic eruptions are also visible.

In a number of places, cracks have opened up beneath the thin layer of volcanic ash that covers the region. As there is no ash in the fissures, it's clear that they opened up after the volcanic eruptions, most of which took place at the end of September or in October, 2005. A number of locals who fled the eruptions have reported that a black cloud of ash -- spewed out of the Dabbahu volcano -- darkened the sky for three days.

A new ocean floor on the Earth's surface

Basalt magma has risen into some of the crevices. For the moment, Ayalew explains, the lava seems not to be rising further. A number of recent eruptions, though, have left layers of new basalt lava on the Earth's surface. And it's the exact same kind of lava that spews out of volcanic ridges deep under the ocean -- a process which slowly pushes older lava sediments away on either side. The process has only just begun in the Afar Triangle -- and scientists for the first time can witness the birth of a new ocean floor.

The source of the African magma looks to be a gigantic stream of molten rock rising from beneath the Earth's crust and slicing through the African continental plate like a blow torch. It's a process that began thirty million years ago when lava broke through the continent for the first time, separating the Arabian Peninsula from Africa and creating the Red Sea.

Now, it's the Afar Triangle's turn and it's sinking rapidly. Large areas are already more than 100 meters (328 feet) below sea level. For now, the highlands surrounding the Denakil Depression prevent the Red Sea from flooding these areas, but erosion and tectonic plate movement are continually reducing the height of this natural barrier. The Denakil Depression, which lies to the east of Afar, is already prey to regular floods -- each flood leaving behind a crust of salt.

Africa to lose its horn

The chain of volcanoes that runs along the roughly 6,000 kilometer (3,730 mile) long East African Rift System offers further testimony to the breaking apart of the continent. In some areas around the outer edges of the Rift System, the Earth's crust has already cracked open, making room for the magma below. From the Red Sea to Mozambique in the south, dozens of volcanoes have formed, the best known being Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Nyiragongo.

These fiery mountains too will one day sink into the sea. Geophysicists have calculated that in 10 million years the East African Rift System will be as large as the Red Sea. When that happens, Africa will lose its horn.

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Winds Ease in Texas, Slowing Wildfires

Associated Press
March 16, 2006

BORGER, Texas - The strong winds that pushed wildfires across nearly a million acres of the bone-dry Texas Panhandle were easing early Thursday, but in Oklahoma, the fire danger was picking up.

A series of wind-whipped grass fires broke out Wednesday in Oklahoma, charring more than 4,000 acres and briefly threatened homes near Oklahoma City.
Thursday morning, most of the state was under a red flag warning - meaning a critical danger of fires - because of the dry air pushing into the region and the forecast of 20-25 mph winds, the National Weather Service said.

In Texas, where 50 mph wind gusts had swept a line of flames toward six Panhandle cities on Wednesday, the winds had shifted by Thursday morning and dropped below 10 mph.

"Right now, the fire is contained," said Lipscomb County Sheriff's dispatcher Jay Johnson, whose office had urged nearly 3,000 residents in the far northern county to evacuate the day before. "The wind has shifted and they've lit a backfire to get the fire burning back on itself."

Authorities said the fires had traveled as far as 40 miles to the northeast on Wednesday.

The winds, which blew away ash and created sandstorms, were the strongest since wildfires started racing across the plains northeast of Amarillo on Sunday. Eleven people have died, more than 840,000 acres have burned, and animal health officials have estimated the number of dead horses and cattle at 10,000.

"When fire is advancing at 40 mph, you can't put it out," Borger Fire Chief Gayland Darnell said. "It would be like trying to stop a tornado."

Gov. Rick Perry is scheduled to tour the area Thursday.

In Oklahoma, already under a burn ban because of fire outbreaks in recent months, 14 fires raged Wednesday from near Lawton, in the southwest, to west of Tulsa in the northeast, said Dale Armstrong, a fire information officer.

The largest of those fires burned about 3,000 acres near Moore, southeast of Oklahoma City, forcing the evacuation of 30 homes for several hours Wednesday, Armstrong said.

Wildfires have also broken out in western Kansas, where 14,000 acres burned Wednesday in Hodgeman County.

"It's dry. It's way too dry," said Joy Moser, spokeswoman for the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. "We haven't had anything like this in years."

In Texas, fires have consumed about 3.7 million acres and nearly 400 homes since late December.

Firefighters in Texas were battling 10 major blazes Wednesday and responded to more than 200 new fires for a second consecutive 24-hour period. The Panhandle got some relief Wednesday afternoon with brief rain in the Borger and Pampa areas, overcast skies and higher humidity.

In their efforts to quell the wildfires, some departments have used soapy water because it sticks to vegetation better and doesn't evaporate as quickly. Firefighters also have set back fires and used bulldozers to clear land in an effort to rob advancing fires of fuel. Helicopters have dropped hundreds of thousands of gallons of fire retardant and water.

In the sparsely populated rural Panhandle, the mostly flat terrain combined with grasses and some brush that can fuel fires contribute to quickly advancing flames.

"The problem is they can spread over such a wide area quickly, exponentially, it makes it hard to get a handle on it," said Frederick.

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Trailers, Vital After Storm, Now Pose Risks

Published: March 16, 2006

PORT SULPHUR, La., March 11 - In its rush to provide shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has created a pressing new Gulf Coast hazard: nearly 90,000 lightweight trailers in an area prone to flooding, tornadoes and, of course, hurricanes.
The risks of living along the coast inside what amounts to little more than an aluminum box are already obvious to Mitchell and Marie Bartholomew, whose travel trailer here in Port Sulphur, about 40 miles southeast of New Orleans, rocked so violently in a recent routine storm that they abandoned it for a hotel.

"It rattles, it rolls," said Mr. Bartholomew, 62, a retired boat captain, whose trailer sits between the Mississippi River and the slab where his home once stood. "It is like telling you to get out."

Government officials along the Gulf Coast and in Washington agree that the temporary housing, while better than a tent or emergency shelter, is far from ideal.

"They're campers," Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi told a Senate committee this month. "They're not designed to be used as housing for a family for months, much less years. The trailers don't provide even the most basic protection from high winds or severe thunderstorms, much less tornadoes or hurricanes."

With hurricane season less than three months away, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in an interview that he too was worried about the situation. Not only are the trailers lightweight, they are often placed next to partly reconstructed homes and debris that can turn into dangerous projectiles when the wind picks up, Mr. Chertoff said.

Since the travel trailers used by the Bartholomews and others are intended to be portable, they are mounted on wheels so they can be pulled by large pickup trucks until, on reaching their destination, they are jacked up and mounted on concrete blocks. Designed initially for recreational use, the units - 35 feet long, 8 eight feet wide and weighing about 6,000 pounds - are much smaller, lighter and less expensive than so-called mobile or manufactured homes, which are typically emplaced permanently.

More than 87,100 families in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are living in the FEMA trailers, while only some 2,300 are in the sturdier mobile homes.

FEMA ordered far more travel trailers than mobile homes after the hurricane because the trailers could be towed to a homeowner's property and quickly dropped into place. Being portable, they are not generally covered by building codes and not explicitly banned in flood zones.

For further security along the windy Gulf Coast, FEMA secured the trailers to the ground with steel straps that connect to four corner anchors, although many homeowners have installed their own trailers, in some cases without anchoring them at all.

The added security for the FEMA trailers means that while they may vibrate or rock in the wind, they should not be vulnerable to tipping over until winds exceed 75 miles per hour or so, said Mark C. Smith, a spokesman for the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. That speed is typical during intense tropical storms, extremely severe thunderstorms and all hurricanes. (FEMA agrees that 75 m.p.h. should be the threshold for evacuation, although Eddie Abbott of Gulf Stream Coach, a trailer manufacturer, said he thought an anchored trailer would be stable at higher wind speeds.)

By comparison, new coastal homes must be able to withstand winds of up to 110 to 150 m.p.h., depending on location, said Gene Humphrey, an official in the Mississippi fire marshal's office.

The potential hazards with the trailers are obvious across the gulf region. In Myrtle Grove, La., north of Port Sulphur, FEMA trailers sit on the ground below houses that are suspended on stilts to avoid routine floodwaters that would swamp the trailers. Elsewhere, they have been installed just a few feet away from homes that remain ripped wide open from Hurricane Katrina.

Add wind, and the environment can quickly become treacherous. Jimmy Cappiello, a retired oil platform operator who now lives part time in a Port Sulphur trailer, saw sheet metal, trash, wood planks and even the carport from a nearby house flying during a recent storm. He waited it out in his pickup, which he felt was more solid than the trailer.

"I ain't taking no chances," Mr. Cappiello said. "I don't feel safe in it."

In early February, the New Orleans police reported that at least one FEMA trailer was ripped from its anchors when a tornado passed through. And last July, in Pensacola, Fla., a number of trailers installed after a 2004 hurricane were damaged or flipped when Hurricane Dennis hit.

Mr. Humphrey, from the Mississippi fire marshal's office, said he realized that many families wanted a trailer next to their damaged houses. But FEMA, he said, made a mistake in installing the lightweight trailers, instead of the heavier mobile homes, in this high-wind zone on the coast.

"This is pretty serious," he said. "It never should have happened."

With so many trailers and damaged homes along the gulf, and with some levees weakened, local officials will most likely call for coastal evacuations more frequently this year, said Mr. Smith, the Louisiana official. "The key," he said, "is going to be trying to figure out how to word it so people don't get a false sense of security, but people don't panic, either."

Mr. Chertoff said he had already spoken with officials at FEMA and the Defense Department to make sure that federal agencies are ready if needed to help in evacuations.

"We are going to say, 'We want to see the plan, and we want to see what the capabilities are,' " Mr. Chertoff said. " 'And if you don't have the capabilities, we need to know that, because we are going to make sure we have those capabilities in place.' "

In recent weeks, some coastal cities, including Biloxi and Ocean City, Miss., have decided that when severe storms approach, they will open temporary shelters where people living in travel trailers or damaged homes can wait out the bad weather.

"We have to be on our toes sooner," said Ashley Roth, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. "The trailers are just not safe to stay in, in the event of severe weather."

Some trailer residents along the coast in Mississippi and Louisiana said they would not be reluctant to head for more solid shelter. "They won't have to tell me - we will be moving out," said Daisy Lightell, 57, of Happy Jack, La., north of Port Sulphur, who lives in a FEMA trailer with her husband. "Otherwise, we could end up in 'The Wizard of Oz.' "

Above all, officials want to discourage residents from trying to evacuate with their trailer in tow, a circumstance that could create an even worse hazard.

"I imagine there are going to be some people who consider it," said Jesse St. Amant, emergency preparedness director for Plaquemines Parish, La. "But I hope they think better of it. Trying to haul a travel trailer during an evacuation would be cumbersome and dangerous."

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New EU Project To Slash Greenhouse Gases

Mar 15, 2006

Brussels - A huge pilot project to capture greenhouse gases and store them underground is being launched this week, aiming to slash Europe's output of harmful CO2 by 10 percent, officials said Tuesday.

The world's biggest such project, inaugurated Wednesday at Esbjerg on Denmark's western coast, will bid to capture 90 percent of carbon dioxide produced by fossil-fueled power stations like coal plants or oil refineries.
"By developing technologies for carbon capture and storage, we can reduce emissions in the medium-term as we move to large scale use of renewable, carbon-free energy sources," said EU science commissioner Janez Potocnik.

The CASTOR project works by capturing CO2 emissions as they are produced by power stations and then storing them underground, to prevent them interacting with the atmosphere and producing the greenhouse effect.

In particular the EU, which has given 8.5 million euros for the project, hopes to make the process more attractive by cutting the cost, from about 60 euros per tonne currently to 20 euros per tonne in the future.

"It is hoped that this ... project will allow scientists to improve the technological processes involved in carbon capture, provide a means for better understanding of the process among the public and consolidate Europes position as a leader in this scientific field," said the EU commission.

Commission spokeswoman Antonia Mochan noted that the Danish project launch comes only two days after new US figures showing a big increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Research into alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power, has surged of late partly due to soaring world oil prices, but also due to geopolitical tensions in the Middle East.

Projects like CASTOR "could be a medium term solution to the current dichotomy of our dependence on fossil fuel technology and the fact that alternative sources of energy aren't yet ready to satisfy the global demand for energy," said Mochan.

The EU executive said it also wanted to work with other countries on such new projects, as shown by a recent agreement with China on near-zero emission power plant technology.

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Russia says bird flu may hit US in autumn, mutate

Thu Mar 16, 2006 09:50 AM ET

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The deadly bird flu virus, which has hit Asia, Europe and Africa, may spread to the United States late this year and risks mutating dangerously there, Russia's top animal and plant health inspector said on Thursday.

"We think that H5N1 (strain of bird flu virus) will reach the United States in autumn," Sergei Dankvert told Reuters.

"This is very realistic. We may be almost certain this will happen after this strain is found in Great Britain, before autumn, as migrating birds will carry it to the United States from there."

He said there was also an opportunity of the virus spreading by fowl migrating from Siberia's Tyumen region to Alaska and mixing there with birds flying to Canada and to other parts of the United States.
"But we believe this is a longer route," Dankvert said.

"We forecast that bird flu mutation is possible in the countries where the number of different viruses is high. This group includes the United States," Dankvert added.

Bird flu has spread with alarming speed in recent weeks across Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia.

The U.S. government is treating avian flu as a scourge that will inevitably reach the United States and is preparing accordingly, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said this week.

The virus occasionally infects people who have direct contact with infected birds and has killed around 100 people since late 2003.

Scientists fear that the virus may mutate into a form which could easily pass from one person to another, causing a pandemic, in which millions could die.

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Show Me the Money

Senate permits national debt to grow to $9 trillion

Thursday, March 16, 2006

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate voted Thursday to allow the national debt to swell to nearly $9 trillion, preventing a first-ever default on U.S. Treasury notes.

