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Who seized Simona Torretta?

Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill
Thursday September 16, 2004
The Guardian

This Iraqi kidnapping has the mark of an undercover police operation

When Simona Torretta returned to Baghdad in March 2003, in the midst of the "shock and awe" aerial bombardment, her Iraqi friends greeted her by telling her she was nuts. "They were just so surprised to see me. They said, 'Why are you coming here? Go back to Italy. Are you crazy?'"

But Torretta didn't go back. She stayed throughout the invasion, continuing the humanitarian work she began in 1996, when she first visited Iraq with her anti-sanctions NGO, A Bridge to Baghdad. When Baghdad fell, Torretta again opted to stay, this time to bring medicine and water to Iraqis suffering under occupation. Even after resistance fighters began targeting foreigners, and most foreign journalists and aid workers fled, Torretta again returned. "I cannot stay in Italy," the 29-year-old told a documentary film-maker.

Today, Torretta's life is in danger, along with the lives of her fellow Italian aid worker Simona Pari, and their Iraqi colleagues Raad Ali Abdul Azziz and Mahnouz Bassam. Eight days ago, the four were snatched at gunpoint from their home/office in Baghdad and have not been heard from since. In the absence of direct communication from their abductors, political controversy swirls round the incident. Proponents of the war are using it to paint peaceniks as naive, blithely supporting a resistance that answers international solidarity with kidnappings and beheadings. Meanwhile, a growing number of Islamic leaders are hinting that the raid on A Bridge to Baghdad was not the work of mujahideen, but of foreign intelligence agencies out to discredit the resistance.

Nothing about this kidnapping fits the pattern of other abductions. Most are opportunistic attacks on treacherous stretches of road. Torretta and her colleagues were coldly hunted down in their home. And while mujahideen in Iraq scrupulously hide their identities, making sure to wrap their faces in scarves, these kidnappers were bare-faced and clean-shaven, some in business suits. One assailant was addressed by the others as "sir".

Kidnap victims have overwhelmingly been men, yet three of these four are women. Witnesses say the gunmen questioned staff in the building until the Simonas were identified by name, and that Mahnouz Bassam, an Iraqi woman, was dragged screaming by her headscarf, a shocking religious transgression for an attack supposedly carried out in the name of Islam.

Most extraordinary was the size of the operation: rather than the usual three or four fighters, 20 armed men pulled up to the house in broad daylight, seemingly unconcerned about being caught. Only blocks from the heavily patrolled Green Zone, the whole operation went off with no interference from Iraqi police or US military - although Newsweek reported that "about 15 minutes afterwards, an American Humvee convoy passed hardly a block away".

And then there were the weapons. The attackers were armed with AK-47s, shotguns, pistols with silencers and stun guns - hardly the mujahideen's standard-issue rusty Kalashnikovs. Strangest of all is this detail: witnesses said that several attackers wore Iraqi National Guard uniforms and identified themselves as working for Ayad Allawi, the interim prime minister.

An Iraqi government spokesperson denied that Allawi's office was involved. But Sabah Kadhim, a spokesperson for the interior ministry, conceded that the kidnappers "were wearing military uniforms and flak jackets". So was this a kidnapping by the resistance or a covert police operation? Or was it something worse: a revival of Saddam's mukhabarat disappearances, when agents would arrest enemies of the regime, never to be heard from again? Who could have pulled off such a coordinated operation - and who stands to benefit from an attack on this anti-war NGO?

On Monday, the Italian press began reporting on one possible answer. Sheikh Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi, from Iraq's leading Sunni cleric organisation, told reporters in Baghdad that he received a visit from Torretta and Pari the day before the kidnap. "They were scared," the cleric said. "They told me that someone threatened them." Asked who was behind the threats, al-Kubaisi replied: "We suspect some foreign intelligence."

Blaming unpopular resistance attacks on CIA or Mossad conspiracies is idle chatter in Baghdad, but coming from Kubaisi, the claim carries unusual weight; he has ties with a range of resistance groups and has brokered the release of several hostages. Kubaisi's allegations have been widely reported in Arab media, as well as in Italy, but have been absent from the English-language press.

Western journalists are loath to talk about spies for fear of being labelled conspiracy theorists. But spies and covert operations are not a conspiracy in Iraq; they are a daily reality. According to CIA deputy director James L Pavitt, "Baghdad is home to the largest CIA station since the Vietnam war", with 500 to 600 agents on the ground. Allawi himself is a lifelong spook who has worked with MI6, the CIA and the mukhabarat, specialising in removing enemies of the regime.

A Bridge to Baghdad has been unapologetic in its opposition to the occupation regime. During the siege of Falluja in April, it coordinated risky humanitarian missions. US forces had sealed the road to Falluja and banished the press as they prepared to punish the entire city for the gruesome killings of four Blackwater mercenaries. In August, when US marines laid siege to Najaf, A Bridge to Baghdad again went where the occupation forces wanted no witnesses. And the day before their kidnapping, Torretta and Pari told Kubaisi that they were planning yet another high-risk mission to Falluja.

In the eight days since their abduction, pleas for their release have crossed all geographical, religious and cultural lines. The Palestinian group Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah, the International Association of Islamic Scholars and several Iraqi resistance groups have all voiced outrage. A resistance group in Falluja said the kidnap suggests collaboration with foreign forces. Yet some voices are conspicuous by their absence: the White House and the office of Allawi. Neither has said a word.

What we do know is this: if this hostage-taking ends in bloodshed, Washington, Rome and their Iraqi surrogates will be quick to use the tragedy to justify the brutal occupation - an occupation that Simona Torretta, Simona Pari, Raad Ali Abdul Azziz and Mahnouz Bassam risked their lives to oppose. And we will be left wondering whether that was the plan all along.

Comment: Do we really need any more data before we arrive at the reasonable conclusion that many of the attacks and kidnappings atrributed to "Iraqi insurgents" have been carried out by agents of the Israeli and American intelligence services? Ask yourself: who benefits most from kidnappings and "beheadings" that are attributed to and further demonise "Arab terrorists" and Arab people in general?

The majority of the US popoulation, in their infantile naivete and pathetic credulousness, truly are the laughing-stock of the world, a mockery of the term "intelligent life forms".

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Zarqawi Does Not Exist

by VictorP - Liberty July 25, 2004

Nobody has actually seen Zarqawi since late 2001; everything we know since then has been from prisoner confessions and statements issued by different people claiming to be Zarqawi.

Neither the CIA, the FBI, nor the Defense Department have certified, on the record, that any of these statements are likely from Zarqawi.

The horrible things being done in Iraq under the name of Zarqawi are no laughing matter. The Iraq Intelligence Service is after him, the followers of al Sadr are after him, the residents of Fallujah are after him, the Shi’ite majority in Iraq are after him, ten million Iraqis who could use the big US reward money are after him, and two Iraqi resistance groups have pronounced a death sentence on him. But nobody can find him. Why not? There are three possibilities:

1) The one-legged Jordanian thug who is semi-literate, threatens Shi’ites, and is a squat fellow with tattoos on his arms, is the most elusive super-villain ever -- an inspiration to the next generation of thugs.

2) The real Zarqawi is long dead, but a composite Zarqawi who is literate, urbane, has been created by Iraqi resistance groups who seek to terrorize the United States and the puppet government they have set up in Iraq -- an inspiration to the next generation of Iraq avengers.

3) The real Zarqawi is long dead, but a literate, tall fellow with two legs and no tattoos on his arms has been created by US military intelligence as a straw man to justify everything about the Iraq war. However, a rogue group has hijacked the US Zarqawi identity and is responsible for the beheadings -- an inspiration to copycats and future groups to do the same.

An analysis of the audio messages delivered by the four different “Zarqawis” indicates the third scenario to be the most likely, given the distinctly American and non-Arabic expressions and themes in the various statements.