The bill passed by a 52-48 vote. The increase to $9 trillion represents about $30,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States. The bill now goes to President Bush for his signature.
The measure allows the government to pay for the war in Iraq and finance Medicare and other big federal programs without raising taxes. It passed hours before the House was expected to approve another $91 billion to fund the war in Iraq and provide more aid to hurricane victims.

The partisan vote also came as the Senate continued debate on a $2.8 trillion budget blueprint for the upcoming fiscal year that would produce a $359 billion deficit for the fiscal year beginning October 1.

The debt limit will increase by $781 billion. It's the fourth such move -- increasing the debt limit by a total of $3 trillion -- since Bush took office five years ago.

The vote came a day after Treasury Secretary John Snow warned lawmakers that action was "critical to provide certainty to financial markets that the integrity of the obligations of the United States will not be compromised."

On Thursday, Treasury postponed next week's auction of three-month and six-month bills pending Senate action, though the move was likely to be quickly reversed given the Senate's vote.

The present limit on the debt is $8.2 trillion. With the budget deficit expected to approach $400 billion for both this year and next, another increase in the debt limit will almost certainly be required next year.

The debt limit increase is an unhappy necessity -- the alternative would be a disastrous first-ever default on U.S. obligations -- that greatly overshadowed a mostly symbolic,
weeklong debate on the GOP's budget resolution.

Democrats blast Bush

Democrats blasted the bill, saying it was needed because of fiscal mismanagement by Bush, who came to office when the government was running record surpluses.

"When it comes to deficits, this president owns all the records," said Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. "The three largest deficits in our nation's history have all occurred under this administration's watch."

Only a handful of Republicans spoke in favor of the measure as a mostly empty Senate chamber conducted a brief debate Wednesday evening.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Bush's tax cuts account for just 30 percent of the debt limit increases required during his presidency. Revenue losses from a recession and new spending to combat terrorism and for the war in Iraq are also responsible, he said.

As for the $781 billion increase in the debt limit, Grassley said: "It is necessary to preserve the full faith and credit of the federal government."

Before approving the bill, Republicans rejected by a 55-44 vote an amendment by Max Baucus, D-Montana, to mandate a Treasury study on the economic consequences of foreigners holding an increasing portion of the U.S. debt.

At present, foreign countries, central banks and other institutions hold more than one-fourth of the debt, but that percentage is growing rapidly.

Following the debt limit vote Thursday, the Senate was expected to vote late in the day on the budget plan, a nonbinding measure proposing tax and spending guidelines for the next five years.

Specter seeks spending increases

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, appears poised to win an increase of $7 billion in new and real funding for education and health research. The $7 billion would effectively be used to break Bush's $873 billion budget cap for 2007, which represents the most significant vestige of fiscal discipline remaining in Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg's budget.

The underlying Senate budget plan is notable chiefly for dropping Bush's proposed cuts to Medicare and for abandoning his efforts to expand health savings accounts or pass legislation to make permanent his 2001 tax cut bill.

Unlike last year, when Congress passed a bill trimming $39 billion from the deficit through curbs to Medicaid, Medicare and student loan subsidies, Senate GOP leaders have abandoned plans to pass another round of cuts to so-called mandatory programs.

But Gregg's measure re-ignites last year's battle over allowing oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, since it would let Senate leaders bring an ANWR drilling measure to the floor under rules blocking a filibuster by opponents.

Comment: $9 TRILLION dollars! The spending spree cannot go on forever. One of these days, it will end - and when it does, it will be the average American who will suffer the most. You can take that to the bank.

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Bill Gives Bush $92B for Wars, Hurricanes

Associated Press
Thu Mar 16, 4:24 AM ET

WASHINGTON - President Bush gets much of what he requested in a $92 billion House measure for wars and hurricane cleanup, despite a newfound willingness by GOP leaders to challenge the president.

The bill the House is expected to approve Thursday would bring the overall price tag for Iraq and Afghanistan operations since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to nearly $400 billion and total Hurricane Katrina-related spending to more than $100 billion.
Defying the president, the House inserted into the supplemental spending bill a provision that blocks Dubai-owned DP World from running or managing terminals at U.S. ports.

The president supported the company and initially threatened to veto any legislation delaying or killing DP World's effort to manage terminals at six major U.S. ports.

But the White House backed off that position after the company promised to sell its American operations under fierce bipartisan pressure from Congress. And, talk of a veto is absent from a Bush administration statement about its views on the bill.

On a 377-38 vote Wednesday, the House rejected an effort to strip the DP World provision from the bill. Because DP World plans to sell its U.S. operations, the vote was largely symbolic and the provision is likely to be eliminated from the final bill when House and Senate negotiators meet later this spring to compromise differences between their versions. The Senate has not yet completed its work.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said Wednesday's vote sends "a strong and unmistakable message that the Congress and the American people stand united on the critical national security issue that involves the ports."

But some lawmakers derided the vote as purely for show.

"This is like making everybody feel good that they can thump their chests and say we're doing something really tough here. But it has no effect," Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., said.

The weeks' long conflict over port security has overshadowed the bulk of the $91.8 billion spending measure, which provides $67.6 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and $19.1 billion in new money for hurricane recovery along the Gulf Coast.

Bush had requested $92.2 billion, but the House trimmed some of the hurricane-relief money.

The House is expected to overwhelmingly approve the bill. Voting against it would invite election-year criticism for Republicans and Democrats alike that they were shortchanging U.S. troops at war or abandoning Gulf Coast hurricane victims.

Because of that, Republicans have little choice but to back the measure even though some fear the impact of the spending on soaring federal deficits in a congressional election year.

The bill has been particularly difficult to swallow for conservatives, who agree that troops and the Gulf Coast need the money but object to how the administration and Congress are providing the dollars without cutting the budget elsewhere.

"We have to put our fiscal house in order," Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., implored colleagues on the House floor.

Conservatives were expected to try - and fail - to get the GOP leadership to split the measure in two so that the lawmakers can soften the impact on the deficit by cutting money from other programs to offset the hurricane-recovery money.

Lewis said both the troops and hurricane victims need the money urgently.

A large number of Democrats also are expected to vote in favor of the bill, even though many object to how the Bush administration is handling the Iraq war.

"I'm not convinced that providing more money for Iraq will cure the problems in that country," Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said. But, she added, "I think we owe our men and women in uniform in Iraq every tool to achieve success."

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Retail figures cast doubt on consumer rebound

Mark Tran
Thursday March 16, 2006

UK retail sales showed a modest rise in February, but this followed a much sharper drop than previously reported, official figures showed today.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said total sales volume increased by 0.5% last month, following a 1.6% fall in January instead of the 1.3% originally reported.

Today's report - with the caveat that monthly figures can be volatile - will cast doubt on Bank of England hopes of a consumer rebound later in the year that will keep economic growth on track, analysts said.
"This is an important release for the Bank of England, which in its latest GDP projection, published in February, appeared to become more cautious on investment but more optimistic about consumer spending," said Janet Henry, of HSBC.

The Bank earlier this month left interest rates unchanged at 4.5% for the seventh month running and made it clear through its quarterly inflation report in February that it was in no hurry to lower rates.

The Bank's monetary policy committee (MPC) remains concerned at the possibility of higher energy prices feeding into higher wage claims that will push up inflation. House prices are also another area of concern as they are picking up again.

A new survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors showed prices rising at their fastest rate since June 2004.

Those economists who believe that the Bank is too optimistic on growth think that weaker consumer spending will eventually pave the way for lower borrowing costs. However, they think that the pickup in the housing market will delay a rate cut until later in the year.

Howard Archer, of Global Insight, said: "Such a move may well be delayed until the third quarter, given the current strength of the housing market and indications from the output side of the economy that first quarter growth was probably in line with the trend rate."

For the three months to February, the value of retail sales was 2.1% higher than in the same period a year earlier. This compared to 1.3% in January.

In the February figures, the biggest rise came from clothing and footwear, up 3% on the month - following weak figures in the previous two months - while household goods remained weak at -1.1%.

"The continued contraction in household goods seems to sit uncomfortably with evidence the housing market has recovered," Ms Henry said.

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Congressman writes White House: Did President knowingly sign law that didn't pass?

Published: Wednesday March 15, 2006

Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) has alleged in a letter to White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card that President Bush signed a version of the Budget Reconciliation Act that, in effect, did not pass the House of Representatives.

Further, Waxman says there is reason to believe that the Speaker of the House called President Bush before he signed the law, and alerted him that the version he was about to sign differed from the one that actually passed the House. If true, this would put the President in willful violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The full text of the letter follows:

March 15, 2006

The Honorable Andrew Card

Chief of Staff

The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. Card:

On February 8, 2006, President Bush signed into law a version of the Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005 that was different in substance from the version that passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Legal scholars have advised me that the substantive differences between the versions - which involve $2 billion in federal spending - mean that this bill did not meet the fundamental constitutional requirement that both Houses of Congress must pass any legislation signed into law by the President.

I am writing to learn what the President and his staff knew about this constitutional defect at the time the President signed the legislation.

Detailed background about the legislation and its constitutional defects are contained in a letter I sent last month to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, which I have enclosed with this letter.[1] In summary, the House-passed version of the legislation required the Medicare program to lease "durable medical equipment," such as wheelchairs, for seniors and other beneficiaries for up to 36 months, while the version of the legislation signed by the President limited the duration of these leases to just 13 months. As the Congressional Budget Office reported, this seemingly small change from 36 months to 13 months has a disproportionately large budgetary impact, cutting Medicare outlays by $2 billion over the next five years.[2]

I understand that a call was made to the White House before the legislation was signed by the President advising the White House of the differences between the bills and seeking advice about how to proceed. My understanding is that the call was made either by the Speaker of the House to the President or by the senior staff of the Speaker to the senior staff of the President.

I would like to know whether my understanding is correct. If it is, the implications are serious.

The Presentment Clause of the U.S. Constitution states that before a bill can become law, it must be passed by both Houses of Congress.[3] When the President took the oath of office, he swore to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," which includes the Presentment Clause. If the President signed the Reconciliation Act knowing its constitutional infirmity, he would in effect be placing himself above the Constitution.

I do not raise this issue lightly. Given the gravity of the matter and the unusual circumstances surrounding the Reconciliation Act, Congress and the public need a straightforward explanation of what the President and his staff knew on February 8, when the legislation was signed into law.


Henry A. Waxman Ranking Minority Member


[1] See Letter from Rep. Henry A. Waxman to Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Feb. 14, 2006).

[2] See Letter from CBO Acting Director Donald Marron to Rep. John M. Spratt, Jr. (Feb. 13, 2006).

[3] U.S. Constitution, Article I, � 7.

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U.S. Under Fire for Labor Rights Abuses

By Thalif Deen
Inter Press Service
16 March 2006

United Nations - The United States, a self-styled promoter of human rights and global democracy, has come under heavy fire for "serious violations" of labor rights in its own backyard.

Many categories of workers in the United States -- including government employees, independent contractors, and agricultural and domestic workers -- are excluded from the Labor Relations Act that provides for freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

More than 25 million private civilian workers and 6.9 million federal, state and local government employees do not have the right to negotiate their wages, working hours and employment terms, according to the study.

For those workers that do have the right to organize, the report points out, there is insufficient legal protection against anti-union discrimination.
"The credibility of the United States, which takes a strong international stand on human rights issues, is severely damaged by the lack of protection for working people, especially the most vulnerable, within its own borders," says ICFTU Secretary-General Guy Ryder.

This only encourages other governments to seek a competitive advantage in global markets by violating the fundamental rights of their own workers, he adds.

The ICFTU says it represents 155 million workers in 236 affiliated organizations in 154 countries and territories.

The study provides a long list of rights violations, including breaches of international conventions relating to child labor, and discrimination against undocumented migrant workers.

A 2002 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in the country, stated that undocumented workers are not entitled to back pay as a remedy for unfair labor practices and they are not entitled to reinstatement.

"This ruling has therefore made it difficult to enforce trade union rights of several million undocumented workers," (mostly Mexicans), says the report.

According to the study, the United States is also in violation of conventions it has ratified with the Geneva-based International Labor Organization (ILO), an agency of the United Nations.

Although the United States has ratified the ILO Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labor, says the report, child labor remains a problem in the United States, particularly in agriculture, where fewer regulations apply and children are exposed to hazardous working conditions.

"Many children work long hours in the fields and are exposed to dangerous pesticides, sharp knives and heavy equipment. At the same time the number of inspections for the enforcement of child labor laws has decreased substantially," it says.

Furthermore, the report notes, a number of new child labor regulations have worsened safety conditions for young workers, especially by lowering the minimum age for handling dangerous operations, such as operating fryers and grills in fast food restaurants and loading of paper balers and compactors.

Asked if these U.S. violations have been identified before international bodies, Tim Noonan, ICFTU's director of campaigns and communications, told IPS that several cases have been brought before the ILO supervisory procedures in recent years.

The most recent references to U.S. labor standards -- specifically concerning freedom of association and collective bargaining -- can be found in the 2004 Global Report of the ILO under the procedures for follow-up to the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work entitled "Organizing for Social Justice", he said.

This report, which covers the global trends concerning "Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining" in countries which have not ratified ILO Conventions 87 and/or 98, makes reference to threats by employers to denounce undocumented migrant workers as a barrier to unionization of those workers.

Noonan said the ILO report also singles out employer opposition to trade union organization as being a key factor in relation to relatively low levels of union membership in the U.S. private sector.

Asked how these violations could be put right, Noonan told IPS: "We believe that it is important that other governments remind the United States of its obligations as a member state of the ILO."

Furthermore, he said, there should be public pressure within and outside the United States on the current administration of Pres. George W. Bush to rectify the ongoing violations.

Noonan said the U.S. trade union movement itself "has been very active in criticizing the labor policies of the Bush administration, and finding ways to help workers organize and join unions in very difficult circumstances".

"But the laws and practices of the Bush administration are so strongly biased against trade unions that the capacity of unions to organize, campaign and lobby is restricted," he added.

For example, he pointed out, 53 percent of non-union workers in the United States say they do want to have the benefit of a union in their workplace.

Meanwhile, the ICFU study also says there is "a clear trend towards lower standards under the Bush administration".

The right to strike is only allowed for private sector workers, but even there this right is severely restricted. There are legal limitations for workers to engage in concerted activity such as intermittent strikes and secondary boycotts, according to the study.

Moreover, the law allows for permanent replacement of striking workers, and also allows for those replacement workers to vote in union decertification elections.

The report also notes that, despite the existence of Equal Opportunities legislation, women earn on average considerably less than men, as do workers from ethnic minorities.

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Workers can't trade holidays for pay, EU rules

Press Association
Thursday March 16, 2006

British workers will no longer be able to be paid for unused holiday entitlement, the EU ruled today.

European judges said the so-called "rolled-up holiday pay" system breached the EU's working time directive, which guarantees employees a minimum four weeks' holiday a year.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg was ruling in a case brought by a group of British shift workers demanding the right to payment during their holidays instead of notional extra hourly pay instead.

Under EU rules the minimum period of paid annual leave cannot be replaced by an allowance, except where employment is terminated.

The judges said that payment for annual holidays included in hourly or daily pay rates - "rolled-up holiday pay" - was contrary to the working time directive.

This was because the system could lead to situations where minimum holiday was replaced just by an allowance - and annual paid leave was a key entitlement under the rules.

"The entitlement of every worker to paid annual leave is an important principle of community social law from which there can be no derogation (exception)," said the judgment.

"Holiday pay is intended to enable the worker actually to take the leave to which he is entitled."

The judgment said the working time directive clearly prevented part of a worker's pay being attributed as holiday entitlement without the worker receiving payment during holiday time.

"A regime of rolled-up holiday pay may lead to situations in which the minimum period of paid annual leave is, in effect, replaced by an allowance in lieu, which the working time directive prohibits in order to ensure that a worker is entitled to actual rest."

A group of workers complained to the Leeds' Employment Tribunal about the fact that their various employers were using the rolled-up holiday pay system instead of giving them pay for specific annual leave. The tribunal passed the case to the EU judges for a ruling under EU law.

Rolled-up holiday pay is often used by employers for workers who have unusual working arrangements. Firms argue it is often difficult to assess what the precise holiday entitlement is for some shift workers or casual employees because there is no "normal" working week.

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US tags Iran as biggest threat

Thu Mar 16, 3:31 AM ET

WASHINGTON - Making no apologies for the war in Iraq, the United States reaffirmed a right to preemptive military action and vowed to confront threats like North Korea and especially Iran.

"We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran," the White House said in a 49-page blueprint called the "National Security Stategy" of the United States, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.
North Korea "presents a long and bleak record of duplicity and bad-faith negotiations" the document said, warning: "We will continue to take all necessary measures to protect our national and economic security against the adverse effects of their bad conduct."

The document made clear that Washington does not view the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) at the core of the public case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a blow against its strategy of preventive war.

"The place of preemption in our national security strategy remains the same," it said. "We do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack."

US President George W. Bush had made former Iraqi dictator
Saddam Hussein's alleged possession of chemical and biological weapons and pursuit of nuclear arms the centerpiece of his case for war, but no such weapons have been found.

"There will always be some uncertainty" about banned weapons programs, the White House said. "We have no doubt that the world is better of if tyrants know that they pursue WMD at their own peril."

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UN-Iran discussion mirrors Iraq debate

By Howard LaFranchi | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Some experts warn that the US may act independently if the UN Security Council takes too long on Iran.

UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. – As the United Nations Security Council wrestles with how to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, discussion at UN headquarters is at times as much about the council's effectiveness and America's role in the international community as it is about Iran.

Sound vaguely familiar?
Three years after the Bush administration pressed the Security Council to act on Iraq's weapons programs or face independent US action against the Baghdad regime, the UN is witnessing a strikingly similar conversation. Moreover, some experts warn that dallying by the council could prompt the US to eventually act outside the UN.

"Déjà vu," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of the current standoff. He was Russia's UN ambassador during the Iraq debate.

"If that is déjà vu, so be it," responded US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, who says the Iran case is about getting a country to comply with its international obligations.

While some key actors in the current saga have changed - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has replaced Saddam Hussein as international rogue; China and Russia, not France, are now the burr under America's saddle - much of the plot remains the same. The US complains about some council members backing down from commitments to concerted international action and warns of the council's irrelevance if it can't force Tehran to back down. Others, like China, vaunt council unity but say action at this stage should be elsewhere - in this case, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In another parallel with Iraq, the US accuses Iran of using the delays in international action to make crucial progress towards weapons development.

"This is a test for the Security Council: Can it take up an issue like [Iran] and try to be tough?" says one US official with close knowledge of the deliberations. "It's really the same message point of Iraq - whether the UN is able to enforce its own rules and regulations."

As of Wednesday morning, the Security Council appeared to be making progress on a draft statement that would outline Iran's violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - the next step in what has proved to be a long and still unfolding diplomatic journey. In the draft, proposed by France and Britain, the council would not lay down sanctions and instead inform Iran how it can return to compliance with international law. The draft would direct the IAEA to report back to the council on Iran's compliance. When the IAEA should report back remains one of the contentious points. Further meetings were scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

Yet even as debate continues, some experts said the apparent difficulties in lining up behind even this rather mild rebuke suggests the council is still laboring with issues reminiscent of the Iraq debate.

"The negotiations over Iran are causing a distinct sense of déjà vu, not least among those who said at the time of the Iraq debate that it was the final chance for the Security Council to prove its worth," says Nile Gardiner, a specialist in the UN's role in international affairs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

"Frustration, particularly in Washington, over the UN system has only built up," he adds, "so the Iran debate is going to be hugely important for how the US deals with the Security Council - or whether it prefers to bypass it altogether in the future."

So far, the US is officially expressing confidence in the council's ability to unite behind an action plan on Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, traveling in Indonesia, said Tuesday she remains confident the council will "find an appropriate vehicle for expressing the international community's solidarity."

But Mr. Bolton was scheduled to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday, a venue where US frustrations were likely to surface, some observers say. That is especially true in the wake of a 170-4 vote Wednesday to create a new Human Rights Council to replace the discredited UN Human Rights Commission. The US opposed the body, arguing that the criteria for council membership won't be tough enough.

For some experts, US rejection of the new Human Rights Council only adds to the sense among some countries that America is still acting as it did on Iraq.

"On the human rights [council] and increasingly on Iran the US is coming across as 'It's our way or the highway,' " says Lawrence Korb, a foreign policy analyst at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

"There's a sense the administration would love to do something more muscular on Iran, like they did in Iraq, but that what's stopping them is a lack of any good options," he adds. "That doesn't raise a lot of confidence that the US has really changed and is now set on working with the international community."

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An Iran option the US prefers to ignore

By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
Mar 17, 2006

After a week of internal wrangling culminating in a mini-split, with China and Russia unwilling to forge a united front with the other three permanent members of the UN Security Council on a strongly worded statement on Iran, the latter are proceeding anyway.

The US, France and the United Kingdom have submitted a draft text that, while it calls on Iran to comply with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolutions, reeks of legal nihilism.

The draft statement, now being debated among the 15 members of the Security Council, calls on Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activities and to maintain a "full and sustained suspension", giving IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei two weeks to report on Iran's response.

It also calls on Iran to cooperate with the IAEA to resolve "outstanding issues" and to take the steps needed to "begin building confidence".

The last statement is rather strange, since the IAEA has always insisted that "verification is confidence-building". And in light of three years of robust inspection it is rather disingenuous of the sponsors of this text to imply that there has been no confidence-building on Iran's part. These involved about 1,700 inspection-hours and 20 other visits to military and civilian facilities at short notice beyond the Additional Protocol of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Equally questionable is the selectiveness with which the draft statement refers to IAEA resolutions and reports without once mentioning their acknowledgements of Iran's "steady progress", "access" and greater and greater transparency.

This was reflected in ElBaradei's candid statement in December at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies that "over the past three years we have compiled a detailed picture of most aspects of Iran's past and current nuclear program ... we have asked that Iran provide additional transparency measures".

Hence, given that the IAEA has given a clean bill of health to very few countries and that requesting greater transparency is not exactly calling a member state in "breach of its obligations", one wonders how far the US and its European allies can run with this ball. Can the Security Council operate in a legal vacuum indefinitely?

To elaborate, the February 4 decision by the IAEA to complain about Iran to the UN did not cite two important articles, XII.C and III.B.4, in the IAEA statute that would trigger a "report [on] the non-compliance to all [IAEA] members, the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations".

Instead, in a compromise reached in London to get Russia and China on board, it was decided that the IAEA director general should "report to the Security Council" only on the need for Iran to build confidence in the peaceful nature of its program by (i) re-establishing "full and sustained suspension" of all its enrichment and reprocessing activities; (ii) reconsidering the construction of the Arak heavy-water research reactor; (iii) ratifying and implementing the Additional Protocol, and pending ratification to act in accordance with its provisions; and (iv) implementing transparency measures "requested by the director general which extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol".

As Jean Dupreez at Monterey, California's Center on Non-Proliferation Studies has aptly noted, in the absence of any smoking-gun confirming an Iranian weapons program, the legal foundation for any punitive measures against Iran are lacking.

Mindful of these delicacies, the Non-Aligned Movement requested, at the conclusion of the most recent IAEA meeting this month, that Iran's case remain within the IAEA, a sentiment shared by both Russia and China.

To return to the legal nihilism of the Security Council, the draft statement cleverly seeks to sidestep the legal framework by pushing for a measure - full suspension of the fuel cycle - which the IAEA itself has demanded not as a right but as a "legally non-binding confidence-building measure". In other words, Iran has been asked to either "volunteer" to suspend its enrichment activities or be found in violation of the will of the Security Council.
Also, the draft text expresses the "conviction that continued Iranian enrichment-related activity would intensify international concern". There is, first of all, international concern about not just Iranian but any nuclear fuel cycle, which is why the IAEA has called for a universal moratorium on new enrichment facilities and the establishment of an international fuel bank.

But until that idea pans out, countries such as Iran, which has a track record with the IAEA since 1973, can meet this "expressed concern" only within the legal framework of the IAEA, that is, by implementing the terms of its bilateral safeguard agreements with the agency to put those concerns and anxieties to rest.

Yet, echoing the IAEA's latest resolution on Iran, the draft text currently circulating within the Security Council asks Iran to "implement transparency measures ... which would extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol".

At the same time, the drafters of this "presidential statement" have called on Iran to "promptly ratify and implement in full the Additional Protocol". Yet, as per the above, the drafters are seeking measures beyond the Additional Protocol, thereby undermining its value.

This attitude, if it persists, given that the majority of IAEA member states have not adopted the Additional Protocol, will only undermine the IAEA's singular emphasis on the Additional Protocol and its hoped-for universal adoption.

All this belies the rosy prediction of former IAEA deputy chief Pierre Goldschmidt that "the Iran case provides an opportunity to improve the overall non-proliferation regime".

Goldschmidt overlooks the nightmarish scenario that the non-proliferation regime could suffer a lethal blow as a result of the Iran crisis, given UN head Kofi Annan's admission at the 2005 NPT review conference that the NPT regime faced a double crisis of "verification and confidence".

Clearly, the US double standard of differentiating "good proliferators", such as Israel and India, from "bad proliferators", such as Iran, must count as serious causes of this crisis.

Indeed, the entire non-proliferation regime may suffer as a result of this rule-avoiding approach crystallized in the draft text on Iran. If it is adopted and eventually proven as the first link in a chain of a "graduated response" by the Security Council, culminating in sanctions which prompt Iran to exit the NPT and the IAEA framework, it may have a domino effect. That is, it could lead other states, including several in the Middle East, to follow suit or, at a minimum, question the wisdom of their transparency with the IAEA.

Ironically, the so-called "outstanding questions" mentioned in the draft text have, in fact, been deemed as not outstanding and "normalized" by the admissions of ElBaradei. These include the foreign source of equipment contamination (via Pakistan) and the results of environmental samplings at some military sites.

Anomalies in the case against Iran
The US and Europe would be well advised to consider the anomalies in their article of faith, their self-constructed paradigm sheepishly followed by their "free and pluralistic press" regarding Iran's purported march toward nuclear weapons. Briefly:
# In 1995, Iran voted in favor of the indefinite extension of the NPT.
# Iran has been an enthusiastic supporter of the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) and, in light of the required nuclear testing for any would-be proliferators, this raises the question of why would Iran take such steps if it is not in its nuclear interests.
# Iran just reversed a two-year "voluntary and legally non-binding" suspension of its uranium-enrichment activities.
# In Brussels in January, Iran put forward a six-point proposal that includes another two-year moratorium on uranium enrichment - a novel proposal dismissed out of hand as old news by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. The other points included Iran re-embracing the Additional Protocol by formally legislating for its adoption, and pursuit of an international fuel bank.
# Another proposal, still on the table and submitted last March to the IAEA and the EU-3 - Germany, France and Britain - was for a contained, monitored enrichment.
# Iran's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has issued a religious decree, fatwa , against the acquisition, development and use of nuclear weapons, a position he and other leaders of the Islamic Republic have regularly reiterated.

These points count as "anomalies" in the sense that they do not support the behavior of a would-be proliferator. Indeed, if that were the case, why would the Iranian leaders insist so much, and so frequently, on the un-Islamic and amoral nature of nuclear weapons?