The strange case of Marine Corporal Hassoun, who went missing June 21 between Baghdad and Fallujah, then appeared in a hostage video with a sword at his head, adds to the mystery of the Zarqawis. The Marines intensified their efforts to bomb the hell out of Zarqawi “safe houses” in Fallujah, not caring if the missing marine was held in one of the houses. That bizarre behavior on the part of the USMC makes it seem as though they wanted Hassoun dead. When Hassoun disappeared, so did the voice of one of the Zarqawis – Zarqawi of the Nick Berg and Kim Sun-il videos (same voice, same person in both videos). A different Zarqawi released a 16-minute statement on the same day the Kim Sun video was released (June 22). Different voice, no mention of Kim Sun or of a marine hostage.

If the Berg & Kim Sun Zarqawi makes another statement (same voice) in a way that can be proven to be from Iraq (rather than, say, North Carolina), that would really clear suspicion from Hassoun. Or, here’s an idea with no chance of happening: if the real Zarqawi were found (or made a video statement of himself, unmasked) we could determine which, if any, of the 4 Iraq Zarqawis is the real Zark without the CIA’s white smoke/black smoke method of authenticating statements.

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The US Is Arming Israel Against Iran

Der Spiegel - September 21, 2004

Jerusalem - "These are not weapons, which can be used at the Palestinian front. Security sources report that Israel could use the "Bunker Breakers" against Iran or possibly Syria, thereby confirming a report in the newspaper "Haaretz". Neither the US Embassy in Israel nor the Israeli Ministry of Defense were willing to comment. "Bunker Breakers" are bombs which weight about one ton, are able to penetrate deep into the ground and to pierce up to two meter thick concrete walls. These could possibly enable Israel to destroy Iranian underground atomic plants.

According to "Haaretz" the pentagon justification for the sales of the weapons to the US congress was the necessity for the Israeli military to preserve its "Qualitative Advantage" in the region. This also serves the strategic and tactical interests of the United States.

From Israeli government circles it was reported that the arms deal went through without any political difficulties, although Israel had already been strongly criticized internationally for the use of precision bombs in the liquidation of Hamas leaders.

According to the newspaper report, the transaction, worth a total of $139 million, will not be finalized before the US presidential election on November 2nd. According to the newspaper report, Israel wants to buy 4500 more guided weapons in addition to the 500 bunker breaking bombs.

In 1981 Israel had destroyed the building site of the Iraqi atomic reactor "Osirak" with a surprise air raid in order to prevent Iraq from building nuclear weapons. The USA now accuses Iran of hiding the building of nuclear weapons behind its civilian atomic program. Iran denies this and has continuously insisted that its program only serves the generation of electric power.

On Sunday Iran rejected the demand of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) to suspend its uranium enrichment program. Today the work began for the enrichment of uranium. Vice-president Resa Aghasadeh explained that the first successful tests for the transformation of natural uranium to the gaseous uranium hexafluoride had been completed.

This material can be concentrated in centrifuges so much that it can used as fuel for atomic power plants but also for the building of explosive atomic devices. Some of the more than 40 tons of available natural uranium had already been used for the transformation, Aghasadeh told journalists in Vienna. The Iranian government insists that it needs the uranium enrichment technology for the generation of electric energy.

Comment: While Israel foments war in the Middle East, it is also hard at work in the US creating the justifcation for that war...

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Feds Concerned U.S. Terror Attack in Works

Thursday, September 23, 2004

WASHINGTON — Federal officials are increasingly concerned that a terrorist attack is being planned for the weeks prior to the Nov. 2 presidential election.

"Every day there is new information that raises the level of anxiety," said one law enforcement official who declined to be identified. The concern, based on intelligence reporting of multiple sources, is that the plots or plot may be in the final stages of planning — and ready to be executed at any time, the official said.

On Sept. 13, Attorney General John Ashcroft held a conference call with U.S. attorneys throughout the nation, according to senior federal law enforcement officials.

During that call, Ashcroft warned them of the possibility of a major terror attack on U.S. soil in upcoming weeks. Law enforcement throughout the country were to be made aware of this concern.

Law enforcement officials are drastically increasing their efforts to track down potential terrorists, and have been ordered to press their sources and conduct interviews with anyone who may be potentially connected to terrorism.

"We're asking law enforcement officers to vigorously find any legitimate reason to arrest people we believe could be involved in terrorist activity, such as go after them for visa violations and deport them," one official said, who described the overall effort as one of "shaking the trees."

Senior officials said they "absolutely believe" someone will attempt a terror attack inside the United States within the next four to six weeks. One official described this time "as a very, very serious period."

"I have not seen people in our intelligence communities this nervous since 9/11," one official said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States that killed almost 3,000 people.

Officials said they believe they "disrupted" at least one major plot by some recent arrests, but fear they may not have "derailed" this plot and possibly two others.

"We will need some luck and the grace of God to prevent this one," one official said, explaining that again they have no specifics as to the exact time and place or clear method. They have some intelligence suggesting a truck bomb or some type of bomb may be used.

U.S. officials said they are getting intelligence from a variety of sources, including some people who've been arrested but are now talking. The information will lead to some visible activity in the next 10 days to two weeks, such as a rounding up of individuals who may be tied to terrorism.

Comment: Yes, we did it again, we carried a story from Fox News, but sometimes gems of truth can be found in the most unlikely places.

Ask yourself, how is it possible that senior officials in the Bush government can "absolutely believe" that there WILL BE a "terrorist attack" before the election, yet at the same time possess so little information about the nature or perpetrators of the attack that they are almost certain that they will be powerless to do anything to prevent it, regardless of the amount of time or resources they dedicate to the task.

Like Bush and his "senior officials", we also strongly suspect that there will be some form of "terrorist attack" between now and the US elections. We believe however that, like 9/11, any such attack will constitute but one more in a growing list of "false flag" operations carried out by certain sections of the covert intelligence agencies of Israel and/or the US. Any attack by "Arab terrorists" leading up the November 2nd will, again like 9/11,be designed to further the agenda of the power elite of this world, as they strive to herd all 6 billion of us to a much finer order of control and belief.

Using fear and the innate human disposition to reject unsavory truths, this small select group hold our collective fate in their hands. As a species, we are little more than an experiment to these people and their hyperdimensional masters, unless we wake up and choose otherwise.

Perhaps an attack will be staged only to be heroically "foiled", sweeping Bush back into the White House on a tide of manipulated emotion as he presents himself as the only person able to protect the American people. Alternatively, perhaps another successful "Arab terrorist" attack will occur, but this time wiping out a significant number of elected representatives, let's face it, it's not like "they" haven't been preparing for just such an eventuality.

There really are any number of scenarios that the Mossad and their US counterparts can chose from, but one thing unites them all - psychological manipulation...

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'Horrendous' security lapses at US airports
23/09/2004 - 17:55:54

Undercover government investigators smuggled explosives and weapons past security staff at 15 airports in the US, it emerged today.

A Department of Homeland Security official described the performance of security screeners as “poor” in the report obtained by the newspaper, USA Today.

Clark Kent Ervin, the department’s inspector general, said the tests were done during the second half of 2003.

Explosives-detectors were installed at US airports in the wake of September 11, to screen checked baggage.

But hand luggage is rarely checked.

Republican congressman John Mica, chairman of a House aviation subcommittee, said the number of times inspectors were able to evade bomb-detectors in the tests was “absolutely horrendous”.
The performance of screeners at spotting weapons was “bad enough”, he added.

Another government investigation last year found that undercover agents were able to get guns, knives and box cutters past security staff.

“Unfortunately, it may take some horrific wake-up call to get attention,” Mr Mica said.

Mr Ervin blamed poor training, management and technology within the Transportations Security Administration for the failures.

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Ashcroft Urges Terror Vigilance Ahead of Election
Thu Sep 23, 7:52 PM ET

WASHINGTON - U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has urged federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials to keep up efforts to thwart a possible attack by al Qaeda in the weeks leading up to the November election.

Ashcroft and Deputy Attorney General James Comey took the unusual step of holding a conference call with all 93 U.S. Attorneys last week for a "pep talk" to urge them not to let down their guard in light of a potential terror threat, a senior Justice Department official said on Thursday.

The official, who took part in the call, said Ashcroft and Comey reiterated concerns that top U.S. officials have been voicing since the spring -- that al Qaeda may try to attack the United States in the run up to the November election.

"Given that the intelligence was pegged to an attack between now and the election, the closer we get to the election, obviously the smaller the window gets and the greater our concern gets," said the official.

"We are engaged in a full-court press in every corner of the country to try to detect and disrupt the attack that we're worried about. And this is part of that -- enlisting the U.S. attorneys."

The official said Ashcroft was concerned that some prosecutors and law enforcement officials may have let their guard down because there had been so many terror alerts.

"It was a pep talk," he said. "We're pushing energy into the system."

He said state and local police were also urged to stay alert and be on the lookout for any possible terror suspects.

"We need to make sure everybody understands that this is not a New York or a (Washington) D.C. thing, this is an everywhere thing," he said.

Comment: Obviously, everyone isn't sufficiently terrified. There's only one way to remedy the situation...

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Heinz Kerry helps Democrats raise $1M at Phoenix event
The Business Journal
1:48 PM MST Thursday

Arizona Democrats raked in more than $1 million Wednesday night at a fund-raiser headlined by Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Heinz Kerry criticized the Bush administration on tax cuts, Iraq and the war on terrorism at the event, which was held at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa.

In regard to the hunt for terror leader Osama Bin Laden, Heinz Kerry said she could see the al-Qaida chief being caught before the November election.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he appeared in the next month," said Heinz Kerry, alluding to a possible capture by United States and allied forces before election day. [...]

Comment: The Democrats can bring up all kinds of issues to try and make Bush look bad in the public's eye - Bush's military service, the return of the draft, the capture of Osama before the election, and so on. The one thing they can't bring up is the possibility of another convenient terrorist attack that might affect the outcome of the election, or even the election itself. Kerry and the Democrats have clearly stated their intention to continue the war on terror, and they have done nothing to even suggest that the only people benefiting from the war on terror are those in power in the US and Israel.

In any case, it seems that the heat is being turned up yet another notch. A new film entitled Celsius 41.11 is supposed to be released this month to counter Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911. The trailer seems to employ the same sort of emotional propaganda of which the Bush gang is so fond - complete with scenes of Iraqi executions and fingers being chopped off. It seems that the polarization of the American masses is escalating. The flood waters are building behind the dam - the question is, what will happen when it breaks?

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Feds Detain L.A. Counterterrorism Chief
September 24, 2004

LOS ANGELES - The head of the Police Department's counterterrorism bureau was detained by federal authorities Thursday after trying to board a flight at Los Angeles International Airport with a loaded handgun in his carryon luggage.

John Miller, an ABC-TV reporter before he was hired for the security job, was off duty and heading to New York with his family when Transportation Security Administration officials discovered the .38-caliber handgun in his bag, TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said.

Miller is authorized to carry the weapon, but failed to disclose he was traveling with the gun.

Police Chief William Bratton said he spoke with Miller, who was "extraordinarily embarrassed" by the incident.

"It's a human mistake that was made," Bratton said. "John is certainly wishing it didn't happen.

Miller was briefly detained before he and his family were permitted to board their scheduled flight. The gun was confiscated.

"He knows the airport procedures. ... He didn't realize he had it," said Lt. Horace Frank, an aide to Miller. "It was an oversight."

Miller was on his way to New York to tape a farewell message to ABC's Barbara Walters, who is retiring. Before joining the LAPD, Miller co-anchored the network's "20/20" news magazine with Walters.

Bratton, who hired Miller as his spokesman when he was New York City police commissioner, then recruited him to come to Los Angeles, ordered an administrative investigation. He said he had no doubt that Miller made a simple mistake.

Under federal rules, Miller could be fined up to $3,000.

Comment: At the site LAObserved, we discovered the following:

John Miller's role -- and salary -- at LAPD rankles

Michael Gougis in the Daily News reports on the internal backlash at Parker Center over John Miller, the ex-journalist for ABC who police chief William Bratton is paying $157,289 a year to head the department's Counter-Terrorism Bureau. Miller has never been a cop, but when he was a reporter at ABC's program "20-20" he reported on global terrorism and interviewed Osama Bin Laden. Unfortunately, all of the quotes in the story from LAPD critics are anonymous -- but that's not surprising since messing with Miller would not be healthy in Bratton's new LAPD. Miller had been Bratton's chief spokesman and close advisor at the NYPD. He's defended in the piece by Joe Domanick, who interviewed Miller in Sunday Opinion in the L.A. Times.

At LAPDOnline, we read the following:

Police Administrator John Miller
Commanding Officer
Critical Incident Management Bureau

John Miller was appointed to the Los Angeles Police Department by Chief of Police William J. Bratton on January 13, 2003. He serves as Bureau Chief to the Chief of Police and Commanding Officer of the newly formed Counter-Terrorism Bureau (CTB).

As Bureau Chief of CTB, Mr. Miller oversees the operations of the Anti-Terrorist Division, Bomb Squad, Hazardous Materials Unit. The Emergency Services Division of CTB encompasses units dedicated to prevention, training and preparedness in the event of a terrorist incident. In his role as Bureau Chief, Mr. Miller can be tasked to special projects at the direction of the Chief.

Mr. Miller is a former Deputy Police Commissioner of New York City, where in 1994 he served as the chief spokesman for the NYPD under then Commissioner Bratton.

Prior to joining the LAPD, Mr. Miller served as a correspondent and anchor for ABC News. During his five years with the network his primary focus was the coverage of terrorism. His work took him to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. His 1998 interview with terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden and his later coverage of al-Qaeda and the events of September 11th 2001, resulted in a number of prestigious awards. Mr. Miller has received two Peabody Awards and a DuPont Award. Mr. Miller has also been the recipient of nine "Emmy" Awards. John Miller began his career in journalism in 1973 at WNEW TV in New York. From 1985 to 1994 he covered criminal justice for WNBC TV in New York.

Mr. Miller has lectured annually at the FBI Academy on issues involving both media and terrorism to major city police chiefs and senior FBI officials. Mr. Miller is a graduate of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Emergency Preparedness Hazmat Technician Course working with "live" VX and Sarin gas. He also completed the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators, forty-hour course on Advanced Improvised Explosive Device and Terrorist Activities.

John Miller is married and lives in Los Angeles.

In other words, Miller is hardly qualified for his position as counterterrorism chief in Los Angeles. Then again, a movie star who likes to accuse his opponents of being "girlie men" is governor of California, so perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised.

As a journalist reporting on the war on terrorism, however, it appears Miller certainly has been helpful in supporting the official line. Osama bin Laden seems to be a CIA asset, and Miller has previously interviewed the "most wanted terrorist".

"The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media."
- William Colby

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Bomb Set Off At McDonald's After Men Receive Bad Shake
8:44 pm EDT September 23, 2004

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Two brothers serving in the military and a third man exploded a small bomb inside a McDonald's because they were angry over a bad milkshake, officials said. No one was hurt and damage to the restaurant was minor.

Pedro Garza, 19; Joshua Hackey, 19; and Nathaniel Hackey, 21; were arrested Saturday on felony charges of making and discharging a destructive device. The older Hackey is in the Army and his brother is in the Coast Guard, the Polk County Sheriff's Office said.

"One of the guys said they got a bad milkshake, and they played a prank on them," sheriff's Maj. Sammy Taylor said.

Investigators say the men mixed toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in a plastic soda bottle as they sat at a table Friday evening near the restaurant's restrooms. They then capped the bottle, put it on the table and left before it exploded at 10:45 p.m. Friday. A customer sitting 10 feet away wasn't hit by the splashing chemicals. [...]

"It's a stupid prank, and they weren't thinking," she said. "I've had calls from them already, and they said they wish they could turn back the hands of time."

Baine said her brothers are "two good kids," who had never been in trouble with the law. [...]

Comment: They may have been "good kids", but now they seem to become enraged over a simple milkshake. Furthermore, what kind of individuals play "pranks" without thinking about the fact that their actions could severely injure other people? These are the people representing the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are the people who will be ensuring Americans' safety if another "terrorist" attack occurs.