On the other hand, it is impossible to isolate the Iranian nuclear issue from other developments, above all the United States' desire to defang the Islamic Republic via the nuclear standoff by isolating it and, at a minimum, weakening it considerably. This would remove a major barrier to its planned visions for the "greater Middle East". These extra-nuclear considerations are often neglected in the West.

Good news on the horizon?
What is remarkable about the Iranian nuclear crisis is how close it could be to being resolved. Iran is willing to forgo large-scale enrichment and limit itself to a small cascade of centrifuges for research and development, in conjunction with assurances of a fuel supply, mainly from the Russians.

The Russians dropped the ball on the way to Washington, yet there are strong indications that this proposal could resurface soon - if only the US would stop ignoring this option, which is viable for two main reasons.

First, the military risk posed by such a small cascade is minimal as the fissile-uranium output of 168 centrifuges would be nowhere near enough to facilitate a weapons program.

Second, the reason the IAEA favors this option is that agency safeguards would be in place and it would notice any change in Iran's agreed program.

With the potential risks of militarization thus minimized, this option is distinctly preferable to others, including the military one, which without doubt would spur a clandestine weapons program on Iran's part. And this is not to mention the collateral damage on the world economy and other grim consequences.

The cause of regional and world peace, therefore, dictates urgent attention to this viable option benefiting the cause of the overall non-proliferation regime.

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Iran and Bird Flu: The Perfect Casus Belli?

by Jorge Hirsch
March 15, 2006

The casus belli against Iran is about to be unveiled. You may call it the modern equivalent of Pearl Harbor, and it has already occurred without you even noticing. Iran is attacking us with air-delivered weapons of mass destruction, and we have no choice but to respond in kind. Unless we act immediately, the next wave of Iran's deadly chirping missiles will be launched in the next few weeks from the Iranian wetlands toward their targets in Scandinavia and Alaska, and from there will extend their deadly effect, killing millions throughout the Western world.
You see, Americans have grown weary of "preemptive doctrine" [.pdf] after the Iraq fiasco, no matter what the officially adopted "National Security Strategy" proclaims. We will not support a U.S. attack on Iran based on a nuclear threat that is at best several years into the future. The Israeli argument that Iran should be attacked before some ill-defined "point of no return" has no traction. No matter how "grave" the nuclear threat is, no matter how "unacceptable" a nuclear Iran is, we need a trigger. And unfortunately, Israel has bailed out on us. It wisely does not want to be accused of "dragging the nations into a war" with an Osirak-type bombing that would "force us" to step in, so it has said that it will not "act alone against Iran." No, the ball is in our court, it is up to us to get it rolling. And we will.

Why Haven't We Attacked Iran Yet?

The "reasons" to attack Iran are infinitely better than they were for Iraq. Iran is processing yellowcake uranium, which is a precondition for nuclear bombs. Iran is determined without a doubt to build such weapons, as stated repeatedly and categorically by administration officials. Iran is believed by all of Congress and most Americans to be the prime sponsor of terrorism. Iran has missiles that can reach Israel, and its statements against Israel have been prominently amplified in the news. Iran can kill a lot of Americans in Iraq if it so chooses. Iran is "threatening" the U.S. with "harm and pain" (never mind that the statement Iran made was completely distorted in the press). Iran has weapons of mass destruction (chemical and biological) and their means of delivery (missiles with suitable warheads), according to administration officials. Iran is stirring up trouble in Iraq. Iran oppresses its people. Iran harbors al-Qaeda. What on earth are we waiting for?

All this is good but not good enough, because the bar has been raised much higher by the Iraq fiasco, and because the upcoming confrontation has much higher stakes: it will result in many more casualties and will involve the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. for the first time in 60 years. We need a mighty good reason, one that will allow the president to stand up and say "we cannot wait any longer" and Americans to stand behind him and cheer. Because the stakes are so high, we need a Pearl Harbor; a Gulf of Tonkin won't do, a "defiant Saddam" much less. Or we need an imminent threat, one so huge that it can be argued to be equivalent to an actual attack, and that has a crucial time element. The Bird Flu Threat

Iran's Shahab missiles can reach Israel but not Western Europe or the U.S. But Iran's birds can. They can carry a weapon that will potentially cause 150 million deaths, as the media have been pointing out so conveniently [1], [2], [3].

Iran's wetlands in Gilan and Khuzestan and several other locations are reservoirs for thousands of migratory birds. Ducks, geese, and swans from Iranian wetlands will start migrating to cooler northern countries in early April. Some will head northwest through Eastern Europe to Germany and Scandinavia, others will head northeast through East Asia toward Alaska. The deadly strain of H5N1 bird flu virus will travel with them, and their feces will infect chickens and other domestic fowl in their path. And from there, on to kill tens of millions of Americans and Europeans. Or so the story goes.

It has been pointed out by Michel Choussudovsky and others that there is something very strange about the sudden fearmongering by government officials and the Western press on the dangers of bird flu. Avian flu has been around for centuries, and even the particularly virulent form H5N1 has been known since 1959, and human infection has been recorded since 1997. Why the recent emphasis? Why are the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense so deeply involved in preparations for an impending bird-flu pandemic?

The H5N1 virus is not transmissible from human to human, so a pandemic is impossible unless the virus undergoes a random mutation. However, any random mutation of any virus could potentially be very dangerous to humans. What if the HIV virus suddenly mutated into a form where it was transmitted by casual contact or even worse, through the air? What if the ebola virus suddenly mutated into a form that remains dormant for six months before killing the victim? Why aren't we panicking about those possibilities, which are as likely (or rather, as unlikely) as H5N1 mutating into a human transmissible virus? Simply because the H5N1 disaster scenario lends itself to a casus belli against Iran. Iran has the "weapons" and the "means of delivery." Time is of the essence. All that is missing is the bioterrorism connection, which the Bush administration is about to kindly provide.

Iran and Bioterrorism

Iran is accused by the U.S. State Department, the CIA, the Department of Defense, and John Bolton of "operating a clandestine biological weapons program." Judith Miller was warning as far back as 1998 that Iran was working on germ warfare, at the same time Rumsfeld was warning about Iran's "means of delivery." There is not a shred of real evidence for this claim, which does not prevent the administration from continuously repeating it.

In May 2003, the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq claimed that "Iran has begun production of weaponized anthrax and is actively working with at least five other pathogens, including smallpox, in a drive to build an arsenal of biological weapons," and that "the anthrax weapons are the first fruits of a program begun secretly in 2001 to triple the size of Iran's biowarfare program." This was duly reported in the press, despite the fact that no evidence in support of these claims was presented. "Experts" said the description "seemed plausible" since the group had "provided solid leads in the past." Indeed, this is the same group that exposed the existence of the Natanz nuclear enrichment complex, claiming that it was part of a " very sophisticated, advanced, serious, and expensive nuclear weapons program," which, coincidentally, has also been the U.S. position, again without a shred of real evidence. Iran has an advanced biotechnology research and development effort and certainly knows how to genetically modify organisms. What prevents the U.S. from arguing that because biotechnology could potentially lead to bioweapons, Iran should not be allowed to pursue biotechnology for non-weapons purposes? It would be no different from the U.S. stance toward Iran's nuclear aspirations.

Watch for more explicit language on Iran's "biological weapons" programs to be added to the H.R. 282 bill in the next few days. It will be the equivalent of the congressional authorization for the Iraq war. Bolton has accused Cuba of pursuing biotechnology for the sake of biological weapons, but not Iran. Experts and a Canadian military agency have warned about the possibility of using bird flu as a bioterrorist weapon. The U.S., however, has been silent on this, and there is a good reason why: the surprise factor.

Classified Information

The U.S. has gathered intelligence revealing that Iranian scientists have been working intensely in hidden underground facilities to develop a strain of the H5N1 virus that is transmissible from human to human. The information is being kept classified, following Executive Order 13292 of 2003, which made all information on "weapons of mass destruction" and "defense against transnational terrorism" classifiable. The real reason to keep such information classified is, of course, to avoid public scrutiny. I should clarify that I am not privy to classified information. However, there is no doubt that at the very least administration officials believe that what I just described is possible, and a single individual such as "Curveball" making such a "plausible" claim could lead the administration to act, if it fits their aims. So let's continue with the scenario:

Dual-use facilities disguised as Iranian chicken farms are being used to test how fast the virus can be transmitted from a wild duck to a chicken and on to the humans handling the chicken, and from them to their family and friends. In the last few weeks, a breakthrough was achieved, and the perfect strain was finally found. Iranian ecologists are currently at work in the Iranian wetlands to deploy the mutated virus among wild ducks, swans, and geese, in preparation for the launching of the birds along their migratory paths toward the Western world in early April. Does that sound like a good enough casus belli to you? It does to me.

If true, this could potentially lead to tens of millions of deaths in the Western world over the next six months. Can you prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is not true? Time is of the essence. The birds start migrating in early April. There is no time to "trust but verify." A B61-11 nuclear earth-penetrator aimed at Iran's underground facility where the mutated virus is being manufactured would destroy the facility and prevent a bioholocaust, at the inevitable cost of a few lives. "The reasons for our actions will be clear, the force measured, and the cause just."

"Geographic combatant commanders may request presidential approval for use of nuclear weapons for a variety of conditions. Examples include… Imminent attack from adversary biological weapons that only effects from nuclear weapons can safely destroy." Plus: "The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack. Bush's April 2006 Speech

I am not a speechwriter. Still, I feel compelled to help the president out, to make my small contribution to the New World Order. Here is what President Bush will announce to the nation and the world in early April 2006:

The rest, such as "[we] did nothing to deserve or invite this threat," "before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed," and other appropriate statements you can cut and paste from the March 17, 2003 speech. Bombing will start right after the 24-hour deadline expires. You are welcome, William McGurn. Why It May Not Work

There is of course the small point that there will be no proof Iran is making the deadly virus. But that doesn't matter: Iran will have 24 hours to prove that it is not making the virus. The proof that Bush's claim was false will be buried in radioactive fallout, impossible to retrieve. In the administration's logic, because it will not be possible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that their claim was untrue, it must have been true. They trust, based on earlier experience, that the American people will treat them as criminal justice demands: innocent, even if suspect, until proven guilty. And that is good enough for them, given the important goal that will be achieved.

But it may not work, because it is being exposed in this article and elsewhere. The fact that I and others can predict these events proves that they will not be based on real facts gathered from intelligence, since I am not privy to classified information on any Iranian bioweapons work. These future events can be predicted today based on publicly available information only because they are not based on facts but rather on a sinister plan: to manufacture conditions that will make the U.S. nuclear attack on Iranian underground facilities palatable to the American public. It may not work because those who are privy to this plan or parts of it still have time to make choices that may prevent it from happening: to blow the whistle, disobey orders, or resign from their posts. To talk to their colleagues and persuade them not to carry it through.

Or perhaps the American people will come out en masse, when the ultimatum to Iran is given, and demand that the administration back down. Others have done this and succeeded [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]. Perhaps the military, seeing the overwhelming public opposition, will collectively refuse to go along with the plan.

If the Bush administration carries through with the attack, at least we will know that it is heinously criminal. The terrorists who retaliate against America will know it, and Americans will know why they are being attacked. At the very least, we will be able to put a new administration in place that will bring the perpetrators to justice, swiftly, and with penalties that match the crime.

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US Monitoring Israel's Iran Options

By Nathan Guttman
The Jerusalem Post
Monday 13 March 2006

The Pentagon is looking into the possibility of Israel launching a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. In the past months there were several working-level discussions trying to map out the possible scenarios for such an attack, according to administration sources who were briefed on these meetings.
The discussions, which were describes as intelligence-oriented and not policy-oriented, examined the likelihood of an Israeli pre-emptive attack against Iran and the method in which such an attack could be carried out. One of the main questions presented in these discussions was whether Israel would inform the US in advance in case such an attack is to take place and when would such an advance notice be given.

The sources pointed out that it is clear that Israel would have to coordinate with the US forces air control any attempt to fly over Iraq on the way to Iran, if Israel chooses to attack using the shortest route.

Last week, former Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon said in Washington that the West does have a military option against Iran and that a joint US-NATO-Israeli air strike against dozens of nuclear facilities in Iran could set back Teheran's nuclear programs for several years.

The sources stresses that Ya'alon's remarks were not the trigger for the Pentagon consultations about a possible Israeli attack but added that there is a sense in the administration that the Iranian issue is gaining urgency.

The Washington Post reported Monday that the Bush administration has made Iran a top priority issue and that the president and his team had several meetings on the issue to discuss Iran's nuclear plans.

The Pentagon discussions, according to the sources, did not lead to any conclusion regarding the plausibility of an Israeli attack against Iran, nor did it recommend any action by the US.

Israeli and US sources have said in the past weeks that the US did not convey any message to Israel in which it asked to refrain from an attack and has not raised the issue in bilateral discussions with the Israelis. Both countries share intelligence on the situation in Iran and the advance of the nuclear program, but do not discuss - according to sources who took part in bilateral talks - the possibility of using military force to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The American assumption, according to the administration sources, is that an Israeli decision on attacking Iran is not imminent and that in any case it would not be taken before the Israeli elections, scheduled for March 28.

One of the questions Pentagon analysts are grappling with is how an Israeli attack - if launched - would affect the US and its forces in the region and whether it would force the US to follow with further strikes in order to complete the mission. The US is also discussing what could be the possible avenues of retaliation Iran would take against US's forces and interests in the region.

US Vice President Dick Cheney said last week that all options are "on the table" regarding Iran and on Sunday leading senators pointed out in TV interviews that the US can stop Iran's nuclear program. Senator George Allen (R-VA) said, relating to the question of using military force against Iran, that it is not the preferable route, but "if necessary, it is an option", and Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) stressed that he believed that Iran's nuclear program can be stopped "short of war".

The UN Security Council is expected to take on the Iranian issue this week. During the weekend consultations continued between the US and European representatives and those from Russia and China in attempt to reach an agreement on the language of a Security Council presidential declaration regarding Iran.