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The Republican National Convention: Weapon of Mass Delusion
by Allen Snyder

The 2004 Republican National Convention, recently held in New York City, painted a picture of America with which I am totally unfamiliar. It reminded me of a Picasso, where some parts seem normal, but the painting as a whole, with its multiple eyes, breasts, and disjointed arrangements, bears little resemblance to reality. It was much more like what I see in my dreams after one too many trips to the Mexican buffet.

A plethora of moderate GOP speakers extolled the dubious ‘virtues’ of extending BushCo’s Presidency four more years and turncoat Democrat Zell Miller provided the hate in a rant I’m still trying to figure out. John McCain, Rudy Guiliani, and Ah-nold must have all either sold their collective souls to the Devil or gotten a very deep group discount at Lobotomies R’ Us. How else to explain the fact that these guys display only the slightest ideological similarity to the neo-conservative cabal in the White House and that the GOP’s rosy vision of America is a cherry-picked patchwork of misleading statistics, gross distortions, ludicrous projections, pie-eyed naiveté, and bald-faced lies?

Bush didn’t want to go to war?! Who’re they kidding? That screaming cat clawed its way out of the burlap many months ago when Paul O’Neill confirmed that BushCo pushed to invade Iraq minutes after they were illegally installed. Unless you’re so deluded you’re still buying into ‘Saddam left us no choice but to attack him’, this is a real country knee-slapper.

The economy is ‘strong and getting stronger’?! Outsourcing is good for Americans?! Yeah, the economy boomed in the 80’s, too, thanks to Reagan’s misguided ‘trickle on’ economic philosophy. His massive deficit spending and total fiscal irresponsibility are being reenacted again for all to see – only this time it’s worse. Just as it took a Democratic President to rein in Reagan/Bush’s runaway debt, only a prompt ousting of these corporate-loving warmongers can save us from either total economic ruin or morphing into a feudal state where a huge menially employed lower class obediently, compliantly, and thankfully serves the teeny portion of super-wealthy mostly white FORs (Friends of Republicans).

We’re winning the ‘war on terror’?! Just another cruel right-wing joke the over 1,030 American dead soldiers and Marines aren’t laughing at. Recently, on HBO’s ‘Real Time with Bill Maher’, some nitwit GOP Congressman literally scoffed at the claim Bush’s illegal invasion has not only encouraged terrorism, but filled terrorist rosters to popping. Anyone with functioning brain cells knows that Al-Qaeda’s beating wannabe suicide bombers off with a stick. Where this Congressman gets his misinformation is anybody’s guess (I’m thinking FOX). All you hand-wringers and peaceniks are just plain wrong – so there. Nyah!! Can’t say Republicans don’t love living in denial.

The sad part is the rank-and-file Republicans who support balanced budgets, wars that end, don’t want to amend the Constitution, care about the environment, ensuring healthcare to everyone, and honestly think about the hazardous direction America is taking are yet again being hood-winked into believing that the murderers in the White House have suddenly had a change of heart and are gravitating toward political moderation. The right-wing party flacks inundating the ‘news’ and ‘talk’ shows are now saying we don’t need an amendment defining marriage, that they give a rat’s ass about the disappearing middle class, job outsourcing, corporate welfare, and tax havens for millionaires.

Bush himself has since said that ‘the war on terror cannot be won’, but that nevertheless ‘we will prevail’. I didn’t hear a single charge of flip-flopping, incompetence, or lying. Maybe his supporters in the right-wing conservative media machine figure he’s such a huge moron, he’s entitled to hugely moronic mistakes. Probably, he just misread the teleprompter. Whatever the case, similar stories routinely vanish down the Orwellian memory hole, while faux-news people strengthen their viewers’ ignorance and once-respectable public servants like John McCain tightly hold their noses and back Bush with a hug.

Sadder still is the ‘bounce’ BushCo got after the Convention. The RNC changed no facts about the world. Things were every bit as bad after as before (probably worse), but according to polls, a significant number of people now believe that Bush is better for the country than Kerry. Yes, Iraq is still a quagmire. Yes, we’ve left the 1,000 dead soldier mark far behind. Yes, the economy sucks and is getting suck-ier. Yes, jobs are still speedily running overseas. Yes, corporations are still making more than ever. Yes, our international relations are still their weakest ever.

Yes, the Republicans are still controlled by right-wing fascists. Yes, they still pander to our basest instincts. Yes, they still lie every time they open their mouths.

Their convention’s huge success is a testament to both the power of self-righteous propaganda and the malleability of not-too-bright Republicans. Thanks to their nationally televised hate-and-lie-fest, more people are more deluded than ever before.

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President Bush and Iraqi PM Failing to Tell it Straight
September 23, 2004

Today, President Bush and interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi present the Fantasyland version of Iraq to Congress and the American people. Intelligence analysts, top military officials, international observers and leading GOP senators all agree that Iraq sits on the precipice of disaster unless the president takes immediate action. Yet President Bush and the American-installed Allawi keep on smiling as the ship sinks beneath them. Everyone wants to see Iraq succeed and become a functioning democracy. The question remains, how do you get there – by recognizing reality or denying it?

Iraq remains dangerously unstable and risks falling into greater chaos.  The number of Iraqi insurgents has quadrupled over the past year. Insurgent attacks on U.S. forces are up 20 percent since the spring and 100 percent since last winter. Entire Iraqi cities, such as Fallujah and parts of the Sunni Triangle, have fallen to insurgent control. Even the highly fortified Green Zone in Baghdad is no longer fully secured.

Reconstruction efforts have virtually stalled. Iraqi elections scheduled for January may have to be postponed due to the deteriorating security situation. Iraq's main power plant produces less than half the electricity it did before the start of the war. The administration recently announced that 20 percent of reconstruction funds would have to be shifted to basic security measures, and probably more in order for elections to take place next January.
American troops and the Iraqi people deserve better.  Iraq will never succeed as a nation unless President Bush and Iraqi leaders come clean about mounting security failures.  Pretending the situation in Iraq is getting better – when the facts show the exact opposite – will only make matters worse moving forward. 

Daily Talking Points is a product of the American Progress Action Fund.

Comment: Indeed, Bush and the Iraqi PM are not telling it straight. While this may be a revelation to the author, Bush's affinity for outright lying and other psychopathic behaviour seems to be a consistent factor throughout his private and public life. Lying appears to be easy for him, almost as if he were "made that way".

So, let's examine the three points raised by the author in turn, and see what we can learn from them.

1) • Iraq remains dangerously unstable and risks falling into greater chaos.

No doubt about it. The situation in Iraq is deteriorating rapidly, getting more violent and bloody by the day.

But what if Bush isn't lying to cover-up this fact, but because this is exactly how he wants it to be. Maybe destabilization and chaos in Iraq is part of the "game plan" for his masters, and Bush is simply following the script.

Considering Dubya's past, it also seems reasonable to suggest that he may actually derive some pleasure from seeing other people suffer.

2) • Reconstruction efforts have virtually stalled. 

Yes, they have. Other than hiring high-priced mercenaries to guard American companies pilfering Iraqi oil, there is little if anything being done to build up Iraqi infrastructure.

Food, clean water, electricity and other basic necessities of life are still lacking in most cities, and the present instability means these problems won't be solved anytime soon.

Again we must consider if this too is not part part of "the plan".

Is it possible that all this talk of reconstruction was a lie from the very beginning? Knowing how Bush operates, it seems far-fetched to think that his promise of bringing "freedom and democracy" to the Iraqi people was ever sincere.

Besides, the coalition needs an enemy, and keeping people desperate, hungry and demoralized almost guarantees a strong resistance, as well as sensational headlines for the sheeple back home.

3) • American troops and the Iraqi people deserve better.

Indeed, they do. But isn't it wishful thinking to assume, looking objectively at Dubya's record, that he feels the same way? Evidence strongly suggests that Bush doesn't give a rat's behind for either the Iraqi people or his own soldiers.

Considering how much the U.S. military skimps on protective armour, and that most front-line soldiers come from lower-class or immigrant backgrounds, the words expendable "cannon fodder" come to mind.

It has become obvious that Bush and his ilk have little regard for human life, no matter what the origin or culture. The fact that someone like the Shrub has been selected to rule the most powerful and dangerous country in the world, shows clearly how doomed we are as a species.