The Americans would like to include a clause that would give Iran a 14 day ultimatum to accept the international community's conditions, before moving ahead with sanctions. Western diplomats said Monday that it is not clear if Russia and China would agree to such an ultimatum and speculated that they might insist on a month's period instead of the proposed 14 days.

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On Australia Visit, Rice Critical of China's Military Expansion

Published: March 16, 2006

SYDNEY, March 16 – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the foreign minister of Australia struck markedly different tones Thursday over the rising power of China, with Ms. Rice criticizing its military expansion and the Australian warning against trying to "contain" Chinese ambitions.
The varied comments of Ms. Rice and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer underscored the uneasiness that Ms. Rice has found this week in Asia and Australia, a region that the United States once dominated as a superpower but now has to navigate uneasily amid China's spreading influence.

Ms. Rice's criticism of China was unusually tough, especially since she was speaking in China's front yard and was planning to meet here later in the week with Mr. Downer and the foreign minister of Japan, Taro Aso, to discuss security issues. Mr. Aso has angered leaders in Beijing with his own criticism of China's military buildup.

"There is no doubt that, as with any complex relationship, there are difficult issues as well as positive elements," Ms. Rice said of the Chinese, praising American cooperation with Beijing on North Korea and Iran before going on to criticize Chinese military, economic and human rights policies.

Noting that at the recent National Peoples Conference, the Chinese announced a 14 percent increase in military spending, Ms. Rice said: "That's a lot, and China should undertake to be transparent about what that means."

She went on to refer to charges in the Bush administration that China has kept its currency artificially high in order to pump out exports, and to say that China had a poor record on protecting intellectual property rights, opening its government-controlled markets to foreign investment and protecting religious freedoms.

The planned meeting with Mr. Downer and Mr. Aso of Japan on Saturday, billed as a "trilateral security forum," has stirred attention in East Asia as Japan's relations with China have plummeted amid rising nationalist sentiment on both sides. The two countries are still arguing over issues going back to Japan's invasion in the 1930's.

But the three-way meeting, coupled with President Bush's recently agreeing to condone India's nuclear weapons program and supply nuclear aid to India, has also underscored concerns in Australia that the United States is trying to forge closer military cooperation countries surrounding that encircle China.

Before Ms. Rice arrived, Mr. Downer told Sky News: "We don't support a policy of containment of china. I don't think that's going to be a productive or constructive policy at all." His comments were described in the Australian press as an effort to assuage concerns in Beijing about American-Austrlaian policies.

Appearing at his news conference with Ms. Rice, Mr. Downer said that the United States and Australia were in agreement on the issue, however, "we've never had a concern that the United States was pursuing a policy of containment with China." He said Australia felt "comfortable" with American policies on the issue.

Later, Ms. Rice was asked at by a university student about efforts to push against China. She said that if China cooperated economically and politically with other countries, its influence would be "terrific – not just good, terrific."

The mixed comments about China came on a day in which Ms. Rice sought to reinforce relations with Australia after a period in which some Australians have felt neglected. Ms. Rice cancelled a planned visit here in January, and there has not been a permanent ambassador in Australia since 2004.

After a rousing speech to sailors aboard the U.S.S. Port Royal, a missile cruiser headed for the Persian Gulf, Ms. Rice spoke before an audience of a few hundred students from various universities and was confronted with tough questions about American policies toward Iraq, the Palestinians, China and civil liberties at home.

She had a private dinner Thursday evening with Prime Minister John Howard.

At the university forum, three hecklers – shouting "You're a war criminal!" and "Iraqi blood is on your hands!" were quickly ejected as Ms. Rice said: "I'm very glad to see that democracy is alive and well at the university. I'm glad that it will also be alive and well at the University of Kabul and the University of Baghdad."

Addressing Iraq, Ms. Rice said she was confident that Iraqis will forge a democracy and quell the insurgency, "but we must be patient with these people and patient with the course of democracy."

As she has often in these settings, Ms. Rice spoke in fervent personal terms about democracy, recalling her own coming of age in Birmingham in the 1950's and 1960's, when it was in the grip of the Ku Klux Klan, bombings and a sense of hopelessness about the possibility of racial justice.

"In my lifetime, Birmingham transformed," Ms. Rice added. "America transformed. I stand before you as a black Secretary of State, something that I think 30 or 40 years ago would have been thought impossible."

The audience applauded warmly when she spoke about herself. But though politely addressed, most of the students' questions were mostly critical, apparently reflecting polls that in Australia, as in many other countries, the United States has negative poll ratings.

One questioner noted that the United States had a low percentage of its national economy devoted to foreign aid to poor countries, compared to other rich countries, but Ms. Rice said that the Bush administration had increased foreign aid by 50 percent in the last five years and tripled foreign aid to Africa.

Asked about setting a goal of .7 percent of the national economy for foreign aid, Ms. Rice said: "I don't believe that a specific target is really the appropriate way to think about this." She explained that in the past American assistance had been wasted and spent on corrupt regimes, and that her government was trying to redirect aid as it increased.

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Rice's Warning Call To Moscow

Thursday, Mar. 16, 2006

The Secretary of State does some long distance Iran diplomacy from the road

As UN Security Council members in New York continued to try to hash out an agreement on how best to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice added her own personal touch to the diplomatic wrangling half a world away. Rice interrupted her travels Wednesday morning through Indonesia and Australia to place a call to her Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow. A State Department official says they discussed how best to take "firm, meaningful action" to rein in Iran, which insists it has the right to enrich uranium for what it says are peaceful purposes. But another knowledgeable US official goes further, asserting that Rice called Lavrov to voice concern about his government's continued opposition to a joint US-European plan to have the Security Council call on Iran to suspend its nuclear activities. The official said that Rice warned Lavrov that Russia was becoming isolated from the rest of the Security Council.
She referred, he says, to Tuesday's "informal" gathering of Security Council delegates hosted by the French UN mission. During that session, the official says, 13 of 15 representatives expressed agreement with a French-British draft proposal to have the Securitiy Council issue a statement giving Iran two weeks to comply with the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the watchdog organization that works to prevent nuclear proliferation.

The two holdouts, not surprisingly, have been Russia and China. While officials from the two nations have agreed in principle that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and expressed some frustration with Iran's intransigence, they have both been reluctant to act too forcefully or quickly against Tehran. According to US officials, since last Friday, in a series of meetings in New York among the veto-wielding "permanent five" members of the Security Council-the US, Great Britain, France, Russia and China-the Russians have pushed for changes in the French-British draft that, one US official complains, "designed to gut the proposed statement." In particular, one source says, Russia is opposing setting a short deadline for Iran's compliance and is trying to move the issue out of Security Council and back to the less potent IAEA board.

"They're afraid that a tough measure (will provoke) Iran into an irrational reaction" that would spur the West to demand global economic sanctions," says the US official. The Russians, he says, "are not ready for sanctions. They want to buy time, stretch the process out." But no one is making it easy on them. In addition to Rice's entreaty, US Ambassasdor to Russia William Burns paid a call Tuesday on Lavrov, and, according to the Interfax News Agency, French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy also telephoned him.

The US and its Western European allies aren't ready to discuss economic sanctions. But officials say some diplomats have begun talking quietly to one another and to other countries about where they might squeeze their commercial relations with Iran to force the Islamist regime to suspend its research on uranium enrichment and other techologies essential to constructing a bomb.

The backroom wrangling about the wording of the Security Council statement will intensify next Monday when Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and his counterparts from the other Permanent Members of the Security Council plus Germany convene in Manhattan. As she did with Lavrov, Rice is expected to weigh in with her peers from the other countries, but it is possible that the Iran diplomacy may reach even higher levels of government. If it becomes necessary, says one US official, President Bush himself could place a call or two to Moscow and Beijing.

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I'm living proof of democracy in action - Rice

By Cynthia Banham Foreign Affairs Reporter
March 17, 2006

LIFE may be tough for the world's most powerful woman but Condoleezza Rice remembers when life was even harder - when her family suffered the indignity of racial segregation in America's deep south.

"My family couldn't go to a restaurant, or stay in a hotel, when I was segregated at school - I didn't have a white classmate until we moved to Denver when I was in 10th grade."
It was a time of "church bombings, and of white supremacists, and of the Ku Klux Klan", the US Secretary of State told a crowd of 300 students at the Sydney Con-servatorium of Music yesterday.

"It was a time when it was perhaps hard to believe in democracy in America let alone democracy in any other place in the world, but in my lifetime Birmingham transformed, America transformed. I stand before you as the black secretary of state, something that I think 30 or 40 years ago would have been impossible," she said.

But some in the audience were having none of it. As Dr Rice drew parallels between Iraq today and her upbringing, three protesters interrupted her. "Iraqi blood is on your hands and you cannot wash that blood away," two of them yelled before security guards removed them.

About 40 anti-war activists had earlier clashed with police outside the conservatorium, resulting in five arrests.

Inside, Dr Rice was undeterred, retorting she was "very glad to see democracy is alive and well here at the university … I'm also glad that democracy will now also be alive and well at the university of Kabul and the university of Baghdad."

Dr Rice went on to take 45 minutes of tough questions from the students - compared with just two from journalists earlier in the day after she met the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer.

One after the other they came. Karen, from Macquarie University asked why the US, currently "ranked as one of the lowest OECD nations as far as foreign aid goes" didn't commit to a higher percentage of its gross national income. Jeremy from the University of Sydney asked what Dr Rice meant by her oft-used term "freedom" when people were locked up indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay without charge.

And Ross from the same university asked whether the US's policies on rendition and the abuses at Abu Ghraib didn't "undermine what America stands for".

Dr Rice admitted Abu Ghraib "was a disgrace" but said "rendition" - the removal of terrorist suspects to countries that practise torture - had been done "well before September 11". When extradition was not an option, "sometimes you have to take people off the streets", she said.

"These are hard issues and we as democracies are struggling with how to deal with the war."

During the political debate there were moments of self-deprecation. Dr Rice, a highly accomplished pianist, explained how she learnt to read music before she could read words, but reached a point during her college years when she realised "I was going to probably end up teaching 13-year-olds to play Beethoven" rather than playing Carnegie Hall.

"If there is any lesson from that it's if you haven't found exactly what you're interested in yet, keep searching and maybe like me you can play piano on Sunday and foreign policy during the week," she told her audience.

Comment: Rice's 'heartfelt' stories of racism in the deep south of America simply serve to highlight her hypocrisy and inhumanity in pursuing the racist policies of the Bush government towards the Iraqi people and the Arab world in general.

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Protesters Call Rice "war criminal"

Thu Mar 16, 2006
By Sue Pleming

SYDNEY - To Australian protesters' cries of "war criminal" and "murderer," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended her government's role in Iraq on Thursday and said patience and sacrifice were needed to finish the job.

Speaking to students at the University of Sydney's Conservatorium of Music, Rice said she understood why people found it hard to be positive about Iraq when all they saw on their television screens was violence.

"I am confident that the Iraqis will triumph, that we will win in Iraq but we must be patient with these people," said Rice, who repeatedly thanked Australia for being among the first allies to send troops to Iraq.

There has been a new wave of sectarian killings in Iraq since the February 22 bombing of a major Shi'ite shrine, raising concern the country is edging closer to civil war.
Soon after Rice began her speech, two protesters were removed from the room after shouting "Condoleezza Rice you are a war criminal" and "Iraqi blood is on your hands and you cannot wash that blood away."

Rice, who is on a three-day trip to Australia, immediately shot back she was glad democracy was alive at the university, where she said people were free to speak their minds.

"I am also especially glad to note that democracy will now also be alive and well at the University of Kabul and the University of Baghdad," she said.

About 15 minutes into her address another protester interrupted her speech when she referred to freedom. "What kind of freedom are you talking about, you are a murderer," said the demonstrator before being led away.

Several protesters were moved away from outside the auditorium before Rice began. Sharp-shooters were positioned on surrounding buildings and security forces looked on from boats in Sydney Harbor.

Australia was among one of the first countries to offer troops to help with the U.S. war effort in Iraq and still has about 1,300 in and around Iraq, with a promise to stay into 2007.

But with support dwindling for the war in Australia, Rice sought to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and said Iraqis were now more free.

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Protective Custody

The Torture Issue Alone Is Sufficient To Justify Impeachment Of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld

by Rev. Bill McGinnis
March 16, 2006

...for "conspiracy to commit torture," in direct violation of existing United States law.

The exact words of the United States Code, Title 18, Sections 2340, 2340A, and 2340B are shown below. As you read these words and consider the pictures and other public evidence from Abu Ghraib and other prisons, you will see: first, that numerous United States Military personnel did commit the crime of torture (as defined below), on a systematic and widespread scale, not confined to the rogue actions of a few individuals; second, that the very highest levels of the Bush Administration, including the President himself, must have planned and/or authorized these activities, and thus are guilty of the high crime of "conspiracy to commit torture," an impeachable offense.

Further, you will see that the entire chain of command - starting from the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld level, then going down through the military organizations and the CIA, down to the individual torturers - must have also been members of this conspiracy to commit torture, to the extent that they worked together to make it happen.
Here are the words of the Law . . .

Section 2340. Definitions

As used in this chapter -
(1) ''torture'' means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
(2) ''severe mental pain or suffering'' means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from -
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death; or
(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; and
(3) ''United States'' includes all areas under the jurisdiction of the United States including any of the places described in sections 5 and 7 of this title and section 46501(2) of title 49.

Section 2340A. Torture

(a) Offense. - Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

(b) Jurisdiction. - There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if -
(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.

(c) Conspiracy. - A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.

Section 2340B. Exclusive remedies

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as precluding the application of State or local laws on the same subject, nor shall anything in this chapter be construed as creating any substantive or procedural right enforceable by law by any party in any civil proceeding.

Source: United States Code, as found here and other locations.