And that too seems part of the plan.

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Hepatitis spreads in 2 Iraqi districts

Collapse of water and sewage systems is believed to be at root of the illness

James Glanz
The New York Times
Friday, September 24, 2004

BAGHDAD A virulent form of hepatitis that is especially lethal for pregnant women has broken out in two of Iraq's most troubled districts, Iraqi Health Ministry officials said in interviews here this week, and they warned that a collapse of water and sewage systems in the country is probably at the root of the illnesses.

The disease, called Hepatitis E, is caused by a virus that is often spread by sewage-contaminated drinking water.

The officials said that their limited ability to test for the virus had already been overwhelmed by the hepatitis outbreaks, suggesting that only a fraction of the actual cases have been diagnosed. But in Sadr City, a Baghdad slum that for months has been convulsed by gun battles between a local militia and American troops, as many as 155 cases have turned up.

The second outbreak is in Mahmudiya, a town 56 kilometers, or 35 miles, south of Baghdad that is known as much for its kidnappings and drive-by shootings as for its poverty, where 60 suspected cases have been seen. At least nine pregnant women are believed to have been infected, and one has died. There have been five reported deaths overall. "We are saying that the real number is greatly more than this, because the area is greatly underreported," said Dr. Atta-alla Mekhlif al-Salmani, head of the viral hepatitis section at the Health Ministry's Center of Disease Control.

The World Health Organization is rushing Hepatitis E testing kits, water purification tablets, informational brochures and other materials to Iraq to help with the outbreaks, said Dr. Naeema al-Gasseer, the health agency representative for Iraq and a UN health official, who is now based in Amman, Jordan.

But viral hepatitis comes in numerous forms, and another ominous set of statistics suggests that the quality of water supplies around the country has deteriorated since the American-led invasion last year, Salmani said. In 2003, there were 70 percent more cases of hepatitis of all types reported across Iraq than in the year before, he said.

During the first six months of 2004, there were as many cases as in all of 2002.

In yet another indication of the deteriorating safety of both water and food in Iraq, the number of reported cases of typhoid fever is up sharply this year, said Dr. Nima S. Abid, the ministry's director general of public health and primary health. Hospitals across the country are also full of children with severe forms of diarrhea, Abid said.

The reports have come just as the Bush administration has proposed shifting $3.46 billion in reconstruction money for Iraq to programs that would train and equip tens of thousands of additional security forces. The training would include police officers, border guards and national guardsmen in hopes of regaining control of a security situation that has spiraled out of control. The shift would have to be approved by Congress.

The financing transfer would gut what had been an ambitious program to rebuild Iraq's crumbling water and sewage systems, forcing the cancellation or delay of most of the projects that had been planned. Last autumn, Congress approved $18.4 billion for Iraq's reconstruction. So far, only about $1 billion has been spent.

"The problem is the whole infrastructure," Abid said of the mounting health problems. Abid added that many of them stemmed from neglect that began long before last year's invasion. But he said: "Definitely no major intervention has been done in this last one and a half years to repair the problem."

Viral hepatitis comes in numerous forms and with a variety of different consequences, from benign to fatal. The most common type, Hepatitis A, can be spread from person to person or through contaminated water. Like all forms of the disease, it infects liver cells and can cause jaundice and other symptoms, but once a recovery is made there is often no permanent damage, said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Hepatitis E is most dangerous for pregnant women, who can lose their unborn children and die from the disease, Schaffner said. The World Health Organization and other health agencies are currently battling large outbreaks of Hepatitis E among thousands of displaced people in the Darfur region of Sudan and among refugees across the border in Chad.

The immediate reason for the outbreaks in Sadr City and Mahmudiya appear to be easy to pin down, Abid said. The lack of infrastructure induces families to tap into water mains with improvised hoses, he said, citing his own visits to the communities. They then use small electric pumps to bring water into their homes.

But in these same communities, sewage either seeps from damaged pipes into the ground or runs freely in the streets. So, through cracks and holes in people's hoses, sewage is sucked in too, becoming mixed with the drinking water and spreading the virus.

"The problem is that there is a leakage in the sewer system of Sadr," said an assistant to the director general for water in the Baghdad municipality. "Our treatment plant produces water with WHO specifications," said the assistant, who asked to be identified only as Khalid, "and our test records are very good."

The assistant said that there had been a major water project under way for Sadr City, but that the dangerous security situation had made it impossible to proceed.

Comment: Yes, of course... It is the Iraqis' fault that they are suffering and dying from diseases such as Hepatitis E and typhoid fever. It is the Iraqis' fault that America invaded their country based on lies about Saddam's alleged WMD's and destroyed much of the infrastructure in the country. It is the Iraqis' fault that they do not wish to be an occupied country with a US puppet government, so they fight back.

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Eight workers snatched, US says polls could exclude lawless areas
September 24, 2004

BAGHDAD - Eight telecom employees became the latest victims of Iraq's kidnapping epidemic, as Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was adamant January polls remained on target although US officials warned that violence could exclude some provinces.

The life of British engineer Kenneth Bigley, meanwhile, was still hanging in the balance Friday, as London stood firm and refused to negotiate with his Islamist captors despite heart-rending pleas from the hostage's family.

Two Egyptian engineers named as Mustafa Abdel Latif and Mahmud Turki, working for Egypt's telecom giant Orascom, were snatched at gunpoint from their central Baghdad office on Thursday night, an interior ministry spokesman said.

"Last night at 10:00 pm (1800 GMT), armed men in a BMW drove up to their offices in the Harithiya district and kidnapped them," the spokesman said Friday.

A foreign employee with Orascom said it was possible they were taken from their home.

The employee told AFP that another six technicians working for the local Iraqna operator licensed by Orascom were snatched on Wednesday near the restive city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad. [...]

The abductions were the latest of close to 150 kidnappings of foreigners reported in Iraq since April 2004. At least two Egyptians have been executed in recent weeks and two others captured and released.

Meanwhile, there was no word on the whereabouts of Bigley since the Al-Qaeda-linked group holding him released a video of the 62-year-old Englishman begging British Prime Minister Tony Blair to meet the demands of his captors. [...]

According to an Iraqi government report quoted in the Iraqi press on Thursday, the extremist Islamist organisation is headquartered in Fallujah, a theocratic enclave west of Baghdad that has become a no-go zone for US troops.

The city poses the most serious obstacle to the holding of nationwide elections, but Allawi was adamant during his meetings with US officials in Washington on Thursday that the vote would go ahead as scheduled in January.

"I know that some have speculated, even doubted whether this (January election) date can be met," Allawi told US lawmakers. "So let me be absolutely clear. Elections will occur in Iraq on time in January because Iraqis want elections on time."

US President George W. Bush acknowledged that "terrorist violence may well escalate as the January elections draw near" and cautioned the Iraqi government and its allies against lowering their guard.

But US defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was more explicit in formulating reservations over the likelihood of a full-fledged ballot in four months.

"Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country, but some places you couldn't, because the violence was too great," he said.

"Well, so be it," Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee, stressing more US troops may have to be sent to Iraq to provide security for the elections.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell made a similar statement.

American officials in Baghdad have said that contingency plans exist which could effectively jettison the ballot in the restive Al-Anbar province west of Baghdad, which includes Fallujah and the hotspot of Ramadi.

The lawless pockets which have burgeoned across Iraq could also jeopardise the vote in several other provinces, including those with the unstable cities of Mosul, Kirkuk, Samarra, Baquba and Najaf. [...]

Comment: In other words, those fighting for freedom from US occupation won't get a say in the "democratic" election. One also has to wonder if Rumsfeld's statement might also apply to the upcoming US election in November...

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Iraqi polls might be limited, says Rumsfeld

DONALD Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, yesterday raised the possibility that Iraq might conduct only limited elections in January, excluding areas where violence was too severe for people to go to polls.

"Let’s say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country. But in some places you couldn’t because the violence was too great," Mr Rumsfeld said at a Senate armed services committee hearing.

"Well, so be it. Nothing’s perfect in life, so you have an election that’s not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet."