As we now can see, we have here clear and provable grounds to impeach and remove from office the President, the Vice-President, the Secretary Of Defense, and perhaps dozens of other Federal officials.

There are also other anti-torture laws which the United States is currently breaking, because of Bush's policies, and some of these surely could provide other grounds for impeachment of Bush and Cheney. But the law shown above seems to provide the clearest and most obvious grounds, because of its precise definition of torture and its specific prohibition of conspiracy to commit torture. An excellent summary of all United States and International Laws against torture is located here. As you read these laws, you will see for yourself how disgustingly far the Bush Administration has pulled us away from the civilized norms of human behavior.

After Bush and Cheney are impeached and removed from office, the Speaker of The House Of representatives - at that time - is next in line to become President, under existing U. S. law. (See here.) So prior to the actual removals from office, the House could select whomever it chooses to become Speaker. It is not Constitutionally required that the Speaker of the House be a Member of the House. So the House could elect whomever it chooses to become Speaker, who would then become President after Bush and Cheney are removed.

Blessings to you. May God help us all. And may God bless America!

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MI5, Camp Delta, and the story that shames Britain

By George B. Mickum
16 March 2006
U.K. Independent

Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna are among eight British residents who remain prisoners at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They are jailed because British officials rendered them into the hands of the CIA in Africa, a fact that may explain why the British government refuses to intercede on their behalf. Bisher and Jamil have been wrongfully imprisoned now for more than three years. This is the story of their betrayal by the British government and their appalling treatment at the hands of the CIA and the U.S. military.
The author, a partner with Washington law firm Keller and Hackman, represents Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna. This exclusive report is compiled from conversations with his two clients, their declassified letters and declassified legal responses, and information provided by the US Military

Several weeks after 11 September 2001, two MI5 agents arrived at Bisher al-Rawi's family home to recruit him to work for British Intelligence. The visit was part of an effort to recruit scores of individuals from London's Muslim community for reconnaissance work and to assist the war on terror.


In particular, MI5 sought contacts with some of the Muslim clerics preaching in London. Mr al-Rawi was a perfect candidate, educated, fluent in English, and a friend of a Muslim cleric named Abu Qatada. The agents presented identification, introducing themselves to Mr al-Rawi as "Alex" and "Matt". However, they are the same names the agents used throughout the Muslim community in London.

The agents asked Mr al-Rawi wide-ranging questions, which he answered candidly. At the end of the meeting, they asked if would agree to speak to them again.

Two more meetings took place at Mr al-Rawi's family home in London. At the agents' suggestion, Mr al-Rawi started meeting them at a coffee shop in Victoria station. Shortly after, the agents asked Mr al-Rawi to work for MI5 on a more formal basis. He agreed. Over the next nine months, meetings took place in hotel rooms in and around London.

Throughout Mr al-Rawi's relationship with MI5, his agents pressured him to accept payment for his services. He refused all such overtures. The only thing Mr al-Rawi , 38, who is Iraqi born, ever accepted from MI5 was a mobile telephone. He took it to put an end to the agents' demand for him to be contactable.

As his work with MI5 continued, Mr al-Rawi became increasingly alarmed about his relationship with MI5 and his potential exposure. Eventually, he sought assurances from Matt and Alex that his work as an intermediary between MI5 and Abu Qatada would not get him into trouble. Ultimately, he requested a meeting with MI5 and a private attorney, suggesting the human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce. MI5 refused.

To assuage his concerns and convince him to continue working for MI5, the agents set up the first of two meetings with an MI5 lawyer whom they called " Simon". Alex and Matt were present at both meetings. Simon introduced himself to Mr al-Rawi as a lawyer with MI5. He conceded that Simon was not his real name. Simon assured Mr al-Rawi he was running no risk by working with MI5 and that MI5 and Simon himself would come to his aid if Mr al-Rawi found himself compromised. Simon told him that all he needed to do was record the date and time of his conversations with Simon, and MI5 would be able to identify and locate Simon. Mr al-Rawi's refusal to insist on a meeting with a private attorney would have devastating consequences.

Abu Qatada was completely aware of Mr al-Rawi's relationship with MI5. Mr al-Rawi carried questions and answers between the parties, served as a translator, and participated in negotiations with Abu Qatada. "All I did in Britain was try to help with steps necessary to get a meeting between Abu Qatada and MI5. I was trying to bring them together. MI5 would give me messages to take to Abu Qatada, and Abu Qatada would give me messages to take back to them."

It was during this time that Mr al-Rawi's good friend, Jamil el-Banna, a Jordanian British resident, became involved. While the British Government was publicly asserting that Abu Qatada's whereabouts were unknown, Abu Qatada was actively engaged in a dialogue with British officials that involved Mr al-Rawi and Mr el-Banna. Mr al-Rawi asked Mr el-Banna to drive Abu Qatada's wife and son to meet Abu Qatada in London. Mr el-Banna followed Mr al-Rawi, who led the way on his motorcycle. When Abu Qatada was arrested, Mr el-Banna taxied his wife and child home at the request of the British officials on the scene. Mr el-Banna never was arrested: the police thanked him for his assistance. He was never even questioned because everyone was aware of his limited involvement. Based on this involvement, he has been tortured and jailed for three years.


Mr al-Rawi then turned his energy to his brother Wahab's long-planned mobile peanut oil factory, a project in Gambia.

Gambian authorities detained Mr al-Rawi, Mr el-Banna and their friends immediately after the group landed in Africa. Indeed, shortly after the arrest, Gambian authorities told the arrested group that the British had told them to make the arrests.

There is no question that British officials rendered Mr al-Rawi and Mr el-Banna into the hands of CIA officials in Africa in November of 2002. During one of Mr el-Banna's more than 100 interrogation sessions, his interrogator told him his adopted country had betrayed him

A British citizen, Abdullah El Janoudi, who accompanied Mr al-Rawi and Mr el-Banna to Gambia, confirms that a large American by the name of Lee told him British officials had the group arrested. He also confirms that during the interrogations that took place every two days, the CIA continued to press for incriminating evidence about Abu Qatada that linked him with al-Qa'ida.

In Africa, the CIA had a complete file on Mr al-Rawi that included his hobbies, information that can only have come from British Intelligence. Mr al-Rawi states that "from the very beginning in the Gambia the CIA said, 'The British told us that one of you was helping MI5.' By the second day in the Gambia, they [the CIA] were asking me to work for the US in Britain. I said I would not."


Although Mr al-Rawi's brother Wahab and another friend were released after a month and returned to England, Mr al-Rawi and Mr el-Banna were rendered at the end of 2002 in a CIA Gulfstream jet, one of a fleet of jets used by the CIA in its "extraordinary rendition" programme, in which the US transports victims to foreign countries for the express purpose of torture.

Mr el-Banna's account of his arrest reads:

Detainee: "When they came and arrested and handcuffed me, they were wearing all black. They even covered their heads ... They took me, covered me, put me in a vehicle and sent me somewhere. I don't know. It was at night. Then from there to the airport right away.

Tribunal president: An airport in Gambia?

Detainee: Yes. We were in a room like this with about eight men. All with covered-up faces.

Tribunal president: Were you by yourself at that time?

Detainee: Yes. They cut off my clothes.

Mr al-Rawi and Mr el-Banna were taken to the notorious "dark prison" in Kabul, Afghanistan. There, both men were imprisoned underground in isolation and darkness and tortured over two weeks. They were held in leg shackles 24 hours a day. They were starved, beaten, dragged along floors while shackled, and kicked. Round-the-clock screams from fellow prisoners made sleep impossible.

Subsequently, they were transferred to the US Air Force base at Bagram, Afghanistan. Although they were chained hand and foot and hooded, while waiting to be transported, their captors beat them. Mr el-Banna, in particular, was beaten repeatedly.

In Bagram, they were imprisoned and tortured for another two months. They were beaten, starved, and sleep deprived. What is particularly noteworthy is the fact that the only information the interrogators were interested in was information about Abu Qatada. Over the years, CIA and military interrogators have repeatedly attempted to suborn testimony from both men, linking Abu Qatada to al-Qa'ida. Mr el-Banna has repeatedly refused offers of freedom, money, and passports in exchange for false testimony.


Ultimately, both men were transported to Guantanamo, a trip so harrowing that a government informer, who was posing as a prisoner and had to be transported and treated the same as other prisoners, stated in a television interview that, at the time, he wished someone would shoot him. Forced to wear darkened goggles, face-masks and earphones, chained at the ankles, handcuffed behind their backs with thin plastic that caused incredible pain, and, in some cases, lasting damage, starving and sick prisoners who had been deprived of sleep were forced to maintain a sitting position, legs forward and chained without moving for nearly 24 hours.

If they moved they were beaten, kicked, hit with blunt objects. The government informer lasted barely one month in the intolerable conditions in Guantanamo before demanding freedom. During the first month at Guantanamo in which both were kept in strict solitary confinement, the pair were interrogated six hours per day and kept in the interrogation room for 14 hours per day, sometimes in freezing temperatures to induce hypothermia, one of the many techniques approved for use by the Bush administration. In some cases they were short-shackled, hands behind heels, for the entire time.

During his lengthy incarceration, Mr el-Banna has repeatedly asked his interrogators to administer a polygraph test, but the military has refused. However, the military's unwillingness to give him a lie detector deviates from standard prison policy. Former interrogators at Guantanamo confirm that a "passed" polygraph test is a prerequisite to be transferred to Camp IV, the lowest security prison camp on the base.

Mr el-Banna is in Camp IV. Mr al-Rawi, who also is in Camp IV, had a polygraph administered, but the military has refused to turn over the results and there is no mention of it in records produced by the military.

Indeed, the military has taken great pains to prevent any exculpatory information from creeping into the official records to ensure prisoners have no chance to exonerate themselves. In Guantanamo, Mr al-Rawi has met perhaps 10 different CIA agents. One agent who went by the name "Elizabeth" told him: "Don't think that leaving here will come without a price." Mr al-Rawi said: "She asked me whether I would work with them, and I said no. [She] suggested, 'How about working with MI5?'"


Mr al-Rawi's relationship with MI5 did not end with his arrest. He has met MI5 agents at Guantanamo on numerous occasions. He first met an MI5 agent in the early autumn of 2003, fully shackled. After some perfunctory questions and answers that confirmed his work with MI5, the agent offered him an oblique, belated apology: "Sorry about all this." Several months later, Alex, the MI5 agent with whom Mr al-Rawi worked in London, interrogated him at Guantanamo. Among other things, Mr al-Rawi told Alex the Americans wanted him to work for US intelligence.

In January 2004, Martin and Matt, the other two MI5 agents that Mr al-Rawi worked with in London, met Mr al-Rawi in an interrogation room. During that meeting, agents proposed that Mr al-Rawi return to working with MI5 upon his release. He agreed. The following day, the agents told him it would take them one to six months to get him home.

Former Guantanamo interrogators report that all prisoner interviews with foreign intelligence officials are videotaped. The trial judge in charge of both men's cases granted them motion to preserve that specific evidence along with copious other evidence we have managed to identify.


I advised the men more than one month before I travelled to Guantanamo in September 2004, advising them not to appear before the CSRT (Combatant Status Review Tribunal) or participate in the process. My letters were not delivered until after each had participated in his tribunal. I advised them against participating, among other reasons because the tribunals were permitted to rely on information obtained under torture. Both men were not even permitted to review all the evidence against them, and thus had no chance to defend themselves.

The following testimony from a CSRT proceeding demonstrates the Bush administration's commitment to providing prisoners with meaningful due process. In response to the charge "While living in Bosnia, the detainee associated with a known al-Qa'ida operative" the following colloquy, which could have been lifted from the pages of The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, took place:

Detainee: Give me his name.

President: I do not know.

Detainee: How can I respond to this?

President: Did you know of anybody who was a member ofal- Qa'ida?

Detainee: No, no.

President: I'm sorry, what was your response?

Detainee: No. If you tell me the name, I can respond and defend myself against this accusation.

President: We are asking you the questions and we need you to respond to what is on the classified summary.

Although both men never were anywhere near Afghanistan or Iraq, never were involved in any wrongful activity, never possessed a weapon of any kind, they were powerless to defend themselves against the charge that they had associated with Abu Qatada, "a known al-Qa'ida operative", even though Abu Qatada has never been charged with any crime or been shown to be a member of or involved in al-Qa'ida. But, the full extent of both men's betrayal by MI5 does not end here.

At the tribunal, Mr al-Rawi testified under oath about his relationship with MI5 and his role as a liaison between MI5 and Abu Qatada. He informed the tribunal that MI5 had expressly approved of his role: "During a meeting with British Intelligence, I had asked if it was OK for me to continue to have a relationship with Abu Qatada. They assured me it was."

Mr al-Rawi requested that the MI5 agents Alex, Matt, and Martin appear before the tribunal to confirm his work with MI5 and Abu Qatada. Very much out of character, the tribunal president recognised the obvious importance of such testimony and "determined that these three witnesses were relevant". He instructed the military prosecutor to make inquiries and to determine whether the British Government would make the witnesses available .

The British Government not only refused to allow the witnesses to appear, it refused to confirm the accuracy of Mr al-Rawi's account, thereby ensuring both men's fate and consigning them to indefinite imprisonment. The following account is taken from Mr al-Rawi's CSRT:

President: Detainee has requested three witnesses who would testify that he supported the British Intelligence Agency. We have contacted the British Government and at this time, they are not willing to provide the tribunal with that information. The witnesses are no longer considered reasonably available, so I am going to deny the request for those three witnesses.

Later in the proceeding, the president issued the following clarification: " The British Government didn't say they didn't have a relationship with you, they just would not confirm or deny it. That means I only have your word."

Mr el-Banna's CSRT hearing was so procedurally defective that it would make good farce were the result not so devastating. The only evidence considered by the tribunal was that he drove Abu Qatada's wife and son to visit him during the time British authorities were engaged in discussions with him. In fact, his CSRT hearing was postponed and reconvened three times on 25 September, 28 September, 2 October and 9 October 2004 to allow the military's prosecuting attorney to collect and present additional evidence to the tribunal.

At the conclusion, Mr el-Banna's personal representative, a soldier and non-lawyer who could be compelled under the CSRT rules to testify against him courageously dissented from the tribunal's conclusion, including a formal statement in the CSRT record: "The personal representative states that the record is insufficient to prove that the detainee is an enemy combatant."

Although Mr al-Rawi disclosed his involvement with MI5 during our first meeting in 2004, he has been loath to go public with this information. But there are few options left available to both men.

Congress voted to ban torture by an overwhelming majority in December 2005, but President Bush signed the bill into law with a clarifying "signing statement" that allows him to ignore it whenever he chooses. Of more immediate concern is Congress's recent legislative reversal of the Supreme Court's decision to allow prisoners at Guantanamo to file petitions for habeas corpus . In response to the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act, the US government moved quickly to dismiss all of the habeas cases filed by prisoners at Guantanamo, including those filed by Mr al-Rawi and Mr el-Banna.


Neither man can return to the UK because their visas have expired. The British Government adamantly refuses to reissue them visas or allow them to return home on humanitarian grounds. If the cases are dismissed, the US military intends to transfer Mr al-Rawi to Iraq and Mr el-Banna to Jordan. There, each will be jailed with the host country's pro-American acquiescence. Recent reconnaissance indicates the US government is negotiating with foreign governments to jail prisoners from Guantanamo indefinitely.

Why the British Government has treated these two men as it has, I cannot say. What seems most likely is that they were simply expendable pawns in Great Britain's and America's attempt to create a case against Abu Qatada

My security clearance allows me to review all of the classified evidence in the cases, including all the evidence the tribunal relied upon to conclude that Mr al-Rawi and Mr el-Banna were enemy combatants. There is no evidence in the record, classified or unclassified, which supports the military's determination that these are enemy combatants. None.

The African business trip that ended in chains and imprisonment

By Robert Verkaik

Jamal el-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi were arrested at Banjul airport, Gambia, in November 2002 on suspicion of links to terrorism.

The two friends were in a party of five businessmen who were trying to start up a peanut oil venture. Two other British nationals detained at the same time were flown home.

The Government argues that Mr al-Rawi, an Iraqi citizen in his late thirties and Mr el-Banna, a Palestinian in his forties, who have both brought up families in Britain, are British residents with limited rights.

After their arrest, the two men were interviewed by the Americans and flown in chains to Bagram in Afghanistan. In early 2003, they were taken to Guantanamo Bay.

Last month Mr Justice Collins ruled that Mr el-Banna and Mr al-Rawi should have their case for judicial review heard in the High Court, and that claims of torture at the camp meant the Government might have an obligation to act. But the Government maintains: "It is only through ... their nationality that persons can ... enjoy the obligations placed on a state by international law."

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Taking prisoners to the edge of drowning 'not torture' says FO

James Kirkup

FORCING a prisoner's head under water until they believe they are drowning does not necessarily constitute torture or abusive treatment, the Foreign Office has said.

The equivocal statement has fuelled suspicions that Britain is turning a blind eye to practices by its allies that many international lawyers believe are illegal.

Holding mock executions is banned in international law, yet simulated drowning is specifically intended to persuade subjects that they are about to die.
Known as "waterboarding," forms of simulated drowning have been used to torment prisoners since the Middle Ages. Victims experience an automatic gag reflex and acute terror, quickly and inevitably pleading for the ordeal to end.

In a written parliamentary exchange, the Foreign Office was asked whether "the infliction of simulated drowning falls within the definition of torture or cruel and inhumane treatment used by the government for the purposes of international law."

Replying, Ian Pearson, a junior Foreign Office minister, gave what some saw as a vague answer. "Whether the conduct described constitutes torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment for the purposes of the UN Convention Against Torture would depend on all the circumstances of the case," Mr Pearson wrote.

Waterboarding is one of the "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" that US intelligence officers are said to use against suspected international terrorists.

The CIA version of the technique sees the subject strapped to a board, feet raised. Cellophane is wrapped over the nose and mouth and water is poured over the head.

The technique has since been used on senior al-Qaeda figures in US custody, intelligence sources say. US officials have never denied those claims.

There is no suggestion that British military or intelligence officers have used waterboarding directly against prisoners.

Human rights groups yesterday condemned the Foreign Office's ambiguous legal position on simulated drowning.

James Welch, the legal director of Liberty, said Mr Pearson's answer suggests ministers are ignoring international treaty obligations. "It is incredible that a government minister, mindful of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, UN Convention Against Torture and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, could possibly consider that holding someone under water with the intention of making them think they were going to drown was anything but torture," he said.

Kate Allen, Amnesty International's UK director, said the government must take a much clearer position against techniques like waterboarding.

"Instead of equivocating the government should be clearly condemning all forms of torture, including partial drowning, death threats, sensory deprivation and indeed all forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," she said.

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Trash Talkers: The Black Mud of Bush/Blair Propaganda

Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 15 March 2006

It is not enough for those gentlemen of rectitude, the oh-so-Christian Coalition of George Bush and Tony Blair, to snatch innocent people from around the world and plunge them into a black hole of torture and anguish for years on end. No, even in those rare instances where they finally spit out a victim after grinding his body and mind to bits, they cannot let him rest. They pursue him to the ends of the earth, trying to taint his reputation with slander, innuendo and black propaganda fed to willing media accomplices -- anything to muddy the waters, to keep the truth about their despicable enterprise from emerging fully into the light.

Victoria Brittain, writing in The Guardian, shows us how it's done in Trial by Spin Machine. Excerpts: The coincidental release of Michael Winterbottom's prize-winning film about the young men from Tipton, Road to Guantánamo, and Moazzam Begg's book, Enemy Combatant, predictably brought the US and British spin machines into full swing last week - so that anyone reading the book or seeing the film would have got the idea that these men may have been badly treated, but they certainly were not innocent. [For more on Begg, see The Pentagon Archipelago. For more on the Tipton Three, see Caught in a Net of State Terrorism.]

Last week the Daily Telegraph flagged an exclusive on its front page. "Begg told FBI he trained with al-Qaeda," was the headline over a full-page article by Con Coughlin, the paper's security correspondent, using an FBI report which, as Begg's book explains, was written by two FBI agents. After Begg had been tortured, threatened with death, offered a job undercover by the CIA, and come to believe he would never see his family again, he signed the "confession", confident that it was so illiterate and inconsistent that no court of law would accept it as having been written by an educated man such as himself. Coughlin had a copy of the book from the publishers, so - assuming he read it - knew all this as he prepared his piece, which has so damaged Begg.

Meanwhile, Colleen Graffy, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, was in London last week on a propaganda offensive. Ms Graffy had visited Guantánamo and witnessed no unpleasant interrogation, no torture and plenty of sports facilities, she told Jeremy Vine on Radio 2. The imperturbable Vine was speechless when she drew from her bag a sample tube used for force-feeding prisoners and explained to him that it had no metal edges and was therefore humane…..[*However, for some reason she didn't offer to stuff down her own gullet, just to show viewers at home how comfy it is. A pity. CF]

Five years ago, in the British Journalism Review, David Leigh reported on cases of intelligence services using journalists. One was the 1995 Sunday Telegraph story about the son of Libya's Colonel Gadafy and his alleged connection to a currency-counterfeiting plan. The story was written by Mr Coughlin, the paper's then chief foreign correspondent, and was originally attributed to a "British banking official". In fact - as emerged in a libel case brought by Gadafy's son - it had been given to him by an MI6 officer, who, it transpired, had been a regular contact for years….

The innocence of Begg, the Tipton Three and the other British detainees who have come home is a part of the story of Guantánamo that no official wants people to hear. Like all major miscarriages of justice finally overturned, the officials concerned will never apologise for breaking these men's lives, no one in authority will lose their jobs, and sections of the media will continue to question their innocence. .

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War of Terror

Bush Restates Terror Strategy in New Document

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 16, 2006; Page A01

President Bush plans to issue a new national security strategy today reaffirming his doctrine of preemptive war against terrorists and hostile states with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, despite the troubled experience in Iraq.
The long-overdue document, an articulation of U.S. strategic priorities that is required by law, lays out a robust view of America's power and an assertive view of its responsibility to bring change around the world. On topics including genocide, human trafficking and AIDS, the strategy describes itself as "idealistic about goals and realistic about means."


* National Security Strategy Overview (whitehouse.gov)
* National Security Strategy of the United States 2006 (pdf File)

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The strategy expands on the original security framework developed by the Bush administration in September 2002, before the invasion of Iraq. That strategy shifted U.S. foreign policy away from decades of deterrence and containment toward a more aggressive stance of attacking enemies before they attack the United States.

The preemption doctrine generated fierce debate at the time, and many critics believe the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq fatally undermined an essential assumption of the strategy -- that intelligence about an enemy's capabilities and intentions can be sufficient to justify preventive war.

In his revised version, Bush offers no second thoughts about the preemption policy, saying it "remains the same" and defending it as necessary for a country in the "early years of a long struggle" akin to the Cold War. In a nod to critics in Europe, the document places a greater emphasis on working with allies and declares diplomacy to be "our strong preference" in tackling the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

"If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack," the document continues. "When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize."

Such language could be seen as provocative at a time when the United States and its European allies have brought Iran before the U.N. Security Council to answer allegations that it is secretly developing nuclear weapons. At a news conference in January, Bush described an Iran with nuclear arms as a "grave threat to the security of the world."

Some security specialists criticized the continued commitment to preemption. "Preemption is and always will be a potentially useful tool, but it's not something you want to trot out and throw in everybody's face," said Harlan Ullman, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "To have a strategy on preemption and make it central is a huge error."

A military attack against Iran, for instance, could be "foolish," Ullman said, and it would be better to seek other ways to influence its behavior. "I think most states are deterrable."

Thomas Donnelly, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has written on the 2002 strategy, said the 2003 invasion of Iraq in the strict sense is not an example of preemptive war, because it was preceded by 12 years of low-grade conflict and was essentially the completion of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Still, he said, recent problems there contain lessons for those who would advocate preemptive war elsewhere. A military strike is not enough, he said; building a sustainable, responsible state in place of a rogue nation is the real challenge.

"We have to understand preemption -- it's not going to be simply a preemptive strike," he said. "That's not the end of the exercise but the beginning of the exercise."

The White House plans to release the 49-page National Security Strategy today, starting with a speech by national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley to the U.S. Institute of Peace. The White House gave advance copies to The Washington Post and three other newspapers.
The strategy has no legal force of its own but serves as a guidepost for agencies and officials drawing up policies in a range of military, diplomatic and other arenas. Although a 1986 law requires that the strategy be revised annually, this is the first new version since 2002. "I don't think it's a change in strategy," Hadley said in an interview. "It's an updating of where we are with the strategy, given the time that's passed and the events that have occurred."

But the new version of the strategy underscores in a more thematic way Bush's desire to make the spread of democracy the fundamental underpinning of U.S. foreign policy, as he expressed in his second inaugural address last year. The opening words of the strategy, in fact, are lifted from that speech: "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."


* National Security Strategy Overview (whitehouse.gov)
* National Security Strategy of the United States 2006 (pdf File)

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The strategy commits the administration to speaking out against human rights abuses, holding high-level meetings at the White House with reformers from repressive nations, using foreign aid to support elections and civil society, and applying sanctions against oppressive governments. It makes special mention of religious intolerance, subjugation of women and human trafficking.

At the same time, it acknowledges that "elections alone are not enough" and sometimes lead to undesirable results. "These principles are tested by the victory of Hamas candidates in the recent elections in the Palestinian territories," the strategy says, referring to the radical group designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.

Without saying what action would be taken against them, the strategy singles out seven nations as prime examples of "despotic systems" -- North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Belarus, Burma and Zimbabwe. Iran and North Korea receive particular attention because of their nuclear programs, and the strategy vows in both cases "to take all necessary measures" to protect the United States against them.

"We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran," the document says, echoing a statement made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week. It recommits to efforts with European allies to pressure Tehran to give up any aspirations of nuclear weapons, then adds ominously: "This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided."

The language about confrontation is not repeated with North Korea, which says it already has nuclear bombs, an assertion believed by U.S. intelligence. But Pyongyang is accused of a "bleak record of duplicity and bad-faith negotiations," as well as of counterfeiting U.S. currency, trafficking in drugs and starving its own people.

The strategy offers a much more skeptical view of Russia than in 2002, when the glow of Bush's friendship with President Vladimir Putin was still bright.

"Recent trends regrettably point toward a diminishing commitment to democratic freedoms and institutions," it says. "We will work to try to persuade the Russian Government to move forward, not backward, along freedom's path."

It also warns China that "it must act as a responsible stakeholder that fulfills its obligations" and guarantee political freedom as well as economic freedom. "Our strategy," the document says, "seeks to encourage China to make the right strategic choices for its people, while we hedge against other possibilities."

To assuage allies antagonized by Bush's go-it-alone style in his first term, the White House stresses alliance and the use of what it calls "transformational diplomacy" to achieve change. At the same time, it asserts that formal structures such as the United Nations or NATO may at times be less effective than "coalitions of the willing," or groups responding to particular situations, such as the Asian tsunami of 2004.

Beyond the military response to terrorism, the document emphasizes the need to fight the war of ideas against Islamic radicals whose anti-American rhetoric has won wide sympathy in parts of the world.

The strategy also addresses topics largely left out of the 2002 version, including a section on genocide and a new chapter on global threats such as avian influenza, AIDS, environmental destruction and natural disasters. Critics have accused the administration of not doing enough to stop genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, responding too slowly to the Asian tsunami and disregarding global environmental threats such as climate change.