His comments cast a shadow over attempts by the US president, George Bush, and Iraq’s prime minister, Ayad Allawi, to put a positive spin on the situation in Iraq.

In a speech to Congress yesterday, Mr Allawi said: "We are succeeding in Iraq" and elections will occur "on time in January, because Iraqis want elections on time".

Saying "thank you, America" for the invasion, he added: "There would be no greater success for the terrorists if we delay and no greater blow when the elections take place, as they will, on schedule."

With a script that could have been written by the White House, Mr Allawi gained several standing ovations. Mr Bush’s advisers had hoped the speech would ease US voters’ doubts about the problems in Iraq. Mr Allawi said "the values of liberty and democracy" are taking hold in Iraq, adding: "We could hold elections tomorrow" in 15 of 18 provinces.

Despite the violence and recent polls suggesting most Iraqis want US-led forces to leave, Mr Allawi insisted his country was grateful for the US-led invasion. Later, Mr Bush declared that insurgents could plot attacks "in America and other free nations", if the US took its troops out of Iraq.

Last night, addressing the UN General Assembly, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said there was an "urgent need to combat global terrorism", which he described as a "menace directed at us all".

He said: "If we have learnt anything in the three years since 11 September, 2001, it is that international terrorism is indiscriminate in its targets and merciless in its hatred."

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Missile defence talks important for Canada: Graham
Last Updated Thu, 23 Sep 2004 16:13:45 EDT

OTTAWA - The proposed U.S. ballistic missile defence program does not involve putting weapons in space, and Canada must consider joining for the good of North America, said the minister of national defence.

Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting in Ottawa on Thursday, Bill Graham called the missile defence negotiations an important part of Canadian-American relations.

"I'm in favour of pursuing those negotiations," said Graham. "It's important to keep in mind we are partners in North America."

While Graham acknowledged he doesn't know what the U.S. is planning to do over the next 50 years, he said the ballistic missile program "has nothing to do with putting weapons in space,". He said the weapons would be based on land or possibly sea.

Graham repeated comments he made a night earlier in an address to Toronto's Royal Canadian Military Institute.

"We will not, for example, join any system that involves the weaponization of space," Graham told his audience.

But Canada must be open to talks with the U.S. about its ballistic missile defence plan since "our American colleagues are determined to pursue it and it will become a part of the defence architecture of North America whether we participate or not," said Graham.

He praised the Canadian-American co-operation he witnessed during a visit to the headquarters of the North American Aerospace Defence Command last year.

"This is exactly the seamless co-operation that is required to address today's security challenges," said Graham.

The prime minister has made it clear to U.S. President George W. Bush that Canada does not support putting weapons in space, added Graham.

Earlier on Wednesday, in his address to the united Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Paul Martin called for a UN ban on weapons in space.

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Security alert over intruder inside Holyrood Palace
Fri 24 Sep 2004

A MASSIVE security sweep of the Palace of Holyroodhouse was ordered yesterday after an intruder made his way to within yards of the Royal Apartments.

The intruder succeeded in bypassing the palace’s security system and entering a private area adjacent to the Royal Apartments just before noon.

But he managed to escape while being escorted away from the second floor of the historic building - forcing police and Special Branch to mount a search with sniffer dogs for him, just 72 hours before a visit to the palace by Prince Charles.

The man, disguised as a workman, was challenged by a palace official on the second floor and was being escorted to security at the main door when he broke free.

The palace uses in-house security personnel, with police only being drafted in during official Royal visits.

The incident comes two weeks before the Queen is due to stay at Holyrood during a visit to officially open the Scottish Parliament. Prince Charles is also due to have a meal on Sunday at the palace before he travels to Skye on an official engagement.

Lothian and Borders Police launched an investigation into the latest breach. Detectives and Special Branch officers are keen to determine why the man entered the private area and who he is.

It is unclear whether the man entered the palace through a main door used by the public or by a workman’s entrance. However, it is known that he managed to access a private area being renovated next to the Royal Apartments.

The break-in is the latest security scandal in an embarrassing catalogue of breaches across the country, including last week when a fathers’ rights activist dressed as Batman climbed on to a ledge at the front of Buckingham Palace.

In another incident highlighting serious security lapses at key public buildings, protesters against a ban on fox hunting triggered a crisis in Westminster making it to the floor of the House of Commons as MPs debated the issue last week.

It follows exposure of the lax security surrounding the Scottish Parliament by The Scotsman, including three separate occasions when our non-accredited journalists were able to gain access unchallenged.

The Scotsman also revealed last week how thieves stole £10,000 from an office in the parliament after an instruction manual and security code were left lying on top of the safe containing the money.

A spokesman for the palace last night said they always refused to comment on security issues.

A Lothian and Borders Police spokesman said: "We have had a report of an intruder which we are investigating."

Margo MacDonald, the independent MSP, said she was resigned to the inevitability of another security breach at a high-profile building in the capital.

"Holyrood has become a very high-profile area. I suppose it was inevitable that copycat escapades resulted from the breaches in security at the new parliament building.

"I am now seriously concerned that the relaxed attitude we had towards this sort of behaviour has been overtaken by these events.

"I still want to be assured that the security officials at Holyrood Palace and the parliament are taking advice from the Lothian and Borders Police to make sure there are no gaps in the overall plan."

Clive Fairweather, a former chief inspector of the Scottish Prison Service and a former SAS officer, said he was disappointed to hear that an intruder had gained access to the palace.

"No security system is foolproof, there is always a way round. Whichever system you use it comes down to freedom of movement versus cost. It is a balancing act between convenience and cost. If you vet everyone to the extreme then the cost is high and it restricts freedom.

"When there is a breach like this it makes everyone suddenly realise that they have erred on the wrong side of the balance. What you need the most of all is to invest in high-quality security staff who have a lot of training and who are paid enough to stay long enough in the job to learn all the dodges."

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US to tighten security after Cat Stevens incident
23/09/2004 - 13:47:11

A gap in the airline passenger-check system permitted Yusuf Islam – former pop star Cat Stevens whom the US suspects of having terrorist ties – to board a transatlantic flight despite being on a no-fly list, a Bush administration official said today.

The incident dramatises a need for changes to tighten the system, said Asa Hutchinson, Under-secretary for Homeland Security.

“Right now, under the rules we get the information (about passenger boardings) at Homeland Security, I believe it’s 15 minutes after the plane takes off,” Hutchinson said.

“There’s a gap there, so obviously the rules have to be changed” governing the comparison of passenger names with a watch list of people suspected of terrorist links, Hutchinson acknowledged.

He said the rules need to be changed to permit federal authorities to review passenger lists, particularly for international flights, at least an hour before a plane takes off and said US officials will be working with their counterparts internationally to get that done.

The Homeland Security Department had said the incident involving Islam – in which his plane from London was diverted to Bangor, Maine and he was intercepted by federal agents – demonstrates why the government should take over the screening responsibility from the airlines.

“This is a good example of the need for the government to manage the lists, as recommended in the 9-11 commission report,” said Homeland Security spokesman Dennis Murphy.

In July, the September 11 commission issued a report that said airlines can only check names against “no fly” lists – people the government believes “pose a direct threat to aviation.”

The government maintains a much larger set of watch lists, but those aren’t used because of concerns about sharing information with private companies and foreign countries.

Still, Yusuf’s name was on the no-fly list that United Airlines employees were supposed to check.

United spokesman Jeff Green said the airline followed procedures in checking Islam’s name, and it wasn’t on the list.

“The information did not match,” Green said. [...]

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10,000 rounded up in Moscow terrorist hunt
By Julius Strauss in Moscow
(Filed: 23/09/2004)

Moscow police have detained more than 10,000 people in the past few days as part of a get-tough policy in the wake of the Chechen terrorist attack on a school.

Just under half of those detained are citizens of former Soviet republics who have come to the Russian capital to work illegally. A total of 840 have been deported, police said. Others are Russians without proper documents.

The announcement came as the Russian Duma began debating more than 40 anti-terrorism initiatives yesterday, setting aside all other business.

Proposals include the re-imposition of the death penalty, toughening resident registration laws and making it harder to buy, sell and borrow cars.