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Updated Strategy Backs Iraq Strike and Cites Iran Peril

Published: March 16, 2006

WASHINGTON, March 15 - An updated version of the Bush administration's national security strategy, the first in more than three years, gives no ground on the decision to order a pre-emptive attack on Iraq in 2003, and identifies Iran as the country likely to present the single greatest future challenge to the United States.
The strategy document declares that American-led diplomacy to halt Iran's program to enrich nuclear fuel "must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided," a near final draft of the document says. But it carefully avoids spelling out what steps the United States might take if diplomacy fails, and it makes no such direct threat of confrontation with North Korea, which boasts that it has already developed nuclear weapons.

When asked about the omission in an interview today, Stephen J. Hadley, President Bush's national security adviser and the principal author of the new report, said "the sentence applies to both Iran and North Korea."

The 48-page draft of the new "National Security Strategy of the United States," which was released by the White House before a formal presentation by Mr. Hadley on Thursday, is an effort to both expand on and assess the security strategy published by the administration in September 2002, a year after the terrorist attacks against New York and the Pentagon upended American foreign policy.

But in a reflection of new challenges, the document also covers territory that the first strategy sidestepped, warning China, for example, against "old ways of thinking and acting" in its competition for energy resources.

China's leaders, it says, are "expanding trade, but acting as if they can somehow 'lock up' energy supplies around the world or seek to direct markets rather than opening them up - as if they can follow a mercantilism borrowed from a discredited era."

No such discussion appears in the earlier version of the strategy, and Mr. Hadley said the warning was an effort to get China's leaders to think about "the broader constellation" of their interests.

In a reflection of growing tensions between Washington and Moscow, the administration also expresses deep worry that Russia is falling off the path to democracy that Mr. Bush spent much of his first term celebrating.

"Recent trends regrettably point toward a diminishing commitment to democratic freedoms and institutions," the document reads. In a much tougher tone than the 2002 document, it emphasizes that the future of the relationship with Russia "will depend on the policies, foreign and domestic, that Russia adopts."

Mr. Hadley, who was the deputy to Condoleezza Rice, who was the national security adviser when the 2002 document was produced, said the effort was not intended to formulate new strategy, but to "take stock of what has been accomplished and describe the new challenges we face."

He noted, for example, that dealing with economic globalization - a subject the administration rarely talked about directly until recently - constituted a new chapter, and that in other areas "we've learned something over the past four years."

But chief among the sections that remain unchanged is the most controversial section of the 2002 strategy: the elevation of pre-emptive strikes to a central part of United States strategy.

"The world is better off if tyrants know that they pursue W.M.D. at their own peril," the strategy says. It acknowledges misjudgments about Iraq's weapons program that preceded the invasion three years ago, but it is clearly unwilling to give ground on that decision. The report notes that "there will always be some uncertainty about the status of hidden programs since proliferators are often brutal regimes that go to great lengths to conceal their activities."

While the new document hews to many of the administration's familiar themes, it contains changes that seem born of bitter experience. Throughout the document there is talk of the need for "effective democracies," a code phrase, some of its drafters said, for countries that do not just hold free elections but also build democratic institutions and spread their benefits to their populations. "I don't think there was as much of an appreciation of the need for that in 2002," one senior official said.

The new document is also less ideological in tone, and far more country-specific. Syria, for example, received no mention in the older document, but it is cited as a sponsor of terrorism in this one.

Mr. Hadley and other officials said that in using the word "confrontation" the administration did not intend to signal a greater willingness to use military force against Iran's nuclear production sites. But it did indicate a willingness to step up pressure against Iranian leaders, including the threat of penalties that the United States is pressing in the United Nations Security Council.

Even as the White House edited the final drafts of the strategy, the House International Relations Committee voted 37 to 3 for legislation to end American economic aid to any country that invests in Iran's energy sector. The administration has opposed the bill out of concern that it would interfere with efforts to form a common front against Iran in the Security Council.

Still, the wording of the warning about confrontation with Iran comes just two pages after the strategy reiterates the 2002 warning that the United States reserves the right to take "anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack." The juxtaposition is unlikely to be lost on Iran's leaders.

Sections of the new document discuss at greater length the need to strengthen alliances, with specific references to supporting NATO and reforming the United Nations.

Following Mr. Bush's new push to ward off what he has called a dangerous shift toward isolationism, there is a section that refers to the need to "engage the opportunities and confront the challenges of globalization," a word that did not appear in the 2002 document.

The passage hails the "new flows of trade, investment, information and technology," which it says are transforming national security in every area from the spread of H.I.V./AIDS to avian flu to "environmental destruction, whether caused by human behavior or cataclysmic megadisasters such as flood, hurricanes, earthquakes or tsunamis." It stays away from the subject of global warming.

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Bush's lies

Monday, March 13, 2006
Dave Neiwert

Andrew Sullivan's list of "what I got wrong about the war" is most notable, perhaps, for what he omits.

Evidently, Sullivan still has no regrets about having labeled the left-wing critics who questioned Bush's invasion plans and their rationale -- you know, the people who it turned out were right -- as a treasonous "fifth column".
Even more conspicuous by its omission from Sullivan's list was the reality that he was snookered by Bush's lies. It was so much easier, after all, to impugn the patriotism of people who were not.

Moreover, Bush, you see, didn't lie per se, in Sullivan's little bubble-land. Oh no. He was misled by an incompetent intelligence apparatus:
The first was to overestimate the competence of government, especially in very tricky areas like WMD intelligence. The shock of 9/11 provoked an overestimation of the risks we faced. And our fear forced errors into a deeply fallible system. When doubts were raised, they were far too swiftly dismissed. The result was the WMD intelligence debacle, something that did far more damage to the war's legitimacy and fate than many have yet absorbed.

This is very similar to something John McCain said this weekend in his defense of President Bush. It kind of stood out for me, just because we've been hearing versions of it from the right ever since it became clear that Bush in fact led America to war under false pretenses:
Mr. McCain praised the president for his failed effort to rewrite the nation's Social Security system, said he supported the decision to go into Iraq and blistered critics who suggested the White House had fabricated or exaggerated evidence of unconventional weapons in Iraq in order to justify the invasion.

"Anybody who says the president of the United States is lying about weapons of mass destruction is lying," Mr. McCain said.

This is an extension of the rationale we've been hearing from the Bushevistas ever since it became painfully obvious there were no weapons of mass destruction to be found in Iraq: It wasn't a lie if he believed the WMDs were there. It was just a mistake.

Joseph Sobran offered up an early iteration of this back in 2003:
Well? Does this mean he was lying all along? Not necessarily. In fact, I doubt that he was. And I don't say this out of any fondness for him or trust in his word.

People have subtle ways of misleading without actually lying. One of these is to exaggerate their own certainty. They pretend to be sure of things when they are only guessing.

... This doesn't mean that our rulers were lying to us; they largely believed what they said. It was an enormous and willful failure of judgment, history's most expensive application of "Better safe than sorry."

So we needn't accuse Bush of trying to deceive us. He probably deceived himself first. With all his advisors, experts, access to secret information, and intelligence sources, he simply didn't know what he was talking about. But this should teach us not to trust his judgment.

This line of reasoning has been pervasive on the right, and it couldn't be more plainly self-serving: it not only lets Bush off the hook, it also lets off everyone who not only gleefully accepted his blandishments, but even more gleefully assailed the patriotism of anyone who questioned them.

But the reality of Bush's lies never was completely rationalized away this way, and that's been a source of continual anxiety for the right. The Wall Street Jourtnal even offered an op-ed with the subhed, "What if people start believing that 'Bush lied'?"
Pounding through the media that the prewar intelligence was a conscious lie may incline the American people to believe the whole Iraq enterprise is false, and worse, that the very notion of weapons of mass destruction is also doubtful. The psychology of the big lie can sometimes run out of control.

The problem with all these excuses is that the Bush White House didn't lie about the presence of weapons of mass destruction: they lied about what they knew about them.

It wasn't simply on a couple of occasions that they did so. Rather, it was systematic and pervasive throughout their ceaseless beating of the war drums:
Dick Cheney, August 26, 2002: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."

Ari Fleischer, Jan. 9, 2003: "We know for a fact that there are weapons there."

George W. Bush, March 17, 2003: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

Donald Rumsfeld, May 30, 2003: "If you think -- let me take that, both pieces -- the area in the south and the west and the north that coalition forces control is substantial. It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

This is not, as lame apologists like FactCheck.org try to argue, a question of "whether or not he knew at the time that the weapons weren't there." It's a matter of claiming to possess real knowledge and hard factual evidence that the White House in fact did not have.

For politicians and rhetoricians, this might be forgivable. But it is a uniquely egregious kind of lie when it comes from the White House, particularly on a matter of national security.

That's because citizens somewhat naturally understand that the president has access to special knowledge that is not available to the rest of us, especially on matters of security; and indeed, this fact was often cited by Bush's defenders during the runup to the invasion. The nation depends upon the executive branch to be making its decisions based on a hard-nosed and accurate assessment of that intelligence, particularly when the lives of American soldiers are on the line.

As John Dean explained some time back, the prospect that Bush, rather than relying on factual analysis, instead skewed the data for the sake of selling a preordained war to the public was cause enough for impeachment, not least because it undermined public confidence in the integrity of the intelligence process:
In the three decades since Watergate, this is the first potential scandal I have seen that could make Watergate pale by comparison. If the Bush administration intentionally manipulated or misrepresented intelligence to get Congress to authorize, and the public to support, military action to take control of Iraq, then that would be a monstrous misdeed.

This administration may be due for a scandal. While Bush narrowly escaped being dragged into Enron, it was not, in any event, his doing. But the war in Iraq is all Bush's doing, and it is appropriate that he be held accountable.

To put it bluntly, if Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be "a high crime" under the Constitution's impeachment clause. It would also be a violation of federal criminal law, including the broad federal anti-conspiracy statute, which renders it a felony "to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose."

It's important to recall that when Richard Nixon resigned, he was about to be impeached by the House of Representatives for misusing the CIA and FBI. After Watergate, all presidents are on notice that manipulating or misusing any agency of the executive branch improperly is a serious abuse of presidential power.

Nixon claimed that his misuses of the federal agencies for his political purposes were in the interest of national security. The same kind of thinking might lead a president to manipulate and misuse national security agencies or their intelligence to create a phony reason to lead the nation into a politically desirable war. Let us hope that is not the case.

The intervening months have only strengthened the case that the White House manipulated the data -- and that, while the intelligence was flawed, that wasn't why we went to war:
Paul R. Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, acknowledges the U.S. intelligence agencies' mistakes in concluding that Hussein's government possessed weapons of mass destruction. But he said those misjudgments did not drive the administration's decision to invade.

"Official intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was flawed, but even with its flaws, it was not what led to the war," Pillar wrote in the upcoming issue of the journal Foreign Affairs. Instead, he asserted, the administration "went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq."

"It has become clear that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between [Bush] policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized," Pillar wrote.

Nonetheless, a partisan Congress and a mendacious White House -- which set up a Whitewash Commission whose explicit purpose was to avoid the question -- made damned sure that the question of intelligence manipulation was never answered.

But the issue of the nature of Bush's lies not only has lingered, it remains very much in full force in the debate over Bush's use of the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens. That's because Bush's cover -- that this is all super-secret information that must be kept under wraps in order to confound our enemies -- has not changed since the WMD debacle.

Just as subsequent evidence has made abundantly clear that Bush and his cronies lied about what they knew about WMDs, so is there sufficient reason to believe, as Glenn Greenwald points out, that they are almost certainly lying and have indeed rather nakedly broken the law in the process. And once again, in order to escape any consequences for their lies, they are depending on citizens' beliefs that they possess extra special, super duper triple-dog secret intelligence justifying those moves -- which means, as the execrable Joe Klein put it, that "a strong majority would favor the NSA program ... if its details were declassified and made known."

And of course, anyone seeking to bring the White House to ground over the NSA issue is labeled untrustworthy because they're anti-American Bush-haters.

Oddly enough, Andrew Sullivan has decided to pull off his blinkers regarding the NSA matter and has joined Bush's critics. Funny that he still hasn't figured out that he was wearing the same set of blinkers when it came time to invade Iraq.

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Taliban chief vows "unimaginable" violence

Thu Mar 16, 2006
By Mirwais Afghan

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan- Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar vowed a ferocious offensive against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, saying on Thursday they would soon face unimaginable violence.

An insurgency that has killed more than 1,500 people since the start of last year has intensified in recent months with a wave of suicide bombings, including at least 12 this year.

Ten U.S. troops have been killed in combat this year and U.S. commanders have said they expect violence to increase in coming months as the weather warms, snow on mountain passes melts, and Afghanistan's traditional fighting season begins.

"With the arrival of the warm weather, we will make the ground so hot for the invaders it will be unimaginable for them," Omar said in his message, read by Taliban spokesman Mohammad Hanif over the telephone from an undisclosed location.

The fugitive Taliban leader, who carries a $10 million reward, also said a stream of young Afghans were volunteering for suicide missions, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency said.

Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for more Pakistani cooperation in fighting militants after Islamabad derided Kabul's accusations that Mullah Omar was in Pakistan.

On Wednesday, Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said he was sure the Taliban leader was not in Afghanistan, although Taliban spokesmen insist Omar is leading the insurgency from his homeland.

"Mullah Omar is not in Afghanistan, that's as much as I can say with a degree of certainty," Abdullah told Reuters during a visit to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

Afghan officials complain that the Taliban use Pakistan's tribal regions as a springboard for attacks, and despite Islamabad's denials, many suspect Pakistan harbors long term ambitions to have a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul.

A U.S. commander said last week an upsurge in violence was expected as U.S. and NATO forces extend their reach into parts of Afghanistan where the insurgent presence is greater. [...]

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