The Duma is also to discuss raising the salary of security agents involved in fighting terrorism - in an attempt to cut down on endemic bribe-taking. Officials have said that a failure to penetrate rebel groups coupled with widespread corruption in the security forces has left the country vulnerable to further terrorist attacks.

As if to underline the problem, authorities announced the arrest of a police captain, who is thought to have released two women last month at a Moscow airport. They went on to board flights before blowing themselves up killing 89 people.

Rounding up illegal workers in Moscow - who are thought to number about a million - is the standard response by Russian police after an act of terrorism. But many detainees pay a bribe to be released or return to Moscow from their home country with a fresh passport.

Other measures due to be proposed by Duma deputies include making an inventory of all weapons in Russia. Officials admit that tens of thousands of small arms are missing from stores across the country.

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Oil Touches $49, Investors Boost Gold
Thursday September 23, 5:25 PM EDT

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Crude oil prices touched $49 a barrel on Thursday on supply worries with the push back near record highs in oil pressuring Wall Street stocks and also boosting demand for gold from investors seeking a safer haven.

In other commodity markets, orange juice prices closed nervously higher with more tropical storms presenting potential problems for battered Florida citrus growers. But grains and cotton closed lower as harvest of bumper crops continued.

At the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude oil rose for the sixth day in a row as traders saw a possible loan of oil to refiners from the U.S. strategic stockpile as too small to make up for supply disruptions caused by Hurricane Ivan last week.

Late on Wednesday, two U.S. refiners asked the Bush administration to borrow crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to make up for supply delays due to last week's storm.

The White House said the Energy Department was reviewing the requests. Later, a source told Reuters the government was set to approve the oil loans. [...]

The last time Washington loaned oil from the SPR was late 2002, when Hurricane Lili disrupted oil shipments. [...]

At the COMEX, gold rose to its highest in a month as oil's rally fueled more institutional investor interest in the metal, a hard asset that can cushion portfolios against inflation. [...]

COMEX December gold closed up $3.60 at $412.60 an ounce. Gold bullion rose to $409.35/0.10 from Wednesday's late level of $406.75/7.50. London's afternoon fix was $411.50. [...]

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Latest spike shows energy plans are running on empty
September 24, 2004

Not long ago, it seemed as though the economy was fueled entirely by bits and bytes, juiced up with a little irrational exuberance. But as oil prices spiked to a near-record $49 a barrel Thursday - up from $33 in spring - Americans' reliance on the sticky stuff is being felt more acutely than at any time since the early 1980s. [...]

The lack of a long-term plan in the past three decades has put the U.S. over a barrel. The consequences have been dramatic: Since 1975, domestic oil production has fallen by nearly a fifth, to 8.7 million barrels per day, while demand has surged 23%, driven in part by Americans' infatuation with bigger, fuel-hungry vehicles. This failure has once again left the U.S. vulnerable to price spikes and hostage to the whims of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

While the very different plans offered by Republicans and Democrats suggest some useful production and conservation policies, they are far from enough:

Republicans. Their $18 billion plan is little more than a grab bag of tax breaks and subsidies to boost production. But even if they could achieve their long-sought goal of tapping the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, they would barely alter the energy equation. The 1 million barrels per day it could produce are less than 5% of current consumption, and equals the amount that consumption has grown just in the past five years.

Democrats. Kerry would increase fuel-efficiency standards and offer tax incentives for people to buy more fuel-efficient cars, among other things. These might achieve some savings. But he relies on consumers' willingness to buy smaller cars, something they have been loath to do in an affluent era. [...]

As long as both parties avoid a real, long-term solution, the nation will face more oil-price spikes, and consumers may one day wax nostalgic about $49-a-barrel oil. Today's debate: U.S. oil prices Bush, Kerry focus on short-term fixes. Much more is needed.

Comment: Either oil executives and politicians don't know what they are doing, or an oil shortage and the accompanying high oil prices are intentional. In both cases, the American public loses.

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Nerve gas chemical shipped to North Korea from South: official
Friday September 24, 5:02 PM

More than 100 tonnes of a toxic chemical that can be used to make deadly nerve gas were exported to North Korea by a South Korean businessman via China, the government said.

The ministry of commerce said the businessman exported 107 tonnes of sodium cyanide between June and September last year to an importer in Dandong, China, on the border with North Korea, without government approval.

The unidentified Chinese company re-exported the shipment to a North Korean trading firm, the ministry said in a statement.

Sodium cyanide is widely used to produce herbicides and in metal industries, but can also be used to make deadly nerve gas.

Because of the dual use, the chemical is subject to multilateral export control regimes to which South Korea is a signatory.

The commerce ministry said it first learned about the illegal shipments and reported the South Korean businessman to prosecutors in October last year.

Consequently, the unidentified South Korean businessman received a jail sentence of 18 months suspended for two years in January.

The ministry said authorities were checking a report that a Malaysian company exported 40 tonnes of the same chemical, 15 tonnes of which it had bought from South Korea, to North Korea last month.

North Korea has one of the world's biggest stockpiles of chemical weapons, according to US intelligence sources, and is believed to have biological weapons. The Stalinist state also boasts of its nuclear deterrent force, and Washington believes it has developed a small number of nuclear devices.

Comment: Here we go again with the "dual use" materials...

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Update: Teen's homemade firecracker sparked Virgin scare
Friday, September 24, 2004. 7:56pm (AEST)

Australian Federal Police (AFP) say a teenager is responsible for the suspect device found on a Virgin airlines plane this week on a flight from Maroochydore to Sydney.

However, they will not be laying any charges.

The parents of the young teenage boy came forward after publicity about the discovery.

A baggage handler had come across a plastic bag in the hold of the Virgin Blue plane, which turned out to contain a cardboard roll filled with a flammable powder and a sparkler for a fuse.

The find sparked questions about security at domestic airports and whether or not an airport worker with a grudge was responsible.

An AFP spokeswoman says the device was a homemade firecracker, which the teenager was carrying in his hold luggage.

It is believed to have fallen out.

No action is to be taken as the firecracker did not pose a threat to the plane and police are satisfied there was no malicious intent.

Federal Transport Minister John Anderson has refused to apologise for linking the device to airport workers. [...]

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Panic Erupts in Flood-Ravaged Haiti City
By AMY BRACKEN, Associated Press Writer
September 24, 2004

GONAIVES, Haiti - Survivors who were left with almost nothing after Tropical Storm Jeanne devastated this tiny town buried unclaimed corpses in mud-clogged backyards and attacked aid trucks and even neighbors bringing them food.

"You don't want to make me use this!" one man screamed as he waved a wrench at people carrying cauldrons of food to distribute at a church. The volunteers had come from the port of St. Marc to Gonaives, where flooding from the storm killed at least 1,100 people.

Hungry and thirsty survivors — some of whom have lost entire families and everything they own — were losing patience at the slow pace of relief.

Knee-deep mud sucked up animal carcasses and sharp pieces of torn-off zinc roofs, as well as human excrement after the sanitation system was destroyed. Limes have become a hot item in the devastated city of 250,000 because people hold them to their noses to relieve the stench.

Still, some presented opposition when officials tried to continue with the mass burials that began when more than 100 bodies were dumped into a pit at sunset Wednesday.

An Associated Press reporter watched people stop the burial of a truckload of bodies. Some, presumably cemetery workers, demanded money. Others objected that no religious rites accompanied the burials — many Haitians believe a corpse interred without ceremony will wander and commit evil acts.

Other protesters wanted officials to recover bodies in waterlogged surrounding fields and to help search for the missing.

The U.N. stabilization mission in Haiti put the number of missing at 1,251. Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, a spokesman for the mission, said 1,113 bodies had been recovered and nearly 300,000 were homeless in Haiti's northwest province — with the vast majority of victims in Gonaives.

In Gonaives' seaside slum of Carenage, people were burying bodies of unidentified victims in shallow graves of waterlogged yards — an area from which they could easily be forced up.

Earlier, scores of people jumped on a dump truck carrying relief supplies collected by Rotary Club members from Port-au-Prince, the capital to the south. The truck tried to drive away but the crowd emptied it of food, water, surgical gloves and matches in about 10 minutes.

One man hit people with a metal bar to force his way to the front.

"We collected all these supplies ... But at least it will find its way to people in need," said Rotarian Gaetan Mentor.

This week's floods were made far worse by massive deforestation that left surrounding valleys unable to hold the rain unleashed by some 30 hours of pounding by Jeanne.

The crisis was only the latest in long-suffering Haiti, a country of 8 million people has suffered 30 coups d'etats. In February, rebels forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power, prompting the United States to send troops who later turned over responsibility to a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The rebels' refusal to disarm has meant ongoing instability.

Rebel leader Wynter Etienne said some in Gonaives were getting "angry and aggressive" because the same people were getting relief each day while others starved.

Etienne's Cannibal Army street gang spearheaded a February rebellion and were soon joined by soldiers from Haiti's disbanded army. They

Poorly maintained roads disintegrated and utilities failed, compounding problems for relief workers.

"Trucking in clean water to Gonaives is a logistical nightmare," said Abby Maxman, local director of the international humanitarian agency CARE.

Chilean-led peacekeepers were ferrying in aid by helicopter. Relief agencies got through what they could over damaged roads. But many people, howling in hunger and anger, were turned away when supplies ran out.

The government's civil protection agency said more than 900 people have been treated for injuries.

Thursday morning, hundreds of people pushed through a wooden barrier to get into Gonaives' sole working clinic, but only one doctor was there to treat them.

It was unclear how many others might be untreated since the main hospital was still buried in mud believed to hold many bodies, and medical supplies were running out.

The leader of Haiti's U.S.-backed government, interim President Boniface Alexandre, appealed this week for urgent aid, and numerous countries responded.

On Thursday, the U.S. government said it would provide more than $2 million — an increase from $60,000 that some criticized for its paucity.

Health workers feared an outbreak of waterborne diseases.

"It's a critical situation in terms of epidemics, because of the bodies still in the streets, because people are drinking dirty water and scores are getting injuries from debris — huge cuts that are getting infected," said Francoise Gruloos, Haiti director for the U.N. Children's Fund.

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Update: Midwest Getting Its Summer in September

By DON BABWIN, Associated Press Writer
Thu Sep 23, 8:46 AM ET

CHICAGO - At a time when restaurants typically put away their patio furniture, sweaters replace T-shirts and sailboats are plucked from the water, Midwesterners are out enjoying activities usually reserved for July and August — not weeks past Labor Day. Summer is here. Finally. [...]

It's the same story in other parts of the Midwest. [...]

In Minnesota's Twin Cities, September is well on its way to being the sixth warmest on record, following an August that was the sixth coldest, said Pete Boulay, assistant state climatologist. It was 84 degrees on Wednesday afternoon. On Aug. 10, the high was 59 degrees. [...]

A Reader Comments:

I just read today's article about summer coming in late for the midwest region. I live in Minnesota. So far, this September has been warmer than any other month this summer. Average September high's have already exceeded the average August high's I believe. Typically, this time of year there is a significant drop in temperature. Not this year. It has been abnormally hot with no signs of letting up.

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Ivan Dumps Heavy Rain in Texas, La.
By MARK BABINECK, Associated Press Writer
September 24, 2004

HOUSTON - Ivan's second foray into the United States came with little wind but plenty of the rain that became the 3-week-old system's calling card as it raked the Caribbean and eastern United States, while Floridians braced for another possible pounding as Hurricane Jeanne appeared to be gearing up for a weekend landing.

After looping into the Atlantic and back into the Gulf of Mexico following its initial strike on the Alabama-Florida coast as a hurricane last week, Tropical Storm Ivan washed ashore near the Texas-Louisiana line Thursday night, bringing heavy rain to both sides of the border.

While the storm was expected to dissipate as it drifts into Texas this weekend, its rains are expected to persist and cause problems, and flood-prone Houston is in its projected path.

"Friday night through Saturday morning, if you run a line through Galveston, Houston and College Station, that area probably is really going to get pounded," said National Weather Service meteorologist Kent Prochazka. [...]

Florida residents also had that oh-no-not-again feeling as 105-mph Hurricane Jeanne appeared to be zeroing in this weekend for what would be the state's fourth thrashing this season.

Jeanne has already been blamed for 1,070 flooding deaths in Haiti. At 8 a.m. EDT, Jeanne was about 315 miles east of Great Abaco Island in the northwestern Bahamas and moving west at 8 mph. It was expected to reach Florida by Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It had top sustained winds of 100 mph, down about 5 mph from a day earlier.

Some projections showed the storm hitting central Florida and then moving up the coast to North Carolina by Tuesday. [...]

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Magnitude 5.8 Earthquake - GULF OF CALIFORNIA
2004 September 24 14:43:11 UTC

A moderate earthquake occurred at 14:43:11 (UTC) on Friday, September 24, 2004. The magnitude 5.8 event has been located in the GULF OF CALIFORNIA. (This event has been reviewed by a seismologist.)

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2004 September 24 10:34:54 UTC

A moderate earthquake occurred at 10:34:54 (UTC) on Friday, September 24, 2004. The magnitude 5.8 event has been located near the CENTRAL MID-ATLANTIC RIDGE. (This event has been reviewed by a seismologist.)

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Highest icefields will not last 100 years, study finds

Jonathan Watts in Beijing
Friday September 24, 2004
The Guardian

China's glacier research warns of deserts and floods due to warming

The world's highest ice fields are melting so quickly that they are on course to disappear within 100 years, driving up sea levels, increasing floods and turning verdant mountain slopes into deserts, Chinese scientists warned yesterday.

After the most detailed study ever undertaken of China's glaciers, which are said to account for 15% of the planet's ice, researchers from the Academy of Science said that urgent measures were needed to prepare for the impact of climate change at high altitude.

Their study, the Glacier Inventory, was approved for publication last week after a quarter of a century of exploration in China and Tibet. It will heighten alarm at global warming.

Until now, most research on the subject has looked at the melting of the polar ice-caps. Evidence from the inventory suggests that the impact is as bad, if not worse, on the world's highest mountain ranges - many of which are in China.

In the past 24 years, the scientists have measured a 5.5% shrinkage by volume in China's 46,298 glaciers, a loss equivalent to more than 3,000 sq km (1,158 sq miles) of ice; there has been a noticeable acceleration in recent years.

Among the most marked changes has been the 500metre retreat of the glacier at the source of the Yangtze on the Tibet-Qinghai plateau.

The huge volumes of water from the glacier's melted ice, estimated at 587bn cubic metres since the 1950s, are thought to have been a factor in flooding that has devastated many downstream areas in recent years.

Shrinkages were observed at almost every ice-field in the Karakorum range, including the Purugangri glaciers, which are said to be the world's third largest body of ice after the Arctic and Antarctica. According to Yao Tandong, who led the 50 scientists in the project, the decline of the Himalayan glaciers would be a disaster for the ecosystem of China and neighbouring states.

If the climate continued to change at the current pace, he predicted that two-thirds of China's glaciers would disappear by the end of the 2050s, and almost all would have melted by 2100.

"Within 20 to 30 years, we will see the collapse of many of the smaller glaciers," he said. "Within 60 years, we can predict a very significant reduction in the volume of high-altitude ice fields."

In the short term, he said, the water from the ice would fill reservoirs and lead to more flooding - as was already the case in Nepal and downstream areas of China.

In the future, he predicted, the end of the glaciers would deprive the mountain ecology of its main life source and hasten the desertification that threatens western China, particularly in Gansu and Xinjiang provinces.

Once the mountain ice was gone, rivers would start to dry up and ocean levels would rise, threatening coastal cities.

The inventory confirms earlier studies of Everest, which showed the world's tallest peak more than 1.3 meters shorter than in 1953, when it was first scaled by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

To ease the impact of the glacial melt, the scientists plan to advise China's government to build more reservoirs and hydro-electric dams to improve downstream flood control.

But they said that there were limits to what could be achieved.

"No one can reverse the changes to a glacier," said Shi Yafeng, head of China's environmental and engineering research institute for the cold and arid regions.

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